A puzzle about which I find myself with little to say, but in a good way, because while this may be lighter by far than last week’s offering, it’s one I felt a lot more comfortable solving being a bear of very little brain.

So, plus points on the confidence front: Isn’t Opsimath usually straightforward? Normal, alphabetical clues.

On the negative side: We don’t know where to put the answers. Oh well, we’re doing rather well at that sort of thing recently, aren’t we?

Further plus points: Cold solving the first five clues in a row with hardly a moment of hesitation. At the close three of the nine letter clues and three of the eight all ready to go – PROCURERS, PETIT PAIN, SANDGLASS, ALPHABET –  fittingly, EQUITANT, and TAVERNER.

Lob them in. Start fitting in the other clues. Only belatedly realise it would be a good idea to cross out the ones you’ve entered. A little tussle at the close over exactly where BULL should go (a sneaky BELL just above, and yes I did get it wrong first time).

Full grid.

Pick out the letters in the numbered cells: The great emancipator.

Which are real words, another plus point, the grid’s alright, but unfortunately doesn’t mean anything. Google to the rescue. Ah, good old Abraham Lincoln.

A “famous stated preference”? No idea either, but we’ve got to change two cells and highlight his name, and that can only be done by changing BULL to BALL and ETHER to OTHER, or BULLET to BALLOT.

“To give victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary…”

That title? According to the BRB it means “Freedom-giving”. There you go then.

Neat. Enjoyable. Done and dusted in a pretty neat time too. Huzzah. Short and sweet, but I liked it, oh yes I did.


To the four corners being several stages in the solving process at which I thought I would have been better off giving up. Because yes, it was that sort of puzzle, one where it became apparent very quickly that this was well out of my league.

1. By the close of Saturday afternoon which was one of those currently rare things – a nice day to be out in the garden with the crossword. The only problem being that the crossword in question was particularly intransigent, with only a couple of clues in the NE corner deigning to fall. Forget missing points in eight clues, we’re missing copious.

2. By the end of the night of the same day, when let’s say half had fallen. Among them was BILBO, which the optimist in me hoped might be one of the travellers. But no, no Frodo or Gandalf to be found elsewhere.

At which point far more time than would normally be spent on the IQ has passed with the puzzle far from finished. A small sensible voice says give it up.

3. Sunday night. Sheer bloody-mindedness kicks in and… Full grid, though with loads un-parsed. HATE, obviously, but why? Ditto ANORAK, TOEPOKE, and SETA, and I could go on.

A long stare at the grid and clues later. The description of the travellers is evidently in the clues themselves and not the grid, unless east of them is going to veer far off to the right.

24 hours later…

FRIENDLY FLOATEES, picking letters to the left and right of the missing points in those clues, down, and then up. Don’t ask how much in the way of blood, sweat and tears was shed finding those clues. I’ve not heard of the friendly ones either, but Google has. An amusing incident with a cargo ship later, and 29,000 bath toys go on a slightly longer trip than anticipated…

Wrap this up quickly then, and feet up with a cup of tea? Well, no, because the rest of the preamble at this point is clear as mud.

Another 24 hours later…

OK, there’s the name of the ship in the middle of the grid. Highlight it. Change MADE to FADE, and NO-NO to NONE and we’ve got BEAVERS to the NE, FROGS to the SW, as well as DUCKS to the SE and TURTLES to the NW. After fixing a couple of cock-ups here, there and, well, everywhere. Out with the yellow, green, blue and neon pink (does that count as red?), and… How is NONE FADE supposed to “give guidance for submission purposes”? I don’t know. I’ve probably got it wrong.

Despair sets in again.

The symmetrical partners that we’ve got to change? Many hours later and again the urge to chuck it all in… It’s entries, and not letters. So BATH and not HATE, and TOYS to the SE. (Sssh, I can’t remember the original entry).

Done. Apart from that doubt regarding the guidance bit.

And I didn’t throw the towel in, though it was a close thing throughout. I’m rather hoping that’s about as hard as they get, because my brain hurts. Or did everybody else find it rather easy?

A new closing date and time for entries, the very specific 10AM, as if the post arrives before lunchtime anyway. Perhaps the i get express delivery.

