An enjoyable puzzle to kick us off this week, on the easy side, but showing lots of 2d. There is little to say this (extremely icy) morning apart from that, because I don’t think there was anything contentious, though as more than a few were write-ins it’s possible I may have overlooked something. I did though have more than an average number of tick beside the clues, so a big thumbs up here. Finish time about as quick as they get.

COD? With 21ac, 15d and 22ac in close contention, I’ll go with 16ac – “Balls’ motivation to get close to final (6)”.

To November 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

Over on Fifteensquared the original blogger noted that today a bit of lateral thinking was required, and in the comments somebody else noted that they entered a few unparsed. Today any lateral thinking seemed to be beyond me, as I entered most of the clues either with little idea of what was going on, or in several cases none at all. Now, I still finished easily under par for the i, so you could argue that I was given enough to work with, but it still felt like a far from comfortable solve where I half expected to grind to a halt any second when inspiration failed me. Interesting and enjoyable nevertheless, quite different to the puzzles we’ve had the rest of the week. Perhaps best described as lively? Let me know how you got on, anyway.

COD? I’ll go with 31ac – “French novelist’s ‘babbling stream and brook’ (8)”.

To December 2016 where thankfully the always reliable duncanshiell has all the answers and parsing of the clues:

Another pretty gentle solve, which leads me to wonder if we have tougher challenges in store for the rest of the week. It’s Dac, so we make up what we lose in quantity (of time) with quality, so certainly no complaints here. Unusually for him I do have the one question mark, as to whether the A at the start of 21ac is adequately signposted, but apart from a brief moment of fussing about where 20d lies geographically, the answer was forthcoming enough. A lot of the rest did not need to be fully parsed, but I did pause to note that 14ac and 2d at first glance left me a little flummoxed as to what was going on. No doubt with a little more thought I would have seen the light, but this is what we have Fifteensquared for, isn’t it?

First in, yes you guessed it 22d where I started, last in 19ac, but only because I almost forgot to solve it, finish time close to being as quick as they get.

COD? With lots to pick from as ever, I’ll go with 2d – “Cooked sole apt to need sprinkling of salt and dressing (11)”.

To September 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

If you’ve been solving Quixote’s puzzles for several years as I have, and are aware that he was (and perhaps still is?) the editor of the Church Time’s crossword, then I’m guessing that you too spotted today’s event and location a mile off. It took me until R.CL C..A to make the not so miraculous leap of faith, and pencil in WEDDING MIRACLE AT CANA for the extra letters. It didn’t need much in the way of omniscience either to guess that we’d be turning water into wine.

But all of the above would only be accomplished after MANY HOURS OF AGONISING. Because, yes, this was Quixote in full on turbo-charged Pasquale mode. His last IQ having been a pretty gentle affair this came as a surprise, but not necessarily an unwelcome one because who’s got anything better to do these days? I was also less than best prepared following an evening I suspect the vicar would have frowned upon. As my father is, most literally, one, perhaps I should have known better. Either way potentially jumbled entries were enough to faze me.

Perhaps unnecessarily so, because once I’d established that they lay to the SW and NE only, the final NW corner fell in what could only be described as a jiffy. Lack of confidence, you see. WAG being the last thing I thought of for moving up and down, leading to the unlikely looking FAGUS, and when I eventually thought about it, the sticky substance was evidently LAC and so ILIAC. But NOGG you could be forgiven for not knowing was another word for what some would argue lay at the heart of my most definite lack of mental prowess this Saturday.

But with Quixote you expect a trip to the BRB, and with the IQ doubly so.

What do you know, the end-game is as it should be. Clear, to the point, the icing on the cake. WATER twice amended to PINOT and MEDOC giving what is definitely a plethora of real words to fill a grid that was in places bereft of same.

I suspect this is a barred grid puzzle of the old school, but having not been solving the things that long I couldn’t say for sure. But one that was a real treat, if an unexpectedly challenging one. Here’s Monty Python on the subject of miracles.

A fun puzzle by Peter to start the week, with nothing too difficult, unless you floundered for a while trying to think of an Italian city that wasn’t the capital, or briefly considered SPIKE for 1d that is. The top half took marginally longer than the rest, but I suspect that was just me running out of puff halfway through, completed at a sprint as this was from the bottom up. Nicely judged for a Monday, and I suspect a real crowd-pleaser.

COD? I’ll go with 21ac – “European clergyman dropping king in favour of court is catholic (8)”.

To Halloween 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues. The observant among you will note that Fifteensquared has had a makeover that looks rather nifty.

A fairly gentle puzzle from Hypnos eases us towards the end of the week. It’s an IoS reprint, as expected, with little I suspect that will have held up older hands. A desperate type is usually DAN, I’ve finally started to remember that LEG is “on”, and African countries seem to be invariably MALI. On the other hand I completely forgot the French commune needed for 11ac, and got hung up on PRIME (even though nine most definitely isn’t!) in the wordplay for 8d, and so failed miserably to parse either properly. Which just goes to show that knowing all the usual crosswordese isn’t always enough to help you on days when you’re sort of operating on autopilot. But was it a good puzzle? Yes, thoroughly so, enjoyed throughout.

