Azed No 1960 ‘Christmas Parcels’ (20 Dec 2009)

reviewed by Dr Watson for & lit. – The Azed Slip Archive

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R WATSON’S prognosis of a challenging Christmas puzzle was borne out as soon as no. 1960 appeared. This is the fourth ‘Parcels’ puzzle of the Azed series. All the previous three have appeared at Christmas (1988, 1991 and 1996), and all have been noted for their brilliant grid construction, but noted even more for their difficulty.

The basis of the puzzle is something like a ‘hidden’ clue, in that two words joined together hide inside them another word. The preamble gives the example of SPAR and CELLO joining to give PARCEL inside. To create a Christmas theme, the word-pairs are called ‘parcels’, with the hidden word representing the ‘contents’ and the remaining outside letters the ‘wrapping’. In the across clues the parcel contents appear in the grid and the wrapping is discarded, and vice versa in the downs. Across clues are similar to DLM clues, containing definitions of the three words (SPAR, CELLO and PARCEL in the example) and a letter mixture of the whole parcel (SPARCELLO). Downs also contain the three definitions but instead of letter mixtures contain cryptic indications of the wrapping (SLO) that appears in the grid. It’s worth noting that definitions and letter mixtures or subsidiary indications never overlap in clues, and also (unstated in the preamble) that clues have no superfluous material (not even an ‘and’), except possibly for spare letters in one of the words containing the letter mixture.

The clues are difficult to solve because so much material indicated in the clue doesn’t appear in the grid and so can’t be verified. There’s no easy way to start, and with so many definitions a good thesaurus or a Bradford’s is essential to making progress. Acrosses may be best to start with because all the material is in the clue. Dr Watson’s first step was to calculate the lengths of the across parcel letter mixtures (the sum of the first and third bracketed numbers). The next was to scan the clues for likely material: any short words such as ‘a’ and ‘I’ are more likely to be part of a letter mixture than a definition, for example. The first clue to yield was 30 across, where ‘Topsy Nelson’ was a good bet for a letter mixture, and ‘Eton’ for a school. With the downs it was a question of getting one or two letters in place and checking the clues for familiar cryptic wording, such as 4 down’s ‘HM discovered in eccentric barony’. In this clue, although Dr Watson correctly guessed ‘nori’ and ‘rite’ for the 4-letter words defined by ‘seaweed’ and ‘ceremony’, Bradford’s doesn’t list the required ‘teaberry’ under ‘wintergreen’, so the clue wasn’t solved quickly.

The puzzle was completed over several sessions. It always looked likely that it would be finished, and there was the satisfaction of making slow, steady progress, but it was more of a slog than a normal cryptic, and there were certainly fewer of the penny-dropping moments that solvers look forward to. Since so much material is discarded, there’s no requirement to fully solve clues before completing the grid, which Dr Watson feels is a weakness.

Finally on to the clue-writing competition. All three previous ‘Parcels’ competitions have had different clueing requirements. In the first competition, the contents ROLAND was clued with two full clues to the competitor’s choice of outside words and a definition of the contents. In the second and third, the clue was in the style of this year’s downs (3 definitions and subsidiary indication of wrapping); one required solvers to choose a wrapping for PRESENT and the other to choose contents for the wrapping STALE. This year’s competition is perhaps slightly less severe than those, but it’s certainly a challenge to find a way of joining three disparate definitions and a letter mixture, with no padding, into a cogent whole. Dr Watson is awaiting the results with interest.

In the notes below the definitions of the outside words are numbered (1) and (3) and the contents definition is numbered (2). In the across clues the letter mixture is highlighted in italics, and any non-bold letters are redundant. In the down clues the subsidiary indications are similarly marked by italics.

Notes to the clues:

ACROSS (contents)

1.       Harden pot around Afghan(1) furnace(2) arrangement(3).  (P)ATHAN OR(DER).

6.       Country house(2) hop, cad arranging male(3) room for concubines(1).  (O)DA CHA(P).

11.     Device for counting(1) parasitic plants(2) has one cross by grass amid US wheat(3) (S)OROBAN CHES(S).  Chess is a US name for a type of grass. The preamble indicates that the plural ‘Orobanches’ (unexpected because the singular is a Latin genus name) is attested on the Internet – a first for Azed as far as Dr Watson is aware. The minimal packaging is impressive.

12.     Backs(2) put off(1) sport(3) emerged tarnished.  (DE)TER GA(ME).  The tergum is the dorsal part of an arthropod.

14.     Military encounters seasonable(3) shower(1), familiar(2).  (RA)IN TIME(LY).

15.     Mouths(1) taste old-style(3) Italian sauce(2), sugar-topped.  (O)RA GU(ST).

16.     Tavern(1) customers(3) don’t fear a darn muskrat(2) (F)ONDA TRA(DE).

17.     Waste(3) compounds(2) resisted, I manipulated African knife(1).  (S)IMI DES(ERT).  One of the hardest clues to parse, not helped by the vague definition of IMIDES.

19.     Italian moor to raise bridge(3) relating to choral work(2) he’s loved(1).  (INAM)ORATO RIAL(TO).

22.     Scottish spiders(2) confine(1) fruit bug(3) (the spider act).  (T)ETHER CAPS(ID).

28.     Clean(1) record formerly(2), pup later gets form(3).  (PU)RE GEST(ALT).

29.     Grow(1) wolf(2) mouth(3) fangs, i.e. rare magic.  (RA)ISE GRIM(ACE).  Isegrim or Isengrim is a wolf in the medieval Reynard fable.

