Wellington Anniversary

Welcome to Wellington Anniversary weekend, when we get an extra day off work to sit at home and watch gales and rain go by.  I get some time to sort out some puzzles, and put up one on the site – this time it’s a 1991 puzzle from The European.  This was a cryptic puzzle from a newspaper designed to cater for the emerging Euro-consensus.  No, Brexit is not among the answers.

We may have storms in unusually high quantities, but we’ve also had the gales without the rain, so a fair bit of sunshine too.  Which means (with another nod to the current situation in Europe) – courgettes!

The big fellow – now chopped up and roasting next to a chicken in that very Romertopf – is 25cm long.  Inside every courgette is a marrow striving to escape, and this one nearly made it.  We can barely keep up with the output of one plant, so why we planted five is a bit of a mystery.  Chocolate cake, probably (yes, really – astonishingly good as a source of moistness).  If it’s any consolation, we can’t grow spinach either.  

As for puzzles during the next fortnight, you will find a Times Quick on the last day of January, and a Jumbo on the first Saturday of February (which I will prod you about next time).  APEX cluewriters who haven’t sent me a clue (and, to be fair, those whose clues I’ve lost – it happens) will be receiving a gentle reminder in the course of this week – unless they act on this mention.

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A new look for the new year

May as well kick off with a cliché, as well as a change.  There may be some more changes to come as the year goes on, as I have a couple of things I still want to implement.

As promised, the new puzzle is from the Inquisitor series, but from long before it was known as the Inquisitor – 1991, no less.  Countdown is the puzzle I mentioned solving because I had entirely forgotten its theme – see what you make of it.

I have somehow kept up with solving the seasonal puzzles, and have even got a little ahead with some of the January ones.  This will all cease once the daily grind reasserts itself tomorrow.  Still, I see I managed to produce grids for 11 puzzles during the break, including the 2017 APEX puzzle (still waiting for an inspiring title for that, though).

Coming up this week is a Times Quick Cryptic on Tuesday 10, followed closely by a Telegraph Toughie the next day.  The ‘Friday’ Independent puzzle is for once displaced a day to Saturday.  Make of that what you will.

Happy New Year.

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Merry Christmas (update 24 December)

Well, here it is, and with it a puzzle from Christmas Eve, 2006.  I shall get back to putting up unseen Beelzebub puzzles in 2017.  But since 2016 saw the demise of the Beelzebub series, it seemed appropriate to mark the end of the year with a suitable seasonal puzzle from its vaults.

I have also put up a review of the latest Cryptic All-Stars crossword book, though I have to concede that, as I have yet to launch myself comprehensively at it, the review is as much about how similar it is to its much-enjoyed predecessors.  It’s a little odd to have it as a book, actually, since Volume 1 is in an app, and Volume 2 is a collection of PDF files (PDF very good for restarting or revisiting a puzzle, by the way).

Moreover, I actually have a second copy, courtesy of Roger Wolff, the onlie begetter of, and major contributor to, the series.  So Christmas seemed a good moment to try my first giveaway.  (The other half does these all the time on her page.)  We’ll run it for a week (that’s up to the end of year), and then there’ll be a draw.  There’s a doohickey below that allows you to enter.  Please share!

And a very happy Christmas to you.

 
 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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APEX 2016 under way (update 17 December)

A brief update to note that the e-version of this year’s APEX puzzle went out a few hours ago.  If you’re a regular and should have received a copy, and did not, let me know.

This week sees three puzzles: a Times Quick cryptic from Pedro on Monday 19th, a Toughie from Kcit on Wednesday 21st, and the usual from Phi on Friday 23rd.  Who knows but that there might be something seasonal in one of them?

Meanwhile the good folks at One Across have published a puzzle of mine from 2012, but which hasn’t been seen before. All in all, quite a pre-Christmas flurry.

Next full update is Christmas weekend and I discovered that I had a puzzle on Christmas Eve 10 years ago, so that’s what will appear, along with a few more comments on the new Cryptic All-Stars compilation, and even a give-away for a lucky respondent.

