On the weekend that large bits of South Wales disappeared beneath the waters, including the kids’ local dance studio, it was left to Kruger to remind us of the lighter side of life. That is presuming you could get into the shops for a paper as every man and his dog rushed to the supermarket before Storm Dennis’ scheduled arrival. As I spent the afternoon and night thinking – I’m not going out in that, and stoking up the fire, perhaps they had a point.

Finally turning to the centre pages we find talk of blank cells which I’m ready for after the past couple of weeks, and also misprints in a few definitions which I’m also fully prepared for. I’d even go so far as to say that I guessed straight off where the blank cells would be – the thematic entries at the top and bottom of the grid – though it took too long to spot that they also encompassed a couple of entries to the left and right, having exhausted several options as to possible entries and parsing, it then occurring that there were in fact several more to leave empty.

If only I’d counted the number of unchecked letters and compared them to ICY BIN FIXES… There’s always one bit of the preamble which the setter has generously supplied to help us bedraggled solvers that I choose to ignore to my peril.

Oh well. CRUCIFIXION fell pretty quickly across the centre, there being little in the way of options there. As did MENUDO which interestingly wasn’t in any dictionaries I own, and FINITO too which I suspect might also have been lacking, but better-known.

As afternoon turned to night, and I got enough of the misprints to work out that we were probably looking for THE LIFE OF… something, and a character called GREGORY, with the fire roaring and the rain generally hammering it down, what did trouble me was what to put in the top and bottom rows. Possible checking letters seemingly pretty un-helpful, if the word searches I utilised were anything to go by.

Now, The Life of Brian is what sprang to mind, of course, and there is a very minor character called Gregory in the film too, not that I noticed on many repeat viewings.

But as it turns out the line we were looking for is one I didn’t remember either, but I have trouble remembering many things so that isn’t much to go by. I’M BRIAN AND SO IS MY WIFE.

Was it a bit naughty those two thematic entries not being actual words? I think so, but I’ll forgive Kruger just this once for generally lightening the mood round here.

On a weekend where much misery was being wreaked locally it would be tempting to put up a link to that song, but I often think its modern-day appropriation is a bit trite. So I will link to my favourite scene from said film, which I suspect is one biblical scholars in particular find to be particularly rib-tickling.

So to close, and one final – damn you, Dennis.

The day before Storm Ciara gatecrashed the weekend, the i offered up the last in our series of female setters, finishing with the inestimable Skylark. We’ve had a good solid couple of weeks, so if I had a request for Nimrod it would be to see more of these setters the rest of the year. If only we had more Saturdays to play with I suspect the answer would be.

This week sees a pretty straightforward preamble involving superfluous letters in some clues, and an unclued border to be filled with a handy set of other letters that turn out to be thematic in their own right. No trickery afoot, it appears, unlike that presaged by the gathering clouds.

A fairly straightforward grid fill too, once I’d got my head round having to look for those sneaky extra letters. Subconsciously I suspect that I inherently trust what the clues are saying, even when I’ve been told not to. So that it took far too long to spot the superfluous R in Ayer, though even I know what EMO music is, or that M would be a more appropriate abbreviation for Mega than Megan. In fact the only one which still has me floored is the plant at 27ac which I’m assuming is DICOT given the checking letters, though I couldn’t tell you why.

When solving though my chief concern was regarding 3d, and what the synonym for “fussy” or “suspect” might be, depending on which was the anagram indicator and which the definition. As the checking letters fell into place it became clear that it was STEPHEN somebody, but it was only at the close that it became obvious that we were looking for STEPHEN NORTON, the villain of Curtain, the final Poirot novel. Bang, one “suspect”.

I’ve read one or two most of the novels, btw, so all this went in pretty quickly. 😉

And that message revealed by superfluous letters? Ah, another message hidden in plain sight in the clues, this time in the fourth letters. CHRISTIES TOP SLEUTH MUST OUST THE JEOPARDY.

So in goes HERCULE POIROT instead, who was indeed renowned for being “fussy”, though not before I’d realised that the list of novels in the border featuring he of the little grey cells and incredible tache wouldn’t fit until he was indeed in place.

