Having only purchased the i weekend today, I hadn’t realised till now that it’s not the usual prize puzzle after all. So there’s little point in postponing a blog (and therefore an opportunity for you to give your comments) until next Saturday.  Except that Fifteensquared are hiding their blog from 4½ years ago as if there were a prize on offer, so the logical thing to do is to take my lead from Saboteur on Friday and have a go at the parsings myself. Here goes:

1a This is my COD, so I won’t parse it here.

5a A charade of BA + SH

10a A charade of W + HITMAN

11a An insertion of TEA in (CALL)* = LACTEAL

12a An insertion of E+PRESENT in RATION  = REPRESENTATION

13a A charade of DUE + L.  Nicely done.

14a (BEEN PALS I)* = PLEBEIANS

16a (PARSON SET)* = PATRONESS

18a T[i]REE

19a (HAY STAGE SET FOR)* = THE FORSYTE SAGA

22a Double definition of FLATTER

24a L(U)LL.  Simple, but very pleasing somehow.

25a (TED)< + ACHED

1d BAWL homophone of “ball”.  Although I entered BALL at first, which confused me for a while with 10a.

2d (WHEN DULL PRIVATE)* = DRIVEN UP THE WALL

3d (RULE MAN)* = NUMERAL

4d GEN[‘ero]US

6d A ‘straight cryptic’ definition of AMERICAN ENGLISH. Either I am missing something or else this is no more than a mildly whimsical definition of the sort I don’t find particularly cryptic at all. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

7d A charade of HOLI + NESS

8d A double definition of FLINDERS.  The explorer who was responsible for naming Australia, apparently.

9d O + C(T)AVE.  Not  ‘octage’ as I first thought, ‘cos that’s not a word.

14d A charade of P + LEA + SURE.  Take your pick and call it a chestnut, a classic, or canonical as you wish.

15d An insertion of PIT inside (FUELS)* = SPITEFUL

17d A charade of O + PORT + O

18d TO(S)T + ADA – I knew it from the Spanish, but evidently it’s also a word in English.

20d An insertion of PE in TEE = TEPEE. Not that I like ‘is given’ as an insertion indicator very much.

21d [c]AGED

 

So a fairly typical offering from Quixote: Mostly straightforward, a couple of obscure definitions, one clue that I didn’t like (or possibly didn’t get properly) at 6d, and a smattering of ticks in my margin. Seven anagrams is more than he himself says a crossword should have, but given that two are only partial I suppose we can let him off!

And here’s my COD:

1a By implication a badge bringing witty conversation (8)

 

Saturday 28th March 2020

This puzzle first appeared at Christmas time 2015 in the Indy which, to the sharp eyed among you, will have explained the sequence of letters in the unchecked squares around the edges. Starting in the top left we had VROLIJK KERSTFEEST, then a gap (which very unusually led to an asymmetric grid), followed by BUON NATALE. Knowing something of the way Phi’s mind works, I suspect he was attracted to this particular pair of festive greetings precisely because those random-looking letters (especially those high-scoring Scrabble letters in the top row) help to disguise the peripheral Nina rather well. So award yourself a corner shop Easter egg if you spotted it.

That Nina led to a lot tricky 4-letterers in the corners, which are something of a Phi trademark; among those 2d ‘Irene’ (Sherlock’s obsession) being shortened to RENE was probably the hardest. On the other hand there were some very clearly signalled anagrams which went in without offering any real challenge at all, including the two long ones through the middle of the grid. So for me, things started at a gallop but I ended up barely hobbling over the finishing line. In between, however, was plenty in the zone of difficulty I most enjoy, and of those my nomination for COD (Clue Of the Day) goes to the following for its plausible surface reading:

5a Decline cover after receiving second form of confirmation (8)

Click here for the 2015 blog with all the answers plus parsing explanations.

Saturday 21st March 2020

On those extremely rare occasions I ever get roped into a pub quiz team, I always inform my team-mates ‘if it’s opera or soap operas, don’t ask me’; so last weekend’s ghost theme based around Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes went completely over my head. Well, I knew he’d written an opera of that name, but then again I know there’s a family called the Dingles in Emmerdale; it doesn’t mean I’ve seen either.

Anyhow, I thought we had a really nicely constructed grid and a consistently high level of clueing from Phi. I’m struggling to think how an adverb like 29a SLENDERLY might be used, but it’s there in the dictionary, so no complaints. My last one in was 5d GRIMES, because (unsurprisingly) I didn’t know that Peter Grimes was a deranged fisherman, and it took me an age to realise the way 11a F[av]OUR worked,  which was definitely a tricky clue to parse.

Amongst my favourites were 1a SEARCHING, 12a INTERLUDES, and the excellent clue for 27a BRITTEN. However my COD nomination has to go to this pleasingly assembled &Lit:

6d Low luminance in the dark? (9)

All the answers can be found by clicking here, along with plenty of discussion on the theme and the expected contribution from this setter to boot.

Trusting you’re all keeping well and managing to access the crossword by means foul or fair. I had been supposed to be playing Macbeth in the local AmDram this week. Heigh-ho.

