With all this talk of restrictions on normal life being lifted, I wonder if we’ll be returning to Prize Puzzles by the end of the month? Well, not yet evidently, but what we do have is a remarkably good example of what we’ve come to expect from Phi. The clues were in the middle of his difficulty range and there was a Nina that it seems nobody back in 2017 could get without entering into a dialogue directly with the setter. But perhaps you did see what eluded me? CLARI/NET, FLU/TE, H/ORN, GUI/TAR, VIOL/IN, and BE/LL form the start and finish of rows 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 15. Ah. ‘Very satisfying’ according to some on Fifteensquared, and I suppose to look at after the event it is, but I’m left feeling like one of those rats in experiments who, I recently learned, refuse to playfight with a bigger rat if they lose more than 70% of the time.

I enjoyed the clues with good surface readings in particular. Foremost among those were 15a and 17a. The latter was a simple, short anagram – ‘Appearances – I guess – may be deceptive’ so my nomination for COD goes to the former:

15a Cut short person you want to avoid in pub? Perfectly natural (6)

There were a few obscure-ish entries – BLEAR, STOOLIE and CLARISSA if you didn’t already know them perhaps, then I had a slight question over ‘bronzed’ = TAN in 5d and there was a fairly chewy knot of clues in the SW I thought, with VIOLENCE taking me an age to unpick, so I suspect plenty of newer solvers might have struggled here and there, even if regulars were familiar with most of Phi’s tricks… although maybe not that Nina!

All the answers and parsing can be found by clicking on this link:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/01/20/independent-9445-phi/

I really enjoyed this. Plenty of penny-drop moments with twists and turns all over the place. Although I barely noticed it during the solve, there’s a theme signalled in the two long entries ‘TURN a blind eye to’ and ‘TURNED the TABLES’. Had I bothered to investigate further I might have linked them to ROTA(table), and the ghostly mELBA Toast, carpEL BAThtubs and towEL BATtersea hidden in the completed grid. A fun idea that.

Crosophile is quite a risk taker with his clues – ever inventive and original, and occasionally innovative in quite brilliant ways, as in my nomination for today’s CoD which relates to what is surely the televisual equivalent of the cryptic crossword. Here it is again:

24d Capital of Libya. India. The Road to York. Kent area. Only Connect? (6)

Loved that. other highlights include some clever surface readings like 12a 13a, or 26a, the jiggery-pokery in 14d PEN-AND-INK, and the cleverness of 16d BATTERSEA.

Unfortunately 6d was a bit complicated for my brain this morning, so I just bunged it in and went to Fifteensquared to get help from Duncan’s blog. Never mind, at least I twigged the straight cryptic for 2d, which should read ‘Professorial sinecure’ of course.

if you managed to polish that off and still have an appetite for more before Monday comes around, then you could always try to solve my crossword in the Independent online today, where I go under the name of Maize. For the link click here. It’s the puzzle inspired by a doubtless long-forgotten debate I had with Denzo and dtw42 on grid-filling in the comments of idothei earlier this year.

And here’s the link for Crosophile’s puzzle with all the answers and parsings:

Independent 9449 / Crosophile

A pretty stiff challenge from Alchemi this weekend, with quite a stretch to our vocabularies and general knowledge and his characteristic wide variety of clueing types. Took me longer than average, but thoroughly engrossing throughout and all duly solved with no more than curiosity sending me scuttling off to discover some new things post-solving. NEAT’S FOOT oil comes from the shin & foot bones (not hooves) of cattle (neat); there is a kind of Slav called a SORB, but there isn’t a kind of food called ‘Ambresia’; there was once a CRICKETER called Peter May; a mistle-thrush is also called a STORMCOCK; a person from Yakutsk is called a YAKUT, and like a prawn cocktail you can also order a SEAFOOD cocktail. If you already knew all that, well done, but for me it proved pretty educational.

