Nudd? Nope, not a name that rings a bell. Fifteensquared’s handy indexย to the rescue – yes, it’s been a couple of years, way before the start of my Inquisitor solving career, shambolic though it might be. Will we be left with a sinking feeling at the close or buoyantly upbeat? The preamble looks straightforward enough, extra letters in each clue spelling out a quotation and speaker. So far so pretty standard for the Inquisitor. Hang on, 13 clues that will need to be amended before entry. There’s the joker in the pack.

Put in some earphones, chuck on Bend Sinister, and let’s look at the first across, being 6. Nope, can’t make sense of that – it looks like an anagram, but nothing that fits that length. 12ac? Not that one either. 13ac has got to be ETERNAL though, hasn’t it? Yes it is, and we’re off. An easy hidden at 8d, another obvious definition at 9d, this is looking good. Except that there are loads that aren’t looking so easily tractable, and that sinking feeling begins to set in. Presumably some of the 13 entries that need amending are in there somewhere because I haven’t found any yet.

Take a deep breath, take stock. Have something to eat, try a different puzzle for a bit, cue This Nation’s Saving Grace andย LA. What’s going on here? First thoughts – some definitions don’t match up with the wordplay. Definitions literally sinking? Nope, that’s not going to work. What about that wordplay then? Well, 6ac could be OVERWHELMING, couldn’t it? The checking letters we’ve got mean that OVERWING would be a viable grid entry. HEDGESPARROW will work for 47ac, with HEDGEROW in the grid. That’s HELM and SPAR overboard, a most definite nautical theme.

What about those extra letters? Well, I’ve got a few, if not all. What happens if we start Googling what we’ve got, which handily is the first bit of the quotation.

There’s something wrong with our bloody ships today

Which is a paraphrase of Admiral Beatty’sย (there’s the last word from those extra letters) infamous quote at the Battle of Jutland.

So we’re jettisoning bits of ships? This proves to be easier said than done, especially for my last two – 15d and 19ac – where a little reverse engineering and scouring of the big red book is in order. We’ve got all the extra letters now, which means the rest of the clues are a doddle, sort of.

Those ship bits in full, in no particular order. GAMMON, CHOCK, BOW, KEDGE, PARRAL, VANG, STERN, SPAR, MAST, HELM, POOP (sniggers), BRIDGE, HOLD. No problem for the nautically minded among us I’m sure, but a few left me feeling all at sea and reaching for the nearest dictionary. All’s well that ends well, though, and we were left safely on dry land, even if I was left staring at the last two clues well into the night, though to be fair with most of my attention on a film, and only a little on the dictionary and that lightly pencilled grid that began to look lighter still as the night drew on and the inadequacies of the energy saving bulb became patently clear.

No doddle then, and not a Harribobs either, but something that’s just, sort of, maybe in my comfort zone, if there’s such a thing as an Inquisitor comfort zone.

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Forewarned is forearmed in the form of a cryptic tweet about scissors being of use this week. Are we doing a crossword or origami? Time will tell. Instructions. One, complete the grid. Two, carefully cut out the shapes and arrange them to reveal an identity. Three, move seven letters to other cells to reveal a phrase. Glances at a blunt pencil, an even blunter pair of scissors. Ok…

The grid fill? Suspiciously easy. A faster solve in fact than the same day’s Phi. Here’s the end result in glorious monochrome:

Hagbut. Cue sniggers from the back of the class.

Step two, cut out the shapes. The first goes exactly as badly as expected. What do we need? Something good and sharp. When do we need it? Any time now would be good. I knew I’d find a use for that Stanley knife one day. A much easier if ill-advised way of cutting out those shapes. Don’t try this at home. And if you do, make sure you’ve read the paper already because you’re going to lose more than one or two pages.

Step three – arranging them? Nope, that’s not going at all well. Move onto step four.

