Hoskins clearly sets out to entertain and definitely delivered today with some delightful humour and penny-drop moments with this fairly breezy offering which originally appeared on a Monday – click here for the answers from Fifteensquared.

Hopefully you were in a chucklesome mood because there was much chortling available in these clues with a few bums – whether greased or not, alcohol aplenty, a drug reference and an image of a duck and a flamingo that’s hard to shift once you’ve got it. Then the surface readings were beautifully done. Consider 28a where we had a crosswording cliche of H inside Peasants to make Pheasants, but the surface was ‘Poor country folk eating hard, gamey birds’ which is as good as Dac for smoothness and conveys a powerful image to boot.

No theme, no Nina, no obscurities in the solutions. One or two bits of recondite knowledge required to fully understand the wordplay mind you – like the fact that the constellation ARGO has moved out of view for British viewers since it was named by the Ancient Greeks (thank you Dormouse @15 in the comments for that one), The hip-hop band N.W.A. (look it up if you want to find out what it stands for) or indeed the Scouse term ‘Boss’ which I felt compelled to check with Mrs C. who comes from those parts. Another superb surface reading there too, btw.

It’s a bit of a score draw when it comes to COD nominations, but I’m going for the cleverly hidden definition and misdirection of 1a:

US police sure love the ultimate in donuts (9)

Finally, does anyone know why Hoskins is referred to by everyone at Fifteensquared – not just today – as Harry? Is there a famous Harry Hoskins from literature, or do they all just simply know each other? I feel left out!

I thought it my duty as your blogger to at least try to find a Phi-theme in our puzzle today. You may have noticed from my previous contributions that my enjoyment of this setter’s puzzles was greatly enhanced when I decided to stop looking for themes, so recondite did they usually prove to be.

Well, I had a go, but it seems that there isn’t one today. Or at least not one that either I or RatkojaRiku in his 2017 Fifteensquared blog was able to spot. Phi himself often puts in an appearance there to enlighten us, but this time he hasn’t, so in the absence of any other evidence, I conclude that theme there is none.

This puzzle was long on anagrams and short on clues. We had only 24 entries, which is unusually few, and most of the answers were long, the four shortest having five letters. There were five (nearly a quarter of the total) full or partial anagrams, three of them of 14 or 15 letters. Perhaps these will have helped some solvers open up their grids. I don’t think any of the word-play or defining is contentious, although I would quibble at RABBI being defined as “priest”. GRAYBEARD and PALEONTOLOGIST will no doubt irritate some of us (myself included) for being Americanisms in their spellings. The latter was one of those strange clues where one is never quite sure where the definition ends and the word-play begins, or vice-versa.

Clue of the day? I rather liked the witty word-play in TRENCHANT, but my nomination today goes to the delightfully whimsical 11ac: “The flower of the dairy tournament (9)”.

My plans for this morning were quite straightforward:

  1. Get up early, breakfast, shower.
  2. Browse the day’s i, do the crossword and blog.
  3. Get the jab, sit back with a well earned cup of sweet tea and relax.

Well, (1) and (3) went as per plan, but (2) was stymied by the paper boy failing to arrive until well after (3). Remind me next time to take the school holidays into account.

I was quite pleased later on popping over to Fifteensquared to note that this was indeed a challenging Thursday reprint, and that my powers of deduction hadn’t completely abandoned me, despite looking at some of today’s clues with something approaching bafflement, even after getting the answers. By 5d for example I’ve scrawled something akin to – where’s the definition? – half suspecting it was probably an &lit, the anagram being easy to spot, but the definition less so, and even after I’m not quite sure it works. Ditto 24ac, but in that case because in my by-this-point quite fevered state of mind, I assumed the definition was something to do with axes (of the kind you see on a graph). The actual one is one that’s rather witty.

Witty being the case throughout if you were on sharper (pun unintended) form than me today, so thanks Anglio for a nice puzzle I was unable to do justice to. Finish time as you might have guessed considerably over-par for the i, with moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish.

COD? Because the definition raised a smile, 15d – “Worker, perhaps the second to drop clanger at yard, is making bay window (4,5)”.

