Radler, a setter I don’t remember seeing before, though it appears he crops up once every year with a toughish puzzle. Talking of which, you remember I nominated Ifor for the most difficult Inquisitor of the year? Radler’s topped that this week, and in some style. But to begin at the beginning, with the preamble. Ten solutions to be thematically changed, twelve clues that need a letter added before they can be solved. Put them together to spell out part of the title of a book. Highlight a cryptic representation of the author’s name in the grid. Such fun.

Such fun, indeed. A handful of clues entered Saturday afternoon, and the growing inclination to write the whole thing off as a bad job. A mixture of non-normal clue types is probably partly to blame for this, a case of being completely psyched out by the setter. An answer here, an answer there, and lo and behold one that needs to be thematically changed – a simple anagram, spotted at last, giving us GOURMANDS at 11ac. The entry in the grid is supposed to be a real word, so I guess we need to remove contiguous letters. GOUR(MAN)DS then, at a guess. It’s in pencil, we can change it. You would’ve thought at this point I might speed up, but no. A steady crawl through Saturday evening, Sunday evening, and through into Monday with answers falling at a painfully slow rate.

Three at the close, all evidently themed answers, and all three I should have got earlier. Yes, GEORGE Michael is quite famous. No, AMAZON(IAN) wasn’t a red herring. And yes, we used to grow SWEET(WILLIAM)s in the garden.

So what do we have? Five clues where we’ve removed the word MAN, five others where men’s names have been removed. Those letters that are supposed to spell out a title. I’ve got too few and lots of question marks, which isn’t a good start. HE?IN?IBL, to be exact. Go through the clues you’re not sure of again. Ah, a T at the start. Hang about, THE INVISIBLE… Man, of course. Obvious, in retrospect, and perhaps it was obvious to anybody with half a brain from the start.

So this cryptic representation of HG Wells. After an extremely difficult grid fill an easy end game? No way. Nothing obvious to highlight. No obvious letters. Time. Goes. By. To cut to the chase – Hg is the chemical symbol for Mercury, a synonym of which is QUICK SILVER, which indeed is in the grid. Wells? Well, apparently FLOWS is a suitable synonym, and there it is following on.

Phew. Collapses. Am I glad I persisted with that one? Most certainly, the way it all fell together was very satisfying. Would I persist with Inquisitors that taxing every week? Well, probably not. But thanks to Radler for a challenge that I must admit almost had me beat.

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So the i’s new souped up weekend paper and first thoughts are:

  • The cryptic’s moved, help.
  • There’s a lot more to skim through before I get to the crossword. 😉
  • Hasn’t the Inquisitor grown? Perhaps the editor’s taken note of my fading eyesight and poor writing.

So Schadenfreude, who I’ve got a feeling can be a little difficult at times, but let’s see. Single letters to remove from clues to give a bit of a quotation and its originator. Then reveal the missing word by delineating (curious turn of phrase) five examples of it. Doesn’t sound that scary. The rain’s hammering down, so onward, with brief interruptions to aid and abet with the youngest two’s homework. World War II. Again.

The NW corner’s a fairly logical place to start, and isn’t it easy? The rest is more like the Schadenfreude we know and love though, with lots of trips required to the big red book, a couple of wrong turns, eventually limping home quite late in the evening. Ok, with a couple of breaks along the way, but still.

Those extra letters. Usually at this point they look like a right dog’s breakfast, but for once they sort of make sense. Have a look again at the clues where they don’t. Blimey, we have a message:

gentlemen do not take at luncheon lord curzon

Google to the rescue. Apparently gentlemen don’t take soup at luncheon. Who knew? So we’re looking for five soups in the grid. And presumably none of them are going to be a Cup a Soup. Let’s get some synonyms up, and hunt through the grid. That term, delineate – outline, depict, portray. And CONSOMME is there in a wiggly line in the NW, swiftly followed by CHOWDER. S. Ah, we’ve got to draw the letters. COCKIELEEKIE to describe the O in the NE, VICHYSSOISE the U in the SW, and then MULLIGATAWNY for the P last, but not least. SOUP. The last two remain a mystery to me, but I’d at least heard vaguely of the first few.

An enjoyable, and hopefully successful start then to the new look weekend i. Let’s just hope there weren’t any Gila red herrings tucked away in there. 😉

Nutmeg, an infrequent name around these parts, so I’ve no idea what to expect today. The preamble looks straightforward enough – one letter from each answer to be shoved into the grey border, giving six names, a bit of highlighting at the end. Oh, and clues to the perimeter entries that I wish I could solve because it would make life a lot easier. But it’s sunny, sort of, so a bit of fun in a dampish garden with power tools to start with.

