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.

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.

Doesn’t it look pretty? Today’s ersatz grid thing that is. All those lovely coloured bits waiting to be filled, and something revealed.

Doesn’t it also look rather empty? Oh yes, it does, because I have had a rare (if the second this quarter) total wipeout. One this time too where I have failed miserably to jot in a single entry.

Nimrod assured us that once we get a few entries in this would all get easier. Except I haven’t managed to get a single entry in. Cycling, you see, and clashes. So while I have NIFFIER, FRENULA and ERROR for my first three answers, there are too many common letters to even begin to guess at how we should correctly cycle and enter them into the grid. If you look carefully you can see where I thought I had one, realised the error of my ways, and swiftly erased that one measly entry.

No fear, I thought, all will be revealed later. The threesome of TRITIUM, GRETA and REIGN looking a little more helpful. Except that the latter two have little asterisks beside them to indicate that we’re to expect clashes.

The upshot being that while I’ve cold solved about half the clues, I can see no possible way of entering the things. And without something in the way of checking letters, whatever that’s worth in that helix thing, I’ve got little chance of cold solving them all.

So nul points.

Wipeout.

I will be intrigued to see the success rate for this one, how many persevered. Or if Boxing Day and the subsequent sitting-round-the-house-eating-mince-pies of the following locked down week were simply not conducive, here at least, to the kind of concentration levels required.

Oh well, there’s always next week.

It was the weekend before Christmas and all was, well, rather grim actually. The English government belatedly saw sense prompting a general exodus from the capital and a no doubt massive viral load with it, and the Welsh government? Well, Drakeford finally had the cover he needed and introduced the lockdown he would have a week before if he’d had a shred of courage. Hancock came out with that most hated of terms once more, duty – uncomfortable echoes of Kitchener’s vile propaganda – which makes me think he’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. As will Drakeford when we oust the lot this spring.

All of which has little to do with Eclogue’s puzzle, beyond a vague link with SARS to the SW. Present and correct were extraneous letters from wordplay, and mysteriously affected other clues, all of which might have led you to a false sense of security, this sort of thing being a fairly regular feature of the IQ, because I wonder if I was alone in finding the grid fill to be accomplished at somewhat of a crawl?

What would you pinpoint as being the chief reasons for this, I hear you cry. Well, that would have to be a couple of words I couldn’t find in the dictionary (PEAKIE, if it’s correct?), some pretty solid if tip-top wordplay, plus the belatedly realised fact that the mangled entries were well and truly mangled. I’m still not sure if all are real words, Google having come up trumps with a couple, but still. No help from Chambers, the crossword solver’s bible, here.

So while ARPEGGIONES might be present and correct in the BRB, ARPIONES isn’t, or RAES (REGGAES), SKER (SKEGGER), and so on. What they all do have in common is that they’re missing EGGs, see. Pretty neat, and spotted early on when I noticed in a rare fit of enlightenment that VIES with an extra bit in the middle might well lead to someone eschewing flesh of all sorts.

Job done? Well, almost. 2d has got to end in an S or X, but I can’t parse it so have no idea which and so I’m going to guess at X. 50/50 odds, but I have an appalling record when it comes to gambling – the one exception being when I correctly surmised that a 25/1 outsider was actually a dead cert, and would have made my fortune if I’d staked more than a measly quid on the fact.

Oh yes, we’re supposed to have two quotes, one of them a little cryptic. Well, I have the first – “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”, and I think “eat” and L at the end of the second, but the rest remains a mystery. What isn’t a mystery is that the first quote is from Cool Hand Luke, that there’s a certain something to do with eating eggs in said film, and that we can highlight not only the name of the film, but the surnames of the two lead characters in the grid too.

Yep, that looks good to me, bar the one random guess. Thanks Eclogue then for the enjoyable challenge, but what a challenge it was.

Never let it be said that the British sense of humour fails to let us down. In a week where cases of the virus locally exceed 600 per 100,000, the schools have closed because too many staff and pupils are either sick or isolating, the local health board is near to breaking point with patients waiting 19 hours in ambulances outside hospital doors to be let in, and a general feeling of alarm prevails in the community, what better way to mark the occasion with that old nursery rhyme. OK, the story regarding its link to the plague is almost certainly apocryphal, but it must be said that it does have that reputation. Gallows humour indeed from the team this week.

When did I notice the rhyme in the perimeter? That would have been about halfway through with almost the whole of the RHS filled, having picked away carefully at some very nice wordplay to extract the letters we had, and guessed the one to be placed in the perimeter from wordplay. Which thankfully was nicely judged by Kruger otherwise this could have turned into quite the task.

