Harribobs, a name to send shivers down the spine. No, I still haven’t quite got over that puzzle. I’m short of time too – baking the Christmas cake. It must be a month to go. Cue ensuing panic and feelings of general un-restfulness.

Today’s preamble looks more tractable though. Extra letters. Tick. A few thematically entered answers. OK. Shading. Tick. Don’t like the sound of “a few variations are acceptable” though, sounds suitably vague with room for error.

Today’s Phi was a piece of cake, so there’s a little time in the morning to make a start. And, I think I can solve these. An anagram of “our times” is TOURISM, the crossing demon is also an anagram, and so on. What, you completely forgot about some answers needing to be treated before entry? Sssh, so I did. Which is why mid-afternoon, the cake in the oven, I got stuck. Until I remembered. How do you reckon you’re supposed to treat them? Well, the title says “Go West”, so let’s reverse a couple. Including TOURISM, which helps, in places.

Onward. A tick for 3d, very smooth. A smile at 10d, perhaps because I’m one episode away from the end of a Twin Peaks marathon encompassing all three series and the movie. I don’t have Blu-Ray, so the Missing Pieces will remain forever missing. A few question marks about 45ac – is it SEMITISE or SEMITIZE? And 39d = CHOTT or SHOTT? What, you couldn’t parse them either?

Let’s look at the extra letters. Look again at some of my parsing, bits of which seem decidedly fanciful now.

NEIGHBOR STATES DIFFERENT COLORS

Which doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the title. Are we looking for state abbreviations? Lots of CA’s in there, and so on, so perhaps that explains the preamble? No we’re not, Harribobs has only gone and constructed a grid that’s a map of the Western United States, the states suitably positioned if scrambled. Blimey. And that explains the shaded border too, I think.

Out with the highlighters (though how many different highlighters does Harribobs figure the average solver owns?) This is where it gets a little tricky – different enjoining colours (no American spellings here), and the choice of A’s at times difficult – don’t want to end up one short. SEMITIZE and SHOTT, evidently. That’s one way of confirming the grid fill. Any mistakes, blame trying to highlight late at night in the dim glow of an energy saving light bulb.

And, done. Dusted. You know what, I thoroughly enjoyed that. Harribobs was voted best Inquisitor of 2017, and I reckon this is another worthy contender. Go West, young man, go west.

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An unfamiliar name, so welcome Penumbra if you’re a new setter, or welcome back if you’re an old one in disguise. A bit of a rush job this time round because I’m acting as a taxi service between various doctors and A&E departments, and holding the fort so to speak in the meantime. The joys of winter.

Extra letters spelling something this week, a couple of unclued entries, shading, bish bash bosh. Oh, and some downs to be treated. Penumbra shares an inadequacy. Don’t we all.

So to start at the beginning. Or close to it. A cure for poison’s an anti-something, one partial anagram giving ANTIVENIN, and we’re away. Step back, to a DADO rail. And forward UNDINTED. A pretty easy grid fill. OK, I haven’t got all the extra letters, but what did you expect? The treated downs? A pretty fair guess after a few crossing letters is that they’re to be written upside down. Confirmed by a very long anagram for INGRATITUDE, which I struggle to read upside down.

Two unclued entries in the grid – BUDDY (Holly) and (Holly) GOLIGHTLY – pretty obviously. The bottom long unclued entry? IDENTICAL TWIN. And, oh, the top is too. Let’s sort the extra letters. THE HOLLIES I CAN’T TELL THE BOTTOM FROM THE TOP. A song I’ve never heard of. Does this tell us anything about any inadequacy that might be shared by Penumbra? Nope? Do the upside down entries provide further evidence of anything? Nope. And the two hollies? Are we looking for identical twins? A pretty thorough search through Wikipedia says no.

So how long did you spend staring at the grid, looking for something to shade in an appropriate colour? Too long. Even resorting to online word search solvers. Which yielded little. But there is ILEX in the centre. It’s a holly. Does it fit with anything else in that preamble? I don’t think so. Did I shade it green? Yes I did, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Did I wish we’d been given more of a clue, perhaps an enumeration, to help with the shading? Yep. Oh well… Back to waiting on a phone call, and nagging recalcitrant children to get ready for bed. Is there any whisky left?