Lots going on in the preamble, too much for me on a Saturday let’s just say. Two groups of thematic clues, and then blah blah blah being all that sank in first and second time round. The other clues, misprints in the definition (though I missed the definition bit first time round too), spelling out what the thematic groups are all about. Misprints I can cope with.

In feet first, dozing gently in the unexpected sunshine, unexpected because it’s another bank holiday weekend, and was I the only person to feel slightly alarmed on realising that it’s an absolute age until we get another one?

First in? That would be the URL, swiftly followed by TEREFA upon finally locating the anagram fodder. And then a gentle meander through the clues we did have, because all those thematic ones are frankly a pain in the bottom giving a distinct lack of checking letters, which no doubt is exactly how Lato planned it.

Those thematic thingummybobs. One lot defined by superfluous word(s) in eight clues. Those I can find, oh yes I can. An OBOE being an instrument but not a jazz one in particular, and while a husband and wife might reproduce, they don’t in this context.

Except Geography… On the one hand I did know the German city, but only because of the ice cream. But it took a whole 24 hours to work out that RIPON isn’t in fact anywhere near Wales despite my own geographical location. “Oh, I didn’t know that,” being my only remark on solving. DALES, not Wales, you dolt.

Ah yes, thematic entries. Well, about half are obviously fictional detectives. MORSE, FROST, HUNT, etc. And, oh yes, FOYLE too, but we’ll come back to him later.

The other lot, defined by those superfluous words? RAGTIME, HURTLE, ANGER, etc. Though if it took you an age at 15ac to spot the misprint and work out that it was LARA Croft, then the tricky alternatives of TREDDLES or TREADLES were a bit of a bugger to say the least.

Misprints. Well, I spotted GOOD COP… pretty quickly, but BAD COP too? That took another 48 hours because… I had DOES as ROES (the animal you see) rather than ROBS. And, well, the Yorkshire / Wales debacle. But get there I did.

The one to highlight? Having worked out first that FOYLE was another fictional detective, and only much later “Ed’s defeat”, obviously him. But why? And what’s the correct answer for HOL.? I’ve got HOLT based on a pretty desperate Google search, but I’m about 99.9% it’s wrong. Lucky I don’t send the things in.

A long time later… Why BAD COP? Anagrams. The other thematic entries are all anagrams of fictional detectives. MAIGRET, LUTHER, REGAN, etc. And FOYLE? That’s an anagram of FOLEY, the bloke from Beverly Hills Cop and all its sequels, and lo and behold there’s confirmation at 5d and 24d.


I still think my grid’s incorrect mind, regarding HOLT, but… That’ll have to do because get no further I will not.

All very clever and well put together, mind. All too clever for me by half, I suspect, but… Thanks Lato and Nimrod for a decent bank holiday challenge that kept me guessing until the last.

Invalid Care? Race, innit?

Well, no, nul points again Jon. Something a lot subtler than that. Hot and cold, ice and fire, and no I’m guessing not Game of Thrones either. But because of the latter any Inquisitor solving is delayed, because… spoilers.

And, oh, Eurovision, too. Solving time therefore being somewhat thin on the ground.

Luckily this week we have bars, and a whole raft of clues which look like they’ll be sort of normalish with a little tweak here and there. Don’t mention the thematic clues, though, or that red herring. I’ve fallen for one or two of those recently.

But that grid fill. Well, adding or subtracting letters from the clues took a little time to get used to, but get used to it I did, with a little backwards engineering here and there. And no, no matter how hard you stare at it DOG TAG or variants thereof just isn’t a satisfactory substitute for NAME TAG. SULU it transpires isn’t just a Star Trek character. And so on, with just the far SW corner obstinately lacking in entries. The two across ones in the far bottom left in particular.

Twenty four hours following the UK’s particularly dire showing, only made more palatable by Madge’s equally mediocre performance…

To the thematic clues in the vain hope they will help. Which are really two clues in one without definition, letters moved across to make up the entries. And a red herring. But again, we don’t like to talk about red herrings. And there’s one in French…

A first guess based on the race theory above gave me BRITISH and an anagram of IRISH to the NE, but well, that didn’t work.

