It might be December, but I’ve resisted the demands to put up the decorations for one week at least, so instead of crawling round in the attic hunting for a load of dusty bags, I’m settled with the weekend’s i, a newly sharpened pencil, and a copy of the big red book. So what do we have? A cryptic comment regarding one corner that should be filled in, clashes that “must be resolved” to form a three-word phrase, one unclued entry, handily shaded so we won’t miss it.

Once more into the fray. 8ac is the first clue and it’s an obvious one – SLASH. So this is going to be a doddle, isn’t it? Not quite – clashes always leave me feeling unsettled, because you can’t trust any of those entries, can you? But today’s clues are quite forgiving of my solving abilities throughout, though by mid-afternoon I’ve run out of steam. Fast forward to the evening, and the suspicion that those clashes are going to be in a diagonal from NW to SE. Now that makes things easier. The unclued 1ac? It’s got to be GOOSEBERRY, which is a pretty heavy hint as to why we’ve got those three barred off corners. Last in today 14ac, and a pretty tricky definition – veg (out), UNWIND presumably, though it’s ages before I’ve got anything close to the parsing.

To those clashes. Obvious, innit? Including the blank NW corner, TWO IS COMPANY. Except that the preamble is pretty clear that we’re supposed to be left with real words at the close, and VEOTING and TOILEC are certainly not, in the BRB or via a fairly desperate Google search. And I’m pretty sure it’s suppose to be “TWO’S COMPANY”.

So, has there been an almighty cock-up somewhere? Or are we supposed to do something else with those clashes? “Resolved” is a pretty ambiguous term to be using, after all. What other words will fit if we put other letters in place of those clashes? There we go, now we have THREE’S A CROWD across that diagonal. Hurrah. And wasn’t that neat? Very nicely done, and probably a complete nightmare to sort out when trying to put that grid together. Thanks to Shark for a thoroughly enjoyable solve, that for the first time in ages I’ve managed to polish off in just the one day. Azed, anyone?

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A suspiciously short preamble this week. Normal clues, though don’t expect them to fit the cell lengths, complete the grid at the close to show five thematic names. The title isn’t giving anything away, so there’s nothing to do but leap in feet first.

First in is 13ac, which handily fits the cell length. DOGE, that old crossword favourite. Nothing else falls in that corner, though, with more progress down to the far SE. Answers that are too short (which takes a bit of getting used to when looking for potential entries), chuck them in and hope for the best. Move them when it looks like they’re in the wrong place. Or rub them out altogether when they obviously won’t fit – I won’t reveal how many goes I had at 15d, all of which made a complete and utter hash of the entries around them.

An almost full grid, no names leaping out of the grid, and 1ac refusing to yield. The suspicion that it’s the key to finishing this. The suspicion also based on past puzzles like this that the answer will be very short, and the longer, amended version totally thematic. Scribble above the grid the possible letters from the (to be expanded) entries below. Stare a bit more, frustration levels rising.

Ah, it’s FAWLTY TOWERS (from TOES presumably), and now we can work out what those expanded entries were meant to be – BLURB, not bluer, and so on. The other names (is 1ac really a name)? No prizes for guessing Basil, Sybil, Polly and Manuel. There we are. A slightly frustrating solve, with everything hinging on that first, particularly unyielding across entry. Perhaps if I’d got luckier with my guesses with the expanded grid entries elsewhere I wouldn’t have felt so disgruntled at the close, but well, I didn’t. Or perhaps I was just feeling particularly grumpy this weekend, you decide. Blame the impending festive season…

Which I’m presuming won’t have anything to do with computers, which is a pity because that’s a speciality of mine. As are Jigsaw puzzles, it appears. Ok, this is only half a jigsaw, but the setter has still neglected to put any numbers by the across clues. So I did so myself, because, well, it turned out to be a right pain trying to do otherwise, especially with that great big unclued entry in the middle of the grid that I kept forgetting to take into account. But anyway, the preamble. Across clues are normal, in conventional order. Hurrah. Down clues are alphabetical, 12 of them need a letter removed that we lob in the centre row in the appropriate column. Remaining down answers to be entered where they will fit. We’ve been at this kind of thing for weeks now, so it should be a doddle, shouldn’t it? At the close we’re to complete the centre row, and find a poem that describes how those down clues were entered.

