No, not that Schindler, but this one, who seems to have led a most colourful life, as well as being related to both the more famous one, and, oh, Kafka. Look, there’s her first name highlighted in the grid, and the surnames of her various husbands substituted for several answers clued. It also appears that she’s the source of a great deal of misinformation about her first husband, Mahler (yes, the Mahler). Never let it be said that the Inquisitor is anything less than educational.

She was also the subject of a song of the same name by TOM LEHRER, he of the misprints in definitions this week. I must have heard of him, because I guessed the name and hence found the song with lots of the misprints yet to be identified. Don’t ask where from, though, any reasoning powers being suitably dulled this morning thanks to a pint or two of Brains Reverend James the previous evening.

This morning, note. Note also the picture of the finished grid in broad daylight, as sure a sign as any that the puzzle wasn’t finished at some ungodly hour and that the week’s entertainment was most definitely of the light variety, even if the subject matter was something a little more high-brow, as you’d expect from Phi.

Though presented in a suitably amusing fashion, a welcome relief from the travails in the news and slightly alarming problems too closer to home.

Much of the said alacrity was thanks to getting the song, which gave handy checking letters to the north and south, and corrected a couple of errors (the wrong Scots for DREE in particular), as well as clearing up the seemingly intractable WERFEL and GROPIUS.

All of which I hope conveys the entirely correct impression that I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s offering this fine, warm and sunny Saturday.

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Enter Botox, another debut in the Inquisitor series? Well, no, it appears not – according to a little bird Botox is in fact the combined dastardliness that is Shark and Artix, which may explain in part quite why this week’s puzzle is so… Inquisitor like!

Perhaps it was the rigours of another week in work, the grim tidings in the news, or maybe the distraction of the latest Six Nations games, but having congratulated myself on unpicking the mother of all preambles pretty neatly, the grid fill then turned into a blow by blow slugging match. Not being 100% sure about answer lengths, combined with a load of misprints is never of course likely to lead to anything other than a bumpy ride for the solver, but this week not only were we plumbing the depths of the BRB (INCUERPO, anyone?), but also a handful of things that wouldn’t be found within its hallowed pages, notably DU PRE, who you either knew… or didn’t.

Thankfully there was plenty to engage, from the combination of VAR with O to lead to a misprinted (and inspired) “Hoy’s sprint”, through to the SPADO, who definitely would have less to protect.

Misprints. How’s your Irish Gaellic? Mine isn’t up to scratch, sadly, but thankfully I did have enough correct letters to be able to resort to Google and work out that the famous quotation from SPIKE MILLIGAN’s headstone – “I told you I was ill”, is actually written in said language, which I didn’t know. From there it was left to alter MICHIGAN to MILLIGAN, change a few other letters to give SPIKE, highlight his proper name, and the title of a programme about him.

And, oh, two PARENTHESIS either side of SPIKE. Now, in part I’m grateful for this, as it highlighted that a stab in the dark at BIOS was incorrect, and that BIOPARENT was a much more satisfactory answer, though I was expecting to find something to do with quotation marks instead, that being how his name usually seems to be presented. But despite much research and soul searching, no, it appears that a parenthesis is indeed a bracket, so in they go. KBE are the letters after his name, the first thanks presumably to a stacked “CK”.

Almost forgot that last bit of the quote in the SE corner, though I challenge anyone to work out the contents without recourse to the mighty Google.

All of which took a considerable amount of time, and I think but am not 100% certain is correct. But as it all fell together so neatly at the end, I will say that the time was well spent. It also gives me the opportunity to recount the story of the day many moons ago when the mother-in-law was out shopping feeling rather down in the dumps, and of the complete stranger who made conversation in an effort to cheer her up. Later her husband would ask if “she knew who that was”…

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This Saturday would be dominated by the following:

  • Sorting out the Tesco shop which had been rudely cancelled Friday 5:40AM due to the non-appearance of Storm Eunice in these parts;
  • Anxiously gazing at the board of cancelled and delayed trains my son was trying to catch home from where the storm had evidently caused rather more disruption;
  • The purchasing of a car for him to replace the one which had gone kaput. The highlight of this would be 45 minutes spent on the blower to the insurance company trying to sort out the relevant before we would be able to drive legally away, with a pretty hard deadline given the imminent closure of their call centre. The poor salesman I’m guessing was glad to see the back of us.

Which is to say that I was grateful for something on the lighter side this week, almost as if Nimrod had foreseen the predicament I would find myself in and had scheduled accordingly.