Later, first thoughts are – now it’s dark in the evenings, I can’t make out my pencil scribblings so easily. Energy saving lightbulbs…

Second thoughts – without, effectively, knowing where to put any letters, this is going to mean a lot of cold solving. Mind you, 9ac first off is pretty simple, though I don’t know what to do with it. Jot the answer by the clue. And do the same for the rest, staring all the while at a mostly empty grid (the crossing of two clues resolved by a mutually exclusive letter means it doesn’t look quite as appalling as it could). Saturday evening staggers by, subjected all the while to over two hours worth of Strictly. To hell with it, just start putting those entries in the grid, they’re in pencil, we can always shift the letters afterwards. This proves to be the key to making progress, because we can see what the crossing letters might be. And get some letters in that perimeter. With any luck some sort of pattern will emerge.

Fast forward to Sunday, and the sinking feeling that this will be the week I admit defeat. The grid is looking a bit random, with letters that may or may not be in the right place, and progress on the remaining clues is looking, well, not good. Let’s have a look at the perimeter clues. And look a bit more. And a bit more. Oh, the second name, if I’ve got these right, ends ON. The child in the clue is SON then, but elder? Luckily Mel GIBSON springs to mind – BIG = Elder, of course, and reverse it. That’s one name, at least, though searching in Google for groups of six containing Gibson doesn’t help much. “Coldness of relations” is the clue for the first. I’ve got ??O??. FROST…

A quick(ish) Google search later gives us the Dymock Poets. I’ve not heard of them as a group, but one or two are certainly familiar. So together with the perimeter clues we can fairly confidently fill that border. I say fairly confidently, because I still can’t parse the last one. FROST, GIBSON, DRINKWATER, ABERCROMBIE, BROOKE, THOMAS. With those in place, quickly sort out the clues solved so far, and then, well, filling the rest of the grid is child’s play.

That highlighting? DYMOCK POETS reversed NE to SW. Eleanor FARJEON crossing it NW to SE. Huzzah! Thanks, Nutmeg, for a puzzle that made me think for a whole day that my head was going to explode, and which then fell into place neatly, and elegantly, at the close.

So after last week’s struggles, something a little easier perhaps? Quite a long preamble, but the gist of it seems to be extra letters from the wordplay, a handful of clashes, a spot of highlighting, a name to write below the grid. Onwards, with a hard rain driving outside. The joys of an Indian Summer.

The last three downs don’t have any extra letters, so are presumably normal clues? Yes they are, all three falling in a flash. Is the rest going to be this straightforward? Yes again, with the grid filling steadily from south to north west, and just the three clashes.

The end game’s going to be a pig, surely? Well, no, as it turns out. A couple of spurious extra letters in the acrosses (so what’s new, I hear you cry), but they’ve got to read GEORGE BLACK WEDNESDAY. Well, I can remember that quite clearly. Grown men sweating over spreadsheets trying to work out how soon they were going to default on their mortgage payments as interest rates rapidly spiraled. Who said that politics was dull?

Select one letter from each of the clashes? ERM I’m sure, but is the result supposed to end with real words, because CHAIERULE certainly isn’t one, and I can’t find anything wrong with CHAIN RULE, so it will have to stand. The solution will reveal all, and leave the grid below in tatters, no doubt…

The first protagonist? George SOROS, who appears to have done very well out of the whole thing.

The second? No sign of John Major, but, there he is, our hapless former Chancellor of the Exchequer, NORMAN LAMONT, and that’s the surname to write under the grid.

The extra letters from the down clues? I never did make sense of those, I’m afraid to say, but the rest was thoroughly enjoyable, a fine way to spend a wet Saturday afternoon.

Edited to add: Whoops, looks like I missed something by not getting those down letters, if you look over at Fifteensquared That’ll learn me! Next time, take note when the preamble says “provide decisive thematic information”. A definite win then for Gila, and a trap I fell hook, line and sinker for. 

Hands up who spent the longest staring at an empty grid. One hour to put in one answer, and a wrong one at that. Ifor wins the prize for the most difficult Inquisitor of the year to date, and that’s up against some stiff competition. You know you’re in trouble when there are modifications to be made in both the across and down clues without any indication of what these modifications need to be. An unknown song title and lyrics to tell us what to do. Except we’ll have done it already. Letters modified give us a songwriter’s real name. Ifor playing his cards close to his chest.

