Never knowingly undersolved.

Independent 8132/Alchemi

Posted by John on November 6th, 2012


A new setter today, at least I’ve never heard the name before. Some of the clues would perhaps be more comfortable in one of the other newspapers blogged on this site, but many of them are very satisfactory. Unfortunate for poor Alchemi that a fuddy-duddy like me should be blogging his/her first puzzle.

The events in America at the moment have prompted this: the runners and their running-mates, although perhaps there is something else also going on.

1 BA(RA)CK O{ffensive} B{arrage} A{s} M{arines} A{ttack}
9 ONAGERS — (oranges)* — but should it not be ‘Oranges is bad for asses’, since it is the singular set of letters that is being anagrammed? — this doesn’t seem very far removed from the solecism that Ximenes mentions, where some setters incorrectly write ‘I leave …’ when they mean ‘I leaves …’, so that they have to write ‘I must leave …’
10 OIL WELL — 2 defs
11 VI({ar}CA{na})R — ‘vir’ is Latin for ‘man’ — but does ‘the central arcana’ really indicate the central letters of ‘arcana’?
12 JO(E)B 1 DEN — Dirty Den from EastEnders
14 ROTISSERIE — this is very nearly (resistor)rev. i.e., but you make a small modification to get ‘rotisser’ not ‘rotsiser’
15/24 TREE RATS — t{urn} re (stare)rev.
17 {Abb}A LSO — London Symphony Orchestra — same sort of criticism as in 11ac — does ‘Abba finish’ really indicate the last letter of ‘Abba’?
21 PAUL RYAN — (play run a)* — before I saw what was happening and wondered if the runners were athletes, this one apparently supported my theory, since I remembered a New Zealand runner with a name very similar to this one in the era of Coe and Cram and Ovett, but it was I discover John Walker, nothing like it really
23 T{omat}O WE L{iked}
25 O{fficial} R{eport} I{nto} G{overnance} A{t} M{urdoch’s} I{nsistence}
27 RHODE ISLAND — whose abbreviation is RI
2 RYE-GRASS — (Sayers)* around GR
3 C ASK — the capital letters of VAT mislead and it’s simply a vat
4 OTOLOGISTS — GIs in lots, with (too)* coming before
5 AD LIB — (Bailed – E)*
7 WOLVERHAMPTON — (How travel – t)* MP (not)rev.
8 BLANKETY-BLANK — the two unknowns are the blanks, but the significance of ‘covering’ escapes me [TV show covering two unknowns] Thanks everyone who pointed out the correct parsing, which is blanket [= covering] y blank [the two unknowns], excellent clue
13 RECITATIVE — RE (Evita tic)rev.
16 NORTH SEA — (earth’s no)* — I don’t really see how the clue works, since the definition is apparently ‘the water’, so what is the word ‘is’ doing, apart from helping the surface à la Countdown teatime teaser? [Earth’s no problem — is the water?]
18 SAUCIER — “sore seer”
20 NEW-LAID — (wind ale)* — not sure that I approve of ‘perhaps’ as an anagram indicator, although many do I know
22 REAL O — a Realo is a member of a faction within the German Greens

36 Responses to “Independent 8132/Alchemi”

  1. Kathryn's Dad says:

    I did like this one a lot. My first candidate was MITT ROMNEY (although if he comes first tonight it will be God help America and not God bless America), then the other three followed and the rest fell out nicely. There were lots of good clues today: TREE RATS was my favourite.

    Thanks for blogging, John, but I think you are being a bit picky today. Does ‘Abba finish’ really indicate ‘A’? Er, yes. And ‘perhaps’ as an anagram indicator is so hackneyed that I don’t think anyone even thinks about it any more. And NORTH SEA – (EARTH’S NO) as an anagram is ‘the water’, so I didn’t have a problem with that either.

    BLANKETY-BLANK I parsed as BLANKET for ‘cover’ and then Y and BLANK for the two ‘unknowns’.

    Thanks to Alchemi, whoever you (both?) are. You can’t say the Indy puzzles aren’t contemporary.

  2. Big Dave says:

    Congratulations to Alchemi on his debut in a national newspaper. He cut his teeth in my NTSPP puzzle series (there’s another one due to be publishedd this coming Saturday). He has also had puzzles published on Alberich’s site and has a regular fortnightly slot on the Cricinfo site (as Hemical}.

  3. Rorschach says:

    Thanks both!

