The world turns on its dark side

It’s the winter solstice we’ve just had, however warm the weather in the UK has been.  There was still a strawberry ripening undeterred this week, though, and we managed an alfresco lunch last weekend, once it had warmed up.  So the weather is still a little odd – even the current storm seems to be hurling its fury North and South, whereas usually it makes a beeline for Wellington in the middle.

Last time was probably too close to the UK election to risk a puzzle from that earlier representative of things pan-continental, The European.  So here it is this time round.  I’ve also updated the European page as I’d noticed I’d missed linking to one I put up earlier this year.

The Independent has for some time now allowed setters to design their own grids – I’ve racked up over 300 of such designs so the opportunity must have been around a while (2005 seems a likely bet, judging by date-stamps on grids I haven’t subsequently revisited).  Today I found myself with a ‘Nina’ that would happily sit in a pre-existing grid – indeed, I think it was easier to use such – so I riffled through some of the original grids (settling on no. 22).  It was rather nostalgic, so I may start resurrecting some separately from any that suit a passing Nina.  Grid 15 is first on the list – the rather savage one with multiply interlocking 15- and 9-letter entries.  Partway through filling it I did wonder whether nostalgia was quite as benign as all that…

There’ll be an update next weekend to accommodate the setter’s blog for this month’s Magpie puzzle.  Before that there will be a Toughie on 29 June while beyond it is an Enigmatic Variations on July 2, and a Times on 6 July.  There’s also an unexpected appearance by Hellphire in the July edition of the Crossword Club magazine CROSSWORD.  Independent Friday service is set to continue as normal…except when it doesn’t – keep your eyes peeled!


The end of the weekend draws nigh…

…and I have spent odd moments wondering what I can write this time.  And little has come to mind.

So, in brief, the new puzzle is an old Inquisitor from 1990 (one I am still rather amazed at regarding its amount of thematic content).  I did mention this one a while back as another example of capturing a musical form in a crossword, so you can have a look at it now.

There’s a Times Cryptic on Tuesday 13 June.  If there’s a Toughie in the offing I have yet to hear, so keep your eyes peeled for a Kcit at the Telegraph puzzle site.

The Listener date – confirmed as always subject to very occasional last-minute changes – is August 5, though before that there’s an Enigmatic Variations puzzle on July 2.  Something tells me there might be something special going on around Inquisitor 1500 later in July as well, though I’m trying to keep much of that secret from myself as well (one has to have something to look forward to).


A full week

The puzzle this time is one from the BBC Music Magazine in 2003.

Quite a lot going on this week, not least the passing of our oldest cat, who died on Wednesday after a sudden decline. Marjorie has a fuller story here.  Regulars will know that there will be a puzzle along in due course (the outline of it is beside me as I speak) though I think this one will not be so obviously feline in nature.

I also heard that the June Magpie will feature one of my puzzles, which confirmation arrived shortly after I’d gridded a puzzle which, on reflection, I thought had to be designated its hoped-for successor.  (It took me long enough to work out how to print the solution grid, for one thing, which might not go down well with the less specialist publications.)  There’s also the faintest hint of an oncoming Listener in the air, which means the semi-permanent note on my to-do list to devise a new one takes on a new urgency.

Before all that a Toughie squeezes into May by the merest whisker (31st).  And a Times Quick Cryptic follows on 7 June, before the next formal update.  But I will put up a setter’s blog for the latest IQ, Don’t Trust the Picture, somewhere around its closing date (also 31st May).  I suppose that means I’m going to have to go and write it now…

A classic puzzle book

It was the local Lions Club Book Fair last weekend, and I always look in.  And I always come away with a heap of stuff, as I think I may have mentioned before.  This time it was a large hoard of Russian Disc rarities (Book and CD Fair, I should have stressed) – Boris Parsadanian, anyone?  Clearly someone has either died or gone into streaming in a big way.

But I also found this:

Henry Dudeney was one of the foremost puzzle creators of the twentieth century.  This book seems to have been brought out by popular demand after his death in 1931.  (At least, the preface by his widow gives 1931, and you’d think she might have a reliable opinion in the matter, while the Wikipedia page says 1930 (though giving two different dates in that year).)  The book is divided into eight sections, starting with ‘Arithmetical and Algebraical Problems’ (itself divided into six sections) and ending with ‘Unclassified Problems’.  

The puzzles are presented with that strange sort of lumbering grace, wherein Colonel George Crackham (or his wife Dora, or Professor Rackbrane) suddenly start pointing out curiosities about bags of coins while helping themselves to marmalade at breakfast, or mentioning that Atkins, Brown and Cranby each have to do a journey of forty miles.  (The Crackhams seem to be particularly prone to suddenly throwing out little mathematical problems at guests and relatives, and even passing shepherds.)  Things are ‘absurdly easy if properly attacked’ (one wonders if the Crackhams are ever attacked…) though you do need to have a working knowledge of both Imperial measures and predecimal coinage (one puzzle requires the ability to work in farthings reaching a total that just happens to be the product of two improbably large prime numbers).