Done then, and all in a single session. Looking back the attention to detail is quite something, from the letters to be used in the border to the innocuous looking 3d. Attention to detail that for once I appear to have appreciated in its entirety. Blimey.

So time to batten down the hatches, grab a stiff drink, and ride out the rest of the weekend. Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy one.

What was almost missing this week was any blog on my part regarding the puzzle because – was I the only person to find this a little on the tricky side? I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m prone to go to pieces when answers prove unexpectedly to be too long for the space available, no matter how many clear indicators there are in the wordplay. So despite 4ac evidently being a simple anagram, I took one look at the enumeration and moved on. Because we were looking to leave blank cells, meaning some answers would be too short for the space available. Obviously. Duh.

Which made for a very slow grid fill indeed. Admittedly I spent most of Saturday night watching the truly inspiring Hidden Figures instead of cracking on with the puzzle, despite having spotted that the extra letters in the across clues spelt out the name of a rather well known children’s author.

In the depths of the night the likely NOSEY PARKERS and GREEDY GUTS occurred to me, and having read the books both as a youngster many moons ago and many times to my own children – we’ve got a pretty good set of them round the house – the fact that we were to omit certain characters – Mr Nosey, Mr Greedy, and so on – from the grid finally occurred to my frankly quite addled thought processes. In fact the first eight in the series, the last being Mr Messy, who is presumably supposed to occupy the centre square.

Done.

Except for that instruction extracted from extra letters in the down clues, which took an age again, my parsing skills proving somewhat lacking when it came to the all important BOOKS bit between COLOUR OF and CHARACTERS. But get there I did, armed with a set of Frozen pencils to colour each blank cell with the relevant character’s colour. After doing so I can see that my shades of blue weren’t what had been promised on the tin, so that any adjudicator would be quite correct in marking my Mr Sneeze and Mr Bump as being bang out of order. Mr Snow of course didn’t need any shading.

It must be noted also that those very long answers required by the theme provided a veritable feast of words. SNEEZEWORTS, TICKLEBRAIN and FERNITICKLE being worthy of particular mention. Who said that trips to the dictionary had to be boring ones?

Anyway, I got there in the end, and must admit to smiling several times throughout as this puzzle was right up my street. From opera to children’s books in the space of a week, never let it be said that the Inquisitor is anything less than varied. Here, btw, is a picture I snapped of Adam Hargreaves at the quite magnificent and sorely missed Doctor Who Experience a couple of years back, following in his father’s footsteps.

And, oh yes, that all important grid.

Die Zauberflote you what? No, it’s not the latest coronavirus mutation but something to do with a flute. Some chap and his magic bells. The weird and wonderful world of opera.

Were we ready for Chalicea? Were we ever – clashes, misprints and all. No highlighting. The highlighters remain dusty, unwanted and unloved in the drawer for another week.

ACARIDs to the north, OCELOTs to the south, and stuck in the middle? It’s NOTUS, and a word so rare it only appears in the SOED. CONTESTEE. Given this is one of the words where there’s a clash, and that the final letters both first and alternative turn out to be significant, remind me in future to take more note of preambles which mention that such and such answer only appears in so and so obscure reference book no sensible solver has to hand.

Ah yes, clashes. You managed to mis-write one too, didn’t you? Phequeen? It’s from the thirds, the third letters. Exterminate eliminate the queen of the night.

Which leaves us with SARASTRO who I presume turns out to be one of the good guys.

Two other characters to the top and bottom I hope I’ve got in the right order. Nothing to do with a famine after all. Blame Wikipedia if it’s wrong, presuming fellow contenders for the Lindt Chocolates haven’t taken it upon themselves to edit the synopsis. Now, there’s a thought.

Good stuff – enchanted we remain, to be sure. More Chalicea, please.

Our four week all-female line-up kicks off with Nutmeg, whose last offering I thoroughly enjoyed. This Saturday brings hidden things, highlighting, and misprints which I’m hoping will be a clear steer in the right direction, the thinking processes feeling somewhat dulled following a working week that has been, well, one of those weeks.

