So Ifor time, and no highlighting or cycling this week. With the holidays drawing to a close and the slight alarm at having to go back to work rising from a whisper to a dull ache without a drop of alcohol to blame, does this mean a gentle easing back into things? Well, not really, because the across clues are each three rolled into one. Azed does this sort of thing now and then, and each time he does I fail miserably.

Fail miserably I duly did glancing through the acrosses, and resigned to my fate staggered onto the downs, not having read the preamble properly sort of assuming they were the same. Which they weren’t. And they were also a lot more tractable, falling without recourse to crossing letters in many cases, in particular the NW corner which was a bit of a confidence boost.

The across clues. With the help given by the downs they also proved to be a lot more solvable. The letters to be removed from each before entry? D’s. And, oh, one T from each as well, though that took me a while to notice. You can tell I wasn’t on particularly sparkling form. DDT, a particularly nasty chemical stuff I’m led to believe.

Almost forgot, six downs contained an extra word. Take their position in the clue, find the corresponding letter in the answer, to spell… SPRING, though not without first adding “inside” erroneously from 6d to the list, missing “business”, and coming up with something rather less coherent altogether.

It’s supposed to be the second word of a title. One’s not leaping out. Let’s, as suggested, look at the unchecked initial letters in the downs. CARSON.

A nifty Google of Carson, DDT and Spring gives… Rachel Carson, and the book is Silent Spring, which is apparently responsible for DDT getting banned. Thus our adjustments to the across answers.

Which all hangs together rather neatly, actually, so thanks Ifor for an enjoyable challenge.

Word of the week: It’s got to be SLEIPNIR, which isn’t in Chambers, and is, well, just look for yourself.

Clue not understood of the week (and there is always at least one): 29d, which presumably can only be one thing, but colour me bemused.

Clue of the week: 4d was a very nice spot, wasn’t it?

The last Inquisitor of 2019 comes courtesy of perhaps the most fiendish of Inquisitor setters, but also twofold winner of the best of award, so evidently we’re in for something good.

Something that good, and that fearsome that our editor saw fit to send out a message telling us that the endgame was quite something, but also to:

The endgame does indeed look worthy of the reminder with lots of cycling of rows and columns, the sort of thing Harribobs has had us do previously with diagonals if I remember rightly. The rest is a handful of normal clues, a handful without definition identifying a number of “tourists”, the rest to be cycled on entry. It all looks so straightforward when you put it like that.

FOI then UTIS. It needs cycling, so let’s lob in SUIT as obviously the cycling will produce real words.

Nul points, no they don’t, which swiftly becomes clear with others that no matter how much you frantically cycle them won’t produce anything approaching a real word.

So the grid fill turns into a matter of getting the normal clues in place as anchors, and fitting the cycled ones round them. This surprisingly turns out to be not as fearsome as it first appeared. Luckily as we have the in laws down, and solving time is at a premium.

Highlights? It was good to see RC for peacekeepers rather than the rather more mundane UN, and MARRAM is a thing of beauty.

Ah yes, the tourists. The first was evidently an anagram of “Quiet lan”, but no anagram solver I could find was going to sort that one out. It’s ANQUETIL, a cyclist as suspected pretty much from the start, as are the other three in the grid – CONTADOR, the extremely unlikely looking MERCKX and NIBALI.

Guess how much I know about the sport?

Luckily Google knows rather more. So that when it came to cycling the rows, the fact that GIMONDI and HINAULT would appear in the left hand column was pretty odds on. Both having done rather well in the Tour de France I gather, a sporting event I find – to be quite frank – rather bemusing. My brother-in-law’s a big fan, but he’s busy DIYing in their new house, so probably best left to it.

Thankfully this cycling lark is turning out to be quite un-fearsome, if a little nervy given the potential to destroy that carefully filled grid.

Luckily we live in a civilised age and have something called the spreadsheet which you would swear was designed for exactly this sort of thing. Thankfully a nifty cut and paste also brings over any cell shading. Phew.

Cycling of the columns proves to be equally, sort of alright. Revealing the TOUR down to the south, and two other races to the north and east – the GIRO D’ITALIA and VUELTA A ESPANE – apparently the big three of the sport. Who knew?

And look, there are three more cyclists – FROOME, who even I’ve heard of, THOMAS and S YATES. All three Brits it seems.

So shading with “last year’s colours”. The observant among you will note that the grid below is of a slightly more professional aspect than the one I’m wont to post. That’s because I cocked up the printed copy, missing one clear square when transcribing to the aforementioned spreadsheet, and also jumping to the conclusion that the shading should be that for Team Sky, which seemed to be blue.

In the depths of the night I wondered at the plural “colours”, and also why the shape (shirt?) Thomas appears in is yellow. Is it because Tour winners wear a yellow jersey, which even an ignoramus like me couldn’t fail to be aware of? Yes it is. And do the other two events also have winning jerseys with different colours? Yep, red and a rather fetching shade of pink respectively.

Match last year’s winners with the colour jersey, and shade?

I think so.

Phew. Done and dusted, and hopefully right this time. Harribobs with an early shot at next year’s best of? I think so, because that all hung together rather nicely, didn’t it? Now pass me some of the Scotch that’s cluttering up the cupboard, the New Year approaches.

It was the Saturday before Christmas, and the IQ celebrated in typically non-celebratory fashion the coming festive season, unless we’re noting the amount of alcohol that will be consumed over the coming week. And we all know that while our esteemed editor doesn’t rate the time of year that highly, he does enjoy a pint or two.

It was all to do with a poem by Chesterton which is apparently very popular and which needless to say I was blissfully unaware of. A warning, by the way, to steel yourself before Googling said poet, as let’s just say that he’s a pretty scary sight. The first line neatly spelt out by misprints, the author’s name by extraneous words in four other clues. Was I the only person to end up with five or six before realising what a dog’s breakfast I’d made of the parsing?

Anyway, rotter, beseech, link and tight were the ones you were looking for, though I must admit to working back from the poem which Google handily pops up from BEFORE THE…, that being a rather long anagram to work out and because I didn’t know that his first names were actually Gilbert and Keith, assuming he was just good old GK.

Lots of impressive words this week, DUMKA and SAJOU being particularly unlikely looking candidates.

A handful you won’t find in the BRB – THEROUX, PACE EGG (a fascinating tradition it transpires I was also blissfully unaware of – it’s a northern thing according to Wikipedia), and CRAY which is presumably an abbreviated southern thing if I’ve first got it right, and secondly parsed it correctly, the sun god RA making not one but an unprecedented two appearances this week, albeit under the less well known nom-de-plume of RE elsewhere.

All to be found in a grid fill that was well judged for the weekend before Christmas when we’ve all got rather a lot to do.

Then there was 10ac, which I’m still agonising over. It’s a bird, I’ll grant you, but is that an S or a Z? I can’t parse it, you see. An S is more likely, so let’s chuck that in and keep everything crossed.

All that’s left to do is trace out the letters that make up the second line of said verse, which I did several times in pencil before committing to a rather fetching shade of pink, the potential for a final cock-up being odds-on at this point.

Bish bash bosh. Good stuff, enjoyed. Which leaves plenty of time for another quick one, I suppose.

It’s been several days since I solved Vismut’s latest and it feels like a lot has happened in the meantime, it being that time of year when there is indeed a lot going on, but glancing at the puzzle several things spring to mind from those dim and dusty days.

  • The preamble, there being a lot of it. Extra letters from wordplay in some hinting at… Ten mysterious others. Extra letters in six downs which somehow or other will elucidate the final highlighting. And for good measure a couple of letters to alter at the close. Phew. Told you there was a lot of it.
  • My credit card statement, which isn’t looking any healthier with the passing month. Whose idea was it to get that tree? Oh yes…

Into the fray.

Words of interest this week: SACHEMDOM, CSARDAS, with worthy mentions to WHOOPEE and LEWDEST.

The ten mysterious clues? Mysterious as it turns out because the answers won’t fit into their allotted spaces. But, as it transpires, they’re all animals and the noises they make will. Who knew that a MAGPIE is wont to CHATTER, or that a WHALE might SING? Well, Vismut for a start, and also Wikipedia quite handily as it turns out, stuck as I was on one or two at the close.

16 extra letters generated from wordplay? THE CALL OF THE WILD, which is a pretty well known book by Jack London. No prizes for guessing who we’re going to highlight.

