To the four corners being several stages in the solving process at which I thought I would have been better off giving up. Because yes, it was that sort of puzzle, one where it became apparent very quickly that this was well out of my league.

1. By the close of Saturday afternoon which was one of those currently rare things – a nice day to be out in the garden with the crossword. The only problem being that the crossword in question was particularly intransigent, with only a couple of clues in the NE corner deigning to fall. Forget missing points in eight clues, we’re missing copious.

2. By the end of the night of the same day, when let’s say half had fallen. Among them was BILBO, which the optimist in me hoped might be one of the travellers. But no, no Frodo or Gandalf to be found elsewhere.

At which point far more time than would normally be spent on the IQ has passed with the puzzle far from finished. A small sensible voice says give it up.

3. Sunday night. Sheer bloody-mindedness kicks in and… Full grid, though with loads un-parsed. HATE, obviously, but why? Ditto ANORAK, TOEPOKE, and SETA, and I could go on.

A long stare at the grid and clues later. The description of the travellers is evidently in the clues themselves and not the grid, unless east of them is going to veer far off to the right.

24 hours later…

FRIENDLY FLOATEES, picking letters to the left and right of the missing points in those clues, down, and then up. Don’t ask how much in the way of blood, sweat and tears was shed finding those clues. I’ve not heard of the friendly ones either, but Google has. An amusing incident with a cargo ship later, and 29,000 bath toys go on a slightly longer trip than anticipated…

Wrap this up quickly then, and feet up with a cup of tea? Well, no, because the rest of the preamble at this point is clear as mud.

Another 24 hours later…

OK, there’s the name of the ship in the middle of the grid. Highlight it. Change MADE to FADE, and NO-NO to NONE and we’ve got BEAVERS to the NE, FROGS to the SW, as well as DUCKS to the SE and TURTLES to the NW. After fixing a couple of cock-ups here, there and, well, everywhere. Out with the yellow, green, blue and neon pink (does that count as red?), and… How is NONE FADE supposed to “give guidance for submission purposes”? I don’t know. I’ve probably got it wrong.

Despair sets in again.

The symmetrical partners that we’ve got to change? Many hours later and again the urge to chuck it all in… It’s entries, and not letters. So BATH and not HATE, and TOYS to the SE. (Sssh, I can’t remember the original entry).

Done. Apart from that doubt regarding the guidance bit.

And I didn’t throw the towel in, though it was a close thing throughout. I’m rather hoping that’s about as hard as they get, because my brain hurts. Or did everybody else find it rather easy?


I guessed wrongly that this was an IoS reprint, albeit one that was a little tougher than they sometimes can be. As it turns out this was an enjoyable Monday reprint which was always a day in the Indy that could be a little tougher than expected. To be fair there was just the one unknown, albeit quite a whopping great big one with a tricky last bit of wordplay at 15d, but more than a few elsewhere went in without full understanding of what was going on – 1ac, 11ac, 7d, and 17d being the chief suspects. A tussle at the close in the NE corner and a fixation on how I could possibly shoehorn HARP into 8d also didn’t help matters. A serious case of overthinking things. Time at the close perhaps about par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with the aforementioned 8d – “Tone down sound of Welshman’s musical instrument (6)”.

To February 2015:

Saturday 1st June 2019

I was very pleased with myself for spotting last week’s ghost theme – or was it JonofWales who did? Can’t remember now 😉 … Anyhow, said theme was the novels of 1a JASPER/ FFORDE (the surname being hidden in the unches of row 12), which include the THURSDAY NEXT, NURSERY CRIME Division, and DRAGONSLAYER series, all of which appeared in the lights.  Fine bit of grid-filling that.

Not too many obscurities as a consequence  just EMBLEMA at 3d, with a decidedly tricky clue to solve it, and two bits of Oxbridge slang in WRANGLER and SERVITOR which will have no doubt delighted the less-than-1% of us who went to either of those august institutions.

I’m not complaining though, all was solved at a steady pace with a pleasant familiarity about Phi’s style – even if the definitions at 14a and 24d did seem a bit tenuous.

