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This was a really good puzzle, and I wish my blog could do better justice to it. I think it took me around 20 minutes, on the train home sometime in the week. The good news is that I'd half-finished the blog before looking at any of the clues, because last weekend when I could have been solving, I was writing a perl script to automate the boring bits of creating a blog post.

I usually start with a template based on a random week from when I first created it, so have to change a lot of the clue numbers, then paste in all the clues manually one by one before finally adding the answers and explanations. My script logs in to the Times site, selects the puzzle I want to blog, extracts the clues and fills out the blog post ready for me to just add the solutions and explanations. It works perfectly on Linux, but I've also briefly tested it with ActiveState perl on Windows and it seems to be ok. It'll probably work ok on a Mac too, but I don't have one to test it on. Anyone who's interested in getting their hands dirty with perl is welcome to give it a try, just ask. You probably need to have some programming knowledge to get it working on your own PC, but it's going to save me half an hour a week, so well worth the effort! Anyway, the puzzle...

1 This has to net millions after playing? (5-3)
SMASH-HIT - (this has)* around M(illions), anagram &lit to kick us off.
6 A doctor - English bachelor - leading a simple sort of life (6)
AMOEBA - A + MO (Medical Officer = doctor) + E(nglish) + B(achelor) + A.
9 As exercise, are volunteers running backwards to get in shape? (13)
QUADRILATERAL - QUA (as) + DRILL (exercise), around [ARE, TA (volunteers)] reversed. TA is normally qualified as ex-volunteers or the like as they're called the Army Reserve these days (not that I think crossword setters need to be that pedantic).
10 Like a place for wine, reportedly? And vegetable (6)
CELERY - sounds like "cellary". Groan.
11 Phoney lament from beggar maybe crossing street (8)
IMPOSTOR - I'M POOR (lament from beggar maybe) around ST(reet).
13 Mishandled, now it tends to get torn (2,3,5)
IN TWO MINDS - (now it)* + MINDS (tends). I wasted far too long trying to work "now it tends" into an anagram of something!
15 Kid from France I must keep in order (4)
JOKE - JE (I in France) around OK (in order).
16 Fill / mug up (4)
CRAM - double definition.
18 US school on a trip on first of the month instead (6,4)
JUNIOR HIGH - HIGH (on a trip), next to JUN I (first of the month) + OR (instead).
21 The best seats, perhaps, those with locks behind them (5,3)
FRONT ROW - double definition. First one's obvious, second is about positions in a rugby scrum.
22 Plant used in homeopathy's so produced (6)
HYSSOP - hidden in "homeopathy's so produced".
23 Thin robe, baggy pants: an original idea! (3,4,6)
BIG BANG THEORY - (thin robe baggy)*.
25 Where mere chicken feed presumably aimed to provide capital (6)
ATHENS - where do you aim chicken feed? AT HENS! Original treatment for this city, which normally gets broken down into an "A then S" type of clue.
26 Couple following do went out relieved (8)
REMEDIED - RE, ME (couple following do - like in the song, but with one alternative spelling) + DIED (went out).

2 Host powerful piece portraying Hollywood actor (7)
MCQUEEN - MC (Master of Ceremonies, host) + QUEEN (powerful piece - on a chessboard). I'm sure everyone's heard of Steve McQueen - I was just a bit shocked to find out he died so long ago (1980).
3 Respected politicians panic, with foreboding about Society (11)
STATESWOMEN - STATE (panic) + W(ith) + OMEN (foreboding), around S(ociety).
4 Woman who's grasping standard English: hard, indeed, to grasp that (5)
HARPY - RP (received pronunciation, standard English), inside H(ard), AY (indeed).
5 Unlikely place to drink port (7)
TALLINN - TALL (unlikely) + INN (place to drink). Capital of Estonia - I'll take the setter's word for it that it's also a port!
6 For now, we infer, initially on course (9)
ANTIPASTO - ANTI PAST (therefore: for now) + O(n).
7 Of the speakers - and their time? (3)
OUR - definition plus implied homophone - sounds like HOUR (time).
8 Steer left after bend, going through barrier (7)
BULLOCK - L(eft) after U (bend), inside BLOCK (barrier).
12 Bore keeps going places with wife in London area (2,5,4)
ST JOHN'S WOOD - STOOD (bore) around JOHNS (going places, i.e. toilets) + W(ife). An area of NW London.
14 Army officer gets rid of islanders (9)
MAJORCANS - MAJOR (army officer) + CANS (gets rid of).
17 Dish, a collector's item, pinched? (7)
RAREBIT - RARE (which is an adjective, not a noun, so the clue's missing a word - "like" would do) + BIT (pinched). Normally preceded by Welsh, this is just another name for cheese on toast.
19 Modern philosopher from Sorbonne's in revolutionary venture (3,4)
NEW AGER - EN (the Sorbonne's in France, so French for "in") reversed + WAGER (venture). Not so sure about the "modern", it's all a bit 1980s according to Chambers.
20 My boy Reg swimming across lake (5,2)
GLORY BE - (boy Reg)* around L(ake).
22 Dull, useless accommodation, with bad smell (2-3)
HO-HUM - HOUSE without the USE ("useless accommodation") + HUM (bad smell).
24 Substitute for giddy brother? (3)
GEE - you can tell a horse when you want it to go faster, GIDDY-UP or GEE-UP, and apparently they'll understand. The definition (and the answer) is American slang for wow, corblimey etc.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2017 01:35 am (UTC)
I don't know how long this took me; when I went offline (after a half-hour or less), the left half of the grid was empty except for CRAM and BIG BANG THEORY. Like Andy, I wasted time trying to rearrange 'now it tends. I had no idea how 24d worked, but there wasn't much choice given G and E. I didn't see a problem with 17d: 'a collector's item' and 'rare' can both be used as predicates in, say, "It is ___" or "It became ___".

