The British summer being unusually, well, summery, much of Saturday is spent doing vaguely summery things. Which means the Inquisitor has to take a back seat for a while. So it isn’t until quite late, and suitably fortified, that an opportunity presents itself to get to grips with that preamble. 24 grouped letters not indicated by the wordplay which could be a cinch or a right pain, depending. A quick glance through suggests we won’t actually be in too much trouble. 21ac screams hidden word, mixture as the definition, with SALAD minus an A inside a troublesome nasal drop. Sounds nasty. Rewind to 1ac and there’s a nice friendly anagram. A JUNTA would be a group seizing power, of course, so we need J to go with the letters in TAUN(t).

A pretty straightforward grid fill then. A suspiciously straightforward grid fill some might argue, this being the Inquisitor. Let’s see if they’d be right. The letters additional to the wordplay are supposed to help us identify the theme. Except in the order I’ve got them they look pretty random, and there are more than 24 of them. Cue a frantic back and forth through the clues to see what I’ve missed, except that I haven’t.

What if we, as pretty heavily hinted in the preamble, look at the groups the letters are in? I’m not going to bugger up that grid by shading any bits of it, and it’s a pain typing a letter per cell in Excel, so a handy demo version of Crossword Compiler to the rescue, and… Well, I don’t know about you but I was a pretty big fan of Blake’s 7 back in the day, from its beginnings through to that pretty grim finale. The names of the first crew are hidden in the grid – AVON, CALLY, GAN (poor Gan…), JENNA (who didn’t have a thing for Jenna back in the day?), VILA (no, I didn’t know his name was spelt like that), and the computer ZEN.

We’ve got to reveal a craft at the close, which must be the LIBERATOR, meaning LITERATOR is going to have to change, the T to B with BLAKE the “aptly located” replacement for 7d. And I think that means that we’re done?

Well, that was good, wasn’t it? An engaging solve, and a bit of classic Sci-Fi with a pretty classic theme too. Enjoy.

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How Schadenfreude and Nimrod probably hoped solvers would approach today’s puzzle:

  1. Pick their way through all the lovingly crafted clues, gradually uncovering the nine answers lacking a common definition.
  2. The moment of recognition when it became clue what they were.
  3. Or, failing that, when the jumble of letters in the unclued entries eventually made sense.
  4. The tying up of loose ends, working some arithmetical magic on the clues with the surplus words.
  5. The highlighting of (3,5) using knight’s move at the close.

And this is how I approached it:

  1. Get lots of coffee in. Copious, unreasonable amounts of the stuff, because it is Saturday and I’m not feeling my best.
  2. Struggle badly with the clues, because, well that’s what I do with Schadenfreude. Though to be fair clues like 12ac are pretty straightforward because Porter’s got to be COLE and the other’s often IT in a crossword though never in the real world these days. CITOLE which is a stringed instrument and might be “tuned” but we don’t need that for the definition. 10d our first without a definition – NEVER SAY DIE which sounds a bit like a Bond film but isn’t. Still struggling, by the way. Until the second one with a common definition falls. Good old SIR IVOR.
  3. I wonder what Google makes of those two? Well, it turns out they’re both Derby winners, and both Derby winners ridden by Lester Piggott for good measure who’s probably sadly better known by punters nowadays for his dodgy tax affairs than his riding prowess. I wonder how many Derby winners he rode? Quelle surprise, nine in all, so that’s what the common definition answers are all about. I’m guessing the three jumbled entries will read Lester Keith Piggott. So let’s go looking for likely candidates in the grid, for wordplay that fits, and then chuck them in. At which point the rest becomes a bit of a doddle, what with all those checking letters. Even the jumbled entries, oh yes.
  4. Knight’s move is easy enough, famous last words. Highlight the relevant entries in a lovely shade of green, lob in that last Y in the middle.
  5. A nagging feeling of doubt. Is that really it, or have I missed something again? Let’s do some arithmetic on the extra words and corresponding answers, with a bit of jiggery-pokery where it becomes clear I’ve plumped for the odd wrong extraneous word. And lo, the corresponding trainers:

Lawson
Murless
O’Brien
Zilber
Wragg

That’s good then? I think so, even though I feel a bit guilty for not having solved it “properly”. Only a bit, mind. 😉

