Firstly, our esteemed Saturday blogger Cornick, otherwise known as Maize, tells me that he has another puzzle in the Independent today. I haven’t looked at it yet, but his track record makes it a safe bet that solvers will be handsomely rewarded for seeking it out.

And so back to April 2016 and Phi. One generally tries to be all arch and cryptic when hinting at a theme, but in this case what’s the point? Congratulations to anyone who was familiar with it, but it seems to me that there’s a certain sort of person who enjoys such things and I ain’t one of them. According to the setter’s comment on the original Fifteensquared blog there are nine thematic entries, and I’m content to take his word for it.

No surprises here: lots of subtractions, a tendency towards excessive convolution, a spot of recondite vocabulary, and very little in the way of humour. It’s all fair and above board and no doubt nicely done by its own lights, but I was not especially entertained. Rather than reel off a list of particularly juicy clues – they’re mostly pretty good if you like the style – it’s straight to the COD, which I rather disliked. It is, however, rather noteworthy in an “oh, for goodness’ sake” sort of way, if you ignore the crosswordese:

11ac: “Prepared state feasts within reason? Not Feasible (9)”

Little that looks overly complicated in this week’s preamble, amounting to multiple letters in some cells and a spot of highlighting. We’re in the middle of a decidedly odd holiday in the wilds of West Wales, so thankfully the above looks less than mindbending, and I’ve remembered to bring my highlighters.

Things are beginning to open up in this neck of the woods, but only slowly, for limited hours with distancing, gloves, hand sanitiser and masks de rigueur. None of this was what we had in mind when we booked last year, and trips to the beach are a mix of a sort-of much needed taste of all we’ve been missing together with undue anxiety about finding a quiet spot and quite how difficult that can get at low tide. Thank the gods then for takeaways rather than eat-ins at the local pubs, and the copious volumes of alcohol on tap.

None of which has much to do with the puzzle, which was completed leisurely over two evenings, with hold ups only on TOXIC DEBT and ALPH. That said, progress was faltering in places until it became clear that the multiple cell entries were all triplets.

Surely the highlighting will present an opportunity to come unstuck? Well, it appears not because there are the required four entries making up ALPHABET and TRIPLETS.

Job done. Which leaves plenty of time to catch up on some reading, a jumbo collection of Times Puzzles, and much needed sleep.

Monday morning brings us a nicely accessible crossword to start the week. Although by no means a walk in the park, there was nothing here, I think, to trouble a solver with even only a little experience. No quibbles or queries from me about any of the word-play, which all seems uncontroversial, and sometimes nicely imaginative; using “maths class” to clue “trig” was a nice touch, and took me back to the hard benches of my 1970s maths lessons. The cryptic part of the clue for AGAINST THE CLOCK was perhaps a little obscure, but the answer was gettable, and the amusement factor makes it more than ok.

However, it did have a rather dated feel in places. Would AHERN have been better clued as “former Irish PM”? I think so, given that even in 2016, when this crossword first appeared, he had no longer been in office for quite some time. The two writers, CHARTERIS and ARCHER, are probably less well-known now than they were in times gone by. I recall The Saint from childhood television-watching, but that was several decades ago. I for one am thankful that the latter writer is no longer as ubiquitous as he once was.

Clue of the day? The similarly dated, but nicely entertaining, 24ac gets my nomination: “Beatle’s companion at home party returned alone (2 4,3)”.

To April 2016 for Pierre’s explanation of all the answers:

Phi was on top form with this one I thought – a good smattering of easier clues to get us started then some really masterful examples of his work with the likes of 9a FINGERNAIL, an excellent reverse hidden in 1d AFFILIATE and 11d MOTHERLESS. 26a and 3d also got approving ticks. However I shall be visiting my Aged Pater and his sickly legs in hospital later today, where I hope to be witnessing the surface reading of today’s COD, and as a result of its solution. Here it is again:

1a Healing action at work around most of leg bone (10)

A propitious omen?

