In which normal service is resumed, refreshed after a week’s holiday. Well, after acting as an unpaid, over-worked, in-house holiday rep for a week. With the consolation of the local beer and copious bags of chips. A nice easy one to get back into? Not with Schadenfreude’s name at the top. Though Saturday evening the very top half does lead to a false sense of security and the rash decision to leave it until tomorrow, because this is going to a be a doddle. Which of course it isn’t. Cue slow, slow progress throughout too much of Sunday.

Extra letters in the answers to some of the clues? I can cope with that. And the cryptic bits are rock solid, fair, and just need a little careful thought. Which I get round to in the end after all else fails. As is traditional a few answers are guesses, a few must be right but I can’t see the cryptic for the life of me, but I’ve got enough of the extra letters to mean the words they spell out must be:

BORDER WEED FLOWER

When I’ve got rid of those question marks.

So we’ve got four A’s – well, we know where they are. And a few weeds, albeit after a little rubbing out and more than a few corrections. TILT for a fairly desperate GILT (if you squint at Chambers for long enough it sort of works), and 43d I never did get to the bottom of. Got to be EARD, hasn’t it? So here’re our weeds:

FAT HEN
THISTLE
MOSS (is it really a weed?)
NETTLE

Which we need to replace with flowers. Out with the Word Search, a list of possible letters, and we’ve got:

DAHLIA
ANEMONE
LILY
IBERIS

Huzzah! A difficult grid fill, an easy end game. That’s OK with me. A much needed confidence boost after a week of bleary eyed struggling with daily cryptics. Until next time, when with any luck I’ll have shaken off the traditional post holiday illness (a lovely sinus infection, and believe me you don’t want the gory details) in time to be fighting fit come Saturday and Eclogue’s latest offering.

Well I did, honestly. Half an hour while savouring the delights of West Wales and a pint of Rev. James. But it wasn’t going to be enough, was it? A half-hearted attempt on my return a week later, but, well, I was pretty much Schadenfreude’d out by then. So sorry Kruger, but this is as far as I got. It looks like we’re stripping O’s from the answers to fit them into the grid, but I haven’t got enough of the redundant words to tell you why. Hopefully Fifteensquared will later.

I notice that the champagne did make it to Wales after all, only a little further west than I would have liked. Oh well.

So until next time…

So we reach the grand 1500 with the mysterious SPINK, who I’m guessing is the (ungodly?) alliance of Schadenfreude, Phi, Ifor, Nimrod and Kruger. No doubt that champagne is winging its way here now, unless that’s a hopelessly bad guess, or Nimrod and co quaffed the lot in Manchester. To the puzzle. 35 cells to shade that aren’t in the wordplay, 18 clues with misprints. All leading to something equally mysterious and dubiously relevant.

Onward, with the seasonably torrential rain hammering down outside. To some quite tough clues as it turns out – only 2 acrosses on the first pass, and both of those anagrams. Try again. The SW corner is the first to fall, and then a big leap to the NE, and the realisation that some of these clues are going to be missing large chunks of the letters in the wordplay, 23d being a prime example. Something with BAR in it… Another week looking at the letters we’ve got, bits of wordplay, and a handy electronic edition of Chambers. A little struggle at the close in the NW corner (2d isn’t in said edition, but the online Chambers Word Wizard does have it). And a satisfyingly full grid.

At this point I’ve got lots of misprints that don’t seem to spell out anything sensible. Lots of cells that look like they need highlighting. And lots of question marks scattered around the clues that make me loath to do anything rash.

Step 1: Look at the misprints again; and yes, we do have one word: Mendelevium, which is apparently an element with symbol Md. Remember your Roman numerals…

Step 2: Copy the grid into Excel, and start highlighting cells there. Spot the ones that are obviously wrong. Spot the ones we’re missing, which makes it easier to sort out that wordplay we didn’t get. So Cato was known as Cato the Censor. Who knew? Another great big MD to highlight in the grid.

Step 3: Look at what’s left with the misprinted definitions. Moldova. Guess what, its abbreviation is MD. That’s our third dimension, I suppose.

