Difficulty rating (out of five):  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

There’s something going on theme-wise to do with Peter Grimes in the crossword today – don’t ask me what though; when it comes to total ignorance, my two specialist subjects are operas and soap operas. True, I’ve heard of Peter Grimes, but then I’ve heard of Emmerdale too.

A mostly gentle solve – by chance I encountered most of those pretty straightforward anagrams early doors which got me off to a good start – but I did have to pause for a bit at the end when I encountered the crossing 22a NIHILISTIC and 19d MATLOCK – the former being probably the most complicated clue in the puzzle.

As ever Phi’s clues are put together following all the rules of cryptic grammar immaculately. This makes him a popular setter with the solvers on Fifteensquared, although I find myself repeatedly disappointed by the surface readings, which often read like the sort of gobbledygook that non-crossword people poke fun at. If you look back at them and unpick them, they can invariably be made to make sense, but the surface reading generally springs off the page less readily than does the cryptic reading, which for my money is the wrong way round. My sister (on the other side of the breakfast table) is a speedy and expert solver who says she never reads the surfaces anyhow, but just goes for the cryptic reading every time. So perhaps not many solvers care about or even notice such things.

Happily some of the clues have surface readings that do read like normal sentences, and so (because I do care!) one of those gets my nomination for Clue of the Day:

2d Holiday rental for three? (7)

And here’s the link to the Fifteensquared blog with answers and parsings:

Fifteensquared Independent 9565 Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A very engaging pangram comes to us courtesy of Vigo today. This is an accessible puzzle with excellent surface readings throughout, good word-play and no obscure vocabulary.

It’s one of my least favourite grids, a Brompton effectively delivering four mini-crosswords rather than one whole one. This can add to the difficulty somewhat. If you get stuck (as I did today, and indeed often do) with two or three crossing clues which are reluctant to yield, it is sometimes possible to besiege the resistant area by surrounding it and infiltrating one’s way in. But with this sort of grid that sort of approach is sometimes impossible, and today I was forced to resort to lists in one quadrant.

Canvassing other solvers’ opinions, I have one question: are we an anagram indicator missing in the clue for YIELDS, or is “produces” doing double-duty? Or am I just over-thinking this?

Double-ticks and smiley faces today for: the whimsical word-play in BEMUSE; likewise for BESTRIDE; the delightful MARIJUANA; the amusing BUMF. Clue of the day, though is the gem we have in 14ac: “Try to get silver coating on edge of seat (4)”.

Here’s the link to the puzzle’s first appearance, with the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/21/independent-9627-by-vigo/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Today’s puzzle began with the worry that I was going to upset some of my fellow solvers by awarding low marks for difficulty to a Serpent puzzle, because I know that some struggle with him more than I do. No fear though, because following a pretty much read and write solve of the RHS of the grid, the other half refused resolutely to budge and took this well into 5* territory. Key to this difficulty was 1d, where “you broadcast” for the anagram indicator passed me by completely, leaving a grim determination to do something with the “you”, whatever the odds as time passed. SALON for exhibition room being less than obvious, and a fixation on STY, ENC or PEN for the enclosure at 1ac would also contribute to my undoing.

As there’s lots of brilliant stuff on offer, though, you would have little cause for complaint about having to spend a while with the puzzle. In particular, outside of my COD nomination, I liked 29ac not only for the smooth surface reading, but for “midnight” which contributed to it, and 17d again for a pretty good surface, and the lesser used “jazz” to indicate the anagram.

There’s a theme, that I missed, to do with things beginning RED, which is a pity as it would have helped no end. Perhaps this contributed to the difficulty level in terms of words chosen for the grid, I don’t know.

That aforementioned COD? For me, it’s got to be the rather neat 10ac – “Substance abuse that initially started with illness (4)”.

Stuck for the answers or parsing of the clues? Look no further than John’s 2017 blog:


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Another great puzzle from the legacy of the late, great, Dac. As one of the commenters on fifteensquared says, β€˜I know we keep saying it, but you run out of things to comment on when Dac is providing the puzzle. Excellent as always …’

This took a few moments to get into; I was half way through the acrosses in my first read-through before I got my first one in, MORALITY, but after that things flowed pretty smoothly – there was certainly nothing TROUBLESOME (2dn) about this puzzle.