So look again, this time trying to actually solve the clues rather than guessing based on checking letters. And, you know what, it worked out alright. Here’s what I ended up with:

cool cabin -> cobol cain
trench icy -> tench ricy
lassa biting -> lass baiting
chill passion -> chilli pass on
raw spring -> rawn sprig
spotted nippy -> potted snippy

Things cold, you see, or fevers.

And no, my French wasn’t up to it, but that looks like a complete set of thematic entries, giving enough checking letters to complete the grid. Huzzah.

Another twenty four hours later, and there remains a nagging doubt. I think the French one is the poisson rouge, but if it’s not, then I’ve fallen for it hook line and sinker. Except I can’t parse it.

It’s supposed to help confirm the amendments we made to the thematic entries. What letters did we move? They would be BRAINS, and presumably not of the SA variety.

So “Nous” is “brains, intellect”? Initialement obviously gives us the first letter of the preceding word, but what does baignoires mean, and bains for that matter? Well, Google Translate let me down with the former first go, giving tubs, but it turns out they both mean “baths”. So B(R)AINS.


No red herrings fallen for.

Famous last words…

(And no, I never did get to the bottom of that title).

Well, I thought that was enjoyable, and pretty straightforward too, even if solving over several days makes that difficult to gauge. Here’s a grid that most definitely isn’t supposed to be coloured blue.

In which we spotted that the name to be written under the grid was indeed staring us in the face the whole time, but only after 24 hours of blood, sweat and tears. And that was just the 50th birthday bash. Who decided that it was a good idea to mix several pints of Brains SA (commonly known as Skull Attack in these parts) with some fine malt whisky? You only reach your half century the once.

But to begin at the beginning, dozing in the uncommonly spring-like sunshine. Some of the clues normal, some to be shortened on entry. Something to do with patterns. A preamble that takes several readings. A statement, a speaker, a name. One that was nothing to do with Mansfield Park as first suspected… And no colouring this week, thankfully, after last week’s debacle.

To business… A grid fill that was actually quite tricky, wasn’t it? SYNEDRIAL, ODIOUSLY, ROSENCRANTZ (who indeed is dead). Yes, I got loads of the ones to be shortened on my first sweep, which isn’t much help, because I was rather hoping to get some of the normal ones to give me a clue as to entry. The downs to the rescue. A spider is a rest and a seizure is ARRESTS. HACKER is the vaguely remembered PM from Yes, Prime Minister.

Progress at last. The shortened entries? We seem to be taking the first letter, missing two, then missing one, and one again, then a few in a row. Which should mean something but doesn’t. At this point I’ll mention that I studied Mathematics to first year degree level and hang my head in shame.

The remainder of the grid? Well, the last few took as long as the rest put together. 5ac and a couple of others to the NE, 30d and 37ac to the SW. DISC, maybe for the down, but why? And former African regions were never going to be my strong suit.

An age and World War Z later. Full grid. A CAPE but not Canaveral. Let’s get that statement.

Following the pattern of letters entered from the treated answers doesn’t help. Nor picking first letters from words matching the pattern. Trying to battle with a word searcher proves to be a burden too much. My head is going to explode, and not just from the SA.


So what did you do to while away a bit of time the evening of your birthday, Jon? Well, I worked out that the letters skipped from the shortened entries are from positions 2,3,5,7, etc. Prime numbers, see. And that if you pick said letters from the normal clues, resetting as stipulated on new words, you get ONE’S PRIME IS ELUSIVE JEAN BRODIE which is, wait for it, a quote from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which I have heard of, vaguely.

And the name to write under the grid? Well, MURIEL SPARK of course, the author of the above, following the same pattern, staring at us from the title the whole time.


And phew again.

Was I the only person who struggled to find that statement? It struck me as being rather tricky. Ah well, we got there in the end. Maybe I’m just showing my age.

Here’s the Fall with 50 Year Old Man.

Another Bank Holiday, and what better way to spend it than recuperating from the after-effects of a particularly horrible cold. Blame the youngest who bring every plague known to man this way. It does mean though that there will be a distinct lack of proper work being done, plenty of solving time, and the sun is shining so… Outside where it is quiet.

Which is lucky because look, we’ve got another one of those blank grid thingies. But I’ve been getting the hang of those of late so no issues.

Mirror Image II, another art themed thing? We’re having a run of sequels.

