So in Anglesey they do have mobile data… How was the journey from one far-flung corner of Wales to the other? 6 hours to travel 180 miles, it turns out, which is considerably longer than both Google and the RAC estimated, with let’s say basic facilities in-between. The local newsagent does though stock copies of the i, so we’re in business.

Schadenfreude this week, who I seem to remember being a little on the tricky side. Single letters overlooked in 19 clues, giving two titles, one of them jumbled. Complete the grid, presumably utilising that blank square in the middle, highlight another title and the person in all three. Well, that sounds OK to me. Almost midnight might not be the most opportune time to start solving, but well, I had better things to be doing until then. Like trying to find somewhere selling beer and chips. Benllech it turns out is good for both, boasting a Tesco Express, two, I repeat two chip shops, a Bengali takeaway and, oh yes, lots of sand and sea. In fact, we seem to be totally surrounded by the stuff.

The grid fill? Half one night and half the next. Which is to say, under the conditions, it really wasn’t that bad. A few oddities, 42ac being down at number 18 by way of definitions in the BRB for office, but still highly amusing. One or two I couldn’t parse first time through, a few such as 11ac pretty crucially so. Oh well…

The end game? The extra letters I’ve managed to glean as expected are pretty much nonsense. No fear, all we need to do is find the aforementioned title and somebody who’s in it. And there, with a nifty B in the centre of the grid, is The Dambusters NW to SE, and yes, Michael Redgrave too. Out with the highlighters that I’ve had to purchase especially because I forgot to bring my own (doh!), and we’re done?

Well, call me suspicious, but let’s have another look. Oh, a T in the centre will give The Bostonians SW to NE, which features Vanessa Redgrave who’s also in that finished grid. Thanks, Schadenfreude… Looks like we’re going to have to sort out those extra letters. Let’s have another look, more carefully this time. Beer, it transpires, helps.

I’ve got what looks like it might be BEHIND. Yes, BEHIND THE MASK. Which one of our two Redgraves is in it? Gee, thanks again, both. The other title’s scrambled, and I’m struggling. We know how many letters it contains, though, so Wikipedia to the rescue. A long hard stare at 11ac later… Yes, it’s BLOW-UP, which stars Vanessa but not Michael Redgrave. The Bostonians it is then. Huzzah.

Well, that was fun, one that kept me guessing right to the end. And a nice little trap for the unwary, among whom I may yet find myself counted. Next stop, Pembrokeshire, via a hopefully scenic drive down the west Wales coast. See you there!

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On the weekend the heatwave broke in the most spectacular style. Thunderstorms, hail, torrential rain. The day following the company announcement that the normal dress code would be relaxed in light of the extreme temperatures, and the same day we’d decided a trip to Barry Island might be in order. Oh well, there’s always chips, and the Inquisitor. Lato this week who’s not giving much away with that title. Never mind, there’s more than enough detail in the preamble, the main point to remember being misprints in the definitions of 11 clues. Let’s worry about the rest later. Something to do with all those unclued entries, apparently.

I would begin at the beginning, but that’s unclued so I can’t. 7ac was another matter of – no idea. But join is evidently MARRY, and we’re off. First misprint spotted at 20ac – “rice”, not “rich”, of course. The veil at 44ac’s a favourite with crossword setters so I can even spell it. Poor Engels is implicated in a bit of money making at 34d. All of which is to say that the grid fill was a bit of a walk in the park, as they say in some circles.

The unclued entries. I’m pretty certain of CONTINUE to the NW, and LINDBERGH and RED BARON (hello again!) in the SE (despite an initial moment of panic on them not appearing to be proper words). First guess at the one above? Well, BAKER. Now, we’ve got three pilots there (yes, if you google “Baker” you’ll find lots of pilots with that surname). And we’re looking for groupings of the unclued entries, so I’m guessing that’s one. In retrospect a wise man would change BAKER to BADER, a much more famous pilot… Grid duly amended, though I would argue there’s a good case for an alternative solution.

