Saturday 1st December 2018

Looking at the original blog for this Phi puzzle on Fifteensquared, I’m struck once again by what nice people Bert & Joyce must be – reliably generous towards Phi, they are; never the grudging ‘it was all right I suppose’ tone in their review that I half expect.  Heigh-ho, maybe I should try to be more like them.

The puzzle was dominated by an unusual clue inviting us to see how RAT was a drunken version of TAR (sailor) and arrive ‘airily’ at ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’. I didn’t see that from reading the clue, alas – largely because I was fixated upon RAT being a reversal of TAR rather than seeing it as an anagram – so I just waited until I had enough crossers to guess a song title that fitted the enumeration.

I would forgive the everyday sexism at 9a because although Miriam was indeed a prophetess in her own right, defining her as ‘Prophet’s sister’ worked well with the surface reading of ‘sister and mother’.

The only other clue to receive much attention back in 2014 was the following – a good spot, I thought, and also my nomination  for Clue Of the Day:

12a Politician avoiding disgruntled sound, turning to cheer (6)


Saturday 25th November 2018

Well Phi got me good and proper last weekend, and no mistake.  Hands up if you too thought the theme was the 9 European locations listed in the clue for 4d EUROPE?  Not a bit of it – that was a canard. The real theme was the stations of the PARIS METRO (17a, 19a) of which there were fully 10 dotted around the grid: Liege, Odeon, Stalingrad, Temple, Abbesses, Europe, Danube, Rome, Pyrenees, and Commerce. Very nice.

The clues were all solvable without recourse to electronic aids or dictionaries (or atlases), which is a definite plus in my book, and were mostly pretty straightforward, but there were a few examples of inspired clue-smithery too; I had ticks in my margin for 15a, 1d, 17d, and 21d and my double tick for COD went to the following:

10a Twelve letters left for island (5)

All the solutions and comments from 2014 can be found by clicking here.

Saturday 10th November 2018

Coincidentally enough, the lag time between puzzles in the Independent and their appearance in the i is pretty much exactly the same as the length of the First World War, so this puzzle from July 28th 2014, devised to commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, fell into the lap of the i’s crossword editor with more than a little serendipity.

Not Phi this time, but Scorpion – best known for his pretty fiendish themed puzzles on a Tuesday.  And pretty fiendish this one was too for the most part. I nibbled away at it on and off throughout a busy day, with all sorts of cleverness and misdirection around the grid making me pause and rewind. Just one anagram appeared – and that a four-letter one ( I’ve still yet to meet an entirely anagram free puzzle in the i).

The theme was the Great War poets: Graves, Owen, Brook and Sassoon (Bard and Epic also featured). The gateway clues were pretty tricky (and excellent) so my way in to the puzzle was backwards from 26d OWEN.  That led to 12a and a lovely penny-drop moment for my COD:

River that’s out of this world? Oder perhaps (4)

There was also a Nina which, as well as being this quote from Wilfred Owen, also described the puzzle itself: MY SUBJECT IS WAR, across the top and down the right hand side.

All very enjoyable then – in a somewhat sombre way – and a good week to submit an application for that Logik radio. But wait a minute, didn’t Batarde once tell us that The Times prize puzzle gets twice as many prize submissions when it’s a stinker? …Perhaps I should have submitted the week before instead.

The 2014 blog with all the answers is here.

Saturday 3rd November 2018

So what challenge did Phi set himself this time? Well, if – and I stress the word if – he has ever experimented with trying to break the record for the shortest time ever to compile a whole crossword good enough to get past the editor at the Indy, then this could well have been the result.  I can just imagine him in his laboratory:

Four 13-letter anagrams one step in from the perimeter performing a virtual shrinking of the grid to a 13 x 13 – but easier to fill because the setter can, so to speak, spill over the edge here and there if required. With modern software tools, composing lengthy anagrams is child’s play, and there are lists with hundreds of anagram indicators to choose from.  Bung another anagram in for La Gioconda… One hour in to the process and a crossword could be almost halfway there!