Fuelled by croissants, coffee, and more coffee, and with the kids + other busily trashing the house, to the kitchen and a pretty straightforward grid solve, though a fun one too. COST for damage was nice, though my first thought regarding the answer (+ A) was why does it share a name with a certain high street chain. More caffeine required.

Unknowns, few. Ticks, all round.

Misprints. Ones against form I managed not to make a hash of – the result being FOUNDATION AND EARTH, the tail end of a series of books I haven’t read, though I have read a great deal in the dim and distant past by Asimov, he of the incredible side-boards.

So are we looking for one of the laws of robotics in the perimeter? Doesn’t look like it. But after a while it does become clear with some letters in the left hand column that what we are looking for is the Law Of Dietetics, which Asimov apparently coined, that is to say that “If it tastes good it’s bad for you”, which is no doubt haunting the consciences of many struggling with New Year’s resolutions. As I never make the things though it isn’t. But it does help polish off that grid, all the resultant letters filled in.

The author’s name overlapping two directions has the handy side-effect of alerting me that a lobbed in NEST for 17ac for want of any better ideas wasn’t one of my finest moments. I still don’t see how the correct VEST fits the first definition, but there you go.

Done, and thoroughly enjoyed this time too. Time to light the fire to stave off the forecast second night of the cold snap, so with the gasoline reek of firelighters still lingering on my fingertips, signing off.

The dynamic duo return, but I must admit to feeling somewhat less than dynamic myself, the first week back in work having proceeded much as expected. Ah well, this surely is the kind of thing the IQ was invented to ease. And thankfully the preamble this Saturday isn’t too mind-bending, consisting of superfluous letters in 12 clues, and some jiggery-pokery with 6 others.

Pen poised to solve, after a warm up with the day’s Phi… But what would that sudden clamour be? That would be one marking the demise of a desk chair in the far reaches of the house, occasioning an unscheduled trip to Argos…

An infeasible amount of time later, and the grid fill it transpires is one I’d recommend to newish solvers. Take an L from a load of new drivers to give you EARNERS who might give you cash but thankfully not a c(r)ash. A nod to a rival paper further down, not one but two anagrams to contend with to end with a FIASCO.

CoW? That would be 39ac – “Did I guess this answer? (9)” – which treads a very thin line between being wonderfully clever and horribly unfair, and hits the sweet spot as far as I’m concerned.

Oh yes, the extra letters. Well, they gave RATION STAMPS.

The 6 entries jumbled, and shortages dealt with? No matter how long I’ve been at this game, answers that are actually shorter than the clue length given continue to confound me. Gather is evidently GARNER, a snag a GLITCH and so on. Though I must admit to lobbing in many of the full answers comprising of their letters and some of those from our phrase above before quite working out what was going on, because… Well, a lot of the time nothing else would fit. 11d being the only exception, I believe, because we could have been tweeting rather than sweeting.

But done we were in plenty of time to catch a movie. Or at least a bit of one before weariness took its toll. But was the day done with its sweet surprises? No, because that appears to be water unexpectedly dripping into the fireplace. The delights of home ownership.

So Ifor time, and no highlighting or cycling this week. With the holidays drawing to a close and the slight alarm at having to go back to work rising from a whisper to a dull ache without a drop of alcohol to blame, does this mean a gentle easing back into things? Well, not really, because the across clues are each three rolled into one. Azed does this sort of thing now and then, and each time he does I fail miserably.

Fail miserably I duly did glancing through the acrosses, and resigned to my fate staggered onto the downs, not having read the preamble properly sort of assuming they were the same. Which they weren’t. And they were also a lot more tractable, falling without recourse to crossing letters in many cases, in particular the NW corner which was a bit of a confidence boost.

The across clues. With the help given by the downs they also proved to be a lot more solvable. The letters to be removed from each before entry? D’s. And, oh, one T from each as well, though that took me a while to notice. You can tell I wasn’t on particularly sparkling form. DDT, a particularly nasty chemical stuff I’m led to believe.

Almost forgot, six downs contained an extra word. Take their position in the clue, find the corresponding letter in the answer, to spell… SPRING, though not without first adding “inside” erroneously from 6d to the list, missing “business”, and coming up with something rather less coherent altogether.