Some quite specific knowledge of ’70s progressive folk music would have been needed to spot the Phi-like ghost theme lurking in them there lights. The greatly respected Roy Harper had album titles and song tracks dotted around the grid, as spotted by Geebs in the comments at Fifteensquared. I genuinely appreciated the way Alchemi chipped in with ‘but I don’t expect anyone to spot it unaided’; much better than teasing solvers with hints! This was doubtless the reason for our having the extra challenge of a Brompton grid – as Batarde calls a grid of two hingable halves.

Pretty hard to pick a favourite clue today – they were all very good really – but I’m going to plump for the one with the unknown to me Peter May. Here it is again:

28a May possibly credit conspiracy theorist with talking extremely rationally to begin with (9)

And here’s the link for all the answers:

Independent 9,340 / Alchemi

A typical Phi crossword, with a ghost theme based around the nicknames of six of Chopin’s études which he tells us were playing in the background as he compiled the grid: OCEAN, BLACK KEYS, AEOLIAN HARP, BUTTERFLY, WINTER WIND, and REVOLUTIONARY. I’ve heard of Chopin, I knew he wrote études, but the chances of my spotting that were precisely zero. Well done to Andrew at Fifteensquared who did.

The clues were mostly pretty straightforward and of the sort an experienced setter like Phi produces with seemingly effortless ease – one doesn’t get the impression of his going through the tortured agonies of the creative fire particularly – although there was a lovely bit of originality at 21d, so that gets my nomination for CoD today:

Astronomer to maintain unpleasant look half-heartedly (6)

Where the difficulty was racked up a bit, it was more likely to be the vocabulary that caused it to be so – Aeolian Harp, Butterfly in the sense of dilettante, declarants, penlight, Kepler- rather than deceptive surfaces or tricky constructions, so a below average time for most solvers I suspect. Let us know what you thought in the comments below.

Here’s the link to the original blog with all the solutions and parsings:

Independent 9,529 by Phi

Another wonderful puzzle from Serpent – I suppose you could call it a theme based around numbers but it seemed more like playful riffing than a theme as such. There were so many lovely clues. I’ll start with my CoD nomination 11a:

Number between 0 and 2.718… (3)

Then there were two nifty examples of clues referring to the clue before themselves. In 27a the anagram fodder for LICENSE was provided by 26a, and in 9a the definition was provided by the example of 5a FANZINE. Nice. There’s some chat in the comments over at Fifteensquared about 9a which seems to me to miss the point slightly. Surely a portmanteau is a case designed to carry (porte) a coat (manteau) and because it folds up its two halves into one, that’s why Carroll borrowed the word to describe all those delicious words like slithy and chortle which he coined in the Jabberwocky. In the original French it’s no more a portmanteau word than is suitcase, surely? But I’m going off at a tangent.

Back to the crossword – honourable mentions should be made for the beautifully put together ACQUIESCENT, 1a, 12a (which used an ellipsis by way of the definition – did you notice how that also made sense of the irrational number e in the previous clue?), 14a, 17a – oh crikey, well all of them really. I’m just a big fan of Serpent’s puzzles so seemed to have lost all ability to offer any kind of critical thought whatsoever.

I will say that I found it easier than usual for a Serpent, but that could just be that I have become familiar enough with his style, and more importantly perhaps that I have come to completely trust that he will always be completely fair.

Here’s the link back to the original blog with all the answers and parsing:

Independent 9434 (Sat 7-Jan 2017) Serpent

Those hanging chads in the NE and SW corners will have alerted regular solvers to the presence of one of Phi’s ghost themes. For once I thought I’d give it a good deal of time – quiet, calm, deliberate time you might say – scanning the completed grid to see if I could pick up on something from my general knowledge and my high degree of familiarity with Phi’s proclivities.

No chance.

What I had been failing to find was a quote from The Gondeliers: QUIET CALM DELIBERATION DISENTANGLES EVERY KNOT. Really? Well it didn’t disentangle that one!

