So Shark’s first puzzle in what feels like ages but probably isn’t, and first thoughts are… Isn’t that an odd looking grid? Little bits nibbled from the corners, that blank square in the centre. Second thoughts are… Isn’t it odd to be solving the Inquisitor on a Tuesday? We’ve been away for a couple of days and, while I had the paper, the combined delights of sun, sea, sand, pool and bar (not necessarily in that order) proved more tempting.

Suitably unpacked and somewhat relaxed – or as relaxed as you get after a weekend away with the kids in tow and an infeasible amount of luggage to deal with – to Shark. The preamble looks straightforward enough – four clashes that will be resolved with the aid of an unclued 13d and a clued 34ac. Should be a doddle then? Well, I did have a quick look at the clues over the weekend, and thought, no, that’s not going to be a five minute job. Let’s look at 1ac. “Take” invariably means R, so as long as we can find an appropriate fish to wrap round it we’ll have a definition of “chip”, but none spring to mind and there are lots of fish to choose from. What about the next one. P evidently, and examine could be PROBE? ROBE for a piece of furniture? Sounds good to me. An easy anagram at 6d, curtains = ENDING (ha ha) at 8d, so this isn’t going to be too bad? Perhaps not, with a little help from the Big Red Book. What about that 1ac? With 2d as HEH, and 1d evidently SEA something, it’s going to be SHARD. Easy peasy.

Clashes? Well, they’re becoming evident, no worries there. The unclued 13d? I’m going to hazard a guess that’s CABARET which is a horribly famous musical I’ve never seen. 34ac we have as NICKEL. Last ones in? That would be 35ac where it’s a toss-up between YOND and YONT, taking an age to decide on the latter. And 27d, which I can’t get.

What next? As the grid stands we can’t resolve those clashes satisfactorily, so… We have a musical, and a coin. What would fit that? Money, which as everyone knows makes the world go round. And if you rotate the letters round the centre of the grid you certainly get terms for money, and real words everywhere. DOUGH, WONGA, etc. And 27d? That would give us RHINO, and if the first letter was T the answer would have been THING, which certainly fits the wordplay and is obvious in retrospect, as these things often are.

I’m going to say that’s good. A satisfactory end to an enjoyable, pretty solid puzzle I wasn’t really sure I’d have the time to solve.

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The long bank holiday weekend looms, and with it a bumper issue of the i Weekend, and… Schadenfreude, who can tend to be a little difficult, so does this mean we have a bumper Inquisitor to boot? The preamble… Seven… somethings to appear in the perimeter, another three to be gleaned from the initial letters of words removed from each clue before solving. Oh, ten answers are to be “treated” before entry, and we’ve got to highlight something at the close. But first I’ve got some painting to do so hang on a minute. Yes, time off work and that list of jobs I’ve been saving for a rainy day, and being a bank holiday it’s most definitely rainy.

Those clues, and as expected this is looking to be reasonably tough. Mind you there’s a generous anagram at 24d, a city I hadn’t heard of though Google has, and we’re off, if slowly, making progress first in the SE and then the NE corners. An equally generous anagram at 36 gives WAR NEUROSIS which isn’t going to fit, so must be one that needs to be treated, though I don’t know how. Ditto DEEP FRY further north, because what else are you going to do in a chippy?

Let’s have a look at that perimeter with the RHS fairly full and the rest, well, not at all complete. I’m going to bet that reads BOWLED, RUN OUT, CAUGHT… Which are all methods of getting out in a game I’m not overly familiar with. Luckily Google has got a handy list of what might go in the perimeter. And of course the first letters of those words we have to remove. We can get the remainder now which is going to make solving the rest of the grid a bit of a doddle. Ha ha. OBSTRUCTING THE FIELD, TIMED OUT, HIT BALL TWICE. Nope, not heard of any of those, and the second sounds more like something to send shivers down the spine of any IT Administrator. But cricket… Those treated answers… I might not know much about the noble game, but I do know that WARNE is (was?) a cricketer, which means we can enter UROSIS for 36ac. There were loads of players called FRY as well.

Well, let’s get going with the rest of the grid. Those treated answers. Are they supposed to always give real words for grid entries? Well mine don’t. TSKIN anyone? Maybe I’ve just got this horribly wrong, but I can’t think of any other way they’re going to work, though it does leave me with a little doubt about some of those cricketers I’ve got out, as some seem to be more than a little obscure.

25ac. We don’t talk about 25ac. Twenty four hours that one held out for. It’s evidently one that needs to be treated. As it turns out I had heard of Professor Challenger, giving HALL as our last cricketer, though which one who can tell, and CENGES as the grid entry.

