A fairly gentle puzzle from Hypnos eases us towards the end of the week. It’s an IoS reprint, as expected, with little I suspect that will have held up older hands. A desperate type is usually DAN, I’ve finally started to remember that LEG is “on”, and African countries seem to be invariably MALI. On the other hand I completely forgot the French commune needed for 11ac, and got hung up on PRIME (even though nine most definitely isn’t!) in the wordplay for 8d, and so failed miserably to parse either properly. Which just goes to show that knowing all the usual crosswordese isn’t always enough to help you on days when you’re sort of operating on autopilot. But was it a good puzzle? Yes, thoroughly so, enjoyed throughout.

First in 24d where I started, last in the foreign port with too many syllables, finish time comfortably under par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with 29ac – “Gang in bad condition with end prominent in book (4,4)”.

To September 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/09/18/independent-on-sunday-1387-by-hypnos/

I’m not sure whether this was on the tricky side, or whether solving early just didn’t suit me, but I struggled with Anglio’s puzzle throughout. There are one or two bits of parsing that are difficult to untangle (13ac I’m still not entirely sure I understand), definitions that weren’t always the ones you’d be expecting (1d springs to mind), and of course there’s always the unfamiliarity factor. I shouldn’t complain, though, because this was an engaging puzzle that kept me interested throughout. But let me know how you got on… First in where I started at 24d, last in 19d, finish time easily over par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with the aforementioned 19d – “Fox News screening nothing positive (7)”.

To September 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/09/21/independent-9341-anglio/

Edited to note that we have had another mention in today’s editorial. 😀

Math, a relative newcomer to the i, had yet to make a strong impression on me, up until now, that is. However, it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a crossword as much as this one, so he’s now a Person of Interest. No doubt there’s a technical term for this sort of theme, where the subject is explicitly stated in the clues but hardly figures in the solutions (except for the sallow, rat-faced fellow at 25ac, the landlady at 8d, and the very arch oblique reference at 1d). At any rate, I can lay claim to some genuine expertise when it comes to the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, but beyond knowing the name of Scotland Yard’s finest the puzzle requires none. Humph.

Solving was a pleasure from start to finish, and whilst not quite a stroll in the park the terrain was pretty easy going. Strictly speaking, 20ac probably has no business appearing in a daily crossword, but it’s literally spelt out and therefore forgiveable. I disliked the computer in 10ac because trade names which have not become generic (Hoover, Xerox etc) always feel a bit iffy – good clue for all that, though. The same goes for 17ac, but it made me laugh so that’s just fine. Lots of ticks today, so this is where I abdicate responsibility and request nominations for the Clue of the Day. Honourable mentions go to 5,7 and 8d amongst others, but my selection is 4ac on grounds of rarity and polish.

“Extremists in sect resolve nothing through power (8)”

We’re now on to 2017: New Year’s Day in fact, which was a Sunday and it’s probably fair to say that this puzzle was a little tougher than usual for the IoS. On first publication there was an extra mystery, because Eimi attributed it to one Sherlock. For the Fifteensquared write-up and some chat, please click here.

In which your hapless blogger, not content with having only an empty grid to offer last week, comes close to another abject failure.

Or: sometimes I wonder if this game is too hard for me?

Because on the grid beginning to fill quite nicely with a mix of normal clues and ones yielding extra letters, I thought hang about, they’ve scheduled an easy one to ease us into the New Year.

And then: no, I can’t do this.

Because the “helpful” message I had from extra letters read: WEDDING T NEEN O EDUCATION. Or something like that.

And I had an erroneous ANTEPOST slap bang across the middle of the grid.

The upshot being that by the end of Saturday I could well see that we had to mash together thematic answers, and pick off some bits, but I’d failed miserably to solve all of them, and could see no rhyme or reason to the bits selected. ENOCH, FOR SALE and HOOCH therefore being guesses, if I like to think educated ones. Perhaps the title will help? Nope. Google reveals that it’s the name of Vera Brittain’s first volume of memoirs, but none of the rest seems to fit.

It would be on waking Sunday morning that I suddenly thought WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION, and grasped like a drowning man to the feeble idea that we would be looking for Pink Floyd song titles. A nifty Google soon put paid to that.

So to a long hard slog, cold solving the thematics, and mashing them together in a way that is hopefully correct. So HOO(PLATO)CH, ENO(WHITE)CH, FORSA(KEATING)LE, and so on. I must admit to not knowing all the names, but there’s a a definite theme running through the ones I did. Don’t ask what the title’s supposed to mean, though. If some of my final answers are incorrect it would not surprise me, to be honest, because I struggled, oh yes how I struggled.

Which leads me back to the question at the start. Perhaps I’m really not up to this?

2021 will reveal all, no doubt.

Those of a sharper mindset this morning will have noticed not only the name of a famous American singer songwriter in the left and right columns, but also a number of his album titles dotted around the grid. I should perhaps have spotted the name, but as I’ve heard, as far as I’m aware, none of his songs, I can be forgiven for missing the rest. If I’d been more alert I would have struggled less at the close on 12ac and 20ac which between them accounted for a fair amount of my time. As it was I enjoyed a solve that was on the easyish side, with no problems beyond those already described, and much to enjoy. There’s one odd definition at 9ac, but with a few checking letters and an extremely helpful cryptic, most solvers will have got there and learnt something new. It could be argued that both definitions at 3d were on the obscure side, but as I knew neither and still got it I’m going to argue in the clue’s favour. Elsewhere I couldn’t parse 10ac or 25ac on solving, but as both appear to be clear as day in retrospect, I’m going to blame my own obtuseness together with a combination of the setter’s cunning.