Talking of which, six definitions in the downs have an extra letter each. NAME OF… The mind-bending mysterious preamble pointing to letters calculated from the same which lead to AUTHOR.

Yep, we need to highlight the name of the author. There’s LONDON across one diagonal, and JACK just above.

Just the main character’s name to reveal by altering two letters. The name we’re looking for is BUCK, which we could get by altering the first two letters of JACK, but that would leave non-real words which we’re told is a no-no.

It’s a thematic answer we’re after, the BARK of a SEAL looking like the obvious one to change. In he goes.

Done, dusted, enjoyed, and all in good time to… Go and spend some more cash I haven’t got I guess. The closing date this time is a couple of days late on the 27th, what with the inconvenience of Bank Holidays, so by the time this is published it’ll all be over bar the mountain of food and drink yet to be consumed. Time to get stuck in…

Chalicea to ease us full flow into the festive season. A setter who is always good value for money, and on the easy side which I guess is what most of us are looking for at the moment, what with the customary seasonal chaos and, this year, for good measure assorted political shenanigans. All of which has probably upset our esteemed editor, who professes to dislike both.

The gist of it? Extra letters generated from wordplay detailing an instruction, and an unclued entry I only noticed about three quarters of the way through the grid, which just goes to show how observant I am.

Straight in at 1ac with YEARD, a gimme if I every saw one, with an extra S, followed by the equally straightforward EERIER. No prizes though for guessing that we were probably going to end up with an H. And so on, with nomination for word of the week going to GODBOTHERER. A pretty nippy solve on a weekend thankfully devoid of pressing matters except the need to begin the accumulation of a surprisingly wallet-busting collection of presents I suspect are for the most part unneeded and ultimately unwanted. But such is the festive season, and next will come the horror of the descent of the dusty decorations from the attic. For which I have held out for a days longer.

Oh yes, that message. With a couple of question marks I’ll leave the experts on Fifteensquared to sort out:


It now having become clear that of the choice of words that might fill that space, V-SIGN was the one to go for.

There’s only one apposite quote from Churchill I know, and that turned out to be the correct one. Finding the summarised version in the grid to highlight turned out to take a while longer, but there it is.

Now, I thought it was a fairly amusing story, but the other half’s take is that it was a pretty leery, mean comeback in an already unpleasant encounter. She may have a point.

Anyway, no such complaints about Chalicea’s puzzle which was thoroughly enjoyable, and just what the doctor ordered.

Myth by Dysart

December 10, 2019

So from a preamble that couldn’t have been more succinct to Dysart and one where there… Appears to be rather a lot. I’m writing this up several days after the fact, having been waylaid by Christmas preparations (it being December I guess we dare utter the word now), sorting out blocked toilets and gas leaks (the two entirely unconnected), and generally trying to hide from the sundry viruses of the non-computer kind doing the rounds. The upshot being that I’m realising again quite how much there was to get through this week.

Deep breath.

Unclued entries, ones with words requiring reversal, some without definition and corresponding clashes, a character to highlight, resolution of clashes, something to change at the close.

Head explodes.

Let’s just concentrate on filling that grid, which thankfully seems to be on the easy side again. Straight in at 1ac with TAQUERIA, a reversed “air”, and a nice confidence boost, through SNOD, all the way down to a cat that for some reason I failed to spot at all quickly. Blame the issues noted above.

Oh yes, the clues without definition. Well, it became clear quite quickly that they were guns. REVOLVER, LUGER, DERRINGER and RIFLE, all ones I knew. And the unclued entries – it looked early on like they were going to be NEWMAN and PENN, though with some confusion because said actors never appeared in a film together. It was only on spotting the last – GORE VIDAL – that I realised that we were looking for this film, and that PENN was Arthur and not Sean.

This lovely looking fellow?

Who also appears anti-clockwise in an arc in the middle of the grid. Out with the highlighters. And to confirm, the first and last letters of the reversed words do indeed spell PAT GARRETT, one time friend and nemesis of the above if my memory serves me well.

How to resolve the clashes, and two other cells with them? Got to be L for R, hasn’t it?

Staggering towards the end of that preamble… Two letters to change to reveal “the creator of an earlier musical work”. A musical work of the classical sort that for once I’m aware of. Bang – COPLAND.

