Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

A puzzle today from Radian that seems to be themed around linguistics. I got no more than a whiff of this when solving, but there’s a lot of discussion on 11ac regarding which entries might make up the theme. Today also sees Radian back to his good old tough self, which will please some solvers I’m sure, and also make others despair when trying to untangle the likes of 16d which was one of several I managed to dredge up from somewhere not fully parsed, in this case despite not knowing the reference to the writer in the wordplay.

Good, needless to say – one to savour rather than race through at a rate of knots.

COD? In particular I liked 14ac – “Dismiss one in a cricket club, subject to hearing (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from April 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/04/03/independent-9819-radian/

Themes based on numbers are evidently a thing at the moment. Eleven days lost in the solution to Nutmeg’s puzzle, and today matters 39. 39 Steps being the common denominator from the extra words in the perimeter clues, the 39 Articles of Religion referenced by THE SET OF DOCTRINES OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND based on extra letters from the downs, and 2 Cor 11:24 (which references the “forty stripes save one”). Thus the required highlighting.

Of course, for the latter Ifor needed an abbreviation for chapter and the whole of verse to make up the numbers. Thankfully, because until I counted and spotted that I was still missing the requisite number of cells to highlight, I thought that something seriously spooky was going on. 

My firmly held belief that most of the preamble can be safely ignored for most of the solve held true again today, roughly half being superfluous until we got to the final highlighting, at which point the shape of what was to be highlighted was fairly obvious and any concerns about what “appropriately positioned” might indicate resolved themselves.

I would say that the grid fill was uneventful, enjoyed as it was in the decidedly non-Bank Holiday weekend sunshine, except I failed miserably to write both REEST and AVENUE correctly into the grid, and thus made life unnecessarily difficult for myself. This is why we always write in pencil.

And so done.

Favourite clue? “Well-known means of making sect soft? (6, 2 words)” got a great big tick.

As did the rest of the puzzle, which was thoroughly enjoyed, and with little enough ado that it was completed in plenty of time for me to fulfil my unpaid taxi duties. Such are Bank Holidays enjoyed in these parts.

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Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

I really ought to refresh my German beyond maintaining the ability to order beer. I was alive to the possibility of a nina as the grid is a “sticklebrick”, but then dismissed the thought when the letters seemed to make it unlikely. But a nina indeed there is, albeit in German, and the crossword is a tribute to Chancellor KOHL and the reunification of Germany after the post-war partition.

This pleasing and satisfying puzzle took me no more than a one-star amount of time. I bumped it up to two-star on account of a few slightly rare (though barely obscure) entries which required a check, though all were very transparently clued. These were no doubt necessitated by the demands of the nina, and it is a tribute to Raich’s skill in setting that he has managed to incorporate the hidden messages without having to resort to considerably more recondite vocabulary. As to the cluing, only the musical instruction to slow down in RITZ, and the “reed” from “instrument” in CROSSBREED may have been unknown. Otherwise all is as clear as day. I even got the shrub and the tree, such things, along with birds and fish, being a challenge for me.

Clue of the Day? 10ac: “Country workers’ group have high opinion of when finishing early (6)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations, and the ninas and theme: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/02/27/independent-9789-raich/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

A typical offering from Phi today. What do I mean by that? Well, watertight cryptic grammar for one thing, some pleasing clues with a sprinkling being innovative, surface readings where although you often have to squint to make sense of them they invariably do, more deletions than we see from other setters, a couple of obscure answers (BLUE GUM, an unusual meaning of ORPHANS), and a ghost theme (often literary) that almost no-one gets (here we had the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro, he of ‘The REMAINS/ [match] OF THE DAY’ fame). One exception to Phi’s typical style was that I usually expect most longer entries to be clued with anagrams, but not so much this time.

For CoD I’m plumping for this one:

3d Tree remained in place, we hear, getting treatment (5,3)

Nice.

Here are all the answers from 4 years ago:

fifteensquared.net/2018/02/02/independent-9768-by-phi

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟

Just as JonofWales attempts to introduce potential solvers to the Inquisitor (above, hence this blog’s demotion!) – so the i gives us an ideal introduction for those altogether new to the world of cryptics.

We had an abundance of delightful clues from Eccles today. I loved those for 14d DETERMINER, 6d STRAIGHT UP, 18d JEWELLER and 22d JOB LOT, but my Clue of the Day (CoD) nomination goes to:

15a See 10D: see first letter of clue. Confused? (7)

I’ve rated it as a one star of difficulty because for the most part it was easy as you’ll find in the i; however I did find a sting in the tail in the SE corner with LESSOR and CASCADE – the former tricked me good and proper into thinking that ‘excluding old’ meant a deletion of some sort, and with the latter I found myself on the other side of the ‘Trap-bath split’ from that intended in the clue. Given the plethora of complaints alleging lack of homophony when Received pronunciation/ BBC/ Queen’s/ Oxford/ Standard English isn’t indicated as such, I’ll throw in my request that regional pronunciations should be.