That wrong answer? 13ac. The eventual realisation that it’s an anagram of “promise”, IMPOSER. Except that we haven’t got enough letters. What’s another word for deceiver? IMPOSTER, obviously, which fits so chuck it in. Except that a long time later it becomes painfully clear that we aren’t just adding random letters to the acrosses.

Better luck with the downs? The title is a help here. It becomes clear we need to shift one letter in the clue. Another two hours later and I’ve got the grand total of seven clues entered in the grid. Two of those are acrosses it turns out will be wrong. Luckily I’ve got a cluster of answers in the SE corner that… eventually… make it all too clear that the across grid entries don’t have a lot to do with the definitions. Out with a handy word search to look at what will fit into that bit of the grid. Look again at some of the across clues. And a long time later it becomes clear that we need to take one letter from the answer, and replace with the ones either side. So the aforementioned IMPOSER becomes IMPORTER.

But this is still painfully hard work. Perhaps that songwriter will help. What’ve we got?

J?A??NDER?O? with lots of question marks in the bits before that. The magic of Google to the rescue. I’m guessing we’re looking for ANDERSON, ANDERTON, something like that. That bloke from Jethro Tull doesn’t fit. But, heavens be praised, Roberta Joan Anderson, better known as Joni Mitchell, does. I don’t know much about her, but let’s look at some of the songs in her Wikipedia entry.

Both Sides Now has the line “Well something’s lost, but something’s gained”, the latter part of which fits the pattern that Ifor’s generously supplied in the preamble. And which succinctly describes what we’ve been doing to those grid entries. So with a handy guide now to the modifications in the down clues (was I the only person to think at first that the songwriter’s name would be in the acrosses as well?), progress is (a little) quicker.

A little struggle in the NW corner, where I’m still a little unsure about 1ac, but that’ll do. An epic solve. Just one thing left to do – write the “repeated nine-letter word apostrophised in this phrase” under the grid. SOMETHING, presumably. Pass me a strong drink and some headache tablets.

So a debut this week from Encota, on a day when in theory I’ve got loads of time to be solving, but when in practice I’m sitting in front of a desktop computer that’s given up the ghost, working out how much of a bomb to drop on it. Luckily it appears that the clues are normal this week, and on the easyish side too, even if the rest of the preamble looks like complete gobbledygook. Unclued shaded entries, shading to do elsewhere, and yet more shading. So plunge on in regardless.

11ac is my first in, a word which at any other time would have been a complete unknown, but by chance appeared in last night’s 8 Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown, so is a write-in. Huzzah! Much as the rest of the grid proves to be. A couple of slip-ups (no, nothing is going to match SSE..), but what about those unclued entries? .AGEN and .W.DEN. The title says we’re looking for an anagram of ‘hanged’, but that’s not going to fit either of those properly. The second’s got to be SWEDEN, but the first? Hagen? It turns out the ice-cream is American. A little Googling, and we’ve got DAGEN: Dagen H (H Day):

today mostly called “HögertrafikomlĂ€ggningen” (“The right-hand traffic diversion”), was the day, 3 September 1967, on which traffic in Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right. The “H” stands for “Högertrafik”, the Swedish word for “right traffic”.

Which must be the anniversary we’re marking. No prizes for guessing that the characters we have to change are L to R (thankfully I’ve written the L’s properly, and not as I’s).

The three letter phrase leaps out next: RIGHT HAND SIDE across the top (OK, so we’re doing this all in the wrong order).

But what about the seven cells? Are they supposed to form a word? They’ve evidently got to form an H, with those 3 H’s in the diagonal across the middle of the grid. Much hunting later… and it appears not – we’re just looking to shade an H based around them. Unless THCHIHC is supposed to mean anything, or I’ve made an almighty cock-up somewhere.

Well, that was fun, a nice bit of light relief. And Dagen H? Who knew? The computer? A reinstall of Windows that seems to be holding up to date, fingers crossed. A result all round.