What else? ULTRA down the centre. Is that HOUSE under it, and ROYAL? I think that’s BE LEFT in the NE (yes, the preamble does warn us that two of the entries will contain two words). What about the one to the SW? I’ve got no idea.

OK, backtracking slightly. The 11 misprints are supposed to supply the name of a co-star. Oh dear, it’s SEAN CONNERY. Oh dear because he’s made about a million and one films. Let’s look at some of the more famous ones and see if we can find a star whose name is also 11 letters long, and who happens to be in the grid. The Untouchables was my first guess, but no. One of the Bond films? Nope, I don’t think so. Thankfully Connery’s Wikipedia entry is quite emphatic that Marnie is one of his more important films, because I’ve not seen it. Tippi Hedren starred, and there she is in the grid. Highlighted in a gorgeous shade of orange – it makes a change from green.

Back to the unclued entries. Three groups, each suggesting a word, work out the relationship to the film. Hopefully it’ll help with some of them, because I still can’t see the one to the SW, and the rest are a little iffy.

Three pilots. Tick. CONTINUE and BE LEFT could be carry on, outlast, something like that. But how does ULTRA fit? And HOUSE, ROYAL. Lancaster? Is the SW one STAR, are we looking at something to do with planes, pilots again? And how does that fit with the film?

Hang on. Pilots could be AIRMEN, which is an anagram of MARNIE. REMAIN is another anagram, which fits in with CONTINUE, BE LEFT and, yes, STAY down in the SW corner. MARINE is the only other anagram I can find. ROYAL MARINE, yes. ULTRA MARINE. Let’s look at the dictionary, because HOUSE is evidently wrong. Ah, HORSE MARINE, not heard of that, but it’s in the big red book.

Now that was very satisfying to finish and work out what was going on with the different groups. So thanks Lato, thoroughly enjoyed! By the time you read this I’ll be off in the wilds of Wales (no, I don’t tend to venture too far) where hopefully I’ll be able to pick up a copy of the Weekend i and find time to solve the Inquisitor. Whether I’ll also find time to blog it is another matter, so should next week’s blog not appear, or appear late, fear not, I’ll be holed up in a pub somewhere not worrying overly about the lack of a mobile signal or Wi-Fi.

Or “loors”, the printing goblins having been at work again. A glance to the right of the grid confirms the suspicion that my solution to Eclogue’s Ivy was, indeed, the working of my fevered imaginings, and swiftly moving on to eXtent’s latest offering. eXtent being, of course, eXternal and Serpent in union. Misprints this week, incorrect and correct letters (remember that order), resulting in a verse with one missing word we’ve got to highlight. A preamble I can understand. Worrying.

Onto a not so glorious start. The plural of love feasts starting AG is AGAPES, isn’t it? No idea about the misprint but let’s ignore that and look at the crossing answers. 1d – so far so good. ABDUCT is indeed to take away with an anagram of sorts once the misprint’s sorted. 2d – yep, GRIS. Still on course. 3d ditto. But no, 4d’s not going to be anything other than EQUAL no matter how hard I squint. Check the dictionary, confirm we should have entered AGAPAE for 1ac with a misprint that suddenly make sense. That brief stumble done with the grid entry is one that is occasioned without too much ado. Yes, I know, I’m a right 35ac.

What do the misprints amount to? They start EYE HAVE A SPELLING IT CAME WITH MY PEA SEA which is part of the first two lines of Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, of which there seem to be loads of versions online, none of which quite agree and none of which quite match eXtent’s version. Oh well, the seven letter word missing is evidently CHEQUER, and there it is near the bottom of the grid all ready to highlight. Hurrah.

Wasn’t that good? Not too tricky, always engaging, and that verse – new to me – was indeed quite amusing. And, you never know, perhaps I haven’t made such a dog’s dinner of things this time.

Or rather, ‘ou will have according to my paper, there evidently having been a debacle at the printers.

