Enter Artix, seeking to outdo last week’s Phi on the preamble front. Thankfully, for the solving bit all we had to worry about was one clash and initial letters from extra words in 11 clues. I say “only”, but today’s grid was the closest I’ve come to being nowhere near to completion since Harribob’s magnum opus at Christmas where I finished with a quite spectacularly blank grid and none solved. This wasn’t quite that, but for a long time all I had was about six or seven entered.

I will admit to realising, some time in, that I’d misread the preamble. Yes, you too spent a long time assuming that you were looking for extra letters from clues and not words. All of a sudden those I had solved, such as SELAH, that had left me floundering in the parsing department (what’s new I hear you say) made a lot more sense.

Completion was still pretty much a brute force approach, based on checking letters, bits of wordplay, and a lot of time scouring the BRB for likely looking candidates, because loads went in with little understanding of what was going on.

Which did leave me concerned regarding the clash, but thankfully COMPORT and DEFECTIVE were two I was pretty confident about.

What I was less confident about were the letters from extra words I had, but thankfully NO 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY was as clear as day, and McCall Smith looked like a pretty fair bet for the rest.

I’ve read a couple of the books, and seen bits of the TV series, so the rest was less of a mystery. Extra letters (assuming I’ve got the symmetry bit right) added to give MMA RAMOTSWE and JLB MATEKONI.

All that stuff then about blacking out a line, highlighting, and erasing non-thematic letters was always likely to lead to the Botswana flag. Thankfully I have a wide range of highlighters to hand.

Most difficult one in a long time? Either that or the rigours of Friday night have got the better of me again. Most likely a heady mix of the two. But it all fell together rather neatly, so no complaints here, and compliments to all concerned.

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Inquisitor 1714 Clouds by Phi

September 7, 2021

Prize for the most opaque preamble of the year will I suspect (hope) go to Phi, because after several read-throughs of today’s I was only a little wiser. Letters absent from the wordplay of some clues, thematic clues elsewhere where, suspiciously, word counts and lengths refer to grid entries. I’ve been at this game long enough for that statement to ring alarm bells.

When confused my policy is to jump right in and get on with it, which often bears fruit, but would only do so slowly this time despite TROIC right in at the start. What swiftly became obvious elsewhere was that the crossing letters in several answers seemed to bear little relation to the accompanying wordplay. Almost as if those were the thematic answers we were looking for.

Now, I’d already thought that all that stuff about numbers associated with the answers in different ways might be something to do with atomic numbers, so when it became clear that nothing but BEEHIVE would fit 14d, and that it also happened to be a nebula (clouds, see), I chanced upon a list of such things by somebody I’d not heard of called MESSIER, whose name looked suspiciously like the letters absent from wordplay in a number of clues.

Bingo. The Beehive Cluster is Messier 44, and RUTHENIUM which fits some of the wordplay in the clue is atomic number 44 too. At which point ORION and ANDROMEDA swiftly fell, and with it much of the top half of the grid.

The bottom half? After a false start looking at a contemporary rival of Messier’s, a little more googling found the CALDWELL list, the name again suspiciously similar to other emerging absent letters.

Which also cleared up the mystery of the clues for nebulae that crossed both halves, as they were evidently supplying wordplay for elements with atomic numbers that matched those in both lists, there being a Southern Beehive cluster too for example .

And the one normal one that was wrongly positioned? Well, the CRAB nebula is Messier 1, and therefore in the wrong place among the Caldwell lot.

And there we have it, not as impenetrable as it first looked. Unexpectedly therefore we have the rest of the Bank Holiday free for, well, more puzzles, it being a lovely quiet one here. 

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I’m guessing we all sat down this week in the sure and certain knowledge that given two identical grids to fill in, that we would get them the wrong round. And so it was that, despite having decided – not this time – and resolutely pencilled in answers beside the clues in the vain hope that an inkling might emerge, when I eventually did decide – bugger it – and started lobbing the things in realising that any completion would be a long way off otherwise, jotted in TWENTY TWENTY (vision) across the top of the grid, and then worked out that the only alternative letters that would fit for the earlier situation were PATTER PITTER, it became clear that yes, yet again, I’d jumped the wrong way.