Wasn’t there a lot to do? Thankfully on the gentle side as far as the IQ goes, but now I need a drink, if only to brace myself for an inspection of the swiftly burgeoning credit card bill.

Now, talking of Billy the Kid

by Phi

December 3, 2019

Something was evidently afoot Friday evening when our esteemed editor felt it necessary to note that “[t]o prevent a deluge of mail to the overworked crossword editor, could I point out that tomorrow’s #Inquisitor in @theipaper has been extensively checked. I thank you.” It came as something of a relief than to find that it was only the title and preamble we were missing, having half expected mismatched clues, missing ones, or something even more fiendish and, for solvers like myself of little brain, probably unsolvable.

But first…

  1. A gentle stroll through the drizzle that would later turn to torrential rain to fetch the weekend paper;
  2. A fairly straightforward warm-up with the day’s cryptic from Phi, who’s doubling up again, with a wry smile on solving 23ac – PREAMBLES.

Then to business, while waiting for the oldest to shower.

An unexpectedly quick start it was too, with long anagrams of the obscure sort with HAEMATOCRIT and the most definitely not with TERRESTRIAL to open the grid, ERRATA elsewhere, and lots that wouldn’t have been out of place in the daily cryptic. The long awaited breather has arrived.

After a flying start… Chips and curry from the always reliable Colin’s Chippy, and… a pause. Because other clues don’t make sense. 1ac, for example, which looks like its starts with CHIN, but not given that enumeration. Let’s ignore the length for the moment, and just solve the thing. CHINKARA. Remove the INK, to leave CHARA.

Invisible INK, very good. All of a sudden the missing title and preamble make sense.

So just remove INK from some answers before entering? Yes… But there’s also the small matter of an I, N and K missing from the definitions / wordplay of 24ac (Swami not Swam), 4d (Argon not Argo), and 14d (chink not chin).

Grid full, after finally spotting and correcting a self-inflicted error – SENES for 15d which fits the wordplay but not the definition. Pay more attention, Jon.

Oh yes, the completed grid includes a great big INK across the centre I guess we need to erase.

Duly erased…

Wasn’t that good? A candidate for the end of year list, and a very welcome change of pace. So thanks Phi, for two puzzles and two very good ones.

Finally, here’s a bit of Ride for you, from Going Blank Again.

Stone the crows indeed. After several weeks of particularly testing puzzles, it’s… Time for another, but one that is particularly so. All but five clues adjusted before entry into the grid, as it turns out leaving non-real words. Definitions for the real thing, wordplay the mangled entry. I can be pretty miserably poor at sorting out wordplay.

First pass through the clues… An incorrect across – was I the only person to get hung up on “nubeculae” for 14ac? Which had the misfortune to cross with a correct down – DILU(V)IAN.

That was about as far as I got for a long time, this being the very epitome of the slow, hard grid fill. Frustratingly so at first, but you know what, once I’d accepted that this was one for the long haul, it turned out picking off those entries one by one became quite pleasurable. In a masochistic sort of way, I’ll grant you. One eye on the puzzle, another on the TV, and an it-will-have-to-be-metaphorical other on the fire we’ve lit not just because we’ve finally cleared the chimney of the crows’ nest that had well and truly blocked it (a happy coincidence), but because it appears to be several degrees too cold for the time of year.

Through Saturday evening…

The themed entries. Well, 10d from crossing letters must be EXALTATION, that much is clear, but as for the rest?

Let’s look at the missing letters. After the by now de rigueur cock-ups are resolved – CONVERT ANSWERS TO COLLECTIVE NOUNS.

An exaltation of larks, it transpires. The answer to 10d being? LARKS. Huzzah. An UNKINDNESS of crows, though that was one I failed miserably to parse. A RUSH of POCHARDS, and a BUILDING of ROOKS.

30d, though. ?LAN. No collections of birds look likely to match.

As so often happens, on giving up and drifting off to sleep later, and much warmer, it comes. That glorious moment of revelation. CLAN, a collection of PEOPLE. Neat.

Job done, and an ultimately satisfying solve it was too. But aren’t we due an easier one soon?

It was all about the B2’s. That B having nothing to do with Berlin despite it being a significant number of years since the wall fell. And anyway, BERLIN WALL was never going to fill 32 cells.