Another Bank Holiday looms. So does the editor figure we’ve got loads of time on our hands, or that we’ll be otherwise engaged with barbecues and a general breaking out of the beer. Because, yes, the rain’s stopped. A first glance suggests the former. Four clues to be entered normally, but the other acrosses, well, the definition bits are alright, but the wordplay doesn’t necessarily lead to a real word. The whys and wherefores we’ll have to work out for ourselves. Down clues have a surplus letter in the wordplay that spell out a phrase that may or may not help at the close. Apparently the definition of 22d is confirmed by Collins. Well, I haven’t got access to that so I’ll just have to trust in my unerring solving abilities. 😉

Let’s look at the downs then, in the hope of getting some letters in the grid. Oh look, the first is an anagram, and we like those. DELAPSE, with T as the surplus letter. Who wants to bet the first word emerging from the extra letters is going to be THE? A few more downs fall in due course, but not enough to make any inroads into that grid. One across then? Well, that’s going to be one of our normal entries, two parents and a recipe giving DAMAR which is indeed a hard resin. Those normal clues are symmetrically placed? 40ac gives HERRY, a generous 39ac RUTH, and 8ac must be ETCH. Nothing in common, but that’s more of the grid filled.

What about the other acrosses. Surely they can’t be that bad? 11ac. Nope. 12ac – go off is ROT which looks like a grid entry. Could something uplifting be a ROTOR? 13ac – we’re looking for a herb. Is a ray producer a laser? Are there any herbs that begin with laser? Well, there’s the LASERWORT, a little weight is WT and that’s another OR omitted from the grid entry. We’re onto something here.

At the close what do the surplus letters spell out? Because, yes, I’ve got them all. Cue general astonishment. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. We have been omitting OR from every across, after all. It doesn’t appear to help though, not really.

Now we’ve got to highlight a name in the grid. THERE IS NO is an anagram of ON THE RISE. Is that supposed to help? No it doesn’t, despite looking from bottom to top through much of the grid, because there’s MARGARET THATCHER across the top and bottom rows. What links the two? Apparently it’s a quote, often abbreviated to TINA that I was blissfully unaware of. And there’s the link to the title. Nothing to do with Ms Turner after all, just as we were told from the start. Is it excuse enough though to listen to this again? Well, yes it is. Thanks Serpent for a fun-filled offering that wasn’t that difficult after all. Bottle of Corona anyone?

Or rather who stole the bars? Yes, it’s my favourite sort of puzzle – lots of cold solving, a fruitless attempt to fit the answers into the grid followed by much wailing and gnashing of teeth and an inevitably failed attempt. Except, rewind, that grid is 14 cells wide and the first answer is… 14 characters. Let’s work out where the downs might start and, handily, the first two are both 11 characters and the grid is, wait for it, 14×11. So we’re rolling with a STAGECOACHMAN, a STRIDE PIANO and last but not least THE COLONIES. I can do this, can’t I?

Apparently the grid hasn’t got symmetry. Cornick could tell you lots about the symmetry of a grid but well, I can’t. We’ve got empty cells and, for added entertainment value, two clues that are wordplay only and don’t lead to real words. Well, it is an Inquisitor.

Lots of generous clues. Dessert’s got to be ICE, enemy FOE which doubles for Friends of the Earth who’re suitably green, trial’s a TEST, and even that well known fish the TELEOST is pretty easily clued.

The wordplay only not-real-word answers have got to be down the right hand side and along the bottom of the grid. I can even solve the first, because an amphibian is often a NEWT and apart from a few choices of synonym for “mere” the rest is pretty clear, and well that looks almost but not quite like Winnie the Pooh. How does NIEW get us there? W in NIETHEPOOH presumably. One of the answers is supposed to be an anagram of one of our authors, and LIMEN is certainly an anagram of (AA) MILNE. Another entry’s the name of our other author. Kenneth GRAHAME? Which would make the second book The Wind in the Willows and I’m guessing the illustrator of both EH Shepard is what links them. Did I mention I’m a big fan of Milne? Well, now I have.

That bottom entry? OS(ZEPHYR)IERS because a zephyr is a wind in some willows. And the mark of Zorro was only ever going to be one thing.

Now we’ve got to identity and highlight EH SHEPARD in the grid and bob’s your uncle. Lots of those letters in the grid, but they’re not grouped properly… The title of the puzzle says barcode, so what happens if we put the bars in the grid? Oh look, they make up the letters of his name, very neat, and that’s why the grid is asymmetric.