    Congrats Alchemi on a cracking debut. Paul Ryan fell quickly then the others soon followed. My clue of the day = 3D – I’m all over that kind of misdirection! Didn’t like the gridded words BEARCAT or TREE RATS or REALO but I guess it was a themed grid (and this is me at my absolute pickiest). So congrats and hope to see you around again!

    Thanks John!

  4. Flashling says:

    More topicality from the Independent, nice stuff and a fine debut Alchemi, John seems to be a bit picky today, thought the Abba and Arcana devices were fine.

    I put in Paul Ryan without even looking at the clue after spotting Mitt Romney and then Biden and Obaba were also write ins alas.

  5. rowland says:

    I thought this might be one ‘for the nonce’ by an Indy regular, but not if Big Dave is to be believed which I’m sure he is. As John says there are some flaws, little mistakes that irritate people who like it ‘just so’. I ;like it ‘just so’, so I was a bit irritated, especially as these things can be sorted out so easily. At least I guess they can!

    However I too liked the theme’s topicality, so not bad even for your stickler Rowly!

    Thank you John and Alchemi,

  6. JollySwagman says:

    Great first outing Alchemi – you obviously set out to amuse and you succeeded.

    Ignore the negative comments in the blog – it’s obvious that you aren’t interested in the strictures of Ximenes – good neither am I – all your cluing devices were 100% logical and worked perfectly.

    Why ximeneans carry on like this is beyond me. It’s like having Millwall fans turn up at Twickers and call the referee all sorts for not spotting a handball. Different game – different rules.

  7. Big Dave says:


    Alchemi frequently attends London S&B meetings and I can promise you that this is his first Indy puzzle.

  8. Bertandjoyce says:

    We have no complaints about the clueing although some of the surface reading could be better -.1ac for instance. However, 25ac, 3d and 26ac read very well.

    K’ s D – we hope that the order of the runners in the grid is a prediction of the outcome. Or, in otherwords, 1ac is no 1 acoss the pond!

    Thanks Alchemi – hope to see more of you. Thanks John for the blog. Glad to see more comments today!

  9. allan_c says:

    Great stuff from Alchemi for his Indy debut. Can one assume something of a scientific background from his pseudonym?

    One of those puzzles where the theme suddenly dawns on you about half way through and you finish at a gallop. Got 21ac without realising who he was (the V-P candidates don’t seem to have been very high profile tis time) then twigged 1ac and I was well away.

    Thanks, John, for the blog. I needed it to understand 27ac, got from crossing letters; a facepalm moment when I saw it, though.

    I’m with you, K’s D and B&J in your sentiments!

  10. Thomas99 says:

    Re the negative comments in the blog itself. As this is a debut it’s only fair to pick up on what I think are the blogger’s mistakes:

    9a – no mistake here: Alchemi does go against the Ximenean rule, though it’s one that arguably shouln’t apply in this case – it isn’t actually nonsense for the cryptic reading to refer to a plural word as if it were a plural thing.
    11a – “but does ‘the central arcana’ really indicate the central letters of ‘arcana’?” Yes, although the question should always be “can…?” not “does…?” Central Mexico is the central bit of Mexico; the central Alps are the middle bit of the Alps. John seems to have missed this. Alchemi isn’t going against Ximenes or anyone else here, just being inventive.
    17a – “does ‘Abba finish’ really indicate the last letter of ‘Abba’?” (Again, the question must be “Can…?” not “Does…?”) Yes, it can – just as Croydon Town Hall means the town hall in Croydon and the Jones house means the house of Mr Jones. Nouns can very often be used adjectivally in English.
    8d – Covering = “BLANKET”, “two unknowns” = Y, BLANK. Incorrectly parsed.
    16d – This sort of comment really is a bit annoying. The perfect crossword clue has a cryptic reading consisting of wordplay joined to a definition of some kind – at its most simple it would read “Mixing up the letters XYZ gives you the thing A”. There are various ways of effecting the connection and it is acceptable (though not especially desirable) to have no connection at all and just jump straight from wordplay to the definition or vice versa. But to complain about the crytptic reading actually having a verb – and the most simple, clear one possible at that – is not OK. The cryptic reading here is something like “Anagram of “Earth’s no” is a sea”. (“The water” has that specific meaning, among many others.)
    20d – I don’t like perhaps as an indicator either, but I think there may be more going on here, involving “fresh”. In fact I think it may be very clever indeed – he’s alluding to the fact that new-laid and its synonym are anagram indicators.

    I don’t think there is much that marks Alchemi as a “libertarian” or anti-Ximenean and there is nothing unfair here. It certainly is a promising debut.