I even managed to do so with an extended break to put the decorations up. Let it be noted that we have 11, yes 11 different sets of lights both inside and out. Should there be issues with the national grid this month, look no further than my humble abode.

Rhyme spotted the rest of the grid fill was much more straightforward than it could have been, which is the trouble with this sort of thing I suppose. But I for one was grateful for the extra help.

At the last? We sincerely hope that we do not all fall down, but that is what is cryptically represented in the grid.

On which point I will go back into hiding, with the double whammy of Covid and Brexit hanging over my head, and thank Kruger for an enjoyable solve, if one that was a little… cheeky under the current circumstances.

First thoughts this week would have to be that there’s a lot of preamble to get through, and as it turns out a lot to do to stagger across the finish line too. Definitions that are not what they seem, other clues where we have a whole bunch of letters that could best be described as superfluous. Loads of them as it turns out.

We do have though lots of normal looking clues to solve, which I can cope with, sort of, in the aftermath of another Friday night. Not that I don’t have severe doubts about one or two answers this week, but hopefully that’s just down to my remiss parsing skills and rather dull state of mind.

Possibly too my limited grasp of Spanish, beyond that picked up from a most likely unhealthy obsession with Spaghetti Westerns. Vamos a matar compaƱeros isn’t going to help you much in the local supermarket.

Did you know that down that way they have different suits of cards? No, me neither, but that’s what the unclued downs resolved to (or rather anagrams of them). Oros, Copas, Espadas, Bastos to you too.

Thankfully the extra letters in the clues resolved to the good old English versions of the same, because otherwise I wouldn’t have got anywhere.

Thank the crossword gods too for Google, because not having a copy of the ODQ to hand (though Amazon is somewhat obsessed ever since with trying to flog me a copy) the quote from the highlighted letters proved somewhat difficult to track down. Thankfully 29, 9, 4 and 22 from the clues with superfluous letters could only yield so many dates, leading to those of Cervantes, and hence a quote that led to something about shuffling cards.

Thus all the above rigmarole. The Listener and EV led with beginner’s level puzzles this weekend, so hurrah to the IQ for something a little more challenging, even if a lot of that was down to my dire language skills. Can we have Welsh next time please? Vamos, compaƱeros. Here’s Morricone’s theme for the same.

Phi doubles up, taking both the IQ and EV spots, and doubles up in the general mind-bendingness stakes too, unless that was just me. Not content with squares containing multiple letters (has Phi actually seen my writing and what happens when I try to shoehorn half a dozen letters into one cell?), we have some entries that need to be mysteriously “altered” before entry. The upshot being that confidence in doing anything useful like entering the things in the grid on solving is about zero.

As if to prove the point, 1ac is evidently INNOCENCE, but as expected it’s too long. Oh well. HOBO isn’t, even if you’d be hard pressed to be sure of the parsing without the good old BRB to hand. The one entry that wouldn’t have been found in its covers was no problem thanks to having to learn the kings of Judah in Year 3 RE. Who said that education was wasted.

A pretty snappy CASSIOPEIA down the centre of the grid meant… Not much really, because the checking letters did little to aid with the problems noted earlier. Hopes raised and then dashed.

Thankfully, it eventually dawned that the adjusted entries are an anagram of the answer minus the W. Now, a W is what the constellation above looks like, but I’m still unclear as to the logic at play here. Oh well. Saturday night was by this point beginning to fade fast because this is exactly how long it had taken to get thus far and perhaps my mind was focused on other things. Like that bottle of wine cooling in the fridge.

A betting man would have hazarded a guess by now that the clashes were probably going to form the shape of the constellation, and he’d be right. What he might not have guessed though (alright, I didn’t) is that the clashes made up the name of the various stars. Ruchbah, Caph, etc. therefore not being as seemingly random as they first appeared. Clashes were therefore duly identified, forming the desired shape, except that I appeared to have three extra to the southwest.

OK, admittedly McCarthy instead of MCCAIN in retrospect was a pretty wild stab in the dark, but I bet I wasn’t alone in going for AGLEAM rather than AGLOW (or OLGA as it’s entered). And yes, it took me until the Strictly results show Sunday evening to work that out.

Now, usually I would put up a picture of the before grid, but you’d be none the wiser as I could barely read the clashes myself. So here’s after, with the clashes replaced with (hopefully correct) stars.

So without further ado (though with thanks first to Phi for a most excellent puzzle)…

Let us just note that I approached this week’s Inquisitor in a fashion that Withnail himself would have been proud of, it having been ONE OF THOSE WEEKS. (Let the reader understand). It may also be noted with a little trepidation too, as Gila is a setter who has tripped me up quite badly more than once, being unforgiving of my generally sloppy attitude to solving and lack of attention to detail.