That being said, I did think a couple of clues were a bit close to their answers. In 5ac the functions are of course sines but the answer, COSINESS, is simply an S added on to β€˜cosines’ – and β€˜cosine’ is another example of a function. And in 5dn the first three letters are the standard abbreviation for the complete answer, COLONEL (as well as the word for a mountain pass).

There were plenty of high spots, though. In 11ac I liked the misdirection towards the films of Richard Burton, and in 13ac I thought the combination of the full abbreviation (REME rather than just RE) plus a reminder that we used to dial rather than press numbers was rather neat. Others I liked included 24ac, 16dn and 20dn.

Occasionally on fifteensquared there are discussions as to what constitutes an &lit, otherwise known as an extended definition or a clue as definition. My CoD, if not a full &lit, certainly has &lit-ish qualities: 1ac, β€˜Fair-minded people repulsed by such temper tantrums (6)’

All the explanations can be found at www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/26/independent-9605-dac/

I had a dream, and it was about falling ladies. Some would say that the week’s Inquisitor had finally driven me to distraction. Perhaps they would be right, because following a pretty swift grid fill, I proceeded to spent all Saturday afternoon, evening and night staring at the grid trying to ascertain how the LADY in the diagonal across the centre might, presumably, fall, to give a “possibility for the victim’s name”.

Ironically, if my solution is correct, I had GLADYS in mind for a long time, but just couldn’t seem to get it to work. And then, overnight, I dreamt that I was reading the accompanying Fifteensquared blog which revealed all. Presumably I misread, because I’m sure it said that the name would be found across the bottom row of the grid, the lady having fallen thus far, because I only have the L, A and D of LADY toppling backwards to the centre of the grid.

Feel free to refer me to a counsellor, or advise that I take up a new hobby.

Mind you, things didn’t start that smoothly. My first answer solved was HYPNOTOID, which I proceeded to enter confidently in the grid, only to find that we were a cell short. As a quick count ascertained that we were for all the across entries. A solve of a few downs seemed to confirm that we just had to omit the last letters, and being of a suspicious mind I jotted them beside the answers, which gave, with little ado:


Which a quick Google search revealed was a fictional book from HANCOCk’s (35ac, see) The Missing Page. We only have missing letters, but it’s close enough. The missing page in question apparently should have revealed the identity of the murderer, much to the frustration of Hancock and Sid James.

Look, there’s the detective, duly altered, near the top of the grid.

All of which was completed before lunchtime, perhaps as a result of not being able to get out due to seasonal but still quite dispiriting downpours, but also because, well, this was at the easier end of the scale.

And then it would be another twenty-four hours before I finally spotted that moving LAD as I have would give GLADYS. Why Gladys? Am I barking up completely the wrong tree? When I’ve begun to dream about crosswords is it time to move on? Probably, probably. The fact that as well as noting beside the grid that 20d tickled me, but also that I was particularly impressed with 11d in a puzzle where there was no 11d would seem to confirm this.

Pass me a strong drink, followed by the name of a good psychiatrist and a lie-down in a darkened room.


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Rather unusually, I believe, Tees offers up our Tuesday themed puzzle, this week being on the subject of 10 4. Now, I’ve given this a three star rating for difficulty, but I suspect that if you were familiar with the subject matter then you may have found this quite a bit easier, in particular 21/16/23 and the author’s name. As it was I fell between the two camps, and didn’t really struggle throughout, recording a steady but not spectacularly fast time. Outside of the themed entries, most would have been familiar to solvers – 27ac as a Doctor Who villain, of course, and 18ac more usually as part of wordplay. To the NW corner we had the less-familiar “scratched message” crossing with the completely unfamiliar 9ac, but the latter was as fairly clued as you would like and something of a write-in here.

Overall as nicely done as expected from Tees, with ticks beside 17d and 6d. COD though goes to 26ac – “Poetic content from Tees is nonsense! (5)”.

To July 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

An all-too-rare appearance from Peter brings us a relatively gentle introduction to the crosswording week. I say “relatively” because hitherto I have thought of Peter as setting the most novice-friendly and accessible of puzzles, but this time she has offered just something a little more challenging than we have had from her before.

