Hob’s back, and with a vengeance it seems as this was really rather difficult. Our theme revealed itself quickly enough, and in retrospect I should have guessed some of the thematic answers much sooner than I did, but thanks to the sheer fiendishness of Hob’s clue-writing and ability to hide definitions this took me about twice my average time for the i.

Things I didn’t like would have to include 12ac which is a bit too clever for its own good, and some wordplay that strikes me as being overly obscure. Throughout there was much I didn’t understand on solving, being relieved to be honest just to get some answers in the grid.

Things I did like? There’s no lack of invention on show, with wordplay that is often very deftly put together.

As an overall summary I’ll offer my comment jotted beside 22d on getting the answer and looking back at the wordplay – “Yikes”.

COD? I’ll go with 18d – “Bit of bromide taken by randy model railway man (6)”.

To December 2015 when solvers would have had rather more time on their hands:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/12/29/independent-9112-by-hob/

The last Inquisitor of 2019 comes courtesy of perhaps the most fiendish of Inquisitor setters, but also twofold winner of the best of award, so evidently we’re in for something good.

Something that good, and that fearsome that our editor saw fit to send out a message telling us that the endgame was quite something, but also to:

The endgame does indeed look worthy of the reminder with lots of cycling of rows and columns, the sort of thing Harribobs has had us do previously with diagonals if I remember rightly. The rest is a handful of normal clues, a handful without definition identifying a number of “tourists”, the rest to be cycled on entry. It all looks so straightforward when you put it like that.

FOI then UTIS. It needs cycling, so let’s lob in SUIT as obviously the cycling will produce real words.

Nul points, no they don’t, which swiftly becomes clear with others that no matter how much you frantically cycle them won’t produce anything approaching a real word.

So the grid fill turns into a matter of getting the normal clues in place as anchors, and fitting the cycled ones round them. This surprisingly turns out to be not as fearsome as it first appeared. Luckily as we have the in laws down, and solving time is at a premium.

Highlights? It was good to see RC for peacekeepers rather than the rather more mundane UN, and MARRAM is a thing of beauty.

Ah yes, the tourists. The first was evidently an anagram of “Quiet lan”, but no anagram solver I could find was going to sort that one out. It’s ANQUETIL, a cyclist as suspected pretty much from the start, as are the other three in the grid – CONTADOR, the extremely unlikely looking MERCKX and NIBALI.

Guess how much I know about the sport?

Luckily Google knows rather more. So that when it came to cycling the rows, the fact that GIMONDI and HINAULT would appear in the left hand column was pretty odds on. Both having done rather well in the Tour de France I gather, a sporting event I find – to be quite frank – rather bemusing. My brother-in-law’s a big fan, but he’s busy DIYing in their new house, so probably best left to it.

Thankfully this cycling lark is turning out to be quite un-fearsome, if a little nervy given the potential to destroy that carefully filled grid.

Luckily we live in a civilised age and have something called the spreadsheet which you would swear was designed for exactly this sort of thing. Thankfully a nifty cut and paste also brings over any cell shading. Phew.

Cycling of the columns proves to be equally, sort of alright. Revealing the TOUR down to the south, and two other races to the north and east – the GIRO D’ITALIA and VUELTA A ESPANE – apparently the big three of the sport. Who knew?

And look, there are three more cyclists – FROOME, who even I’ve heard of, THOMAS and S YATES. All three Brits it seems.

So shading with “last year’s colours”. The observant among you will note that the grid below is of a slightly more professional aspect than the one I’m wont to post. That’s because I cocked up the printed copy, missing one clear square when transcribing to the aforementioned spreadsheet, and also jumping to the conclusion that the shading should be that for Team Sky, which seemed to be blue.

In the depths of the night I wondered at the plural “colours”, and also why the shape (shirt?) Thomas appears in is yellow. Is it because Tour winners wear a yellow jersey, which even an ignoramus like me couldn’t fail to be aware of? Yes it is. And do the other two events also have winning jerseys with different colours? Yep, red and a rather fetching shade of pink respectively.

Match last year’s winners with the colour jersey, and shade?

I think so.

Phew. Done and dusted, and hopefully right this time. Harribobs with an early shot at next year’s best of? I think so, because that all hung together rather nicely, didn’t it? Now pass me some of the Scotch that’s cluttering up the cupboard, the New Year approaches.

