Saturday 8th June 2019

It’s Phi, it’s a grid with unches round the outside, so there just has to be a theme or Nina. But where? Not in the clues or those peripheral unches, so are there some letter patterns perhaps? Hidden words? Or a ghost theme maybe?… No, it turns out – as I found out only by reading the comments over at Fifteensquared – that there actually is a peripheral Nina; RILIATUBULGREATTPHONJERAKEENBE gives us the four elephants that support Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Of course!

The fact that I put in Knee rather than Keen at 24d made absolutely no difference to my non-spotting of that one. Shame about that clue really, it had been one of my five tickers.

Other tricky bits included OG clued as ‘regress, as it were’ in 17a, the wordplay in 4d ‘as 20 concludes’ which referred to the clue not the entry,  some obscure answers like 28a, some gobbledygook surfaces as in 14a, some demanding brandy knowledge at 29a, fully 10 of Phi’s fiendish 4-letterers, and an extraordinarily long clue for 15d – is 5 lines a record?

Despite all that I found it an absorbing, beguiling, if ultimately frustrating experience; the more convoluted it got, the more I thought to myself: ‘This had better be worth it’. Yet I couldn’t spot those elephants so perhaps it wasn’t. If you did, then maybe it was for you.

COD 17a Pet project initially adopted by fellow to regress, as it were (6)

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Saturday 1st June 2019

I was very pleased with myself for spotting last week’s ghost theme – or was it JonofWales who did? Can’t remember now 😉 … Anyhow, said theme was the novels of 1a JASPER/ FFORDE (the surname being hidden in the unches of row 12), which include the THURSDAY NEXT, NURSERY CRIME Division, and DRAGONSLAYER series, all of which appeared in the lights.  Fine bit of grid-filling that.

Not too many obscurities as a consequence  just EMBLEMA at 3d, with a decidedly tricky clue to solve it, and two bits of Oxbridge slang in WRANGLER and SERVITOR which will have no doubt delighted the less-than-1% of us who went to either of those august institutions.

I’m not complaining though, all was solved at a steady pace with a pleasant familiarity about Phi’s style – even if the definitions at 14a and 24d did seem a bit tenuous.

I liked the clue for 10a for its cleverly disguised definition, but my top of the crop pick is for the following:

11a Agreed marathon should double back round river and garden (7)

Lovely! And all the answers/ parsings are to be found by clicking here.

Saturday 25th May 2019

For me a puzzle isn’t complete until I’ve parsed every clue and discovered any hidden Ninas or themes, and is only a complete success if I managed to do so without recourse to any electronic aids (although I do allow myself confirmatory checks in a dictionary). So apart from Dac’s Ariosto/ Arioso clue on Wednesday I’ve had a good week.

Not so last Saturday though, when I failed to parse 20d (‘Caller’s dismissed just after’ = SUMM(on)ER ) and completely missed the ghost theme, which was the novels of Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London, Foxglove Summer, Moon over Soho, Jupiter Moon). He also wrote some Doctor Who episodes apparently, but I’ve never heard of him.

Over at Fifteensquared there was some debate about how in 15a oak might come before ash, but having spent the last week running a marshmallow toasting fire at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, the connection between oak and its ash is at the forefront of my mind!

And what of the clues? Well, 7 ticks in my margin isn’t a bad haul, with my favourite being this one:

13a Reporters engaged in besetting of alternative academic (9)

Saturday 18th May 2019

No Nina or hidden theme last weekend from the ever-productive Mr Phi, just an excellent example of his style sprinkled with invention and individuality.

There’s some discussion over at Fifteensquared as to the pace that different solvers manage with Phi.  Personally I’m with Dormouse – typically I find a few long and well-signalled anagrams to get me off to a flying start – like 17a this time, and then there are nearly always a few obscurities, interlocking four-letterers, or hefty subtractions that slow me up at the end – as in 11a LANGU[ish] and 3d PERU[ser] this time around.

23a raised a laugh, 6d was a Phi-ism of a style he’s made his own, 1a and 1d were both particularly neat, 14d must have been a real challenge to clue, yet clued it was, but my COD goes to the following:

15a Cause perplexity in new place located in a bit of common? (7)

Overall maybe a bit harder than average for a Phi, but probably about average difficulty for the i.

 

Saturday 10th May 2019

It’s tempting it is to discuss the puzzle of today rather than boring old last week’s chip paper puzzle, but for good reasons my topic here is last week’s puzzle, so here goes:

Everyone on Fifteensquared after its first outing in the Indy agreed it was towards the easy end for a Phi, which is probably true, but nevertheless I didn’t find it quite as free from faults as my esteemed co-commenters at idothei opined last Saturday.

I had 4 beefs – doubtless all very minor:

10a. Saraband is usually spelled with an ‘e’ on the end; I belong to the camp who hold that alternative spellings are more at home in the realm of barred puzzles.

2d My grandmother used to talk about the ‘Ana’ who helped her when she served with the Raj, but as a sort of chat around a dinner table, I’ve only ever met it in crosswords, ergo I don’t like it!  If it’s part of your active vocabulary however, then my apologies, I withdraw the objection.

21d. F for full, whilst one sees it on certain dashboards, is an abbreviation that doesn’t appear in Chambers, Collins or the Chambers Crossword Dictionary. That’s normally a prerequisite.

22d. Calling Kew ‘a large set of gardens’ seemed somewhat verbose for a crossword clue.

But then again it was enjoyable, 9 themed words was a decent total in terms of grid filling and I had 6 clues with ticks in the margin, of which my favourite was this somewhat canonical one:

26a 11 – dirty weekend in Inverness? (8,5)

 

 

Saturday 4th May 2019

No theme last week, just 4 long interlocking entries to inspire the setter.