Chalicea, which presumably means we’re in for an easier time than recent weeks. A gambling man would put money on today’s puzzle being something to do with Remembrance Day, but he wouldn’t get very good odds, as the i is full of the stuff, as if everywhere else for that matter.

I’m not above using the Chambers anagram solver when it comes to solving the IQ, so 1ac is therefore a doddle, albeit one that needs a bit of careful transliteration. It was also the hardest word to spell in the whole puzzle, the rest of the grid fill being a bit of a doddle. Yes, I did consult the dictionary. Yes, I did run into a bit of trouble round the middle right of the grid. More I suspect because of flagging energy levels than any innate difficulty. Who decided it would be a good idea to crack open the whisky?

Anyway, what do the grey cells spell out? Well, blow me down, ARMISTICE.

Now, did you manage to read the preamble properly? Because I didn’t, assuming it was much more complicated than it actually was. Something to do with producing 3, 4 or 5 letter solutions. Not plucking letters from clues answers that length. Doh.

Which thematically placed letters would we be looking for? Those positioned 11th, of course.

SHADE THE POET AND WHAT HE RECALLS.

Well, there’s SASSOON (Siegfried, and not Vidal, which was Google’s first suggestion. Silly Google.) I can’t find his first name in the grid, so presumably it’s pretty obvious and I’ve missed it. Something to do with the Armistice? I didn’t know the poem, but Everyone Sang fits the bill, especially as the second line ends “such delight”. No sign of the title in the grid, but looking at the diagonals there’s the first line. Huzzah.

Pretty good, eh? Fairly straightforward, enjoyable stuff, albeit a pretty grim subject matter. Though donkeys as an answer in the concise did raise a smile.

Here’s PJ Harvey with The Glorious Land.

Magic being in the eye of the beholder. I’ve generally been blind to the attraction of opera bar the odd aria, but Phi’s less of a philistine than me as evidenced by the sometimes recondite themes he’s offered up over the years. Today’s I’m guessing is something I’ll know little about.

To the preamble…

First thoughts: Nope, didn’t get that.

Second thoughts: Ditto.

And so on.

Let’s try and summarise in the hope of staying sane. Some clues have clashing letters. Others redundant words. Focus on that for the moment and forget the rest which, to be quite frank, has left me dazed and confused.

First solved? That, unfortunately, was 11ac. Unfortunately because the answer is evidently ALBE, but hang on, we’ve got a couple too many spaces in the grid for it, and I didn’t see any mention of that in the preamble. Help.

Thankfully further down the grid things look a bit more normal. A pledge is an OATH, the meal’s looking likely to be LUNCH. Required at 1d with MA in the middle must be DEMANDED, which means the opera is going to be DER or DAS something German. Lots to choose from. Let’s look for more clues. Nice long anagram at 4d if we ignore “tomb” – SPEARHEADED. And I’m going to make a stab in the dark and say that the opera is DAS RHEINGOLD which even I know is part of Wagner‘s Ring cycle. Not that I know much else about it, but Wikipedia has a very good summary of the plot. How did we manage to solve these before the internet?

Let’s look at the preamble again. The last bit says something about two entries being transformed on entry – forming “the wearer’s name”. Yes, ALBE is still preying on my mind. The opera in question features somebody called Alberich, you see. Is there anything in the grid that might give us RICH? Well, yes there is, fertile at 29ac. What did Alberich transform himself into? A giant snake and a toad. 29ac is evidently the TOAD. 11ac? Python won’t fit, but DRAGON? Is it a snake? I suppose so.

Cue lots of entries in the SW, SE and NE corners of the grid. But I’m getting stuck to the NW, you see. The preamble to the rescue again. The clashes are supposed to tell us something. Those in the acrosses an item of clothing, the downs the wearer. Well, we know who the wearer is now. The item of clothing, which must have the same number of letters? That would be the Tarnhelm, which is a helmet for us ordinary mortals. Now we’ve got all the clashing letters, and can use them as crossing letters to help solve the rest of the grid. That’s made things easier…

What goes in the cells where there are clashes? The first and last letters of the redundant words are supposed to tell us that. Cue a hard stare at some of my parsing, though for once I haven’t made too much of a hash of it. WEARER AND HELMET BOTH DISAPPEAR. So we’re to leave the cells containing clashes blank? I think so. Out with the rubber.

