Saturday 10th June 2017

One of the joys of blogging the weekend’s prize puzzle is that there’s no pressure to solve and get a blog posted by lunch-time. Just as well last Saturday, with a stonker of a puzzle which had plenty to relish, but which took me several re-visits whilst it idled on the kitchen table. I for one much prefer doing a tricky puzzle that way to using electronic aids.

An unfamiliar definition of ‘Old Man of the Sea’ and a new word ‘copacetic’ were the only things I felt compelled to double-check, and it’s quite a few years since I watched any Kathakali dance, but everything fell into place eventually – very satisfying!

Amongst several contenders for COD – including the clue for the aforementioned dance – I’ll plump for the following:

18a Cartoon sailor caught wasp in flight, suppressing awful pain (7,7)

All the answers, plus an nerdfest of a discussion on the word ‘on’, can be found here.

i Prize Cryptic Crossword 1972 by Phi

Saturday 3rd June 2017

It was only 7 weeks ago that Phi gave us a crossword themed on the vicars of Charles Dickens, and here the great man is again, in a Nina, top and bottom of the grid. I didn’t spot the additional theme, and indeed it needed Phi to comment on it at Fifteensquared here before anyone there did.  I’m uncertain about the purpose of a theme like this – with just carol, cricket, chimes, battle and haunted dotted around the grid – that we don’t notice without it being pointed out by the setter.

All pretty regulation stuff – 14a had me scrabbling around trying to think of a Daphne du Maurier book called Trilby, but the novel in question was written by her grandfather George – I bet AndyT knew that. Eagres at 6d had me scratching my head for a while, 5d ‘Laic’ was tricky to parse, and the second meaning of Merc had one of its two outings this week – otherwise all pretty straightforward and enjoyable.

For COD, let’s go for the loosely topical 1d:

Minister’s angry, dismissing heads of Home Office (6)

And congratulations to Grace Scott of Perthshire, the prize winner, who must have solved the crossword without sneaking a look at the answers on Fifteensquared because they now magically disappear for the prize puzzle during the week between publishing the i and the appearance of this blog. Quite right too.

Saturday 27th May 2017

My favourite Phi for quite some time with Puck’s commentary on humanity (Act III Scene ii) ‘Lord what fools these mortals be’ appearing as a peripheral Nina, with the four specimens of humanity in question being Hermia in 25a, Helena in 19a, Demetrius as the initial letters of the first nine clues, and Lysander as the initial letters of the last eight. Rather wonderful that.

I must confess to failing to go looking for those missing male lovers – but I should have done. There was some talk after Scorpion’s similar ruse on Thursday about whether such things constitute a setter being self-indulgent. Well, don’t we do these puzzles for the joy of solving? Isn’t this another potential thing to solve? So as (and if) we twig the theme, Nina or even the acrostic in the clues, don’t we, as solvers think: ‘How clever am I?’ So I say ‘Bring it on!’

COD 9a Expanse surrounding lion or Christian, ultimately? (5)

All the answers from 2013 plus comments on grid asymmetry and 28a can be found here.

Saturday 20th May 2017

Over at Fifteensquared with all the answers here there was unanimous applause for last Saturday’s puzzle, so it must have been just me in a grumpy mood then!

Not with the tui, dreck, spelunker or lorikeet– all fine with me (hasn’t everyone heard of a lorikeet?) – but I didn’t like ‘stick’ being in both anagram fodder and solution for 2d, and I found all that tope business in 7d completely inaccessible. Then the definitions for 18a, 3d, 17d and 19d all jarred, alas… But everyone else seems happy with them, so maybe it was just me!

Heigh-ho. I did finish it in reasonable time and thought there was probably something ‘going on’. It turns out that The Father Brown (23a) series of detective stories includes: Innocence (16d) Wisdom (1a) Incredulity (11a) Secret (26a) and Scandal (20a).

COD? I was tempted by 9a, but the following is a perfect example of the setter’s art:

16d         Naivety a bar no longer, church admitted (9)

Saturday 13th May 2017

Over at Fifteensquared with all the answers here, Phi says he gives us a Nina about 50% of the time.  I wonder whether that figure includes puzzles which have themes, ghost themes, those which have interesting grids and those with that Phi speciality of ‘new and interesting’ words? Straightforward puzzles seem to me to be as rare as hens’ teeth – but this was one of those.

Quite tricky in places – ‘aquatint’ only rang a distant bell in 14a, and the meaning of ‘screw’ in 4d was unfamiliar.  Then with 21d the wordplay and checkers pointed to Ao dai, and I’m betting I wasn’t the only one reaching for a dictionary – turns out it’s a Vietnamese dress. Obviously!

Still, all perfectly solvable and enjoyable as ever. Discussion at length on the other channel about 19d and the possible ambiguity of which was the required answer, Apse or Apps. Seemed okay to me – I just assumed the ‘in’ was a link word.