30.     Catch sight of(1) school(3) bird, Scots(2): Topsy Nelson. (S)PY ET(ON).  For Dr Watson the most straightforward of the clues, helped by its shortness and the fairly obvious anagram material, though the grid entry, a Scottish magpie, is still reasonably obscure.

31.     Top secret radio edit(3) supplied(2) quickly(1).  (PRE)STO RED(ACT).

32.     Disease of horses and cattle.  NGANA.  Solvers will have been relieved to finally enter this solution, and launch the second stage of the challenge. It appears to be a fairly flexible contents word, and time will tell what it can offer clue-writers.

33.     Robe(1) sweetheart(3) (single in a way(2)) in love, I mean not knowingly.  (KI)MONO VALENT(INE).

34.     In feast, nip’s delicate(1) decoction(3), unsuitable(2).  (F)INE PT(ISAN).

35.     Steer(1) synthetic(3) gamble(2), i.e. pretty lonely.  (PI)LOT TERY(LENE).

DOWN (wrappings)

1.       One-time engineer(2), a fellow from Oz, to compress(1) SA plant(3).  ASTR(INGE NER)INE (a Strine).  Chambers defines Strine as the Australian dialect rather than a person. It’s unfortunate to have a misdefinition, but perhaps less distracting to have it in the subsidiary indication than in one of the parcel’s definitions.

2.       Shrew(2), breast laden with large amount, set bounds for(3) disloyalty(1).  TREA(SON DELI)MIT (ream in tit).

3.       Round grand, choir upset abnormally sensitive(3), kindly Scots tenant(2), bristling(1)  HOR(RENT ALLER)GIC (G in anag.).  ‘Kindly’ here is an historical term for a Scottish tenant whose family has occupied the same land for several generations.

4.       Wintergreen(3)/seaweed(1) ceremony(2) HM discovered in eccentric barony.  NO(RI TE)ABERRY (ER in anag.).

5.       Petty officer(3), one conducting(2) dark spectral feature(1) in a sailor beset by beaks.  RAIN(BAND MASTER)-AT-ARMS (in a tar in rams).  An impressively large package, concisely clued.

7.       Set(2) pickle(1): it’s essential to extract a line of teeth(3).  AC(HAR DEN)TAL (hidden).

8.       More than one moulding(3) salad leaf(2) curving inwards(1) – girl has it inverted.  CHI(CON CAVE)TTI (chit + it, rev.).  Dr Watson’s favourite surface reading, showing what’s possible with ostensibly unrelated words. It helps a bit that ‘cave’ has the same Latin derivation in both ‘concave’ and ‘cavetti’.

9.       Liking(2) fibrous(1) border ma removed from Our Lady chapel(3).  HEM(PEN CHANT)RY (hem + (Ma)ry).

10.     A large body of water left to bespatter(1) perfect(3) meteor(2).  AS(PERSE ID)EAL (a sea l).   The Perseids are one of the most active meteor showers regularly visible from earth.

13.     Oriental(2) skin disease(1), cold sore mostly aia’s given treatment of drug(3)?  ROSAC(EA STER)OIDAL (anag. of cold sor(e) aia).  An unusual definition of ‘easter’ and a loose-ish one of ‘steroidal’ make this one of the harder clues.

18.     To manage a seine, say, download(2) fish food(1), something that clicks(3).  COPE(POD CAST)ANET (cope a net).

20.     Declare as before(1) some soreness after one’s thrown up little bird(2) meal(3).  ASSE(VER DIN)NER (hidden rev.).  It’s difficult to interpret the wordplay here because ‘after one’s’ could be read as indicating the A or AS at the start of the solution.

21.     Bairn(1) jargon(2) lecherous(3)? It’s tattily garbled.  LITT(LIN GO)ATY (anag.).

23.     Hound(2), historically tall, one relating to rain(1) like some crosses(3).  HYE(TAL BOT)ONÉ (hye one).  Botoné is a heraldic term for crosses with knobs on.

24.     Entrance(3) Turkish bigwig formerly fed better than(1) Scots shower(2)  BEY(OND ING)ATE (Bey ate).  This parcel has very obscure contents with only a definition to indicate them, and ‘Turkish bigwig’ offers both ‘bey’ and ‘dey’ as possibilities. One of the last clues Dr Watson solved.

25.     Steelyard(1) wine (sweet)(2) spiced sausage(3) twice – I’m turning up.  BIS(MAR SALA)MI (bis + I’m, rev.).  A clue with hidden depths.Bismar’ is defined as ‘a kind of steelyard’ of Orkney and Shetland. On further investigation Dr Watson confirmed that a steelyard in this sense is a weighing machine. However Steelyard is also the historical site in London of the trading centre of the Hanseatic League, renowned as the source of ‘Rhennish wine’, but possibly also of spiced sausage. The Wikipedia entry asserts that the machine was named after the location, but OED indicates it was probably a proprietary name.

26.     Notes abused right of tenant(1) several pints(3) inflame completely(2).  EST(OVER GALL)ON (anag.).  A package whose contents there was little incentive to identify once the anagram was solved. There are many liquid measures, after all, even though the one here happens to be familiar.

27.     Opening bars(2) once smilingly(1) to be off(3), adult fondle mostly follows.  AGR(IN TRO)OP (A grop(e)).

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