Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

In which Phi’s customary ghost theme consisted of these 8 record labels: BRILLIANT, HYPERION, ORFEO, FUGUE, FLARE, DÉJÀ-VU, NAXOS, and TESTAMENT. I think that’s it. I’m not entirely sure whether or not GUITARS, TUNE, PART, ALBUM and OOMPAH or indeed the sprinkling of musical references in the clues count as part of the theme; they may have been deliberate embellishment on Phi’s part, they may have arisen subliminally because he was thinking about classical records, but then again he often puts in classical music to his crosswords in any case, so who knows?

In the Fifteensquared comments, ‘crimper’ opines that a ghost theme is the best sort of theme because it ensures no-one feels left out; hmm, that rather depends doesn’t it? If, like me, you guessed that there was probably something musical going on in a classical vein but weren’t sure what, then you may indeed have felt left out! There’s my regular moan again – sorry!

Two stars today because after failing entirely in the NW corner while my brain was waking up, I then managed to solve the whole puzzle ‘in one pass’ sweeping round clockwise a quarter at a time from the NE, starting with 4d AUSTRALIAN and finishing with 1d BRAVE. All understood and as it happened nothing was outside my vocabulary today – although that’s quite a rarity with Phi and me.

Along the way were some neat little tricks which I’m sure will have delighted many solvers: NINE clued by ‘square’, A TO S clued by ‘nineteen letters’, a nice long reverse hidden for LIMESTONE, a rare appearance for the I Ching (it was quite the thing in my student days), the Romanians/ SAN MARINO anagram (familiar to some), and the delightful use of ‘switching directions’ to turn ‘Saxon’ into NAXOS – which was almost my favourite clue; but in the end that honour goes to the excellent 13d:

Second year – year defined by interaction of sun and moon – having same meaning (10)

Here are all the answers and parsings, plus Phi’s contribution to the comments vis-à-vis ODD-JOBMAN with which I thoroughly concur:

Fifteensquared/ Independent/ 9619/ Phi

Difficulty rating (out of 5) ⭐️⭐️

Although a bit trickier than that in places.

Hypnos has given us a pleasant solve today with some nicely cryptic definitions and bits of misdirection.

A few were bunged in and then parsed laboriously afterwards – like the subtractive anagram for STEELY DAN, and I hadn’t realised that Oliver Hardy also did silent movies, but generally speaking things went in with more amusement than puzzlement this time.

COD could have been the dinky clue for AMRITSAR, but this one has two lots of misdirection:

27a A lot trained after time with aid for drivers – like the AA (8)

And here’s the original blog, which also appeared on a Sunday and, unusually for an App-only puzzle, from just 4 years ago, and well before Andrew Marr left his job at the Beeb.

Independent on Sunday 1444 Hypnos

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Did you spot the Nina? I went looking about half way through – initially for a theme but then the hidden message on the left became obvious. And why not, it all adds to the fun, and certainly helped with filling in the right hand side.

Lots to enjoy today in a fairly typical sort of crossword from the i – not as difficult as this setter can be, but not one of his easiest either. Tees isn’t strictly Ximenean, so we do have some little bits of verbiage here and there like ‘taken by’ in 11a FELONY or ‘needs’ in 16a BABYSITTER, or indeed ‘twenty’ to give XTEN in 8d. Those things are sometimes there to help the surface reading but can make unpicking the cryptic reading harder. I liked all the clues though, and inventive things like that middle bit of EXTENDS do give a lovely penny-drop moment when (or should I say ‘if’!) you work out what’s going on. However I did fail to understand the ‘One spell for’ bit in the clue for 13a TYRO (it means one way of spelling Tyro/ Tiro) and bunged in a couple from definition alone without fully parsing, like OUTLANDISH and METHUSELAH. Never mind, it all got filled in without too much difficulty. I’ve given in to peer pressure and reclassified this as a 3* puzzle – never let it be said that idothei doesn’t listen 🙂

Lots of clues to enjoy today, including the aforementioned 8d, but I’m plumping for this simple yet perfect example of a cryptic clue:

5a Show less restraint in puzzle (8)

Here’s the original blog as we swing back into 2017 in our trawl through the archives:

Independent 9693/ Tees

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This was a pentapangram. As you may have noticed, every letter of the alphabet appears at least 5 times in the grid. The only other instance of such extreme jiggery-pokery was done in 2016 in the New York Times by Duncan Dekker with some abbreviations and grid entries that wouldn’t be allowed in British-style newspapers, like DXIX, for example.

Having forced my way into the Independent stable of setters with a quadruple pangram, I really thought that was as far as things could be taken with 225 squares. Monk had teased me with ‘Looking forward to the pent’ but my initial toying with possibilities seemed to indicate it was impossible. Then the city of RAQQA in Syria became famous for entirely tragic reasons and, with an X-BOX here and a BUZZ OFF there; SYZYGY pinched from a triple pangram by Tees and OX-BOW re-used from my quad; the feat was done. But not without some considerable effort, it should be said! Entirely pointless perhaps, but my interest is to discover the limits of what is and isn’t possible within the confines of this funny little genre I love.