Which is what scissors and sellotape are made for. So out with both, a handy cut and paste, PITTER PATTER jotted below the grid, and bob’s your uncle.

Which makes it sound like the rest was a doddle, but mashed together clues really aren’t my strong point. Though once I’d got into the swing of spotting the extra letters joining them, I will admit that progress was more akin to a steady stroll than a crawl.

A BRIGHT SUNSHINY DAY

Now that the rain has gone, which it never really did for much of Saturday in this neck of the woods, but we can’t blame Jaques for that.

I would mention the clues I ended up guessing, those I couldn’t parse fully, and so on, but I can’t read my own writing, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or, alternatively, look for errors in the grid, because I’m convinced there may be some.

My own writing was what did cause issues at the close, have jotted the hidden NODDLE into the grid as NOODLE, which made sorting out ADDER somewhat more painful than it needed to be. How I laughed when I realised my foolish error.

Done. Another one that fell together quite nicely in between various trips out into the steady rain that assailed us. And Sunday, when I wrote this? Sunday the sun did come out.

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So, back home. A lively three hour drive through heavy (for which read torrential) showers following a slap-up meal where the sun continues to shine, preceded and followed by the packing and unpacking of what appears to be two car-loads of luggage and five people. Should I have made one get the train?

No matter, the local paper shop efficient as ever have taken note of my instruction to resume deliveries on the Saturday, so onward first with Phi, and then… Mmm, where are the clue numbers in the grid? We all know how good I am at this sort of thing.

Cold solving. Which went suspiciously well for a while. ADENOID, AERIE and ALTHEA in quick succession. Unfortunately, none of the ones I got fairly swiftly were much use as far as confidently filling the grid goes.

Several cups of coffee, tea, and a trip to recover the potted plants which have also been on holiday where they could be watered (though apparently locally there was little need for concern) later…

And several dead-end punts and erasures later.

A likely looking DICTY, YOJAN and THERM leaves few options for the crossing thematic 9 letter, the obvious one being JARLSBERG. Cheeses, you see, “across the board”.

My cheeses I do know, though I don’t know all the ones in the grid. But the grid was then duly filled with ten of them, and I believe all the clued entries, most of which I ended up cold solving, just a few (including the very nice MERE at the close) I didn’t need to.

Pretty tricky, but satisfying to solve too, so thanks to Opsimath and all concerned.

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This was solved during the second week of what now seems like a distant holiday, and I’m blogging in reverse order, so as well as my copy looking somewhat battered, my memory of the same is also somewhat faded, so apologies to Ifor for what will be a brief and sketchy run through.

Some clues lead to the Lady, others to the Lord and a remark. The gimmick for the former I think is one I’ve not seen before (unique letter(s) from an extra word that aren’t in the answer). But even when I’ve not spent a week in the sun imbibing of the local beer my memory is somewhat hazy, so I could be wrong.

What I do remember is working steadily through this over the course of one evening, interrupted only by the answering of questions on the Chase which Challenge have up several episodes a night daily.

Letters leading to the Lady? Enough to identify and confirm via the ones I’d missed DAPHNE DU MAURIER (though it appears I never did get the I).

Letters removed from the 5 letter answers? They would be anagrams of STAIR.

Erroneous / corrected letters from the other ones? I haven’t got them all, and must say I’m not convinced about the ones I have, but for what it’s worth: IB / RA / NO / CN if I can read my own writing.

All of which, with a little help from Google, reveals that the Lady in question wrote a book about Francis Bacon called The Winding Stair, and that the phrase we’re looking to highlight (minus the first A) is: “All rising to a great place is by a winding stair”.

Which, look, can be found suitably winding in the finished grid.

Job done, and now… Back to real life.

20210801_212630~2

Firstly – yes, I know, I wasn’t supposed to highlight the county. Well, in my defence this part of the solve was completed at 9PM in a local park while the youngst two were taking full advantage of the empty facilities and I was struggling with the fading light.