A phrase, for which we need seven letters moved from elsewhere to share other cells. Well, there appears to be the start of one along the SW to NE diagonal – ON THE… Presumably we’re looking for unique letters to move, so L? No, that doesn’t help. There are seven S’s in the grid too? Taking the SW to NE diagonals and the NW to SE gives us:

She sells sea shells on the sea shore

Try saying that after a couple of whiskies. Back to step three, and a quick bit of Googling gives us Mary Anning who was apparently the inspiration for that particular tongue twister. Turn a couple of the pieces upside down, and there we have it:

Palaeontologist Mary Anning

Scribble it under the grid, and hey presto, that’s our lot. And wasn’t that fun? Something a little bit different. The paper’s even more of a hash than it usually is, and not with copious scribbling this week, but never mind. More like this please.

PS 1ac now appears to read SHAGBUT. A coincidence? Surely not.

Battered and bruised after doing twelve rounds with Harribobs, Inquisitor solvers the country wide look tentatively at the Weekend i and wonder, what next? Well, it’s Schadenfreude, who’s sometimes eminently solvable, and sometimes about as difficult as they come. So what’s been asked of us this week? Seven titles to highlight, extra letters yielded from the wordplay to “spell out thematic material”, seven greyed out squares in the centre of the grid and no clue as to what to do with them. Make some very strong coffee and leap in.

1ac, well that couldn’t have been much easier. CARTWHEELING, yielding an S. Something to do with herbs at 4d, a nice easy one at 5d even if the word’s probably new to most of us and, blimey, before you know it that’s a full grid. Yes, that’s about how quickly it happened. Did somebody swap Phi’s prize puzzle and the Inquisitor this week? I’m guessing this is the one star to follow on from Harribobs’ XXX.

What do the extra letters spell out? As is de rigueur there are a number of question marks, and loads that are clearly nonsense and need a second look. But…

SERGEANT, TEACHER, CONSTABLE, COWBOY, COLUMBUS, BEHIND

Which can only mean one thing, we’re looking at the Carry On films.

Seven titles to highlight, got to be round those blank spaces. As chance would have it one answer I’m not sure of and it turns out is wrong is 22ac, unless Carry On Doktor is a thing. Perhaps somewhere in Scandinavia it is.

Anyway, what we have is CARRY ON along that diagonal, and CLEO, ABROAD, MATRON, NURSE, CABBY, DOCTOR and HENRY crossing it. Fantastic. There are one or two there I haven’t have seen, and Schadenfreude’s omitted two of my favourites – Carry On Screaming and Carry On Up The Khyber – but thanks still for a welcome bit of light relief that was nearer my level of competence than last week’s magnum opus. Which leaves me time to do, well, other things. The household will be fed this week. Clothes will be cleaned. Children bathed. Sleep will happen. Other puzzles.

Harribobs’ Captain’s Log was voted best Inquisitor of 2016-7. A very worthy winner, so expectations are running high. No pressure. ๐Ÿ˜‰ What do we have today?

The preamble? Let’s just say that together with the way those clues are grouped an inner turmoil is exactly what I’m left feeling, and not in a good way. If we don’t have our work cut out solving the clues we’ll be hard pressed knowing what to do with them afterwards. Backwards, forwards, cycled, completely random. Yikes. Extra words in some clues lead to an instruction. Something to highlight at the end. “Advice – use a pencil!” You bet I will.

The clues. Well, a garden in Saint is pretty obviously SEDENT at 10dn, with “Andrews” as an extra word, and some of the cycled clues are pretty doable, but that list of jumbled clues is pretty extensive, and without knowing where the letters go progress is inevitably slow. The extra words? Well, I’ve got them, and without too much in the way of wailing and gnashing of teeth. A few checking letters here and there by applying a bit of logic. The elusive 1ac – MARRAM – which should have been one of the easy ones – it’s one of the normal clues – but takes a word search and a bit of reverse engineering with the wordplay. Last in? 15ac, which must be EGERIA (with NI as the insurance, which took far too long to work out) but won’t fit. Because as it becomes clear – an hour later – my logic was flawed.