It was an enjoyable and engaging crossword, which parsed neatly throughout, and in which the surface readings of the clues are plausible, convincing English sentences. I needed two visits to the Internet; to check on ABELE, and on “gaff”. While I was there I also looked at DISTAFF, which was a word that I knew, although I didn’t really know what it meant. It was good to have a different river from the usual Ure, Dee and Exe, etc, as well.

There are a couple of controversial bits of word-play: using “downbeat” to clue an anagram of “down”, and “close to Styx” for “ten”. The entries were clear enough, but those parts of the clues may have left some solvers perplexed.

Clue of the day goes to the delightfully whimsical 14ac: “Entitlement to drink is absolute! (9)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/06/25/independent-on-sunday-1426-by-peter/

Difficulty rating (out of five):  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

(an average of half 🌟🌟 clues and half 🌟🌟🌟🌟 clues)

It’s a real treat to have Morph back – one of the best setters anywhere – and given his supreme abilities the (2,1) grid with a black square at (1,1) there was definitely going to be a theme or Nina going on. Unfortunately I missed it, which is a shame because it’s very nicely done and one of my favourite varieties which we don’t see very often – ‘A group of themed Ninas’ you could call it. Spoiler next:

Lurking in each of the paired across entries we had Lus/t, P/ride, Glut/tony, Gree/d, S/loth, En/vy and W/rath, and the clue for 15d BRINGS IN involves the Deadly Sins too. Personally I prefer to use ‘Avarice’ rather than ‘Greed’, but that’s probably just so that I can use my WASPLEG mnemonic!

The clues were a curious mixture of the easy and the hard with, as Hovis mentions on the other side, nothing much in between. Just one obscurity – DRUPEL at 17a was a nice word to learn, but the wordplay could have as easily been for ‘drupal’ so a slight blemish there perhaps. Surely everybody has heard of HYGGE and EMOTICON by now?

Favourites include the definition ‘Out of condition’ for 11a RIDERLESS, the cleverness of 19a PENINSULAS, 1d BROCHURE, 2d CLIP, 19d PRENUP, 20d NICETY, and 21d UNMOWN.

Pick of the pops for me though goes to one of the easier ones – assuming you knew the word, that is:

23d Like omelettes hotel served up in Scandinavian way? (5)

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared where Simon Harding provides all the answers and parsing – although I still don’t quite fully understand what’s going on in the parsing of 16a DEGREE or 16d DOE.

Fifteensquared Independent 9,590 by Morph

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (or 🌟🌟 if it all seemed a little familiar).

I was feeling rather smug about my solving prowess this morning, as I positively rattled my way through what I thought should have been chewy clues, the answers coming to me as if from nowhere. A couple of entries made me think “oh, that was in another crossword not so long ago…”. Then the penny dropped. It was long enough ago for me to not to recognise the clues, but recent enough for me to recognise the entries.

So here’s what was said four weeks ago:


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

To continue with the rather eccentric scheduling of puzzles this week, Thursday sees an Alchemi reprint from a Wednesday in 2017 where he was a more than able stand in for Dac. I’ve given it four stars for difficulty, but this could as easily have been a high end three stars, complicated for me by the quite convoluted 10d, an inability to spell 15d, and a wonderful PDM at 3d when I suddenly realised what the apparently random collection of letters I was putting together spelt. Oh, and a refusal to write-in for too long at the close what was obvious at 29ac.

We have a number of linked clues, all referring to 16ac, which was as easy to solve as you could like. This meant that, with a little general knowledge, things like the pilot and aristocrat who were 16ac were perfectly gettable, even if you aren’t up to speed with your list of Greek satirists or a little slow with the wordplay here and there.

Talking of which, there was some very nice stuff on offer here, some of which defeated me. In particular, “deep 16” as part of the wordplay for 10ac was quite inspired, even if I did only get it in retrospect. In fact, it’s so well done I’m going to make it my COD – “Scottish mayor sees very large junction on deep 16 (7)”.

But let me know how you got on…

Still stuck for the answers or parsing of the clues? Look no further than Fifteensquared’s 2017 blog, which can be found here: