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No folly here…

…though I was hoping to get the post and puzzle up yesterday.  However, the oncoming threat of the remains of Cyclone Debbie (which has just assailed Queensland before heading back out over the Tasman) led me to mow the lawns.  We aren’t getting the really bad weather (though folks in Hawkes Bay are rushing to get their grapes in nonetheless), but three days of warm and wet will render the grass unmanageable far too early in autumn.

[You can’t help but feel that cyclone/typhoon/hurricane namers should sit down with the Chambers Appendix and choose suitably stormy names.  Cyclone Debbie actually sounds almost benign, which isn’t exactly how she turned out.  And Storm Doris hit the UK in February, though the relative infrequency of storms there means they didn’t reach Storm Nigel in 15-16, and Storm Wilbert this season is an overly remote possibility.  The alternating alphabeticism does start to hint at a puzzle idea, though…]

The puzzle this time is an Inquisitor from 1991, though it feels more recent.  I put it up in contrast to the Kcit Enigmatic Variations puzzle appearing in the Sunday Telegraph on 2 April – there will, of course, be a blog on that in due course.

Colin Dexter died recently, depriving us of another significant cruciverbal figure.  I still recall trying to hold a conversation with him at a party in Oxford (it might have been an anniversary of Don Manley’s) without either of us getting very far since he was very deaf, and thus unaware of the background noise that was bothering me.  There are two Hendersons among the characters in the TV adaptations: a Manley and Henderson open the batting in a cricket match, while the two murder victims in a later episode are Grimshaw and Henderson.  It would be nice to think I caught his eye.  Nina-watchers should keep their eyes out in the Independent in a few weeks.

The APEX votes are in (probably…) – for a while it looked like the first clue submitter was also going to be the last voter, but the fact that America is later getting through March than most of us meant that two votes from there came in on Saturday.  (Given that the end of March is so often in the midst of various daylight saving changes around the globe, I have no intention of being doctrinaire about the implied ‘midnight on March 31’ closing date!)  Hope to get something out in a few hours, though postal recipients (who presumably aren’t reading this) will have to wait till I can get some stamps before their copies go off!

Other forthcoming puzzles are in the Times, a full daily on Wednesday 5 April, and a Quick Cryptic on Spy Wednesday.  Hoping to get a Jumbo up on this site for Easter weekend, time permitting.

Hello again website

As I was saying before the interruption, we’re on new servers with additional storage.  What quite happened as we pointed various key things (technical term) at these servers I don’t know.  The immediate outcome was that my main machine kept getting 404 and 500 errors when trying to access the site (and Marjorie’s sites).  Likewise Marjorie’s Mac couldn’t get access either.  Smartphone – no problem; iPad – straight in; everyone else on the Web – welcome.  Just not the machines we use regularly.  

In trying to sort it out we jiggered the router (more technical terms) and lost access to the Net entirely.  So we hauled in an expert and he got the Net back, and professed himself baffled by the 500 and 404 errors.  A couple of days later he came back, did something he couldn’t promise to do again as he wasn’t sure what it was, and here I am.  The Mac hasn’t quite got full access back even now, and we think that means there’s a cache still unemptied.  But the caches on my laptop are drained dry: I have apparently only just started using my machine, have only been visiting the web for a week or so, and I’ve also lost my screen wallpaper.

And my post from mid-February, which I’m sure was cogent and unmissable, if only I could remember what it was.  So today feels like a bit like a fresh start, and I’m taking things relatively easily with an old Independent daily as the new puzzle.  I did manage to put up a blog about my recent Inquisitor Bookshelf earlier in the week, so do have a look at that as well.  This means, of course, that you won’t get me providing an IQ on 1 April, though I can’t imagine the good folks on the editorial team will pass up that opportunity.  Instead you will get me the day after in the Enigmatic Variations slot in the Sunday Telegraph – a further reminder about that next time.  I suspect there might be a Toughie in the offing as well, so keep checking for Kcit there as well.

We do need our extra storage, given all the material Marjorie is putting up over at her Dash Kitten site.  And it’s paying off.  Last year we went to the Blogpaws conference in Phoenix, Arizona (got the T-shirt – in fact, wearing the T-shirt) and this year she’s on the list of nominees for the conference awards.  Twice, no less.  In the case of the video nomination, you are at least spared the sight of me chasing a duckling along our stream, but it did lead to a fascinating trip to the bird rescue centre.  We can’t get to the conference this year (the venue seems to be four flights plus a two-hour drive away), but it is live-streamed, so we will be there in spirit.


For some reason I have been unable to access my site from my home machine for the last few days.  Attempting to correct this has led to problems with connecting to the Net, so everything is a bit on hold at the moment.

However, I can access things from The Chocolate Fish cafe in Shelly Bay, and my pud’s just arrived.  Hope to be back to usual soon.

Waitangi Weekend

The holidays come thick and fast at this time of year.  Waitangi Day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which was intended to forge an alliance between the Crown and the Maori tribes, and resulted in GB declaring sovereignty over NZ, thereby stopping it becoming part of New South Wales, or possibly French (always a concern with the British).  This being a tightly-written legal document, it was immediately open to multiple interpretations, not least because the English and Maori versions differed significantly.   This has provided continuing entertainment down the decades (since no-one really knows what was intended, but would you trust somewhere called perfidious Albion?), with a current item being the presence or absence of the Prime Minister at the early morning celebrations on February 6, and whether s/he can speak if the former applies.  There being plenty of amour-propre on both sides, this will run and run.

Meanwhile we get a holiday now even if February 6 is disobliging enough to fall on a weekend (it’s called ‘Mondayising’ the holiday).  And this weekend has actually been a scorcher (though the gloom returns from the day itself tomorrow, it seems).

The puzzle put up this weekend is another unpublished Beelzebub crossword.  There’s still a bundle to work through, so anyone who is still pining for the Beelzebub puzzle knows where to come.

February is a little quiet outside the Independent weekly routine: there should be a Toughie in the next fortnight, and there’s a Times Quick Cryptic on Friday 10th.  There’s an Inquisitor on the horizon, though, with an Enigmatic Variations on its horizon.

The APEX clues are in, and I will be collating the list for voting tomorrow.  After some unexpected names among the early respondents, it was reassuring that the usual thirteenth-hour entrants came in at the thirteenth hour.  Keep your eyes on your inboxes.

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.

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.

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.


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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.

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.


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.