ZED introduced the Christmas Devilry crossword as his Christmas special puzzle No 1544 for 2001. Sadly, that puzzle predates those still available on the Guardian’s website. However, enthusiasts may appreciate its clues in Dr Watson’s review, and Azed’s reflections on that first puzzle may be read in the results slip. For his part, the present Dr Watson reiterates his distaste for both Printer’s Devilry (P.D.) and the standard Definition & Letter Mixture (DLM) types of puzzle, so he did not approach the task of solving this puzzle with great enthusiasm. Indeed, taking the clues in matched pairs, by which progress in solving one greatly enhances the prospects of solving the other, Watson was able to finish it in two sittings, considerably faster than he would expect or wish for in a Christmas special puzzle. He cannot deny his enjoyment in doing so, however, and he was particularly taken by the skill shown in disguising the letter mixtures in the down clues. He appreciated this all the more when it came to cobbling together his own entry, having realised that the best clues would avoid having the beginning of the mixture at the beginning of a word, or, conversely, its end at the end of a word, even though the rules expressly allow it. In this puzzle, Azed has contrived this for all but one of his clues, that for NAAN, allowing for À L’ABRI as an ambiguous case. One final observation concerns the simplicity of all the subsidiary indications in the down clues. Perhaps Azed was mindful that solvers have enough to contend with in finding what the bare clues actually are.
In the notes below each ACROSS (P.D.) clue is listed with a forward slash to mark where the solution is to be inserted. That part of the undevilled version is shown in parentheses, extended in each case so far as to show any changes in punctuation, etc. Unchanged ends are indicated by dots.
1. Many birds will be flying south with w/ing. INTERCOM (... winter coming.) Solvers have been allowed an easy start here.
7. As soldiers, ch/at in a mess. APSE (... chaps eat ...) It was ever thus.
10. To buy are gu/ns, of thousands -won’t seem excessive to collectors. LARDALITE (... a regular Dali, tens of thousands won’t ...) In a normal P.D. puzzle this might have been extremely difficult to fathom, but the suspicion that ‘termite’ might be the solution of 3 Down leads quickly to the letter-mixture: ‘ill (a trad’ in that clue. Nonetheless, finding the undevilled version is a joy.
11. Some fin/e puddings - too much after a big main course? DARIC (... find a rice pudding’s too much after a big main course.) Another quick solve. Our solution is an ancient Persian coin named after King Darius I.
12. He’s rather unfit, sof/t, must train extra-hard. ORATES (... so, for a test, ...) One of the better surfaces amongst the devilled versions, and reading rather like a brief school report.
14. The traffic’s d/own as environment for residents. INMARSAT (... din mars a town ...) Those who looked no further than Chambers’ entry for the promised abbreviation may marvel at what is now possible in world-wide communications here.
17. You don’t have to be cl/ear, children, just loving and patient. EVERTOR (... clever to rear children, ...) A delightful clue, and the finest among the P.D.s in Watson’s view. Our solution means ‘a muscle that turns a limb, etc outwards’ in Chambers’ definition. Thoughtful solvers may have noted that ‘limb’ may mean ‘a mischievous child’.
18. A bad-tempered teacher, cl/ot in class, at his peril. OUTSAT (... teacher clouts a tot in class at ...) Another good surface - this time from a School Inspector’s report, perhaps.
19. A plain sponge is OK, but many think it more, f/ed. UNIFIC (... more fun if iced.) The ‘more, fed’ region is clearly where to look for the gap.
21. The concept of hum/ans was not part of Hitler’s philosophy. BLEARY (... humble Aryans ...) In another context, this might have been the wittiest of the P.D. clues.
23. It’s hard to communicate with grandpa, now he has Be/tty. COMEDO (... grandpa now he has become dotty.) The solution is the word to be included as a letter mixture in competitors’ clues.
25. Best men should know how to, hand/s being ready at all times. LEGROOM (... to handle grooms, being ...) A clue expected to be among those most noted in solvers’ letters when Azed’s slip is published. The weak area is skillfully hidden.
28. Our young one not keen on ja/w? Marmite sandwiches for tea. MEAT SAFE (... one, not keen on jam, eats a few Marmite ...) Careful solvers will have noticed the necessity of retaining the capital ‘M’ for Marmite in their undevilled versions.
30. Why bother with other resorts I lik/e? EITHER (... resorts? I like it here!) Dr Watson was confident of this solution, but found it to be the trickiest of all the P.D.s to find the gap. His last to be ‘parsed’.
31. As a result of the economic pres/ent, charges will rise. SURER (... pressure, rent charges ...) In this clue ‘present’ doesn’t quite seem right and proves to be the location for the insertion.