So back to work day for a lot of us, with the accompanying shock to the system and general not-used-to-getting-up-at-this-ungodly-hourishness. So I was glad that Pierre noted in his Fifteensquared blog that this was “[a] curious mixture of the easy stuff we hope for in a Monday Indy and four or five clues that it took me forever to get”, because I thought I was just slipping. In particular the capital which I should have remembered, but couldn’t, together with an odd nautical term, a bit of German and fairly obscure accompanying synonym, plus 12d which has what is perilously close to an indirect anagram. Elsewhere there were plenty of easy clues to get the grid all but filled, and overall this was pretty enjoyable, so a satisfying start to the week, albeit one that took considerably longer than expected.

COD? I don’t usually go for cryptic definitions, but I did like 15d – “One content with Continent?”.

To July 2015 where the correct parsing for 22ac is actually given in the comments:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/07/27/independent-8980-raich/

Saturday 28th December 2019

A new name for the weekend crossword, eXternal is a hard setter to categorise – I remember his first couple of appearances in the i as being decidedly tricky and very inventive, then we had a slew of pretty straightforward puzzles, and now this one which was quite hard for the IoS slot in which it originally appeared perhaps, but without the fireworks of those early contributions. At least, that’s my impression.

I filled it all in fairly readily until the last few in the SW corner – hands up if you too were expecting those native Africans at 16a to be a half-remembered tribe. Then the decidedly elliptical ‘working with half of resources’ was used to clue ‘hopping’ in 21a, and I took an embarrassingly long time to remember that Che Guevara was responsible for ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ and so twig what was going on with 17d’s ‘Dial-a-motorcyclist’. All duly sorted out in the end though, in what was probably a pretty typical time for the i, and good stuff it was too.

My favourite clues included 10a, 3d, 12d and 20d, but top of the pops was this one:

9a After ignoring her absolutely, Italian woman’s pulled back skirt (6)

All the solutions from early 2015 (yes, we’ve jumped back a year) are to be found by clicking here.

Not one for beginners, I don’t think, or even intermediates, I dare say.

I found this to be very tough, and it took me much longer than average – using Jon’s formula comparing particular time taken to overall average time taken, I would put this down as a 1.666.

Quite a tour de force, with so much to admire in terms of subtle cluing and innovation. But quite a few answers stretched one’s vocabulary – NGAIOS and OCCIPITAL for example, a Russian author and an obscure (to me, at least) Chinese city.

I made a bit of a mess at the top, by entering “fair”instead of NAFF at 4d (it seemed to work at the time) and “agonis” instead of NGAIOS. To be fair to myself, “agonis” is an anagram of Saigon, with the crossing N in the right place and is an Australian shrub (although perhaps not a tree). This meant that I could not get 12a in, until I realised there was something, possibly even two somethings, wrong.

Had I spotted the nina earlier that might have helped. I am familiar with the phrase, but unsure of any relevance.

Lots to admire, but my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 10d: ” Hands-free devices jerk constantly, leaving last two in dumps.” (7,7).

Back to January 2016 – which doesn’t seem like four years ago – for all the answers: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/01/09/independent-saturday-prize-puzzle-9116-nestor/

We’re off out for the day, so I was rather hoping for a fairly light crossword I could solve after breakfast, followed by a quick blog. Well, we’ve got Monk instead, which always means that you’re going to get something a little challenging, which this struck me as being and then some. It’s possible I haven’t woken up properly yet, as for a long time I was dead set on 90 in Roman numerals being IC rather than the correct value, causing myself no end of issues in the NW corner where the fop was newish as well (newish as in being one of those things I half knew but had also half-forgotten). Elsewhere I didn’t know the knot, took too long to spot 16ac, and fell hook line and sinker for the misdirection in 10ac.

Not my most glorious moment then, but being Monk it was an always interesting solve, and a challenge appreciated, with lots to enjoy, albeit a lot of it more convoluted than I’m up to this early in the day, and much not fully understood on solving.

There’s a Nina I failed miserably to spot, though it is rather well hidden. Note to self: remember next time that Monk usually does Ninas, in this case one far from being obscure that would have aided considerably a tricky grid fill that took me to a time well over twice that par for the i.

COD? Let’s go with 10ac – “Pole in a European capital finding where Lancaster was located? (9)”.

