This will undoubtedly have proved a welcome relief for any solvers who’ve been feeling uncomfortable with the challenging puzzles of late, but if you enjoy them chewy – as I especially do at the weekend – then it might have been over a bit too quickly.

All was pleasant and correct – I wasn’t really sure what was intended by 14a HAPPY AS A SANDBOY, so that was got on definition alone; my parsing of 17d YARDSTICK was different to both the versions offered on Fifteensquared; isn’t it Measure = Yard + work = stick, as in to function successfully? And the only real obscurity was my last-one-in, the philosopher EPICTETUS, got by dint of scouring ‘E’ in the index of my only philosophy book. Mind you, a lot of his Stoical ideas seem pretty sound today, as capitalism arguably faces an existential crisis, e.g. ‘Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants’.

Anyhow, back to the clues, and my favourites included the intricately put-together 3a PECCADILLO, 12a ELSEWHERE, and the clever use of air and N(itrogen) in 22d CAIRN. This one pips them all though, and is my Clue Of the Day:

24a Make Parisian perhaps strangely iffy about separation, abandoning women (9)

Finally, here’s the link for all the answers and parsings on a Friday in 2017:

Independent 9511 / Phi

A terrific crossword from Dutch I thought – quite a bit easier than the last few days, but packed with clever ideas to sustain the interest. Loads of candidates for Clue of the Day – the first four across clues were all entertaining, I loved the Keeps till/ KEEP STILL gag at 17d, 4d PLOUGHMEN and 7d HARD TIMES were both outstanding, but my nomination goes to this one with its smooth surface containing a three-part charade:

15d Poser with Spanish and German liquor (9)

The grid convinced me there had to be a hidden theme somewhere but no, this was the exception to prove the rule, because Dutch had re-used a grid from an earlier themed crossword – for reasons he explains in the comments below Duncan’s 2017 blog. Click this link for that and all the answers:

Independent 9545 / Dutch

A rare instance of an un-themed crossword from me – no Nina or gimmick either this time. When filling the grid I can remember simply looking for a collection of nice, accessible or interesting words to fit around a couple of entries used to seed the puzzle – in this case they were 1/9a COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE and 11d UNFATHOMABLE. If you don’t know the former it’s terrific fun to do – you don a half mask, learn some characteristics of your stock character and improvise around a series of lazzi (situations). The joy is that each of us seems to have one of the stock characters inside us, so simply tap into that and go with the flow. Scaramouche, Harlequin, Punch, the Inamorati, Pierrot, and several other archetypes have been super-important in the development of European theatre.

However my CoD nomination goes to the other seed clue, which made it into the puzzle as something along the lines of Thoma[s] inside ‘Un fable’ but with which I became dissatisfied so changed it into an anagram. When setting I sometimes think of anagrams as being a bit of a cop out, but this one provided some fortuitously misleading deception.

11d An album of The Kinks that’s impossible to get (12)

Here’s the link to the Fifteensquared 2017 blog, and a time when Jeremy Hunt was still the Health Secretary:

2017/05/04/independent-9534-by-maize

Vigo appeared in Alan Connor’s ‘Meet the Setter’ series last month, and comes across as being every bit as pleasant as one might hope. Click here to read the article. In it she says she thinks that when solvers see her name on a puzzle they might think “Maybe I’ll finish this one” or “this will be quick”, depending on how experienced they are… Today’s fitted that bill nicely. Just right for the Monday when it first appeared perhaps, but personally it was maybe a bit too ‘read & write’ for a wet weekend with time on my hands. Not the setter’s fault of course.

Clues from Vigo will always be impeccably turned out with plausible surfaces, there was also a good variety of devices used, with VERONICA (hello Veronica!) being the sole complete anagram. Nothing particularly outstanding I thought, but this neat example of Vigo’s work gets my Clue Of the Day nomination:

3d Embarrass oddly deficient god (4)

The answer is also the surname of one Veronica Mars who you will all know as the eponymous heroine of the American teen noir mystery drama television series created by screenwriter Rob Thomas. No? Me neither. In the comments on Fifteensquared Vigo hopes that didn’t detract from the fun. Well why should it? Only that the grid, with its 36 clues did rather scream that there was a theme somewhere, so it’s a little disappointing to not be able to discover it. In her comment she also explains all the themed entries if you’re interested.

