Never knowingly undersolved.

Independent 6354/Virgilius

Posted by Colin Blackburn on February 27th, 2007

Colin Blackburn.

Ah what’s the theme, I thought as I opened the back pages of the Independent. Momentarily distracted by the pictures of weekend’s big fight between Arsenal and Chelsea, I returned to wondering if the theme was that there was no theme. Then I noticed the grid and the big H staring me in the face. A couple of clues later I filled in the initial aitches of all the across entries. Have we had this one before or was that Virgilius’s side-kick Brendan?

With the extra checking the puzzle was a dream. None of the obscure words that Gordius gave us or the difficulty of yesterday’s Tees. This was a straightforward puzzle with some truly excellent clues.

9 HEIR — “air” — one of the relatively few words beginning with aitch which isn’t normally aspirated.
10 HOGTIE — O in (EIGHT)*
11 HOSPITAL — cryptic def — I see the idea here but it still doesn’t read right for me.
12 HYMN — “him”
13 HARD-BITTEN — H+(BITTER AND)* — lovely &lit despite the obvious fodder.
15 HALTER — H+ALTER — a type of neckline on a woman’s top.
20 HAND-ME-DOWN — H AND M+(OWNED)* — very nice partial &lit
22 HOBO — HOB+O — a hob is a male ferret, the female is a jill. For people in the south a ferret’s bit like a vicious thin cat! Ferrets are used extensively around the Durham Dales (and other northern climes) for rabbiting. There’s more than you’ll ever want to know about the cute little mustelids here.
24 HESITANT — (IN HASTE)* +T — another fine &lit.
26 HALLOW — churcH ALLOWed
27 HIDE — double def — I’m surprised that 9ac wasn’t HAIR and linked to this somehow.
28 HEDONISTIC — (NO ETHICS I’D)* — yet another fine &lit. I really like this clue. Well spotted anagram!
3 TAKE CHARGE — cryptic def
6 TITANESS — (NASTIEST) — another partial &lit
8 INHERE — IN HERE — think inherent
14 BEHINDHAND — double def — the second definition is cryptic and refers to the back or our hands.
18 NIHILIST — cryptic def
19 POTTED — double def
21 DRIVER — D+RIVER — Of course the surface here is about golf but Tees to me is a setter now! For younger members of the audience ‘small change once’ refers to D=denari, the penny bit of LSD.
23 BOOKIE — BOOK+I.E. — I think this clue is superb. The surface reading, uppercase J hidden at the start and cryptic definition, works really well.
25 ACHE — AC(H)E

4 Responses to “Independent 6354/Virgilius”

  1. says:

    Also thoroughly enjoyed this. We’ve certainly had a grid with H’s made by blocks and 1st and 15th columns that were all H unches, but I don’t think we’ve previously had “every across answer starts with H”. My guess is that the previous H puzzle was in the Independent, but from a different setter. Tiny correction: LSD = “librae, solidi, denarii”, plurals of libra, solidus, denarius.

  2. says:

    As usual a lovely puzzle from Virgilius, but it seemed to me that Homer was nodding in 14 (BEHINDHAND). To say that the back of one’s hand is behind hand seems tenuous, to say the least, and then to go on and say that it’s extremely familiar seems even more tenuous: is the fact that it’s familiar going to lead one to the back of the hand, rather than the fingertip, or the knee, or the foot?

  3. says:


    It’s a brave man who takes Virgilius to task. The “extremely familiar” bit comes from the colloquialism about knowing something like the back of one’s hand.

  4. says:

    Yes Peter you’re quite right. I should never have dared to take Virgilius to task. Very silly of me. It would have been far more sensible to say that I seemed to be missing something (which I was).

    OK “like the back of your hand” …, but I’m still less than comfortable with “behindhand” for the back of your hand.

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