Thankfully this week’s is what I would term a good beginner’s level IQ, the clues being somewhat less than mind-bending and it must be said a pleasure to solve throughout. Ok, we have a few misprints, and extra letters from wordplay, but dare I suggest nothing that your average daily cryptic solver couldn’t have coped with. Which is to say that despite feeling a little frayed around the edges, and being a bear of very little brain anyway, one clue fell after another at a fairly rapid clip. Cattle for rattle and wordplay that virtually screamed R AN CH being an encouraging start, a certain stringed instrument of which we have two below, and… Well, it was only to the SE that I would generally struggle.

Which is where the themed bits leapt to the rescue, because by that point there was enough to guess WE’VE GONE ON HOLIDAY BY MISTAKE. Lots of nails being required to complete the thematic entries (WITH NAIL, you see. Feel free to groan).

Now this being lunchtime, there remained just a meal to prepare, a Christmas Cake to bake as we lurch ever closer to the looming day, before, well… I sweated somewhat over the misprinted ones, until it actually occurred to me to read the things in order and correct one to spell CROW CRAG, which is of course the name of Uncle Monty’s cottage in the very wet Lake District.

Look, there he is, with CAMDEN down the centre of the grid which is where all the fun started (a Camberwell Carrot, anyone?), all spelling out the second thematic identity, I.

Job done. I have my doubts about my entry for 19d which is undoubtedly a mineral, but don’t ask me about the parsing. But what a nice puzzle on a theme I’m amazed hasn’t cropped up before, it being one dear to many a setter and solver’s heart. What was your listening pleasure throughout, I hear you ask? Well, that would feature prominently…

The dark nights are getting to Radler too. The general mood that everything is closing in and well if you were to go out then there’s that pesky killer virus waiting to pounce. Or perhaps he (or she) wasn’t thinking that at all and that it’s just me who’s beginning to lose the plot as we lurch into the depths of winter with only the grim inevitability of the “festive” season at the close. Roll on spring and a nice warm spot in the garden to relax and generally chill. But before that some fool arranged for the roof to be replaced which will no doubt bring angst of its own.

Which is to say that this week’s IQ matched my mood perfectly, even down to the agonising over parsing because a bit of pain is good for the soul. Yes, your clues had a long series of question marks beside them too, didn’t they? Which is all well and good but we’re looking for letters missing from wordplay to form a phrase. 8d I’m still suitably bemused by and I suspect is an incorrect guess.

But for those of us who enjoy an afternoon with the dictionary (and what greater pleasure is there?), there was much to enjoy. CHIAUSES where we had to get right down to some obscure pluralising, INULASE, URODELA, and CORNU for starters. In case you found that heavy going, DRESS SENSE for “investment-savvy” with an apt question mark was a nice touch, and there were loads of others that were perfectly guessable for the daily solver who’d chanced a few pages on in the paper.

Being nervous about highlighting straight onto paper I did so in a spreadsheet first, fortunately due to the inevitable cock-ups. Having got there eventually, the end result was NULLAM REM NATAM (that’s “no thing born” to you and me), in an “appropriate form”, and NADA / RIEN similarly elsewhere in the grid. Well, there you are.

Grid complete, now time to play spot the inevitable errors therein. Thanks, Radler, for the fun. And Jacks? See definition 10 in the Big Red Book, and the more common Jack ****.

Chalicea is a setter I usually enjoy. Her puzzles are always of the utmost quality, fair, and being on the easy side flatter solvers of my ability level. This week however she falls foul of one of my bugbears, being the gridfill that is over in a jiffy (in today’s case about as quick as they get for the IQ), followed by days of fruitless staring at a grid trying to work out what should be highlighted.

I think most of us have probably seen footage of the fate that befell the Tacoma Suspension Bridge, but I don’t know about you but I was blissfully unaware of its name, the surrounding geography, what is was nicknamed (the GALLOPING GERTIE, the problems it faced apparently having been encountered from the very off), or the name of the sole fatality. So nothing on looking at the grid rang a bell, and a Google of things that had happened on this day in the past elicited a long list, none of which looked very promising.

Which is to say that when some hard-pressed Googling eventually chanced on the solution, I felt more relief than any pleasurable PDM. Which is a pity, because the grid fill is one I enjoyed.

The finished article to be fair is neat, with the fallen section and the missing (presumed dead) TUBBY, presuming my highlighting is correct.

Perhaps I’m just revealing my own ignorance, but I could have done with some pointers. A clue revealed by misprinted letters sort of thing, perhaps. Or did you all leap straight in with the highlighters and thank Chalicea for an enjoyable, pretty easy solve? Answers on a postcard…