A slightly alarming preamble this week. Jumbled down answers, and, well, something to be done with the acrosses too. In the second grid. Yes, that’s right, a second grid, because what we’re going to have to do is evidently that complicated that it warrants, for the first time ever, another grid to work with. Now, perhaps it’s just the autumn blues, but this immediately set me on an I can’t do this fugue, not helped by a first pass through the across answers that yielded, well, all of one answer. With the youngest two rampaging round the house like things possessed after two days away on a residential school trip. Weren’t they supposed to be tired on their return?

Try again. 33ac is an anagram, and despite what the preamble says it’s in Chambers. But perhaps, he reasoned, the treated version in the second grid won’t be? Aha. A resident of Montmartre, that most fine district of Paris, minus an IS would be PARIAN. Not so difficult, you see. Apart from the down answers. Presumably we should be able to glean somehow what to do with them? After all, they can’t be completely, randomly, like totally jumbled with multiple unchecked letters, can they? Surely there must be some sort of rhyme or reason? Despite numerous attempts at looking for some sort of logic – backwards, making up different words, and so on, it appears… That they are indeed randomly jumbled. I can though solve them, oh yes I can, which is some consolation.

That unclued entry that presumably is supposed to tell us how to treat the across answers before entry in the second grid. Help from a word finder with the possible letters from the jumbled downs… RECONSTRUCT. Well, you don’t say.

All of which is to say that, at the close, the first grid looked like this. Note the blank squares where I had a choice of letters but no reason to pick one or another.

The second grid is supposed to contain real words throughout. Let’s apply some logic, RECONSTRUCTing the across answers with the letters we’ve got in place from the downs, making sure there are real words throughout. Lo and behold 33ac is SCHMEAR which indeed isn’t in the big red book. CHESTILY isn’t either, and oh, how many problems that caused me. So, SW clockwise to NW, a CURRENT COST across the top.

The quote to highlight? Well, that’s one I happen to know, being devoted to all things Whovian. “CHANGE MY DEAR. And it seems not a moment too soon.” The fateful words of the short lived 6th Doctor. Impressive opening night figures suggest Jodie Whittaker won’t suffer the same ignominious fate, but let’s see how that pans out. Based on the first episode I thought she was good, but the writing less so. But anyway… Here’s the best Doctor of the modern era, Matt Smith, with Orbital and their version of that iconic theme tune.

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From the blog that wishes it was more rock n roll than it really is. Or why I prefer a cup of tea and a quiet night in these days. Which is all another way of saying that the Saturday headache hasn’t materialised this week, handily because Ifor’s preamble has instilled a faint but nagging sense of unease. It’s that phrase “two different ways of filling the grid.” Did I bother to count how many asterisked clues there are? No I did not. Did I immediately think I can’t be doing with erasing the whole of another carefully filled grid? Yes, I did. A general feeling of malaise that didn’t improve on getting somewhere near the end of the across clues before I managed to get one in.

Okay, take a step back, concentrate on the non-asterisked clues because surely we can solve those. Well, yes we can, especially when they’re nice friendly anagrams like 44ac. Gotta be something ITIS, hasn’t it? NETSUKE directly above, which sounds like anything other than a Japanese decoration. And I can solve the asterisked clues too, you know. Some friendly definitions, nice clear wordplay. ASK or ASS, you decide. And what, you say, it’s a good idea to jot both possibilities into each cell, because it’ll make the grid fill a little easier? Oh, go on then. Only a few where we don’t have many letters in common between the two bits, notably towards the top of the grid.

That centre bit was a little tricky though, wasn’t it? YON or TON, an obscure bit of musical terminology. And the top row. Yes, the wordplay bit’s obviously an anagram, but I don’t know about you but I’d not heard of DENISE DARVALL. Perhaps I should have. First shot at the definition bit for the same was Doctor Faustus until it just wouldn’t fit. But we do have a doctor. One BARNARD, of HEART TRANSPLANT fame. Though the story does seem a little shady on the reading. Anyway, the former bit alternates with LOUIS, the latter WASHKANSKY in a lovely big heart shape.