Here are all the solutions from 4 years ago when it first appeared in the Independent online:

fifteensquared.net/2018/04/04/independent-9820-eccles

In his latest Give Me a Clue column, Nimrod noted that there have been grumbles. Wordy preambles and clue gimmickry presumably making would-be solvers think twice before they’ve jumped the first hurdle. Can the blogging sites help further? Well, hopefully, if only to demonstrate that the most ordinary solver, of which I am mostly definitely one, with a little patience and time can get to grips with things Inquisitorial.

The first thing to note is that the Inquisitor is just a crossword. One that is a step up in difficulty certainly from daily barred cryptics or Azed’s plain barred puzzles, but the same beast. We have clues, and (usually) numbers in the grid indicating where the answers should go. There tend to be more checking letters than you would get in your daily cryptic, which can make filling them easier. There are also, of course, far more obscure words on offer by way of compensation.

The Solver’s Armoury

This leads rather nicely to the solver’s biggest help in this game – the dictionary. The main two used by the Inquisitor are Chambers and the Oxford Dictionary of English. Any others will be explicitly mentioned in the preamble.

Perhaps out of force of habit from years of solving Azed, or maybe because it gets mentioned more often, I use the Chambers Dictionary, otherwise known as the Big Red Book, because the printed version is, indeed, big, and red. A veritable delight of the weird and wonderful, with the odd bit of humour thrown in for good measure. Sadly now edited out, mullet used to be famously defined as a “haircut short at the front, long at the back and ridiculous all over”. What it will allow you to do is check that the answer you’ve carefully constructed from wordplay is in fact the real deal and not a figment of your fevered (and possibly desperate) imagination. For those of us fascinated by words, the likes of DOVEKIE from a puzzle by Phi before Christmas, or IN CUERPO from Botox’s recent offering are worth the price of admission alone.

Now that we’re well and truly in the 21st Century, for many solvers the book is not one big and red, but a very handy, and extremely reasonably priced app on your smartphone, tablet or Chromebook.

Other dictionaries, notably Collins, are sometimes referenced in the preamble. One of my more useful tips is that there is a free version online here. Some answers (usually proper names) will require a trip to that fount of all knowledge, Google. The presence of either is often a sign that something is afoot in that part of the grid, where the setter for thematic purposes has been forced to shoehorn in a particular sequence of letters.

But there, I’ve mentioned it. The preamble.

The Preamble

Sometimes short, sometimes long, the cause it would appear occasionally of a preemptive throwing in of the towel. Which would be a pity given the delights to follow, though I may sympathise sometimes, staring with groggy eyes Saturday morning at a particularly intractable example.

dont-panic

Words as wise now as they always were. Because, while the preamble may sometimes look confusing at first glance, you don’t need to understand most of it to get started. As the solve proceeds, and you get a feel for what’s going on with the answers, and indeed the clues, it will all begin to make a lot more sense.

Let’s take Vismut’s mind-blowing preamble from Calculations of a few weeks back. We have a full five paragraphs worth, most of which is concerned with what to do with the extra (superfluous) letters found in most of the clues. None of which the solver needed to be concerned with until they’d actually identified said letters.

As an aid-memoire (and I usually need one at the weekend), I jot this kind of thing above the grid.

This established, and the rest pushed firmly to the back of your mind, the grid fill usually fills in the gaps. The extra letters? They did indeed spell out calculations that made a lot more sense of that preamble. Thematic elements? With the unchecked letters generously supplied by the preamble to fill in the gaps, tips for some handy online searches for mere mortals such as myself.

Let’s look at a far shorter example, from Nutmeg’s Unpopular Shift of a few weeks back. “The unclued 6-word slogan in the silvered cells could apply to the completed grid. Clue enumerations refer to grid entries.”

First thing – thematic unclued entries. A big plus, because with a few checking letters they’re often crackable, and reveal the theme.

“Clue enumerations refer to grid entries”. This meant that the answer gleaned from the clue would need something doing to it before entry. Lengthened, perhaps, or shortened possibly. The latter it transpired, STATUESQUE evidently being too long for the space provided. As were FRIGATES, THURIFER, and so on. The checking letters confirming that what we were missing in the grid were the days of the week hidden in each, and thus our theme.

Shorter again was Chalicea’s preamble, which just told us that we had to highlight something, as if to demonstrate the variety on offer for solvers of all abilities.

Another useful tip: if in doubt when looking for thematic material, or things to highlight, check out the diagonal.