Well, that was good, and I always enjoy a bit of colouring. I’ll be sunning myself on a far-flung beach when the solution is published, so if the above is hopelessly off the mark, feel free to laugh at my ineptitude. And congratulations to Nimrod and the team on reaching the big MD.

One to go until the big 1500, and a trip from A to B from Triton, with a few detours along the way? Seven pairs of clues run together, definitions to four letter words, wordplay to something longer. Smashing. The Welsh weather is doing its finest, a lovely bit of summer drizzle, so onward with little ado. Very slowly, as it turns out. These clues are tough. Luckily the definitions to the shaded clues are pretty evident for the most part, giving us a little bit more to work with, so progress is steady, even if it at a snail’s pace. Perhaps I’ll get away with not having to parse them. OK, maybe not, because with a full grid there’s nothing obvious that’s going to go into the elusive 21d. Let’s sort out the parsing, then, and get a full set of those letters we didn’t have to enter into the grid. And stare at them for a long time, until it becomes clear we can join the ones from each pair to form:

MERSEY
SEVERN
HATFIELD
BLACKWALL
WOODHEAD
TOWER
STANDEDGE

The first two I know are tunnels, and so are most of the rest. Apart from Tower which is a pretty well known bridge. The paired shaded bits are above and below 21d. So if the rest are tunnels, the letters disappearing under the grid, this one must be in plain sight. TOWER at 21d. Pretty neat. I enjoyed that, even if the difficulty level does make me wonder exactly what we’ve got in store next week. So, until then…

Welcome to an over-tired, slightly strung out Saturday. Friday night? Only if you count sitting up half the night with an asthmatic, over-anxious child. Gah. A bit of much needed relief then from Shark – misprints in the definitions, unclued entries, lots of characters to find, an author. Oh, and a bit of jiggery-pokery with a couple of the downs.

That afternoon, a handful of clues to the south of the grid. And nothing else. Really, nothing, zilch, for a long long time. Until that evening, in fact. Shark’s living up to his name this time. A few letters in one of the unclued downs, what’s beginning to look like a really odd name. Something foreign? Fantasy? Perhaps that’s the author’s name in the top row. Who might fit with the letters we’ve got? Pratchett doesn’t. Rowling? Joanne Rowling, let’s try that. The first down unclued beneath that starts with a Q, a few more letters and it looks like we’ve got something from this book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. About which I know absolutely nothing. Luckily Google does.

The rest of the grid becomes a matter then of scouring through the big red book, and using the list of beasties found here to fill the unclued entries.

We’re supposed to amend the name across the top “appropriately”. Newt Scamander fits, and all the resulting downs are real words. Those missing letters in the two down answers? ASTIC and FANT, not necessarily in that order. Phew. My brain hurts now… Tell me why I put myself through this again. Until next time, and a magical mystery tour from Triton.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chalicea’s last Inquisitor and EV. Both were on the easy side, so I’m hopeful the little time I’ve got to solve this will be enough. Summer’s great, but I seem to spend more time working in the garden than enjoying it. Fun with hedge trimmers. Today we’ve got clashes, and an unclued phrase telling us what to do about them. To the clues, and 1ac falls at the first. Huzzah. A few clashes, but only two letters per cell this time, so I can just about decipher my scribblings. Steady progress, a few crossing letters, and I’m ready to make a stab at that phrase across the centre of the grid: ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL. Guess what we’ve got to do for the endgame? Now working out where the clashes might be is more science and less guesswork.

Of course there’s a hitch – 9d in the NE that I can’t parse, and have guessed (incorrectly as it turns out) as ANYDAY, which makes a bit of a mess of 6ac, and 11ac which according to the preamble is confirmed in the SOED. And I’m still a few clashes short of the twenty we’re looking for. 6ac is NEPETA (catmint), and if we’re looking for another clash, ONEDAY at 9d? One of those occasions where the parsing is obvious in retrospect. Bones is apparently a synonym for dice, a cuboid a foot bone, root = foot. FOOTBONE, another clash, and another ‘one’. The SOED costs how much? That can go without checking…

Swap all for one and one for all in ten solutions, and… I think we have a completed grid. That was fun, and on the easyish side again. Thanks to Chalicea for a much needed bit of light relief. That grid really isn’t that light in the centre, BTW, that’s just the effect of the iPhone flash. The power of technology.

