It’s the return of the long preamble which wouldn’t normally be a problem. If it wasn’t for…

  • The obligatory Friday night which if we’re to believe Friday’s i is going to finish us off sooner than might have been expected.
  • Coffee, and lots of it, which is normally a good thing until you remember that if you don’t put the pod in the coffee maker properly first it has a habit of exploding everywhere.

Oh yeah, that.

On the other hand it’s warm enough to sit outside, and the preamble on second glance looks pretty pliable. Theme words and variations. Worse case we’ll use a word finder. Extra word in six others seems to be the gist of it, word to be gleaned from the first letters. A name to be written under the grid similarly deduced from that pretty mystifying looking title. Pitch black, indeed.

The first two would be theme words, unless Variation C1 (6) is a particularly obscure bit of cryptic. So to CIRCLE, which is fairly obviously a figure. The artistic woman’s a MADAME, but shush, I missed the extra word. ELDRICH reminded me of this band.

The only thing that seems to be slowing down progress? That would be all those theme words that are leaving gaping great big holes in the grid.

And then MUNICH fell. Swiftly followed by LINCOLN. All of which rings a bell, very faintly. Films? Yep, they’re both Spielberg ones. The other two? HOOK and ALWAYS which I’ve not heard of fit quite nicely, thank you. That title? SPIEL B ERG. Chuck it under the grid.

Variations, yeah. Well, Lincoln was a president, and so were REAGAN and TAFT. What, you hadn’t heard of the latter either?

Munich’s a German city, and so are BONN and ULM. Ditto the latter.

HOOK, LINE and SINKER. Me, every time.

Finally ALWAYS, REMEMBER (why?), and MAN?Y. Manky? Seems unlikely. Oh yes, the extra words and first letters were going to tell us something. Remember those bucks we forgot to omit from 14ac? That would give the first letter or BERLIN, which isn’t only yet another German city but also the surname of this composer. Yep, he wrote Always, Remember, and, wait for it, MANDY.

Well, that all fell together very nicely, didn’t it? Done in an afternoon. Time for a cup of tea and a vanilla flavoured doughnut. The only saving grace of Brexit being the hope that we’ll be able to eat custard doughnuts again, and be allowed to continue to eat Glamorgan sausages. Oh yes, the puzzle. I enjoyed that too. More Wiglaf, please.

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“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” – Douglas Adams

The best laid plans, as they say. Let’s run a themed puzzle to mark B Day, Nimrod mused, get two of my best setters on the job. Puzzle delivered, tested to satisfaction, feet up, tea, cake and congratulations all round. And our glorious leaders? Deliver they did not. What to do? Evidently, run the thing anyway. And why not? There’ll be many more meaningless votes to come.

My wife claims she guessed what it was all about when I mentioned the X at the close. It took me until the bitter end and a desperate last gasp in the SE corner – stuck as I was on the empress and the mythological thingummybob – to figure out that the grouped letters I’d been agonising over the placing of were actually countries, and that we would be left on removal of the UK with a dirty great big BREXIT across the middle of the grid.

I never claimed to be that sharp on a Saturday, in particular after self-medicating the night before on, well, alcohol to banish a lingering, nagging headache. A sensation I suspect may have been shared with Nimrod following that 40 years in the business bash. Belated congratulations.

21 clues omitting a letter, 17 clues too long for the space available. I never did get to the bottom of that. EU countries, evidently, but surely there aren’t 38? The omitted letters weren’t difficult to spot, anyway, even if the grouped ones were a little trickier to come by, and place, being a matter of trying this, that, and the other, and eventually spotting that they were country abbreviations all handily documented in the big red book.

Ah yes, the grid fill. Pretty generous on the setters’ part? An anagram of BOY GIRL to start. What else would a hazardous material be except ASBESTOS? I don’t think I’ve heard of an OVATOR before, but tax in a crossword can only signify a few things.

And if I fell asleep, that was because the weather has been remarkably spring-like given that it is… spring, and I’ve got the garden table and chairs out.

That said it wasn’t done until the early hours, so perhaps I’m underestimating the difficulty bit.

The empress? Not Victoria. Not Catherine. But a Russian one. And one I should and probably would have got sooner on a better day.

Grid complete. Theme spotted. Puzzle enjoyed. Happy Non-Brexit day everybody.

Phi doubles up again, which can only be a good thing. Misprints, a quotation, an unclued central figure, an unclued perimeter too. We can do this. Fuelled on Corona, Bells whisky, Colombian coffee, and a glorious extra half hour in bed because the youngest have been ill this week (though are now thankfully better lest I be accused of being selfish), and dance isn’t a thing.