Chalicea’s offering was also free in the clue department of gimmicks, that further complication the barred-grid puzzle throws our way.

Gimmicks

Gimmicks in the clues come in all shapes and sizes. Letters not required in clues, wordplay lacking letters and misprints in definitions are some of the more common examples.

dont-panic

Again.

If you can solve a standard cryptic clue, then you’re already well-armed to deal with the above. All that is needed is an eye kept on the detail (I’m a sloppy solver, and often fail in this department), and a suspicious mind. The latter I’m definitely in possession of.

Let’s look at some examples from Skylark’s wonderful Francophile of a few weeks back. The preamble told us that “Every clue but one contains an extra letter which should be removed before solving”, and that the other contained a surplus word.

Skylark, evidently taking pity on the lesser solvers among us (ie. me), began at the first across with a construction most of us will have come across before. “Hounds dropping Barton’s birds (6)”, BEAGLES -> EAGLES, via a B dropped. Except that “Barton”, which the BRB tells us is a farmyard, isn’t abbreviated to B. A glance at the entry for “b” in the same tome does, however, reveal that Baron is, giving T as our first extra letter.

Things got a little stickier from that point on, the clues being somewhat satisfyingly chewy, but the principle holds.

Further along we had the surplus word. “Australian fish confused Roman Britain adopting recipe (6)”. Most solvers will have taken one look at “confused”, and thought anagram. Many will have spotted “recipe” and decided that R was part of the anagram fodder. Roman + R is indeed an anagram of MARRON, which the BRB again tells us is an Australian freshwater fish. No prizes then for working out that we needed to kick “Britain” into touch.

But what if, like myself frequently, you end up with a full grid, but an incomplete set of superfluous / missing / gleaned set of letters due to failings on the parsing front? After all, with all those generous checking letters afforded by the barred-grid format, answers frequently reveal themselves.

This is where the endgame will often come to the rescue, because we haven’t been collating them for the sake of it. Message revealed via extra letters? Even the likes of TH?S I? A M?S?AG? will be sufficient to work out what the letters should have been, and reverse engineer the wordplay should you be lacking an answer / curious / diligent. I’m definitely not the latter, and frequently lazy, so I sometimes take a punt.

What I will always do, though, is write in pencil. Not only because you’re going to make mistakes – lots of them. But because clashes / multiple letters in cells later to be resolved / taking a punt at grid entries for carte blanche puzzles are all par for the course. Thinking I had to cold solve most of the clues often left me paralysed with the latter. All those possibilities. No checking letters. Now I just go for it when I’ve got enough. You will often find that the setter will be trying to lead you gently in the right direction. If you’ve got it wrong, you didn’t pencil in those entries too firmly, did you?

The Endgame

Letters changed, items highlighted, perimeters completed, endgames come in all shapes and sizes. What they frequently do, though, is save the poor solver’s bacon. Not sure about that one pesky answer, or worse, can’t solve it at all? The number of times a hidden name or quotation has come to the rescue I wouldn’t like to count. You don’t often get such generous help in a daily cryptic.

And talking of generous help.

Further Tools for the Struggling Solver

Here are some useful tools, should you wish to employ them. Some I am sure regard this sort of thing as “cheating”. Firstly, this isn’t an exam and therefore we’re making up our own rules of conduct. Secondly, when badly stuck I would argue it’s better to proceed in one form or another and hopefully learn something along the way. I’m sure all of us, when starting out at this cryptic lark, employed “crutches” we gradually discarded as we improved. Thirdly, I’m not proud.

Firstly, the solving blogs. If you’re prepared to wait, are still solving, or just if you want to see where and why you got stuck / went wrong. Fifteensquared publish a detailed, and always excellent blog on the date given beside the puzzle in the paper, containing parsing of all the clues, and details of how the endgame should be cracked. I also pen a “how I solved this week’s Inquisitor” sort of thing, should you be interested in how I went about things.

For anagrams: The Chambers app (and online Word Wizard) is good for anything that’s in the BRB. Andy’s Anagram Solver is great for that and much more.

Really, really stuck? Quinapalus has a pattern matching engine, which handles multiple words, and will cope with misprints too. There is also lots of other fun stuff on the site that’s worth exploring.

Including, should you be particularly stuck on “misprints in definitions”, that common barred-grid device, a handy tool that will list all said misprints.

Odd Scottish words? Look no further.

Last but not least, the humble spreadsheet. Experimenting with highlighting in a finished grid is a lot easier if you can just change the colour of a cell to see if shapes emerge (we’re often asked to paint a picture of something, even if my artistic skills aren’t always up to the job). No disrespect to the quality of the paper the i is printed on, but it can only take so many attacks with the eraser.

And I’m sure there are many more I’m blissfully unaware of / haven’t needed to date.