For answers, parsings and comments from 2017 click below.

Independent 9,471 by Vigo

After a mixed bag of puzzles in the i this week, normal service has been resumed with Phi on a Saturday. There wasn’t a theme exactly, more of what I believe they call an ‘Easter Egg’ in gaming circles – a little something to go looking for by way of a bonus once you’ve finished. If you didn’t notice it, you might like to go and have a look at your grid now, it’s not too hard to spot…

There. BarTER/ TERabyte in row 1 etc. Quite nice that. And if I’d spotted it sooner it might have helped me with my LOI 12a where I had I_E_R_A_E_ and couldn’t see past ‘Inebriated’. I did wonder if that was another clerical error with the wrong clue written (it has happened in the app before) but a list of ships soon put me right. Level 2 cheating that 🙂

So what about the clues? Well pretty standard Phi material – 6 or 7 anagrams including one for an unknown-to-me American author DREISER, a very nice cryptic definition for DUST BATH – dry cleaning indeed! – and a few other nifty bits of lateral thinking.

Completed in less than average time for the i, my pick for Clue Of the Day is this one:

24a Place with lots of phones but only one line, it seems (4,5)

Full parsings with all the answers can be found from the ever-reliable BertandJoyce by clicking here:

Independent 9475 / Phi

California punches above its weight. With a population smaller than either Uganda or Ukraine say, it has Berkeley, Stanford and Hollywood, it’s given us a list of people from John Steinbeck to Kim Kardashian, it can boast some amazing places from Golden Gate Bridge to Yosemite National Park and now, now it has a theme in the i Weekend Crossword.

Gila gave us the Gateway clue at 25a – telling us it was not Iowa but another state (10) – only California or Washington fit, so that was a gimme, and frankly most of the crossword was what we often call ‘entry level’ so better to relax and enjoy the ride rather than gird your loins for a challenge today – more like a stroll along Cannery Row than climbing El Capitan.

Apart from 25a there were 7 place names which were all familiar; however fitting them in the grid has evidently led to a couple of weirdy-weirdy words – OZEKI and KENO. Fortunately Gila is an old hand at this setting malarkey (he’s done a fair few Inquisitors in case you didn’t realise) so both were clued very clearly.

My only slight grumble in the clues were using TT twice (5d, 17d) and I did struggle with my last one in 28d where I couldn’t think that down meant nap. As sometimes happens, my favourite clues were to be found among the non-themed entries; 4d ENGINE-MAN and 13d PELÉ were both nicely done but my pick today goes to this little hidden:

9a Mini cheese sandwiches for a particular market (5)

All the answers from 2017 can be found by clicking here:

Independent 9,460 / Gila

With all this talk of restrictions on normal life being lifted, I wonder if we’ll be returning to Prize Puzzles by the end of the month? Well, not yet evidently, but what we do have is a remarkably good example of what we’ve come to expect from Phi. The clues were in the middle of his difficulty range and there was a Nina that it seems nobody back in 2017 could get without entering into a dialogue directly with the setter. But perhaps you did see what eluded me? CLARI/NET, FLU/TE, H/ORN, GUI/TAR, VIOL/IN, and BE/LL form the start and finish of rows 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 15. Ah. ‘Very satisfying’ according to some on Fifteensquared, and I suppose to look at after the event it is, but I’m left feeling like one of those rats in experiments who, I recently learned, refuse to playfight with a bigger rat if they lose more than 70% of the time.

I enjoyed the clues with good surface readings in particular. Foremost among those were 15a and 17a. The latter was a simple, short anagram – ‘Appearances – I guess – may be deceptive’ so my nomination for COD goes to the former:

15a Cut short person you want to avoid in pub? Perfectly natural (6)

There were a few obscure-ish entries – BLEAR, STOOLIE and CLARISSA if you didn’t already know them perhaps, then I had a slight question over ‘bronzed’ = TAN in 5d and there was a fairly chewy knot of clues in the SW I thought, with VIOLENCE taking me an age to unpick, so I suspect plenty of newer solvers might have struggled here and there, even if regulars were familiar with most of Phi’s tricks… although maybe not that Nina!