To the wrong side of the New Year in 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/12/28/independent-9111-by-monk/

Phi welcomes the new year with an enjoyable, unexpectedly seasonal offering. If I’d taken the trouble to glance at 1ac at the start I would have noticed this sooner, but as it was I followed my normal habit of starting in the SE corner and therefore took a while to cotton on. Being perhaps not at my best this sudden revelation was (rarely for me when it comes to themes) a help in the SE and NE corners where I’d got a little stuck. Lobbing in PEPPER POT with no support for the last bit from the wordplay will have been the start of my undoing, which I suspected on writing it in very lightly, but there you go. We live and don’t learn.

There was just the one odd word at 14d, though I was blissfully unaware of what a 15ac might be, and didn’t know who 12ac was referring to without a little help from Google.

All in all a good start to the year, though one I made heavy weather of finishing considerably over par for the i.

COD? Let’s go with 6d – “Fellow upset about refusal to be up the Eiffel Tower a short distance (9)”.

To New Year’s Day 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/01/01/independent-9115-phi/

Review of 2019

January 1, 2020

So another year passes. 2019, the year in which Sprouthater retired from blogging, and MichaelAtCobblersCottage picked up from where he left off with admirable speed and accomplishment. Thanks to both, and to Cornick and Batarde for all your hard work. Get well soon Batarde…

This year we welcomed a number of new setters to the i fold, notably Daedalus who created this blog many moons ago, and was also for a while sole blogger, but also sadly lost a couple of setters, Dac and Schadenfreude, whose puzzles will be badly missed.

We experimented with publishing Guest Puzzles sporadically throughout the year, kicking off with Skirwingle, and following with Saltamonte, exit and Panthera. Thanks to all for your contributions, and to all who solved and commented.

For a brief, slightly scary period we published full blogs for the first time in many years when the i for one week only published original puzzles. Thanks must go in particular to Batarde for volunteering to pick up Nimrod’s offering to the series.

So with no further ado, to the review of the year. Below is a table of Setters, Puzzles Solved, and an Against Par rating based on my average times, sorted from easiest to most difficult. Omitted are a few puzzles solved when I was on holiday and, while I would have solved the puzzles, simply didn’t have a meaningful time to record. And it must be emphasised that your mileage may vary, so let me know how you got on.

Setter Puzzles Solved Against Par
Vigo 3 0.45
Hieroglyph 10 0.58
Quixote 13 0.64
Raich 8 0.67
Commoner 9 0.70
Eimi 4 0.72
Hypnos 9 0.72
Hoskins 2 0.73
Daedalus 3 0.78
Poins 12 0.81
Dac 37 0.82
Nitsy 1 0.87
Alchemi 7 0.89
Lohengrin 1 0.94
Kairos 9 0.96
Morph 10 1.02
eXternal 12 1.05
Eccles 1 1.05
Jambazi 2 1.05
Punk 7 1.07
Tees 10 1.07
Radian 11 1.11
Phi 44 1.11
Knut 3 1.14
Klingsor 11 1.15
Hob 11 1.17
Crosophile 6 1.21
Nestor 9 1.27
Monk 8 1.29
Donk 2 1.32
Eimrod 1 1.32
Scorpion 9 1.39
Anax 5 1.49
Rorschach 2 1.54
Nimrod 2 1.58
Tyrus 8 1.65

Finally, here’s the summary of the year’s themes that Batarde would usually have posted himself. Looking back there’s a nice variation in the themes, with something there for all solvers, and an emphasis I would say on popular culture belying any suggestion that the i‘s puzzles are in any way elitist.

01 Rain – Tyrus
02 British place names – Scorpion
03 Fleetwood Mac – Punk
04 U and non-U – Radian
05 Leonard Cohen – Jambazi
06 Revolutionary Road – Hob
07 Cryptic instructions – Radian
08 The Addams Family – Hieroglyph
09 Europe – Anax
10 Captains – Nimrod
11 Bram Stoker – Hieroglyph
12 Golf – Scorpion
13 Birds – Hieroglyph
14 The theatre – Radian
15 Three – Rorschach
16 Sleuths – Radian
17 John Bercow – Knut
18 Bones – Alchemi
19 Dog breeds – Scorpion
20 Richard Rogers & architecture – Radian
21 Gardeners’ Question Time – Crosophile
22 Comics – Hob
23 Oscar-winning films – Scorpion
24 Tonic Sol Fa – Radian
25 Cheese – Hieroglyph
26 Pairs of four letter words – Monk
27 London Underground stations – Scorpion
28 Margaret Thatcher – Tees
29 Cockney rhyming slang – Scorpion
30 George Eliot – Hieroglyph
31 Anthony Trollope – Alchemi
32 Salvador Dali – Hob
33 The Velvet Underground – Crosophile
34 Weight[?] – Radian
35 Snakes and ladders – Scorpion
36 Darwin and the monkey’s uncle – Tees
37 Horses – Punk
38 Batman – Hieroglyph
39 Noughts and crosses – Radian
40 Social media – Eimi
41 Prime Ministers – Hieroglyph
42 Scottish pop groups – Hob
43 Economy – Radian
44 Morrisons (chiefly Van) – Hob
45 Boots – Vigo
46 Wedding anniversaries – Scorpion
47 Unchained Melody – Raich
48 Donald Trump and wigs – Knut
49 Isle of Wight – Hob
50 Winnie-the-Pooh – Hieroglyph
51 Christmas – Quixote
52 Toasts – Eimrod

