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.

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.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.