Head ready to explode, onwards. So this shouldn’t be an issue. Get a load of those across answers in. Check. Get some of the downs, and see where they’ll fit. Except that they don’t. And I mean, really don’t. At least one clue that is too long for any of the barred entries, and one that is too short. Help. And that, really, was the whole of Saturday afternoon. Staring at a grid, at the answers, and trying to work out what we were supposed to do with those downs. Take out a common letter? There don’t appear to be any. Something else? I don’t have any ideas about something elses. Help, again.

To Saturday evening. A lot more staring. A couple of clues solved. The realisation that if we ignore those bars, ECO and TYPESET will fit into column 5, forming ECOTYPE and SET with the bar splitting them. And that seems to be working out with the answers I’ve got. In the centre row a sort of name forming, TEN??S??. Yes, I should have spotted who that was sooner. But by close of play Saturday I’m good for nothing.

Fast forward to Sunday evening. The fact that the down clues are in alphabetical order comes to the rescue with the big blank spaces I’ve got to the left and the right of the grid. Scrub out some answers that must be wrong. Rethink some others. What have we got?

TOLIP TENNYSON

That well known poet.

Ok, reverse that first word, Google it, and there’s the name of our poem: CROSSING THE BAR, which indeed we have been. Huzzah. Wasn’t that a struggle? No doubt you all ripped through this in a single sitting, but, well, the last thing I was expecting was that the grid would be, basically, lying. So anyway, I’m off to lick my wounds, in the hope of an easier ride next time with… Schadenfreude. Oh…

Perhaps Nimrod thought we’d got off lightly the other week, because today look it’s another jigsaw, with not one but two grids to contend with. Such fun. A few unclued entries, eight thematic clues without definitions. No doubt it will all become clear at the close.

So to the clues, and thankfully with all that cold solving they’re fairly forgiving of my solving abilities. Especially Saturday afternoon when I’m not usually on top form. Just a pity that we don’t know what to do with any of them. I’ve noted where the 9 and 8 length clues go in both grids, in the hope they might provide a definite answer. With what I’ve got they don’t of course. Let’s chuck ALLEVIATE in the left hand grid, with ALOPECIA crossing it, and see how we get on. That gives what may or may not be crossing letters, but doesn’t help that much. The clues are in alphabetical order of the answers, which does, a little.

Those clues without definitions then. I’ve got one – IVOR. A list of setters then? No, that’s Ifor. Doh. But what about “People with common ancestor, German saint”, CLAN GER S. Surely not the Clangers? And Ivor the Engine? Oliver Postgate, the co-creator of both (yes, I had to Google that), will fit in those unclued entries in the right hand grid. Let’s chuck him in. And that side rapidly begins to fill, partly based on the certainty that BAGPUSS is going to be in there somewhere, and look there’s NOGGIN the Nog, which I vaguely remember.

So the obvious answer is that the left hand grid will have something to do with Peter Firmin, except his name won’t fit into the unclued entries. So I’ve got no idea. But I do have a much smaller list of clues to work with, so let’s go. And look, there’s another thematic clue. BEDKNOBS. And broomsticks? There’s another one, MURDER She Wrote. Got to be Angela Lansbury then. Chuck her name in the unclued entries. Two more thematic entries – BEAUTY and the BEAST.

The last unclued entry linking the grids? There’s not a lot that will match COU?INS, and lo and behold they were. Who knew? eXtent of course. Thanks then for a fun outing that wasn’t as scary as it first looked, with something new learnt along the way. Jigsaws? Pah, no problem.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The plan for Saturday was that I would sit quietly with the newspaper, the Inquisitor, a copy of Chambers, and a cup of tea. So exactly how did I end up spending the afternoon in a cinema watching My Little Pony: The Movie? I now know more about the world of Equestria than I think I need to, but that doesn’t exactly help with this week’s puzzle. Fast forward to Saturday evening, with the attendant background din of first Strictly and then the X Factor. I bet Mark Goodliffe never has to put up with this.