All of which sounds like a steady, pretty reasonable process in retrospect. But in fact took two days, off and on. I can’t remember the rating system for Inquisitor difficulty but Harribobs’s turned it up to 11.

What does the message from the extra words tell us (with Excel at hand to sort the answers)?

sort internal nw to se diagonals

Now this is where it gets scary. Armed only with a ruler, a rubber, and a pencil that’s a lot more blunt than when we started, off we go, as we’re instructed, sorting the letters in each NW-SE diagonal. Now we’ll find out if our answers are correct, with reference now and then to the BRB. No room for error. And having to erase most of that painstakingly filled out grid. Inquisitor solvers the country wide weep silently into their cups of tea – or is it something a bit stronger at this point? As it turns out I only messed up once as far as I can tell, forgetting the W in 20ac, the quite marvellous TWOCCER. Lucky I took a snap of the grid before I started rubbing most of it out. Now we’ve got a grid full of real words rather than the mess there was before.

And the last step, that word we’re supposed to find? Turns out I’m a bit rubbish at that too, but luckily Quinapalus isn’t. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ORDERLINESS. Highlight it in a quite fetching shade of green, throw down the paper, and reach for a stiff gin. Was it satisfying when all the diagonals sorted led to all those real words? Very much so. But did I feel like my head was going to explode getting there? Oh yes…

A suspiciously short preamble this week – a message (what message?) relating to two unclued entries points to a significant achievement. What are we supposed to do about it? Who can tell. Chalicea to date has been pretty much on the easy side, so perhaps we shouldn’t be looking for something too devilish. Time will tell.

To the grid. And easy, very easy clues. Ag at home gives us 1ac, a hidden clue at 2d, a pretty screaming out loud definition at 1d… You get the picture. I had this grid filled in almost as quickly as I did the same day’s Phi. Not that I’m complaining, I’m pretty rubbish at these things and can do with the odd ego-massage now and then. And those two unclued entries? Very obviously GREAT and EASTERN. The railway? Cue the QI klaxon.

But then what to do? Stare at the grid for a long, long time. Did something to do with the GER happen one hundred years ago? What about that message? Oh yes, a message. The first letters from each clue read, of course:

Shade thirty nine cells to show first laid by unclued light.

Look for a bit longer. Google “Great Eastern first laid”, and it appears that we’re looking at the first transatlantic cable line, that was indeed partly laid by the refitted Great Eastern.

So what are the two places we’re looking for? Presumably where the cable went to and from – VALENTIA Island in Ireland to HEART’S CONTENTย in Newfoundland, which are indeed on the east and west of the grid respectively. What joins them? Well, that transatlantic cable, which I suppose very loosely is an agent and object. Sort of. If you squint. How long did it take me to find it? Far too long, and only after I’d realised that I’d got 37ac wrong, with an R where the C for cable should have been.

There, another straightforward and enjoyable offering from Chalicea. I must admit to finding the grid hunting for the various words a little frustrating, mostly because I’m pretty rubbish at it, but that’s my fault not the setter’s. Am I still confused about the agent and object bit? Yes I am, but I don’t think we’re looking for anything else, and I’ve used all the 39 cells, so I suppose that’s right. Look at that lovely green highlighter…

The decorations are down, the Christmas cake has been eaten, the alcohol consumed. No distractions, and a gloriously dank and dark winter afternoon in which to sit at the kitchen table with the paper and Ifor’s latest. To the preamble. Eight across clues yield an extra word, and a letter from each to form a name. Other acrosses (which are pairs) contain words to be modified in line with a statement attributed to the person named. Well, that’s not going to help is it? Highlight the statement in the grid. Down clues are normal, thank goodness.