We also saw a repeat of ideas seen in two recent CODs – 8d FATAL (hopefully not an omen!) and yesterday’s ‘Ivan’ returning this time as IRATE. Given that these things are often submitted to the editor months in advance, we’ll just say great minds think alike.

On the other hand I failed to parse either 6a LOAF or 23a KNOCKOUTS properly, so turned to Duncan’s excellent blog over on Fifteensquared (click here), where in the comments Phi tells us the gridfill was inspired by a list of the least sexy-sounding words in English. Can you guess which ones from the puzzle made the list?

I’ll tell you – it’s phlegm, spatula, mutton, wart, ointment, snorkel, fingernail, loaf, and Keith. He also asks us if we can think of any words which have a nicer sound than we might expect given their meaning – my vote goes to the mellifluous-sounding ‘miasma’.

Here’s another setter I am as yet unfamiliar with. It turns out that we have been given an enjoyable, straightforward cryptic, which I completed in only a little over my typical time.

I don’t think there was anything truly controversial today. I did have to check that MYOSIN was correct, but it was fairly clued with helpful crossing letters, so it posed no real problem. I did not know that a “billy” was a kind of C19th truncheon – but with a choice between that and “nanny” it was merely a question of getting just one of the crossing letters.

YACHTER is, I dare say, a little controversial. One is more likely to speak of a yachtsman or woman than of a yachter. But again the crossing Y, C, T and R left me in no doubt. This one I struggled to parse; it took me a while to work out that it was an anagram of “the car” plus a homophone of “why”, rather than a homophone of some reason why a car might be broken down. I did make a little mistake in this SE corner, by carelessly writing in “trail” instead of TRIAL, what with the hidden inclusion cunningly being split over two lines, until solving MOOT POINT made me see the error of my ways.

All clues were, I think, well written with good surface readings. PLAYPEN, OOMPH and DOWNS all made me smile, but the one that I liked the most was 24d: “Terrible individual vehicle from Apple? (4)”.

To April, 2016 for all the answers and explanations:

Agelast, Cabochon, Cumarin, Spikenard and Superordinates. Not part of my everyday vocabulary either, but there they were among the canonical clues like Average and Vacant which probably get clued in much the same way in the Junior Puzzle Compendium.

Despite that range of vocabulary in the answers, plus a bit of Latin and the French for pig being required to work out the wordplay, I nevertheless found this to be a pretty straightforward puzzle, coming in bang on average time for a solve in the i.

The pick for COD wins it by a mile, particularly if you come from a Poldark-obsessed family like mine. Indeed if you type ‘Poldark wedding’ into Google images and scroll down past the TV stars, the couple on the beach are Mrs Cornick & me about 25 years ago.

1a This thread cut by Poldark wife? (9)

And for yet more fun, you can read Tees giving it some in his riposte to a critic on Fifteensquared back in 2016 here.

‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ asked the Gileadites. And if he said ‘No’, they would retort: ‘Say Shibboleth.’ He would say ‘Shibboleth’, and because he could not pronounce the word properly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of Jordan. At that time forty-two thousand men of Ephraim lost their lives.

Judges 12 6-7. Let that be a lesson to you.

A Sunday reprint usually means a fairly gentle excursion to Crosswordland, and so it proved again. I must have done scores of Hypnos puzzles, but still his personality seems somewhat elusive. Decent stuff today though. Both long anagrams were very good, I liked ‘Dreamy female’ for ALICE in 12a a lot better than I did ‘woman’ for SAL in 15d, but no real complaints to speak of.

For COD I’m going for one with a topical surface – that being no mean feat to pull off when you’re writing clues 4 years before the event:

20d Effect of holiday for all to see in returning group – infection? (7)

All the answers are here.

Nudnix, while sounding a lot like Artix, I suspect is new to these parts, so welcome.