Isn’t that a long preamble? Half the (possibly jumbled) definitions have got an extra letter spelling out an instruction as these things are wont to do. One unclued entry, two “contributors” to be highlighted hint at the theme. And, oh, answers don’t necessarily fill the space available. Such fun. Onward, with the infernal buzzing and rattling and clanking of the fridge freezer in the background. Yes, defrosting the thing after it began to leak water has indeed fixed the leaking water problem, but brought with it a whole world of hurt.

And my head’s not up to that level of hurt on a Saturday afternoon. Thankfully the grid isn’t similarly injurious. Though it did take an unnecessarily long time to get beyond “It’s a pity heroin isn’t one letter longer, otherwise it would have fitted nicely with the wordplay for 1ac” to, oh, that’s one of the ones that doesn’t fill the space available. HERO, you dolt. Something GREENISH isn’t ish anything but most definitely coloured. And GROCK, what a marvellous word. HARK at 43ac appears to be the only other answer too short for the space available. Look, they’re symmetrically placed. Does that mean anything?

The unclued entry? We’re missing but the one letter, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that it’s GUESTHOST. The extra letters? Once I’d got over my assumption that 1d couldn’t possibly be plural – it can, it’s third down the list in Chambers – I discovered to my surprise that I’d got them right first time. AMEND GRID TO BE AFFIRMATIVE. Eh?

Let’s look for those contributors… With a niggling suspicion based on the unclued entry… Yes, there’s MERTON, making his second appearance in a month, and HISLOP, regulars on Have I Got News for You. Even if they’re on the wrong side of the guest host, Kruger!

But how do we make the grid affirmative? There are some suspicious looking YOUs at the top and bottom of the grid. NEWS for YOU? Yep, that works, giving us HERON and SHARK, and lo and behold the other amended answers fit too. Huzzah. All good fun, and not too tricky – so thanks Kruger, that suited me just fine. All of which leaves time enough at last for other things like. Well, a bit of Mortimer and Whitehouse. Well worth a look if you haven’t already.

Eclogue, the king of comedy. What’s in store today on this hottest of days? Misheard words, a device we don’t come across very often. What have we go to do with them? Take the first letters, make a list, highlight the missing items. Ensconced in a sweltering kitchen… because… do insects really embark on mini-vendettas? Well, this one has, so I’m hiding indoors with the Inquisitor which, for all its vagaries, doesn’t tend to bite.

Getting one in quickly is always encouraging. Odd letters of LaNdAu behind a misheard YEW being ULNA. A naked lady was always likely to be GODIVA, but barring an unlikely past tense of gnaw I can’t see why. Do ROMAN CANDLES make stars? According to the big red book they do. All of which is to say that the grid fill really wasn’t that bad, with a catch which I’ll come to later. Oh, I forgot to mention the two unclued entries. The down one was always going to be CORBETT, meaning the other has to be BARKER. No prizes for guessing that today’s sketch is Four Candles.

So we’re looking for that famously misheard shopping list? Except I haven’t done a very good job of sorting out those first letters. But I have got enough to see that what’s missing are the fork ‘andles. Or should that be four candles? Let’s look at the list and see if they’re the real items, or the misheard ones.

Mmmm, they’re both. That’s not much help. PLUGS, SAWTIPS (and not SORE TIPS), HOES (and not O’s), PEES (instead of PEAS), PUMPS, WASHERS, BILLHOOK – though surely we’re missing the last S? – and not something a lot ruder. Though my version has got a load of question marks, a couple that are obviously wrong, which leaves lots of room for doubt.

In the SW corner there are four CANDLEs in a funny sort of pattern. Forked, I’d say. According to the preamble the missing items should be “highlighted in a contiguous arrangement of the theme”. How much time can you spend agonising about whether you should be highlighting four CANDLES, or fork(ed) ‘ANDLES? Quite a long time, as it turns out. I don’t see why candles should be arranged like that, and how they could be a contiguous arrangement of the theme, but I can see why forked ‘andles might just be. So that’s what I’m going with. Confident, oh yes, completely confident that I might have called it wrong. I’d go so far as to say that if was desperate for that box of Lindt chocolates I’d send in two different copies just to be sure. Anyway, here’s what I think, no matter what the solution says. And how long did it take to decide on that? The weekend and a couple of days longer than that. So thanks, Eclogue, I think. 🙂

Chalicea, so this is going to be on the easy side, right? After last week’s labours I’m guessing we could all do with a rest. Only ten clues with any sort of gimmick, and that’s an extra word. I can cope with that. And about the grid fill there’s really very little left to say, except that it was duly filled.