Edited at 2017-01-07 03:22 am (UTC)
Jan. 7th, 2017 04:46 am (UTC)
No record of time for me either...
...but I seem to remember struggling with 'joke', 'Athens', and 'gee' before seeing the obvious.

A very clever puzzle indeed.
Jan. 7th, 2017 06:35 am (UTC)
Hard work but very enjoyable. NEW AGER the only unknown.
Jan. 7th, 2017 09:51 am (UTC)
very pert
No problems with this in a pleasant 25 minutes.
Andy I am hatless at your expertise with PERT, a word I only knew in the context of nice but naughty bits.
Jan. 7th, 2017 11:40 am (UTC)
Re: very pert
For an owl, you have very poor eyesight ;-)

It's PERL, not PERT. It also has naughty bits, but they're well hidden.
Jan. 7th, 2017 02:30 pm (UTC)
QC report
This was a big challenge for me. Every answer had to be wrestled to the floor. Apart from Amoeba, all my early solves were in the bottom half and, after a lot of looks over the week, I had most of the NW outstanding.
Having seen the answers (and,as ever, a big thank you for the blog), it wasn't that impenetrable. I could not parse 24d, did not know Tallinn was a port but guessed Hyssop. I now see 1a was very good but had no idea what was needed. David
Jan. 8th, 2017 02:36 am (UTC)
Enjoyed this, in a not-slow 25:41. Only hold up, surprisingly, was GEE at the end _ I know both meanings but couldn't see either, for some reason (senior moment?). St Johns Wood BIFD, took a bit of working out.

Andy, excellent idea with the PERL script. Would it be possible for it to log into the solution page rather than the puzzle page, and strip the answers out as well? Solution page is available as soon as you've completed & submitted the puzzle?
I have a few solutions (of puzzles I really liked) that I downloaded years ago when I was a member, and the information is all in there, but would be hard to extract. I could do it in C, but not PERL. Also you could put in the spaces and hyphens automatically, but apostrophes would have to be added manually later.
Jan. 8th, 2017 09:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Cracker
Unfortunately, the solution page (which is the one I use anyway), only has the solutions in the grid table, one letter at a time, one cell at a time. It could probably be unpicked by someone with way more time on their hands than me, but it rules me out.

Get it up, right-click and view the page, you'll see what I mean. Might be easier in Python or Ruby, but I'm not proficient in either of those. If anyone takes it on and cracks it, please let me know!
Jan. 8th, 2017 10:53 am (UTC)
12dn was my FOI it was either that or ST JAMES PARK but the former felt more like an area.
LOI 24dn GEE!

Untimed as is happening more at the week-ends in line with NtN policy.


Jan. 8th, 2017 04:09 pm (UTC)
Entertaining crossword..

So far as the Perl script goes Andy, it takes me three minutes or less to open the print version of the crossword in question, copy the clues as plain text and then paste them into Livejournal.. and perhaps another five minutes to insert the answers. 90% of the time is taken up by parsing and writing in the reasoning, Wiki references, jolly quips etc. etc., and if you can find a script for that, I would be grateful .. I rather like the idea of lying in bed, pressing a button, and having the blog done before my eyes..
Jan. 8th, 2017 09:55 pm (UTC)
Probably the same here Jerry, but it's the most boring part! Doing it in about 3 seconds instead (2.99 of which is spent waiting for the Times server to respond) is so much better! Anything boring and repetitive can be automated - that's my day job anyway, I've been automating everything possible at work for the last 17 years or so.

Jolly quips etc are probably beyond the capability of my scripts at the moment, but watch this space! ;-)
Jan. 8th, 2017 10:00 pm (UTC)
I appreciate it's what you're good at .. (does your employer own the software rights I wonder?) .. do keep working on it Andy, a jolly quip generator doesn't sound all that far fetched, these days
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )