Saturday 4th January 2020

My turn to blog the unbloggable Dac. Consistently faultless and pleasing, he sometimes creates puzzles that seem so perfect they achieve a sort of alchemy – last Wednesday’s being one such, indeed.

But we’re discussing his previous offering, from last Saturday of course, which I thought was very good (as ever) but that it was a comparatively run-of-the-mill Dac, and also very much on the easy side for a day when some of us would have been up for a stiffer challenge. Mind you, I notice in the comments of the original blog-with-all-the-answers here that Cyborg thought it better than usual, so take your pick.

My only question concerned the spelling of Tyke as ‘Tike’ in 4d, and my only new word was my LOI Epistyle at 20a, although in common with my usual practice, I’m now convinced that I’ve always known the word and its meaning perfectly well, thank you very much.

I rather liked the clever double definition at 21a, but my COD goes to the following, not least because it avoided of the obvious clueing strategy:

13d Dickensian hero pilfered rum, placed under arrest (11)

There do exist some solvers who only ever do the Saturday crossword; perhaps this one might have enticed them to have a go on the odd Wednesday as well.

Saturday 28th December 2019

A new name for the weekend crossword, eXternal is a hard setter to categorise – I remember his first couple of appearances in the i as being decidedly tricky and very inventive, then we had a slew of pretty straightforward puzzles, and now this one which was quite hard for the IoS slot in which it originally appeared perhaps, but without the fireworks of those early contributions. At least, that’s my impression.

I filled it all in fairly readily until the last few in the SW corner – hands up if you too were expecting those native Africans at 16a to be a half-remembered tribe. Then the decidedly elliptical ‘working with half of resources’ was used to clue ‘hopping’ in 21a, and I took an embarrassingly long time to remember that Che Guevara was responsible for ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ and so twig what was going on with 17d’s ‘Dial-a-motorcyclist’. All duly sorted out in the end though, in what was probably a pretty typical time for the i, and good stuff it was too.

My favourite clues included 10a, 3d, 12d and 20d, but top of the pops was this one:

9a After ignoring her absolutely, Italian woman’s pulled back skirt (6)

All the solutions from early 2015 (yes, we’ve jumped back a year) are to be found by clicking here.

Saturday 21st December 2019

Which must have been my quickest Phi of the year. The solve hinged upon getting the 37-letter Christmas themed answer to 3/8/20. Personally I needed a couple of crossers to twig it, but given the season I’m sure many will have realised what it was straight away from the enumeration alone. It was written and first performed by 10/19 in 1948 (not an artist I knew by name), and when I went searching I came across this pretty irresistible version by a little girl called Melissa Lynn – thank you Batarde for the prompting.

Prior to checking to see if it was in the dictionary I couldn’t remember knowing 12a CORNO DI BASSETTO, but once I saw it there it seemed like I had indeed always known it. Funny how often that happens. My other pause for thought was for 16d LIBRETTOS, which is an alternative to the more common Libretti apparently.

Overall it was an 18a enough puzzle, but probably over too quickly to represent a serious challenge for the more seasoned solvers amongst us, I suspect.

My COD is 18d: Parliamentarians go to court, upset about risqué behaviour? (4-3)

All the answers are here.

Saturday 14th December 2019

Let’s hope these ‘weekday’ setters who have recently been appearing in the Prize slot are going down well with solvers who usually only tackle the cryptic at the weekend. Morph, one of the best of them, made an appearance last Saturday with a crossword that was a bit gentler than his offering on Thursday.

We had quite a few Dad jokes this time (Mrs Cornick thinks that’s basically all that cryptic crosswords are), but they were wrapped up with enough elegance to be raised to something approaching an art form. Among them we had puns on ‘Beds’, ‘Fan belt’, ‘Icier’, ‘Slip of the tongue’, ‘Party line’ and my COD (narrowly pipping 3d) which was this one:

10d What Stanley famously did for a philosopher (13)

And if that sort of thing isn’t your bag, there were plenty of more straightforward examples of the setter’s craft, plus at least two which I would call innovative: In 4d we had ‘coming up with tail held down’ as an instruction to do a reversal of all the letters in CIVET apart from the last one. Nice. Then in 17a we had ‘Core of planet revolving’ which must be the neatest way I’ve encountered of handling the potentially hackneyed idea of changing EARTH into HEART.