Anagrams are what I like to look for in a bar-grid puzzle, and lots of anagrams is what we’ve got. SWOLLEN HEADED I’m not, mysteriously, in which case I’d be cocky and not rocky. Our favourite crosswording Scot makes a guest appearance at 18ac. LATEWAKE’s a mistaken form of something I haven’t heard of either. Lots of answers in all but the NE corner.

Enough to look for the famous central figure. Got to be HEMINGWAY, hasn’t it? Of whom I have read a great deal, but no quotes spring to mind. So we’ll just have to plug away at the misprints. Incomplete, but with the aid of the mighty Google it has to be ONE CAT JUST LEADS TO ANOTHER.

Cats in the perimeter? It’s a subject dear to Phi’s heart, I know. Let’s do this arse backwards because we’ve got to, anti-clockwise from Hemingway’s head. There can’t be that many cats ending in X, and in fact I can only think of two. The handy unchecked letters supplied being suitably handy, and the supplier being one of an incredible tale and not tall bird, gives us LYNX. Hurrah.

OIS to the LHS. Except nothing seems to fit, unless… We overlap the final L to give TORTOISESHELL, of which I’ve been the lucky companion of three. One cat leads to another indeed. Apparently the NORWEGIAN FOREST cat is a thing. A LION I know, a RAGDOLL I don’t, at least in this context, which must mean that the last is a PANTHER, and in goes the NE corner.

Which probably wasn’t the order we were supposed to do this, but as they say there’s no such thing as a bad landing.

Another easyish one because we’re still hungover following that Jetdoc bender the other week presumably. Or else Nimrod’s got something fiendish in store. But this was a good one too, as Phi’s invariably are.

Here’s Islands In The Stream, just because it shares the name of Hemingway’s best book. Check it out.

There might be some solvers out there who say – “Oh good, it’s a Carte Blanche” – but as regular readers will know I’m not one of them. Call it lack of confidence in my own solving abilities, and on a weekend when I’m feeling somewhat under the weather. Into every life a little rain must fall, and fall it is doing in some style too.

Fuelled by some typically bland fast food – which does have the advantage of being cheap, and the kids like it for some unfathomable reason – to the preamble, of which there is little. Misprints, the correct answers to which spell out further instructions.

In anticipation of a lot of cold, hard solving – onward.

The first across I feel I should know, but don’t. USTINOV I do though, being a simple anagram. We like to see lots of those in puzzles like this. Oh look, another long anagram, a CELEBRANT who is revelling and not revealing himself for which he would presumably be arrested.

Downs? Apparently DEACON can also signify the skin of a young calf. Who knew? Well, Eclogue obviously.

A few solved, and buoyed on by past successes in such puzzles, why not just start lobbing answers in? USTINOV somewhere to the right on the second row based on those word counts, DIM SUM which I did eventually get top left, DEACON crossing going down, and so on.

Which is to say that either I’m getting better at these blank grid things, or Eclogue’s being rather generous. A little tussle in the NE corner until COSTNER finally fell, and done. And you know what, I did enjoy that grid fill after all.

The instruction? Needless to say I didn’t get all the misprints first time, but it reads: ERASE ALL BAR FINAL CONTENT OF PANDORA’S BOX.

Apparently all that was left in the box at the close was HOPE, which I didn’t know. But it is there across the SW to NE diagonal.

What flew out though? This is where it gets a bit sticky – there seem to be lots of different versions. Disease, misery and death though, certainly, which about sums up how I’m feeling this weekend. I can see the letters of death in the wrong order in one diagonal, and the same with disease to the NW. Also a scrambled “moths”, which is apparently the form all the said evils came out in.

None of which is particularly convincing. Red herrings? Yeah, I think so. The title says Carte Blanche, the instruction says erase all content bar HOPE. So all we’re left with is hope? I think so. And I think that’s rather nice, too, actually. All that remains is HOPE.

RIP, Schadenfreude.

The preambles are shrinking. Short, pithy sentences. Well, it is Chalicea, and no doubt a bit of welcome light relief. Extra letters being not only the gist of but the whole of it.

The grid fill? As expected pretty straightforward. Who knew that THEE might mean prosper? Or what a NIDI or MOLLA are? Chalicea, evidently, all courtesy of the big red book.

Extra letters. Well, I didn’t get them right first time, getting in a bit of a muddle towards the middle. But get there I did. READ FOURTH CLUE LETTERS, which it appears is a slightly cryptic way of telling us to read the fourth letter of each clue, giving… SHADE THE FOUR STAGES IDENTIFIED BY THE UNCLUED PERSON.

Who I forgot to mention. Yes, those grey squares down the middle. So that’s why I couldn’t make sense of ART.INK. and so on, because it’s a name, stupid. The only Art I know is Garfunkle though, and it’s not him.