The preamble. Wordplay omits a letter in 13 clues that we’re not to enter. For the moment, very mysteriously. The rest means little and less at this stage of the game apart from the unclued entry bit which is even less welcome with no clue numbers or bars, and I never did get the hang of grid symmetry. Amateur hour.

Let’s get solving. First solved the corrupting influence followed by extremely poor. How apt. ROTTENEST, as I’ve been feeling. Nowhere to put them though, but first down solved is ASPIRE, which is more promising as presumably it starts somewhere in the first row.

Rewind… An on-line image is evidently an AVATAR, though the R is our first missing letter we won’t enter. Realise must be ATTAIN, with A for anonymous, and a nod to the modern day with “volunteers once”. Presumably our top row, but we’re missing a cell. Let’s assume the symmetry thing will help and lob one to the left, one to the right. ASPIRE crossing in the first column.

Checking letters in place, the top half fills gradually, centre column filled with RED LETTER DAYS (a pretty handy 13 letters) until… A grinding halt halfway down. As it turns out this is because of a rashly filled in ANEMONES, but I didn’t realise that until five hours later and the whole of the gruelling battle for Winterfell.

The youngest in bed, let’s finish this. A moment of inspiration, reptiles being TORTOISES and not PORPOISES, stepping forward through the alphabet, and what a fantastic spot by Serpent. Grid full.

Missing letters we haven’t entered? Well, they happen to spell out RED LETTER DAYS as well. Our unclued entry? Presumably that would be BARNETT NEWMAN across the middle of the grid, an artist I’ve not heard of. But a quick Google pulls up images that remind me a lot of the sort of stuff Rothko used to do. And indeed, apparently he’s an abstract expressionist I’ve not heard of to my shame.

We need to redistribute 13 letters? Presumably take the centre column, and put the appropriate letters in all those cells we left blank. Then shade the filled cells red, leaving something that looks a little like this:

Well, the only highlighter I’ve got that’s close is neon pink so that’ll have to do. Done. And yes, wasn’t that good? Pass me some cough medicine and a glass of whisky, I think I’ve earned both.


And didn’t that feel like GAME OVER for a while? After a couple of weeks of relatively gentle puzzles the IQ bites back with winding entries. I’ve not come across winding entries before. Clashes too, lots of little letters in little cells being somewhat of a challenge with a blunt pencil and steadily blunting (is there such a thing?) eyesight.

No problems, we’ll start with the straight entries and use them as a baseline. If only they were a little more solvable. The female performer being the first in, or at least it would have been if it fitted. That’s what that answer length thingy at the end of the preamble was getting at, then. Don’t ever accuse me of understanding the preamble first time through. PIERRETTE. What to do with the extra letters (surely this is a little more than a clash?) Chuck them in the first cell and hope for the best. The two downs I’m not up to solving either. I know, you spent much of the bank holiday week by the pool with a drink too, or in the adjacent bar. And, OK, a windy beach. 😉

Armed with the knowledge though that loads won’t fit, in goes PACKETED and the mysteriously spelt CLYSTERS.

Suspicions begin to arise. A PAC up to the NW. Thematic letters that might need “collection”. PAC-MAN, surely? But I don’t know any characters from that game, if it is that game, so back to solving…

The winding clues thankfully are a little more forthcoming, even if where they wind is a mystery. If something’s in need of some lube it might be SQUEAKY. The sci-fi film is obviously ALIENS.

Start chucking them in, it being like a jigsaw but an oddly shaped one.

Night time closes in fast, with an interruption for Game of Thrones. Sssh, no spoilers, I’m almost there.

Half an eye on a film…

Stuck as to exactly where ALIENS and ONE LINERS are to go. Or what’s across much of the centre. Until… Only the five cells with clashes. DERIG crossing CLYSTERS. CLYDE sounds like a name. Who’s that then? Only one of the ghosts in the aforementioned game. Who knew that they had names? Well, eXternal obviously. What were the other ones? PINKY, BLINKY and INKY. Add PAC-MAN himself to the mix, and bingo, there are our clashes.

Armed with this knowledge, it is indeed… GAME OVER. Yep, I don’t know what the optimal route through the grid is, but I can sort out anagrams given a random looking bunch of letters. Do we need to erase the O’s from the grid? The preamble says “which would collect”, so I don’t think so. I don’t send ’em in, anyway, so it’s not like anyone’s going to notice, is it?