Game shows, and their hosts, the former clued, the latter entered in the grid. Naturally, it would be the latter that I would spot first – Tarrant, Armstrong (who handily was on television on the relevant show at the time of solving), Coren Mitchell, Millionaire, Pointless, Only Connect, and so on. The final, ninth entry garnered from first letters was evidently THE CHASE, with Bradley Walsh our entry beneath the grid.

Talking of which, the solve itself fairly flew by, surprisingly so for the IQ, the highlight being something that’s “long in shape but short in duration” to define ECLAIR. Of the entries that were guesses on my part that I thought better of, FELCH (which is most definitely not safe for work, having consulted the dictionary) would have to count as the highlight, HENCE of course being the word I was looking for.

And so done. Now, I thought that was delightful, a puzzle that was as light, fluffy and enjoyable as its subject matter. A nice contrast to some most definitely stiffer offerings, and one that will be on my end of year list.

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As expected we welcome another new setter this week – Cranberry, with a puzzle regarding one of the more regrettable incidents of World War 2, and that against some stiff competition.

This would be revealed (more or less correctly by yours truly, you will be surprised to learn) courtesy of the 10th letters of 25 clues: ANTHROPOID (the name of the operation) PRAGUE (the location) and R HEYDRICH (target).

Heydrich I’d not heard of previously, but he was, it transpires, one of the least savoury of an already all-round unpleasant bunch, successful target of an assassination in Prague in 1942. That the SS would reply as brutally as they did could not perhaps be foreseen, but you would have to argue that reprisals of some sort should have been (and perhaps were) predicted, the hapless civilian as ever being the victim of such war games. Churchill true to form suggested further war crimes of his own in retaliation, but seems to have been unusually restrained.

There’s a famous account – HHhH – by Laurent Binet – both of which we were required to highlight. The latter proved to be more forthcoming than the former, which I did initially in pencil to mitigate any inevitable errors in parsing – those pesky letters missing from wordplay. Thankfully the crossing clues gave ample opportunity for numpties like myself to recover from said deficiencies, for which I will remain eternally grateful to Cranberry.

The grid fill, working in reverse order of completion. That could best be described as being uneventful, distracted by having half a pained eye on the rout of Wales by Ireland across the water, with lots to tickle, including in particular “[a]bsence of intergovernmental organisation” to clue NOUN, and the second McCartney I thought of to lead to STELLA(R).

And so all done, correctly I think, with only a smattering of question marks. Thanks therefore to Cranberry for an entertaining, and educational (if slightly grim) solve.

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So welcome Karla to the Inquisitor fold. A pseudonym presumably derived from the works of John le Carré, and a theme based on one of my favourite films. I suspect we’re going to get along.

A film, I would note, of which I am sufficiently a fan that in the mid 90’s I sat through the whole of the Italian language version to catch the extra 45 minutes, that being the only way you could (illegally) view it at the time.

The movie being, of course, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Gold in the title presumably referring to the ecstasy thereof

All of which, of course, would follow the grid fill, which could best be described as trouble free, helped in no small way by the reappearance of LUTETIUM following a showing earlier in the week, and in spite of the customary end-of-week celebrations. Some no doubt will argue that it was a grid fill that was a little too straightforward for the Inquisitor spot, but as I’ve argued before it’s good to have something at the easier end of the spectrum occasionally, not only for those of us who often struggle, but to encourage newer solvers to the dark arts.

We were asked to assemble a list of twelve words superfluous to the wordplay from the clues. Well, I had fourteen, such are my parsing skills, and could find nothing in common among any of them which would allow me to compile three thematic sets.

No fear, this sort of bother can often be alleviated by skipping to the final stage, this time the highlighting of “discovered” words in the grid. And lo, near the top was BLONDIE, which given the aforementioned Gold lead me on a hunt for ANGEL EYES and TUCO with little hesitation. Knowing what we would then be looking for regarding the finale didn’t prevent the hunt for THREE WAY DUEL from taking a some would say unreasonable time, but discovered it was and highlighted along with the rest.

It would take the passing of many hours and a glance back over the extraneous words to realise that of course they were things Good, Bad and Ugly – Good Friday, Bad Apple, etc, a matter of some comfort as I’d begun to worry I might have fallen for the always possible red-herring-there-to-catch-out-the-unwary-or-sloppy-solver.

But not today. So welcome again – a lovely puzzle, thoroughly enjoyed.

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More than 50% extra free is what we had this week courtesy not only of an extended title and setter’s name (welcome, btw), but also a hefty preamble. When faced with such a beast my policy is always to look at what we need, in this case clashes and extra letters, and ignore the rest until all becomes clear at the close.

