Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Phi sets good, solid cryptic crosswords. He can infuriate sometimes with themes so ghostly that the very best of mediums would struggle to give them voice. But if you switch off to the ghost themes and consider them as straightforward puzzles, then you can rely on Phi.

As it happens, there is no theme to this crossword. And it is a good, solid cryptic. There is no contentious word-play, and just one potential obscurity, which is PITOT TUBE. I for one had not come across this before, but it was clearly clued with helpful crossing letters (the only question was whether it would be”pitot” or “potit”).

I think this was a good choice of crossword to follow yesterday’s perhaps too challenging one. Among many pleasing clues, my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 14d, with its humorous surface reading: ” Concern about deity’s lumbering steed (9)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/20/independent-9679-phi/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Or, we’re going to need a bigger difficulty rating. If we just note that I’ve solved some Inquisitors in less time than it took for today’s Tyrus, then that should sufficiently scope the size of today’s mammoth task. There’s a Nina, and theme, and whether or not that “necessitated” the number of obscurities in the grid, I’m not sure. Tyrus is usually pretty tough anyway, but said obscurities made it doubly so, and some would argue that the German town and Irish name were definite no balls. Elsewhere 19d surely doesn’t work, as we have a link word between “costs” and “run” which in my book gives CHARGETOR, and not the desired answer. IC for “in van” is also clever, but probably a step too far for me. Over on the other side the consensus seems to have been that this was worth the time, but tbh I found it a bit of a slog, and often unfair. Sorry Tyrus!

COD? I’ll go with 13ac – “Man U get beaten by Spurs at last! They will make changes (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from October 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/21/independent-9680-by-tyrus/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

Well, I don’t know how fair a review I can write about this. I’m not a fan of Hoskins these days and usually give his puzzles a miss as I find his penchant for smut, drugs, booze and schoolboy humour about bodily functions very tiresome. I’m not averse to occasional risquΓ© surfaces but when almost every other clue contains such references it’s a bit much. Today’s puzzle is a prime example, starting with the first word of the first clue.

So I may as well acknowledge that having solved a handful of β€œnormal” clues I sloped off to the fifteensquared blog and wrote in most of the answers to the setter’s β€œtrademark” clues, which means that my assessment of the difficulty level is a bit of a guess.

So did I enjoy any of it? Yes, there were several clues which took my fancy – 10, 13 and 24 across, plus 4, 5, 6, 7, 15 and 21 down. Of those I particularly liked 10 and 13 across but my nomination for CoD goes to 6dn: β€˜Cross and weary after the Spanish turned up (7)’

The original blog and comments, with extended input from the setter, can be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/01/independent-on-sunday-1440-hoskins/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Matters 25ac today? Apparently there is a theme, and as the game of needling poor Pierre over on Fifteensquared regarding his hatred of all things to do with 14/19 seemed to still be going strong, I’m going to assume that’s what it is. All of which means little to us now (and I suspect then either), which doesn’t matter, because this is a decent puzzle enjoyed nonetheless. A few obscurities dotted around, notably in the wordplay for 1ac, and a nice bit of misdirection that I fell for in the wordplay for 1ac, ie “1 Down’s neighbour” kept me on my toes. The font used for the clues also gave brief pause when trying to identify the Shakespearean character, but everything else went in with little ado.

COD? I’ll go with 6d – “See stars with really good ecstasy taken in pub (5,4)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in the Fifteensquared blog from September 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/25/independent-9657tees/

More than 50% extra free is what we had this week courtesy not only of an extended title and setter’s name (welcome, btw), but also a hefty preamble. When faced with such a beast my policy is always to look at what we need, in this case clashes and extra letters, and ignore the rest until all becomes clear at the close.

Or not, on the other hand.

After an early start necessitated by the twins’ second Covid jab at what could only be described as an ungodly hour for a Saturday morning, with the added excitement of somebody else’s child fainting and a tsunami halfway through, to the main event.

Slowly, it must be said, this being what could best be described as a fairly rigorous solve, though one that elicited a smile courtesy of the Star Wars reference, even if I must admit that the Jedi in question was the last I thought of.

Extra letters. Having disposed of an unwanted ASS (yeah, your parsing skills were pretty rubbish too): BEST TONY MUSICAL WINNER.

Clashes duly noted… After calling on the services of an anagram solver to help untangle them, a little tweaking revealed that one possible combination, in order, in the shape of a figure 6 in fact, was the lesser spotted ANNA OF CLEVES, from the musical Six.

All good then? Read the preamble more closely, Jon. It’s “a work”, so I think it’s safe to say the figure drawn is correct, but the character isn’t a thematic one, because said musical hasn’t (yet) won a Tony.

The alternative, reading from the other direction, though, is: GUIDI CONTINI, from another musical, Nine, which did win a Tony or two. So those are the choice of clashing letters, I suspect. And, rather neatly, it fits in with all that 50% extra stuff, both in the title and addition of extra letters.

The work it was inspired by? 8 1⁄2, which I must admit to not writing in properly first time, having not read the preamble carefully enough.

But first we were asked to manipulate the grid. I can only think that it needs to be turned upside down, to change that 6 into a 9, and thus the required thematic work.

Probably wrong, and no doubt I’ve missed something else in the mother of all preambles, but there you go.

Done, and dusted. A debut, and what a debut, from the mysterious Nathan Panning. Pseudonym, or just one of the many Google failed to link to any crosswordy types? Perhaps Nathan him (or her) self will reveal all.

