Always make a point of reading the preamble properly, that’s my advice. I never do mind, and sometimes come a cropper…

Perhaps it was the lack of grid lines, always a little alarming. 9 clues with wordplay omitting a single letter. 11 others generating a single extra letter. What about the last bit that mentioned, as if in passing, another 11 that needed a word removed? That would be the bit I completely missed, for at least half the solve. What alerted you? The more than is usual sense of mystification that overcame me on looking at some of the clues. Are we looking for effects, or a painter, or something to do with both? As it turns out just the former, extremely trippy meaning what you think it should – TY at the end of PROPER. Now, that makes a little more sense. Just the last bit of the preamble to make sense of then.

It’s Saturday. I’m never feeling my best on a Saturday, especially when frozen through. Yes, it snowed again.

Blank grids. Well, Gila’s been a little generous. The first four across clues fill both rows, an INTERRAIL PASS all of one. Jigsaw and Chambers time. Last in DAFTIE down in the bottom right which is generally how I was feeling by the close.

OK. I haven’t got all 9 of the omitted letters. That’s not going to help with that route. Ditto the 11 extra, so bang goes the name. Let’s have a look for 17 cells to highlight. I never was any good at word searches, and we’re getting a lot of them of late. Quinapalus has got a handy grid search though. But did it help? Well, sort of. It only took me 24 hours from noting with interest the name of a Mac operating system somewhere in the grid, a hunch that given a “Blank Face” we were possibly looking for something to do with rock climbing, and a bit of fun with partial anagrams to come up with:

EL CAPITAN, YOSEMITE and Alex Honnold. And no, I never did manage to parse all of them. Only missing two, mind you, not bad.

The 9 omitted that show the route? According to Wikipedia Mr Honnold followed something called the FREERIDER line. Nope, doesn’t mean anything to me either, but some of the letters I’ve got match. Drawing lines from the ones I’ve got to the ones I haven’t (notably two E’s), and staring hard at some of the parsing again, gives a route that looks a lot like the one here:

Phew. Could be right. Could be wrong too. Fifteensquared will know for sure. Me? I need another whisky. Gila’s beaten me in the past, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s done so again this week, but for what it’s worth… VoilĂ !

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Poor Andy Lemon…

And the poor solver too who’s got to make sense of that preamble, or was it just me? Let’s cut it down to size. All clues normal except six with misprints, six with a superfluous letter in the wordplay. There, that’s better, isn’t it? And with the heartening news that “help” with maths homework can be deferred until Sunday, straight to it.

First thoughts, these clues are pretty tough. First in all the way down at 26, SCALA, which unexpectedly isn’t a cinema but rather something to do with the ear. Perhaps I should have started with the downs because the first is a simple anagram giving ITERANT. Lots of question marks by the answers, though, due to fragments of understood wordplay. Those extra letters? Could be, but I’m not doing so well with those.

The misprints though are coming along nicely – the displaced letters I’ve got so far being QUAR. No prizes for guessing we need an S and an E to complete. The S I can see – CHEST, and not CHESS. The E? Well, no.

Times Square? Tiananmen? Who can tell?

But look, I’ve got a full grid:

The misprints… We’re supposed to do something with the corresponding solutions. Chuck them in a SQUARE, as they’re all 6 letters long? Could be, including an educated guess at INLIER for the last one. No phrase revealing itself there. Arrange them otherwise in some sort of square? If Crossword Compiler’s to be believed that isn’t going to help either.

Three bleary eyed hours gazing intermittently at the thing with half an eye on a pretty trashy film. Nothing. Pass me a beer.

Sunday, post help with maths homework. For which read teaching, because we don’t set homework on things the kids have actually done in these parts, evidently.

What if the six clues to be squared are in a different order? What, you thought of that straight off?

COCKLE
INLIER
SCULLE
CISTIC
ORIENT
SCARES

A careful examination of the 2nd and 5th columns later… ON CIRCLE LINE. And look, the other columns have real words which may or may not be significant. Chuck it in. Out with a tube map. There are two squares on the Circle Line – Euston and Sloane. Which one should we discount? Well, the extra letters I’ve managed to glean are TEUSO. Sloane Square it is then. Landmarks? Thankfully Wikipedia knows more about the geography of the area than I do. Amend 5 letters to give the Peter Jones department store, and the Royal Court Theatre, or at least bits of them. Sloane Square has little else to boast, apparently.

Andy Lemon located, and hopefully liberated too. Phew, I need a lie down now. Pass me a whisky, presuming the other half hasn’t swiped it all.

Winter having arrived proper with an icy snap, an on the face of it gentle offering from Dysart. Luckily, as my solving abilities seem to have seized up in sympathy. Mind you, I always think a puzzle’s going to be easy on being presented with normal clues and it often doesn’t work out that way. Loads of unclued entries. Something to highlight. The rest I can make little sense of, let’s hope it’s not important.