Heigh-ho. Let’s move on.

I enjoyed the clues which were pretty consistently comfortable and for the most part not overly challenging to experienced solvers I suspect, even if there were a few curved balls thrown as Phi is prone to do. CHIPOTLE rang only the most distant of tinkles, though the wordplay was clear, and at 11a the shocking truth is that not everyone has heard of Carl Maria von Weber, let alone his operas – for my part I certainly I hadn’t ever met EURYANTHE. It was obviously an anagram but crossing letters were needed to be sure. Without any connecting isthmus to the NE corner, that effectively became like a Five-clue cryptic flown in from page 11, and was consequently my last piece of the puzzle. Elsewhere the only question mark in my margin was for EVERY in 26ac. Bert & Joyce explain that perfectly in their 2017 blog (see below).

A new device today was the wordplay in 13a: Rather than putting ‘on the contrary’ at the end of the clue, Phi used ‘Contrary view of’. Nice idea, I thought. However my favourite clues were 5d SURREPTITIOUSLY, 10d GO PUBLIC, 12a SHOT-PUTTER, 24a DUBLINERS and this one, which gets my CoD nomination:

25a Slender drawing ultimately the hand of Addams? (5)

As promised, here’s the link to Fifteensquared with all the answers & parsings:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/01/27/independent-9451-phi/

It seems a while since we’ve had a Crosophile puzzle to get our teeth into, and this one is from back in September 2016 – so the selection we get in the i continues to jump back and forth through the archives for reasons which are entirely beyond my ken. The original blog on Fifteensquared is here.

This was a fairly typical offering by the standards of both this setter and indeed the i. The grid seemed to lend itself to being solved in quarters, but with the NW proving too tricky I soon moved on, finding more traction on the RHS. Among some innovative clues thereabouts were 22d with an interesting instruction to see the answer in GOd WE truST, and 24a with a nifty substitution of the Y in Boycott to give BOG COTTON. 18a PERCEPTIVE deserves a mention for its original wordplay, although I’m not 100% convinced as to its fairness. However, as so often happens it was the trickiest clues in the puzzle which yielded the outstanding candidates for CoD – yes, in that thorny NW corner. 10a OUTTAKE and 3d MEADOW were both in the running, but it’s this one that gets my vote, for its elegant surface reading, construction, simplicity, and misdirection:

12a TV presenter in a late 11th century church? (9)

On to the quibbles now: Unlike the 2016 blogger NealH I had no problem with the use of KS2 in 5a. Anyone who has been, or has had, a child since 1980 will know the term, so will other people unless they habitually skip every newspaper article headed ‘Education’. Nor did I have a problem with 28a NO LESS, or my CoD (obviously) both of which puzzled our blogger back in the day. I do have two objections though. The wordplay in 1d PROSAIC and also in 16a DOWN-AND-OUT could charitably be described as libertarian, but for me neither of them followed Afrit’s famous injunction that “You need not mean what you say, but you must say what you mean”. Both caused a wrinkling of the Cornick nose.

Stop Press.

I’ve just read the comments on Fifteensquared and it appears there’s a niche ghost theme à la Phi. I missed it. So now I feel I didn’t finish the puzzle after all. But it’s so subtle I never would have done. This is my pet hate. Am I getting paranoid or is the person who schedules these things deliberately trying to wind up the Saturday blogger at idothei?

Back in the autumn of 2016 when this puzzle first appeared, there was the phenomenon of Pokemon Go, a kind of letter-boxing done on mobile phones. In early October of that year, Eimi gave us a Pokemon theme (which appeared in the i in January), in late November 2016 Phi gave us this peripheral Nina – yes MACHAMP, STARMIE, MOLTRES and METAPOD are all Pokemon characters – I found that out from a website called ‘DLTK’s Sites for Kids – Growing Together’, and I sincerely hope that you have grown, along with me, and we’ve all learned something today – together.