20220116_143529~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

After the tribulations of last week, in which we were treated to a concentration of very challenging crosswords and, moreover, were affronted with the confounding of our expectations of accessible puzzles on Mondays and Wednesdays, it was reassuring to have a pleasantly gentle start to the week. That’s if there’s anyone left solving after such a week as that. πŸ™‚

This enjoyable and satisfying puzzle was just right for a Monday. There are no obscure words, with the possible exceptions of the crossing PIED and SKIPJACK, both of which provoked a quick check in the dictionary. Only one clue caused me some head-scratching, which was INDICES, my last one in. Once the crossing letters were in the entry was clear, and I got the word-play. It was the definition which bemused me.

My Clue of the Day goes to 14ac, which was pleasing in the simplicity of its construction, and which offers an excellent surface reading: “Writer drinks fruit smoothie at last (11)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/22/independent-on-sunday-1443-by-peter/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A pretty tricky offering from Scorpion today, due not only to the always fiendish cluing we have come to expect from him, but also because of the sheer volume of obscurities on offer in the grid. To some extent I’ll forgive Scorpion because the name of one of my favourite bands is smack bang in the middle of the grid, but obscure long dead sports people, odd British towns, and French regions together with some forays into the less known parts of the dictionary is all a bit much. There’s a ghost theme explained by our very own Cornick over on the other side – songs and albums from the 10ac band Half Man Half Biscuit who I vaguely remember, but I’m guessing nobody noticed. Not my cup of tea then overall, but well scheduled for a Sunday I will say when solvers will presumably have more time on their hands.

COD? I’ll go with 6d, if only for the bit of Welsh mentioned – “During party in Wales, note semi-cropped style of hair (7)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in the Fifteensquared blog from August 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/08/independent-9616-by-scorpion/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

In which Phi’s customary ghost theme consisted of these 8 record labels: BRILLIANT, HYPERION, ORFEO, FUGUE, FLARE, DΓ‰JΓ€-VU, NAXOS, and TESTAMENT. I think that’s it. I’m not entirely sure whether or not GUITARS, TUNE, PART, ALBUM and OOMPAH or indeed the sprinkling of musical references in the clues count as part of the theme; they may have been deliberate embellishment on Phi’s part, they may have arisen subliminally because he was thinking about classical records, but then again he often puts in classical music to his crosswords in any case, so who knows?

In the Fifteensquared comments, ‘crimper’ opines that a ghost theme is the best sort of theme because it ensures no-one feels left out; hmm, that rather depends doesn’t it? If, like me, you guessed that there was probably something musical going on in a classical vein but weren’t sure what, then you may indeed have felt left out! There’s my regular moan again – sorry!

Two stars today because after failing entirely in the NW corner while my brain was waking up, I then managed to solve the whole puzzle ‘in one pass’ sweeping round clockwise a quarter at a time from the NE, starting with 4d AUSTRALIAN and finishing with 1d BRAVE. All understood and as it happened nothing was outside my vocabulary today – although that’s quite a rarity with Phi and me.

Along the way were some neat little tricks which I’m sure will have delighted many solvers: NINE clued by ‘square’, A TO S clued by ‘nineteen letters’, a nice long reverse hidden for LIMESTONE, a rare appearance for the I Ching (it was quite the thing in my student days), the Romanians/ SAN MARINO anagram (familiar to some), and the delightful use of ‘switching directions’ to turn ‘Saxon’ into NAXOS – which was almost my favourite clue; but in the end that honour goes to the excellent 13d:

Second year – year defined by interaction of sun and moon – having same meaning (10)

Here are all the answers and parsings, plus Phi’s contribution to the comments vis-Γ -vis ODD-JOBMAN with which I thoroughly concur:

Fifteensquared/ Independent/ 9619/ Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

In a different week this fine puzzle might have stood out as reasonably challenging; given the two toughies were were treated to on Monday and Wednesday, its accessibility seems more to the fore. Serpent is an accomplished setter, and I think this crossword balances accessibility with challenge rather well.

In particular, consider the anagrams. There are seven of them, a full quarter of the total. These, in my experience at least, help to open up a puzzle somewhat. But how impressive they are! ALPHANUMERIC and SHIVER MY TIMBERS are superb. And never at the cost of plausible surface readings, so important in making a clue satisfying.

In fairness, I ought to admit that I wasn’t overly happy with EASY CHAIR. I could see what was going on, just about, but it didn’t quite work for me. Neither could I get the word-play in HEAD. On the other hand, the triple definition CASE and the reverse-anagram of CRIED OUT were worthy contenders for the prize for Clue of the Day, but they were beaten by 24ac: “One rivalling Greek character spelt out for the audience afterwards (8)”.

It being from Serpent, I was expecting some gimmick or other. I thought there might be a theme on faries in the lights, having got FAIRY LIGHT very early on, and having read 1ac. I was wrong and failed to spot the actual gimmick of there being an H in all the Downs (complemented by the four big Hs in the grid). Bravo, Serpent!

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/14/independent-9648-by-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Who would have thought that a Thursday reprint from Knut would turn out to be the most straightforward puzzle of the week so far? There were a couple of potential obscurities in the grid, notably the hidden word to the SW, but throughout the clues were pretty gentle, with only the Indian spinach in the wordplay at 3d and the odd reversed word at 29ac causing any real difficulty. In each case the answer was pretty apparent, so in they went with a shrug. You might have picked up on the anagrams in some of the answers, and the start of what looks like a Nina in the bottom row, all of which was apparently due to an old, abandoned grid fill based on anagrams followed by a re-write of the puzzle.

As well as being fairly gentle, this was thoroughly enjoyable too, with much to appreciate. A political slant to proceedings as expected for Knut, and so inevitably the COD goes to the well spotted and probably controversial 13ac – “E. Macron turned out to be a political failure (7)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in the Fifteensquared blog from October 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/19/independent-9678-by-knut/