Saturday 8th February 2020

If you do the i crossword in the online app, as I did last Saturday, you won’t see who the setter is; so it was only when I picked up the paper the following day that I discovered it had in fact been set by Phi – just about the last setter I would have guessed. Given how often he gives us the Prize crossword, that surely shows how difficult it is to make such guesses blind.

I awarded fully 7 ticks, which is a decent haul, and certainly everyone back in 2015 seemed to like it plenty (‘practically perfect’, one commenter said) despite being made to scan their minds for ‘Bullshit’ in order to solve 24d!

My favourite clues included 13d which was a solid clue for Astronomer; 27a Maladroit for its nifty anagram construction and surface reading, and 28a Credo for its witty surface. Top of the heap, however, was this one:

1a Close to backing second treaty? Drinks to round things off (9)

There is a ghost theme of place-names in New Zealand (where our setter lives), some of which are blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em one-horse towns, apparently. Phi was the first to comment and hint what the theme might be in the original Fifteensquared blog here, otherwise presumably nobody would have got it at all.  Very strange.

I felt panic rising when I had read through all of the across clues and most of the downs without seeing an easy-ish point-of-entry into this crossword. So it was back to the beginning to work batarde-fashion systematically through the clues, starting with the anagram at 1ac. To my surprise, it yielded fairly readily, after a false start involving “shivers” rather than “jitters”. A little while later, having noted a V and a J in 1ac, and the X in 4d, I was excitedly expecting a pangram.

In that, I was disappointed – but not in the crossword as a whole, which was both a challenge and a pleasure to solve. Yes, it was difficult (at least for me) and I had to work hard on some parsings, even after I had got the answers from definitions and crossing letters, particularly PRAGUE, CALCITE and ENTREPRENEUR. But by the end I had absolutely no queries left, with everything being neatly and often impressively clued. It resulted in a rewarding and pleasurable solve.

In particular, the surface readings of the clues was a delight. Cornick noted yesterday that that day’s early Hoskins suffered from a lack of the patina that only develops with time and repeated use. Today, Klingsor made such polish seem effortless, and this added so much to the joy of solving.

Clue of the day, not least for it’s nice surface reading, has to be 1A: “Flying jet that’s extremely huge – I’ve right to be nervous (4,3,7)”.

A Saturday prize puzzle from November 2015: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/11/28/independent-9081-by-klingsor/

Another puzzle I fear will be a little contentious, your enjoyment value depending on how much you appreciate a little smut in your crossword, and how much you enjoy IoS reprints. It’s Hoskins, so regarding the former you know what you’re getting, and regarding the latter – yes, I enjoy these lighter offerings too, though I fear Pierre is correct in his criticism over on the other side regarding some of the surface readings. I nipped through this in next to no time at all, anyway, and must admit to the occasional wry smile. I didn’t know the vegetable, or a couple of the beasts in the SE and NW corners, but they could be little else and were all fairly clued. In other words a big thumbs up here.

COD? It’s got to be 22d, hasn’t it? “Result of sex being banned from bathroom? (5).

Over to November 2015 when, if I remember rightly, my kitchen was at that particular phase of refurbishment where the old one is being torn out messily piece by piece. Happy days.

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/11/15/independent-on-sunday-1342hoskins/

i Cryptic Crossword 2812 Dac

February 12, 2020

The puzzles so far this week in the i could best be described as being contentious, but hopefully most solvers will have found something to enjoy with today’s offering from Dac. Very much on the easy side, finished comfortably under par for these parts, there were though a few nice bits of wordplay to get your teeth into, and the odd obscurity, notably at 20ac, to test our parsing skills. Talking of which, said skills failed me at 2d, but as the answer could be little else in it went. Elsewhere progress was steady with no hold-ups, and thoroughly enjoyed.

COD? There are loads to pick from today as expected, with 14d in particular being a close runner-up, my nomination going to 1d – “Recognising what plain cake has on top? (8)”.