Let’s look at the grid. Ah, INFANCY, CHILDHOOD, ADOLESCENCE, OBSOLESCENCE, being a somewhat witty take on the four stages of man from Art Linkletter. Not heard of him, but I’ve got a feeling I’ve heard the quote.

Highlight the words, complete the shaded bits, job done well before tea as opposed to before Tuesday. Feet up, time for some tea and biscuits, because it’s that sort of week. And thanks to all involved for a welcome change of pace…

An Inquisitor debut from Jetdoc? Now, I wasn’t expecting that. And a preamble that’s worthy of the auspicious occasion too, though let’s just say that it’s a lot to take in.

First thoughts? Blimey.

Second thoughts – I always knew that one day I’d end up posting a blog that consisted solely of an empty grid.

Today though isn’t destined to be that day, though, because as it turns out the grid’s quite accessible, isn’t it? Forgetting about everything in that preamble apart from the clashes, that is, which are par for the course, and have the good grace to apparently be in some sort of recognisable pattern… FAR + IN + A = a meal I bet you haven’t heard of. I don’t know much but I do know that a whisky is a CHASER, and the plural is… If I’m destitute I might be the LONELIEST. And so on. Clashes? I can cope with clashes, even if when writing with a blunt pencil my eyes aren’t always up to the job.

Oh yes, those five clues we have to enter… somehow. Forgot about that. Well, the wordplay bits are clear enough, and the obviously relevant definition. But the others? Colour me confused. HATH, CAR, etc. But in they go, because I’m used to not knowing what I’m doing.

Grid full.

To the rest of the preamble, and this is where things get a bit hairy. Making a group out of the clashes? Despite spending all of Saturday night staring at the grid… Nope, nothing coming.

Sunday. Oh yes, there’s WE NEVER CLOSED down the bottom of the grid. So that’s our motto, and a quick Google says we’re looking at the Windmill Theatre which I’d not heard of, and the tableaux vivants, which I vaguely remember seeing somewhere. The jocular version being WE NEVER CLOTHED. Substitute the S for TH? The clashes look a little like a windmill too, but no, neither tableaux vivants or Windmill Girls are 16 letters.

Monday. The name. The censor involved in the obscenity case was Lord Cromer, whose real name was, wait for it, Rowland Baring, I kid you not. Row L + Baring, very good. Under the grid he goes. No sign of any of the obvious players in the grid to highlight though, so…

Tuesday. Ah yes, THE WINDMILL GIRLS. Clashes duly resolved. And, oh, Judi Dench was in a film about the theatre, Mrs Henderson Presents. Not heard of it, but I can see her name down the bottom of the grid. Duly highlighted.

What about the centre square? What is the sixth part that can’t be treated the same as the other five? Well, I can see that HATH together with the other two definitions becomes Anne HATHaway. But the rest? No idea…

Much befuddlement later… Judi Dench played Anne Hathaway. And Lady BRACKnell, Mrs FAIRfax, and so on. Did I mention Wikipedia has a handy page listing films and parts played? Thank the gods…

What part couldn’t possibly be reduced in the same way? Well that would be M, presumably.

Phew.

And blimey.

And phew again.

That was a task and a half. Satisfying to finish, though I can’t remember an end game taking quite so long. I’m off for a lie down. And a (singular) 49ac. Or two.

Schadenfreude time, and… Doesn’t this make a refreshing change from recent preambles that could best be described as being headache inducing? Extra letters here, overlooked letters there, no need for the Aspirin this week. Unlike the rest of Wales which is still celebrating the result of a certain game of which I shall say no more.

To the grid fill. Which could be summarised fairly succinctly as being three quarters pretty easy and the last quarter a bit of a monster. Yep, the SW where progress could best be compared to the A470 during the evening rush-hour. Ask anyone from these parts. Blame confusion about dyestuffs, and what’s a bignonia anyway? Dutch soldiers that are as illusionary as the real thing, and the usual mess that ensues when the setter starts messing with the wordplay.

Which is to say that at the close my instruction and theme were as mangled as might reasonably be expected on past form.

Let’s have a closer look. One word’s obviously going to be an instruction to delete, another to highlight. Get the instruction right and then worry about the theme, the overlooked letters being somewhat more difficult to glean. What, you thought it was a bit of a doddle?

DELETE FIVE NAMES AND HIGHLIGHT THREE

And our theme? That would be one of the greats – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. There’s a remake I haven’t seen, because, sacrilege.

