Is EVAPORATED MILK a drink? That, fellow-solvers, is the provocative question posed by today’s puzzle. I dare say it might be possible to drink it, but surely it’s no more a drink than is the cream for which evaporated milk was the substitute in times gone by. I suppose the comments section will be filled with reminiscences of tinned fruit and other staples of high tea in the days before the food revolutions of more recent decades.

Jambazi has given us a tough challenge this morning, after a few days of more accessible crosswords. It took me a little longer than usual to complete, but once I got into it, and once I had twigged a little of this unfamiliar setter’s distinctly idiosyncratic style, it seemed easier to finish than my experience at the start seemed to suggest.

Parsing problems included OGLE, PEON, and YOGI, all of which took a bit of niggling at before I could get what was going on. ICONIC seems suspicious as well. But there is, I think, nothing particularly obscure or controversial (apart from the aforementioned EVAPORATED MILK 🙂).

There’s lots of good and imaginative stuff here, which made the puzzle both engrossing and enjoyable. GROOVIEST was a good clue for a fun word. FORM was neat, as was REDRAW. Clue of the day, however goes to 26ac: “Cream cakes round with four lines (5)”.

Back to Easter weekend 2017 for the answers and explanations:

Independent crossword 9518 by Jambazi

Whilst not exactly ENTRY-LEVEL, Phi has pitched this crossword at the more accessible end of his range, and I suspect there was little here to hold up the more experienced solver. Your blogger completed it in a little less than his typical time, and had no question marks in his margin about any definitions or parsing – although he had no smiley faces either, nothing really standing out as being especially witty, or amusing or particularly well constructed. Although far from corruscating, my nominition for Clue of the Day goes to 7ac: “Hotelier who’d generate special quality in right zone (4)”.

Perhaps the only candidate for being an obscurity was RILKE, although since he seems to crop up in crosswords every now and then, perhaps he is more well-known in Crosswordland then in the world beyond, rather like the two daggers.

There’s a gimmick which was, I thought, easily spotted, and having got it, it helped a little. I wondered if and how Phi would incorporate the letters I to R, but having already spotted that this was no pangram, with at least J and Q absent, I decided they were not there. But over on Fifteensquared Phi comments that the letters I to R were covered by 5d and 19d. So there you are.

Here’s the link to the blog at Fifteensquared, should you need further explication:

Independent 9,440 by Phi

One of the incidental joys of solving crosswords is the little excursions one makes into regions of knowledge and experience that one might otherwise never have ventured into. Today I read about an Icelandic indie-folk band, and had a fun couple of minutes watching a video of Sponge Bob Square Pants (it was only a couple of minutes, honest). Both as a consequence of googling SEA BEAR.

This was a medium-to-hard puzzle, I would say; one which took me a little over my typical time, and which required a bit of dictionary- and Internet-checking. But all the parsing yielded in the end, leaving me with no unanswered questions. My parsing problems included the “tall” component of ENVIRONMENTALLY, and most of UP THE GARDEN PATH. Both entries seemed clear once a few crossers were in, but did take that bit of unravelling. Other bits of googling were necessitated by THOREAU and DROP FORGE; and likewise with these clues, the crossing letters were sufficiently helpful for me to know what I should be checking. Obscurities? I know its an old film, but surely everyone’s heard of The Odd Couple with Walter MATTHAU and Jack Lemmon.

One clue I thought a tad unfair. Both of the word-play components of ETHICAL were in Latin. Both in common use, I think, but with no indication in the clue, I did think it a little questionable.

There is a ghost-theme; WHITE and HOUSE in the top-left and bottom-right corners, plus TRUMP in the bottom left could not possibly be fortuitous. Check on Fifteensquared, below, for some suggestions on how other clues might fit in.

All in all, an enjoyable and rewarding solve. Lots of great clues. My runner-up today is TAKE THE SHINE OFF, and my Clue of the Day is 1ac: “You and I eating buffet pasty (5)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for all the answers and explanations:

My knowledge of Russian poets and poetry is sadly lacking. Pushkin I’ve heard of, but never read, and I did manage to dredge up from the dark recesses of my memory that he was killed in a duel with his wife’s lover. But that was no help whatsoever in solving 8ac – how many other people died like that? The crossing lights, however, were very helpful and my first guess at LERMONTOV proved right, and I then appreciated what a good clue it was, giving both definition and word-play, and a neat description of him as well.