And fading faculties too, it seems, as while I believe I have a full set of incorrect and corrected letters, they do not appear to make a lot of sense. Scratch that, any sense. Perhaps something is amiss. It is possible the apparently full grid fill is less than, though I did get both of the clashes despite missing the bit of the preamble that referenced them. The hazards of solving while on holiday and having other things on your mind, such as the local beer and cake. The sun is still shining too, though with a rude overnight interlude forecast for one of the increasingly frequent storms that are assailing the country.

Thankfully after an uneventful grid fill, apart from the above, I noticed JAM, CREAM, plumped for DEVON after a brief consultation with Google (Cornick I suspect will be suitably aghast), and only spotted SCONE having highlighted all of the above when I was penning in the rest of the grid, which is about where we started.

Oh well, you get the gist of it. Another fun theme, another grid fill I thought I’d got to grips with but evidently hadn’t, and a great way to end Ladies’ Month.

Skylark this week, on what is officially the hottest day ever. Well, it is in Northern Ireland anyway, and feels like it is here too. Rather too hot for me, as I find myself hiding in the shade, looking with some bemusement of pictures on the news of people “out enjoying the sunshine”. This is Wales, it is not supposed to be like this.

Thankfully all is in order in the world of the Inquisitor, with Ladies’ Month continuing in the capable hands of Skylark with misprints, highlighting, and letters to alter all being present and correct. What was not present and correct was my eraser which had mysteriously gone AWOL, but thankfully there was an Oxford one hiding in the drawer that was so suitably impressive as such things go that I was tempted to pop up a photo, except that it would leave you even more bemused than you no doubt already are.

Onward then, to the grid fill, where much it felt in the way of deduction was required to complete. To the SE that bĂȘte noire of the poor solver, the difficult four letter one, being a case in point. Cells. AS evidently at the start, a guess that it’ll be I at the end, a misprint for Curie, a trip to the BRB later and bob’s your uncle. Lots of familiar looking answers to ease us through, including the ever popular AVESTA, but on the other hand the lesser spotted QANAT.

Which is to say that by lunchtime I had most done while feeling somewhat tired and emotional and less than WITTED which was my LOI, and only filled in after a little solid sustenance.

My misprints needing a little work, it took a little longer than was strictly necessary to spot that the rhyme was One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, DOOR and STICKS in the grid among the few I could remember. I still have DELLE instead of DELVE, but, well, c’est la vie.

Two letters in the middle of the grid altered to give AUTHOR, and the cowardly HEN appears.

What would ensue then was one of those futile Google searches that no doubt leaves their advertising bots totally bemused, as I headed resolutely down the blind alley that was the Cowardly Rooster, Henny Penny, and other such stories / nursery rhymes. Only much later would it occur that the “followers” we were looking for were in the BRB all along, being things following HEN – PARTY, PECK, etc.

58 cells duly highlighted, if my counting skills are still intact, and we’re done. A nice challenge which fell together very satisfyingly, so thanks to Skylark and all involved in what is a good run of puzzles, though if less than melting weather could be arranged for next time, then that would be good, ta.

20210717_192145~2

Passing thoughts this morning will have been engaged mostly with ponderings on the lateness of the paper boy and the vagaries of the Welsh weather. As far as the former is concerned, concerns over the prospect of getting many early solves in over the course of the summer holidays are beginning to trouble me based on the late deliveries now expected on non-school days, and as for the latter, well, we should be used to this sort of thing by now. By the afternoon, though, the paper was duly delivered, suncream and hat in place, ready for a quiet afternoon with the i. Quiet that is if it wasn’t for the kids hurtling up and down the road on their skateboards.

Misprints this week, but only in the across clues, so throwing caution to the wind I started with the downs. An easy (with the help of the BRB) anagram to start with, clues falling in that corner offering up the false dawn of another quick grid fill, which this wasn’t, thankfully, because a bit of a tussle with the clues and scouring of the (virtual) pages of Chambers for obscure definitions is half the fun.

