Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Of course, every difficulty rating is an averaging out. Some clues in any puzzle seem a doddle, with other clues in the same puzzle causing problems. Two stars for difficulty is, in this case, an averaging out of one-star for three-quarters of it, and three-star for the NW corner, which seemed to come from a different puzzle.

Most of it I positively rattled through, in true Monday fashion, thinking that I would finish it well before I finished my coffee. Then I came to the last few, mainly in the top left, which had me struggling, causing me to refill my mug before the crossword was done (an entirely normal occurrence, I hasten to add). I struggled to get OBLIGOR, and then to parse it when I did, although I eventually twigged that a big brother, for example, is a perfectly acceptable was of describing an older brother. The spelling of VITTLES I thought was just wrong, rather than a variant, but now I know. And the parsing of the crossing CHURCHILL and LECTERN caused my brow to furrow. “Chill” as “unfriendly” seemed not quite right, and the definition for LECTERN seemed barely cryptic. No-one over at Fifteensquared could shed any further light on it, so I wonder if any of our contributors here can see anything going on.

Elsewhere, the only potential obscurites I noted were “tod” from “fox” and the East German prison which is probably not as well known to Our Younger Solver as it is to those of us old enough to remember when it had a sole, notorious in-mate.

Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable puzzle to start the working week. I commend the setter for avoiding the sexist trope by defining DREAMBOAT in a neutral way. Clue of the Day, though, is the aforementioned 16ac, for its dood surface reading: “Old man in Sudan beaten up in prison (7)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/16/independent-9856-kairos/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

I’ll start quickly by noting that the puzzle can be solved for free here, though you do need to register with the site first:


It’s our very own Maize this Sunday, with another amazing puzzle, so I would thoroughly recommend that you do. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it. This appears to have been one I’ve solved previously, though I’d completely forgotten, and think that I found it a little trickier than first time around. Perhaps not spotting what was going on in the left and right columns until about three-quarters of the way through slowed me down this time – I did spot The i pretty early on, but it would be much later that I would get 1ac, and then a while until the penny dropped.

CALAMARI I failed to parse on solving, but appears to have been a sort of &lit where the definition is also part of the wordplay. The rest though was fully understood on solving, with even my poor sense of Geography up to the challenges presented in a couple of the clues.

A pity this couldn’t get a reprint in the paper proper – are these things random, or was the Hoskins-like 19d considered a bit too much for the i?

COD? I’ll go with 7d – “Cryptically, it could be Mike and Heather from the previous clue? (7,8)”.

High praise for this Saturday reprint over on Fifteensquared, where all the answers and parsing of the clues can be found:


Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

‘Sparkling stuff’, ‘made me laugh’, ‘pleasingly chewy’, ‘very pleasant indeed’, ‘pleasant’, ‘well-constructed’, ‘everything is perfectly clear’. That’s what Fifteensquared thought of this crossword upon its first being published. So it must just be me not being able to finish that has put me in a grumpy mood then.

Never mind. Having seen the answers I only have two quibbles: The COMBINATION LOCK clue makes no sense – why ‘material’? Then I am something of a Shakespearean scholar but have never come across TUCKET before (the 3 major dictionaries only have it as a flourish on a trumpet), so I didn’t like that clue either. [Edit: Mrs C knew tucket, so fair enough if youโ€™re okay with archaicisms!]

Before my unsatisfying non-conclusion (I think it was Brendan/ Virgilius who described a good crossword as ‘one you can finish’) I had been quite enjoying things, and my favourite was this pleasing bit of jiggery-pokery:

5d Former student, advanced student, group of students? Expression of doubt creeps in (7)

I don’t think there’s a theme or Nina; here’s the link to John’s review from 2018:


Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Another very challenging puzzle, today, after our brief respite during the two or three days. Wiglaf is another setter I am less than familiar with, and that fact always adds to the challenge, at least for me, as I struggle to tune in. Even so, this took me a good while, more than my typical time, and I did need both dead-tree and electronic assistance, both for checking and for inspiration.

The word-play is impeccable – I had no unresolved queries on completion requiring my attention. Neither is there anything particularly convoluted about any of it, taken as a whole; there are (by my quick reckoning) eight straightforward charades, six insertions and four anagrams (in full or in part, including one of those reverse-anagram things). However there are a number of rather fiendish (that’s a compliment to the setter!) cryptic definitions, or perhaps whimsical definitions as parts of the word-play. Moreover, although none of the vocabulary can be said to be truly obscure, the solver needed to call upon a wide range of knowledge (as has been the case in quite a few puzzles, recently). This included, among other things, film directors and philosophers from fifty years ago, that e is a logarithmic base, a papal name, a kind of boat, Dickens’s pen-name, a collective noun and the capital of a state in south-eastern Europe, which, I sadly suspect we may become more familiar with in the course of events.

To my surprise, given the “sticklebrick” grid, there is no nina. It is, however, a pangram. This certainly helped with my last one in, BOZO. I dread entries like this: four letters, initial letter not crossing, and common letters in the ones that do cross. Realising it must be a pangram the need for a Z jogged my memory of the copy of Dickens’s Sketches by Boz on the dustier shelves of my bookcases.

There is a lot of wit and invention here, which to my mind makes for a great crossword. Honourable mentions go to HALF-INCH, RAVE, and CHARISMA. My favourite today, though is my last-but-one in, 7ac: “Arkwright’s evident lack of surprise (4)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/10/independent-9851-wiglaf/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ

Tees this Thursday with a puzzle that on the face of it had a bit of a religious theme running throughout several of the clues, but also has a bizarre Nina in the NW to SE corner, the reason for which remains unexplained. For more, see the comments over on the other side.

This was an enjoyable puzzle nonetheless – nothing too difficult beyond the pretty unknown City which was fairly clued (though I did need some checking letters), and the equally uncommon man. 10ac will have had Ximenes rolling in his grave, but is clear enough once you spot it. And the answer it must be said was pretty forthcoming anyway.

Talking of which, love it or hate it, it’s also my COD nomination – “General oversaw nothing fishy (10)”.

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


Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ

What can one say about Dacโ€™s puzzles thatโ€™s not been said before? Dac was noted for accessible puzzles with precise clues and smooth surfaces. This puzzle did cause some discussion on fifteensquared about the parsing of 27ac but I have to admit that I just wrote in the answer without bothering about the parsing. So Iโ€™ll 29ac that issue and do a little pedantic nitpicking on a couple of other clues โ€“ 15ac where I donโ€™t think โ€˜palatableโ€™ necessarily means โ€˜deliciousโ€™, and 13dn where Iโ€™m not sure that IL is strictly correct for 49 which should be XLIX.

But letโ€™s not dwell too much on that. This was an enjoyable and accessible puzzle with a mixture of easy clues, such as 6dn, and others which took a bit more thought, such as 30ac where I spent a few moments deciding whether โ€˜sisterโ€™ meant โ€˜sisโ€™, โ€˜nunโ€™ or, as it turned out, โ€˜srโ€™.

I particularly liked 20dn, but not everyone will be familiar with composersโ€™ names so for CoD Iโ€™ll go for 16dn: โ€˜Beef dish brought round sailing vessel shortly (9)โ€™.

The original blog and those comments on 27ac can be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/28/independent-9814-dac/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Once you got into today’s puzzle, then the theme was one that was quite clear. I imagine, though, that I wasn’t alone in feeling a little lost at first. Starting in the SE corner, as I do when solving on paper, won’t have helped, as I swiftly ran into 20d and 19d. As it was, I would guess the name of the film first, and then 14ac, at which point light dawned.

A little chewy in places today I thought, with several that I didn’t parse, notably 24d. The thematic elements were nicely woven in, from the name across the top of the grid, to the references in wordplay (27ac being a particularly nice example), and even 1 4 7 in 19ac. This was evidently a puzzle into which a lot of thought had gone, which was much appreciated. We also have the sort of contemporary reference at 7ac that’s good to see.

COD? With much to enjoy, my pick was 15d – “King divides snack with queen, as supporter of sovereignty (9)”.

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


The birdsong in question would be neither of my first two guesses – the kind you hear in the garden, or the Faulks variety. The one we’re looking for being one you would hear from a cage, and one most definitely of human construction.

Lots of clues today, the sort that makes you think – this is one that will require the reading glasses. And a sun hat, cream, etc, it being unexpectedly one of those days given that it is half term, which is usually a guarantee of colder temperatures and a steady drizzle.