Those extra words… According to the preamble take the ones to the left and right, and the initial letters, follow the resulting instruction to fill the unclued squares. I’ve evidently picked the wrong ones because what I’ve got doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This would be worrying if it wasn’t pretty obvious what’s needed to fill them. Because we evidently have “these dark”, “Jerusalem“, and “satanic mills” across the centre of the grid. Not my favourite hymn. Far from being so, but I’m guessing most of us spotted it straight off?

At this point ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered to try and find all the correct extra words, but duty calls. As they seem to be thematic in the sense of being words from the poem, they’re not too difficult to spot. Land, ancient, hills, etc. And that message? “Complete Blake’s vision“, which is what we’ve done. There you go, nice and easy this week. Top marks to Chalicea for an enjoyable puzzle, and to Nimrod for a bit of well judged scheduling. It did mean the other half was subjected to a couple of hours of avant garde cinema, but I’m sure she’ll forgive Chalicea that.

You know what they say about pride coming before a fall. “But can he do IQ?” our esteemed editor asked. And you know what? I’m not sure that I can. Because we seem to be missing clue numbers both in the grid and clues. OK, we’ve got bars, but still, this is a device designed to instil a faint but growing sense of panic, and there aren’t any long friendly answers this time to soften the blow. Just a very long cold-solve of the clues to prove exactly how poor my parsing skills really are.

So what would be the ideal preparation for this? Not perhaps a long afternoon tackling a hedge that’s a ladder height and a bit above that followed by a couple of bottles of Corona by way of celebrating being suddenly (in)famous. I can still read enough of the preamble to work out that the six and seven letter answers will yield a songwriting duo. And that one of their compositions will help. And, oh look, there’s a nice long unclued “non-word” slap bang down the middle.

To those clues. They’re in alphabetical order, which is some consolation. As is solving the first – spots must be ACNE, though further down I wonder who Ifor’s referring to with ASS. A see is always a DIOCESE. But you know what? Either I’m flagging or they’re getting harder as I’m going along. The end of Saturday evening ends with less than half solved and not a single entry in the grid. Oh, and a first stab at finding that songwriting duo, because we’ve got a number of six and seven letter entries. First letter of the clue is always a good bet. Nope. Last? Nope. In which case… I don’t know. Help.

Sunday and, sobered up in both body and spirit… More clue solving, including handily one or two that look alright but that I can’t parse. A skilled shot could be a SNIPER, but why? Help, indeed.

OK, with a fair number solved, let’s bite the bullet and try and get some of those answers into the grid. Excel to enumerate the answers we’ve got and sort them into order. We seem to have all but one of the 8 letter answers. Star them in the grid, and try and fit in with some of the others. After what feels like an unreasonably large number of false starts… OCARINAS and SEA-LANES down in the SW, but the rest? Hang on, I’ve actually got the last 8 letter answer, ETHEREAL, but had forgotten. Chuck that in the NE with FERRETER, and we’re getting somewhere. Slowly, but surely, and with a lot more confidence than I felt at the start.

Except, hang on, the checking letters don’t tell us where HUGEST and AUGUST should go. Let’s guess. The unclued centre column looks like it’s going to be SETTERSOLVER, which I suppose is technically a non-word, though not as much of a non-word as I thought it’d be from the preamble. Which is good. Except we’ve got more entries that could go in more than one place. MERTON and SEROON, BAILEY and TAILED. Two comedians there, if that means anything.