Lots to the preamble, which as per Saturday I find myself in not much of a state to untangle. Thankfully it all appears to pertain to the endgame, which leaves… Normal clues. Normal clues I can cope with, even ones which seem to be a little on the tough side. Careful readers will have noted that this, accompanied by a lucid endgame, is right up my street.

Thankfully we also have things I do know, years of Avengers viewing meaning that Dame+Diana leads in an instant to RIGG, otherwise SCRIGGLE might have been a little less forthcoming. Other clues seemed designed to be user-friendly but didn’t anticipate the levels of incompetence they would face here, as I can never remember Paul REVERE no matter how often he crops up. Ditto AVOURE, which looked impenetrable, but really. Well, it wasn’t.

Silver cells (I still think they could more accurately be described as grey). NEW JERSEY looks likely, the one at the bottom pretty random, but the other two lie to the NWish of the grid where I was struggling. Struggling that is until it occurred that perhaps the top lot weren’t that random, and lo… GUACAMOLE. A suspicion that the bottom one with a couple of amendments might spell out MANDELSON led to an almost certainly apocryphal tale about said politician’s inability to differentiate between one mass of green stuff and MUSHY PEAS, which is presumably what we amend the top lot to.

With loads more checking letters to play with, out pops DAN QUAYLE, who apparently while in New Jersey revealed a misapprehension regarding the spelling of POTATO. An exta E the last in a series of changes that have led from CARGOES to CARGEESE.

Job done, in a jiffy too, and more importantly rather enjoyed.

Here’s the grid before I started shifting some of the letters.

And behold, after.

A general theme with a specific Nina today. The latter is something of a hero: regularly the star of our local panto, he’s a genuine national treasure and one of the few entertainers of his generation never to have been of any interest to Operation Yewtree. As for the thematic stuff, there’s quite a lot of it one way and another. In my view Hob has served his customers well this time, giving good measure of entertainment without too much grandstanding.

That said, it wouldn’t be a Hob without some gratuitous and misjudged smut, so jolly well done for 1d, I don’t think. There really is no need, but you won’t get a reputation as an enfant terrible by using “turnip”, will you? Mind you, that’s about it this time (I’m far more indulgent of 8/11), so he seems to be heading in the right direction. By and large cluing is clever and a little on the loose side if the surface will benefit from it: see the hiddens at 1and 23d for instance. In my opinion this strategy pays off, and the puzzle as a whole felt pretty fair and well balanced to me. The grid does look like it’s going to divide up into a wide central band from SW to NE with a couple of little clusters loosely attached on either side, but this did not turn out to be inconvenient or an annoyance.

Quite a few ticks today. Hob has deployed some nice little touches, apparently just for the fun of it, which certainly added to the fun. For instance, I was amused by the combination of 12 and 13ac. It’s gratifying when my efforts to memorise the Teletubbies bear fruit, by the way … they take their place alongside the Muses, Furies, Harpies and so forth. Plaudits therefore for 24, as well as 7, 9, 21ac and several more, with 12ac as my COD because it’s a chestnut roasted to perfection:

“Keen to eat duck? Duck it is then! (5)”

Click here for the April 2016 Fifteensquared write up by John.

This was Peter’s first crossword when it appeared in the IoS online in 2016, and very well crafted it was too. Right at the easiest end of the Indy spectrum, this would be an ideal crossword to recommend for anyone very new to what is obviously the best pastime in the world; on the other hand experienced solvers will have doubtless polished it off in a jiffy.

I did it one quarter at a time, each completed before moving on to the next (this grid didn’t give as much interlinking between them as I would have liked, if your reading this Peter) with only the spelling of Picallily (or whatever it is) holding me up for a bit at one point. Not my condiment of choice that one, but another good clue.

So no quibbles from me, my favourite among the clues being this one:

24d Extolling the virtues of peeled fruit (6)

Peter – who I think I’m correct in saying is a she – is likely to be appearing about once a month for the foreseeable.

Click here for the answers and comments back then.