Memories of some of which aren’t what they should be. I filled in most of the grid before a week’s holiday in West Wales, which meant I was in a bit of a rush because there were other things I really should have been doing. Like packing. Making sure bits weren’t about to fall off the car. And not worrying about extra letters in clues and what they’d reveal. No, my mind wasn’t on the job. Nevertheless, I had an almost full grid, albeit with a few entries blank, including all those that required modification, despite having worked out / half guessed what those extra letters were supposed to spell out:

elimination of undesirable elements

Fast forward a week. Beach. Bar. Sea. Sunshine. Sand. The puzzle untouched, despite being carted all the way there and back. Encota’s Inquisitor debut, but more on that next week. Oh yes, there’s that one from eXtent to polish off. Sunday afternoon, in the rain that’s been good enough to wait until we’re back off holiday. The dawning realisation that the undesirable elements will be… well, elements:

1ac REST(RAIN)ING
6ac LOUD(HAIL)ER
42ac MARTIN(GALE)
45ac (SNOW)BALL
1d (MIST)RUST
5d (FOG)GAGE
23d S(WIND)LING
30d NOT(ICE)ABLE
38d BARN(STORM)

Almost forgot, we need to make a similar adjustment to five adjacent cells in the completed grid. We’ve got to remove the CLOUD that’s right there bang in the middle? Step (ii), enter a word to complete the puzzle. Got to be where CLOUD was. Look at what will fit. PURGE, literally a total wipeout? I haven’t got any better ideas. Phew, that felt like a bit of an epic struggle, maybe because it genuinely was difficult, or maybe just because of the solving conditions. Thanks, eXtent, for a decent, mind-blowing puzzle.

Welcome back, as a hush descends on the house on Inquisitor day – yes, thankfully, the youngest two have been invited to a birthday bash, and it’s just warm enough to sit outside. So to a garden chair with Phi’s latest offering. Five acrosses and five downs have wordplay referencing an extra letter, some unclued entries, a greyed out diagonal, put the first with the last to work out what to do with the bits in the middle. What could possibly go wrong.

As it turns out, not a great deal. Lots of clues that wouldn’t look out of place in Phi’s weekly prize cryptic, extra letters that are very forthcoming, and a diagonal it quickly becomes apparent is going to read DRIBS AND DRABS.

So what about those extra letters? The across ones read BIRDS, the downs BARDS. So I’m guessing the unclued entries are going to be anagrams of birds and poets in the acrosses and downs respectively? Yep. TOILE for ELIOT, LOUSE for OUSEL, and so on. A little head scratching, a few poets I wasn’t sure of, a little help from an anagram solver, and… That’s our completed grid.

A shortish blog, sorry Phi, for a thoroughly enjoyable puzzle that was definitely at the easier end of the spectrum, solved in about half the time I usually manage these. Deliberately, I suspect, after a couple of tricky offerings earlier in the month, or in anticipation of something more difficult to come? So until next time, when the question is, will it really be a total wipeout?

So after a difficult couple of weeks with the IQ, has Eclogue got something easier in store? First impressions (after noting that pesky black square is present in the centre of the grid for the second week in a row) aren’t encouraging – a preamble that is about as clear as… well, something extremely unclear. Definitions scrambled with an extra letter, use them to form the start of a thematic “opening”. Clashes we enter with a cross – going to be lots of letters then – and a bit of jiggery pokery at the close. Confused? Dive in and hope for the best.

The grid this time proves to be a much easier fill, which is lucky. Remember that sinus infection I mentioned last week? Yep, it’s still hanging on in there, and despite antibiotics it’s about all I can do to drag myself out of bed to the kitchen table and this week’s i. Happy, carefree summer days… A few cells where it appears clashes means we have to squeeze in extra letters, though only the two for now. So by tea-time Saturday about 99% of the grid is filled. But will that last 1% take 99% of the time? Sort of. I’m struggling. Check those extra letters. Now it all begins to make sense, after a bit of filling in of the gaps:

Ground floor perfumery, stationery, and leather goods, wigs and…

Which of course is the start of the Are You Being Served titles.

So now we can look at the clashes, and those thematic names. Some letters from the downs, some from the acrosses:

GRAIN GER
LU CAS
BRAH MS
PE ACOCK
SLO COMBE
HUMP HRIES

And there’s that last 1% of the grid filled. Two rows (being the top and bottom, which was very sporting of Eclogue) that can be unscrambled to give a two-word thematic phrase and two more names:

GRACE BROTHERS
RUMBOLD HARMAN

Well, that was fun. An easy one at last, and more comedy gold from the Inquisitor. Interesting fact of the day gleaned from Wikipedia? If it wasn’t for the Munich massacre, Are You Being Served’s pilot episode might never have been shown. Nice. So until next time then, when we have Phi, more Phi, and yet a little more Phi.

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.