So who’s our “survivor”? Another cricketer no doubt. AMES is up there in the NW corner, but why’s he a survivor? I don’t know. He was supposed to have been pretty handy with a bat and ball, but, no, that doesn’t feel like a particularly satisfactory answer to me. Just because he’s still in the grid? Maybe I’ve got it all horribly wrong. Perhaps I’ll read and weep over the Fifteensquared blog when it appears. What to do? Wait with bated breath, and gaze at the falling rain.

So Kruger, who I’ve solved before but can remember little about. Blame my memory rather than any shortcomings on Kruger’s part. What have we got in store? Something suitably alarming it looks like. Definition or wordplay moving back or forward up to two clues in most cases, misprints in the definitions in all down clues. If we ever get that far they’re going to spell out an instruction. Back and forward? No doubt an allusion to the fact that the worst night’s sleep of the year is approaching – yes, they’re about to fiddle with the clocks again, and it isn’t to our advantage this time. A fact which I seem to be getting unreasonably annoyed about, probably because I have to be up tomorrow morning. Gah.

To the clues, and as expected with all that chopping and changing progress is. Painfully. Slow. But we have a few anagrams – CAMEL – L (that well known unit, the Lambert) = ACME. Imagined at 1ac must be DREAMT. A nicely hidden PANAMA. And a smile when it becomes apparent that the “hapless man” is in fact Mr Bean. But still, the suspicion begins to dawn that this is going to be the puzzle that sorts out the men from the boys, and that I’m going to be found sitting firmly in the latter camp.

Take a break. Have some coffee. Look at some slightly easier puzzles – including a rather good one by some chap called Maize in the Independent – and get back to it. And you know, once a few clues are in place it begins to make a little more sense, and progress is made, one slow quarter at a time. What does my paper looks like? A mess of circled bits of clues with arrows pointing here, there, and everywhere. Which is much the way my brain feels. Like mush, only messier.

The misprints, with enough surely we should be able to make sense of them?

SHADE PALINDROME ENTRIES

Which means that progress on the downs moves from first to second gear – even if it is second gear in an old Morris Minor – and we can finish that grid. With the far NE corner last to fall, at which point my head feels like it’s going to explode. Shade those symmetrically placed palindromes, and… Blimey, that’s it. Done it, against all expectations. Nothing to do with the clock change which is still messing with my head. Is it really Spring? Well, it feels warm enough at long last. Satisfying to finish, but I have to say that’s one device I’m not sure I could cope with many weeks. More devilish than the Printer’s Devilry itself.

In which we hope Phi will be anything but. But first, the small matter of doing (sorry helping with) some Maths homework, and scouring the shelves of the supermarket for that suddenly rare resource bread – yes, the Beast from the East is about to pay a return visit. On the plus side, curry and chips, the king of Saturday lunchtimes. And look, is that white stuff falling from the sky?

Phi’s out to confuse us this week. Three different clue types. Group A needs to be expanded to fill the allocated cells, Group B has a redundant word or (shudders) phrase defining an answer in A, and Group C letters that need to be restored spelling out what Group A are. Lots to remember.

We should be used to Phi by now, what with his weekly appearances in the i, so perhaps that’s why the clues don’t actually feel that difficult. G + look fierce must equal GLOWER, even if that doesn’t help us with the grid entry. But if we expand to GALLOWSMAKER (Ok, this came much later), and take “Someone behind hanging” from another clue, we’re sorted. Almost forgot to mention, word of the day has got to be SCOFFLAW at 1ac, with “vacant” unexpectedly redundant – was I the only person to assume it’d be part of the wordplay? And was citadel + supporting in the wordplay ever going to be anything but FORT?

In other words, despite the above distractions, and trying to watch a film at the same time, this proved to be a bit of a doddle. Which I’m not complaining about, I’m still about Harribobsed out. Oh yes, the letters in Group C, what did they amount to? Well, that would be DUSTY ANSWERS, which according to Chambers are “unsatisfying, unfruitful, or sordid response(s)”. So there you go, that was what it was all about. Now excuse me while I shiver and wait for the Grauniad to finally put up a usable version of Azed’s latest on their site.

You know I only just noticed that “from” in the title. Blame the last minute cancellation of the anticipated Saturday morning lie-in. The conversation with the workman who was supposed to turn up early this morning and fix the leaking skylight – a job which ironically can only be done when it’s dry:

“Are you sure you’ll be coming out tomorrow? The forecast is for rain.”
“I’ll see what it’s like in the morning, Jon.”
An ungodly hour the next day. Showered. Breakfasted. Washed. “Will you be coming to look at that window?”
“It’s looking a bit wet, Jon, I’ll see you Monday instead.”