So is it going to be the good doctor, or the first, unwitting heart donor? The preamble said to look at the title, which has been nagging away throughout. N in DOOR, surely? So go with Denise, which must mean the rest is HEART TRANSPLANT. Got to be.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought that was really quite impressive, very nicely put together, with a lovely endgame. Goodbye the malaise that marked the opening of the paper, hello a warm happy glow. And no, that doesn’t mean that I succumbed to the whisky immediately afterwards.

A new setter this week, welcome! 🙂 A cursory Google search hasn’t unearthed any puzzles on foreign shores, so we have nothing to go on whatsoever. What it has dug up is the completely useless fact that the name is a variation on bismuth, chemical element number 83. No, I hadn’t heard of it either. Does it mean anything? I don’t know that either.

But what about the puzzle? Members of a group in the grey border. A quote. Something to highlight from a homophone the finding of which warrants almost half the preamble. But at least we’ve only got extra letters and words and not a wholesale cut and paste of the wordplay. Hang on though, we’re back into homework season again, and maths is supposed to be my thing. But no, I don’t know what a place value question is either, which proves to be handy as I’m given a reprieve and time to make a start on the puzzle. The first across then. Well, that’ll necessitate a trip to the BRB to confirm that the extra character is indeed a T from tREMBLE. Badly brought up children might be ILL BRED. So where did you get stuck, Jon? Well, that would be on some of the shorter answers. The Nice (a bit of a giveaway, I’ll grant you) house. I always thought that was a maison, but apparently they have other words for things too. The expression of doubt down in the SE corner, appropriately enough. But all is, as they say, well that ends well, even given a bit of a hairy moment with that one that’s not in Chambers.

Lots of letters in the border. Evidently the bells from a pretty well known nursery rhyme. No prizes for guessing what will need highlighting. Two things that might be covered in something that sounds like PEAL, and there they are in the NW to SE diagonal. All done.

Wasn’t that good? And following last week’s struggles, much needed confirmation that I can indeed solve these things. So thanks Vismut, for a most enjoyable outing!

The prize for blind-blowing preamble of the year goes to Phi. Moon phases, apparently. Now, I can’t say I know a great deal about the things, but we seem to be missing the second quarter. Perhaps that’s right, I don’t know. The wordplay? We need to lift and shift large chunks of the resulting letters. The numbered clues? Something to do with the remaining phase.

Which sort of makes sense through the mind-fog that is Saturday afternoon and indeed most of the rest of the weekend. What’s the point of a soft drink and early night if you’re still going to feel like death the next day? But onward, and how to go about solving the thing? Well, a few of the “normal” clues make sense. So BAALITE, for example. But I’ve got absolutely no idea how to go about solving the rest. Especially the ones in quarters. Definition. Tick. Wordplay. Well, we haven’t really, have we? So what to do? OK… “letters and figures” in the full group is surely ALPHANUMERIC? And I can sort of see a couple of bits of wordplay that might relate to the answer. The rest, obviously, isn’t supposed to. But it’s got to fill one whole column or row of the grid, and we’ve got CUE at 29ac… In it goes.

So… Yes, that’s how I did it, the whole shebang. Find a likely looking definition, a bit of wordplay, trawl through the dictionary, and basically not bother with any of that stuff in the preamble. Which is pretty unsatisfactory, I’ll grant you, and I’d lay money on there being some pretty major howlers in that finished grid, but… Basically, I didn’t really know how else to go about filling it. Sure, we’ve got to shift letters in the wordplay from one clue to another, and I’m guessing there’s a lot of clever stuff in there. But it’s asking a lot and, for me, it was asking a bit too much. So I took a steam roller to the thing. Oh well, you can’t win them all…

So apologies to Phi and our editor for the shabby way in which I treated this week’s offering. Next week’s a new setter according to Nimrod who seems to be in the middle of a protracted pub crawl judging from his tweets. Let’s hope we can do them both justice. Here’s more shift work from The Fall.