Unfortunately the i newspaper has a limit on column inches, so with 46 clues this was never destined to find its way into print in the UK, hence the appearance on the Sunday app I imagine.

My CoD nomination is this one:

29d Dog trainer’s dad returning car with boot scratched (6)

and I think the clue for ALEXANDRA is the weakest; it survived because I was trying to keep the clues short.

You can watch a video of Simon Anthony solving the puzzle on ‘Cracking the Cryptic’ – I like the bit when he realises it’s a penta – and you can find all the answers in the link below, which takes you back to the original blog by Gaufrid on New Year’s Day 2018:

Fifteensquared/ Independent9740/ Maize

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

Happy New Year to all our solvers, readers, and contributors.

Despite having grappled with approaching 100 of his puzzles over the years, of all the setters at the i, I think I must have the very least idea of the style of Hypnos. True, he appears most often on a Monday, his puzzles are usually an IOS reprint and typically they’re easier than average, and they’re very good, but beyond that I couldn’t really say.

Today we had a good range of pleasing clues that were mostly pretty tractable. I failed to parse the ‘virtually number one’ bit of 11a TURIN and needed to check a list to confirm the identity of Nadine GORDIMER in 7d, but otherwise all went in smoothly enough. Given that Ms Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, quite how she escaped my attention I’m not quite sure. When this puzzle first appeared, some found Suggs from Madness or the Renaissance painter MANTEGNA to be similarly obscure, but both are familiar enough hereabouts.

I loved the clever construction of 6d ON THE TOWN but probably just because I’m a Geographer my CoD nomination goes to this Semi&Lit:

14a Panic if ace at sea takes in first signs of cyclone occurring here? (7,5)

And all the answers are explained in this Fifteensquared blog from December 2017:

Fifteensquared/ Independent/ 9733/ Hypnos

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟🌟 (or 🌟🌟if you’ve already done the Christmas Eve puzzle)

Things have changed a bit over the years at idothei. When I first started doing the puzzles the paper had about a dozen pages, cost 20p and the Independent was still very much on our newsagents’ shelves.  Not only that, but the blogs on Fifteensquared had a convention whereby only the tricky clues were explained. Presumably neil dubya classed the parsing of these six as pretty obvious then:

14a GOLDSMITH – a straight cryptic definition; 15a INERT – an anagram (explosive) of nitre; 16a ENDED – the first letters of ‘even Neil Diamond envied Dylan’; 5d OMAN – a reversal hidden at the end of Guantanamo; 19d CROATIA – an anagram (change) of at Cairo; 23d SCAR – a homophone of ska.

…which relatively speaking they were of course. The other solutions and parsings are in the link at the bottom of this blog.

At the other end of the difficulty spectrum my LOI was 22a PINT POTS, because I had no idea that a pinball machine is also known as a pin table. I see that the original blogger found it tricky because he went for ‘all that glitters’ in 8/15d, whereas Eimi wanted the ‘correct’ Shakespearean ‘all that glisters’. Fortunately for me the Bard’s was the version I had automatically assumed (without checking the anagram fodder) although the ‘glitters’ version is used by others as diverse as Dryden and Led Zeppelin.

But of course this was a day for that other colossus of English literature, Eimi has given us a repeat of Phi’s Christmas Eve theme – Charles DICKENS’ Christmas novellas A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, and THE CHIMES. Except that rather than a repeat, this puzzle is actually from 10 years earlier and moreover the theme is there for all to see rather than being hidden for the amusement of the setter and a tiny elite. That’s the way to do it!

There’s a real freshness and fun to Eimi’s clueing style, so it’s a shame we don’t have him more these days. Hopefully these Sunday app puzzles will give us a chance to rectify that.

My pick for CoD is this implied reverse anagram:

26a Perfect models suggested by presents for the ninth day of Christmas? (6)

And here’s that link to the blog with the remaining answers from 14 years back:

Fifteensquared/ Independent 6615 Eimi

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟🌟

In which Phi gave us another of his well-hidden ghost themes. Among the answers we had the titles of Hieronymous Bosch works: The GARDEN of EARTHLY DELIGHTS, the LAST JUDGMENT, the DEATH of the MISER, and an Allegory of LUST and GLUTTONY. Well done to anyone who spotted that – it probably was just about detectable for the artistically inclined, but went right over my head as per usual.

Possible points for discussion in the clues today might include:

An unusually low number of anagrams for Phi at just two; some characteristic tricky deletions including the excellent one at 7d for [an]AESTHETIC; a controversial definition at 28a for HIGH CLASS; some rather vague wordplay for 2d LIVID which was nonetheless quite fun I thought; a strange definition of ‘a lot of force’ for ARM in 21d; a super definition of ‘Hardy location’ for 22d SPARTA;  and finally the overall high quality surface readings this time from Phi, including this neat little biographical story in my nomination for Clue of the Day:

6d Puritan, no good in religious group, becomes criminal (7)

A very early post today as I’m now collecting the Cornick offspring who are back for Christmas, before heading off to a grotto at Heligan Gardens to go ‘Ho, ho, ho’ a lot. Well, someone’s got to.