First in should have been 1ac, but see comments on the state of my mind above. So the actual first in was RED LETTER. A lifelong obsession with the good Doctor again proves useful at 28ac. The TARDIS is full of the things, see? For once I seem to have exercised a remarkable sense of restraint and not put in random guesses for the unclued entries, despite “green tea” fitting in rather nicely on the RHS.

So where did you decide to make a random stab in the dark? That would be at 14ac, and AST, having concluded that an “Advance Skills Teacher” might tenuously link to “ready to learn”, noting that I should really go back and check. Fateful words. Especially on deciding that the grid fill is going so well a break and a bit of telly wouldn’t do any harm.

Cue the unclued entries. Countries evidently with the i’s missing, and a choice of IRELAND or ICELAND to the top right. Well, the preamble did mention an ambiguity.

Let’s look at the name to highlight.

Nope, not coming.

Saturday night, nothing.

Sunday morning, nothing.

Sunday evening. Oh yes, that random stab. How about APT, giving PARNELL? Yep, that’ll do nicely. But what colour? I’ll go with green, because it’s Irish, innit?

Done, having made unnecessarily heavy weather of things. Perhaps if I’d been in a fit state to pay better attention things might have been different. Or if I’d just made a note of the as per random guesses. Must do better. That’s me, not Dysart.

From the blog that asks what difference a stepper and a stopper between friends.

But to the present. Hearst, presumably not Patty. A handful of misprints in the definition explaining how we’ll have already entered some answers. Figures. A mysterious solitary square bang in the middle revealing all.

First one in? That would be be somewhere near the bottom, a quick scan having revealed a handy anagram of “itches” giving a word I’ve not heard of before. I do like a cup though. In America an ASSASSIN would presumably “ice” and not “ace” somebody, though it took a while to spot the misprint having blithely assumed the two might be synonymous across the pond.

The grid fill? Pretty much a breeze until this point, until… Cue grinding halt. Because some of the crossing answers just won’t fit, presumably because of that point we’ve already been warned about in the preamble. TAELBAR and MANTEL let’s say. MANTLE means something else altogether, but it’s the only combination of those letters that’ll fit. So chuck them in. Swapping last two letters? Hearts, a possible anagram of the title? Or just plain anagrams? Yep, that’s it.

The misprints and subsequent quotation? I’m two short. Blame my parsing skills, or rather lack of them. And a couple of tricky clues, in particular exactly what’s up with Mill. The last word would be MOVE if it wasn’t for the pesky U in the middle of the thing. What do you get if you google MUOVE? That would be an alleged quote from Galileo that fits our misprints quite nicely:

EPPUR SI MUOVE (“And yet it moves”)

And indeed it does, as do a number of the answers.

Last step – that single, lonely cell. Well, it wasn’t quite 24 hours this time, but it did take a while to move beyond spotting various scattered bits of earth on the RHS to first sight of the ring of E’s round the centre, and not a little frustration too. E for Earth, S for Sun? Lob it in the centre, and it does fit the title too, doesn’t it? All pretty neat. Pity poor Galileo though.

Done, dusted, and hopefully correct this time. Thanks Kruger, I liked that, though the final step was one that was almost a bridge too far in these parts.

Schadenfreude having evidently decided that giving the poor old blogger trouble spelling his moniker isn’t enough, we’ve now got to concentrate on the title too. Or did the typesetter just have an unfortunate accident?

More likely the clue’s somewhere in that preamble, the bit about have to encode eleven of the answers. Handily using a phrase we haven’t been given. Well, this is the Inquisitor. But they’re all clues without a definition, which does help.

First in? That would be all the way down at 32ac with AWNED. Blame one last Christmas blast. Blame the shock to the wallet at having to buy yet another pair of kid’s shoes. How many is it possible to get through?

But from that point on progress could best be described as steady. Lots of W’s in the answers that evidently need to be encoded. PANATELAS only needs one L. Who knew? Well, the (S)OED evidently. 1d must be YAPPER or YAWPER or something like that, but the BRB seems to be blind to the Elizabethan bit.

First answer that needs encoding? That would be CURIO. So some of the W’s at least are O’s. Makes sense. The second? ORSINO. At which point Google to the rescue to confirm we’re looking at Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Yep, that’s 25 letters, and thus the phrase we need to use for the coding. So with a list of characters to hand, and a crib sheet to code with, to the end of the grid. 1d being YAWPER. Nope, still don’t know why.