To the grid. Am I the only person to get a slight feeling of panic every week when the clues pass one by one and none fall? First in is 5 down, having drawn a blank on all the acrosses. LEERY, well I am now. 13ac has got to be EERILY with some but not all of the wordplay making sense. That’s got to contain a word to be amended, but I’ve got no idea how at the moment. Doesn’t matter. 10ac – Jacob’s brother was Esau, which is pretty fairly indicated by the wordplay. Bravo for the definition though? What about bro? There’s a pattern forming here. Answers but no idea as to how we’re supposed to be amending these clues.

What about the extra words, that have a single letter not in the corresponding answer. That’s a big great whopping clue that’ll help later, but first things first 14ac, which is evidently REMIND though “demand” doesn’t fit the wordplay, so take it out and jot down A as our first letter.

At the close I’ve got a full grid, and half of the eight letters we’re looking for in search of that name (who needs to parse clues, eh?), and a question mark beside almost all the across clues, mostly because they evidently need to be amended to make sense. But who can tell how. Let’s go back through looking for the remainder of the eight clues making up that name, aided by the sure knowledge that only one letter will be missing from the answer.

I’ve got seven: BHAANIN. That’s evidently not a name, so perhaps they’re not in order. If the last one is L, and I think the last of the across clues will supply that – though I can’t get the parsing right so I’m not 100% sure – what about HANNIBAL? Presuming we’re talking about the bloke who took the elephants across the Alps and not Dr Lecter, what statement might we be looking for? Wikipedia’s got this one:

“Aut inveniam viam aut faciam” (or “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam”) is Latin for “I shall either find a way or make one.”

Lo and behold the second version is in the grid. Highlight it. So how were we supposed to be amending the across clues. Well, brAVo gives us avenue, peer could be peSTer, and so on presumably. I’m going to say that’s Ok, a fairly quick solve that I enjoyed thoroughly. A slightly odd solving experience with bits of the wordplay having to be half guessed at, at least in this neck of the woods. The last bit of the quote also caused much hilarity here when I attempted to pronounce it, in a Life of Brian sort of way…

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So I’m guessing at this stage of the game, between Christmas and New Year, everybody is still trying to work out what day it is through a fog of too much alcohol, too many mince pies, and a surfeit of turkey. Something pretty straightforward from Eclogue to reflect this sorry state of affairs? Not if that preamble is anything to go by. Some clues with extra words, the beginning and end letters of each spelling out courses and accompanying drinks. Clashes, cells that should be left blank to indicate absentees, two to mark with an X. Presumably to mark presentees? Is that even a word? One character to jot under the grid.

Onward, and a first pass through the clues that yields little. Will this be the week the blog starts and ends with a picture of an almost empty grid? Go for a walk, get a bit of fresh air in the lungs, try again. Ok, that’s better, and these clues aren’t as difficult as they first looked. A simple anagram at 9ac (but that definition?), and 17ac a real – how did I miss that on the first pass through? Enter the clues in the grid in pencil, circle any extra words found in pen, because that’s how confident, perhaps foolishly, I am about them. Let’s leave the rest until New Year’s Day, because New Year’s Eve is, well, New Year’s Eve.

I didn’t over-imbibe, honest, but retiring to bed at 1:30AM isn’t really the best preparation to continue with this puzzle. And progress is, like, non-existent. Let’s look at the title. Silvester. The best I can find is “Saint Sylvester’s Day, also known as Silvester”, which is celebrated New Year’s Eve with feasting, toasting, and partying apparently. That doesn’t help much. What about those courses and drinks from the extra words. Well, I haven’t got all of them, but enough to make some intelligent guesses. SOUP, SHERRY, HADDOCK… Google to the rescue, and it appears we’re looking at this sketch which is probably a mystery to most people in this country – Dinner For One.

Which now means that we’ve got a complete list of all the courses and drinks, and can confidently go through the clues circling the extra words we don’t have. I’m guessing this isn’t the way Eclogue meant us to solve this. But I’m struggling, really. The actors Freddie FRINTON and May WARDEN are two unclued entries then. What about 1ac, which somehow cryptically indicates our theme. DINNER for 1. Aha. We also have a list of guests, and late lamented absentees, which means we can make sense of those clashes.

