Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟

Given the variations in difficulty for the same puzzle expressed by commenters here recently I’m sure others will disagree but I simply cannot give this more than one star as it all went in so smoothly and quickly. The only clue I had any doubts about was 17dn where I wasn’t sure of the equivalence of analysis and therapy; however, Chambers informs me that analysis can be short for psychoanalysis which in turn includes psychotherapy. So no problem there.

This was all so good that it’s almost impossible to nominate a CoD. For form’s sake, though, I’ll pick out 8dn: ‘Gorgeous nymph rejecting a diamond ring, having lost heart (6)’.

There is a theme to the puzzle, to which I was totally oblivious. I won’t spoil things for others by revealing it here but all is made clear at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/29/independent-9815-knut/

A satisfyingly round figure this week, and a game changer. Possibly of the embarrassing ilk, I noted, on first glancing at the preamble and grid, because having penned a how to guide on solving the Inquisitor, this week’s appeared to be one I might struggle with.

Spoiler alert: I’m still kind of convinced that my finished grid is incorrect, having not properly got to grips with the rules of the card game referenced in Great Expectations. Beggar (not bugger) My Neighbour, handily also known as Strip Jack Naked, the latter being the requisite 14 characters to fit across the grid. OK, I’ll go further than that. My finished grid is more-or-less dependent on the checking letters from the more normal clues, with caution thrown to the wind elsewhere.

Thankfully there aren’t any prizes on offer to not win anymore.

Following my own advice, I proceeded to solve by ignoring the bits I didn’t understand, that being primarily what to do with the even numbered columns. Thankfully, the across clues were more forgiving of my solving abilities, from the hidden OBIA and an easy anagram of SNAKE EEL onward, because that was where I started. To be fair, I bet not many of you knew that RIP is a synonym of “Nag” either, the nag in question being the sort of horse it is wise to keep your money well away from.

From that point on the non-thematic downs would fall naturally into place, and the thematic too, with a number of checking letters in situ, the latter too being quite forgiving of my solving abilities, although I did reel through a number of crime writers before reaching the obvious. The hazards of having read too widely in the genre in question.

From that point on things got a little less structured. The local town having put on a food festival, we went naturally on a cheese, cake and beer hunt. Little Goat as it transpires being the best of the micro-breweries represented.

So it would be later than night, sampling some of the above, that I would struggle with the thematic players and venue. STELLA looked likely, as did HOUSE, but it would take a bit of creative googling to uncover the rest. My excuse is that I have an abiding hatred of Dickens, which is ironic given that the later solve was conducted with an adaption of David Copperfield on in the background. As if the gods hated me. Perhaps it is misguided education ministers forcing the “classics” on a generation of children doomed to despise reading, but, yes, what was originally a mild dislike / apathy regarding the great man’s works has turned into a raging fury regarding all such things, though I will grudgingly admit to enjoying the Muppet’s Christmas Carol.

But everything fell into place. Sort of. Though I’m still not convinced everything is as it should be in the finished grid. STRIP JACK NAKED is indeed stripped across the third row, and there are down columns split, where I’ve sort of checked closely, in what could be the correct manner. Something to do with skipping cards (and therefore cells in the grid) if an Ace or court card (their abbreviations in our case, obviously) appear. But, well, I’ve now written over the pencil in pen so it will have to do.

Now, that was all extremely clever – a very imaginative device for the thematic entries that is more than a cut above the average, and that fits together nicely with the theme. A serious contender for the end of year prize, I suspect, so thanks to all involved.

20220508_131248

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A quick blog today, sorry, as I have to travel this morning for work. Our Tuesday theme? It’s the… Well, look in the top and bottom rows. I imagine most solvers will have twigged as various items appeared in the grid, and it certainly helped with what was a fairly tricky solve. Enjoyable as always, though, from Serpent.