Or not, on the other hand.

After an early start necessitated by the twins’ second Covid jab at what could only be described as an ungodly hour for a Saturday morning, with the added excitement of somebody else’s child fainting and a tsunami halfway through, to the main event.

Slowly, it must be said, this being what could best be described as a fairly rigorous solve, though one that elicited a smile courtesy of the Star Wars reference, even if I must admit that the Jedi in question was the last I thought of.

Extra letters. Having disposed of an unwanted ASS (yeah, your parsing skills were pretty rubbish too): BEST TONY MUSICAL WINNER.

Clashes duly noted… After calling on the services of an anagram solver to help untangle them, a little tweaking revealed that one possible combination, in order, in the shape of a figure 6 in fact, was the lesser spotted ANNA OF CLEVES, from the musical Six.

All good then? Read the preamble more closely, Jon. It’s “a work”, so I think it’s safe to say the figure drawn is correct, but the character isn’t a thematic one, because said musical hasn’t (yet) won a Tony.

The alternative, reading from the other direction, though, is: GUIDI CONTINI, from another musical, Nine, which did win a Tony or two. So those are the choice of clashing letters, I suspect. And, rather neatly, it fits in with all that 50% extra stuff, both in the title and addition of extra letters.

The work it was inspired by? 8 1⁄2, which I must admit to not writing in properly first time, having not read the preamble carefully enough.

But first we were asked to manipulate the grid. I can only think that it needs to be turned upside down, to change that 6 into a 9, and thus the required thematic work.

Probably wrong, and no doubt I’ve missed something else in the mother of all preambles, but there you go.

Done, and dusted. A debut, and what a debut, from the mysterious Nathan Panning. Pseudonym, or just one of the many Google failed to link to any crosswordy types? Perhaps Nathan him (or her) self will reveal all.

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The latest in Serpent’s irregular series of mirror images continues, invariably a good excuse to whip out the drawing and colour materials. Double the fun, double the chance to cock-up the endgame.

Extra words this week in some across clues and most of the downs. Extra words I’m pretty good at spotting, even after having made a good dent in the remaining stock of Christmas alcohol the night before, fortuitously accompanied by the plentiful supplies of Christmas chocolate jamming the kitchen cupboards to soak up the liquid content. And, oh, copious quantities of coffee to sharpen the mind the next morning.

Mind duly sharpened I got up at an ungodly early hour, no doubt disturbed by the torrential rain and sound of the other half coming down with a chronic sinus infection, to fairly sprint through the day’s i cryptic and then Serpent’s grid. Extra words and all, though it would only be when tackling the endgame that a blunder on RAISER (or is it, I still can’t parse it), would become apparent, in that elusive final hunt for SYMMETRIC LETTER PAIRS.

Because yes, gentle reader, that was the message revealed courtesy of the down clues, though it would only be later that evening that I would think to do the obvious with the repeated letters that seemed to be the only thing in common between them.

I had, however, spotted the artist, the name of the painting resulting from the extra words in the across clues, and duly entered them into the grid.

Duly armed with a copy of the painting to hand, behold. Some would argue that my COW’S SKULL looks more like a giraffe, and that I’ve taken some liberties with the requisite RED, WHITE and BLUE colours required, but, well, such are my artistic skills and such was the closest match I could manage with the crayons to hand.

I do like a nice bit of colouring, accompanied by a thoroughly pleasant grid fill… As if the Inquisitor was a crossword puzzle, after all. 😉

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This puzzle appeared on New Year’s Day, but no provision was made for the extent of solvers’ hangovers, the preamble being quite something. Answers that can be potentially treated, but aren’t, only “imagined”, but appropriately placed, although only “arguably” so in one case.

Best to get on with it then, and try to pretend you weren’t up until some ungodly hour more akin to morning than night. Thankfully the clues were more forgiving, single superfluous letters identifiable with little ado, even if somewhat complicated by the unclued entries that as ever made for a dearth of crossing letters.

To be fair all were perfectly guessable, but any significance would require the entirety of the message from the aforementioned extra letters to tease out. Not just anagram, as I’d already tried and failed to do, but remove a letter first, to reveal…

PRESIDENTS

In one form or another, by way of confirmation via another anagram, courtesy of the letters omitted from the unclued entries. We’re anagram-a-go-go this week.

Has anybody ever called Trump “Don”? That’s how we’re addressing him, anyway, presumably as the lowest of the low, “appropriately” placed as he is at the bottom of the grid.