Miss SOPHIE at the intersection of 12d and 26ac, our host, gets a big X.
Mr POMEROY at 6d and 18ac, leave that one blank.
Mr WINTERBOTTOM at 10d and 19ac, another blank.
Sir TOBY at 32d and 37ac, ditto.
Admiral Von SCHNEIDER, blank again.

By that count I reckon the only other person present is JAMES, the manservant, so how come we have one other X in the grid, plus a character to write under it? Of course I’m struggling with both 22ac and 23d, which is obviously where it has to go. OK, 22ac is the river ISERE. And it’s been obvious for a while that 23d can’t be ‘theroid”, which might fit the definition, and part of the wordplay, but not the other bit. The only other possibility beside the manservant I can see is the tiger’s head he keeps tripping over. So TIGROID? I’ve no idea how that fits in with “bairn”, but there you go. GIT? Really?

Write James under the grid as the other character, and hope for the best? Let’s look at that grid – oh, the blanks and X’s are laid out symmetrically, as if round that table. Can we find out the layout of the table? Well, handily there’s a version on YouTube, and yes, Miss Sophie’s at one end of the table, and the tiger’s head at the other. So I think that’s right, though I’m not 100% sure. Fingers crossed then until Fifteensquared publish their blog. Thanks Eclogue for what I thought was a pretty stiff challenge. Now to try and think of some 2017 puzzles to vote for in the Inquisitor poll…

It was the night before the night before Christmas, and all was quiet. Quiet, that is, apart from the seasonal coughs and sniffles emanating from the other rooms. With gingerbread being baked and iced in the kitchen, and unseasonable children’s TV blasting away in the living room, I’m left to perch on the edge of the bed in poor light, an inadequate pencil, and Artix. Not a name I remember seeing before, it appears to be a couple of years since his/her last Inquisitor, though Google brings up more than a few Enigmatic Variations, a series I solve fitfully.

The preamble. Omissions throughout, justified when a synonym of 14 is 11’d. Ok, that’s made things clear. “Coins may be of use at 8 and 16”. Yeah, Ok…

Let’s have a look at those clues. 1ac – nope. 4 – nope. In fact, my first one in is 33ac, which it transpires is a simple hidden word. ADD obviously doesn’t mean pus, but it can mean plus. Our first omission is an L then. Let’s have another look at 1ac. Instead of FOP, FLOP = DUD? Another L missing. And onward through that grid, with every omission – as it turns out in either the wordplay or the answer, which becomes clear very quickly at 4ac – missing either one or multiple L’s.

The unclued 14 has got to be CRIMBO. Fun with a word searcher gives PHONETISED as a possibility for 11d. Groan, that’s a very old joke. ๐Ÿ™‚ NOEL, NO L, gettit?

A pause for tea. Stollen anybody? As it turns out, no, because it’s greeted with a universal thumbs down. So much for trying something new. Let’s finish off this grid then.

8 and 16? It turns out they’re both perfectly solvable, though both need Google to confirm, as neither are in Chambers. Why coins though?

The last few are on the tricky side. 15ac must be OREO, though I’m still not sure exactly why. At 23d SASSE is indeed an antiquated gate, though where way comes from I’m not sure. Cuts could be STRIMS at 29ac, though why again? Last one in is 32ac, where it takes an age to work out where the missing L should be. Oh, and 27d, which I didn’t need to solve. ๐Ÿ™‚

Seasons greetings then from Artix. Enjoyable throughout, though I’m still a little concerned about the parsing of one or two, and the distinct possibility I’ve made a right hash of much of the grid. Pass me a mince pie, and a sherry; brace yourself, because the festive season is on its way.

So as the festive season looms, the order of the day for Saturday:

  1. Take the kids to their dance lesson.
  2. Quickly solve the prize cryptic and concise puzzles while hanging round during (1).
  3. Lunch.
  4. See how far I get with the Inquisitor before:
  5. The pantomime.
  1. Tick.
  2. There’s a problem, I’m struggling with the daily cryptic, and that’s Phi as well. This doesn’t bode well for (4).