Sadly it was only the next day I would realise the significance of Twelfth Night when we took the decorations down. Told you it was a heavy night. And was it a coincidence that Nimrod waited until the Sunday to issue his customary tweet advertising the weekend’s IQ? I like to think not. Oh, and the title? That would be Shakespeare Play. A hint too late.

Happy back to work eve, all.

Well, I’m sure he does, but the preamble? Nope, not making much sense. Except that something’s got to be turned up, and something else mangled. Perhaps I’ve just lost the ability to reason having spent the afternoon at the panto. We’ve had the gas man here too, but that was to plug the leak by the meter pretty sharpish. Such fun, but I don’t think that’ll help.

So let’s get solving. Normal clues it would seem. 13ac – unlucky for some but not for us – OPALED. A few friendly anagrams. ARYL at 18d, except… First hitch. The wordplay for 26ac is clearly an anagram of “some” followed by L, giving MOSEL, which won’t fit. Now if only you’d paid more attention to the preamble, I hear you cry. But I didn’t. Not until later when I ran into similar problems with 28ac – clearly THROW, but that’s not going to fit with any likely looking contenders for 23d which any fool can see is JAWLINE. We’ve got a couple of checking letters, so we can work out what will fit. WORTH. And if, finally paying attention to the preamble we turn LOOKS upside down to give SKOOL, MOSEL turns to MOLES. Our author?

Well, Google to the rescue, there is Nigel Molesworth, who I’d not heard of. Similar jiggery-pokery with 15ac giving NIGEL. His friend also mentioned? That would be PEASON, who we can untangle at 36ac.

No idea about this Gas Man lark though. A character in the books? Apparently not.

AV?O?GAD?R?O across the top row. No idea about the other letters. Chambers can’t help. Clearly we’ve got to replace with AS ANY FULE KNO, that is if Wikipedia is to be trusted. But the original, and is he mentioned elsewhere in the grid and thus needing to “leave at some point” apart from the top row?

Another 24 hours later…

Ok, it’s just Avogadro. Not heard of him. And is it cheating to have those blank cells? I’ll leave that to others more qualified than me to comment. I’m just pleased to finish with something that looks sensible and seems to meet all the requirements of the preamble.

I think. But what do I know? Job done, anyway, under par for time excluding those 24 hours, top marks for enjoyment value. Onward into the new year.

To ease us into the festive season the double whammy of eXternal and Serpent. Yikes. Fiendishness in store no doubt.

First thought, and I bet it was a deliberate one – our second Doctor Who theme of the year.

Second, I’m going to need to take notes from the preamble. Because my mind is elsewhere, because there is too much to do, and I’m still a little concerned the ceiling might fall in any minute. Details.

Four thematic answers, definition-less. Nine others needing consecutive letters removed. Identify a verse, action the fourth line, highlight something. Bish bash bosh.

Let’s do it. 1ac, an easy anagram. 1d? The plural isn’t in the big red book, but the ESSENES, got to be? Most solvers won’t know what a VOIP application is, but they’ll have heard of S(k)YPE, surely?

All in all it being that sort of solve. The ones without definition? Was a definite TEMPORAL and a possibility of TARDIS a trap for the unwary? Count me in as one who entered the latter quite confidently (who needs to bother with parsing?) only for the rest of the NE corner to not work. TARSUS, you dolt. Elsewhere STAPES and SPHENOID. All bones, you see?

And the consecutive letters? Well, the ones I got first were “Englishman”, “alive” and “dead”, which led to the inevitable conclusion that we were looking for Fee-fi-fo-fum. Yes, that’s how I got the last few. We’re supposed to find nine instances? Well, I only found eight. Not that it matters.

What matters is that I’ve got no idea what 15d is supposed to be. ?ASTE. PASTE? WASTE? TASTE? Nope, can’t parse it.

Let’s alter the grid and see if that helps. We’ve been told we’ve got to “grind his bones to make my bread”. So anagram those four bones, resulting in bread no doubt. 7d could produce SUTRAS or SURATS, but only one will result in a crossing CHAPATI. Elsewhere BAGEL, MATZA, and PITTA, leading to the inevitable conclusion that 15d was TASTE. Not that I know why. But it doesn’t matter now.

Done, dusted, enjoyed. Is it too early to break open the Christmas drinks?

Or, yikes.

No clue numbers in the grid, always a favourite. To boot clues with no place to go. As if trying to fit the things in wasn’t difficult enough. Removing letters I can cope with. And clues that are in alphabetical order of answer. Small crumbs of comfort.

Let’s get cracking. Starting at E, with an extra E. ENORM having come back into vogue. A well known gas, and a well known edict. A handy 12 letter answer far from incomplete at I. An age later another 12 letters with STIRRUP STRAP. Experience such as it is telling me at this point to just start chucking the things in to get some checking letters. Applying a bit of logic along the way.