So, and despite both the unnecessary word ‘ruler’ in 1d perhaps, and the justifiable quibble raised by Wil Ransome about 22a in the comments of the original blog from 2015 here, I was a very happy solver. Morph’s straight cryptic in 18a got some stick from NealH, but I would defend it – sticks might be employed in lots of sports, but only in a relay race is one actually given a stick.

 

Saturday 7th December 2019

Phi gave us a ghost theme last weekend that was hopefully obvious to everyone – Pyramus & Thisbe as staged by the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No Nick Bottom (though I kept expecting him to turn up) but we did have the following: PYRAMUS, as played by the aforementioned weaver, THISBE as played by Flute, MOONSHINE played by STARVELING, the WALL by SNOUT, the LION by SNUG and then the prologue Peter QUINCE. I once saw a production of The Dream by the RSC where this play within a play was the highlight of the evening and had us rolling in the aisles, memorably with the physical comedy around “I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all!” – bawdy.

Those 9 mostly short theme words amounted to medium theme density I suppose, and given the (1,1) grid, I did wonder if our estimable grid-filler Phi had given us something extra – R-E-L-S-T-E along the Bottom might be a Flute, perhaps? But no, apparently not.

In truth I made slow progress with this one, particularly the NW corner with Isomeric and Nightpiece (a possible extra theme word?) , although the ghost theme was apparent from quite early on, and that certainly helped. Some of the clues were quite good, but for me it was that theme that was the most enjoyable thing in the puzzle by a margin. As RatkojaRiku says in the 2015 blog here, ‘the whole was greater than the sum of its parts’.

My COD is this one: 14d Expert is working with plastic to store energy (10)

Saturday 30th November 2019

As regulars at idothei will know, I am a massive fan of Klingsor’s puzzles, so it’s a real treat to have one of his on my Saturday blogging spot. And it was straight out of his top drawer too (mind you, they all are in my view).

His style is scrupulously fair – no abstruse vocabulary or specialist general knowledge, no stretched synonyms, instructions are given the right way round, link words are minimal and never in the wrong direction, grids always interlock nicely, cop-outs like girl’s names and obscure fish are practically never seen, clue types are varied, clue difficulty is fairly and consistently judged at a little harder than average for the i, there might be the occasional innovation but they are judiciously rare; oh and the surface readings are always a joy.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride! To my mind he’s the perfect template for any aspiring setter.

I had 9 ticked clues plus another 4 with double ticks: 14a, 5d, 13d, and the pick of the bunch was this one:

20a Continent, oddly not one seen in map collection (8)

I filled in the grid nice and steadily, with no questions about parsing until my LOI, 22d; I could see that ‘it’ meant sex and that we were supposed to insert A into BED, but I was really surprised to see that ‘bed’ has a nounal definition as sexual intercourse. ‘Let’s do some bed’; ‘it’s ages since I’ve had any bed’. Really? It’s there in Chambers so it must be, but how come I’ve only ever met it as a verb before, as in to bed someone? Oh well, live & learn, live and learn.

All the answers are to be found  by clicking here.

 

Saturday 23rd November 2019

If we are to believe what we read, today’s editorial should provide reassurance for us all. Following the alarming news of change of ownership to the Rothermeres (yes, as in the Daily M**l), the i will apparently retain its editorial independence and also its supply chain from the Independent; there’s also a promise to ‘invest in journalism’. Well, if the Mirror and the Express can share an owner, I suppose anything is possible.

As to last Saturday’s crossword, I thought Phi was on very good form indeed. In a parallel world we could imagine all double-word answers having a blank square between the two halves, like an em space, and that the two halves would be lined up in the same row or column. Which is exactly what Phi gave us last week with BATHING MACHINE, TURKISH DELIGHT, THERMAL PRINTER, and INERTIA SELLING. Extremely gruntling that.