I liked the clue for 10a for its cleverly disguised definition, but my top of the crop pick is for the following:

11a Agreed marathon should double back round river and garden (7)

Lovely! And all the answers/ parsings are to be found by clicking here.

The second puzzle from this setter and again an IoS reprint which is a bit further up the difficulty scale than is normal for the IoS. I instantly took a dislike to it with the first two clues featuring heroin but neither required any knowledge of slang terms, but both required all the checking letters before solving as did quite a lot of the others. Fortunately the grid provided plenty of them and there were enough entries after the first pass to take a good stab at most of the rest. 9dn – is that really a word, and 11ac, where does the REE come from – were prime examples, as were 3dn, 14dn which only went in with a bit of outside assistance, and 18dn where I thought the cryptic part fine but “Peevish type of politics” is not really how I would describe it. All the above along with the schoolboy humour at 15ac and 16dn provided a mixed bag which for the most part I enjoyed unlike Pierre over on Fifteensquared who wasn’t very happy with it at all.

I have quite a few ticked but they are manly for the clues that went in on the first pass. The COD needed a couple in before I got it:

10ac  Plenty of time is lost or reserved (5)

By chance this was Knut’s second appearance in the Independent, and his second appearance in the i too. There’s a vaguely political feel to the puzzle which I think is his stock in trade, but nothing overly topical that would date this badly or make it unsuitable for a reprint in these parts. All those cross-referenced clues and very long answers made it look a little intimidating at first, but as it turns out this was a reasonably straightforward offering, though with a lot of time spent counting letters in the anagram fodder to make sure I had them all. A slight oddity at 18ac – exactly what is “temple” doing there anyway? One obscurity at 29ac, though one that was fairly clued, and as it was my last one in there were lots of checking letters available. 🙂 And oh yes, a puzzle that was thoroughly enjoyable throughout. More Knut please.

COD? Lots to choose from, with the inventive 24ac getting my vote – “Chose exercise to develop definition in dictionary (5)”.

To February 2015:

A couple of unknowns in the grid today, for me at least, meant this felt a little trickier than Wednesdays sometimes do. A definite oddity at 17ac that I sort of knew with a tricky bit of wordplay round “top grade” was a sticking point, as was sorting out the order of letters for 23ac. PORTAIL was a little too tempting in the NW corner causing no end of difficulties, no matter how hard I tried to shoehorn something other than the obvious, correct answer into 2d. The rebel at 16d is someone I’m going to read up on later as it’s one bit of history I was blissfully unaware of. Elsewhere 6d could be nothing else but let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t have to sort the parsing.

Lots to like as ever from Dac, with the quality as good as always, and I did think 15d was quite neat, but I especially liked the way 14d slotted together – “Priest and faculty head go round University College concerned with ancient Greek? (9)”.

To February 2015 for the answers and parsing of the clues:

A perky puzzle from Hob, over surprisingly quickly despite a hesitant start. My customary approach to a crossword with an explicit theme and many cross references between clues like this one is to ignore all that and crack on with the rest, after which nine times out of ten it will have become clear what’s going on. Had I followed my own advice instead of faffing around this would probably have been done and dusted in about the same time as yesterday’s Commoner.

A couple of not-so-common words notwithstanding, both of which were precisely indicated by the wordplay, there’s nothing very obscure here so long as the solver is old enough to remember a few bygone 26s. Ordinarily I’d expect some googlies from this setter, but it’s quite conventional fare if convoluted in places (notably the excellent 18/28 and 25). No complaints here: all good enjoyable stuff. Just for once my COD is thematic:

5ac: “Former 26 hero, another that’s desperate to get read about (3,4)”

Bertandjoyce were on hand in February 2015 to do the Fifteensquared write-up, which ought to cover any questions and clarifications admirably with a little help from the chorus. Not everybody liked this one, and it’s my guess that the same might hold true today.

A new closing date and time for entries, the very specific 10AM, as if the post arrives before lunchtime anyway. Perhaps the i get express delivery.

Lots going on in the preamble, too much for me on a Saturday let’s just say. Two groups of thematic clues, and then blah blah blah being all that sank in first and second time round. The other clues, misprints in the definition (though I missed the definition bit first time round too), spelling out what the thematic groups are all about. Misprints I can cope with.