COD? I’ll go with 6d – “Discovering strange shiny objects on stars? (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from April 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/04/24/independent-9837-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I do crossword puzzles for pleasure, and I usually find something to enjoy: perhaps the delight given by the exquisiteness of a finely crafted puzzle; perhaps the battle of wits that takes place when a setter presents a puzzle with a high degree of challenge. Even where there is something in a crossword I don’t like, usually the positives more than outweigh the negatives.

Not so today, I’m afraid to say. There were a number of clues which left me with such uncertainty that there were no actual penny-drop moments, just a sense of “I suppose that must be it” after looking something up. I solve on paper, but today I chose to resort to the app version, so that I could be confident of the correctness of my answers. So if you see this, Nitsy, I am sorry, but this one didn’t work for me. I dare say, indeed I hope, that other solvers enjoyed it.

The ones I was discontented with were mainly in the SW quadrant, including the crossing AFLOAT, UNWELL and in particular OVERHEAD, but there were others, or at least components of others, including POORLY OFF. My last pair in were the crossing ADULTERY, which seemed barely cryptic, and CAROL. I wondered whether Our Younger Solver would get who this might be, her mother’s term of office having ended over thirty years ago (amazingly).

There were, of course, things to enjoy, and my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 4ac for its amusing surface reading: “Whilst tight, laughter about hot pants (8)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/06/independent-1471-by-nitsy/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

I will start by saying that it is with some trepidation that I’ve offered my difficulty rating today. Monk has a well-deserved reputation of being one of the trickier setters in the i, and this is also a Saturday reprint, which would usually mean four stars if not five. But, well, I fairly tripped through this, from a pretty plain “Who’ll never forget” onward, with only a brief pause for the defunct magazine and unlikely looking 24ac.

The odd looking letters might also have led you to suspect a pangram, but it appears we’re a couple of letters short of that. Not that I paused to check such things.

Hidden away as this was on the i‘s app, yet again I’m bound to say that this is a pity, as it was such a great puzzle. This probably says more though about the consistently good puzzles the editor has to pick from rather than any desire to hide away poor Monk. “Jazz mags and books hidden by Heather” raised a smile, and “I die” at 27ac was a fantastic bit of misdirection, just for starters.

In other words, do solve, because this is quite the treat.

Which leads me to my COD nomination. I was tempted by 24ac, just for the great word, and unlikely looking letter order, but have gone for the equally misleading 7d – “Art gallery’s opening with Faulkner novel (9)”. Yes, that Art.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from January 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/01/13/independent-9751-by-monk-saturday-puzzle-13-january-2018/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

In his 1564 book ‘The Scholemaster’ Roger Ascham, tutor to both Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I, wrote “The ENGLISHMAN ITALIANATE is the Devil Incarnate” (quite right of course, we’re British Godammit) and hence our ghost theme today of synonyms for Beelzebub, and also the symmetrical positioning of those two 10-letter words – irresistible to Phi it seems. We also had DICKENS, DEUCE, HARRY, and SCRATCH. As usual all of that soared over my head while solving, but I have heard of Ascham, and I imagine it was in the above mentioned book that he wrote one of my favourite aphorisms about education: how there are two kinds of learners – ‘quick wits’ and ‘strong wits’, and that he preferred the latter.

Anyhow, back to the puzzle. A typical offering from Phi I thought. A pretty obvious long entry down the middle – assuming you knew the phrase – opened things up, and I found the lower half easier than the upper – 2* and 3* respectively. Then that theme looked like it was going to be a literary one, didn’t it? but not so in the end. There were a few where I struggled – like knowing neither of the double definitions for 8d SCRATCH or the parsing of 13a CROSSBOW – but overall it was an enjoyable offering, with some very well worked clues along the way, like 18a NOONTIDE, 22a DUCT, 24a LEISURED, 6d PARSI,14d SAVILE ROW, 15d GROUNDING, and 19d DICKENS. My favourite was:

20a Some European he maligns misguidedly? Little new in that (10)