It’s supposed to be the second word of a title. One’s not leaping out. Let’s, as suggested, look at the unchecked initial letters in the downs. CARSON.

A nifty Google of Carson, DDT and Spring gives… Rachel Carson, and the book is Silent Spring, which is apparently responsible for DDT getting banned. Thus our adjustments to the across answers.

Which all hangs together rather neatly, actually, so thanks Ifor for an enjoyable challenge.

Word of the week: It’s got to be SLEIPNIR, which isn’t in Chambers, and is, well, just look for yourself.

Clue not understood of the week (and there is always at least one): 29d, which presumably can only be one thing, but colour me bemused.

Clue of the week: 4d was a very nice spot, wasn’t it?

The last Inquisitor of 2019 comes courtesy of perhaps the most fiendish of Inquisitor setters, but also twofold winner of the best of award, so evidently we’re in for something good.

Something that good, and that fearsome that our editor saw fit to send out a message telling us that the endgame was quite something, but also to:

The endgame does indeed look worthy of the reminder with lots of cycling of rows and columns, the sort of thing Harribobs has had us do previously with diagonals if I remember rightly. The rest is a handful of normal clues, a handful without definition identifying a number of “tourists”, the rest to be cycled on entry. It all looks so straightforward when you put it like that.

FOI then UTIS. It needs cycling, so let’s lob in SUIT as obviously the cycling will produce real words.

Nul points, no they don’t, which swiftly becomes clear with others that no matter how much you frantically cycle them won’t produce anything approaching a real word.

So the grid fill turns into a matter of getting the normal clues in place as anchors, and fitting the cycled ones round them. This surprisingly turns out to be not as fearsome as it first appeared. Luckily as we have the in laws down, and solving time is at a premium.

Highlights? It was good to see RC for peacekeepers rather than the rather more mundane UN, and MARRAM is a thing of beauty.

Ah yes, the tourists. The first was evidently an anagram of “Quiet lan”, but no anagram solver I could find was going to sort that one out. It’s ANQUETIL, a cyclist as suspected pretty much from the start, as are the other three in the grid – CONTADOR, the extremely unlikely looking MERCKX and NIBALI.

Guess how much I know about the sport?

Luckily Google knows rather more. So that when it came to cycling the rows, the fact that GIMONDI and HINAULT would appear in the left hand column was pretty odds on. Both having done rather well in the Tour de France I gather, a sporting event I find – to be quite frank – rather bemusing. My brother-in-law’s a big fan, but he’s busy DIYing in their new house, so probably best left to it.

Thankfully this cycling lark is turning out to be quite un-fearsome, if a little nervy given the potential to destroy that carefully filled grid.

Luckily we live in a civilised age and have something called the spreadsheet which you would swear was designed for exactly this sort of thing. Thankfully a nifty cut and paste also brings over any cell shading. Phew.

Cycling of the columns proves to be equally, sort of alright. Revealing the TOUR down to the south, and two other races to the north and east – the GIRO D’ITALIA and VUELTA A ESPANE – apparently the big three of the sport. Who knew?

And look, there are three more cyclists – FROOME, who even I’ve heard of, THOMAS and S YATES. All three Brits it seems.

So shading with “last year’s colours”. The observant among you will note that the grid below is of a slightly more professional aspect than the one I’m wont to post. That’s because I cocked up the printed copy, missing one clear square when transcribing to the aforementioned spreadsheet, and also jumping to the conclusion that the shading should be that for Team Sky, which seemed to be blue.

In the depths of the night I wondered at the plural “colours”, and also why the shape (shirt?) Thomas appears in is yellow. Is it because Tour winners wear a yellow jersey, which even an ignoramus like me couldn’t fail to be aware of? Yes it is. And do the other two events also have winning jerseys with different colours? Yep, red and a rather fetching shade of pink respectively.

Match last year’s winners with the colour jersey, and shade?

I think so.

Phew. Done and dusted, and hopefully right this time. Harribobs with an early shot at next year’s best of? I think so, because that all hung together rather nicely, didn’t it? Now pass me some of the Scotch that’s cluttering up the cupboard, the New Year approaches.