I think that’s it, don’t believe I’ve missed anything. Huzzah. And, contrary to expectations, I thought that was jolly good. Satisfying to see everything click into place, and not quite as mind bendingly difficult to finish as some recent offerings.

Now tell me what I missed in what, it must be said, is the preamble to end all preambles.

Another Saturday rolls round not a moment too soon, and Kruger too, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. This week we’ve got a mixture of definitions containing a letter mixture of the answer plus a superfluous letter. Normalish clues too, wordplay also yielding an extra letter. Put them together and what do we have? A description of somebody 18d by 1d who we have to remove from the grid. Sounds nasty. I bet though Kruger didn’t have to contend with a multitude of colds and chest infections when he was setting this. And being suitably cold for the time of year there’s nowhere to hide. I am doomed.

And struggling. Because – which clue is which type? For a long time I didn’t have anything other than EVADERS and ANNALS. Nothing at all – apart from a creeping sense of despair that is. Filled in a couple of normal sort of clues in that bit of the grid. Struggled a bit longer. Had the spiffing idea that 18d might well be BEHEADED, and then came to a great big grinding halt with only half filled.

Like, forever.

Eight o clock (night time, I’ll have you know, still BST) passed without further progress.

Nine o clock.

And ten o clock. Though around then I did spot TO BRITAIN as the last bit of the extra / superfluous letters.

It would be at precisely 10:50 PM that I thought, hang about, we’re looking for somebody in the grid, I wonder if that will help? Couldn’t find them. Did though find some bits in the extra letters that looked like they could be TOBACCO. Had a rare moment of inspiration and spotted RALEIGH down to the SW. Bingo.

How, I hear you ask, did that help in the, until now, mostly blank top half of the grid? Well, we’re evidently looking for WALTER. Could “Warren” at 13ac be BURROW? Yes, it could. Pencil in Mr Raleigh’s first name giving some handy checking letters, polish off the rest of the clues. Swiftly erase Walter from the grid.

The extra letters? HE BROUGHT TOBACCO AND POTATOES INTO BRITAIN. Though the IN bit I must admit is a bit of a shot in the dark.

One last question, then. He was 18d by who? Nobody seems to know who the executioner was a pretty thorough trawl through Google reveals. A long, long time later… Yep, JAMES ONE, or James 1st as he’s more commonly known. And there we have it. Done.

Another decidedly tricky one I thought. Is it just me, or have we had a run of particularly difficult puzzles? Or am I losing my touch? Which is possible. More than possible. So to bed, and an extra hour, it being in theory the best night’s sleep of the year. Guess how that went.

We seem to be having a rash of perimeters at the moment – all the fashion, perhaps. No letters to be moved into said perimeter this week, only between the wordplay in clue pairs. A quick count to make sure there’s an even number. I’m guessing they’re in order – nothing to indicate otherwise – and if they weren’t then it would be overly fiendish, surely? Resulting letters hint at one of two titles we’re to highlight the originals for. Other titles in the perimeter, unchecked letters making up that anagram. Which seems to be an awful lot to remember already, but lo and behold, the highlighting will identify the main protagonist in one of them. Blimey.

First thoughts. Rumpole.

Second thought. The sun’s shining. Let’s get outside somewhere quiet and warm where I’ll hopefully be left alone to get on with this.

Third thought. Help, I can’t solve any of these clues. This seems to be a common feature over recent weeks with the IQ, so perhaps I’m losing my touch, or if not that my nerve. No problem, we’ll just take a snap of an empty grid and lob that up as a complete and utter failure. Job done.

Deep breath. Look again. See if there are any anagrams, or bits of them to be found. 29d looks like one, but isn’t. Ditto 11d. 35ac though is, if we were to move an S into cat to cast the anagram fodder. ROISTERER. And you know, this was one where, once you got into the swing of things, it didn’t turn out to be that difficult after all. Just a matter of being careful with the wordplay. With some, as it turns out, pretty well flagged definitions. A migrant is a NOMAD, surely? Add an ISM care of a bit of kinky sex.