How to begin? The downs would be good, because the across clues have all got misprints in their definitions. That mention of rearranging letters at the close is enough to invoke PTSD in those of us who solved Harribob’s magnus opus earlier this year. But nothing that traumatic it appears this time. Some would even argue that the clues look… approachable… reasonably solvable. A bad tempered woman’s a VIXEN. A handy V in 1 across means the churchman must be A VEN, with IRish…All in all summing up a pretty friendly grid-fill. Though a suspicious person would be particularly so of the pretty odd word for salt down in the SW corner where the more obvious one would have sufficed.

What do the misprints spell? Well, the speaker’s the WHITE KNIGHT which screams Alice, handily confirmed by a quick Google search. The words from the poem? BOILING IT IN WINE. Nope, don’t know that one, but it’s a song by the aforementioned knight from Through the Looking Glass. What’s boiled? The Menai bridge which coincidentally we got some good pictures of recently while on our travels. Which must be the 11 letters to rearrange, there in the 6th and final rows.

What about the cells to highlight in an appropriate colour? Rust? No, can’t find that. A long hard stare later. Well, he did boil it in wine. CHIANTI and SAUTERNE are hidden in the same rows. Thus the odd word for salt… Shade the former a sort of red, the latter a sort of white, and we’re done? Yes, and so as it turns out this was quite straightforward. But was it enjoyable? Oh yes, that too.

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The last Saturday of the summer holidays, and time for a dose of nostalgia courtesy of the IQ and Nudd. A classic album, tracks scratched from nine clues. So what classic albums have got nine tracks? Something prog rock perhaps? A bit of Floyd? Let’s do the sensible thing and tackle the puzzle to figure it out. Misprints in twenty clues yield words suggesting the title. All things being equal we’ll get to that bit once we’ve worked everything else out. But, spoilers.

Let’s start with the acid test – 1ac. It sounds like an act of contortion, but it’s actually an anagram of TEA. The misprint? Well, and I can almost hear Nudd chuckling to himself, I went for the wrong one as it turns out, being I to give chai. Oh well. Crossing clues? I knew the one definition of TACHE, but not the other. An easy ARM. First damaged track in? That would be AGRA, though don’t ask what the track name is yet.

First unclued artist? Omar HAKIM who I’ve vaguely heard of. Thus the mental leap, because of Bowie I suspect, though none of his more famous albums seem to fit. Oh well, onward, with coffee and a quiet spot in the garden. The work at 23ac must be a CLASSIC, which means 23d could be CLARK, and the artist below that, surely, Mark KNOPFLER? Game over. The album’s Brothers in Arms, confirm the musicians involved without too much ado and complete the unclued entries.

With a full grid one problem remains. Being suspicious of red herrings… Let’s sort the misprints and work out what’s going on with those twenty clues. How long did it take, I hear you ask? As long as actually completing the puzzle and a bit more, if you really want to know. It turns out there aren’t any words that begin II… The upshot being that the four words are RIFLE, GRIMM, MARIO and KNIFE. Brothers in arms, indeed.

So there we have we have it, a dose of AOR from the sultans of swing themselves. As a much needed antidote here’s Stereolab with We’re Not Adult Orientated.

As trailed by Nimrod through the week the IQ does the full Only Connect. I’ve sort of watched the show once and did horribly on the one thing I knew anything about. Oh well, at least we might get some sort of full grid even if – it being Nimrod – half the wordplay will be partially or not at all understood. Which is OK except when letters missing from said wordplay are sort of a prerequisite for the end game. Well, it’s a Bank Holiday, lots of time to flounder round trying to sort this out between dodging the rain. Pity the poor campers.