Happy Christmas solvers.

And here’s the 2017 blog from Duncan with all the answers:

Fifteensquared/ Independent9727/ Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

Well here’s a novelty. The i app is putting on a Sunday crossword. Initially I had guessed this was Monday’s crossword posted a day early, but the numbering ‘S0001’ seems to imply that it’s a new addition to our collective solving pleasure, and indeed Eimi has just confirmed to JonofWales that, along with an extra concise crossword, it’s set to become a regular Sunday feature. Hooray!

The original was from 2007, so it’ll be interesting to see how that series progresses. Fortunately most solvers seem to have the knack of forgetting puzzles almost instantly, so if it ever comes to repetitions of repeats, who cares!

I enjoyed it a lot. A few ‘straight’ cryptic clues and my LOI was 20a INDUS where I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I spent a long time trying to think what sort of flower from the garden I was supposed to be coming up with. Probably the oldest trick in the book, and I fell for it.

My favourite was this one:

10a One bent handling bread? (9)

Back in the early days of Fifteensquared bloggers would only explain the parsing of the clues they found tricky, so unfortunately the link below doesn’t give comprehensive coverage. The app’s reveal button will give the answers of course and if you have any further queries then post them in the comments below and I reckon we should be able to answer them between us.

Fifteensquared Independent 6311 by Hypnos

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟🌟

Me blogging one of mine again. Oh well.

This one featured that sub-variety of Nina which has two 8-letter words hidden top and bottom, both linked to 15-letter entry in row 8. Those words being QUESTION, CROSSWORD PUZZLE, and SOLUTION, and as I mentioned in the comments to the original blog, the idea was pinched from Phi who did the same back in 2008 with HONEYBEE, INSECT REPELLENT and LADYBIRD, but arranged vertically – very nice.

The Nina put some constraints on the words used – OYEZ, OYEZ should surely be threefold rather than two, then there were ULLMAN, YEO, TENTH RATE, and NO DEAL which are frankly all a bit sub-optimal in the grid-filling department.

Difficulty can be hard to judge on your own puzzles, but I think these clues were quite mixed;  several were straightforward but then a few were definitely more in the curved ball department. For example we had PTO ‘cycling’ to become OPT, a substitution of ‘O’ for ‘and Well’ in BATHOS, and a double ‘promotion’ of the T in set-set to make TSETSE. Unfortunately that’s what you get with my puzzles; I seem to have (or should I say ‘had’, because it’s a few months since I’ve actually done one) a yen to be ‘creative’ which sometimes comes over as being downright tricksy for the sake of it. Still, at least Eimi seems to be scheduling them for the weekends, when we hopefully all have a little more time.

My nomination for CoD goes to that central clue:

18a Kiss, promise, and then wonder what you’re doing (9,6)

And here’s the link to the 2017 blog by Bert & Joyce:

Fifteensquared Independent 9658 by Maize

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟🌟

Bits of this were really hard, and we had a couple of genuine obscurities like EPHOD and AGRESTAL, so you might have been expecting a fourth star today, but then again a few clues – like IN THE AIR and the three short down clues at the bottom of the grid were very easy – at least by the standards of the week just gone – and my solving time was somewhat quicker than my average for the i (I think), so I’ve given it just 3*. Your experience might be dependent upon your familiarity with the world of pop and rock which forms a brilliantly integrated theme in both clues and answers; for those who’ve never heard of DAMON ALBARN or KANYE WEST et al, this will have doubtless been a bit of a turn-off.

If you allow SONGbirds and LYRIC in 8d and 29d, then every single clue and around half of the lights are themed – Wow! A labour of love from the setter there. The range of music was pretty poppy; not quite the ’70s prog rock feel that some associate with Indy setters. I dare say PALOMA FAITH wouldn’t mind being described as eccentric one bit, although I spent a while wanting 20a F???? to be Frank (Zappa). What got me in a real pickle though was confidently entering ‘staircase’ instead of STAIRWELL at 11a. If we’re being precise about it then a stairwell is indeed the best place to see a staircase, but then if we’re being precise the steps don’t support the level above, rather are they supported by the level above – I speak as someone who installed a lovely ash staircase into a house only yesterday!

Right, time to pick a favourite. Well the real star surely has to be the brilliantly realised theme, but among the several contenders for individual clues I’ll plump for this one.

5d/31a A pop singer is quick to follow fashion, we’re told (6,5)

Do let us know your pick of the pops in the comments below.

And here’s the link to the original blog form 2017

Fifteensquared/ Independent 9666 by Gila