Saturday 14th March 2020

Don Manley appearing with his Indy hat on; you may already know that he appears elsewhere variously as Pasquale, Bradman, Duck, Giovanni and Izetti. Rather brilliantly, each Don has its own style and level of difficulty. I think I’m right in saying that Quixote is at the easy end of the spectrum; certainly there was nothing to frighten the horses in last week’s clues – apart from the unfortunate grid perhaps, and that small town of Birr in County Offaly, which seemed plain from the wordplay but which I wasn’t prepared to write it in until both crossers confirmed it.

I had 8 ticks for merit-worthy clues in my margin, but 3 unsmiley faces. Obviously those are more interesting to talk about, so here goes with my carps:

26a ‘change of direction’ as an anagram indicator. Looks like a reversal indicator to me. ‘change’, sure, but how ‘of direction’?

6d ‘See’ presumably as an indicator that if you do the wordplay you’ll see to it being done. Just don’t like it.

5d Purportedly a form of ‘straight cryptic’. But what’s cryptic about it? Isn’t it simply a rather long-winded description of the answer? I can only presume the justification is that it misdirects the solver to think it’s a standard definition/wordplay clue. If so, that seems like a cop-out to me, and of a type we’ve seen too often recently. Allow me to give you an excellent example of what a ‘straight cryptic’ should look like, taken from the i, 5 years ago: ‘Keep falling down as the water comes closer?’ As you can see the solver would initially see the obvious meaning of ‘keep’ and only upon realising the answer, ‘Sandcastle’ realise the other meaning. And the setter? You guessed it, Quixote.

Back to the positives, I very much liked the double definition (one whimsical) for BOOTS ON THE GROUND, but that got pipped by this nifty container:

7d Scientist’s introduction to rare work included by one making literary selection (14)

You can see all the answers from the original blog here, where there are some (in my opinion) groundless quibbles discussed in the comments section, in particular with regard to 9a and ‘let’.  William FP makes an interesting contribution about this category of words which can be taken in opposite ways: he calls them Janus words; Ben Schott in his ‘Original Miscellany’ calls them contradictanyms, allan_c supplies us with possibly the two best known examples: ‘cleave’ and ‘sanction’.

Saturday 7th March 2020

Which gave me probably my most enjoyable Phi puzzle of the year so far. Yes, there was a reasonably recondite ghost theme which only lovers of contemporary classical music will have tumbled (without the help of Mr Google, that is), but if his puzzles were all this good, I’d be laving his honours in flattering streams week in week out.

James Macmillan (1959 – ) is the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation, and there he was in row 11. I much prefer it when the name is put on the same line like that, rather than split around the grid or, as Phi sometimes does, split around the grid with one name hidden inside another word. It might even be nice to have the theme title in row 1, but perhaps that’s asking too much. Personally I was raised in a Radio 3 house by 3d Prommer parents, but have let the side down rather, and seldom listen to new classical composers nowadays. Hence my ignorance. Theme words of Macmillan opera titles are discussed at the Fifteensquared blog here if you’re interested. Annoyingly, Phi chips in in the comments with the nugget of trivia that Macmillan’s opera ‘Busqueda’ translates as 5a SEARCH. And he almost sounds disappointed that so many people got the main theme at all!

As for the COD, I do like hiddens very much once they start getting above 7 or 8 letters, and I like misdirection too, so for me it has to be this one:

16d Pity bicycle men, cycling without limits (8)

 

 

Saturday 29th February 2020

A thoroughly pleasant offering last Saturday, and one which I found a bit easier than average; but then again the original blogger from 2015 and some of the commenters thought it quite difficult, so your mileage may vary.

By my reckoning this was Lohengrin’s third puzzle in the i, with the Fifteensquared archive indicating we’re likely to be getting another 8 challenges before the supply runs out, for whatever reason; if they continue to be as good as this one though, that will have proved to have been a very welcome contribution to the world of crosswords from this particular Wagnerite.

There were some brilliantly smooth surfaces, a neat &Lit acrostic for 2d TRIAGE, and some nifty constructions like that for 15d MARMOREAL (lovely word, that) and 27a ADOLESCENT.

The longer entries were all anagrams, at least in part; I personally prefer a bit more variety with them, but I did think 11a was a good’un.  I had a bit of trouble at the end with trying to work out what was going on with 19d NOTICE – very tricksy putting in a reversal of TO clued by ‘for climbing’.

For my COD I’m plumping for one of those smooth surface readings – simple enough, but it’s a fine example of what Lohengrin does rather well:

12a Kind of jazz artist with good rhythm (7)

Saturday 22nd February 2020

Having solved hundreds of Phi puzzles by now, and blogged a good number of them, I come to a point where I might have solved a related puzzle for myself – that of why I don’t enjoy his puzzles as much as I feel I should. His cryptic grammar is nearly always impeccably fair, I am in awe of his output and his ability to create puzzles in the Inquisitor and other outlets, and I reckon he must have a brain the size of a small planet, So what’s my problem?