Answers are included.  (One ends, testily, that the answer is not that the Swiss have no navy, while a nearby one promises that the answer doesn’t just apply in Sussex.).  They don’t make them like this any more.

This time the puzzle is another unpublished Beelzebub.  The next couple of weeks sees a Times puzzle on Thursday 18th May, and an Inquisitor on Saturday 20th May (a setter’s blog will follow in due course).  I should also mention the Times Jumbo on 27th May, just in case I don’t put the next post up till the Sunday of that weekend.

The Apex 2016 puzzle

It’s the time of year when I put up the annual Christmas puzzle, circulated to a group of regular solvers in memory of Eric Chalkley – more details of the tradition here.  You might even set your calendar by me this year – it looks like I’ve hit exactly the same weekend as in 2016, though I’m putting the puzzle up on the Saturday rather than the Sunday this time!

It was generally considered a bit harder than some of its predecessors – though there were a few who found it straightforward enough.  You’ll just have to try it for yourself!

Remember that part of the puzzle is to determine a word to be clued.  The solvers then write a clue to that word, and these clues are circulated to everyone for voting.  My only job is to transcribe them accurately (which I think I’ve managed to do so far) – I don’t vote myself, although I do offer up a clue for consideration.  (And I don’t even spend months in advance using the fact that – necessarily – I know the word to be clued to hone an entry – I tend to scribble something down just after circulating the puzzle in mid-December, but before I see any other entrants’ ideas!)

This year’s winners are listed at the end of the solution notes.

We’re about to swing into May, and to enliven the first week there’s a Pedro Quick Cryptic in The Times on Wednesday 3rd in addition to the usual Friday Independent puzzles.  There’s an Inquisitor in the offing, too, but more of that next time.

Happy Easter

Here we are after the passage of Cyclone Cook (well, weakening subtropical low Cook by the time it reached us) and very little of the threatened chaos came to pass in this neck of the woods (sadly, other parts of NZ have not been so lucky).  Even our three metre hollyhock came through unscathed, though it may be at an even more outrageous angle now.  There was enough concern to keep me awake and apprehensive throughout the night, though, but the one major downpour only kicked in just after I did drop off.

Easter is a time for holiday puzzles so I have set to and transcribed an Easter Jumbo from The Independent of over a decade ago.  I took the liberty of modifying one clue – when I looked at it, I immediately thought I couldn’t have intended that, and blamed the editor.  But my hard copy says exactly the same.  And it really doesn’t feel right.  (Actually, I should own up to deleting a whole comma in one other clue.)

I will also shortly be adding a new setter’s blog covering my latest Enigmatic Variations puzzle, Fugue (I’ll try to remember to convert part of that sentence to a link when I do).  I’m not quite sure of the precise closing date any more, so I am dependent on fifteensquared‘s blog!  (Or the EV editor dropping me a Facebook message – link now activated.)

I am filling the Independent’s Friday slot with what was intended to be next week’s puzzle (but the vagaries of clashing vocabulary have led to a swap).  Since the Independent allowed setters to devise their own grids, I have produced 300.  This one came from thinking about long entries, and whether it was possible to have consecutive grid rows of 15, 14 and 13 – the answer is yes, and there’s also something to mark the 300-ness of things.  Next week grid 299 finally gets in.  And after this, fewer odd grids.  Maybe.

New Zealand mourned the loss of John Clarke this week.  He was Australia’s leading political satirist, and, though a Kiwi, took on the role in Australia because the powers-that-be in NZ were a little terrified of the possibility.  (He did leave NZ the enduring national character of Fred Dagg.)  One of Clarke’s hits in Australia was a spoof on the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and that seemed to inspire a sporting vein, since he shortly afterwards produced The Tournament, a book I came across when Radio 3 chose selections as interval readings during concerts in Wimbledon fortnight.  Clarke’s tournament is unique in that the participants are significant cultural figures from between roughly 1870 and 1970 (artists, scientists, musicians, film stars, etc. – not military or political types) – and they play tennis according to their cultural roles: Einstein’s serve only seems to be faster than light, while no-one’s sure how Amelia Earhart was seeded, because her best performances aren’t on any surface at all.  It’s a vehicle for parodying sports reporting, as well as a repository for countless, often rather erudite jokes (Godel queries how the score in his match can be tied 1-1 after two games, as he can demonstrate that there may be situations where 1+1 is not equal to 2).  There’s nothing quite like it, and it is always worth dipping into.  In all the encomia surrounding his passing, no-one has mentioned this gem, so I’m trying to even things up.

Next time round will see the appearance of the 2016 APEX puzzle.


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.