To March 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/02/independent-9480-anglio/

Dac’s back with a puzzle as good as they always are, though perhaps a little trickier than expected. A few unknowns such as the African language, Spanish city and sort-of-known 4ac will have held up many, plus a few knotty bits of wordplay and a sort-of-remembered designer in the wordplay in the already referenced NE corner. A little more time spent in Dac’s company is always a pleasure though, so no complaints here, with lots of ticks along the way, a few smiles, and a raised eyebrow on solving the distinctly un-Dac like 25ac. Finish time comfortably under par for the i.

COD? I’m sure you’ll have your own picks, because there were so many to choose from, with my nomination going to 4ac – “A British fashion designer clothes a posh person taking the plunge (8)”.

To March 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/29/independent-9503-dac/

There is something missing, isn’t there? Well, never fear: here you go. Is it just me, or has Hob changed drastically since his first appearances in the i, from a rowdy rapscallion with a penchant for lewdness and letting off stink bombs, to a virtuoso setter who manages to keep his baser instincts in check, mostly? Gone are the whoopee cushions and naughty postcards, although there are some Class A drugs in evidence (25ac). This bit of narcotic slang strikes me as a period piece, something you might find in Hammett or Chandler – perhaps that makes it less offensive? Discuss.

Duncan was on duty at Fifteensquared back in March 2017, which is both good and bad for me. Obviously his blog is top notch as usual, but he’s said everything I was going to, theme-wise. The gateway clue was a cracker, wasn’t it? Fortunately I’m the sort of person who sees “librarian” and thinks of 5/24, which gave the game away, enabling me to “solve” 20d answer first. I thought all the people in the crossword were especially nicely clued (10d might not feel well-served, though), not that there’s anything letting the side down. The molecular structure was new to me, but easily deduced, so no looking up required. I rather gave up on awarding ticks, there being so many worthy recipients, so please feel free to single out your favourites. Two clues – well, solutions really – tickled my fancy in particular today: 1ac, and my COD, 8d:

“Naïve optimist giving parrot stuffed naan (9)”

No sign of Topsy on the letters page. :-/

It is one of those odd coincidences that, this lunchtime, we talked for a while about one of my favourite TV shows, being Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, only for it to rather unexpectedly turn out to be the theme of the day’s Inquisitor. Yes, I’ve been to the location at 1ac, and popped down to the beach where the lines we had to highlight in the finished grid were uttered, visited Number Six’s house which used to be the fanclub shop, and posed for photos in all The Village landmarks. Thus, this for me was the PDM to end all PDM’s.

Before that, though, came a bit of a tussle with a grid that took rather a long time to fill. Clues that were relatively free of gimmickry barring some letters to drop and ones missing from wordplay were ever likely to be so, but I still managed to make heavy weather of them. In retrospect entries such as PARIS, SLALOMS and SPIRIT were gimmes, so it’s possible that my senses were somewhat dulled this afternoon. On the plus side, it was a solve that accelerated rapidly halfway through on divining THE PRISONER along the bottom of the grid, and quickly jotting in PORTMEIRION across the top. I wonder how many solvers in despair turned to word searchers for 1ac only to find that the computer said no?

Just the “guardians” to spot, O’s by the look of things, presumably representing Rover, the weather balloon that was the slightly odd choice of Village guardian (fun fact – it was a last minute substitution after the device put together by the technical crew failed the first time it hit the water). Is my route the shortest across the grid to mark the escape route? That I’m not sure of, but the highlighting looks likely (alternate, horizontally and vertically), so I’m going with it.

Oh yes, I AM A FREE MAN along the bottom, although Number 6 almost certainly wasn’t at the end of Fall Out.

Needless to say, whether my solution is right or wrong, that was one that was right up my street, and thus elicited a very big grin from about halfway through. Here’s The Prisoner by Tears For Fears’ from The Hurting, which back in the day Prisoner fans would swear blind synced perfectly with Arrival. They may have a point.

The warm weather has rudely deserted us (to the surprise of some I’ve seen out and about in shorts and t-shirts this morning), which must mean that it’s a Bank Holiday. Never mind, I have a new bed to construct, and other sundry indoor jobs to ensure that the day is adequately filled.

But first, a reasonably straightforward offering from Peter to start the day, though the difficulty level seems to have been raised a little from previous outings, with 1d a little tricky to unpick, and a few oddities dotted round the grid. The wordplay for each was clear enough though, so no complaints here. On the contrary, plaudits for an enjoyable start to the week. Finished comfortably under par for the i, though perhaps not quite at the gallop I expected.

COD? 13d raised a smile – “Flaps of skin wobbling in big gowns? (5,5)”.