Let’s have another look at those six and seven letter entries. We’ve tried first letters and that hasn’t worked, and last ones too. Any particular words that look out of place? Not really. Wikipedia’s got a handy page on songwriting partnerships, including duos, but you know what? It doesn’t help, not at all. OK, that unclued entry, the two of us? Which could be several songs. It’s down the centre of the grid, so what about middle letters? OK, there’s Joe Egan… According to Wikipedia he wrote Stuck in the Middle With You with Gerry Rafferty. Their two names together comprise the 20 letters we’re looking for, and that song looks good to me. Even if I can’t get that scene from Reservoir Dogs out of my head.

Two lines – one of which contains the title – are supposed to help. “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you…” I’m guessing. And there we are, setter and solver, stuck in the middle. Merton and Bailey to the right. What about August? Well, who would have thought, according to Chambers an august is a circus clown. So that one to the left. All done? Well, the lyric says clowns, plural, what have we missed? Let’s look through that grid again. OK, an ANTICK is also a clown, and luckily I accidentally shoved it to the left. All good? I can’t find any others I missed. I think that’s fine. Famous last words.

So can I IQ? Well, sort of, even if that exercise was quite mind-bending and humbling and one I thought I was most definitely going to fail on. Second hardest Inquisitor of the year, just behind Harribobs? That’s my vote anyway. And, yes, very satisfying to finish, even if I do have a vague nagging concern that one or two entries might be wrong, or that I’ve missed a clown or joker or two. Let’s leave it to the experts on Fifteensquared to sort that one out.

This week a veritable feast of Phi. A light rain is falling, so does this mean plenty of quality solving time? No, it means I’m out waiting in the car while “secret” Father’s Day shopping continues. Thank the gods for the Inquisitor. First thoughts? One of two things are true:

  1. I’ve become somewhat expert at Phi’s puzzles having solved at least one a week now for countless years;
  2. Or, more likely, this is on the easy side.

First glance at the grid reveals a simple hidden word at 28ac, a nice anagram three clues above that, an amusingly named bird at 1ac, and a Welsh town that’s a stone’s throw away down in the SW corner. What, I hear you cry, about the unclued entries, and the two where the wordplay gives only an abbreviated version of the definition? The former I can do little about, but the latter, well…

There are only so many dictionary entries for creeping disease that start in S and end in O, so SERPIGO, though it takes a while to spot that the wordplay must give roSEROse.

The second is obviously “transferring”, isn’t it? The wordplay’s easy here, giving TRANSG. So the missing components are PIG and FERRIN? We’ve got pig iron and ferrin is close to “ferric” but unfortunately isn’t a real word so I’m guessing that’s a dead end. “Transporting”? That isn’t going to help either. An impossibly long time later… TRANS(LATIN)G, a vaguely familiar definition admittedly, which gives us “Pig Latin”.

Let’s look at the Wikipedia entry to work out what we should be doing to the unclued entries. “For words that begin with consonant sounds, all letters before the initial vowel are placed at the end of the word sequence. Then, ‘ay’ is added…” Unfortunately trying to move all the consonants before the first vowel of anything we’ve got just produces… More gobbledegook. So no. Google’s definition says we’ve got to “transfer the initial consonant or consonant cluster of each word to the end of the word and add a vocalic syllable”. So let’s just move the first consonant from each unclued entry to the end, add AY, and see if anything emerges. Ah, Northern Lights indeed, they’re all islands up Orkney way. Stronsay, Rousay, Westray, etc. I would claim I’m familiar with them all, but that would be a lie, I’m not familiar with any of them. Thankfully Google is.

So a full grid, job done, in a pretty decent time too even I did make hard work of that end game, and without recourse to unreasonable amounts of coffee. And wasn’t it good? Time for a sneaky DVD and perhaps a drink or two.

