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AS I cast a wandering minstrel eye over this week's copy I see a thing of threads and patches: an attempt to tie up a few loose ends before the end of the year. I've tricked myself into believing Christmas is this weekend and so have completed my preparations a week ahead of time, a fact symbolised by the triumphal stack of presents in the diagram.

What I spent on each present was the total of what I spent on the two immediately below. But I can now only remember the price of four of them (in pounds not euros). Can you help me work out what I spent on the remaining ones? No penalty if you get it wrong.

I was delighted to hear Mandelson echoing this column's sentiments on risk-taking and failure. A don from Mandy's old college was more grudging about the minister's remarks on business and creativity: "Can't think what the point is in saying that," he commented, "it seems obvious."

Perhaps. But underlining the obvious sends the message that the minister lives on Planet Rational, which, in the wake of some of the previous government's decisions, is reassuring. And it's handy to start from axioms that we can all agree on, even if the results are what really counts. The correct identification of problems is half the battle in problem-solving. But we also need to specify a goal. Without that you cannot draw up strategies and sub-goals; without those you cannot evaluate progress; and without a sense of where you are and where you are going, you will flounder.

The most creative problem for the brainstormers at Mandelson's Department of Trade and Industry is how to turn society into the sort of club we can belong to and feel so much a part of that we want to participate in and contribute to it.

Were the Germans thus enthused? Just like them to have their millennium project done and dusted so far ahead of schedule that the whole of 1999 now lies ahead of them like an unused beach towel. Still, I'm sure we have the better millennium advert.

Advertising the millennium this Christmas seems somewhat unnecessary. Anyone who needs reminding now that there's a millennium coming up is not going to be in much of a state to remember the ad anyway.

Are we to look forward to other gratuitous adverts for unavoidable things? "It's good to eat!" perhaps, or "Tuesdays - not only do they join Mondays to Wednesdays, but they are also just enough to keep them apart".

It's a little early for a millennial wake-up call. When doomsday finally rolls up, people will be sick to death of it.

The ad, necessary or not, focuses on what made (and hence continues to make) Britain great. No mention, I am told, of the creative genius of Sir Isaac Newton or of Charles Darwin. Darwin changed forever the way we think - not about business but about ourselves in relation to the planet; Newton changed forever how we think about the universe.

Prophets without honour in their own country. Still, there's time to put it right. Perhaps in the next millennium advert.

Tinsel fatigue and grotto rage notwithstanding, my preparations are ready a week ahead of schedule. Not a success on the German scale, but progress nonetheless.

I even have time to visit The Kemsleigh National Brain Injury Unit, at St Andrews Hospital, in Northampton, and Nottingham jail, to give puzzles and board games to the residents.

"Those people are criminals," pointed out a friend indignantly when she learnt of my jail plans. "They are in jail to be punished, not to be rewarded."

But jails are not outside society. And prisoners - even the ones who have been found guilty - are part of it. Christmas is for everyone. We are all in the same boat.

Solutions to last week's problems

1. 16 x 6 = 618 is most lazily corrected by inversion.

2. HG Wells originally called The Time Machine "The Chronic Argonauts".

3. 28C is equivalent to 82.4F

Points to ponder

1. Find the undeliberate mistake on page 27 of the current Radio Times.

2. Find two English words in which the G of GA is pronounced as J.

3. What place links Newton to Lady T?

CM will be setting puzzles live, on the Mark Whall Programme, 9-10pm 24 December, on BBC Eastern Counties Radio