Until next time, and something a bit tougher to chew on from Shark, perhaps.

Saturday and up at 6:30 to… go nowhere in particular as it turns out, so by
mid-morning time to try and wake up with the Inquisitor after a gentle stroll
to fetch the i. Extra letters, coded messages, unclued entries, brain
implosion. A first run through the grid produces only three entries, which isn’t the most auspicious of starts, though to be fair the extra letters are pretty obvious, which isn’t always the case.

Let’s have another look, more closely this time, and try and get out of
speed-solving mode. A handful mostly to the east of the grid. Is Charybdis
always this tough, or is it just me? Two unclued entries in place – TWINKLE
and LOOKING GLASS, and surely that’s TEA TRAY too? A quick Google
hints that we might be looking at Alice, because two of those entries are from
Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat, the Hatter’s parody of a rather well known nursery rhyme. And the middle one – well that’s obvious, isn’t it? But the next unclued entry is TIES, which doesn’t fit.

If TWINKLE and TEA TRAY and from one song, perhaps we’re looking at one of the
pairs mentioned in the preamble from another song? LOOKING GLASS TIES, from
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

The LHS of the grid is proving to be harder still. Fortunately I’ve worked
out another unclued entry – TANGERINE, which must mean that we’re looking for
TREES further up, also from LSD. That helps, but it’s a hard old
slog through to the NW corner. And I’m no clearer what (if anything)
links the two songs.

Now to decode those extra letters using a name (4) in the second song as a
keyword.

The bad news: My first guess of STAN for the name (it’s between the two pairs, see…) is obviously way off the mark, as the decoded message has far too many syllables and not enough vowels.

The good news: I decided that Excel would be of help at this stage, so all I have to do is see the error of my ways, slot LUCY into the spreadsheet, and out pops:

shade ?very le?ter found in line? seven an? eight

Did I mention I haven’t managed to parse all the clues?

We need to apply that to a verse deduced from 17 cells forming a cross? I
won’t tell you how long it took to spot: WORDSWORTH / SHE DWELT in the NW
corner. This poem? She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways, which is apparently one of Wordsworth’s Lucy poems. A link, at last!

Shade every letter in the grid from lines seven and eight of that poem, which
is… a hell of a lot of shading, leaving only a single ‘d’ at the
intersection of the cross. D is for dog, a man’s Best Friend. Hurrah!
Charybdis took us all round the houses with that one, but we got there in the
end.

Unnaturally warm weather descends on the UK, and with it Lato’s latest offering. Can we cool down long enough to make sense of the preamble? Think straight to solve the clues? No gimmicks outside of the thematic definition only ones, where we have misprints, and a resulting phrase. Highlighting at the end. Onto the clues, which at first glance look tricky. Only two on the first pass through, but that’s evidently dehydration because on closer inspection they’re perfectly solvable, with only a handful of question marks. The thematic clues less so. Some of the answers have fallen, but sorting out the misprints turns out to be a matter of ploughing through the big red book looking for likely definitions. Who would have thought eleven clues would take so long to sort? We’re looking for a two word phrase, so with a load of the misprints in place we can start to guess, and eventually (two days later, I’m telling you) there it is: LETTER PAIRS.

So what needs to be added to the thematic entries? The above mentioned letter pairs. OK, so my first guess at LAY being a bats’ refuge is wrong, and we’re looking at LAY-BY, KAVANAGH-QC, PG TIPS, JR EWING, GEORGE VI, WH AUDEN, AT ISSUE, DU BARRY, SIXTEEN OZ, LE FIGARO, CLASSIC FM.

What are we missing? K, N, S and X evidently. Though what to do with them? Highlight words in the grid containing those letters? That’s not going to work. What does the preamble say – “reportedly”. Sounds like? Highlight EXCESS and CAYENNE and we’re done. Now to bake in bed for a couple of hours. The heat wave is forecast to last how many days?

So this week we’re looking for an image that might well be famous but I suspect I’ll be in complete ignorance of. Extra letters in all but one of the across clues (is that significant?), pop them into the unclued (thematic) entries. Extra words in the down clues. They’re going to give us some sort of hint, together with four unclued entries, to the name of the image. What could possibly go wrong?