  11. rowland says:

    That’s old ground, Thomas! People have been on about what you say for years. Argument going the other way is that ‘surfaces’ don’t actually mean anything, they’re just the way the cryptic bits sound as a string. Youm have to be careful how you think about them in grammar, esp. when they sound really good!.

    Thanks Big Bave, I look back and see my post looks like I’m a spy or something! Sorry.

    Cheers all

  12. Alchemi says:

    Thanks to everyone for the hospitable welcome.

    Biggest thanks to Big Dave: not only has he published several of my puzzles, but he test-solved the original version of this and recommended it to Eimi, which is how it got here.

    Thanks to John for his review: sorry you didn’t correctly parse BLANKETY-BLANK, but Kathryn’s Dad did. (Which dates the composition of this puzzle precisely, because I happened to spend a day of the England v SA Test at Lord’s with Anarche in mid-August and tried the clue out on her.)

    I’m very gratified that the only really negative comments are from fundamentalist Ximeneans; as Jolly Swagman correctly divined, I don’t regard “Ximenes and the Art of the Crossword” as a sacred text from which thou shalt not deviate. Ximenes was campaigning against setters of the time who were wildly unfair to solvers and his central message was about being fair to solvers. When it comes to a conflict between Ximenean rectitude and readable English, my native tongue will win every time.

    JS also correctly divined that my primary purpose is amusement. The words I like seeing in feedback from my puzzles are “fun” and “enjoy”, and they seem to occur with embarrassing frequency above.

    The original version of this puzzle left “runner” out, but since the Indy can’t easily cope with special instructions (eg “The clues to four runners lack definition”), I had to put them in and it then does get to be a bit of a write-in. (The original version’s wordplay-only clue didn’t actually work, since it led to TITT ROMNEY, which is why the “runner” is better integrated into the present clue.)

    I’m also not too proud of 16D (NORTH SEA): I think the clue is sound, but it reads pretty nonsensically. On the other hand, my personal favourite is 25A because it reads so well.

    As to your seeing more of me, I hope so too.

  13. Rorschach says:

    Thanks Alchemi!

    To reiterate – the VAT clue was superlative (as is 25ac as you noted). I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the Non/-Xim debate is not one to lose sleep over. Fine debut and hope to see you again (Sloggers and Betters?)

  14. pommers says:

    Don’t often post on here but thought it appropriate to welcome Alchemi and congratulate him on a great debut puzzle. I’ve enjoyed every one of his NTSPP on BD’s site so it’s great to see him appear in a national daily.

    Excellent clues and the Ximenean/Libertarian debate is a load of hot air IMHO.

    Well done Alchemi – most enjoyable.

    BTW, ALCHEMI is an anagram of MICHAEL (also my first name).

  15. jetdoc says:

    Well done, Alchemi, on your national broadsheet debut. A very good puzzle, with which I certainly have no quarrels (but then, I am hardly in the Ximenean purist camp either, as you well know). Loved the clue for BLANKETY-BLANK. Better get this posted before the internet access here falls over yet again…

  16. Alchemi says:

    Well done on getting through, Jetdoc, much appreciated.

    In fact, the biggest thanks are due to her, because it was she who suggested to me last year that I ought to try my hand at setting and then put me in touch with Big Dave when it turned out that the results were passable.

    I am amazed that some people have a problem with “perhaps” as an anagram indicator, though. That “perhaps” was such an indicator was the first lesson I ever learned as a solver: the school English teacher who inducted me into solving mumblety years ago said that “perhaps” was *always* an anagram indicator. (He was not, it turns out, a particularly competent solver and I now know he was wrong about the “always”, but it’s certainly “sometimes” and obviously has been since at least the late 60s.)

  17. Klingsor says:

    Excellent debut, well done Alchemi! Big Dave is right that I’ve published three (so far) of his puzzles on my site, and damn fine puzzles they are too, so it is good to see him reaching a much wider audience here. He’d told me that a puzzle of his had been accepted by the Indy but I had not seen it before it appeared today.

    A good topical puzzle, with the theme well disguised by the neat trick of surfaces which suggested that we were looking for athletic “runners”.

    I hope we’ll see more of Alchemi.

  18. Kathryn's Dad says:

    So I was wrong in my musing that it was a one-off joint effort – well done to Alchemi, and look forward to the next one. We’ve had some fine debuts from new Indy setters in the last couple of months.