Evidently we’ve got to work out who lives, who dies, including the villain of the piece. But you know what? Rather than skipping over the wordplay leading to the above as is my wont, this week is most definitely something to be savoured, and I sorted the lot. Deliberately, half an eye on the telly. Bravo, Schadenfreude.

And still I managed to make a couple of cock-ups in the grid where I was so busy noting extra letters that I chucked them in the grid instead. Never mind, that’s what the end game’s for. I couldn’t remember the character names, but Wikipedia’s up to date with things, so in and out they went.

Now, I did like that – a good one. And another theme that was right up my street. More Schadenfreude please.

Here’s the One World Orchestra AKA The KLF with The Magnificent from the War Child album. Enjoy.

Saturday priorities:

  1. Dance lessons – not mine you’ll be relieved to hear.
  2. Phi, as trusty as ever.
  3. Maths homework, again not mine. Just the two hours this week.
  4. A preamble I suspect I have little chance of understanding.

As far as the latter is concerned let’s just take it one step at a time. The easy bits first. Extricate some spurious letters from a couple of clues, and the 3-letter ones where it appears there’s another, non-linked definition. The upshot being that, as ever, there’ll be a load I’ll stare at, shrug, and chuck in the answer anyway. Who needs to parse the things anyway? A dangerous stance to take when solving the IQ some would argue. What’s new?

What’s new is being short of time given 1 and in particular 3 above. Thank the gods, Ifor and Nimrod then for an easy-ish grid fill this week. All done and dusted before you can say – “It’s time to get on with tea”. The requisite number of new, exciting words. A moment of doubt over a BRA. And feeling appropriately SENSELESS as is par for the course Saturday, to the close.

Let’s start with the scrambled letters, and the revealed date in the clue numbers. EARLS COURT, 1911. OK, this is one I’m vaguely aware of. First escalator?

Let’s look at the 3 letter answers and spurious definitions to four letter ones. Couple must give PAIR, so we’re either looking for an extra I, or an O giving IO? In a line = AROW, planes AERO, and so on… Not sure yet what turning them 90 degrees will give. I know, you spotted it straight away…

What about the four-word remark? I’m coming to dread word searches as they’re giving me a lot of grief of late, but lo, there’s STAIRC diagonally SW to NE. And the rest? Re-read the preamble. The remark is symmetrically placed, and the first two words are jumbles of the last two. LO STAIRCASE IS ESCALATOR. Yep, that’s 22 letters.

Rotate them round, because it’s like an escalator moving, see:

And stand on the right, please. Oh yeah, the I and O, rotated. It’s the tube symbol, innit? Coloured appropriately, lobbed in the centre square.

Huzzah. Now, I thought that was very good, with a very satisfying endgame. More like this please. But now, Hobgoblin time…

A lower case sparrow? Apparently so – a case of not knowing what to expect, because I can’t remember any previous appearances, my memory being what it is. Blame distractions. A new toy – a Chromebook complete with a lovely glowing keyboard and, more to the point, a searchable Chambers Dictionary in 12.5 glorious inches. The big red book gets bigger still.

But to business, albeit with a bit of mucking around in-between. A curve to draw. Extra letters. Unclued entries, leading to a quote or something. This I can cope with this, we’ve done this sort of thing before. Perhaps this isn’t going to turn into yet another mammoth session, because we’ve had a few of those of late.

Hold that thought. The first in is somewhere down the bottom of the grid. I’d forgotten how superfluous letters can muddy the waters. Yep, TASTE, that was how obvious a hint I needed. And it didn’t help much either. But finally… Getting into the swing of things with the downs… “Close(t)” has got to be endgame, a NOONER’s something Americans get up to lunchtime when the rest of us are eating, and so on.

The unclued entries? I’ve got some ideas, confirmed quite unexpectedly at 20ac. APISM, thematic behaviour indeed. Quickly look at what simians will fit. And with the mention of Shakespeare elsewhere a suspicion is swiftly beginning to form.

A brief debacle with 15ac, which is TORR and not TORT. A similar disaster averted at 12d – BOSN, and not BOSS. Similar stumbling blocks duly stumbled over the past couple of weeks having sharpened the senses somewhat…

Those extra letters? A bit of jiggery-pokery with the wordplay later… “THE STRAIN OF MAN’S BRED OUT INTO BABOON AND MONKEY.” More Shakespeare. Told you I was onto something. Lots of monkeys with typewriters? Apism, a symmetrical pattern?

Much staring at the grid later… It’s backwards, you see, or at least the bit I spotted first. THE INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM. Yep, that’s 24 cells. Out with the green highlighter, my favourite.

Now, wasn’t that a relief? A nice, enjoyable offering that didn’t leave me feeling in need of a lie-down at the close. Perhaps that was the idea. So thanks to all involved, and onward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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