I liked that. So thanks to our setter with the thoroughly unpronounceable name for an enjoyable time.

In other news, Courtney Barnett has got a new album out. 🙂

Saturday rolls round and what do we have with it? No numerical puzzles it seems, though that Playfair is still firmly on the cards. Wiglaf, with a cornucopia of misprints, unclued entries, and something to highlight at the close. This week we’re fuelled by espresso, The Fall, not to mention a full serving of chips and birthday treats, because it’s that time of year again. Suitably invigorated, and past memories of Wiglaf suitably vague, to the grid.

Maybe it’s the caffeine, but this looks to be relatively straightforward. I like to start with an anagram, and look, there’s one at 9ac which means that AEROSOLS must be a synonym for sprays and not splays. One misprint down, thirteen to go. LSD at 26ac is going to lead to nothing but ACID in the wordplay, though a slightly tricky misprint there I must confess to ignoring until the very close. How many German scientists do you know? More than me I’m betting, so lucky Wiglaf’s been kind with the wordplay at 28ac.

Unclued entries. JOSHUA looks good to me. As does DALE (but as it turns out nul points for that one, and that’s why we do these in pencil).

Last ones in the NW. Ten leads to IO and not X as I was sure for too long, giving that well known mussel the UNIO. So apart from the ones Wiglaf hasn’t bothered to clue that’s a full grid, though making sense of the misprints will have to wait because as is de rigueur I’ve made a bit of a mess of them.

Those last unclued entries. Don’t ask why, but I was always convinced the one down the bottom was CANFIELD, because, well, there’s only so much you can construct from A UK YUCCA FEAT. No idea with the long down one, but… That’s CARY GRANT across the top, meaning DALE is DYLE and the long down is CRUIKSHANK.

Googling Cary Grant and Cruikshank leads to Charade, a film I haven’t seen. But apparently Grant plays “Brian Cruikshank (alias Peter Joshua, alias Alexander “Alex” Dyle, alias Adam Canfield)”, so there you go. It also stars Audrey Hepburn meaning I’m doubly remiss in having neglected it all these years.

What do we need to highlight? Well, that would be CHARADE and DONEN across the NW to SE diagonal presumably.

Oh yes, those misprints, let’s go and look at them again. They’re supposed to spell out the real name of “the player”, Archibald Leach, and lo and behold in retrospect they do. Phew. And yes, you’d change your name too, wouldn’t you?

So thanks Wiglaf, great stuff, thoroughly enjoyed. And next week, that Playfair?

The last time Gila graced the pages of the i I fell hook, line and sinker for a particularly cunningly laid trap. Ok, some of that was down to a devil-may-care who needs to bother with those extra letters and the preamble. But the memory is still enough to provoke a shudder. So what’s in store this time? Misprints in some clues spelling out, something; two normal clues, the rest of the answers to be modified before we enter them. Thus shift, then. Oh, something to highlight at the close, and I’ve got some beautiful new highlighter pens waiting for exactly this moment. The excitement mounts. Except it’s been one of those weeks and my energy reserves aren’t what they should be. That happens every Saturday I hear you cry, but, like, really this week. So coffee, lots of it, and get on with it.

First ones in? That would be in the SE corner with a handy anagram at 14d and our first misprint. 27ac’s got to be TERRA which we’re supposed to do something with. All answers are real words. Reverse it? Let’s try that (see, I’ve been doing these for a bit now, and can spot some of those tricks-of-the-trade, well, only a little bit later I should do). Americans often get divorced in RENO conceivably, which we can reverse as well. 6d’s going to be one of the normal clues – FRONT – and as 10ac then evidently isn’t going to be reversible with those checking letters, what about a different back to front, moving the last letter to the start? That works. Is there a BACK anywhere in the grid? Not many candidates to pick from there, and yes there is, at 9ac. So BACK to FRONT, which just about sums up what we’ve been up to so far.

What are those misprints trying to tell us? ?HAT A W?Y…

TO MAKE A LIVIN’? Noting the lack of a ‘G’ at the end, which caused me much agonising over whether I’d got 26d right. And I mean a lot of agonising before it occurred to me to google the lyrics and check if it was my memory rather than my clue solving skills that weren’t up to scratch.