Gah.

So hopefully this is the bit of light relief promised in the title. Because I cannot think. Misprints in the definitions. That’s Ok, I prefer that to misprints elsewhere. Unclued entries. Eight that need adjustment one way or another. As “number lengths” are to grid entries presumably we’ve got to shorten or lengthen them. Or both, more likely. See, I’m getting the hang of this Inquisitor lark.

With a bag of chips and a suitable amount of coffee behind me, onward into the grid. First one in? Well, it’s the first that caught my eye, 19d, a very generous “for starters” leading to SAKE which is an evil-tasting tipple and not a ripple. A spirit on a bar is going to be the very pink ANGELCAKE. And look, there’s a hidden word at 1ac, even if I didn’t know that Jonathan is some sort of weird slang for Americans until now. Still haven’t got any of those adjusted clues though, and three quarters in… Yep, stuck.

Hang on, look at that grid again. We appear to have inadvertently solved 18ac because of the crossing letters. Now I was always suspicious that soft + idiot = PASS, but what to do with it? If blue = SKY, chuck it round to give us SPASSKY who’s an old master on board and maybe a masher too but you’ll have to ask him about that. So we’ve lost SKY, and I’ve got to say that’s very generous of Eclogue.

We also appear to have a considerable number of the misprints. Wonder if we can make any sense of them?

I??COLDO?TSI??THER???OKI….

Which evidently gives us the Red Dwarf theme. “It’s cold outside. There’s no kind of atmosphere…” Now that makes solving the remainder of the clues a lot easier. The unclued entries must be character names which the Wikipedia entry handily supplies. And the adjusted entries will either be the answer + a synonym for cold, or the answer – one for atmosphere. Easy peasy.

A long time later (and I wonder if anybody fell for the KEELMAN = “Helmsman” trap at 20d?)

SECRETAIRE -> SECRETE
ALFIE -> COALFIELD
REFUGEES -> REES
SPASSKY -> SPAS
STIE -> FROSTIEST
STONEAGE -> SAGE
ELM -> KEELMEN
ARP -> CARPOOL

Well, that was good, wasn’t it? Thoroughly enjoyed.

What about Nimrod’s question posed after the puzzle? Would I welcome or throw my hands up in horror faced with “certain variations that occasionally crop up in other barred crossword(s)”. Printer’s Devilry I’m not that fond of and tend to avoid when Azed does them. Playfair codes I love. Numericals I’ve never had a go at but wouldn’t mind a shot just to see how I get on with them. Badly, I suspect. And none can be quite as mind-bending as Harribobs’s last offering… So, yes, and variety is, as they say, the spice of life.

In which we face a possibly insurmountable problem right from the off, which is to actually get hold of a copy of the thing. Yes, the Beast from the East has struck leaving pretty impressive snow drifts, a shortage of bread and milk, and, more importantly, a dearth of any newspaper apart from copies of the Sun and Star if we stoop to include them in that category for once. So thank the gods for technology and Sprouthater who’s pretty handy with a screen print on his tablet. Solving off the download on my iPhone wasn’t a prospect I was eagerly anticipating.

To the puzzle itself, suitably cropped and printed off. At first glance this seems to be eXternal in a fairly benevolent mood. Normal clues, clashes in six cells that should be resolved to different letters altogether making the crossing answers thematic. Get a location from the resolved letters, use it to alter one entry making crossing entries thematic too. That looks like something that’s doable, even if on a fairly fuzzy printout and huddled next to a radiator. On the plus side there are scones baking in the kitchen and a plentiful supply of coffee.

What to say about that grid fill? Well, it wasn’t too bad, was it? First sweep through yielded just a few entries, but once I’d put my Inquisitor hat on and knuckled down to properly think through a few, guess what? They yielded. The biggest issues I faced were with my printout, where for a long time I thought the woman in 40ac was wothat. What do you mean, that’s not a word? Download the copy on the phone, magnify. Oh yes… Lots that needed to be looked up in the BRB, lots that wouldn’t be out of place in a daily cryptic. CLAUCHT falls most definitely into the former category. 12ac I couldn’t spell, but, well, geography…

So those clashing letters. Resolving them is pretty straightforward as it turns out. What are we left with? Lots of creatures – MILLIPEDE, CLAM, MARMOT at a quick glance. And lots of other things – SHELLS, FRUIT, etc. No hint though as to what they have in common. What do the resolved letters give us? MUSEUM, and those are all things that could be found in one I’d say.

What about this entry we’ve got to change? Well, there’s DIPPY the dinosaur presumably, who was ousted from the Natural History Museum in favour of that johnny-come-lately the WHALE. Replace the former with the latter, giving REDWING, COAITA, LOACH and SNIPE as the crossing answers.