Of knowledge of Piezomagnetism, on the other hand, I have NOT A SCRAP. Fortunately the crossing letters were helpful here, too, with a decision only about where the M and the Z should go being necessary. Getting the final C from ARSENIC threw me for a while; having the initial P in place, I took that to have come from “pressure”, and decided the definition was “at top speed”. Remembering that c refers to the speed of light took a while.

Compared to these two, checking up on a list of novels by Stevenson and on where Marx was born seems barely worth worrying about.

This was tough, I thought. There were a few easier clues to get one going, but then a lot of untangling of some cleverly constructed clues was required. Wiglaf is a less frequently seen setter, and sometimes that means it takes me a while to warm to the style, which I did in the end. Favourite clues included CAMELLIA and STOUT, and the deceptive GIRLS. But my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the entertaining homophone in 17ac: “It’s the state to be in when there’s sun and fresh air, they say (6)”. I couldn’t get “Nevada” to work.

Here’s the link to the original blog with answers and explanations, and a few comments exploring the origins of the D in ESPLANADE:

Independent 9,462 by Wiglaf

How better to mark the start, in June 2021, of the 2020 European football tournament than with a return to the heady days of the 1966 World Cup? Football, in Crosswordland, is not the unifying force that some of our leaders would like it to be in the country, or countries, of the outside world. Some solvers are left cold by it, whereas others are delighted to see two of their passions combine. But surely England’s winning squad have passed beyond all division and entered into an eternal Valhalla of national heroes.

It’s sort of a semi-ghost-theme, if you will allow such a thing; the themed entries as a whole were not overtly identified, but the clue for WEST HAM, and the three linked entries surely pointed to the possilities to of another seven in the grid (or eight? Would a purist insist on CHARLTON appearing twice?). I was but a boy when I watched the game on the television with my dad, and the names in question were once deeply imprinted on my mind. Most of them I could recall readily, and I needed no list for confirmation. This was certainly helpful in confirming, or even solving, some entries, such as PETERS, clued by “tills”.

There were some obscurities, I believe: OSSA, CHOU and NOODLE, and certainly FLUGAL, my last one in. No doubt these were the inevitable result of the challenge of a theme plus a pangram. I had one unparsed, which was ABOVE ALL. I saw the meat, but failed to see the reversed “lob”.

We have commented previously on pejorative language. I wonder what to make of “inju(n)” in 17a. It didn’t feel good to me. But that apart, this was a splendid and fun crossword, which gave a real sense of satisfaction on completion.

I loved 7a, which is my nomination for clue of the day: “Perhaps look at white dwarf grasses around summerhouse, smell leaves (8)”. Superb clue!

To July 2016 for the puzzle’s first outing:

I have only one criticism of this crossword: the grid. With only two cells connecting the NW sector with the SE sector, it really was a matter of solving two half-crosswords rather than one complete one.

Otherwise, I have nothing but praise – again – for Serpent’s brilliance. Convincing surface readings hide devious misdirection and imaginative and original cluing. I can’t fault any of the parsing, although I did have to work very hard at decrypting quite a few clues. And there is only one, I think, real obscurity: PARISH TOP. But this was one of the few entries that were clued in an obvious way, so there was little doubt about what I was checking. And lo and behold, PARISH TOP crops up in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and you can’t argue with that. I sort of knew that TOQUE was a hat, but checked it anyway. Likewise MAORI BUG was bound to be our cockroach.

This was hard work, and I suspect many people will have given up. It took me twice my usual time. But it was so, so engrossing, and full of enjoyment.

From among so many clues, it is hard to pick out only one. I liked JOCOSE, BEZIQUE, SMELT and WOEBEGONE. But the clue of the day plaudits go to 1d: “Opportunistic spongers in outskirts of Enfield see squat being wrecked (8,7)”.

Oh, and did I mention it’s not a pangram, but a double pangram…?

Here’s the link to the answers and parsing from the puzzle’s first appearance in February 2017, where you can, should you so choose, ponder some minor quibbles:

Our setter today has given us a good work-out today, in a challenging crossword themed on cities. Some of the entries were cities, and sometimes cities were referenced in the clues.

As we would expect from a setter such as Punk who is at the top of the league, there was a lot of creativity and boundary-pushing to stretch and entertain us. ORIGAMI, for example, was clued as “delicate operations” and BOWYER as “Robin Hood’s supplier”. We were treated to a nice bit of misdirection in GELATIN. I for one presumed the “setter” referred, as usual, to the person behind the crossword, and spent some time wondering if the “rash” was “measles”. I had the E from NAIVE, so thought that “setter” was “me. Just couldn’t find a way to derive “asles” from “genital”. I was also misled in HARVEST; having the crossing A, I was convinced the boxer was “Ali”, rather than “hare”.