BACK is at 9ac, FRONT at 5d, so Nine To Five. Hurrah. Presumably all we have to do now is find DOLLY PARTON (yes, that’s 11 cells) somewhere in the grid and highlight her name. Well, not so much find her first and last names as look at what letters we’ve got and work out where they might possibly lie. Which means that together with a handy key to the remaining misprints the rest of the grid is a bit of a doddle.

I don’t think I’ve fallen into any traps this time. Really, I don’t, with a few nervous glances at a preamble I’ve probably failed to read properly. Because that’s the kind of thing I’m wont to do.

Wasn’t that good, anyway. For once I think I’ve just about understood everything properly as well. Blimey. Anyone else suspicious we’re being softened up ready for that Playfair Puzzle?

On a weekend most of which will be spent all hours of the day and night in hospital what does the Inquisitor have in store? Well as it turns out, by a bit of good fortune, something not too testing. Normal clues for the most part apart from thirteen which don’t have a definition. Three of those “should resolve any doubts solvers might have about entering answers to the other ten”.

So once more into the fray, and… Wasn’t that a quick grid fill? Like probably the quickest ever. Yes, some don’t have definitions, but those are clear enough, the problem with some being that half the wordplay doesn’t relate to the other half, in which case… Go with the checking letters. I’m guessing this is what that mysterious quote above was referring to.

But what’s it all about? Well, three that can be entered without any doubt regarding the wordplay are SCISSORS, ROCK, PAPER and yes, we all know that game. Thus “hand out” then. With the other ten definition-less clues examples of those. TIMES, EXPRESS, SNIPS, SHEARS, BOULDER, TEETER, etc, all being winners I guess.

And wasn’t that fun? A welcome bit of light relief over a weekend when I didn’t have time to tackle anything trickier. So thanks to both setter and editor for that serendipitous timing.

So the third appearance in three years by the editor, if we ignore his contribution to last year’s anniversary special. The first still sends shivers down my spine, being the first publication of an Inquisitor in the i, my first attempt at one, and my first absolute fail – I started with a blank grid, and finished with one as well. The second thankfully was more forgiving of my solving abilities. So what do we have in store this time, at the tail end of what will probably turn out to have been our summer?

Wordplay that leads to an extra letter in all but six clues, lob them together to get a cryptic clue to a quotation. Two others intersect and have a letter ignored by the wordplay and represent “a crucial point in time and space”. Four others also ignore a letter, identifying an end point “which five contenders lay (varyingly plausible) claims to having helped effect”. Highlight six individuals, write a quote under the grid. That’s a lot to bear in mind, so just dive in and concentrate on the extra letters bit.

At this point I must admit that this is an occasion when my mind wasn’t really on the job. Blame the weather. Blame ill health (not mine) and subsequent hospital visiting and phone calls and… Gah. So while the grid fell reasonably quickly with more than a little help from the Big Red Book (or rather the electronic copy of the same I’ve got on my phone, so more like a little white book), there was much I didn’t understand along the way, and loads of the wordplay I missed. Now some would argue that this is about par for the course with a Nimrod solve – or at least that’s often my experience with his daily cryptic offerings – but that isn’t much help when you’re supposed to be using extra letters gleaned from the wordplay to construct a cryptic clue. Which I can’t, because I haven’t got enough of the letters. And I mean really haven’t got enough of the letters, and don’t have much hope of constructing the words from the ones I have dotted here and there. The picture is clearer where I started solving, to be fair, but swiftly deteriorates as we approach the close and I’ve got more checking letters to work from. Perhaps you should have taken more time over it, I hear you cry, and perhaps you’re right, but I didn’t, because I didn’t have the time.

So let’s see if we can cheat our way to a conclusion, and have a look at the completed grid. Starting somewhere in the NW, and tailing down to the SE I can see THE RED BARON – the latter two letters presumably indicating his fairly untidy landing at the close. It happens to be the anniversary of his death, so we’re onto something, and of course there’s a handy Wikipedia page. What about the five other characters? In the NW corner we have Roy Brown, who fired the shot first credited with killing Richthofen. In the centre of the grid “Wop” May, who he was pursuing at the time, apparently. And down to the south Cedric Popkin, who it’s suggested may have fired the fatal shot from the ground using a Vickers gun.

What about the other two? Nobody else involved that day seems to feature in the grid, no matter how hard I try to jiggle some of the letters to get Evans.