Of course that’s probably not what happened at all, but it might as well have been. So we ended up with a puzzle that was accessible, yes, but didn’t provide much for the experienced solver to get his or her teeth into on a weekend. A very quick solve, then, with nothing controversial and my favourite being this one:

8a Camp very warm – work suspended while warmth’s accommodated (10)

Further to the speculative comments from DB last weekend about how defining ‘Halo’ as a video game in 20a might be received, it turns out our friends over at Fifteensquared didn’t give vent to an outpouring of stuffy indignation after all; there was just one self-deprecatory remark from allan_c: “Hadn’t heard of HALO as a game (where have I been all this time?)”.   Oh, and there was a link to its Wikipedia entry helpfully provided by the blogger John. Click here to go back to 2014.

Saturday 27th October 2018

Thinking back to the other side of what has been quite a testing week of cryptics in the i, you might remember last Saturday’s as being, relatively speaking, something of a read-and-write.  Apart from an almost forgotten meaning of ‘limb’ in 24d, the only clue to cause me any noticeable difficulty was my LOI 6d – a reversal of stuc[k]o(n)il ; otherwise it was probably as gentle a Phi as I have ever encountered.

Lots of long, clearly flagged anagrams, if you like that sort of thing – impeccably constructed as ever – and of course the grid fill was quite interesting with those paired lights in four of the across rows.

To find out all the parsings, and to read how 9a caused a bit of confusion (because ‘actor’s’ and ‘co-star’ share both meaning and letters) you can go to Fifteensquared here.

For the COD, with nothing particularly sticking out and just to be different, let’s go to the quick crossword, which had CELL and PHRASING along the top line. I have no idea who does them, but that was neat!

Saturday 20th October 2018

I wonder who spotted the Nina last week?  Phi managed to conceal C E N T R E both vertically and horizontally in the grid, in column 8 and row 8. Very nice, and to top that he had BRINK, SKIRT and PERIPHERY around the edges. In the comments section over at Fifteensquared (click here), he points out that he nearly had VERGE at 1d, but whether he tried that at first but couldn’t make it work, or whether it occurred to him afterwards, he didn’t say.

Despite those shenanigans there was nothing more abstruse than SATINED in the grid fill – and that seems a perfectly reasonable word, so no complaints allowed this week about Ninas forcing obscurities upon us. Which is not to say this was easy; indeed the general consensus is that the clues was harder than average for a Phi – PERP for US criminal, FR for frequently (although I think that’s one we’ve had before), the parsing of BRINK and PERT amongst them – but overall I thought our regular Saturday setter was on good form.

COD? 13d Writing version of Utah religious service excluding women (10)


Saturday 13th September 2018

On the first pass I failed to twig that ‘snapped’ was an anagram indicator, and along with a couple more tricky clues in the top half, I didn’t really get going until the bottom half of the grid.  Thereafter things filled upwards readily enough, and all-in-all it was a pretty straightforward solve.

Did Phi give us his usual dose of obscure vocabulary? Well, tempera is a bit specialist I suppose, and I doubt I was the only one to put ‘Radii’ in with a shrug, guessing that it must presumably be part of a sextant, but my only slight quibble was with NSA in 16d being clued as ‘security group’ when surely it’s an American security group – or have we all become so Transatlantic that such niceties no longer matter?

And what about a ghost theme?  You may have noticed a light sprinkling of ‘Americana’ politics with two presidents (‘Harrison’ & ‘Roosevelt’), ‘Republican’ and ‘Neo-con’; while ‘Bush’, ‘party’, ‘US’(twice) and ‘president’ all figured in the clues. Frankly though, that’s not enough to make me entirely confident… and oh dear, I’ve just had a look at all the answers over at Fifteensquared here, and it turns out there’s actually a ghost theme of Harrison Birtwistle (Bird+Whistle) and some of his works.  So now I’m grumpy! A variety of modern classical composers would have been fine, but in my view that’s too specialised and it stops me from feeling I’ve completed the puzzle.