NW, SW and SE corners pretty full, then, and the NE corner less so, let’s take stock. What’s in the perimeter? That looks like it could be JUDGEMENT along the bottom. And up the RHS? We have ?M?R?K???? Thankfully I’ve ready a lot of Kafka in my time, so that AMERIKA jumped right out. Huzzah. Quickly add his best known short story, and CONTEMPLATION which is rather less known, and complete that grid.

There are two rather glaring omissions in that list. The Trial, and The Castle. What are the original titles? Der Process and Das Schloss. Yep, there they are, in a great big K, quelle surprise. “Someone must have been telling tales about Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.”

So what about the letters we were shifting round, what did they spell out? Having resolved the usual doubts regarding the wordplay, that would be “tough tense mammoth trial”.

So there we have it. Not as scary as it first looked, and yes, another good one, even if as ever I feel that I did solve it a bit arse backwards.

Schadenfreude. I’ve struggled with Schadenfreude in the past, so he’s already got the psychological edge. Not that he really needed one with this week’s offering. Softened up already by two days worth of torrential rain and general signs of it being autumn, a grid that says straight away that you’re going to be shoving letters into the border. Two from each row and column. Which means that, yes, it’s our old friend the long cold solve followed swiftly (or not so swiftly) by the application of a bit of hard logic to the resulting mismatch of letters.

So it proved to be. A very slow grind through the clues. Crossing letters entered when identified. After a bit the realisation that multiple letters can go in some squares, the border being a bit of an unknown. Not helped by such obscurities as INGE for dean. One where the BRB won’t help, but a swift Google will. At which point we all thanked the gods that the first bit was obvious, and the answer equally so, so perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps I’m being dim too, because 1ac was one I spotted pretty early in the dictionary having guessed ONUS for responsibility, but did I jot it down as being obviously the correct answer? No I did not, not until the bitter end.

Talking of which, how did you do with that border? Mine was a complete mess with multiple options for loads of cells, and not much way of making sense of them. The end game’s supposed to consist of highlighting twelve cells that make up a “cryptic representation of the perimeter.” I looked in the diagonals. I looked up and down. And then I looked across, and spotted VELVET. And then GROUND above that. Or bits of it at least. And then went about completing the names of various members of The Velvet Underground in the perimeter, and thus filling the rest of the grid. Though I was a little thrown on seeing Moe Tucker’s full name…

Phew. How close did I come to giving up? Somewhere shortly before that last paragraph. Hard work indeed. Luckily it’s wet, and we can’t get out anywhere, but still… Here’s Venus In Furs by way of a present for sticking it out.

A slightly alarming preamble this week. Jumbled down answers, and, well, something to be done with the acrosses too. In the second grid. Yes, that’s right, a second grid, because what we’re going to have to do is evidently that complicated that it warrants, for the first time ever, another grid to work with. Now, perhaps it’s just the autumn blues, but this immediately set me on an I can’t do this fugue, not helped by a first pass through the across answers that yielded, well, all of one answer. With the youngest two rampaging round the house like things possessed after two days away on a residential school trip. Weren’t they supposed to be tired on their return?

Try again. 33ac is an anagram, and despite what the preamble says it’s in Chambers. But perhaps, he reasoned, the treated version in the second grid won’t be? Aha. A resident of Montmartre, that most fine district of Paris, minus an IS would be PARIAN. Not so difficult, you see. Apart from the down answers. Presumably we should be able to glean somehow what to do with them? After all, they can’t be completely, randomly, like totally jumbled with multiple unchecked letters, can they? Surely there must be some sort of rhyme or reason? Despite numerous attempts at looking for some sort of logic – backwards, making up different words, and so on, it appears… That they are indeed randomly jumbled. I can though solve them, oh yes I can, which is some consolation.

That unclued entry that presumably is supposed to tell us how to treat the across answers before entry in the second grid. Help from a word finder with the possible letters from the jumbled downs… RECONSTRUCT. Well, you don’t say.

All of which is to say that, at the close, the first grid looked like this. Note the blank squares where I had a choice of letters but no reason to pick one or another.

The second grid is supposed to contain real words throughout. Let’s apply some logic, RECONSTRUCTing the across answers with the letters we’ve got in place from the downs, making sure there are real words throughout. Lo and behold 33ac is SCHMEAR which indeed isn’t in the big red book. CHESTILY isn’t either, and oh, how many problems that caused me. So, SW clockwise to NW, a CURRENT COST across the top.