BTW, am I the only Inquisitor solver who, following last week’s Mr Men theme, is being generally plagued by adverts from Amazon for said books?

And so to November 2015, where I assume the lack of comments indicates a general satisfaction with the puzzle:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/11/11/independent-9072-dac/

What was almost missing this week was any blog on my part regarding the puzzle because – was I the only person to find this a little on the tricky side? I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m prone to go to pieces when answers prove unexpectedly to be too long for the space available, no matter how many clear indicators there are in the wordplay. So despite 4ac evidently being a simple anagram, I took one look at the enumeration and moved on. Because we were looking to leave blank cells, meaning some answers would be too short for the space available. Obviously. Duh.

Which made for a very slow grid fill indeed. Admittedly I spent most of Saturday night watching the truly inspiring Hidden Figures instead of cracking on with the puzzle, despite having spotted that the extra letters in the across clues spelt out the name of a rather well known children’s author.

In the depths of the night the likely NOSEY PARKERS and GREEDY GUTS occurred to me, and having read the books both as a youngster many moons ago and many times to my own children – we’ve got a pretty good set of them round the house – the fact that we were to omit certain characters – Mr Nosey, Mr Greedy, and so on – from the grid finally occurred to my frankly quite addled thought processes. In fact the first eight in the series, the last being Mr Messy, who is presumably supposed to occupy the centre square.

Done.

Except for that instruction extracted from extra letters in the down clues, which took an age again, my parsing skills proving somewhat lacking when it came to the all important BOOKS bit between COLOUR OF and CHARACTERS. But get there I did, armed with a set of Frozen pencils to colour each blank cell with the relevant character’s colour. After doing so I can see that my shades of blue weren’t what had been promised on the tin, so that any adjudicator would be quite correct in marking my Mr Sneeze and Mr Bump as being bang out of order. Mr Snow of course didn’t need any shading.

It must be noted also that those very long answers required by the theme provided a veritable feast of words. SNEEZEWORTS, TICKLEBRAIN and FERNITICKLE being worthy of particular mention. Who said that trips to the dictionary had to be boring ones?

Anyway, I got there in the end, and must admit to smiling several times throughout as this puzzle was right up my street. From opera to children’s books in the space of a week, never let it be said that the Inquisitor is anything less than varied. Here, btw, is a picture I snapped of Adam Hargreaves at the quite magnificent and sorely missed Doctor Who Experience a couple of years back, following in his father’s footsteps.

And, oh yes, that all important grid.

Here is the Batarde system for solving a crossword:

1: Work through the across clues in order.
2: Work through the down clues in order.

I know! Spontaneity isn’t really my thing, and it’s confounding when something comes along to upset the routine, as was the case today. Still, there was nothing for it, so:

1: Work through the down clues in order.
2: Work through the across clues in order.

That worked nicely – a little too nicely in fact because about half of those across lights could have been filled in correctly without consulting the clues. Which, as we have discussed before is a major problem with this sort of explicitly themed puzzle.

Anyway, at the risk of establishing myself as the resident sourpuss I can’t say that I find a great deal to admire here. The grid is pretty gruesome, and the filling thereof with all those themed lights would have been more impressive had not so many of them been of the sort ordinarily to be found infesting the Inquisitor. The clues were for the most part standard fare and at the straightforward end of the spectrum, so all in all this was a crossword with a gimmick that was no more interesting than a great many without. It’s not a matter of poor workmanship, just misplaced effort in my opinion. I did rather like the linked combination of 6 and 22d, and am happy to slap a rosette on 18d as an elegantly turned out Clue of the Day:

“12 down under study outside (5)”

For a more somewhat more positive appraisal and a spot of snark from the chorus here’s Duncan’s Fifteensquared blog entry from November 2015.

i Cryptic Crossword 2810 Hob

February 10, 2020

An interesting puzzle to start the week, with a bit of a theme revolving round 4/17. In case you hadn’t noticed, look at the vowels used in the answers throughout. For those of us with a background in IT it was as clear as day what was going on, but I’d be interested to know what those ignorant of the inner workings of computers made of it. I twigged pretty quickly what with all those capitalisations, but still managed to flounder a little working out what the second name of our mathematician might be. Never mind. The rest went in with little ado, finishing in a time comfortably under par for the i, though with more than a little concentration required throughout. A good start to the week.