The highlighting would take a while longer yet, but finally, after a hearty New Year’s Chinese the word JAIL split across the treated Trump finally leapt out, presumably revealing where Lato thinks said ex-president should be, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Or argue that ultimately this was a puzzle appropriately scheduled, requiring just the right amount of mental leaps and hops, and one ultimately of faith, so thanks to Lato and all involved.

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Christmas Eve, and thoughts here would be generally occupied with:

  • Preparing a mountain of vegetables;
  • The viewing of a number of appropriately festive movies;
  • Frantically hunting through the attic for old wrapping paper come 11PM on realising that most of the kids’ presents had yet to be wrapped, with only a couple of sheets of paper and scraps of sellotape remaining. Happily, all was well that ended well.

So it would be that I would only have a chance to spend a little time with the minesweeper stage, at first optimistically, and then with a gathering sense of gloom as it became clear that this sort of thing is really rather difficult and probably not my thing. If only one of the many online Minesweeper solvers could help – but no, what we’re playing is a cunning variation on the game designed to stymie such shenanigans.

Never mind, what about the clues? Straight definitions that, once I spotted on Boxing Day the bit in the preamble regarding the jumbled letters in the clues, and realised that the secondary Sudoku element meant that we were dealing with a set of 9 letters only, fell with little ado.

Though the Minesweeper stage would stubbornly refuse to do so.

The unclued entry did though, by the simple matter of applying a little logic to the 81 letters required in the grid, and those we were missing from the set. ASTEROIDS, another retro game to add to our collection.

And so would ensue several days of trying to do something with the above. A betting man would place ASTEROIDS across the NW-SE diagonal, and the 8 letter answers in the right hand column and bottom row, and so I did, but that still left a lot of possibilities, and no starting spots courtesy of the unsolved Minesweeper to help.

In the end, having thrown in the towel several times (I have a picture on my phone of an empty grid ready to “blog”), my MO involved:

  • Calling on the services of an online Wordoku solver;
  • Inserting the longer answers where I could, gradually, into the grid;
  • Looking at the suggestions the solver threw out and acting on them;
  • Continuing with the above until there was only one possible grid left.

Confirmation via the Minesweeper stage? Well, of course I’d jumped the wrong way regarding the placement of the 8 letter answers, with several of my shorter answers in the grid starting in spots marked 0.

Erase. Start again as per the above, swapping the two 8 letter answers, though with the advantage of knowing that several answers entered diagonally could be mirrored the other side of ASTEROIDS.

And check the Minesweeper again against the completed grid, which looks good to me, though I will admit to being that relieved to finish that I haven’t checked everything thoroughly.

When I first spotted this I figured – this is a light bit of fluff suitable for the festive season, but, well, no, this turned out to be as tough as they get, probably, but too it must be said lots and lots of fun to tease out. Even for those of us who ended up cheating, as I was forced to do. There being no such thing as a bad landing, though, I will sit back content with a job well done, and tuck into the remaining beer, whisky, Christmas Cake and mince pies, of which there are plenty.

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Being but a bear of very little brain, setters have more than once spared my blushes by revealing, via their endgames, random mistakes / guesses I’ve lobbed into the grid. And so it would be this week. Having ascertained after some ado it must be said that we were looking to reveal via corrections the names of some pretty famous composers – famous enough that even I had heard of them – completing the set of  Ella Fitzgerald songbooks (rather less well known, I would hazard to venture) – and having found ELLA herself via corrections to misprints (as instructed via extra letters) in the middle of the grid, I realised that this required me to make thirteen corrections and not the requisite twelve.

Cue much soul searching and agonising, until light dawned and it became equally clear that a rash stab at OTTO for our Roman emperor without any support from the parsing was indeed not only rash, but incorrect, OTHO being a much more rational entry that has the advantage too of being supported by wordplay. One too that would require one correction less to make GERSHWIN.

By way of excuse I will offer a truncated solving time thanks to the transport of my son and his belongings back from university for the holidays, what I thought was a pretty tricky grid fill, and a touch of weariness / general spaciness brought on by Moderna’s otherwise highly recommended vaccine.

Skylark could also be said to have been fairly gentle with the poor solver by giving real words at each stage of the correction of the misprints, otherwise, well, I’m guessing I would have fared a lot less well.

On the other hand, thanks to a very nicely constructed puzzle packed full of the requisite thematic material, here we are with a completed grid, rather unexpectedly it must be said.

So onward with some trepidation following last year’s Harribobs rout to the Christmas twist.

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