  19. Liz Geear says:

    Got to the puzzle quite late today and I thought it was great- and for me absolutely nothing to complain about. I don’t understand how anyone could not parse 8dn, it was my favourite clue.
    Welcome to the Indies, Alchemi!

  20. Alan Connor says:

    You had me at ORIGAMI & I enjoyed the PDM, slow for me because I get the vespa mixed up with some of the other Rep candidates. Great stuff.

  21. Alan Connor says:

    “veeps”, not “Vespa”. Damn iPhone does not curry favour.

  22. Paul B says:

    The so-called Ximenean vs so-called Libertarian debate continues right here at 15^2.

    I like the bit where the (otherwise excellent) blogger mistakenly identifies a certain clue as unsound from a Ximenean POV, and is picked up on it by some oik from the Libertarian camp who, in missing exactly the same cryptic point, passes up an absolutely golden opportunity to deliver an effective riposte. Instead, we continue with the usual, aimless, ignorant drivel.

    But heigh-ho, what can you do? Assume that some people have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about? Well, surely that would be cruel, in the sense of Dinsdale Piranha.

  23. Tees says:

    As to the puzzle by new setter Alchemi, let me add my congratulations. I really enjoyed this, lots of lovely, original stuff, a topical theme, and all in a fine debut.

    Welcome to the club. Has anyone, you know, told you about … The Ritual?

  24. Alchemi says:


    Er … I don’t think you’re supposed to talk about the, um, you know, in public – but what do I know, I’m just the initiate.

  25. Tees says:

    Have you not noticed, at summer camp etc, how we all limp?

  26. John says:

    If someone can give me an example of a word that is followed by ‘finish’ to give the last letter of that word then I’ll accept that my criticism of ‘Abba finish’ to give ‘a’ was unwarranted. Until then I shall continue to hold the view that ‘Abba finish’ doesn’t, except in a very loose and sloppy way, indicate ‘a’. ‘Abba’s finish’ does.

  27. JollySwagman says:

    Google “before the stage finish” and you’ll get lots of cycling reports.

    Obviously it means the finish of the stage – which cryptically would be E.

  28. Big Dave says:


    A quick scan through my own blog turned up this example:

    Dear sort of cotton with seamless finish (5) – DUCK + S

    I would also be happy with photo finish to give O.

    One of the problems of blogging puzzles, as I well know, is overanalysis of clues. I have evolved a very simple test of a good clue. Did it make me smile? If the answer is yes, then who cares whether it is Ximenean or Libertarian or neither.

  29. rowland says:

    No, John is right about this. The compiler here has becomee a victim of the illusion that the ‘surface’ makes. If you believe ‘photo finish’ leads to O, or ‘stage finish’ means E, then you are ‘had’ too! I don’t question enjoyment of clues like that, but they are wrong whatever.


  30. Big Dave says:


    Since there are no rules, there is no such thing as right and wrong and it is arrogant to impose your own personal opinion on others.

    I enjoyed all of the clues in this puzzle and to me that is all that matters.

  31. rowland says:

    Hi Dave. No offence intended but there ARE rules, or guidelines, or ‘ways of seeing’ that are really helpful. People I learned to solve with were Times solvers not Guardian, and they showed me the way good clues are put together, and why bad clues are bad. Thius made things really easy to understand.

    I agree with you that no one should force anyone to follow any guidance, and I would not impose, so please don’t thin of me as arrogant! But I see why those guidelines are there, and enjoy the cleverness of the setters who see why theser are important.


  32. Raich says:

    Dave at #29, “There are no rules”. Not sure if we are into semantics here – yes, there is no rule-book, but there are conventions at the very least surely eg each clue has to have a definition of the answer.

  33. Raich says:

    Should be #30, not #29, sorry.

  34. Paul B says:

    Sage words, ‘there is no rule-book': please note, ye slaggers of Ximenes.

  35. JollySwagman says:

    @rowland #31 ‘ways of seeing’.

    Shame you learned on The Times – they’ve always been miles behind – still are. G-man me.

    Seeing non-xim puzzles through xim-specs doesn’t work. Change of paradigm is needed.

    Prince Charles was speaking Tok Pisin the other day in PNG.

    He wasn’t speaking English badly. He was speaking Tok Pisin correctly.

    He learnt it from his dad, oldfella Pili-Pili him bilong Misis Kwin. :-)

  36. rowland says:

    Behind? The Times?

    Sorry Jolly, I couldn’t resist! Re this Ximenenan thing I don’t know that it really exosts, just that people are either aware or not of the surface being the result of the ‘stuff down below’ and not t’other way round.


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