And we’re done. Not too tricky then, but a nice, enjoyable diversion. So thanks, eXternal. And that copy of the Weekend i? Well, it reached the local shop by Sunday at which point I actually settled down with a coffee to read the thing. Goodbye and good riddance, Beast from the East.

An Inquisitor debut this week that I’ve been led to believe will be on the easy side. Normal clues, which can mean either an extremely easy grid fill or exactly the opposite, and very rarely anything between. At the close we’ve got to replace some letters with those from the letters IN GRIM AUTHOR’S CV to reveal a phrase across three sides of the perimeter, and change two other letters to reveal the author.

The grid fill? Well, there’s not much to say, is there? On a level with an easy Azed – I only really got a little stuck in the far SW corner with those crossing four letter clues – 42d and 52ac. The former because ENS was less familiar to me than ESSE, the latter because I really, really wanted it to begin with a K. Don’t ask how long I spent looking for that mythical literary beast, the NAR.

What about finding that quote? Here I came badly unstuck. Blame that phrase – “replacing letters in barred-off and corner cells”. I know what corner cells are, but aren’t barred-off cells, like, totally barred off, on all four sides? And we haven’t got any of those. Perhaps I should have counted the letters in that phrase and the number of unchecked cells round the N, E and S perimeters and worked it out earlier. But well, I didn’t. Nul points.

Finally, sense prevails. Write down the letters we’ve got, question marks for the unchecked cells, because otherwise it’s just a mess. Separate what must be words – VE?Y was particularly generous. Look for a pattern.

A poet can survive everything but a misprint

That’s Oscar Wilde according to Google. And there’s his name with two misprints in the grid.

Got there in the end. Phew. Feel free to laugh at my ineptitude in the face of what was a particularly easy – and enjoyable – debut. And welcome, Opsimath, hope to see you again soon.

Saturday 17th February, the day of the great earthquake. Well, the earth moved for me, anyway. Was this an omen, because who stole all the bars from that grid? Oh, it’s a jigsaw, and I never have the first idea about how to set about filling the things. For added entertainment value all but sixteen of the clues will be entered with blank cells between some of the letters. The others? Eight acrosses need a word removed from the clue before solving, eight downs a single letter wherever it appears.

Dive in, and start cold solving. How much joy did this fill me with? After an hour I went to clean the car instead and then watch a DVD. Because putting off actually solving the thing will lead to flashes of inspiration? Not really. The night ends with lots of clues solved, and lots of excised words from the acrosses – fiasco, pineapple, malware – that appear to have nothing at all in common, and lots of excised letters from the downs. Here we do have a pattern – they’re all N. Which tells me absolutely nothing. The grid? Well, that’s completely blank, because, well, see my comments regarding this sort of puzzle in the first paragraph.

Fast forward to Sunday evening. Solve a few more clues. Think to hell with it and start lobbing some of those answers in the grid. The first across in the first row and let’s see how we go from there. Chaotically is the answer to that preceding a careful re-read of the preamble. Those are blank cells, not ones where we start trying to haphazardly cross clues. At which point things start to make a little more sense, and some sort of shape emerges, a possible pattern to the blank cells. A curve of some description. The answers from the sixteen amended clues it also becomes clear are a major boon, anchors in a pretty chaotic mess of penciling ins and rubbings out. A bit of a debacle down in the SW corner ensues until it becomes clear that RAND is not in fact RAND but MINT. Which is the sort of thing which happens when you haven’t got any crossing letters until the close to work with. Though with some in place, and clues that are on the easier side to compensate for the amount of cold solving, the last few downs go in at a rate of knots.

Some straight lines begin to emerge amid the blank cells and… Of course, it’s the CND symbol. I’ve still got the badge somewhere to prove where my sympathies lay. We need to highlight a name? There’s B RUSSELL obviously in the SE corner – CND’s one and only president apparently.

The slogan? Shell, attack, pineapple could all equate to bomb, I suppose, though I’m not sure about some of the other excisions. So BAN THE BOMB.

The phrase? N for Nuclear in all the downs. NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT.

See, I can do this sort of thing. Feeling quietly pleased with myself I draw the symbol, highlight the name, fill in the slogan and phrase. And you know what, I enjoyed filling the grid too, despite an initial moment of utter desperation upon noticing the lack of bars. Thanks Serpent for a thoroughly enjoyable solve.

All of which takes me back to the heady days of the earlyish ’80s, and this infamously banned video.

Nudd? Nope, not a name that rings a bell. Fifteensquared’s handy index 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 and 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’s (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 – 15ac 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.

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.