In which we first of all note with thanks the festive theme, and secondly play guess the setter. As I struggled with the downs, my FOI having started at 26d being a somewhat alarming 2d, and that I struggled in particular in the SE corner having found other quarters to be somewhat of a breeze I have my suspicions, but given a dismal guess in last week’s Inquisitor (for more see the post below this one), I’m not going to commit the proverbial pen to paper.

Lots of fun throughout, with some toasts that were perhaps better known than others, with 15ac in particular being one that needed a trip to Google and then some after. The noted New Year’s performer was less than noted in these parts, though gettable, sort of, even if I drew the bar in the wrong place thus making my life somewhat more difficult than it needed to be. And, oh yes in common with others over on the other side I initially assumed that 30ac began with GOOD, only to find that, well, it didn’t.

A lovely puzzle nevertheless that was the right side of challenging for the day.

In case you were wondering where Batarde is today, he’s somewhat under the weather, so best wishes for a swift recovery. I’ll be publishing his analysis of the year’s themes (including today’s) together with my review of the year tomorrow, should I get a chance to collate during the evening’s celebrations. Blame any errors on the cans of Rev James and bottles of Scotch lurking in the cupboard.

So it’s just left to me to wish you all a Happy New Year, in particular to all our bloggers, past and present, the contributors to the comments section whose insights and general chit-chat are always appreciated, our guest puzzle setters, and all you lurkers out there. 🙂

COD? Let’s go with 18d on a day when there were many to choose from – “It perhaps runs one out of estuary (8)”.

To a New Year’s Eve many moons ago:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/12/31/independent-9114-eimrod/

It was the Saturday before Christmas, and the IQ celebrated in typically non-celebratory fashion the coming festive season, unless we’re noting the amount of alcohol that will be consumed over the coming week. And we all know that while our esteemed editor doesn’t rate the time of year that highly, he does enjoy a pint or two.

It was all to do with a poem by Chesterton which is apparently very popular and which needless to say I was blissfully unaware of. A warning, by the way, to steel yourself before Googling said poet, as let’s just say that he’s a pretty scary sight. The first line neatly spelt out by misprints, the author’s name by extraneous words in four other clues. Was I the only person to end up with five or six before realising what a dog’s breakfast I’d made of the parsing?

Anyway, rotter, beseech, link and tight were the ones you were looking for, though I must admit to working back from the poem which Google handily pops up from BEFORE THE…, that being a rather long anagram to work out and because I didn’t know that his first names were actually Gilbert and Keith, assuming he was just good old GK.

Lots of impressive words this week, DUMKA and SAJOU being particularly unlikely looking candidates.

A handful you won’t find in the BRB – THEROUX, PACE EGG (a fascinating tradition it transpires I was also blissfully unaware of – it’s a northern thing according to Wikipedia), and CRAY which is presumably an abbreviated southern thing if I’ve first got it right, and secondly parsed it correctly, the sun god RA making not one but an unprecedented two appearances this week, albeit under the less well known nom-de-plume of RE elsewhere.

All to be found in a grid fill that was well judged for the weekend before Christmas when we’ve all got rather a lot to do.

Then there was 10ac, which I’m still agonising over. It’s a bird, I’ll grant you, but is that an S or a Z? I can’t parse it, you see. An S is more likely, so let’s chuck that in and keep everything crossed.

All that’s left to do is trace out the letters that make up the second line of said verse, which I did several times in pencil before committing to a rather fetching shade of pink, the potential for a final cock-up being odds-on at this point.

Bish bash bosh. Good stuff, enjoyed. Which leaves plenty of time for another quick one, I suppose.