These were clues too with the potential to trip up the poor solver, being one lot with letters removed before solving, and some not to be entered in the grid. Luckily the one bunch were grouped together. I decided upon the uncharacteristically logical approach of circling one bunch of letters, and not the other. As it turned out that I was missing at the close one of the group that made up the letters we had to substitute in the grid, this, however, wasn’t necessarily helpful.

The grid-fill. Well, that was surprisingly quick, wasn’t it? From TENE(o)MENT through to SMU(s)T, this is one daily cryptic solvers would have got on quite well with.

Such easy rides often presage a rather tough end-game, but today this wasn’t necessarily so. The thirty consecutive removed letters read:


Now, I don’t have access to the ODQ, but thankfully this was one that Google turned up quickly enough, being a line from The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

And thus, the cryptically minded reader will have noted, our substitutions.

Now, as I noted above, one of the letters we needed to perform this task I didn’t get, having miserably failed to parse “Have dealings with body over compliance”. I lobbed TRUCK into the grid, and only got the parsing two weeks later. Unfortunately, at this point I’ve lost my copy, which means that one of my substitutions could be wrong.


At this point eXternal and / or Serpent will pop up to tell me that I’ve got them all wrong.

But I had fun nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, which is the main thing.


Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

A setter I am less than familiar with, I thought, on seeing Anglio’s name in the heading, and I wondered how quickly I would be able to tune into the required wavelength, and how well would I fare. And then a glance at the grid made me think that quite likely there would be something or other in the perimeter.

How wrong I was. There is no perimeter nina, but instead we have a pleasing little gimmick in which the two long entries crossing in the centre are clued in similar ways, again referencing centres or middles. I surprised myself by spotting the down one with only three crossing letters, one of them being the V, and then I took a gamble on the across one being something like it.

Elsewhere, this enjoyable crossword included some nice cryptic definitions, for STYLUS and METEOR, for example, and particularly for STAIRS. This sort of creativity and innovation is just what I find enjoyable in a crossword, and so this was a great solve for me. No unusual vocabulary is to be found, and the most recondite references were to a Scottish town and a composer – but neither of those were truly obscure. No reference books seemed necessary, and no trawling of lists or internet searches were called for. Perhaps only unfamiliarity with the setter made this seem somewhat hard in places.

My favourite clue today was the aforementioned 25ac: “Tardis, somehow leaving dimension, succeeded in being Dalek’s nemesis (6)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations, including a contribution fom our setter: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/12/30/independent-9739-anglio/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ๐ŸŒŸ ๐ŸŒŸ

What? A 2** rating for a Serpent puzzle? Well yes, because actually I finished this in 1* time – faster than I would do a Dac or Vigo or yesterday’s Gila indeed. On the other hand I know most solvers struggle with Serpent, so it’s clearly a wavelength thing: to me Serpent seems perfectly straightforward and logical, plus he normally eschews anything obscure that might confound me. Another factor is how absorbed we happen to be, and I always get drawn in by Serpent, possibly my favourite setter in any publication out there.

That having been said, there were 3 tricky bits of vocabulary today. GAM in 21d is the kind of Crosswordese we usually never see in Serpent’s puzzles, USP in 27a went unparsed (although I frankly over-use it in my everyday conversation) and AYAH in 25a went unparsed too (although my grandmother, who ran a small children’s hospital in Simla in the 1920s used to often talk of her ayahs out there).

Serpent tells us how he compiled this in the 36 hours following the announcement of STEPHEN HAWKING’s death. Wow. It’s so polished! I rumbled the theme early, which helped with COSMOLOGY and after getting HOLES had me certain there would be a BLACK somewhere else.

And it was all very good. Probably not Serpent at his best, but still very good. 1a STEPHEN had an excellent surface, and 4d NO CAN DO is neat, but my CoD nomination goes here:

14a Channels transmitting material thatโ€™s too much for other outletsย (9)

Over to Fifteensquared for all the answers and parsing now. Duncan couldn’t quite see the parsing of HIS/TO(R)Y for some reason, and makes a strange quibble about GRAPH, but otherwise he’s spot on as usual.