Progress. Being. Slow. Though it does strike me that the extra letters are producing something that looks like western. All Quiet On The Western Front? The book and both film adaptions being pretty memorable. One of the answers is MUTED. So four such answers need to be on the far left of the grid? Could be. Im Westen nichts Neues, followed by EM Remarque, and Arthur Wesley Wheen also fits the pattern of extra letters rather well.

So all done? Well, not really. Because while it swiftly becomes clear that the four words to move are LACONIC, MUTED, PEACE and PRIVATE, and where they’ve got to go is a bit of a cinch… I still haven’t got all the answers to replace them.

So, the grid looking like this…

And the dashing soldier alone taking an age. 24 hours later…

JACONET, TIERS, MEANE, GUARDEE

Done.

Note the way the paper has almost disintegrated in the bottom right hand corner. Yep, that’s how long it took me to get it.

Phew. Brain implosion. If that isn’t right then… I don’t care anymore. Excuse me while I go and lie down for the rest of the festive season. But did you enjoy the experience? Oh yes, in a mad masochistic sort of way, yes I did.

An ominous title. Our esteemed editor isn’t thinking of jumping ship? Well, no, though as it turns out today’s puzzle is another object lesson from Nimrod in how little I know about the noble art of crossword solving.

Twelve clues with a letter to be removed, twelve to add letters to, the rest normal, though paying attention to the first letters of the clues might be a good idea.

How did you find the grid fill? Well I got on alright with it, for the most part. Got up with search equals ROSECOMB which a (t)hen might have. ETCHANTS eat things out. But this is where it all went a bit pear shaped because… Wordplay? When I’m solving a daily cryptic by Nimrod I often end up not knowing quite how I got there. This being the case here. Yep, I can see loads of the normal clues, and which letters to remove, but as for the rest? Stones might be GEMS, or they might not be, because I can’t tell why. Though I can tell you that the PINK in 28ac needs a “car” added to “nation” to make a carnation. Small victories, I’ll take them.

Last in? GAGEABLE that I could parse, even if I struggled to find it in the BRB.

What did the removed letters tell us? TRAFFIC LIGHT. Which may have something to do with the car we moved on from another clue. Or not. And the normal clues? Well, as I couldn’t parse half the puzzle I’m not particularly sure which are normal and which not. Proof being the pretty random collection of initial letters I’ve got from the ones I think are normal. The thematic figure therefore remaining somewhat of a mystery.

Highlighting. One third of the grid. Well, it only took me one whole evening to spot ROSE red, amber RUDD, green ROOM, etc. Out with the highlighters.

A half remembered item in the news about traffic lights. Some sort of anniversary? Who invented the infernal things? That would be JOHN PEAKE KNIGHT. Let’s look at those initial letters. I’ve definitely got TIM, so Tim Peake. And GLAS. Gladys Knight? I’ve got no idea where the first name comes from though, so it’ll have to go in on trust.

A good challenge, and one where I was found to be sorely lacking. A severe case of word blindness. Pass me a drink. How did you get on? And do you own any highlighters that look more red than pink?

December. The start of the festive season which means that the bathroom has to be painted, obviously. Such fun. OK, I did chuck some suitably hideous fairy lights on the patio, and took a potato peeler to the advent candle because they never do fit the holder, do they? So perhaps there is a hint of Christmas in the air, and no that’s not just kids hyper on advent chocolate.

Ploy, at an ungodly hour. I’ll just make a start, I said. And promptly filled the grid, it being that sort of grid fill. I won’t lie to you, I didn’t spot all the letters we were supposed to change. Will half do? Not really. But the answers went in thick and fast. ASCENT has got nothing to do with a dome. SHIVOO and BEENAHS both admittedly new, but nothing the big red book can’t cope with.

Grid full, let’s have a quick look at the next bit, the two names the letters are supposed to reveal. We won’t get them this late, but it won’t hurt.

SAM GOLD CUYLE, or words to that effect.

Let’s have another look at the parsing.

SAMUEL GOLDENERG CHMUYLE

Google revealing the missing B and S to give “Samuel Goldenberg Schmuyle”, which is apparently one of the movements in Pictures at an Exhibition. Nope, I hadn’t heard of that either, and no, I never did track down the errant B and S.

Now being really late… Go to bed, or look at highlighting the other members of the group? Out with the highlighter… Bits of the names of the other movements, or allusions to them in the case of OXEN, apart from PROMENADEs in between which, yes, is the item to be shaded.

Last bit, the associated names. Well, the composition is by Modest Mussorgsky, based on pictures by Viktor Hartmann. Thus the title. I bet you all knew both rather well.

Done. Bed. Wasn’t that good? Though either that’s one of our easier challenges, or I’m getting better at them. Yeah, I know.