HIS style of grid was last used, as far as Dr Watson knows, by Azed thirty years ago in the Christmas 1978 puzzle no 352, where the central column and diagonal jumbles represented a Christmas tree, with FAIRY LIGHTS down the middle. It was also used as maypole in no 267 for MORRIS DANCE. So it will have been a novelty for many solvers. The acrosses and downs are ‘Right and Left’ clues, combined in pairs with the join hidden and either word clued first. The diagonal jumbles are normally clued – the only purpose of these solutions is to provide a letter each to the central column, and it’s unlikely they’d all need to be solved once the theme becomes clear.
None of the clues is especially difficult in itself by Azed’s standards, though the joins between the clue pairs are characteristically well hidden in the surface flow. The preamble is extremely generous in spelling out the theme. There can’t be that many carols that could fit the 3 words, 11 letters requirement, and ‘We three Kings of Orient are’ sprang to Dr Watson’s mind immediately. Solving the puzzle was therefore more a pleasant ramble than a hard tussle, and the two long thematic down solutions were happy discoveries. Everything the way it should be for a Christmas Azed; the challenge of cluing WE THREE KINGS could wait until the crackers were pulled and the turkey back in the fridge.
The grid does not work in the Guardian site’s interactive format, so the pdf version (titled ‘A Christmas Carol’ unlike the paper copy) is linked above. In the notes below the join between each clue pair is marked and solutions are given in the order they are clued.
6, 32. Object in test: it’s chic / to chat in French about druggie – one’s motivational. TRENDY (end in try), CAUSER (ca user, 2 defs). The second clue contains two definitions (‘causer’ being French for ‘to chat’) making the clue lengths unequal and the join that much harder to find.
11, 30. Having left a long time going over theme of this puzzle / one’s almost late producing brainwave. NOEL (l, eon, all rev.), IDEA (I dea(d)). ‘Noel’ can mean a carol (the theme of the puzzle) as well as Christmas itself. Regular competitors will know the trade-off between honing a clue to perfection and getting it away in time, though at least the Christmas puzzle allows an extra week for the brainwave to mature.
16, 25. Oily paste: dilute one including a / snort by the medium of beer dosed with heroin. TAHINA (a in thin + a), INHALE (H in in ale). Dr Watson had only come across ‘tahini’ before, so the ambiguous clue caused some puzzlement with 9 down. ‘By the medium of’ is one of the long list of alternative senses of ‘in’ (e.g. ‘covered in paint’).
17, 24. Top golfer in tangle producing phrase that threatens / people beside start of hole – he’ll receive counselling. OR ELSE (Els in ore), MENTEE (men tee). Just as well golfers have long careers: when Ernie Els retires, setters will have lost a major contributor to their wordplay. The ‘ore’ is ore2, a seaweed also called tangle. For once ‘start of hole’ doesn’t indicate ‘h’, but is used in its golfing context.
20, 23. Sign of turn and A. Nel’s bowling: open / batting (with turn) very quietly – that is, one waited for the tea period! UNSEAL (U + anag.), NIPPIE (in, rev. + pp + i.e.). Non-cricketers will have to accept the sense of the surface reading. ‘U’ is the roadsign of a U-turn. Andre Nel is a South African fast bowler. A nippie was, and possibly still is, a waitress in a tea room, specifically a Lyons one.
2, 28. Part of window leading turned out / almost ineffectual – common sense required. CAME (2 meanings), NOUS (no us(e)). A simply structured clue, but the subsidiary components make it one of the more difficult ones. A came is a lead bar in e.g. a stained glass window.
4, 27. E.g. Cameron or Clegg? Not mine – one follows / Brown ultimately; he’s oddly tender. CLAN (Cl(egg) + an), NESH (n + anag.). Fitting all three main party leaders in a single clue is quite a coup. An egg is an explosive mine. Gordon Brown is not oddly tender to the best of Dr Watson’s knowledge.
6, 21. Above us tomb of stone or rock rose / sharply in the air but airless – essential to go around it. CISTUS (cist us), KEENLY (en l’(air) in key). The first definition ‘rock rose’ is worked in nicely but the overall clue seems rather forced.
12, 18. Having taken a bit of a kip in a way woolly / Indra wandering round East did his stuff! LANATE (at in lane), RAINED (E in anag.). The Laotian currency with 100 at to the kip is a setter’s godsend on occasion. Indra is Hindu god of rain amongst other things, giving a great opportunity for a semi-& lit. treatment.
A. Turbulent age in aeon that’s transformed tropical America. NEOGAEA (anag. in anag.). ‘Neogaea’ is a term used to describe flora and fauna of tropical America.
E. Wild idiot clutching numberless Kalashnikov in gang robbery. DAKOITI (AK in anag.). The AK47 is probably the world’s best known brand of armament.
F. Supplies new work force for regressive authority in Mersey’s centre. REMANS (name, rev., in (Me)rs(ey)). Tiredness seems to be setting in at this point. Dr Watson is fairly confident Mersey is a river and Merseyside the administrative area.
G. Some African currency units following the French. LEONE (le one). Either ‘units’ is a misprint or Azed was getting even more tired.
H. Top footballer. BEST (2 meanings). Former footballer but undoubtedly top in his day.
Across: 1, 33. CHEESY (h(ors)e in anag.), SCATCH (s + catch), horse / succeeded; 10, 31. TAMALE (ta male), ASTRUT (as tr(o)ut), man / like; 14, 29. BLAY (l in bay), GEOS (anag.), line / goes. Down: 1. STAR OF NIGHT; 3,22. INGATE (anag.), TAIGLE (anag.), enters / a; 5, 26. ABAC (a in ABC), HEWS (initial letters), basics / cuts; 7, 19. STILLED (I’ll in sted), ADVANCE (v in a dance), I’ll / progress; 8, 13. VIEWPHONE (anag.), SALIENTA (alien in anag.), it / what’s; 9. ROYAL BEAUTY. Lettered clues: B. SEA FANS (odd letters of flat in seans); C. SPONGES (p + anag. all in SS); D. RUCTION (anag.); I. DAL (hidden rev.); J, K. REC (hidden). Central column: OF ORIENT ARE.