My COD was nearly Orpheus in 25a, just for the definition ‘classical musician’, but I’ll go with the following, which is excellent:

13a Rebellions forcing US to intervene? On the contrary (9)

Saturday 6th October 2018

Phi puts ghost themes in his puzzles with considerable regularity, but if you’re one of the many solvers who has trouble spotting them, then a good tactic is to go in search of a Christian name. If you find one, search the grid for a surname that looks likely, and then Google the combination to discover an obscure antipodean writer and half a dozen of their novellas.

Or, in the case of last week’s puzzle where ‘Paul Klee’ was one of the answers, you could have gone straight to Wikipedia and scanned a list of his works, to discover ‘The Twittering Machine’ and a series of pictures with ‘Angel’ in the title. It’s pub quiz level general knowledge to know that he was part of the ‘Bauhaus’ school and you might have discovered – or known already perhaps – that he was the originator of the quote ‘Taking A Line For A Walk’ (you’d have done better than me with that one).

One great advantage of having a those words hidden in the grid, of course, is that it gives me something to write about – I might have struggled otherwise because this was a typical good, solid Phi puzzle, with clues ranging from the simple (22a) to the obscure (19d).

Eight ticks in my margin, which is about average, and the following was my pick for COD:

30a Former speed challenge needing most from new engine? (7)

Duncan Sheill did a comprehensive blog with all the answers back in 2014 (click here) and in the comments Phi tells us Klee also played the ‘Violin’.

Saturday 29th September 2018

Something a bit different last Saturday.  Alarms went off in my head when I read the end of 1d: [the first of 12 clues defined as if followed by their locations].  What! This is a daily cryptic, not the Inquisitor, I thought.

But I needn’t have worried, the ruse became clear soon enough – indeed it was the voice of the critic inside my head that helped me; 26d was ‘Decline rise of new routine (4) for which the wordplay clearly seemed to be a reversal of N+RUT. ‘But TURN doesn’t mean decline’, I thought, ‘that should be TURN DOWN’…   Then I got it.

After that things were pretty much plain sailing, with the 12 themed words being SLOW, FACE, SPLASH, WIND, SIMMER, WATER, EIDER, DRESSING, SETTLE, BACK, PIPE and the aforementioned TURN.

Opinions may well be divided between those who twigged what was going on and those who didn’t, but the regular commenters at Fifteensquared back in 2014 [click here] liked it very much (one even wrote a limerick in praise), and so did I.

COD: 22a Redeveloped for UK (not NI), it’s an aquatic plant (4-3)


Saturday 22nd September 2018

In which there was a ‘YUM’ hidden in the unchecked squares (unches) on each of the four sides and ‘Reluctant Cannibal’ hidden at 11a/ 18d.  Mean anything to you?  Well the latter is the title of this song by Flanders and Swann from 1956, which includes the line “a chorus of yums ran around the table”. Ho!

In fact F & S’s career overlapped with The Beatles and The Stones, but to me they seem to come from another age somehow – even if I do remember ‘I’m a G-nu’ from my childhood and I dare say we all know their song, ‘Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud’. Anyhow, Phi is clearly a fan.

As often happens when there’s a Nina, the difficulty was upped a few notches; I failed to parse 18a, didn’t know ‘bam’ was a hoax in 23a, didn’t know a maul was a hammer in 4d,  and in 10a we can all be forgiven for not seeing how ‘Stock’ defined ‘Grim’ – apparently it was a typo for ‘Stark’.  Why does that only ever happen with Phi?

For my COD, it’s got to be the following which had me trying to do something with Land’s End for longer than I care to admit:

6d. Western point of Cornwall not initially very good (6)

Click here to see the original blog by the 23a John.