To that preamble. Ten clues with checked letters that will need to be changed to reveal elements of a set, so clashes presumably. Single letter misprints in ten others, which scrambled may or may not help. Yellow squares scrambled give another element of the aforementioned set. Write it under the grid. Seems to be a lot going on there, but what about the clues? Well, at first glance they don’t seem to be too bad, with a fair few going in before that cinema trip. An easy anagram of SEAT, a pretty well flagged item of swimwear, this is going to be a doddle, isn’t it?

Well, not quite. Three quarters filled and I grind to a halt. Lots left are clashes, and misprints, so I suspect that’s where I’m going wrong. Let’s have a look at the yellow squares, see what we can make of those. A likely looking suspect from the letters we’ve got is TEMPERANCE. First thought is the virtues – temperance, prudence, fortitude, etc. No matter how hard I stare at the grid, though, none of those clashes are going to resolve themselves into anything like that. Let’s use TEMPERANCE though as potential checking letters, and see where that gets us. And be a bit more suspicious of some of the definitions. Because they might be misprints. As the preamble was at great pains to tell us, and which I keep forgetting.

Lo and behold, enough misprints to be able to make a stab at what they might spell out. Cards? TAROT CARDS? Yes, apparently Temperance is one, and if we look at those clashes, Death is another, and Hermit, and Moon. Huzzah. Which leaves a little work to finish the grid, with Wikipedia’s handy entry on the Major Arcana, scribble Temperance under the grid, and we’re there. And all without recourse to Brewer’s, which funnily enough I don’t happen to have a copy of.

A late Halloween contender from Kruger then, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too, bringing back memories of holidays down in Tintagel and Boscastle looking through all the New Age type shops that are still fashionable down in that neck of the woods. Nonsense? Well, of course it is, but harmless enough… Until next week then, and belated fireworks from eXtent?

Halloween approaches, and so rather than having time to sit down with the Weekend i, Saturday afternoon consists of standing uneasily on the fringes of a kids Halloween disco, dishing out cash on demand for drinks, crisps and sweets. Such fun. Autumnal colds mean we’re grounded for the rest of the weekend, fortunately, so to Sunday afternoon with the paper and what looks like a pretty straightforward preamble. Normal clues, some unclued entries with a common word missing from each, a cryptic representation of it to draw, a synonym to highlight.

As expected when we’re dealing with normal clues they aren’t necessarily on the easy side, but not impossible either. Stuck? No problem, let’s look at those unclued entries. The one down the LHS is evidently IN THE .O.R. The one above C.I.E… That looks like CHIMES for the second, HOUR for the first. With MIDNIGHT missing from both? And that, to be honest, is all we need to fill the grid. A clue here, a clue there, and a bit of help from Google for the unclued entries, but only a little, gives us:

AFTER MIDNIGHT
CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT
MIDNIGHT COWBOY
MIDNIGHT FLYER (the only one I’d not heard of)
IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR
MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN
TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN

Still stuck a little in the NW corner? There’s the cryptic representation of MID-NIGHT – G – to sketch in, and more checking letters.

The bit to highlight? WITCHING HOUR diagonally SW to NE. Easy-peasy. Too easy, in fact. Is there another Gila trap lurking? Those supplementary clues that I haven’t bothered to look at. Are we supposed to solve them? Well, I can’t, if we’re supposed to that is. But I can untangle the letter jumbles in each, to give the names associated with the unclued entries: CLAPTON, WELLES, VOIGHT, EAGLES, PICKETT, RUSHDIE, PEARCE. And, are we done? I think so. An enjoyable, pretty straightforward seasonal treat all round. Unless of course Dysart had a hidden trick up his sleeve all along I’ve managed to, as so often, miss.