In Conclusion

All of which is more than I planned to write on the subject, and I suspect barely scratches the surface of this weird and wonderful cruciverbal world we inhabit. I hope though that it has helped. If you have any further handy tips, then please do add them in the comments.

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I think this was fairly tough, although as I was interrupted half-way through and struggled to settle back into the crosswording groove I may have misjudged it.

Certainly, this was an impressive and deeply engrossing puzzle. It took me a good bit longer than is typical for me to solve (adding up my two sessions) and I did need some e-help at the end for inspiration. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite my disjointed solving experience.

Serpent very often has some sort of gimmick in his puzzles. Looking at the grid, I was expecting a nina in the top and bottom rows. It’s there, all right, but I got it too late for it to be any help. I have heard of The Fall but know nothing more of it, so any other thematic material in the entries is rather wasted on me. This did not, however, detract from the solve, I hasten to add. I struggled to parse GROTESQUE, but thought it brilliant when I eventually saw how it worked. Apart, perhaps for my Clue of the Day, there are no obscurities; even the entry demanding something a little more specific than the usual general knowledge, namely the name and location of Shoreditch in London, is familiar enough from the children’s rhyme (“When I grow rich…”). It was a rather run-down area when I had reason to pass through it years ago, but I gather it is quite the place to be, now.

As ever with this setter, I have many double-ticks and smiling emoticons in my margin. Several had a pleasing and amusing quality to their surface readings. This includes my Clue of the Day, 6d: ” Force original sinner to turn religious fanatic (10)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/01/independent-9791-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

A relatively straightforward Independent on Sunday reprint today from Poins. We have a little oddity at 22d, where CRAW for stomach will have unfamiliar to many, and a bit of an odd clue at 17d that I will admit to only managing to solve from checking letters at the close Wordle style, but the rest went in with little ado. Enjoyable while it lasted. Has Thursday become the “easy” spot in the i?

COD? I especially liked 5d – “For Joy it’s misery not coming back to split even the smallest amount with Miles (7)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from March 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/25/independent-on-sunday-1465-poins/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟

Not one of Phi’s easier puzzles – definitely at least three stars today, possibly four. I started off well enough by getting DARWINIAN straight away followed by OLD TIME but then it was a case of a few here and there supplemented by recourse to an anagram solver to speed things up a bit. After that a steady slog to get the rest.

Although I have (usually) previously solved the i puzzle on its appearance in the Indy, the four year interval means that I very rarely have any recollection of it. Today I vaguely remembered that β€˜Tamar’ for β€˜river’ in 2dn had attracted adverse comment on fifteensquared as being too obscure; however it appears that that comment related to an earlier appearance of β€˜Tamar’ in a Scorpion puzzle. So much for memory.

But to return to this puzzle, several answers, or their parsing, proved elusive although they were pretty obvious once explained – EXCHANGE TEACHER being a good example. And I didn’t do myself any favours by mixing up 8/22dn and 4/23dn for a while and trying to solve them as 8/23 and 4/22!

Phi very often has a theme or nina, although his themes are usually ghost themes which are difficult to spot and not necessary to solve the puzzle. I can’t see anything here although the original blogger thought CAMUS and COMBAT might lead to something.

There were quite a few clues to like, including 14dn and 20dn, but my CoD choice is 19ac: β€˜Betrayed and beaten up for documents but showing composure (9)’.

Full explanations and comments can be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/01/12/independent-9750-phi/

Solvers concerned about impossible preambles or gimmicky clues would have been relieved this week, you hope, to find that both were lacking in a clear and lucid preamble, and clues that had only a surfeit of single letters, as is par for the course in this game, and in one case a word.

They would, though, have found clues that were suitably Inquisitorial. The first across proved to be a gentle introduction, (B)EAGLE, a construction most solvers will have met before, but it did give us the chance to get used to this extra letter lark, the T in “Barton” being evidently superfluous when it came to kicking that pesky B into touch.

From then on progress would be slow, but steady-ish, apart from RE-EMIT at the close which a temporary brain-freeze seems to have rendered harder than was strictly necessary. I will mention in mitigation the combined distractions of the coming horror of the return to work, an impending cinema trip which had reduced the available solving time somewhat, and the return to school for the youngest with the added spice of a last minute uniform hunt. Did I mention that I don’t sleep too well these days?

Or that my second answer in was the one with the extra word – Britain?

The quote duly revealed – the above apparently being THE LAND OF EMBARRASSMENT AND BREAKFAST. Attributed with thanks to Google to Julian BARNES, he of the central diagonal.

And the titles in the border.

Which was all accomplished as nicely as you would like, bringing Ladies’ Month to a very satisfactory close. And my Easter holiday, as it happens. So back into the fray after a surprisingly restful and enjoyable respite.

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