No quibbles either – my LOI was 19a EASED which was maybe a little convoluted SE[t] inside [h]EAD, but perfectly parsable with a little thought in retrospect.

So all in all very happy to have Phi back in the Prize slot. Hope you enjoyed it too.

COD: 8d Cuts in energy repeated period of darkness (7)

And the answers can all be seen by clicking here.

Saturday 16th November 2019

Was eXternal always like this? We’ve had a couple of dozen of his puzzles by now I think, but whilst my early impressions were of a tricksy innovator, he seems to have been much easier recently, and last Saturday’s seemed about as soft-boiled as they get in the i, with 7½ anagrams (most of the longer clues) and a couple of hiddens to boot.

Looking back through the Fifteensquared archive I see that several of his crosswords appeared in the IOS slot, which normally indicates an easier type of puzzle of course, but that he has also produced quite a few Inquisitor puzzles, which JonofWales will confirm are decidedly fiendish. So I suppose we can safely conclude that he’s pitching things just as he intends to.

All that means this was a good one for beginners and improvers, but won’t have caused the old hands too much trouble, I suspect. Writing this a week after the event, I certainly can’t remember being held up at the end by anything – my LOI was 15d which seems to be as straightforward as all the rest really. Just one quibble-ish glyph for the supposed synonym skirt/ round, but four ticks, with my favourite being this hidden:

11a A bit of Latin or the astronomy course? (9)

And you can whisk yourself back to September 2015 for all the answers by clicking here.

Saturday 9th November 2019

Dac on a Saturday? After checking for plagues of frogs and that the earth was indeed still turning on its axis, my sense of security was quickly restored last weekend upon being reacquainted with Dac’s reassuringly reliable style. I suppose it might have been a bit easier than average for a Dac crossword, and in truth it wasn’t one of his outstanding puzzles, but that didn’t stop it still being very good indeed – frankly they always are.

It’s testament to his consistency that the commenters over on Fifteensquared  each picked a different clue as their favourite: RAPESEED with its anagram fodder & anagrind of deep-sea/ divers, OVERGROWN, ITALIANATE, DANTE, and DALEK (which will have doubtless been JonofWales’ favourite).

As for my choice, I probably did like the Rapeseed clue best, but just to be different I’m going to nominate the following for its surface (of course) and for its innovative use of ‘seconds’:

26a Consumed seconds of lean bacon before mid-morning (5)

 

Saturday 2nd November 2019

After what seems like years of uninterrupted Phi crosswords for the Saturday Prize Puzzle, the editor has been mixing it up a bit recently with Vigo, Punk, and now Monk appearing on alternate weekends. Is he trying to give people a taste for the weekday puzzles perhaps?

I thought this was a fine example of a solid British daily cryptic, which apart from the slightly racy 1d, might almost have been lifted off the back page of The Times, say, for which Monk also sets. For me it was a very evenly paced solve, perhaps a little easier than typical for Monk, about average for the i and mercifully free of question marks or dodgy glyphs in my margin at the end.

I suppose you could think of the 5 classic clue types as being anagrams, charades, reversals, homophones and container clues. Although homophones can give the biggest laughs (or groans), I have a fondness for the last of those, and Monk gave us fully 9; happy with that here. What he also included were a smattering of innovative devices – here we had an interesting pair of deletions at 15a Mephisto and 7d specified, the former of which then required the first letter moving ‘beginning to shift’ to get the answer. Complicates, yes, but also made perfectly clear.

However my COD goes to the following:

18d Clangers are so modern to reflect about repeated old lines (7)

Back in the original blog from 2015 sometime commenter at idoithei allan_c raises some legitimate criticisms, but they certainly didn’t spoil the puzzle for me.

Oh yes, and it turns out there does exist the tiniest of Ninas: points of the compass near the centre of the grid. Definitely not one anybody could be expected to find unaided.