Let’s get going. 1ac’s got to end AGE, but it’s either something Shakespearean or a synonym I don’t know. Ugh. 7ac’s more tractable, a partial anagram, bread at a guess is Nan, and the answer’s the quite fantastically named TONKABEAN. An aromatic oil’s got to be NARD… and… that’s the NW corner. ONE IN A… MILLION, Chambers has it, but that won’t work with any of the crossing letters. A HUNDRED? Apparently, I in a ton. Very good. Ice queen? I knew all those viewings of Frozen would come in handy one day.

Let’s look at the letters Nimrod forgot to put in the wordplay, and associated answers. As expected they’re a bit of a mess, and it’s got to be said all those question marks I jotted by the clues don’t help. Time to pick through them, sort of methodically, or as methodical as I get. We’re supposed to have four groups. One I can see – anagrams of NARD. There are also a number of lions, flagged pretty clearly by ASLAN in the NE corner. Is BBC 4 scheduling also under Nimrod’s remit, because without that broadcast of Elsa the Lioness that’s one that might have passed me by.

Talking of which, following that there’s something about Leonard Bernstein, which happens to be an anagram of all the letters we’ve painstakingly if rather haphazardly collated. Guess what, put together some of the associated answers and we can highlight his name, together with his virtual age. I’m guessing from all the four groups, though I haven’t got them all yet. So what are the rest? Well, we have lots of foreign words for stone which I’m sure of, and perhaps some cantons which I’m less sure of, because – does BAR really fit there? According to the thesaurus it might, though colour me sceptical.

But that’s a full grid, highlighted as per the preamble, and good enough for me. Lots of fun, so thanks Nimrod. And yes, I did enjoy the game of Only Connect, even if I suspect I’ve failed miserably to make all the connections.

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Back to normality. Back to your own bed, one that is neither too soft or too hard. The first week falling into the former category, the latter… Well… It said memory foam, but I’m guessing the resemblance to concrete is a probable indication of a substantially long memory. You won’t be throwing yourself on that mattress in a hurry. Last but not least in terms of home comforts – a shower that’s a little more substantial than a vague dribble of water. With the result that after one last heroic drive today is a rare Sunday solve following an overly long sleep and lots of coffee. The second appearance by The Ace of Hearts, that most enigmatic of setters, and a lovely long preamble. Seven normal clues entered thematically, other clues, well, one letter ignored in wordplay and grid entry, put them together to get… A phrase and “two-part definition” that explain how to enter the normal answers. And breathe.

First one solved? Those would be the items of currency referred to in the first two acrosses. Handily they’re both normal clues so I’ve got no idea what to do with them. Figures. Onward to 11ac. Donald can only mean Trump – timeless, with an S – bang, our first grid entry. But the extra letter? A sCrump can be a midget apparently. 12ac? hYGIENIC. A fair bit of the grid solved reveals that… The normal clues aren’t particularly scrambled, or backwards or anything like that, so let’s go with the ones we’re fairly confident about.

The phrase? That was always going to be CHEW THE CUD. Is there an anagram of THECUD that might help? Well, no. A more astute or less tired solver would have spotted that the normal answers, for example let’s say ESCUDOS and SCUDI – have something in common that ignoring the “the” in the phrase would have helped with. But I didn’t. Nope. Not until right at the close, having deduced that we had to do something with the CUD bits, but not why until the very bitter end – with the Nicene Creed – when I was feeling quietly pleased that I had a complete grid, a phrase, and the definitions – TO MEDITATE and TO REFLECT. Quietly pleased until I spotted what the chewing CUD thing had been getting at all along, kicked myself for being quite so dim, and promptly congratulated the setter on a thoroughly good offering.

Outstanding questions. Will I have woken up next week? Aren’t you supposed to feel rested following a holiday? Where did I put my brain? All this and more to come.

