For the benefit of solvers new to the rigours of the Advanced Cryptic, Dr Watson provides a monthly review of the Observer’s Azed competition puzzle. Dr Watson is a regular Azed competitor. Please post any comments on this review to the Crossword Centre’s message board.

Azed No 1700 ‘The Spirit of Christmas?’ (19 Dec 2004)

Azed’s solvers have come to expect a fun but not too taxing challenge at Christmastime, but usually something different and a little more difficult on special occasions like a centenary puzzle. And when both occasions coincide? Azed comes up with a very special ‘special’ that combines the themes of 1700 and Christmas in a most original and surprising way. As ever it’s the combination of some great cluemanship (‘misprints’ this time) and the penny-dropping moment when the theme reveals itself, that make it a puzzle to savour. The theme is hidden in six unclued lights. Three have a connection to Christmas and three have a connection to a theme word hinted at in the title, while each the first three forms a compound expression with one of the second three. The theme word forms a further compound expression that completes the connection with the puzzle’s number. The letters that correct the misprints in half of the clues spell out a quotation that hints at this last expression.

In the notes below the correct word for a misprinted clue is given in the bracketed explanation.

Notes to the clues:

13a:   Clover maybe gives this oil, not right to eat.  TREF (tref(oil)). One that might leave you puzzling even after a scan through the TRE’s has turned up the solution.

18a:   Forward after kick-off, one secretly helping with the hooker.  KOBOLD (hoover; KO bold).  Watson’s solving time was increased by the assumption that the corrected misprint was ‘cooker’ rather than ‘hoover’.

28a:   Triplets from Pavarotti switched showing musical range.  OTTAVA ((P)ava(r)ott(i) switched).  Not an obvious device, but clearly explained. A misprint or a longer name could have made it difficult.

2d:    Having no time for counting, one gypsy trick gets almost everyone   UNROMANTICAL (courting; ’un rom antic al(l) ).  You could struggle with this clue if you decide ‘gypsy’ must be ‘Roma’ rather than ‘rom’.

3d:    River birds in Blackburn and the like?  DEEJAYS (Dee jays).  Luckily for solvers under about 35 who avoid middle-of-the-road radio, Tony Blackburn has made something of a celebrity comeback recently.

6d:    Victorian topper? There’s barrier maybe on Garden production without one.  WALLOPER (copper; wall + oper(a)).  We’re talking here about the state of Victoria and Covent Garden, home of the Royal Opera House.

29d:  Boozer swallowing his last? It shouldn’t be taken literally  TROPE (r moved in toper).  There always seems to be a reference to carousing somewhere in an Azed Christmas puzzle. This one is well up to Azed’s best standard.

32d:  Climbing mountain peaks you’ll discover old puy?  SNEB (guy; bens, rev.).  This takes a bit of finding, even once you’ve realised ‘puy’ contains the misprint. ‘Sneb’ leads via ‘snib’ to ‘snub’, which means to secure with a rope, as does ‘guy’ (as a verb).

Other solutions:

10a: ANERLY (L in an + anag.);  12a: LABRUM (lip; Lab(rador) rum);  14a: ROBE (hide; hidden);  15a: MANILA (paper; nil in maa);  16a: IMARET (I + Ar. in met);  20a: CLASPER (anag.);  23a: STEPPES (trees; step pes(t));  26a: EFT (tailed; 2 meanings);  30a: AROLLA (roll in aa);  31a: BANISH (NI in bash);  33a: ICON (I con);  35a: NAPLES (anag.);  36a: TERRAE (bits; arret, rev. + E);  37a: GLEED (ember; l(ak)e in ged);  1d: PAT-LID (tea; anag. in pad);  4d: ILEA (I lea(n));  5d: GLAIKS (deceptions; gla(d) + (wh)isk(y) anag.);  7d: IROKO (ok in iro(n));  8d: TUBULIFLORAE (l + or in anag.);  9d: EMENDS (corrects; end in Ems);  11d: YENTA (yen ta);  17d: ELEVATED (merry; anag. less Ry.);  21d: RELEARN (RE + L + earn );  24d: PANISC (s in panic);  25d: PAINT (oils; pain t(it));  27d: TACKET (nail; C in take + t).

Thematic solutions:

1a: PUDDING;  6a: WHITE;  19a: DAY;  34a: MARK;  38a: CABINET;  22d: BOXING

The Christmas compounds are PUDDING, WHITE and DAY. With the other three thematic words they form the compounds CABINET PUDDING, MARK-WHITE and BOXING DAY.

MARK, CABINET and BOXING all form compounds with SHADOW (the ‘spirit’ of Christmas).

Correct letters in misprinted clues spell out ‘I have a beard coming’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

1700 is five o’clock and so the compound to be clued is FIVE-O’CLOCK SHADOW.

Azed previously used a time of day connection in puzzles 250 (linked to Brooke’s ‘Stands the church clock at ten to three?’) and 1250 (where ‘ten’ was replaced by ‘one’ – sometimes in another language – in several solutions).