Well I know what a jigsaw is, but not what the other bit is supposed to be. One of these, I suppose?

Anyway, our esteemed editor had promised on Twitter that we were in for an easier Inquisitor this week. I was a little sceptical, but sometimes they are. Flick through Saturday’s i with a raucous dance lesson going on in the background, to find two indications that this isn’t necessarily the case. Firstly, Nimrod’s name at the top. Secondly, the fact that it’s a jigsaw, at which I am completely and utterly rubbish. Scepticism increasing by the minute.

Onto the clues, which are going to need a lot of cold solving, and… They’re not too bad, actually. ZITI for Z would be a write-in if we knew where to put it, as is JEST for J, and on it goes. What do we need to be able to fill the grid? Those 12 and 11 length clues would be handy. Voila – DENSITOMETRY, NIGHTWATCHES, FATIGUINGLY, XIPHISTERNA. Yes, Chambers does come in handy, though not all today’s clues are in it (over and above the ones mentioned in the preamble. T-REX, anyone?). Luckily Collins is online, and there’s always Google for any stragglers. Apply a bit of logic, start filling the grid, and this becomes a lot easier. The initial letter given for each clue all of a sudden becomes an extra checking letter, of which we now have loads. Phew. And a bit of luck with those yellow squares – which are supposed to spell out somebody’s name – give us some more. The late lamented ARAUCARIA.

We have a self-description and its speaker to fill the perimeter, and unchecked letters given. Cue a fair bit of jiggery-pokery with a word matcher, the letters we’ve got, a flash of inspiration – there’s CONSIDERED across the top of the grid – and – eventually – a pretty obscure quote from The Winter’s Tale a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, by that well known character Autolycus.

Which wasn’t that bad after all. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that was pretty straightforward, and thoroughly enjoyable. What’s it got to do with Araucaria? Shrugs, and awaits enlightenment from the much-brighter-than-me Fifteensquared blogger.

Now that’s what I call a preamble. Letters to be lifted, words to be moved, unclued entries. Eek. The grid’s a more sensible size this week, though, which is something positive at least.

Onward. And look, I’ve spotted a letter to be moved to the clue above almost straight off. Huzzah. And a word that needs to be moved to the right in one of the downs. Double huzzah. But why do some of the down clues have answer lengths that are shorter than the space in the grid? I thought I knew what I was doing there for a bit. Concentration levels aren’t helped by Saturday afternoon spent in the seventh circle of hell, in other words the children’s section of Clarks Shoes. And Sunday afternoon finally getting a bit of weather dry enough to finish sorting the garden for Autumn. Rock n roll.

But we’re getting there – it swiftly becomes obvious that the unclued down must be SOUNDBARRIER, though we were probably meant to get it from the letters / words shifted, and not a rare moment of inspiration. So that’s what the title’s getting at. And that unclued entry on the left – it’s going to be something to do with breaking the sound barrier, obviously. What was the first plane to do so? The Bell X-1. Making sense of 13d and 24d all at once, where both DASH and ONE that evidently weren’t going to fit in the space available can now pretty confidently be entered as symbols. Sneaky, no hint of that in the already voluminous preamble. And as it needs to travel to the right, that’s why those word lengths are too short – those cells are supposed to be empty. Shift Bell X-1 across that sound barrier, over to the right, and…

There, all done, and hope there isn’t something obvious I’ve missed in a slightly bitty, we-need-to-cram-this-into-whatever-time’s-available-because-I’m-busy sort of solve. The three words we were supposed to garner from the letters / words moved? I sort of worked those out in retrospect given what I had and the unclued down, just in case they were meant to be some sort of instruction. They weren’t, were they?

Radler, a setter I don’t remember seeing before, though it appears he crops up once every year with a toughish puzzle. Talking of which, you remember I nominated Ifor for the most difficult Inquisitor of the year? Radler’s topped that this week, and in some style. But to begin at the beginning, with the preamble. Ten solutions to be thematically changed, twelve clues that need a letter added before they can be solved. Put them together to spell out part of the title of a book. Highlight a cryptic representation of the author’s name in the grid. Such fun.