Points to note:

  1. The drive from Anglesey to Pembrokeshire is just as long as the journey from south east to North Wales.
  2. Being told I wouldn’t have done it that way regarding the latter would have been information more useful before rather than after the fact.

Suitably exhausted to Pointer, and an equally exhausting preamble. The gist of it seems to be a couple of clashes, both letters to be entered. In twelve downs we’re to drop a letter creating a depiction of a landmark represented in the grey box (but how?). Two entries should be highlighted to show an alternative name.

The grid fill? Well, I’m writing this a week after the fact, so… I can’t really remember much about it, though it doesn’t seem to have caused too many problems at the time, it having become clear pretty quickly that all the letters to be dropped were m’s – note the lower case. Three clashes, all of which appear to be PK. The landmark? Well, that would be an R, which made about as much sense as a single R was likely to. As did the m’s, and whatever those clashes were supposed to represent.

Highlighting two entries? Google to the rescue… An age later… BATTY MOSS is apparently another name for the Ribblehead Viaduct, a location far distant and obscure, but thus the R. The m’s? OK, I suppose they look like a viaduct if you were to join them together. The clashes? Apparently the Yorkshire Three Peaks are in the vicinity. Not that I’ve heard of them.

So there we have it. Not too tricky apart from all that googling, and an enjoyable grid fill, but I’m guessing a lot more satisfying to complete if you were aware of the geography in question.

So in Anglesey they do have mobile data… How was the journey from one far-flung corner of Wales to the other? 6 hours to travel 180 miles, it turns out, which is considerably longer than both Google and the RAC estimated, with let’s say basic facilities in-between. The local newsagent does though stock copies of the i, so we’re in business.

Schadenfreude this week, who I seem to remember being a little on the tricky side. Single letters overlooked in 19 clues, giving two titles, one of them jumbled. Complete the grid, presumably utilising that blank square in the middle, highlight another title and the person in all three. Well, that sounds OK to me. Almost midnight might not be the most opportune time to start solving, but well, I had better things to be doing until then. Like trying to find somewhere selling beer and chips. Benllech it turns out is good for both, boasting a Tesco Express, two, I repeat two chip shops, a Bengali takeaway and, oh yes, lots of sand and sea. In fact, we seem to be totally surrounded by the stuff.

The grid fill? Half one night and half the next. Which is to say, under the conditions, it really wasn’t that bad. A few oddities, 42ac being down at number 18 by way of definitions in the BRB for office, but still highly amusing. One or two I couldn’t parse first time through, a few such as 11ac pretty crucially so. Oh well…

The end game? The extra letters I’ve managed to glean as expected are pretty much nonsense. No fear, all we need to do is find the aforementioned title and somebody who’s in it. And there, with a nifty B in the centre of the grid, is The Dambusters NW to SE, and yes, Michael Redgrave too. Out with the highlighters that I’ve had to purchase especially because I forgot to bring my own (doh!), and we’re done?

Well, call me suspicious, but let’s have another look. Oh, a T in the centre will give The Bostonians SW to NE, which features Vanessa Redgrave who’s also in that finished grid. Thanks, Schadenfreude… Looks like we’re going to have to sort out those extra letters. Let’s have another look, more carefully this time. Beer, it transpires, helps.

I’ve got what looks like it might be BEHIND. Yes, BEHIND THE MASK. Which one of our two Redgraves is in it? Gee, thanks again, both. The other title’s scrambled, and I’m struggling. We know how many letters it contains, though, so Wikipedia to the rescue. A long hard stare at 11ac later… Yes, it’s BLOW-UP, which stars Vanessa but not Michael Redgrave. The Bostonians it is then. Huzzah.

Well, that was fun, one that kept me guessing right to the end. And a nice little trap for the unwary, among whom I may yet find myself counted. Next stop, Pembrokeshire, via a hopefully scenic drive down the west Wales coast. See you there!