To March 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/06/independent-9483-by-peter/

For the most part I very much enjoyed this week’s Phi. There were some great surface readings in clues like 1d HEARSE and 4d SHAH, there was no over-reliance on either long anagrams or deletions and there were some lovely clues like the beautifully worked double deletion for 2d DRY-CLEAN, nifty Russian-doll style clues for both 28a RUMMEST and 21d IDIOMS. I also enjoyed the wordplay in 16a LENGTHS very much, and the clever misdirection in 22a READJUSTS and 29a TANNERY. But I’m a sucker for a smooth surface reading, so my pick of the crop goes to this one:

14d Rock formation, mostly milky in condition (10)

There were a couple of bits of wordplay I’ve not seen before which frankly defeated me. In 16d the answer was plain enough, but we were being asked to make a switch from something meaning ‘supports’ to get there. Evidently ‘making a switch’ means swap the position of two of the letters around, so that’s ‘bolsters’ in the wordplay becoming LOBSTERS. Live and learn, live and learn. Another new thing was the abbreviation Ep. for epistle meaning ‘letter’ in 12a EPHEDRINE. I got the German poet all right in that one (dragged up from somewhere) but had never encountered the drug and so entered ‘Exhedrine’ which was wrong of course, so a (thankfully rare) DNF for me today.

On to things I objected to (oh how I would love to say nothing at all!) – well just two really: not especially the American spelling of COLOR (I’ll leave Batarde to comment on that) but I did find the surface reading in 24d decidedly creepy: ‘Dallies, poking end of finger into female underwear’, not an image I want in my head thank you very much; and then obviously I’m going to object to the Nina, where I still have absolutely no idea what Phi is on about. Here is what he said in the comments at Fifteensquared: “A couple of hints for Nina hunters. All the 14 across entries are an odd number of letters in length. The letters O through to Z are not involved.”

Eh? Please enlighten me anyone!

For responses to that comment and all the answers please click here.

When I was getting into solving cryptic crosswords many years ago – and indeed for quite some time subsequently, when I might optimistically have described myself as an improver – I was always glad to see anagrams. They were often the only bits of word-play I could spot fairly readily, and they provided an accessible route into a puzzle. And I could usually unravel them – even in the late Twentieth Century before online aids became available. (I’m less keen on them these days, now that I consider myself to have more crosswords behind me than ahead of me.)

We had lots of anagrams today for our colder-than-hoped-for Good Friday bank holiday crossword. I think that this made the puzzle much more easily solvable than Punk often is, and I for one finished it in very short order. All done with Punk’s characteristic humour, which I enjoyed, but which I acknowledge is a matter of taste.

I don’t think there are any obscurities today. “Coleopteran” might have required a visit to the dictionary, although there was never much doubt about the answer once one had worked at it a bit. Its a splendid clue for its surface reading, conjuring up as it does a very vivid picture. I am tempted to nominate it as my clue of the day, but knowing that Punk’s scatological humour is like Marmite (if you’ll excuse the comparison), I shall opt instead for 5d: “Brush surface of French Soup (3,4)”.

Click here for all the answers and explanations, from the puzzles first outing in March 2017.

Today’s Independent reprint isn’t from 4 years ago as have our recent ones, but all the way back in 2014, which leads me to suspect that Eimi picked this especially to mark April Fool’s Day, and what a puzzle to mark it. Because, no, those aren’t misprints in the across clues, and no, this wasn’t as scary as it first looked. To be honest, my first thought was – oh, how clever, swiftly followed by – I’m going to hate this. But, well, I didn’t, in fact quite the opposite. This was a delight to solve throughout, with lots of smiles, the odd cheeky bit here and there, and clues where the words imaginative (perhaps necessitated by the format) and lively sprang to mind. At the close I had a full grid, but also a load of question marks beside several clues too, but looking at Fifteensquared I can see that any problems lay entirely in my court.

I did wonder if there was a Nina, with THIS CROSSWORD followed by ME and SET to the SE corner, but if there is anything it’s either something abandoned, something everybody to date has missed, or a phantom of my imagination.

First in 24d, having started with the last down as I usually do, last in a lucky guess with HARE, finish time about par for the i. Puzzle of the week so far?

COD? I’m afraid that for me it had to be 2d – “Problem downstairs? Right commotion (4)”.

So all the way back to January 2014 for the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2014/01/09/independent-8498-donk/