COD – With apologies for omitting what is an inviolable tradition and thanks to AndyT for pointing it out… Hmm… Yes, it’s a goodie isn’t it:

10a  Augmentation of text in line covered by revolutionary work on document? (5)

Saturday 6th May 2017

There was a cat in each line and yes, for once, I spotted it. Which is enough about themes!

Quite tricky in places with unfamiliar wordplay like ‘terms’ to indicate the first & last letter in 3d or ‘transfixed’ as a containment indicator in 26a, so my progress was slow but steady.

There’s a bit of a discussion about definition by example over at Fifteensquared. It’s pretty simple really.  Imagine a quick crossword.  To clue OAK, say, one might have: Tree (3).  However to clue TREE with Oak (4) would seem odd – it’s a definition by example.  A dictionary wouldn’t do that so neither does a setter.  He/she must put ‘Oak, for example (4)’ or some such, or just ‘Oak? (4) – which is deemed to be a bit trickier.  Here endeth the lesson.

COD: 22a Asian native behind Gulf concealing diamonds from old African country (10)

Saturday 29th April 2017

Which, although it’s only May, I award the title of hardest-to-get ghost theme of the year.

If you look at the grid, you’ll see there are four black Fs, one on each corner – Phi calls it “The Four Fs grid”. By happy chance – and this you may have heard of – psychologists talk about The Four Fs said to be our most fundamental human drives, namely Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding and the other one (pick out the letters in 1d). Predictably no-one spotted that at Fifteensquared back in 2012 (click here).   And I suppose it does raise the possibility of Phi lobbing us the three Hs, or the five crosses perhaps, one day…

Anyhow, a pretty average level of difficulty from Phi; as usual his anagram clues were excellent but computers have made these rather easier to compile than they were in the days we used to rearrange the letters of our friends’ names with Scrabble tiles (or was that just me?), so I shall reserve my highest admiration for the clue which amused me the most:

21a Marine creature attracting Scottish comments in these areas? (3,5)

Saturday 22nd April 2017

Phi found a novel spin last week, with three clues giving long answers split over two lights. The clues were excellent in all three cases, but I wonder if I was the only one bunging some of them in from definition and enumeration alone.

A bit of a hoo-ha over on Fifteensquared here with regard to 3d. Speaking as a poacher turned gamekeeper (I’ve got one in the Indy this coming Thursday, btw), I can assure you that Eimi is normally an extremely thorough editor, and I think he can be forgiven for not poring over every clue when dealing with a setter as trusted as Phi. Never guessing an error, I entered ‘numeroso’ (presuming it to be an import from the Spanish) then, when the crossers showed it had to be ‘numerous’, I thought ‘Eros’ must have an alternative version ‘Erus’. In the end (and apart from the anachronisms, which I’ve come to enjoy) it turned out to be the first out-and-out mistake in a puzzle I can recall over the last five years or so of doing the i.

As for the other ‘lapse’ that caused a stir back in the day, I actually had 23a ‘Sailor leading rest in’ as a candidate for Clue Of the Day – surely when a fire is properly in, it is indeed ‘ablaze’.

COD: 16d Comic study of religion briefly engaging Head (3,5)


Saturday 15th April 2017

Just for a change Phi called himself Noz (think either Boz or ‘No Z’) when this puzzle appeared in the Independent back in 2012, the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, but for the i we were given his more familiar nom de plume.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that the only character I recognised was David Copperfield’s friend Steerforth. Alas I couldn’t conjure up any of the reverends, not even Reverend Stiggins, despite Pickwick Papers being one of the few Dickens novels I have read.

Coming though as it did after a week of easier end crosswords though, I relished the challenge of deciphering unknown names from a combination of wordplay, crossers and guesswork, finishing off with Reverend Chadband (Bleak House) and the SW corner.

And for completists, the other reverends to make an appearance were Crispinkle (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Milvey (Our Mutual Friend) and Howler (Dombey & Son

COD: 9,29  Author lacked richness? That’s entirely wrong! (7,7)

And all the answers are here.

Saturday 8th April 2017

In which Phi gave us one of his themes with a (to me) obscure author plus some of his book titles. I spotted ‘Oliver’ and thought that might be his ruse, but with ‘Sacks’ not being an obvious surname, I didn’t take it any further. Had I Googled though, I might have encountered Migraine, Awakening(s), A Leg To Stand On, and Uncle Tungsten. Bravo to you if you spotted all that!

Lots of praise for Phi’s clues at the 2012 Fifteensquared blog here, especially 2d, which must surely be the current frontrunner for the Barbara Windsor clue of the month award. However my COD goes to the following:

5d Unknown scoundrel brought in bloody traffic system (8)