Well after much musing, I think it might be this: Some setters, whether at the higher end of things like Radian or the simpler end of things like Vigo, and definitely the likes of Dac and Morph somewhere in between, seem to have an instinctive empathy for the solver, such that a clue reveals its secret with a satisfying penny-drop moment. Maybe Phi is just too goddamn clever for me – I find his synonyms very often make me react with ‘well, I suppose so’ rather than ‘yes, of course!’. His anagrams are very good, but overused for my taste given that solving anagrams doesn’t often provide me personally with a satisfying ‘pdm’ either (perhaps I find them too easy?). Then there are his grid fills with the notoriously difficult/ impossible ghost themes. Phi wrote in the comments to yesterday’s puzzle that “setters put them in often to kick-start a gridfill, and there’s no real expectation that solvers will spot them”. Well I don’t know of another setter who does that with ghost themes. If Phi were to just do a lucky dip on a page from the dictionary he could pick any word from that page that appealed for 1a, and bingo, he’d be off! By having ghost themes there is a real danger of ending up being forced to put in entries like yesterday’s TELCO, which would need a very enjoyable pay-off to be justified, if at all. I do love a ghost theme, but think they should be as obvious as possible.

Right, rant over. Sorry, that’s been brewing for years!

Back to last Saturday, which I found a curious mixture of three-quarters read-and-write and one quarter quite tricky. All my ticks seem to be with the trickier clues, and of those the one I enjoyed most was the nifty substitution at 28a. However, it’s not often we have a single word clue, so for its cleverness and remarkableness, I’d like to nominate my last one in:

6d Layperson? (9)

And yes there was a Phi-friendly ghost theme, which you can read about in the 2015 blog here. As it happened I didn’t have the multitude of quibbles mentioned by some solvers in the comments back then (e.g. perfectly happy to agree that Balti is an instance of British cooking) but I can’t help wondering if other solvers are sometimes moved to grumble after doing his puzzles for pricisely the reason I’ve given above.

Saturday 15th February 2020

Tees is definitely one of my favourite setters, but I found last Saturday’s to be a relatively muted affair by his own high standards. The most remarkable clues were so because they had an obscure or difficult-to-guess answer, rather than for showing much of the invention, cleverness and guile he usually gives us in spadefuls. That having been said I still thought it was very good, and much better than you’d see in most newspapers!

Those tricky answers were ‘Ngultrum’ the Bhutanese currency at 2d, 16a the Australian expression ‘Come the Raw Prawn’(which without a dictionary check could just have easily been ‘Come the Bad Prawn’ for me), and my LOI 15d ‘Tailspin’ which with its deceptive wordplay, definition ‘Agitated state’ and the crossing letters all being SENORITA letters had me copping out and looking at a wordsearch, I must confess.  Oh, and I also learned that Clio lived on Mt Helicon – who knew?

For the COD, I did enjoy the acrostic at 21d, which was very nicely done, but I’ll plump for this one:

15d Seed-spiller up and back in very little time (10)

Click here to see all the answers, and also the 3 clues RatkojaRiku picked out as his favourites – all of which were different to mine!

Saturday 8th February 2020

If you do the i crossword in the online app, as I did last Saturday, you won’t see who the setter is; so it was only when I picked up the paper the following day that I discovered it had in fact been set by Phi – just about the last setter I would have guessed. Given how often he gives us the Prize crossword, that surely shows how difficult it is to make such guesses blind.

I awarded fully 7 ticks, which is a decent haul, and certainly everyone back in 2015 seemed to like it plenty (‘practically perfect’, one commenter said) despite being made to scan their minds for ‘Bullshit’ in order to solve 24d!

My favourite clues included 13d which was a solid clue for Astronomer; 27a Maladroit for its nifty anagram construction and surface reading, and 28a Credo for its witty surface. Top of the heap, however, was this one:

1a Close to backing second treaty? Drinks to round things off (9)

There is a ghost theme of place-names in New Zealand (where our setter lives), some of which are blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em one-horse towns, apparently. Phi was the first to comment and hint what the theme might be in the original Fifteensquared blog here, otherwise presumably nobody would have got it at all.  Very strange.

Saturday 1st February 2020

Make no bones about it, Raich is one of the most talented crossworders we have; he sets variously for The Times, The Times Quick Crossword (as Hurley), The FT (as Gurney), The Listener, The Inquisitor, and the Enigmatic Variations in the Sunday Telegraph. You may also remember him as the blogger nmsindy on Fifteensquared – until, that is, he was encouraged to give up his poacher role when he became a gamekeeper, so to speak, with the Indy.

All that means that when Raich gives us an ‘approachable’ puzzle like this one – ideal for solvers still quite new to the game – the difficulty level is entirely deliberate.

So all the clues were good and sound, but personally I was a little disappointed that all four long entries plus another 3 were full anagrams, and obviously flagged as such too. Mind you, I do accept that I’m probably the only one who’s bothered by such things.

Solving time well below average for the i, as we might expect for an IoS reprint, and here’s my nomination for COD:

12a Vanity of court entertaining in the past is half-forgotten (7)

Click here for all the answers. Oh, and by the way, and it was pangram.