The British summer being unusually, well, summery, much of Saturday is spent doing vaguely summery things. Which means the Inquisitor has to take a back seat for a while. So it isn’t until quite late, and suitably fortified, that an opportunity presents itself to get to grips with that preamble. 24 grouped letters not indicated by the wordplay which could be a cinch or a right pain, depending. A quick glance through suggests we won’t actually be in too much trouble. 21ac screams hidden word, mixture as the definition, with SALAD minus an A inside a troublesome nasal drop. Sounds nasty. Rewind to 1ac and there’s a nice friendly anagram. A JUNTA would be a group seizing power, of course, so we need J to go with the letters in TAUN(t).

A pretty straightforward grid fill then. A suspiciously straightforward grid fill some might argue, this being the Inquisitor. Let’s see if they’d be right. The letters additional to the wordplay are supposed to help us identify the theme. Except in the order I’ve got them they look pretty random, and there are more than 24 of them. Cue a frantic back and forth through the clues to see what I’ve missed, except that I haven’t.

What if we, as pretty heavily hinted in the preamble, look at the groups the letters are in? I’m not going to bugger up that grid by shading any bits of it, and it’s a pain typing a letter per cell in Excel, so a handy demo version of Crossword Compiler to the rescue, and… Well, I don’t know about you but I was a pretty big fan of Blake’s 7 back in the day, from its beginnings through to that pretty grim finale. The names of the first crew are hidden in the grid – AVON, CALLY, GAN (poor Gan…), JENNA (who didn’t have a thing for Jenna back in the day?), VILA (no, I didn’t know his name was spelt like that), and the computer ZEN.

We’ve got to reveal a craft at the close, which must be the LIBERATOR, meaning LITERATOR is going to have to change, the T to B with BLAKE the “aptly located” replacement for 7d. And I think that means that we’re done?

Well, that was good, wasn’t it? An engaging solve, and a bit of classic Sci-Fi with a pretty classic theme too. Enjoy.

How Schadenfreude and Nimrod probably hoped solvers would approach today’s puzzle:

  1. Pick their way through all the lovingly crafted clues, gradually uncovering the nine answers lacking a common definition.
  2. The moment of recognition when it became clue what they were.
  3. Or, failing that, when the jumble of letters in the unclued entries eventually made sense.
  4. The tying up of loose ends, working some arithmetical magic on the clues with the surplus words.
  5. The highlighting of (3,5) using knight’s move at the close.

And this is how I approached it:

  1. Get lots of coffee in. Copious, unreasonable amounts of the stuff, because it is Saturday and I’m not feeling my best.
  2. Struggle badly with the clues, because, well that’s what I do with Schadenfreude. Though to be fair clues like 12ac are pretty straightforward because Porter’s got to be COLE and the other’s often IT in a crossword though never in the real world these days. CITOLE which is a stringed instrument and might be “tuned” but we don’t need that for the definition. 10d our first without a definition – NEVER SAY DIE which sounds a bit like a Bond film but isn’t. Still struggling, by the way. Until the second one with a common definition falls. Good old SIR IVOR.
  3. I wonder what Google makes of those two? Well, it turns out they’re both Derby winners, and both Derby winners ridden by Lester Piggott for good measure who’s probably sadly better known by punters nowadays for his dodgy tax affairs than his riding prowess. I wonder how many Derby winners he rode? Quelle surprise, nine in all, so that’s what the common definition answers are all about. I’m guessing the three jumbled entries will read Lester Keith Piggott. So let’s go looking for likely candidates in the grid, for wordplay that fits, and then chuck them in. At which point the rest becomes a bit of a doddle, what with all those checking letters. Even the jumbled entries, oh yes.
  4. Knight’s move is easy enough, famous last words. Highlight the relevant entries in a lovely shade of green, lob in that last Y in the middle.
  5. A nagging feeling of doubt. Is that really it, or have I missed something again? Let’s do some arithmetic on the extra words and corresponding answers, with a bit of jiggery-pokery where it becomes clear I’ve plumped for the odd wrong extraneous word. And lo, the corresponding trainers:

Lawson
Murless
O’Brien
Zilber
Wragg

That’s good then? I think so, even though I feel a bit guilty for not having solved it “properly”. Only a bit, mind. 😉