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Another of the old guard passes (update 11 December)

I heard this week that Les May died suddenly in November.  Les was one of the towering figures of the crossworld when I started, and I was pleased to get to know him a little.  He somehow managed to straddle both the Ximenean and non-Ximenean camps – not for nothing did he once adopt the pseudonym Nox – coming up with competition winners that teetered on the line between the two..  I recall using him as a tester for a puzzle and receiving four sides of handwritten A4, narrow feint, with lines squeezed between the available ones.  He’d spotted the idea from an astoundingly few hints, which was typical of him, but also a strong indicator that mere mortals might struggle.

A few years ago he decided to drop crosswords completely for fear that his wife was becoming a ‘crosswidow’.  He stopped attending functions and no longer participated in the APEX puzzle.  I don’t know how completely he kept purdah – I suspect some solving went on – but the annual Christmas card always recounted how they were keeping up with the theatre.  The card, of course, came from Jo May – Les wasn’t going to risk contamination!  And so another giant has gone.

The puzzle this week is an Enigmatic Variations from 2006.  It’s called ‘Key Expression’ and of course I was steered to it by the sudden resignation this week of NZ PM John Key…although the fact that I have the 2006 file out, and I only had one EV in 2006 probably had more to do with it!

I shall try and find time to put up another old Jumbo for Christmas.  Meanwhile, the run-up to Christmas doesn’t include many puzzles out of my usual run: there’s a Times Quick cryptic on the 19th December, and I’m sort of expecting a Telegraph Toughie in the not-too-distant future, though I haven’t a date to share.

However you should cast your eyes over one or more of the puzzle books on this page.  I’ve tried Volume 1 on the Puzzazz app, Volume 2 via PDF, and Volume 3 is in the post (heavens – is that my name in the list of contributors?).  American variety cryptics (which is what barred thematics are called there) are generally a bit easier than their UK equivalents, and achieve some remarkable fills using more or less standard English (none of that Chambers nonsense…).  You do have to be ready for some unfamiliar abbreviations, and there are references to sportspeople and TV stars who are not as internationally famous as they might perhaps like, but the wordplay will carry you through.  Roger Wolff is a thorough editor.

If you want them before Christmas, then it may have to be via PDF.  Roger was happy to send me Volume 2 that way – you can contact Roger by clicking on his name at the bottom of the page.

 

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Getting it right (update 26 November)

The puzzle I’ve just put up today is almost exactly ten years old – from the Church Times of 1 December 2006.  My thanks to them for permission to republish.

Saturday is getting under way in the UK as I write, so there may still be time for you to try today’s Jumbo in The Times.  If you miss that then the quick cryptic there on 29 November will provide a shorter amount of sustenance, as will the daily on 6 December.

This site will get an earlier-than-usual update around the start of December, with a couple of setter’s blogs for recent Enigmatic Variations and Inquisitor puzzles.  About that time, too, the postal copies of this year’s APEX puzzle will go out to meet the last posting dates in NZ (earthquakes permitting, of course) – the e-mailed copies will go out shortly after the next formal update in a fortnight.

There has been something of a kerfuffle around Poat’s recent Listener puzzle.  I must concede that I am regularly among those who miss a subtlety in the final step, or devise a subtlety of my own.  It is often hard to divest yourself of the conviction that your solution must be right – hitting on something that works is a big obstacle to looking further for something that works slightly better.  Sometimes that ‘slightly’ feels like a hair’s-breadth of difference, too.

So in this instance – well, actually, I got it, so, yeah, I’m feeling pretty smug…  The clincher for me was the contorted wording in the preamble, with the very specific omission of a count of the number of cells involved.  Do we not usually get that?  Yes, we do.  Then it might not be cells we’re highlighting, no?

To be fair, I was only 90-95% convinced, but nothing else was reaching 60%, so off it went.  It was an attractive puzzle, after all.

I have been at the other end of the process, when a puzzle of mine generated a lot of spurious solutions – and one which I actually thought was equivalent to, but aesthetically better than, my own.  And it was marked wrong with the rest.  As the man said, the editor’s decision, however perverse, is final.

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Solving your own puzzle (update 13 November)

I was at a CD launch yesterday (this CD – it turned out to be the composer’s 75th birthday, as well, so we all joined in the obvious song during the wine and cheese do after the short recital by Michael Houstoun) and I found myself wondering what it must be like to hear your own work performed.  It couldn’t be like reading your own text, could it? – perhaps more like having it read to you?