In feet first, dozing gently in the unexpected sunshine, unexpected because it’s another bank holiday weekend, and was I the only person to feel slightly alarmed on realising that it’s an absolute age until we get another one?

First in? That would be the URL, swiftly followed by TEREFA upon finally locating the anagram fodder. And then a gentle meander through the clues we did have, because all those thematic ones are frankly a pain in the bottom giving a distinct lack of checking letters, which no doubt is exactly how Lato planned it.

Those thematic thingummybobs. One lot defined by superfluous word(s) in eight clues. Those I can find, oh yes I can. An OBOE being an instrument but not a jazz one in particular, and while a husband and wife might reproduce, they don’t in this context.

Except Geography… On the one hand I did know the German city, but only because of the ice cream. But it took a whole 24 hours to work out that RIPON isn’t in fact anywhere near Wales despite my own geographical location. “Oh, I didn’t know that,” being my only remark on solving. DALES, not Wales, you dolt.

Ah yes, thematic entries. Well, about half are obviously fictional detectives. MORSE, FROST, HUNT, etc. And, oh yes, FOYLE too, but we’ll come back to him later.

The other lot, defined by those superfluous words? RAGTIME, HURTLE, ANGER, etc. Though if it took you an age at 15ac to spot the misprint and work out that it was LARA Croft, then the tricky alternatives of TREDDLES or TREADLES were a bit of a bugger to say the least.

Misprints. Well, I spotted GOOD COP… pretty quickly, but BAD COP too? That took another 48 hours because… I had DOES as ROES (the animal you see) rather than ROBS. And, well, the Yorkshire / Wales debacle. But get there I did.

The one to highlight? Having worked out first that FOYLE was another fictional detective, and only much later “Ed’s defeat”, obviously him. But why? And what’s the correct answer for HOL.? I’ve got HOLT based on a pretty desperate Google search, but I’m about 99.9% it’s wrong. Lucky I don’t send the things in.

A long time later… Why BAD COP? Anagrams. The other thematic entries are all anagrams of fictional detectives. MAIGRET, LUTHER, REGAN, etc. And FOYLE? That’s an anagram of FOLEY, the bloke from Beverly Hills Cop and all its sequels, and lo and behold there’s confirmation at 5d and 24d.


I still think my grid’s incorrect mind, regarding HOLT, but… That’ll have to do because get no further I will not.

All very clever and well put together, mind. All too clever for me by half, I suspect, but… Thanks Lato and Nimrod for a decent bank holiday challenge that kept me guessing until the last.

An enjoyable, fairly light IoS reprint to start the week which will come as welcome light relief for those of us still struggling with some of the weekend puzzles. Nothing too tricky as it turns out, though when my first answer in was somewhere to the SW I did begin to worry somewhat. From there though progress was rapid with only 20ac at the close causing real trouble, though it’s possible I’d just run out of steam by that point. Elsewhere we have an unexpected abbreviation for boy at 15ac, and a conductor I thought I didn’t know but did.

COD? 1ac – “The editor sent back excellent piece of writing about sex (8,7)”.

To March 2015:

Saturday 25th May 2019

For me a puzzle isn’t complete until I’ve parsed every clue and discovered any hidden Ninas or themes, and is only a complete success if I managed to do so without recourse to any electronic aids (although I do allow myself confirmatory checks in a dictionary). So apart from Dac’s Ariosto/ Arioso clue on Wednesday I’ve had a good week.

Not so last Saturday though, when I failed to parse 20d (‘Caller’s dismissed just after’ = SUMM(on)ER ) and completely missed the ghost theme, which was the novels of Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London, Foxglove Summer, Moon over Soho, Jupiter Moon). He also wrote some Doctor Who episodes apparently, but I’ve never heard of him.

Over at Fifteensquared there was some debate about how in 15a oak might come before ash, but having spent the last week running a marshmallow toasting fire at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, the connection between oak and its ash is at the forefront of my mind!

And what of the clues? Well, 7 ticks in my margin isn’t a bad haul, with my favourite being this one:

13a Reporters engaged in besetting of alternative academic (9)