All the answers and parsing can be found by clicking on this link:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/01/20/independent-9445-phi/

I really enjoyed this. Plenty of penny-drop moments with twists and turns all over the place. Although I barely noticed it during the solve, there’s a theme signalled in the two long entries ‘TURN a blind eye to’ and ‘TURNED the TABLES’. Had I bothered to investigate further I might have linked them to ROTA(table), and the ghostly mELBA Toast, carpEL BAThtubs and towEL BATtersea hidden in the completed grid. A fun idea that.

Crosophile is quite a risk taker with his clues – ever inventive and original, and occasionally innovative in quite brilliant ways, as in my nomination for today’s CoD which relates to what is surely the televisual equivalent of the cryptic crossword. Here it is again:

24d Capital of Libya. India. The Road to York. Kent area. Only Connect? (6)

Loved that. other highlights include some clever surface readings like 12a 13a, or 26a, the jiggery-pokery in 14d PEN-AND-INK, and the cleverness of 16d BATTERSEA.

Unfortunately 6d was a bit complicated for my brain this morning, so I just bunged it in and went to Fifteensquared to get help from Duncan’s blog. Never mind, at least I twigged the straight cryptic for 2d, which should read ‘Professorial sinecure’ of course.

if you managed to polish that off and still have an appetite for more before Monday comes around, then you could always try to solve my crossword in the Independent online today, where I go under the name of Maize. For the link click here. It’s the puzzle inspired by a doubtless long-forgotten debate I had with Denzo and dtw42 on grid-filling in the comments of idothei earlier this year.

And here’s the link for Crosophile’s puzzle with all the answers and parsings:

Independent 9449 / Crosophile

A pretty stiff challenge from Alchemi this weekend, with quite a stretch to our vocabularies and general knowledge and his characteristic wide variety of clueing types. Took me longer than average, but thoroughly engrossing throughout and all duly solved with no more than curiosity sending me scuttling off to discover some new things post-solving. NEAT’S FOOT oil comes from the shin & foot bones (not hooves) of cattle (neat); there is a kind of Slav called a SORB, but there isn’t a kind of food called ‘Ambresia’; there was once a CRICKETER called Peter May; a mistle-thrush is also called a STORMCOCK; a person from Yakutsk is called a YAKUT, and like a prawn cocktail you can also order a SEAFOOD cocktail. If you already knew all that, well done, but for me it proved pretty educational.

Some quite specific knowledge of ’70s progressive folk music would have been needed to spot the Phi-like ghost theme lurking in them there lights. The greatly respected Roy Harper had album titles and song tracks dotted around the grid, as spotted by Geebs in the comments at Fifteensquared. I genuinely appreciated the way Alchemi chipped in with ‘but I don’t expect anyone to spot it unaided’; much better than teasing solvers with hints! This was doubtless the reason for our having the extra challenge of a Brompton grid – as Batarde calls a grid of two hingable halves.

Pretty hard to pick a favourite clue today – they were all very good really – but I’m going to plump for the one with the unknown to me Peter May. Here it is again:

28a May possibly credit conspiracy theorist with talking extremely rationally to begin with (9)

And here’s the link for all the answers:

Independent 9,340 / Alchemi

A typical Phi crossword, with a ghost theme based around the nicknames of six of Chopin’s études which he tells us were playing in the background as he compiled the grid: OCEAN, BLACK KEYS, AEOLIAN HARP, BUTTERFLY, WINTER WIND, and REVOLUTIONARY. I’ve heard of Chopin, I knew he wrote études, but the chances of my spotting that were precisely zero. Well done to Andrew at Fifteensquared who did.

The clues were mostly pretty straightforward and of the sort an experienced setter like Phi produces with seemingly effortless ease – one doesn’t get the impression of his going through the tortured agonies of the creative fire particularly – although there was a lovely bit of originality at 21d, so that gets my nomination for CoD today:

Astronomer to maintain unpleasant look half-heartedly (6)

Where the difficulty was racked up a bit, it was more likely to be the vocabulary that caused it to be so – Aeolian Harp, Butterfly in the sense of dilettante, declarants, penlight, Kepler- rather than deceptive surfaces or tricky constructions, so a below average time for most solvers I suspect. Let us know what you thought in the comments below.

Here’s the link to the original blog with all the solutions and parsings:

Independent 9,529 by Phi