Saturday 2nd December 2017

I’m sure you all spotted that last weekend’s theme was the Gervase Fen detective stories of Edmund Crispin – The Moving Toyshop, Fen Country and Frequent Hearses.  Blindingly obvious of course.

In fact Crispin and Fen Country were two of the few that caused me problems – the former because I had absolutely no idea who the patron saint of cobblers is (although I know the speech from Henry V well) and the latter because I imagined whimsical to be wry so got into a pickle trying to decide between Wet, New or Low Country. Oh well, it all got sorted in the end, even if I had to go to the Fifteensquared blog from 2013 to finish off some tricky bits of parsing (lots of Phi’s trademark deletions). 22d came close to breaking Arachne’s injunction, but I just about remembered Specie, and Spec was guessable.

All-in-all a fairly stiff puzzle that was harder to parse than to solve but had plenty of enjoyable clues to keep us amused.

AndyT will be expecting me to pick 16d as COD, so just to foil him I’ll go for 5d:

Cut to next scene: detectives identify perpetrator (8)



Saturday 25th November 2017

Lots to admire, lots to enjoy. Phi in excellent form last Saturday. Reasonably hard, but always fair and with a nice variety of clueing. Oh, and no theme.

For COD I was drawn to the cleverness of 14a ‘Inverted Commas’ but will go for the cleverly constructed 15d. Here it is again:

Had too much Ring Composer? Not I, getting Ring (second edition) (9)

And to go back to 2013  click here.

Saturday 18th November 2017

After a couple of stiff challenges, it’s refreshing to be reminded of last Saturday’s puzzle, which was, relatively speaking, a breeze. Maybe Phi ratcheted the difficulty level down a little for the benefit if non-French speakers. Some may have objected to all that ‘Franglais’ (the French words chosen all had a second, English meaning), but then he did write ‘Pardon my French’ across the middle of the grid – that cringe-worthy catchphrase of Pardonia.

I’ve said before that I often start by looking for anagrams – the 4 long clues were all well-advertised as such, so the grid looked half full in a jiffy, and the rest all followed as near write-ins – just the Bogeyman at 11a causing pause for thought at the end. Da Ponte at 17d was new to me, but the wordplay was super-clear.

So all said and done an enjoyable and novel challenge, for which the full blog from 2013 is here.

COD 14d Reduction in forces receiving a lot of criticism – end of warfare? (9)

Saturday 11th November 2017

Phi worked a ghost theme into his grid last weekend. I didn’t see it, but now I’ve read the Fifteensquared blog from 2013, I can appreciate  its cleverness. 1ac is ‘Wasteland’, and T S Eliot’s seminal work ‘The Waste Land’ features throughout the lights. If you have a look you’ll see 10 key words taken from the titles of the poem’s five sections: The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said.

My solving experience was simply that of a regular Phi solve with the solid clues we’ve come to expect. 12a was new, but it had to be really, and my COD goes to the four words of 13d:

Bankrupt’s mischievous about deliveries (10)

And now I think I might read the actual poem…

Saturday 4th November 2017

Which was a largely solid and eminently solvable puzzle.

I’ve long suspected Phi must use Chambers dictionary quite heavily to define wordplay components. Both ‘mere’ (27a) and ‘rear’ (6d) were defined in obscure ways (‘pure’ and ‘to hold up’ respectively), just as they’re defined somewhere near the end of the entries for those words in the Big Red Book. That makes them legitimate I suppose, even if it doesn’t make me like ‘em!

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was ‘held up’ by initially misspelling overweening as overweaning, but otherwise made steady progress. A sprinkling of ticks in the margins with my COD going to one of two fine matryoshka-style clues:

13d Shop isn’t involving son in tedious work (5,5)

2013 blog here.

Saturday 28th October 2017

Excellent puzzle from Phi last Saturday. All four fifteen letter entries went in at the get-go – three anagrams and a gimme ‘straight cryptic’ which started with the old chestnut ‘Nice’, but there was plenty of pencil chewing thereafter.