10ac has been brought up to date, just to prove that the crossword editor’s on the ball. 😉

COD? Lots to enjoy, with the contemporary references in 14d and 21ac in particular most welcome, and 30ac raising a smile, with 21ac getting my nomination – “Sheep cloned by surgery found in M&S tarts once (5-4)”.

To November 2015:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/11/02/independent-9064hob/

Saturday 1st February 2020

Make no bones about it, Raich is one of the most talented crossworders we have; he sets variously for The Times, The Times Quick Crossword (as Hurley), The FT (as Gurney), The Listener, The Inquisitor, and the Enigmatic Variations in the Sunday Telegraph. You may also remember him as the blogger nmsindy on Fifteensquared – until, that is, he was encouraged to give up his poacher role when he became a gamekeeper, so to speak, with the Indy.

All that means that when Raich gives us an ‘approachable’ puzzle like this one – ideal for solvers still quite new to the game – the difficulty level is entirely deliberate.

So all the clues were good and sound, but personally I was a little disappointed that all four long entries plus another 3 were full anagrams, and obviously flagged as such too. Mind you, I do accept that I’m probably the only one who’s bothered by such things.

Solving time well below average for the i, as we might expect for an IoS reprint, and here’s my nomination for COD:

12a Vanity of court entertaining in the past is half-forgotten (7)

Click here for all the answers. Oh, and by the way, and it was pangram.

One of the signs of advancing mortality, surely, must be a greater luxuiance in the growth of hair in one’s ears. It is several years since the barber first asked me if I wanted him to deal with mine, and it was a moment when I looked into the mirror and realised I was turning into my grandfather… But I never knew there was a word for them. However, like the other obscure-ish words that I had to check up on, it was fairly clued and with helpful crossing letters. Other words which were unknown to me were: COLLOCATE; AFTERMATH, to mean the grass growing after it is mown; IMPROMPTU as a noun for a speech, rather than as an adjective meaning unrehearsed.

This was a relatively straightforward crossword from Tees, which I solved in about my typical one hour, without help, other than to check up on the above-mentioned answers. Everything was fairly clued and gettable. A little more general knowledge than is usual was called for; the Earl of Rochester I vaguely recall from history lessons years ago, and I suppose most people know about Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn. “Green Man” was an amusing definition for TRAINEE, as was “knight” for horse. My only very minor quibble was to wonder whether COALPIT should be two words, rather than one.

My nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the nicely allusive 8d: “Anything but public transport for spooks” (6,7)”.

Back to August 2015 for its first outing: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/08/27/independent-9007-by-tees/

Thursdays in the i at the moment seem to veer between the very difficult – often an Independent Thursday reprint, or the very easy – often being an IoS reprint. The latter is what we have today, much to my surprise, and while this wasn’t quite as rapid a solve as yesterday, it was still very much on the gentle side of things. The SW corner held me up for a little while, 24ac being a bit tricky to un-pick, especially when you’re uncertain where the definition lies, and to the NE the composer was new though could be nothing else.

Elsewhere progress was largely unimpeded with much to appreciate. 8d was a surface smooth enough to be worthy of our regular Wednesday setter, and at 1ac I appreciated “Tar” for once being the definition rather than a stock bit of wordplay. No fireworks, perhaps, but just a good enjoyable offering. Is that dissent I hear from some quarters though? 🙂

COD? I’ll go with 19d – “Organ recital’s conclusion meets with exclamations of disgust and approval! (7)”.

To September 2015:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/09/06/independent-on-sunday-1332-by-poins/