The quote to highlight? Well, that’s one I happen to know, being devoted to all things Whovian. “CHANGE MY DEAR. And it seems not a moment too soon.” The fateful words of the short lived 6th Doctor. Impressive opening night figures suggest Jodie Whittaker won’t suffer the same ignominious fate, but let’s see how that pans out. Based on the first episode I thought she was good, but the writing less so. But anyway… Here’s the best Doctor of the modern era, Matt Smith, with Orbital and their version of that iconic theme tune.

From the blog that wishes it was more rock n roll than it really is. Or why I prefer a cup of tea and a quiet night in these days. Which is all another way of saying that the Saturday headache hasn’t materialised this week, handily because Ifor’s preamble has instilled a faint but nagging sense of unease. It’s that phrase “two different ways of filling the grid.” Did I bother to count how many asterisked clues there are? No I did not. Did I immediately think I can’t be doing with erasing the whole of another carefully filled grid? Yes, I did. A general feeling of malaise that didn’t improve on getting somewhere near the end of the across clues before I managed to get one in.

Okay, take a step back, concentrate on the non-asterisked clues because surely we can solve those. Well, yes we can, especially when they’re nice friendly anagrams like 44ac. Gotta be something ITIS, hasn’t it? NETSUKE directly above, which sounds like anything other than a Japanese decoration. And I can solve the asterisked clues too, you know. Some friendly definitions, nice clear wordplay. ASK or ASS, you decide. And what, you say, it’s a good idea to jot both possibilities into each cell, because it’ll make the grid fill a little easier? Oh, go on then. Only a few where we don’t have many letters in common between the two bits, notably towards the top of the grid.

That centre bit was a little tricky though, wasn’t it? YON or TON, an obscure bit of musical terminology. And the top row. Yes, the wordplay bit’s obviously an anagram, but I don’t know about you but I’d not heard of DENISE DARVALL. Perhaps I should have. First shot at the definition bit for the same was Doctor Faustus until it just wouldn’t fit. But we do have a doctor. One BARNARD, of HEART TRANSPLANT fame. Though the story does seem a little shady on the reading. Anyway, the former bit alternates with LOUIS, the latter WASHKANSKY in a lovely big heart shape.

So is it going to be the good doctor, or the first, unwitting heart donor? The preamble said to look at the title, which has been nagging away throughout. N in DOOR, surely? So go with Denise, which must mean the rest is HEART TRANSPLANT. Got to be.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought that was really quite impressive, very nicely put together, with a lovely endgame. Goodbye the malaise that marked the opening of the paper, hello a warm happy glow. And no, that doesn’t mean that I succumbed to the whisky immediately afterwards.

A new setter this week, welcome! 🙂 A cursory Google search hasn’t unearthed any puzzles on foreign shores, so we have nothing to go on whatsoever. What it has dug up is the completely useless fact that the name is a variation on bismuth, chemical element number 83. No, I hadn’t heard of it either. Does it mean anything? I don’t know that either.

But what about the puzzle? Members of a group in the grey border. A quote. Something to highlight from a homophone the finding of which warrants almost half the preamble. But at least we’ve only got extra letters and words and not a wholesale cut and paste of the wordplay. Hang on though, we’re back into homework season again, and maths is supposed to be my thing. But no, I don’t know what a place value question is either, which proves to be handy as I’m given a reprieve and time to make a start on the puzzle. The first across then. Well, that’ll necessitate a trip to the BRB to confirm that the extra character is indeed a T from tREMBLE. Badly brought up children might be ILL BRED. So where did you get stuck, Jon? Well, that would be on some of the shorter answers. The Nice (a bit of a giveaway, I’ll grant you) house. I always thought that was a maison, but apparently they have other words for things too. The expression of doubt down in the SE corner, appropriately enough. But all is, as they say, well that ends well, even given a bit of a hairy moment with that one that’s not in Chambers.

Lots of letters in the border. Evidently the bells from a pretty well known nursery rhyme. No prizes for guessing what will need highlighting. Two things that might be covered in something that sounds like PEAL, and there they are in the NW to SE diagonal. All done.

Wasn’t that good? And following last week’s struggles, much needed confirmation that I can indeed solve these things. So thanks Vismut, for a most enjoyable outing!