The clues? 8ac falls straight away with a little help from Chambers, and from then it’s a pretty rapid fire run through the grid, with only the thematic entries causing difficulties, because – well, crossing letters, or the lack of them. Along the way we’ve got a couple – AFRICAN down near the bottom of the grid, WHOOPER a bit above it. A couple of the others are pretty guessable, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Those extra words. At first sight we’re not going to get a lot from them, pretty random. First letters? Bingo: PARANOIAC CRITICAL PICTURE. According to Wikipedia this is some sort of surrealist technique developed by Dali. And oh, there’s his name jumbled in four of the unclued entries. We’re looking for one of his paintings then. I must have seen loads, but can’t say I know the name of any. And so far the grid isn’t helping.

The extra letters? A few possibilities for the unclued entries. The middle one must be TRUMPETER, BLACK top left? None of this is giving me the name of the painting. Cue much googling. Trumpeter, elephant? One with elephants in?

Swans Reflecting Elephants, which I’ve never seen before.

A trumpeter, far from being one of the elephants, is in fact a type of swan. As is a whooper, believe it or not. We need some elephants down the bottom of the grid. ASIAN elephant, and our fictional character, aided and abetted by Wikipedia’s handy page on fictional elephants. TANTOR from Tarzan. That just leaves TUNDRA to go in the NE corner. Well, that was enjoyable, pretty neat the way the grid did match that painting. And something learnt, again. Until next week when I slowly melt in a seemingly endless heat wave while trying to tackle Lato.

In which I mercilessly cheat to get the result, and thank the gods for the combined resources of Google and Google Books. Or, how did we manage before the days of the Internet?

Too late a night, too early a morning, and a complicated looking preamble, not the most winning of combinations. It all boils down to extra words in some clues, extra letters in others, a message and some individuals to find from them, something to highlight. Which no doubt misses the point entirely, but we can worry about that when it comes to the end game. The clues? Not so scary – a few generous anagrams dotted round the place, most of the wordplay fairly apparent, though enough doubt about some to mean any message that’s supposed to appear from the first and last letters of those extra words is going to be severely garbled. Which is exactly the way it ends up. A little solving in the afternoon interrupted by a rainstorm (the first sign a dirty great big blob of water right in the middle of the page), a barbecue (because who knows when we’ll see the sun again), and… A full grid, and… A list of first and last letters from the extra words that appear to be complete gobbledygook no matter which way they’re combined, and superfluous letters that far from revealing “three companions (that) have already fled”, reveal how poor / lazy my parsing skills can sometimes be.

Saturday evening, late… Nothing. Sunday evening… Ditto.

Monday, start at the beginning, and look at some of that parsing again. To get this far:

DIE BREMER S
ROOSTER CAT

What I should do: carry on parsing the clues, to get the complete list of “potential players” and theme.

The reality: consult Google, and find a Brothers Grimm story that I’m vaguely familiar with, having read it to the kids from an old Ladybird book. It’s been 30 odd years since I studied any German, but thanks to crosswords I can still spot the definite article. As luck would have it there’s a handy German & English version on Google Books here: Brothers Grimm Vol. 1: German & English.

I’m guessing then the pick of start and end letters from the extra words will give:

Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (The Bremen Town Musicians)
Rooster Cat Donkey Dog (not necessarily in that order)

Those are the four players we’re supposed to find in the grid? Not in my grid they’re not. In English anyway – the title is in German, so the players too? To Google Translate:

donkey esel
dog hund
cat katze
rooster hahn

Alter a lazy TSETSE to TZETSE at 20ac, and lo and behold they are.

The 5th individual? Presumably one of the robbers? Or “Rauber”, in the far left column. What separates them “clearly” in the story? A window, “Fenster”.

Presumably the superfluous letters will also spell out robbers in German or some variation on it, but at this point my head feels like it’s going to explode, so… Highlight the 30 cells in the grid, and done. That was tough work, as I thought it might be when the grid fell so quickly. Now to lie down in a darkened room. Thanks Ifor for the challenge and the German lesson. Next time? Serpent’s mirror image.