Vitamin B2, an obscure reference to a US Visa, an airline designation the parsing of which I remain unconvinced by (does Belarus really equal BEL?)… Because the consecutive pairs of letters taken from the downs spell out:

belarus avia riboflavin usa non-immigrant visa

As if that wasn’t enough of a hint, second letters from selected across clues clearly instruct us to STEAL TH. It’s right there in the title, see?

But the exact parsing of that lot came much later.

After a pretty quick grid fill (some would say suspiciously quick grid fill) kicked off with an encouraging PIXYRING (no prizes for guessing what “axes” would refer to), continuing with what feels like ancient technology these days in the form of the IPOD, a composer even I know, a pretty odd Oz creature of the feathered variety in the form of the MOUNDBIRD, and lots and lots of the above extra letters pencilled beside the clues where I was sure to misread them.

Now STEALTH screamed out bomber, especially given the requirement to make something disappear from the grid. But I didn’t think to Google the thing, otherwise I would have spotted that it’s a B2 Stealth Bomber and saved myself a whole 24, yes 24 hours worth of agonising about what the seemingly random collection of words were trying to tell me. A cryptic clue, chemical symbols, I tried the lot.

So after 5 times as long as it took to fill the grid of staring at the above, the realisation that the designation is B2. Of course, STEALTH was clear from the start.

Erase the letters STEALTH from the grid (all 32 of them as handily supplied in the preamble), and whoosh, there she goes.

I told you I’m not at my best at the weekend, but still… Perhaps an unexpectedly easy Saturday Prize Puzzle courtesy of Dac occasioned a false sense of security, or failed to put my nerves suitably on edge.

A fun grid fill then, but a frustrating end game I suspect is entirely my fault. But still, Belarus…

A week on from a particularly taxing inquisition… another jigsaw. You know how much I love jigsaws. This week at least we have clue lengths, and only the one set of clues.

  • Extra letters generated from wordplay, and subsequent message. Tick.
  • Unclued entries, similarly.
  • Highlighting. This bit is a favourite with the youngest two who wonder why and delight in the fact that I colour in the crossword every week. I must admit to enjoying it too.
  • And clues that are a level less fiendish than last week. A Jenny’s an ASS, a WRASSE being a fish that must be popular in crosswords as it’s stuck in my mind where things often don’t. ANALOG is a typical American misspelling. A tax is a LEVY.

And so on, which is all well and good but where to put the things? If I’d been thinking logically I might have looked for the 8 length clues first, and positioned my answers correspondingly considering crossing clues.

And I did get there, but only after a bit of a debacle with the washing machine. One having had the poor grace to break down a month after the extended warranty expired, the replacement ordered rather hurriedly without provision for removal of the old, or installation of the new. Installation required because have you ever tried removing a washing machine from its packaging?

An extended discussion with Argos later…

Sunday, where I have a limited time before a four, yes four hour dance presentation and subsequent competition to get to the bottom of this.

Those unclued entries proving to be a problem. They’re supposed to provide geographical assistance. The one along the bottom is evidently something VILLE. WAIATAS I was initially convinced was something else – some kind of Australian plant – leading me right down a blind alley until I realised I was a clue short on the solving front.

ROSEVILLE? KANSAS? A quick Google later, add FORT and BAXTER to that list to give the setting for The Phil Silvers Show. Now, I vaguely remember this from BBC 2 reruns back in the day I never really got into, so we’re relying on Wikipedia again.

The letters in the grey cells? Well, they can evidently be rearranged to give COLONEL JT HALL, Bilko’s superior.

And indeed along one diagonal is ERNEST BILKO himself, and in another PHIL SILVERS.

But are we supposed to highlight both, or just one, or something else? Fear of red herrings having reached fever pitch…

The extra letters generated from wordplay are supposed to help, but look pretty random.

Ah, we’re supposed to view in “conventional clue order”. Mine looked like this, the solving process having been as error-prone as ever: ?OTORPOOL MA?TER SHEGEANT ?ND AE??RS NAMES

As Bilko was apparently Master Sergeant of the motor pool, and the latter is presumably ACTOR’S NAMES (with a little shiver of doubt over the latter – is there more than one actor?)

My grid therefore looked like this, and hopefully that’s right, having taken an age already, and my mind not being in a particularly good place for reasons detailed above. Though it may be said that Kruger supplied a welcome, and enjoyable diversion.