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After the event

…life goes on.  Thank you for the messages of support after the events of 15 March.  It stirred memories of my own encounters with terrorist events, fortunately reasonably remote, but on one occasion nonetheless closer than one would wish.  And afterwards one gets on with things again.

So here’s a puzzle from the BBC Music Magazine.  I do mention the February 2013 edition in the blurb on the BBC Music Magazine page, so you may as well see the puzzle that appeared that month.

Coming up, head over to The Times for a Quick Cryptic from Pedro on April 5, after which I will be back with another puzzle.  Beyond that, Easter sees a Listener puzzle, but not under the Phi pseudonym – more next time.

A birthday distraction

Yes, it’s the other half’s birthday today, so I must be brief.  She shares it with – but, no, there’s a puzzle in that, I’m sure, and now I shall have to wait till March 9 falls on a Saturday again…

The puzzle today is an old Inquisitor, from 2002, when it was called the Weekend Crossword.  It’s quite large, and has something perilously close to an indirect anagram in it (though I did remove the injudicious exclamation mark).  For some reason, in removing the word lengths (with a good reason) we also removed any indication of multiple word entries (for no obvious reason) – but I haven’t thought to change that!

The Inquisitor (amongst others) has suffered a huge blow today with the announcement of the death of John Harrington (aka Schadenfreude and Oxymoron).  I never met him except through his crosswords (there is a collaborative puzzle to come – more on that later this year), and it seems that he was a reclusive type anyway (which may explain his prolific output – he also set puzzles for Magpie and the Cambridge Alumni Magazine).  He was one of the touchstones of the crossword world – if his pseudonym was attached, you were in for a good puzzle.

As I must be brief, I’ll just quickly note a Pedro in the Times Quick slot on 21 March, with an Inquisitor two days later, by which time I will be back with another blog.  Further ahead, there’s a Listener, but it’s not by Phi…


A toehold in February

February 2019 won’t rank highly on my list of favourite months – all a bit hectic in various ways.  Apologies for missing a slot a fortnight ago, but I have a new puzzle up this time.  I thought I’d unearth an actual Beelzebub puzzle this time round – it’s from September 2002 and, though I say it as shouldn’t, I thought it was quite good.  I shall resume using the unpublished ones next time Beelzebub comes up on the roster.

APEX participants have started voting.  It’s always my favourite part of it, watching how the points accumulate.  We had a bit of a false start this year, as the discontinuance of my usual email address led to a couple of submissions going astray.  Despite some comments from the people involved that there was no need to include the lost clues, they weren’t up to much, please don’t put yourself out etc. etc…well, they’re both in the lists now, and garnering points.  If you’re in the group and haven’t voted yet, the deadline is March 31, and there’ll be a reminder or two sent out before then.  Meanwhile revisit some of the older puzzles now enshrined on the site.

Roy Dean, who died aged 91 on Christmas Day, dropped out of the APEX group a few years ago, when he felt no longer able to participate.  I thought this a shame as Roy at half-power was quite the match for anyone else at full.  He is one of the few crossword setters who appears on my CD shelves, which gives you an idea of his versatility.

February was quite a full month for Phi puzzles – and there’s still one (OK, a Pedro puzzle) to appear in the Times Quick Cryptic slot on the last day of the month.  It has a successor exactly three weeks later on March 21.  In between there may be a Magpie puzzle at the start of the month – precise month not advised to me when the proofs came in a while ago.  Subscribers should keep checking the Magpie website for the March issue, as there have been some issues with sending out the monthly notifications (said he, speaking as a victim of said issues).

Distracted by sunshine

Apparently today’s sudden burst of sunshine presages a heatwave, and it was certainly enough to keep me from putting up a puzzle. My computer’s belief that there is no Internet on Sundays isn’t helping either.

I was also distracted by sketching out a new idea a little way, which in turn may have been inspired by hearing that there’s a Phi probably coming along in the February Magpie – you never quite get confirmation until the issue arrives in your inbox.  There’s also a Telegraph Toughie on 6 February, a Times cryptic on 7 February and a Church Times puzzle on 8 February – indeed February is turning out to be quite jampacked in its short space.  More next time, with a puzzle, I promise (weather permitting).

Start of the year

Here in New Zealand we are in the throes of summer, and even days where the forecast has been rather threatening in terms of clouds have turned out to be rather splendid.  This rather limits the motivation for blogging.  Today we went over to the Wairarapa district, stopping off at the local cheese emporium (which has the shop in its old location, though they have only moved next door!) in the book town of Featherston (UK readers think Hay-on-Wye) before moving over to Martinborough to visit a favourite vineyard.

So limited time therefore to blog this weekend…  What we have this time is a puzzle that sort of emerged as a result of a blogger’s grumble about the limited range of themes hitherto seen in the Independent.  Check out the fifteensquared blog here (but solve the thing first!).

Be careful what you wish for, and I’ve just jotted down a thematic idea for later in 2019 as a result of putting this one up.  You have been warned.  The thematic element in today’s Independent puzzle is much less evident.

And consider yourselves also warned of a forthcoming Times puzzle on 18 January, as well as the usual Friday Independent appearances.


It’s the time of the year when people take on resolutions about changing behaviour, so it’s not inappropriate to consider other behavioural tics.  How about superstitions?

I have just completed two puzzles on Christmas Day.  For the last several years, I have always finished clueing at least one puzzle on Christmas Day, so now I set about engineering the situation, leaving a puzzle with one clue, usually to a friendly-looking word, that can be polished off quickly.

I do the same for New Year’s Eve – just at the moment (December 27) I have a Telegraph Toughie ripe for completion, which will now be held in a sort of stasis so that I can finish it on the day.  I’ll direct my attention to other puzzles which may mean I will have two (or more) finished on that day as well.

I will then grid a puzzle on New Year’s Day, though I won’t start writing its clues (see below).  Completing something like a Toughie on New Year’s Eve tends to present the option of its successor for this purpose, though at the moment I already have three puzzle grids straining at the slips.

What else? I don’t like leaving a puzzle with thirteen clues written.  Over time that has extended to not leaving a puzzle with thirteen clues to be written.  It hasn’t yet extended to Jumbos and multiples of thirteen, but that may be because I’ve only just thought of the possibility.  (I have just noticed that I was left with thirteen unpublished Beelzebub crosswords when the series ceased in The Independent on Sunday.)

Once a grid is complete I won’t start on the clues for a few days.  Instead I will from time to time take out the freshly-completed grid and look over it, getting a feel for how the entries interact.  At least I tell myself that that is what I am doing, but I’m not really sure what I do get out of this practice; it just seems the right thing to do.

The reason I discovered there were thirteen unpublished Beelzebub puzzles is that I have selected the antepenultimate for the puzzle this time round.  This provides another unseen puzzle of mine for the Christmas and New Year holiday period.  However, before 2018 is out you will have another puzzle of mine: 31 December in The Times.  And, no, I didn’t consciously plan it.  (Solve the puzzle to find out what ‘it’ is.)  The Times also has a Quick Cryptic of mine (that’s using the Pedro pseudonym) on 10 January. 

Merry Christmas

Looking for something different for the BBC Music Magazine Christmas issue, I found myself doodling a Christmas tree shaped grid.  I decided it wouldn’t really do (quite difficult to fill with thematic entries) but I kept it around and filled it with some seasonal words.  With only fourteen entries, it didn’t take long to clue, and I noted the curious fact that, if you clued them in order, you started out with short words like 2 across, which grew longer then shorter again when you reached 10 down.  You don’t get that with your usual grids.

Anyway, here it is.  Merry Christmas!

Back next week with some thoughts on superstitions.

The approach of Christmas

Some Christmas puzzles are already appearing, so this week I am putting up one of my own – an Independent daily from 2010.  By chance, it’s another Independent puzzle with a preamble, but I’m not making a habit of it, honestly.