COD? 8d tickled me, and 10ac is as smoothly done as you would like, but my nomination goes to 1ac which has a surface reading convincing enough that you could easily pass over the wordplay conveyed so succinctly – “European paper with story about Corbyn? (6)”.

So to October 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/10/11/independent-9358-hoskins/

The normally reliable Cornick seems to be MIA today, hopefully not in despair at missing yet another of Phi’s ghost themes. Because yes, there is one, apparently, and one I’m not quite sure I’ve got to the bottom of yet. But there are hints aplenty over on the other side, should you wish to delve further. For myself I enjoyed what seemed like a straight cryptic, slightly on the tough side I thought, though I was perhaps not on top form this morning. Both 1ac and 25ac threw me a little because, while I’ve heard the former used in phrases, I’ve never seen it set stand alone, and while I’ve met many coal miners, and have heard of other types of miners, iron ones are pretty thin on the ground as far as I can tell. Couple that with quite a few I failed to fully parse, in particular 21d, 1ac and 12ac, this morning saw me finish in a sorry state considerably over par for the i. Which is probably all my own fault.

So before I return to the day’s Inquisitor, I’ll just nominate 18d as my COD – “Expression of appreciation replacing love in marriage? That’s a rare thing (7)”.

And to October 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/10/21/independent-9367-phi/

I’ve got used to Friday bringing me a fairly tough crossword to blog, so today’s offering from Eccles came as rather a surprise, and a pleasant and enjoyable one, too. Eccles is a newish, and very welcome addition to the stable.

I don’t think there is anything here to hold up the experienced solver. Indeed, this was accessible enough for most solvers to complete without too much trouble. There are no obscure words. All of the word-play is transparent. There are no hidden traps to fall into. There is a little bit of an American flavour to the puzzle: “mom” from “mother”, a position in baseball (or so I believe), and the unusual HIGH-STRUNG, overtly labelled as an Americanism, rather than “highly strung”, which I think is more usual this side of the Atlantic.

Only one clue had me puzzling over the word-play, which was DESPOT. It made me laugh when I spotted it, and so did the mental image evoked by the surface reading of GO BANANAS. My nomination for Clue of the Day, however, goes to 5d, with something that I’m surprised not to have seen before: “Choice at election time that gives a chance to experiment (10)”.

Click here for a link to the answers and explanations.

After the excitement overnight of an ill conceived and executed incursion into the heart of American democracy, followed by a particularly icy morning when unfortunately I had to be out and about so spent a good five minutes defrosting the car, what do we have in the way of crossword entertainment? Thankfully something that was at the easier end of Tees’ range, given the fits and starts in which I solved it. The friendly longer answers either side of the grid will have given many solvers a head start, and elsewhere there were lots of clearly signalled definitions, and, oh, a local bit of Geography. 😉 Which is to say that until I got to the SW corner, I barely paused for breath. 19ac which was a little tricky, and a bit of a mind-freeze regarding 15d (too many entries for pub to choose from) and 24ac could fairly be blamed for the difficulties in that corner of the grid.

Of the obscurities I sort of knew 9ac, and 24ac couldn’t have been more clearly clued despite my failure to do so quickly, so no complaints here. Elsewhere there was the possibility of a slip-up with the anagram at 25ac, and 20d occasioned a rare trip to the dictionary for similar reasons.

Finish time a little under par for the i, and jolly good fun it was too.

COD? I’ll go with 1d – “Hate-mail from 26 opponents in disorder on Right (6-3,6)”.

To November 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/11/02/independent-9377-tees/

It being one of those days – partly so because of the necessity of being up early for a gas engineer who is yet to arrive – I was pleased to find the usual Wednesday accessible, reasonably straightforward offering from Dac. We have an unfamiliar term for me at least at 15d, and I wonder how bemused younger solvers will have been by 23ac, but the puzzle was as fairly clued as ever, with nothing contentious or out of place. 20ac was my last one in, perhaps because it’s been so long since we’ve been allowed into a pub here that the term has slipped into misuse. 😉 Finish time comfortably under par for the i, for a puzzle that fairly sparkled throughout.

COD? I’ll go with 21d, though you could pick loads really – “Church with no end of incense for convert (6)”.

To October 2016 then for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/10/12/independent-9359-dac/

Here we are again, then: locked down. No return to Mogwash being on the cards for the time being, Charmaine seems to be remarkably philosophical about the situation, and has resigned herself readily to eating me out of house and home. She’s busy today, but no doubt will pop up again before long.

Radian is first up in the Tuesday slot this year, with a nice historical theme in celebration of a 950th anniversary, the puzzle having first appeared in October 2016. Some will have liked the interlinked clues, others will not, and no doubt a few will protest that it’s all beastly unfair. I enjoy this sort of thing and didn’t have much trouble untangling the thematic stuff; that said my feeling was that this was towards the more difficult end of Radian’s usual range. Presumably 6ac won’t have caused any trouble being fresh in the mind, but 19d is an unexpected word craftily clued, which pleased me no end. 11ac is perhaps a bit recondite for those whose education didn’t include rote learning chunks of Coleridge, and again the clue is by no means a read and write. My last one in was the sneakily defined 23d. Fairly demanding all told.

Favourites included the aforementioned 11 and 19, but for COD I’m torn between 10 and 22ac. Both are pretty crafty, but I think we’ll have Joanna:

22ac: “Joanna, goody-goody, tucked into some milk (7)”

For solutions, parsings and appreciative comments, here’s the original Fifteensquared write-up.