Phew. That was the XXXX strength offering to make up for a few easier weeks, then. But thoroughly satisfying as expected from our man eXternal.

Did you know that if you Google Pac-Man there’s a playable version of the game as a Google Doodle? Neither did I. Excuse me for a while… In the meantime here’s a dimly lit photo of the grid. I did mean to take another one in a better light, but well…

Was I the only person who thought – A-Team? Thought so.

But nope, not that. And it would be a pity to tumble the theme from the title.

A new setter, so welcome. And most welcome, too, on the face of this pretty gentle offering. there being nothing wrong with a marked change of pace from the usual fiendishness. Because sometimes I manage to solve the IQ in a little while out in the afternoon sunshine, but it’s rare I get to blog it as well. Because, by a minor miracle, the Wi-Fi stretches out to my favourite shaded spot where I would be able to hear the accompanying birdsong and distant traffic if it wasn’t for earphones and Mark E Smith’s mellifluous tones. Thank Sky broadband, or the wonders of a Chromebook with which I am still mightily impressed.

Ah yes, the puzzle. A letter missing from a bit of the wordplay here and there, though it’s not clear from how many clues. Not many, anyway. Four items to highlight at the close, all measured by some scale or other, spanning more than one entry. Good stuff.

It’s not often as well I glance at the IQ and start picking off answers without recourse to the dictionary pretty sharpish. Flies are always TSETSES with some nippy wordplay involving a group of six I can remember. NATURAL YEARS an easy anagram of a scale that isn’t the themed one. LITRES easily hidden.

In fact, easy would be the operative term here. Oh yes, that scale. TRAFFIC LIGHT, obviously. Letters omitted? RAG. Rag-tag, see.

Items to highlight using highlighters that I’m afraid only approximate to the required colours? SALT, SUGAR, FAT, and SATURATES? Do we need the last S? I don’t know. Doesn’t sound right without it. A brief moment of panic after highlighting appropriately. Shouldn’t the letter omitted from the wordplay be missing from each clue it spans? If so I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for a massive red herring. Read the preamble again. No, I don’t think so. “… one letter in the item which is omitted in the wordplay for its entry or entries.” And one letter is omitted from each. So I think I’m good. Fingers crossed.

So, a good one. More from Apt please. But is this unexpectedly easier entry a nod to the equally unexpectedly fine Bank Holiday weekend sunshine, or a precursor to something particularly fiendish to come?

More cats? Surely not.

What there are though are misprints. In most of the clues it says but the first couple I got didn’t have any. Call me contrary. Lots of unclued entries too which always means fun and games. All those greyed out squares, which are treated somehow apparently, ergo a lot less help from checking letters.

Oh look, thematic clues under the grid. Definition only. If only Radian’s sleuth themed puzzle had been scheduled earlier, well, then I might have thought of SLEUTH earlier. But that comes later.

First the grid. We use an ABACUS to tot and not tow. Yes, for once 1ac being a suitably friendly introduction to the solve. A CAMPUS is somewhere students live occasionally and nothing to do with a book. KIA ORA reminds me of a drink for some reason, perhaps rightly so, as it’s some kind of toast I’ve not heard of or can’t remember either. Old kings tend to be KNUT in this game.

The grid fill was alright, wasn’t it? No idea about those thematic entries though, and word searches aren’t helping even with the handy list of unchecked letters. Though spotting THIS OLD MAN CAME ROLLING HOME quickly as the result of the misprints did help. A rhyme even I know.

Give a dog a bone. Something to do with bones. That pirate. I guessed pretty early the pirate was something-hook, because of the H, an O and K, see, I’m not completely out for the count on a Saturday. What if he’s just HOOK of Pan fame? With a TALUS in the middle which is indeed a bone.

Job done. Find some handy synonyms of the unclued entries. Lob a bone in the centre, and ones surprisingly I’d heard of – I dropped biology as soon as I could, being squeamish. Still, the only one that surprised me was COSTA.

So, no cats, but dogs. Or rather something to do with a dog. Finished, enjoyed. Another one that was comfortably within my difficulty range – that can’t continue. Ducks.

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.