I have a couple of seasonal puzzles in the offing, though next Friday’s Independent may not have an immediately apparent seasonality, even though it is very precise.  The same day (21 December) sees Church Times puzzle No. 1,500, which is also seasonal (I know, I did the grid), and commemorates puzzle no. 1 in the paper in 1989 (also a Christmas puzzle) by uniting the first four setters in a collaborative effort (after 30 years, we’re all still around!).  I debuted with No. 2.  Don Manley, the editor, has an article in the current issue about the genesis of the puzzle.

There are two new setter’s blogs, for Magpie’s Perversity and The Listener’s Gallery.

And that must be that for now: this weekend sees the emailing of the APEX 2018 puzzle, and I need to get on with that.  Regular recipients, keep an eye on your inboxes.  But there will be an additional post next week with a (seasonal, of course) puzzle set specifically for the site.

The start of summer

In the Southern Hemisphere at least.  Radio NZ Concert obligingly played Vivaldi’s seasonal concerto yesterday, as they do every December 1st, because that’s when summer starts, whatever the weather says (and a thunderstorm today certainly says something, particularly as it took out the power for an hour).

But our garden is flourishing, and in particular our flax plants.  After a couple of barren years, there is a distinct burgeoning, and our largest has outdone itself (photo taken on a day that was very bright but cloudy to boot):

I look up at those and think it’s about 8 feet, but 10 may be nearer the mark.  If I hear it walking toward the house rattling I’ll know the spirit of John Wyndham still lives.

With Christmas on the horizon, I thought I’d put up a Christmassy puzzle this time: it’s from the Christmas issue of the BBC Music Magazine for 2010.  I’m also sending out the postal copies of the APEX puzzle this weekend (fractionally after the last posting date for the UK, which creeps ever earlier), with the electronic circulation to follow in a couple of weeks.  There will be a special Christmas puzzle here on the weekend before the event itself. 

I have also contributed to the special Church Times Christmas puzzle that weekend before Christmas, which happens to be number 1500 in the series as well.  Don Manley will be reviving puzzle No. 1 with, I believe, an article about the puzzle’s 30 years, in the issue a week earlier.

Before that there’s a Times Quick Cryptic on 7 December, though there may also be a Toughie sometime before the next update.  And this year’s BBC Music Magazine Christmas puzzle should be out any day soon.

A busy week

It’s not often I have to rearrange things to fit in the crosswording, but this has been a busy week, with the result that this is going up earlier than usual.

So, meet Munro.

Munro appears every day in The Dominion Post, Wellington’s newspaper.  He’s drawn by Sharon Murdoch, who takes one clue from the adjacent definition-only crossword, and turns out a mini-cartoon.  As with so many definition clues, you can’t always be sure of the answer from just the clue, so the book does give the solutions at the end.  The book is marked Vol. 1 and Munro is certainly appearing on a daily basis.  I can’t find him on the DomPost website, so you may just have to order him from the local craft bookshop Minerva.

Also in books this week is

This arrived in the post (along with volume 22 of its larger cousin) – The Times is very generous about sending its setters copies.  There are definitely Pedro puzzles in this – haven’t perused its big brother enough yet.  And it’s not just puzzle books – these two came with a free copy of The White Darkness by David Grann.  Grann is one of the best New Yorker writers, and this tale of an Englishman who set out to cross Antarctica solo is excellent, and I still recall it from its appearance earlier in the year.  I may end up buying Killers of the Flower Moon yet.

There’s more – there’s a new setter’s blog up on the site, covering The Magic of Opera from the Inquisitor series a few weeks ago.  And the immediate cause of the rearrangement of things to accommodate crosswording is a fast turn-round of proofs.  Things are not 100% confirmed, but there should be Kcit puzzle in the Enigmatic Variations series on Sunday 18 November.

The new puzzle on the site this time round is one from the Independent in December 2012.  It may have some thematic links to some of the material mentioned above – I couldn’t possibly comment…