Here are all the answers from 4 years back:

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/02/independent-9792-by-phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

How much General Knowledge is necessary for a daily newspaper cryptic crossword? Self-evidently, basic GK is essential. Beyond that, it is surely reasonable for a puzzle in a UK newspaper to presuppose some knowledge of the British (usually English) cultural staples, such as Shakespeare and Dickens. (And by some convention, a familiarity with certain cricketing terms, like “leg” and “on” for example, is a must. The prevalence of cricket and rugger content over, say soccer or darts is surely something to do with the class of people doing crosswords as the genre was evolving.)

Today’s fine offering from Tees requires an awareness of one of Dickens’s lesser known novels, an undeservedly obscure component of the Four Quartets and a novel by Walter Scott hardly ever read these days, I venture. Whether these entries, with the well-known EMMA, plus BURGESS and perhaps KATHERINE as well, are connected in any way I’m not sure, but a literary theme is there, to be sure. I was expecting something in the perimeter by way of a nina, given this unusual grid, but obviously there is nothing there.

This was enjoyable and satisfying to solve. It took me a fair bit of time, but was completed without the need to use reference books or the internet. I encountered no parsing problems, although I scratched my head over the clue for DAREDEVIL somewhat. My favourite clue, and so my nomination for Clue of the Day is the delightful homophone in 2d: “Asian joint said to be very small (4)”.

You can find all the answers and explanations by clicking here: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/21/independent-9808-tees/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

Quaiteaux is one of those setters who appears that irregularly that you never know what to expect, and for some reason I expected this to be fairly difficult, thus bringing the run of easier Thursdays to a close. As it turns out, this was a pretty straightforward offering, surprisingly so for a Saturday reprint. Granted, there were a few that went in unparsed, even if the answers were pretty obvious, notably the cheese and 1d, and there were a few tricky looking constructions, but overall there was nothing here that was too difficult, and much to admire, a lot of invention being the flip side of the coin. Outside of the COD, in particular I liked 13/14 and the “Lower numbers”, the latter being as exact and concise as you would like, and worthy of Dac.

But the COD itself? It has to be the aforementioned 16ac – “Cheese cut & grated (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from March 2018:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/03/independent-9793-by-quaiteaux-sat-3-mar-2018/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

Rather like one of the commenters on fifteensquared, I started this one at a gallop … but then slowed down considerably. So although accessible, as were all Dac’s puzzles, this gets two stars. And talking of stars, I liked Dac’s inclusion of one at 24dn. I remember seeing LOREN at the cinema in the 60s – and she’s still going strong today; Wikipedia describes her as one of the last surviving major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.

Sorry for that digression, but it’s difficult to find much to say about Dac’s puzzles as they were all good. Here, there were some neat twists among the clues: a bit of misdirection in 8dn (‘Liszt’, anybody?); my first thought for the sea mist in 17dn was ‘haar’ though I couldn’t see how that would work; and ‘dirty-sounding’ in 22ac had me wondering if the ‘old musician’ was some sort of viol player.

There were several clues vying for the CoD spot today, 4ac, 9ac and 5dn among them, but I’ll go for 3dn: ‘Difficult to get hold of, like a mule? (8)’.

The all-important explanations can be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/02/28/independent-9790-dac/

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

A puzzle today from Radian that seems to be themed around linguistics. I got no more than a whiff of this when solving, but there’s a lot of discussion on 11ac regarding which entries might make up the theme. Today also sees Radian back to his good old tough self, which will please some solvers I’m sure, and also make others despair when trying to untangle the likes of 16d which was one of several I managed to dredge up from somewhere not fully parsed, in this case despite not knowing the reference to the writer in the wordplay.

Good, needless to say – one to savour rather than race through at a rate of knots.

COD? In particular I liked 14ac – “Dismiss one in a cricket club, subject to hearing (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from April 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/04/03/independent-9819-radian/