This week both TAFT and PEORIA would be notable by their absence from its pages, because, well, Chambers doesn’t do that sort of thing. Thankfully though Wikipedia is big on obscure US presidents and cities.

Did I mention that all this was fuelled by the last of my boil in the bag barista style coffee? Yet again it will be several days before I can sleep again, and thus comes highly recommended.

Almost forgot, misprints. Animals, a fact which became clear reasonably quickly. Ones too I suspect most solvers realised pretty sharpish were ones swallowed by a certain old lady, confirmed by a glance at the grid and FLY in a diagonal to the NW.

What else might be discovered? DEAD OF COURSE which was her eventual fate, and last but not least I COULD EAT A HORSE which would, if I remember correctly, lead to the same, making up the requisite 30 cells to highlight.

All done before teatime, for which the rather more regular fare of cheese rolls and millionaire bites were in order. And enjoyed? Yes, that too, enjoyed and more.

Here’s a bit of Super Furry Animals, my choice of listening pleasure this evening.

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My prediction that Ladies’ Month would kick off with Chalicea then was correct, even if I couldn’t work out when July began. As expected it’s an entry-level puzzle with much that wouldn’t be out of place in a daily cryptic. The right hand side of the grid offered up a little more resistance, but the rest fairly flew by, from the write-in that was ODD through to ERYNGO at the close. To be fair there were loads I failed to parse along the way, including SAGELY if it’s correct and USER, but as such crossword basics as parsing frequently defeat me, this should come as no surprise.

Oh, I should have mentioned that the unclued entries at 1 and 17ac, generous as they were, may have provided something of a boost regarding the above reported alacrity.

What was less obvious was the beast referenced at 41ac, but handily the preamble featured a none-too cunningly hidden anagram of the answer, even if it’s one that needed a trip to Google to confirm.

Highlighting. Apparently copper bottoming was one of many questionable remedies to prevent ship’s hulls getting eaten away by the thing. I had to check what colour copper should look like, such is my state of mind today, and can still only offer an approximation reliant as I am on the variety of highlighters and crayons stuffed in various drawers.

Job done. Enjoyable, as expected, and straightforward too, albeit with an endgame that needed a little teasing out. Ladies’ Month is the order of the day in the EV too, so if you haven’t already I’d recommend having a look.

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I was rather hoping for something on the gentle side this week, as most of Saturday was to be consumed with a trip to fetch all the eldest’s things from his university accommodation. Said accommodation having been seldom used due to the general way things have been over the past year, but still. Thus it would be that I would end up spending most of the afternoon when I’d otherwise be engaged with the Inquisitor sitting in a hot car outside a hall of residence waiting for him to pack and load the car. A general observation at the time based on the hordes thronging the streets was that the world has moved into post-pandemic mode while, I. I still feel much more comfortable with the simpler things.

Like the quiet corner of the garden where, with the sun shining, I solved this beforehand. Because, as if Nimrod had read my mind and anticipated my solving needs, this was indeed another surprisingly “easy one”. Surprisingly so because Serpent often isn’t, and because I’d got it into my head that July’s Ladies’ Month had already begun and was expecting a gentle offering by way of Chalicea, but we’ll see if I’m right on that count later.

But the puzzle, I hear you cry. Well, the clues fell with a rapidity more in keeping with a daily cryptic, which is about my level so I won’t complain. I started with the downs, they being normal apart from the thematic ones, before tackling the acrosses that yielded superfluous letters. A personal favourite being the result from the latter that revealed that STALLFED animals are in fact raised in a pen and not the open. Nicely done.

Thematic answers – well, those were all sports. GOLF, JAVELIN, etc.

Extra letters? They led to Mildred Ella Didrikson, otherwise known as BABE ZAHARIAS, who was to be found as these things often are in a diagonal, and duly highlighted.

Now, this is one of those times where it’s a pity there isn’t a grading in the paper of difficulty, because this was definitely one that would be good to show solvers thinking of taking up the dark arts, a small step up being all that was required, and a good little puzzle too in its own right.

20210626_123840~2