32. Some people suppress any sign of emotion and h/ence of humanity. IDEALLESS (... hide all essence ...) It may be the absence of punctuation that draws the reader towards the ‘and hence’ region.
33. It’s irritating seeing many c/uts throughout the film. HEWN (... chew nuts ...) A clue with a witty connection between the word hiding the insertion point and the solution.
34. Fishermen lay sea n/ets to trap their catch. SAND EELS (... seans and eel-sets ...) This clue vied for ‘trickiest’ status with EITHER, as noted above. The explanation turns on finding ‘sean’ as a variant of seine.
DOWN (With superfluous letter-mixture)
1. Pigment boiling duct - mine ore after crushing. INDIGO BLUE (anag; 1A: intercom) At first sight this involves an obvious anagram. Once the letters of INTERCOM are found, solvers quickly have a useful left-hand lead in the grid.
2. Granny’s snaffling first bit of peasant’s bread. NAAN (a in nan; 7A: apse) Azed’s note about clues making a ‘modicum of sense’ after treatment is rather underlined here.
3. Insect: end one on hollow treille (a trade) TERMITE (term, i, t(re)e; 10A: lardalite) By contrast, the treated version makes much more sense here than the original. Watson must look into the attractions of hollow trellis.
4. Most crawled slowly uphill for a writer’s fad: cairns. ELIANS (snaile(d)(rev.); 11A: daric) The writer referred to here is Charles Lamb, a.k.a. Elia.
5. Small poet, a sort that’ll do for ships’ companies in sound. CRUSE (“crews”; 12A: orates) Dr Watson suspects an unworthy context for this clue.
6. Market raised toast in Marne for French inventor. MARTENOT (mart, tone(rev.); 14A: INMARSAT) A reference to Maurice Martenot.
7.* Maybe Peter or vet found with air swirling around, under shelter. À L’ABRI (lab. in anag; 17A: evertor) Our ‘pet’ is a Labrador.
8. It’s topping for those in the sun, a certain coast, outré. PITH (2 meanings; 18A: outsat) Our ‘certain core’ is that of the sola plant, used for making pith hats and helmets.
9. Do resist mixing compounds e.g. in bun ICI file. STEROIDS (anag; 19A: unific) Dr Watson is wary of comment about any multinational, even one now entirely absorbed by another, as is ICI.
13.* Doctoring scares about measure: muscle cell parley (Barts) SARCOMERES (omer in anag; 21A: bleary) Watson’s favourite clue amongst the downs. Tone up your sarcomeres here.
15. YULETIDE (The competition word; 23A: comedo) The task for competitors is to produce a normal cryptic clue for YULETIDE with a mixture of the letters of ‘comedo’ inserted ‘at any point’ in the words of the instructions. Although it is not expressly forbidden there, it would seem undesirable to insert the jumble across the divide between the definition and subsidiary indication as this might render the clue extremely difficult to solve. None of Azed’s clues in this puzzle or in Azed 1544 does this.
16.* Warbler (MO) ogles about me: bonbons rarely. CAROMELS (me in carols; 25A: legroom) The rare spelling of ‘caramel’ is clearly indicated and, for once, there is no unchecked letter. Perhaps that would be expecting too much, but it would appear that Azed was struggling somewhat here.
20. One of old accomplices as a team fête tailless gazelle. FEDARIE (fed, arie(l); 28A: meat safe) Our guilty fedarie presumably gets his dinner out of the meat safe. We get our solution by taking ‘meat safe’ out of the clue.
22.* Fibre from Moroccan tree having hart, i.e. herd, inside. ARGHAN (h in argan, s.v. pita1; 30A: either) The ‘Moroccan tree’ is the Argan, not the source of our solution which is ‘the fibre of various species of Bromelia, Agave, etc’ in Chambers’ definition at its entry for pita1.
24. Abrus reuse is accepted in contemplation. MISUSE (is in muse; 31A: surer) One grins and bears it, old bean.
26. Expert chaps, one verse sale idly involved. MAVEN (a, v, all in men; 32A: idealless) The somewhat bizarre surface before removal of the letter-mixture is the main interest in this clue.
27. With news broadcast (English, not international) in state of agitation. STEW (E for I in anag. of ‘wits’; 33A: hewn) Whilst the indication here is perfectly fair, all letters involved being directly determined, one would expect eyebrows to be raised for such recourse in an Azed plain puzzle.
29.* Was she lass ended in upland tract? FELL (2 defs; 34A: sand eels) One hopes and trusts that the surface of this clue has only inadvertently evoked thought of the Moors Murders. A more sobering conclusion to a festive puzzle is difficult to imagine.
* See the note about alternative letter-mixtures in the preamble.