It was the Saturday before Christmas, and the IQ celebrated in typically non-celebratory fashion the coming festive season, unless we’re noting the amount of alcohol that will be consumed over the coming week. And we all know that while our esteemed editor doesn’t rate the time of year that highly, he does enjoy a pint or two.

It was all to do with a poem by Chesterton which is apparently very popular and which needless to say I was blissfully unaware of. A warning, by the way, to steel yourself before Googling said poet, as let’s just say that he’s a pretty scary sight. The first line neatly spelt out by misprints, the author’s name by extraneous words in four other clues. Was I the only person to end up with five or six before realising what a dog’s breakfast I’d made of the parsing?

Anyway, rotter, beseech, link and tight were the ones you were looking for, though I must admit to working back from the poem which Google handily pops up from BEFORE THE…, that being a rather long anagram to work out and because I didn’t know that his first names were actually Gilbert and Keith, assuming he was just good old GK.

Lots of impressive words this week, DUMKA and SAJOU being particularly unlikely looking candidates.

A handful you won’t find in the BRB – THEROUX, PACE EGG (a fascinating tradition it transpires I was also blissfully unaware of – it’s a northern thing according to Wikipedia), and CRAY which is presumably an abbreviated southern thing if I’ve first got it right, and secondly parsed it correctly, the sun god RA making not one but an unprecedented two appearances this week, albeit under the less well known nom-de-plume of RE elsewhere.

All to be found in a grid fill that was well judged for the weekend before Christmas when we’ve all got rather a lot to do.

Then there was 10ac, which I’m still agonising over. It’s a bird, I’ll grant you, but is that an S or a Z? I can’t parse it, you see. An S is more likely, so let’s chuck that in and keep everything crossed.

All that’s left to do is trace out the letters that make up the second line of said verse, which I did several times in pencil before committing to a rather fetching shade of pink, the potential for a final cock-up being odds-on at this point.

Bish bash bosh. Good stuff, enjoyed. Which leaves plenty of time for another quick one, I suppose.

It’s been several days since I solved Vismut’s latest and it feels like a lot has happened in the meantime, it being that time of year when there is indeed a lot going on, but glancing at the puzzle several things spring to mind from those dim and dusty days.

  • The preamble, there being a lot of it. Extra letters from wordplay in some hinting at… Ten mysterious others. Extra letters in six downs which somehow or other will elucidate the final highlighting. And for good measure a couple of letters to alter at the close. Phew. Told you there was a lot of it.
  • My credit card statement, which isn’t looking any healthier with the passing month. Whose idea was it to get that tree? Oh yes…

Into the fray.

Words of interest this week: SACHEMDOM, CSARDAS, with worthy mentions to WHOOPEE and LEWDEST.

The ten mysterious clues? Mysterious as it turns out because the answers won’t fit into their allotted spaces. But, as it transpires, they’re all animals and the noises they make will. Who knew that a MAGPIE is wont to CHATTER, or that a WHALE might SING? Well, Vismut for a start, and also Wikipedia quite handily as it turns out, stuck as I was on one or two at the close.

16 extra letters generated from wordplay? THE CALL OF THE WILD, which is a pretty well known book by Jack London. No prizes for guessing who we’re going to highlight.

Talking of which, six definitions in the downs have an extra letter each. NAME OF… The mind-bending mysterious preamble pointing to letters calculated from the same which lead to AUTHOR.

Yep, we need to highlight the name of the author. There’s LONDON across one diagonal, and JACK just above.

Just the main character’s name to reveal by altering two letters. The name we’re looking for is BUCK, which we could get by altering the first two letters of JACK, but that would leave non-real words which we’re told is a no-no.

It’s a thematic answer we’re after, the BARK of a SEAL looking like the obvious one to change. In he goes.

Done, dusted, enjoyed, and all in good time to… Go and spend some more cash I haven’t got I guess. The closing date this time is a couple of days late on the 27th, what with the inconvenience of Bank Holidays, so by the time this is published it’ll all be over bar the mountain of food and drink yet to be consumed. Time to get stuck in…