And then I had the facepalm moment.  It was a wet day yesterday (84mm) and I’d spent the afternoon sheltering in Victoria University solving puzzles and writing some clues (never as many as you’d like…).  Among the puzzles I solved was one of my own, delivered courtesy of Enigmatist:  Inquisitor No. 132 (original numbering, back when the crossword page bore the title Independent Pursuits).  That’s 1991.  Could I remember the puzzle, which was called Countdown?  No, I could not, so I had to set to and solve it.  This wasn’t difficult – the gimmick had omitted letters in some across entries which, in conjunction with the title, allowed identification of the unclued down entries.  And as soon as I got the first omitted letter, the full idea flooded back.  I did then finish the puzzle by mopping up the unsolved clues, of which there were quite a few.

Did I enjoy it? Well, actually, yes.  It was a very pleasant solve and I guess I didn’t have the usual issue of needing to ‘get inside the setter’s mind’…  I shall put it up on the site next time IQ comes up on the roster (early 2017) – there’s nothing in the above paragraph that you aren’t given in the pramble.

Meanwhile you can see what 25 years have done to Phi Inquisitor crosswords next Saturday (19 November) when Watt Whip will appear (not giving anything away by early release of the title, as you’ll see).  With Famous Last Words as today’s Enigmatic Variations puzzle, and the Listener slot on 5 November, I’ve actually managed three consecutive weeks when I don’t have all three to solve!  Setter’s blogs for all will follow, starting with the Listener one this coming Thursday/Friday, after the closing date, with EV and IQ (which have adjacent closing dates) following at the start of December.

The puzzle this time is an Independent cryptic from 2006, selected because it seemed to be the one that year where I didn’t get a paper copy for some reason.  So what you have is my original submission, without any chance to see whether there were editorial interventions!

I should also make quick mention of the ne book by Alan Connor.  Following on from his crossword history, Two Girls, One on Each Knee, he has produced The Joy of Quiz.  As a past contestant on Mastermind (even before IQ 132), I naturally gravitated to this.  Comments on a recent Magpie puzzle claimed I had scored 42 on Mastermind – but that was Kevin Ashman, who rightly gets about half-a-chapter (maybe slightly more) in this book.  I still remember watching Kevin, after his visit here, trying to negotiate with Qantas at Wellington Airport about accommodating all the books he’d bought without causing the plane to tilt alarmingly.  Connor talks a little about how question-setters are not meant to outwit everyone all the time, but must learn how to lose gracefully, which is very like the writing of clues and construction of puzzles.  Likewise the riffling through of possibly-related information to make connections, and the care needed to construct the question (clue) in a way that leads the contestant (solver) to the right answer.  I did think – but then I would, wouldn’t I? – that more could have been made of these.  But it’s a nicely-paced book, which draws you through the various events in the history of (largely) television quizzing.

And a little footnote for any who come upon this after noticing we had a 7.5 earthquake  a few hours after I wrote the above: still here (now 3 am our time), power on, about to try and get back to sleep.  Main damage is to wineglasses.

 

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Back to Beelzebub (update 30 October)

More like a Northern 30 October today, though the clouds are breaking and the rain is getting warmer.  The new puzzle is another unseen Beelzebub.

Before the next update, there will be a little plethora of Phi or Pedro puzzles in addition to the weekly Independent appearance – a Times Daily (3 Nov) and a Times Quick Cryptic as well (10 Nov).  Between them comes A Bit Up in the Air?, which is the Listener puzzle on 5 November.  Also, if I don’t get round to updating promptly in a fortnight, then I’ll miss the chance to give you a suitably timely prod about the Enigmatic Variations puzzle on 13 November – Famous Last Words.  Consider this a prod.

However, in the absence of a Listener puzzle to solve next week, I shall be spending some time looking at a book that Penguin have very kindly sent me – The GCHQ Puzzle Book.

The GCHQ Puzzle Book

This arrived with a decent thud a couple of days ago, and the scale of the thud means it needs more than a couple of days of intermittent consideration before an opinion can be ventured.  But it is stuffed with 300+ puzzles, mostly word and number-based, though there’s a pictorial section as well, “ranging in difficulty from easy to brain-bending” (a judicious selection suggests the blurb can be quoted directly).  So next fortnight’s update should be prepared next week, which should give me no reason to be tardy!  

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