A couple of question marks – bottom for stamina and id for fish, a beast I’ve only met with its alternative spelling of ide before now, and even then only in crosswords – but all perfectly within the rules. I notice that Carmathen still hasn’t been corrected four years on from the original publication, although my spellcheck does suggest that missing ‘r’. Progress of a sort, and I wonder if JonofWales spotted that? Also noteworthy is the well-clued ‘First world problem’ which, although something of a cliché in 2017, I’m guessing was fairly cutting edge four years ago.

2013 blog here.

And my COD amongst strong competition was the geographical 14d:

Country without energy surrounding country without leader? That’s fanciful (10)

Saturday 21st October 2017

Just 24 clues for a change and the four longer entries near the periphery formed a sort of cultural tour, Phi informs us in the 2013 blog here.

I’m glad there was some discussion on Fifteensquared about 5a (see below). I wrote ‘Interesting, cheeky, nice’ in my margin, which I think expresses how my initial uncertainty gave way to liking the idea. The clue stands comparison with Punk’s theme yesterday – which I loved. In both cases the setter has broken Afrit’s famous injunction ‘You need not mean what you say, but you must say what you mean’ – because the wordplay only accounts for one section of the answer (and no definition either in Punk’s case).  Phi says his clue type should only be essayed once or twice a year, Punk bungs in half a dozen in the same crossword…

As a side note, I completely fail to understand why so many on the other side seemed to think Phi had deliberately led people up the garden path into thinking 11a might be Rhetoric – when the anagram fodder wasn’t there – perplexing!

COD:  5a Film for Keith? (4,4,2,3)

Saturday 14th October 2017

In which, yet again, Phi proved himself the master of the ingenious grid fill.

There were four long 15 letter lights, and then tucked into the corners was the 12 letter word SOP-HIS-TIC-ATE split into those four short words – very nice.

To accommodate all that jiggery-pokery, we had Rotorua – a name I think I’ve only encountered before through Rugby Union – and Leticia – a Spanish variant of Letitia. The Cat’s whiskers rectifier thing rang a distant bell in 5d, while both the Cel component of 19a and the St bit of 1d were new – or were they? Now I feel I’ve always known them…

Otherwise all pretty 4d (Straightforward) and solidly the Phi we’ve come to expect.

Quite a few ticks in my margin, but the COD has to be:

1/8/25/22d Appeal about setter’s reaction worried refined person (12)

Fifteensquared blog from 2013 here with talk about what is or maybe isn’t an &Lit clue, in case you wondered.

Saturday 7th October 2017

I can only remember encountering this particular grid before in a Phi puzzle, and once again I struggled with those crossing four-letterers in two of the corners – in effect 8 letters with just two checking squares. Last ones in again.

The theme was clear enough – I got there via the Jubilee clue at 3d – and it added an extra dimension of fun to proceedings, without making it a write-in by any means. I suppose it felt a bit unfamiliar once 28a was solved because it then became a guessing game of words which precede silver, but altogether an enjoyable puzzle and completed in fairly short measure.

COD? Now I’ve seen the Fifteensquared blog here, I think I agree with RatkojaRiku:

11a Meadow flowers shaking off drops following 28 (4)

Saturday 30th September 2017

Four 15-letter lights is always nice to see, and overall this puzzle was a fine one. However it did contain three of my bêtes noires so, if you’ll forgive me, I shall take the opportunity to offload:

17a. The use of wordplay components like San for hospital. ENT or A&E are fine, but nobody uses words like san (or gam, lam etc.) except crossword setters. These imports from the world of barred puzzles must be off-putting for people new to crosswords.

1a. Using a girl’s forename to clue an obscurity. Well Lemma is obscure to me, at any rate, and there are literally hundreds of 4-letter girls’ name, scores of which begin with a vowel. Then there’s that word ‘used’ doing nothing in the middle.

24a. Clueing obscurities with anagrams – especially foreign terms.  We had ‘Tiers Etat’ defined as ‘Commons’ and the anagram was ‘treaties + t’.  Without searching through a dictionary, this only works if you know the term already. If an answer is obscure, the wordplay must be tight to compensate, and anagrams could be anything.

And that’s without mentioning Nicodemus – a pivotal character from the gospels – being clued as ‘guy’.

Heigh-ho, it was all solved easily enough, so I’m not complaining really, just expressing my preferences.

COD: 9a Warlike? Slight switch in that to describing matrimony (7)

Fifteensquared blog from 2013 here.