First in 24d where I started, last in the foreign port with too many syllables, finish time comfortably under par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with 29ac – “Gang in bad condition with end prominent in book (4,4)”.

To September 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

I’m not sure whether this was on the tricky side, or whether solving early just didn’t suit me, but I struggled with Anglio’s puzzle throughout. There are one or two bits of parsing that are difficult to untangle (13ac I’m still not entirely sure I understand), definitions that weren’t always the ones you’d be expecting (1d springs to mind), and of course there’s always the unfamiliarity factor. I shouldn’t complain, though, because this was an engaging puzzle that kept me interested throughout. But let me know how you got on… First in where I started at 24d, last in 19d, finish time easily over par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with the aforementioned 19d – “Fox News screening nothing positive (7)”.

To September 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

Edited to note that we have had another mention in today’s editorial. 😀

In which your hapless blogger, not content with having only an empty grid to offer last week, comes close to another abject failure.

Or: sometimes I wonder if this game is too hard for me?

Because on the grid beginning to fill quite nicely with a mix of normal clues and ones yielding extra letters, I thought hang about, they’ve scheduled an easy one to ease us into the New Year.

And then: no, I can’t do this.

Because the “helpful” message I had from extra letters read: WEDDING T NEEN O EDUCATION. Or something like that.

And I had an erroneous ANTEPOST slap bang across the middle of the grid.

The upshot being that by the end of Saturday I could well see that we had to mash together thematic answers, and pick off some bits, but I’d failed miserably to solve all of them, and could see no rhyme or reason to the bits selected. ENOCH, FOR SALE and HOOCH therefore being guesses, if I like to think educated ones. Perhaps the title will help? Nope. Google reveals that it’s the name of Vera Brittain’s first volume of memoirs, but none of the rest seems to fit.

It would be on waking Sunday morning that I suddenly thought WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION, and grasped like a drowning man to the feeble idea that we would be looking for Pink Floyd song titles. A nifty Google soon put paid to that.

So to a long hard slog, cold solving the thematics, and mashing them together in a way that is hopefully correct. So HOO(PLATO)CH, ENO(WHITE)CH, FORSA(KEATING)LE, and so on. I must admit to not knowing all the names, but there’s a a definite theme running through the ones I did. Don’t ask what the title’s supposed to mean, though. If some of my final answers are incorrect it would not surprise me, to be honest, because I struggled, oh yes how I struggled.

Which leads me back to the question at the start. Perhaps I’m really not up to this?

2021 will reveal all, no doubt.

Those of a sharper mindset this morning will have noticed not only the name of a famous American singer songwriter in the left and right columns, but also a number of his album titles dotted around the grid. I should perhaps have spotted the name, but as I’ve heard, as far as I’m aware, none of his songs, I can be forgiven for missing the rest. If I’d been more alert I would have struggled less at the close on 12ac and 20ac which between them accounted for a fair amount of my time. As it was I enjoyed a solve that was on the easyish side, with no problems beyond those already described, and much to enjoy. There’s one odd definition at 9ac, but with a few checking letters and an extremely helpful cryptic, most solvers will have got there and learnt something new. It could be argued that both definitions at 3d were on the obscure side, but as I knew neither and still got it I’m going to argue in the clue’s favour. Elsewhere I couldn’t parse 10ac or 25ac on solving, but as both appear to be clear as day in retrospect, I’m going to blame my own obtuseness together with a combination of the setter’s cunning.

COD? 8d tickled me, and 10ac is as smoothly done as you would like, but my nomination goes to 1ac which has a surface reading convincing enough that you could easily pass over the wordplay conveyed so succinctly – “European paper with story about Corbyn? (6)”.

So to October 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

The normally reliable Cornick seems to be MIA today, hopefully not in despair at missing yet another of Phi’s ghost themes. Because yes, there is one, apparently, and one I’m not quite sure I’ve got to the bottom of yet. But there are hints aplenty over on the other side, should you wish to delve further. For myself I enjoyed what seemed like a straight cryptic, slightly on the tough side I thought, though I was perhaps not on top form this morning. Both 1ac and 25ac threw me a little because, while I’ve heard the former used in phrases, I’ve never seen it set stand alone, and while I’ve met many coal miners, and have heard of other types of miners, iron ones are pretty thin on the ground as far as I can tell. Couple that with quite a few I failed to fully parse, in particular 21d, 1ac and 12ac, this morning saw me finish in a sorry state considerably over par for the i. Which is probably all my own fault.

So before I return to the day’s Inquisitor, I’ll just nominate 18d as my COD – “Expression of appreciation replacing love in marriage? That’s a rare thing (7)”.

And to October 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues: