Saturday 16th June 2018

In which I thought the clues had more than the usual brightness and sparkle about them.  So was that just me, influenced by the quirky grid perhaps?  Or maybe Phi himself, having boldly used reflective rather than rotational symmetry, felt peculiarly invigorated?  Well whatever the reason, the clues seemed to me to have a very welcome freshness, and I enjoyed myself.  More than half the clues received ticks in the margin, and my only slight grumbles were at the end with Eblis and Moue, although both were plain enough from the wordplay, thankfully.

My COD nomination goes to the following:

3d South American city, as far as we’re concerned, is wildly colourful (7)

And the 2014 blog is here.

Ah, it seems I need an update.  It turns out there’s a hidden Nina themed around St Valentine’s Day, when the puzzle first appeared.  Duncan, the original blogger didn’t spot it, but writes: ‘Well it didn’t take long before the experienced Nina spotters came along’. To be clear, those two who ‘spotted’ it were Phi himself and Gaufrid, who test solves the puzzles on behalf of the Independent’s editor; so I think we’ll call this another one that Phi has done for his own amusement.



Saturday 9th  June 2018

Bit trickier last weekend. Not to start with perhaps – 1a and 1d were pretty obvious – but a few archaisms here and there made it difficult to be sure if those answers were correct – I’m thinking of Pomfret, Redound, and Under the Rose.

Quite a few ticks here & there too though, as usual, with my favourite being the Russian doll style 6d:

One insisting church invests  in apiary, and then in fruit and dairy produce (9,6)

Which ends rather a brief blog really, considering I’ve had all week to come up with something interesting to say!

And for the 2014 blog click here.

Saturday 2nd June 2018

Which I tackled whilst waiting to meet the Indy setter Eccles at ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ – England’s oldest pub, they claim.  Maybe the Nottingham ale put me in a good mood, but I thought this was a splendid puzzle with Phi on top form.  Plenty of clues to savour, and Eccles turned up in time to help me with the last few – ‘Boondocks’ appears in more than one American song, apparently, whilst he also knew ‘Crosspatch’. Useful thing, a large vocabulary.

So quite a few candidates for COD; 5d, 16d and 21d were on the podium, but I liked the surface reading on this one:

8d  Dump a sailor at sea, nothing less, to secure first in contest – this one? (8,3)

No theme or Nina, so I imagine Phi just used the paired entries top & bottom to get him started this time; and for the 2014 blog click here.

Saturday 26th May 2018

Last Saturday Phi gave us a tribute to one John Clarke, a New Zealand author and satirist, and his 2002 novel The Tournament. In the novel appear (amongst others) Joyce, Eliot and Duchamp, all of whom featured in the crossword, whilst the author himself constitutes a Nina in the top and bottom rows.  Never heard of the book?  Me neither.  Indeed I needed to go to Wikipedia to find out who John Clark(e) was, whereupon the information above became readily apparent.

So a typical bit of Phi shenanigans, which resulted last weekend in a curious solving experience.  Most of the clues were frankly straightforward – certainly compared to the pyrotechnics of the last couple of days – but half a dozen of the answers were definitely thorny, and uncommonly obscure by Independent standards – Oaters, Simulacra, Astrolabe and Clafoutis among them; solvable from the wordplay, sure, but needing dictionary support for confirmation (provided you’ve got a Chambers; a couple of those don’t make an appearance in Collins).

For COD, let’s go for the amusingly plausible 24a: Artist’s pile of rubbish including tea (7)

And all the answers can be found by clicking here.

Saturday 19th May 2018

Phi is brilliant at coming up with new little ideas to put into his puzzles.  Hopefully it didn’t take you too much to see that there were triple letters sprinkling the grid last Saturday – six times in all. Triple letters within words are pretty much banned in English, of course, although sounds like shhh, zzz and brrr are all legitimate (I’ve only ever seen the last one of those in a crossword).  So instead we had entries made of hyphenated or paired words – like Full-length, Cliff face, that sort of thing.  And now I’m wondering about triple letters internationally… I once learned that the French for created  is créée, but what about elsewhere – Hawaiian perhaps?

Anyhow the clues were a good mix of what we’re used to from Phi – I enjoyed myself.  As often happens though, there was again a little something to keep the critics busy – this time it was the repetition of U for university, inserted as part of the wordplay in both Imb[u]e  and On c[u]e.  Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter, but if an apprentice setter did it, they’d soon be put right!

As to my favourite, I’ll go for the simple but elegant 19d: Subject represented in a large book? (7)

And the full blog from 2014 can be found by clicking here.

Saturday May 12th 2018

In which we had ‘Corner’, ‘Tight spot’, ‘Angle’ and ‘Bend’ in the knuckles of the four corners.  Nice touch that, though too subtle for anyone to spot without a heavy hint, I suspect.

Good clues in the main, some excellent. Also a couple of strained definitions – ‘following many government workers’ for ‘clerical’ and ‘Copper for coins?’ as a definition by example for ‘Material Cause’ amongst them. Not that they make the puzzle unsolvable when there’s wordplay or crossing letters to help, but I can’t help wishing the setter had tussled with the clues for a bit longer to discover something more satisfying.

All in all an enjoyable solve with plenty of ticks in my margin and a COD nomination going to the following:

1d Oedipus, say, missing most of the benefit of modern finance? (1-7)

And here’s the link to the 2014 blog on Fifteensquared with all the answers.


Saturday 5th May 2018

Mostly sound clues, a few very good ones, but also a couple of iffy clues for me – sorry to gripe again!  I didn’t mind ‘addle’ for ‘confused’ – that’s legit, whatever they thought to start with over at Fifteensquared, and I can see that ‘cutting’ for ‘tart’ in 25a is an additional, second definition, but I disliked ‘It’s a blast’ to define ‘Alpenhorn’ in 8ac.  Maybe the intention was to imply ‘It has a blast’, but I still didn’t like it!  Then the wordplay in 22d for butty made me cringe, whilst its definition, ‘partner’, seems very obscure – or is it a mining term that D H Lawrence uses?  It’s been a while…

Anyhow there were lots of clues I did like – Eponym at 10a and Cavern Club at 6d amongst them, but my COD nomination goes to:

15d  Praised in cryptic terms, including male soldiers (9)

And the original blog with all the answers can be accessed by clicking here.

Saturday 21st April 2018

Well that was good. For those who don’t remember Phi’s appearances in the very first editions of the i, this is how I remember him – classy and inventive. Of course he comes up with a puzzle a week for the Independent these days, plus numerous others in the Inquisitor series and posted on the internet, so maybe his brilliance sometimes gets a bit diluted… But not this time – I had a plethora of ticks in my margin – three doubles indeed. So with podium finishes for 11a and 21a, my COD goes to 15d:

Shun criminal in two minds, say, having offered no confession (9)

And now I’ve seen the Fifteensquared blog (click here), I learn from the setter that there’s a pretty outrageously obscure ‘Nina’ in the puzzle (his term, I’d call it a mini-ghost theme). Apparently there are Christmas Islands (think Noel Inch) in both Nova Scotia and Tasmania, whilst The Andrews Sisters had a song called Christmas Island.


P.S. If you’re keen for more, that Maize chap has a puzzle in today’s Independent. Just click here.

Saturday April 14th 2018

Phi went easy on us last weekend – by his standards that is; although I concede that anyone uninitiated into the cryptic world who chanced upon page 42 and read a sentence like ‘Puritan flattens fish’ could be forgiven for saying ‘Eh? You what?’ or some such.

Lots of anagrams, some long, and no real obscurities in the answers, even if there were a couple of question marks in my margin: I didn’t twig that the American comedy star in 11a was Steve Carell, and I still wonder if ‘Gone for a Burton really means ‘drowned’. Mind you it was all done and dusted in pretty short measure.

For the COD, I’ll concur with one of the commenters over at Fifteensquared (click here) that 8a was pretty neat: Transmits Hardy novel… or someone else’s? (8,6)

With this sort of grid – known as a (1,1) grid because that’s where the first black square appears (as opposed to (2,2), (1,2), (2,1) or combinations of those) – you could lay good money on Phi having secreted a secret message or theme in the puzzle. Maybe a Nina around the perimeter or an abstruse theme of New Zealand crime fiction?  But nothing was there.  No pangram, hidden message in the clues, repeated double letters in the answers, no lipograms or hidden words spanning the gaps in the grid.  Nada, zilch, zip.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about a puzzle which, as I write this, has slipped quietly from memory already.  I notice, upon retrieving my i from the fire-lighting pile, that ‘Banditti’ at 10a is a new word, and now I come to think of it 25a ‘Crystal Set’ caused me to pause, but otherwise everything was presumably satisfactory.  Four clues have ticks by them, one of which coincides with a favourite of RatkojaRiku’s blog of the puzzle from 2013 (click here to see it), so that can be the COD:

9d Explain how lighter citizens of ancient city will have to conserve energy (5,3,5)