Having just read the pithily named RatkojaRiku’s 2015 blog over on Fifteensquared (apparently it’s been there all week – I wonder what will happen this time?) I find myself in complete agreement. Relatively easy long entries and some shorter entries that, whilst solvable, proved particularly thorny in the parsing department.

I guessed at the parsing for 22d FORT okay, without being totally convinced, but was still at sea on 11a PITIFUL until checking just now – once again it’s my parsing blind spot of a composite clue where the components get assembled then reversed as a whole… you’d think I’d learn!

I agreed with the commenter Geebs as to the double definition for TRIP at 1d – my LOI and a little tricky in the same unaccountable way as yesterday’s clue for ‘untrue’.

COD: 12a Part of spectrum is adopted by family art movement (7)

 

Saturday 27th April 2019

Back to last Saturday and also back to an old Indy reprint, one which was mostly straightforward but had a handful of much harder clues in the south east corner to either confound or delight, depending on your point of view. 24d was my LOI – the wordplay required us to know an archaic kind of part-song with only one checking letter possible: ??E? . The word is GLEE. Tricky that.

Thanks to dtw42 who pointed out the tribute to the bloggers BERTrAND JOYCE in the top row, who as it happened also provided the Fifteensquared blog here back in 2015. And I suppose the setters name fitted the theme of 13a PHIlosophers rather nicely too. Six of which were lurking in the grid: Hobbes, Sartre, Descartes, Bertrand Russell, my personal favourite Baruch Spinoza (also answers to Benedict, but either will do) and then the much more obscure Moses Mendelssohn. In case you were wondering, he appears neither in Russell’s ‘A History of Western Philosophy’ nor among the 150-plus philosophers listed in Chambers Crossword Dictionary, so I’m guessing Phi knew about him through being familiar with Felix Mendelssohn’s life story? That would explain the rather unusual definition ‘13 (with famous grandson)’.

I enjoyed the clue for SIDE DISH at 15d very much, but with a slight question mark about whether or not it constitutes a ‘course’ I’m plumping for the themed 22a as a worthy COD:

Group hurried back to welcome singular 13 (9)

Saturday 20th April 2019

A pleasant solving experience last Saturday, thank you Phi.

There was a new word for me in HYPERDULIA  which will doubtless have sorted out the left-footers from the right. And TIPSTAFFS is hardly everyday usage, but does crop up from time to time in Crosswordland. One or two other tricky bits – ‘proper’ for U in 9d held me up, OC rather than the more common CO for military leader in 5d – but it was all perfectly solvable with a little patience.

Picking a COD is no easy task though… Hmm, let’s think, plenty of possibles, none screaming at me… I’ll go for this one:

8d Dishonest wayward lotus-eaters (9)

Edit:  I wrote the above last Saturday, and today I feel like retracting those thanks to our venerable setter, because it turns out there was another of Phi’s unsolvable ghost themes, hidden away for him and… well frankly no-one else, to discover. Very annoying! Please read the comments under the solutions from the 2015 blog here for an explanation, or click here for a more entertaining route to those themed words.

Saturday 13th April 2019

All pretty straightforward last Saturday until I got to my LOI at 12a, where SLEEPY-HEAD fitted all the crossers and was a plausible answer for the definition ‘fool’ but made no sense with the wordplay. Fortunately though, there’s plenty of time for solving these weekend puzzles, so I double-checked with a wordsearch and discovered another option – SHEEP’S-HEAD. Lo and behold, one of its definitions is ‘dolt’. With ‘women’ equating to SHE SHE all suddenly made sense. Phew.

Little else to comment on really, so on this occasion I’m tempted to agree with John, the blogger from 2015 on Fifteenquared, who compared Phi to Dac for his straightforwardness and his surfaces.

Or maybe not, because in case you were wondering there was another ghost theme last week.  However, with the grid looking so normal it’s very well hidden – I certainly missed it – again!  13a/16a gives us  The BONE CLOCKS, the David Mitchell book (Phi is a  big fan – we had Cloud Atlas not so long ago), and elsewhere in the grid the titles of its six sections are referenced by: SPELL, PERFUME, WEDDING BASH, LONELY PLANET, HOROLOGIST and SHEEP’S-HEAD.

Oops, forgot to nominate a COD. I’ll happily concur with Batarde below that this is a worthy pick:

12a Fool women about recording with promotion (6-4)

And yes, we’ll all be looking forward to the new puzzle that’ll be posted here tomorrow…

Saturday 6th April 2019

A quick start last Saturday, which slowed to a steady solve and didn’t need any checks with reference sources this time. Unless that is we include Cornick Senior, who shuffled into the room at precisely the moment I wondered out loud if there was a composer called Maleau for 17d. ‘Rameau’ he said, quick as a flash – not bad for 91.

The clues were pleasant and varied, with a smattering general knowledge required and some beautifully crafted &Lit style clues which, as well as being something Phi goes in for more than most, are often thought of as a kind of Holy Grail for setters. In case you’ve always been slightly puzzled as to just what exactly an &Lit [and literally] clue is, you can see four excellent examples by looking at 10a, 21a, 23d and 24d in the 2014 blog here.

However I’m giving my vote for COD to the Cornish themed and Semi&Lit(ish) following:

9d Tintagel, say, its exterior beset by some action (6)

Unsurprisingly for Phi there is also a ghost theme, based on composer MALCOLM ARNOLD, who amongst other things wrote the music for films such as TRAPEZE, The SOUND BARRIER, The INSPECTOR, CAPTAIN’S PARADISE, and the SAINT TRINIAN’S movies. Very nice.