Again, as we would expect, everything parsed beautifully, leaving me with no question marks in my margin. And I don’t think there are any obscurities necessitating deep delves into the dictionary.

All in all, an excellent, if challenging, puzzle from one of the best.

Clue of the Day? I nominate 20d: “A gathering storm truly starts after boxer claims victory (7)”.

To January 2017 for the answers and the parsing:

Things I have learnt today: that Anaga is an area of Tenerife, and ABAYA is an item of clothing. I’ve also expanded my knowledge of BANDICOOTs, which may one day come in useful. Or maybe not.

This was quite a tough challenge, I thought; one that took me well over my typical time. The setter informs us over on the original Fifteensquared blog that it is his hundredth crossword, although there is no theme or nina or other gimmick to mark the occasion – just good-quality, creative setting, resulting in a rewarding and enjoyable, though far from easy, solve.

There’s lots to like, although I was sorry to see the derogatory reference to women in YELLOW BRICK ROAD. The only bit of parsing I struggled with was for MAKE MINCEMEAT OF, although I suppose I was overthinking it, as it seems fine now I’ve looked at it after a bit of a gap. Hume is perhaps a lesser-known philosopher, but the definition was clear and the crossing letters couldn’t have made it easier. If, that is, the solver knew of the element YTTRIUM. This was one of those words that I had come across before and was able to drag out of my store of useful-but-only-for-crosswords knowledge (I did have to check the spelling, I confess).

I liked the “thing a thong” idea, and the clue for EARTHWORM made me smile. The aforementioned YTTRIUM was neatly done. Clue of the Day for me, however, is 5ac: “Hint of balsamic in salad saucer for tossing (7)”.

SKEW-WHIFF. I don’t this I have seen that word in print before, and I have certainly never written it myself. Had I ever done so, how would I have spelled it, I wonder. Would I have included an H? Would I have had two Ws? Would I have hyphenated it? I might have been tempted by “skew-wiff”. Or I might have chosen a different word altogether. Both Chambers and the Shorter Oxford have it hyphenated with an H as SKEW-WHIFF, rather than as the one unhyphenated word that the enumeration instructs today. But, hey, let’s follow the implied advice of 1D and not sweat the SMALL STUFF.

This was a tough, but totally impressive puzzle. It took me much longer than usual, and it was quite a while before I was in Hob’s groove. There was great creativity and imagination on display, and plausible surface readings throughout. And at the end I had no unresolved queries or quibbles over any word-play, and needed the internet only for confirmation of SESTINA, NEGUS and BONESET.

It’s one of those puzzles with a lot of interconnecting clues. COLE PORTER and SENATOR in particular took a lot of thinking about before the answers revealed themselves. There was a nice theme, but you didn’t need to recognise it to complete the crossword, although I suspect getting (c)ELLA(r) might have been tougher without FITZGERALD. I think the proper names were all sufficiently mainstream to be uncontroversial.

I have no hesitation in nominating 20ac as the clue of the day. A bit racy, I know, but funny nonetheless: “Better half of Biden’s day involves loss of virginity? On the contrary (5,4)”.

Follow this link for the answers and explanations:

Whether one solved on-line or from the paper version, I hope no-one was stymied by the unfortunate mistake in 21d – an error compounded from the puzzle’s first appearance in 2016.

This was a fine, though certainly challenging crossword from a skilled setter. There was so much originality and lateral thinking – or misdirection, if you prefer – that it might be easier to note the ordinary clues, so to speak. But the highlights included the lovely “setter” for “bow-wow”, in BOW WINDOW, and the astute observation of a reversed “reveille” in WELL I NEVER. But the clue of the day, as far as I am concerned if the fabulous 27ac, where the definition doubles up as an anagram indicator (and it may be a kind of an &lit, but if I say so someone will set me to rights):

“Resort Lake District neighbours, for starters (6)”.

Having had an early break-through in the NW corner, I wondered whether there was going to be something going on with W, seeing four of them in the first three clues I solved. But no. No theme, no nina, no gimmick. Just a high-class, finely constructed cryptic.

One visit to my dictionary was necessary, to check on CREPITATE, the solving of which was followed by a brief period of reminiscing about childhood breakfasts. I could not parse NOMINAL at all, and I’m not sure if the clue, strictly speaking, actually works. But the crossers left me in no doubt what the answer ought to be.