To be honest the grid did rather scream Nina from the get-go, so I’m surprised so few on Fifteensquared realised. The blissfully ignorant RatkojaRiku’s blog is here.

Clues were what we’ve come to expect from Phi – about medium difficulty from him. Lots of deletions as ever, and one rather excellent one which gets my vote as COD:

6d Spot glam rock band ditching the hoop (6)

Even though I liked the clue, I don’t really think of them as being glam rock. Glam was Sweet, Mud, Slade, The Glitter Band, T Rex. Mott the Hoople were a bit better than that. Oh well, Bowie was Glam for a while I suppose, and Wikipedia is hard to argue with.

Gila has some extremely plausible surface readings in these clues. In particular the anagrams, partial anagrams, and acrostic style clues have been put together with a lot of care, and for me that adds a whole extra layer of pleasure. I suppose some of the definitions could have been a bit more cryptic, but I enjoyed the overall experience plenty; chip in with your experience in the comments below.

Mind you, I did have to Google my LOI 1a John MADDEN; Both Cornicks Junior have an inexplicable passion for American Football (one even had a trial for the GB team, yes there is one) so I’ve been exposed to it more than most, but the name rang no bell whatsoever. Nor does Google have him in the 50 faces that appear in that strip when you enter ‘American sports commentators’. Maybe he’s considered ‘legendary’ because there’s a computer game named after him? (I only got there after initially checking ‘Harden’, which could also mean ‘aggravate’ I thought). MUU-MUU and ALLNESS both seemed a little odd in the grid-filling department, but were solvable from the wordplay. Both are the kind of words I feel compelled to check in the dictionary afterwards.

Plenty of ticks in my margin. An amusing surface in 8d NASAL, a believable one in 25d SIEVE, 21a with a reversal of ‘Epicer(ie)’ was interesting, plus more ticks for 2d, 6d, 21d, 23d and 15a. For the COD this one provided a fine penny-drop moment:

20d Strip for very little money (7)

Which also went down well back in 2016 on Fifteensquared. For the hyperlink to Duncan’s blog just click on (new word for me) this bit of HYPERTEXT.

Quick edit: Having just got around to reading Duncan’s fine blog, I wanted to express a slight difference of interpretation; I thought that ‘HYPER’ in 18d probably means ‘one who hypes’ hence the words in the clue which read ‘one flashily advertising’. That’s all!

A puzzle sprinkled with Phi’s hallmark touches this weekend. There were bits of very clever invention like P AND/OR A in 7a which went over my head, deletion-style clues numbering into double-figures, and some obscure words necessitated by a ghost theme relating to the Nina MAHLER in the bottom row. Phi tells us the thematic words come from the apparently wordy titles of the movements of Mahler’s 3rd symphony. I really don’t think we were supposed to realise that. Here on idothei we were recently talking about what constitutes a ‘finished’ puzzle. Perhaps today we could say that spotting MAHLER was more than enough. If anyone feels like researching those themed words though, feel free to let us know in the comments below.

As for those obscurities, 10a PRECENTRESS did ring a vague bell once I’d got it, and the wordplay was reasonably friendly anyhow, 28a is well known in our family since my father made it the oft-repeated rhyme of his father-of-the-bride poem at my sister’s wedding. Sample line: ‘Even Margaret, reckoned the brainy one/ was baffled by 12 down Epithalanium’, but 17d APOTHEGM had me completely baffled.

My COD is 8a:

Love lessened by accepting nothing of threats (7)

To understand how that and all the others work, just click here for Bert & Joyce’s typically convivial and comprehensive blog from its first appearance in the Independent .

Talking of which, Eimi has kindly given yours truly a slot today, under my setting name of Maize (I know, why have multiple names, it’s all a bit silly really) which you could have a go at by clicking here – or else just wait four years!