What do we have? A few unclued entries, normal down clues. Across entries where we don’t enter certain letters from the definition in the grid. They’ll “yield a sequence of numbers”, and then we write an associated phrase under the grid. Sounds reasonable.

Let’s begin at the beginning with 1 across, and hey, it’s an easy one, a reverse of CITE and E. What about that definition? EMETIC will fit, and it turns out to cat can mean to vomit. Huzzah. What about the down clues that cross it? Well, 6d and 9d are fairly obvious too. And so is a lot of the rest of the grid, much going in quicker than the daily cryptic. Perhaps I’m just more awake after lunch than before it, especially on the weekend?

Those unclued entries? With much of the grid filled in we can guess at ARTHUR C CLARKE, there’s HOLE midway down, so LOOP in the top right? Yes, Loophole was his first professional sale back in 1946. Apparently he was born 16 December 1917, which uncannily happens to be 100 years ago. Who knew? Well Phi did, obviously.

I think most solvers will have guessed what three word phrase we’re looking for, but let’s persist with those extra letters, which are all evidently Roman numerals, and the remainder of the grid. Last in 18ac, for no good reason I can see now, and 16ac, where working out the missing letter took a little work. What do we have?

MMX MMLXI MMMI

Which are the last three books in the Space Odyssey series. The missing number is evidently MMI, so under the grid goes A SPACE ODYSSEY? Looks good to me.

Thanks Phi for an enjoyable, pretty breezy solve. A welcome bit of light relief which was almost, but not quite finished before the aforementioned pantomime. Oh yes it was…

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It’s snowing, so you’d think that’d leave lots of time to get on with the Inquisitor. But little people are fond of going out in snow, which takes the better part of the morning. The afternoon? The small matter of putting up the Christmas decorations. Which means I don’t get a chance to start on Encota’s second (I think?) Inquisitor until the early evening when I’m beginning to think sleep might be a better option.

The preamble looks a little alarming. Extra letters in the wordplay for 32 clues, which “assist” with the theme. Six answers that have got to “traverse” the grid, two clues with interchanged definitions. They apparently “define the entire crossword” and have got to be highlighted. I wish I could keep all that in mind at the same time, but I can’t, so let’s just dive in and hope for the best.

To begin at the beginning. 1ac, a simple anagram with N as the extra letter – TWELVESCORE. A good start, and lo and behold rapid progress elsewhere too. Not as tricky as it first looked? At least until I begin to run out of puff. A mince pie later… What about those answers that have got to traverse the grid? I wonder if that’ll make sense of some of those clues where the wordplay doesn’t match the letters I’ve got. Indeed it does. TUESDAY, PICKERS, FLOYD, TUDOR, KING and FIVE all moving elsewhere. What about the interchanged definitions? SETTERS and CAPTAIN dead centre in a suspiciously big cross.

That leaves just the one clue to solve – 15ac, which is an absolute pig. The definition is evidently “House”, but CRA? ???? Ok, it’s CRAB, a Zodiac house. Of course…

So what do those extra letters spell? There are one or two I’m not sure of, but I’ve got:

NO?EL PEACE PR?ZE O?E HUN?R?D YEARS ON

No prizes for guessing what the missing letters are. Who won in 1917? The Red Cross, apparently. So we’ve got to highlight those crossed clues in red, and we’re done? What about the answers that moved, and are supposed to be associated with a thematic word? Well I can see a few. Tudor Rose, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Maroon Five, presumably. I’ve got no idea about the rest, but that’ll do me. An enjoyable, pretty straightforward puzzle as it turns out that was exactly what I needed when I was badly pushed for time. And that grid below? That’s the closest to red I could find in the kids’ crayons, which would no doubt have disqualified me if I’d submitted it. ๐Ÿ™‚