Such fun, indeed. A handful of clues entered Saturday afternoon, and the growing inclination to write the whole thing off as a bad job. A mixture of non-normal clue types is probably partly to blame for this, a case of being completely psyched out by the setter. An answer here, an answer there, and lo and behold one that needs to be thematically changed – a simple anagram, spotted at last, giving us GOURMANDS at 11ac. The entry in the grid is supposed to be a real word, so I guess we need to remove contiguous letters. GOUR(MAN)DS then, at a guess. It’s in pencil, we can change it. You would’ve thought at this point I might speed up, but no. A steady crawl through Saturday evening, Sunday evening, and through into Monday with answers falling at a painfully slow rate.

Three at the close, all evidently themed answers, and all three I should have got earlier. Yes, GEORGE Michael is quite famous. No, AMAZON(IAN) wasn’t a red herring. And yes, we used to grow SWEET(WILLIAM)s in the garden.

So what do we have? Five clues where we’ve removed the word MAN, five others where men’s names have been removed. Those letters that are supposed to spell out a title. I’ve got too few and lots of question marks, which isn’t a good start. HE?IN?IBL, to be exact. Go through the clues you’re not sure of again. Ah, a T at the start. Hang about, THE INVISIBLE… Man, of course. Obvious, in retrospect, and perhaps it was obvious to anybody with half a brain from the start.

So this cryptic representation of HG Wells. After an extremely difficult grid fill an easy end game? No way. Nothing obvious to highlight. No obvious letters. Time. Goes. By. To cut to the chase – Hg is the chemical symbol for Mercury, a synonym of which is QUICK SILVER, which indeed is in the grid. Wells? Well, apparently FLOWS is a suitable synonym, and there it is following on.

Phew. Collapses. Am I glad I persisted with that one? Most certainly, the way it all fell together was very satisfying. Would I persist with Inquisitors that taxing every week? Well, probably not. But thanks to Radler for a challenge that I must admit almost had me beat.

So the i’s new souped up weekend paper and first thoughts are:

  • The cryptic’s moved, help.
  • There’s a lot more to skim through before I get to the crossword. 😉
  • Hasn’t the Inquisitor grown? Perhaps the editor’s taken note of my fading eyesight and poor writing.

So Schadenfreude, who I’ve got a feeling can be a little difficult at times, but let’s see. Single letters to remove from clues to give a bit of a quotation and its originator. Then reveal the missing word by delineating (curious turn of phrase) five examples of it. Doesn’t sound that scary. The rain’s hammering down, so onward, with brief interruptions to aid and abet with the youngest two’s homework. World War II. Again.

The NW corner’s a fairly logical place to start, and isn’t it easy? The rest is more like the Schadenfreude we know and love though, with lots of trips required to the big red book, a couple of wrong turns, eventually limping home quite late in the evening. Ok, with a couple of breaks along the way, but still.

Those extra letters. Usually at this point they look like a right dog’s breakfast, but for once they sort of make sense. Have a look again at the clues where they don’t. Blimey, we have a message:

gentlemen do not take at luncheon lord curzon

Google to the rescue. Apparently gentlemen don’t take soup at luncheon. Who knew? So we’re looking for five soups in the grid. And presumably none of them are going to be a Cup a Soup. Let’s get some synonyms up, and hunt through the grid. That term, delineate – outline, depict, portray. And CONSOMME is there in a wiggly line in the NW, swiftly followed by CHOWDER. S. Ah, we’ve got to draw the letters. COCKIELEEKIE to describe the O in the NE, VICHYSSOISE the U in the SW, and then MULLIGATAWNY for the P last, but not least. SOUP. The last two remain a mystery to me, but I’d at least heard vaguely of the first few.

An enjoyable, and hopefully successful start then to the new look weekend i. Let’s just hope there weren’t any Gila red herrings tucked away in there. 😉