But NE to the centre we have SNOOPY, presumably from the Peanuts comics. And in the SW corner Lord FLASHHEART of Blackadder fame, which I do remember well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RFwflbMo2c. And that’s all the cells covered I think.

What about that quote? Based on the enumeration, I’m going to go with this one from the Wiki page: “I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs”. Among the extra letters extracted from the wordplay I can see FETA towards the end, so perhaps that’s right? Time will tell.

A pretty unsatisfactory solve on my part then to a well constructed, imaginative offering. Loved the way the characters all appear in the grid based on the events unfolding, with the Red Baron coming to his sorry end down in the SE corner. Very neat. So sorry, Nimrod!

The first outdoor solve of the year. Yes, Spring has finally sprung. I’ve got a drink, a table and chair retrieved from the far corners of the garage, and a freshly minted copy of the Weekend i. Ifor this week, and an emphasis on mistakes. We have them in all the across answers, sometimes more than once, and in the word order of all the down clues too. Yikes.

First run through? Not a lot falling there. Oh dear… But hang on, there’s a nice easy anagram at 36ac, only the answer is too long for the space available. So we’ve got to chop them? PEASANTRY is only going to give PEASANTY as a possible shorter answer, so lob it in. Elsewhere we have more than one letter being jettisoned – a grand total of four at 7ac (MPIN), JU at 14ac after unpicking another generous anagram. The phrase we’ve got to construct from the pieces? JURY something surely? No, that’s not going to work.

The down clues it turns out are fairly solvable even if some of the words are in the wrong order. But compared with Kruger’s challenge the other week these are a doddle. Not that I’m complaining, I could do without more mind-bending for the moment.

Grid suitably filled, what phrase leaps out from the multiple letters dropped from the across answers? The would be JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS, which pretty much describes what we’ve been doing to the down clues. Unless jumping to conclusions is exactly what I’ve done and fallen into yet another trap, which is always a possibility. This is, after all, a puzzle all about making mistakes. But maybe not, so let’s post this, hope for the best, and say thanks to Ifor for an enjoyable challenge. 

So Shark’s first puzzle in what feels like ages but probably isn’t, and first thoughts are… Isn’t that an odd looking grid? Little bits nibbled from the corners, that blank square in the centre. Second thoughts are… Isn’t it odd to be solving the Inquisitor on a Tuesday? We’ve been away for a couple of days and, while I had the paper, the combined delights of sun, sea, sand, pool and bar (not necessarily in that order) proved more tempting.

Suitably unpacked and somewhat relaxed – or as relaxed as you get after a weekend away with the kids in tow and an infeasible amount of luggage to deal with – to Shark. The preamble looks straightforward enough – four clashes that will be resolved with the aid of an unclued 13d and a clued 34ac. Should be a doddle then? Well, I did have a quick look at the clues over the weekend, and thought, no, that’s not going to be a five minute job. Let’s look at 1ac. “Take” invariably means R, so as long as we can find an appropriate fish to wrap round it we’ll have a definition of “chip”, but none spring to mind and there are lots of fish to choose from. What about the next one. P evidently, and examine could be PROBE? ROBE for a piece of furniture? Sounds good to me. An easy anagram at 6d, curtains = ENDING (ha ha) at 8d, so this isn’t going to be too bad? Perhaps not, with a little help from the Big Red Book. What about that 1ac? With 2d as HEH, and 1d evidently SEA something, it’s going to be SHARD. Easy peasy.

Clashes? Well, they’re becoming evident, no worries there. The unclued 13d? I’m going to hazard a guess that’s CABARET which is a horribly famous musical I’ve never seen. 34ac we have as NICKEL. Last ones in? That would be 35ac where it’s a toss-up between YOND and YONT, taking an age to decide on the latter. And 27d, which I can’t get.

What next? As the grid stands we can’t resolve those clashes satisfactorily, so… We have a musical, and a coin. What would fit that? Money, which as everyone knows makes the world go round. And if you rotate the letters round the centre of the grid you certainly get terms for money, and real words everywhere. DOUGH, WONGA, etc. And 27d? That would give us RHINO, and if the first letter was T the answer would have been THING, which certainly fits the wordplay and is obvious in retrospect, as these things often are.

I’m going to say that’s good. A satisfactory end to an enjoyable, pretty solid puzzle I wasn’t really sure I’d have the time to solve.