Azed No 2220 ‘Christmas Crackers’ (21 Dec 2014)

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

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APPILY for his solvers, Azed is still willing after 42 years to experiment with new clue types and grids, and a Christmas puzzle offers a good opportunity to do something different. The preamble may be a bit heavy to tackle the wrong side of a turkey dinner, but with a clear head the design of the puzzle makes good sense. It’s a variant on the ‘Overlaps’ puzzle that Azed innovated in 2003 and has offered as a competition on three further occasions with different clue formats. The variation here is that the overlapping across letters in the central columns of the grid are jumbled in both of the words they belong to, analogous to the contents of a Christmas cracker being scattered when it’s pulled.

The clueing is less easy to understand than the grid: “Each double clue leads to both its component answers (with no intervening verbiage) and consists, in either order, of a definition of each unjumbled answer and a subsidiary indication of its jumbled form, as it appears in the diagram”. Dr Watson initially took the second ‘its’ to mean the grid entry as a whole, and spent some time reading the clues as two definitions and one lot of wordplay. Consequently there appeared to be surplus wording in many of the across clues as some solutions became likely. It was only with about half the down solutions in place that the true intention of the preamble became clear. Each clue contains two complete clues, one to each complete word, defined normally, but indicated as they appear in the grid, partly jumbled. This means the overlapping portion of the solution is indicated twice, and explains the amount of wordplay. Azed is normally scrupulously clear in his instructions, but in this case it would likely take most regular solvers either several readings or a period of hit-and-miss to work out the clueing method.

Azed has played very fair with the clues. There is a danger in this clue type of ambiguity if they aren’t carefully constructed. For example, indicating the central letters with anagram material in both clues would lead to multiple possible valid entries that could only be solved from the checked letters. In fact in every across clue pair at least one of the clues allows only one possible sequence of letters in the central columns, and only three of the clues have any ambiguous indication. Competitors, who have freedom to create their own ‘Christmas-flavoured’ cracker combination, need to be aware of this constraint.

Once the first across clue was cracked, Dr Watson found the rest fell into place quite quickly. It helped that many of the downs were already solved by this time. The grid is generously checked, and the downs are mostly a modest challenge for the experienced solver.

Dr Watson felt the puzzle was a worthwhile experiment that could be repeated, but might benefit from some tinkering with the clueing method to remove the doubling of the wordplay for the overlapping part. There were signs of hard work on the setter’s part, not just in the successful grid, but also in the across clues, where the requirements of the format led to clues that read less fluently on the surface than those in many of Azed’s ‘Right and Left’ puzzles.

Notes to the clues:

In the notes below an oblique in the clue text marks the point where the two component clues meet. The actual grid entry is given first with the jumbled overlapping portion between hyphens. Then the words defined are given in the order they appear in the grid. Finally the explanations of the wordplay are given in the order they appear in the clue.



1.       It detects errors: gold coin with king replacing centre of gap, i.e. a / bloomer -- this country’s millions revolted  CHEC-UKSM-ROSE; checksum, musk rose (ecu K for a in chasm; UK’s M rose).  This was the first across clue to yield to Dr Watson’s solving efforts, as the clueing method became clear. The ‘i.e. a’ doesn’t appear to have any purpose in the clue except to improve the surface marginally, and to clarify the meaning of ‘centre of gap’.

10.     Male fellows note one pursuing pleasure / installs stone one in seat  HEDO-NSTI-ATES; hedonist, instates (he dons ti; st I in nates).

11.     Thing that’s created attention and start of friction in diplomacy / drew jagged rent, serious affliction in the herd  REDW-TEAR-FACT; redwater, artefact (ear f(riction) in tact; anag. + tear).

12.     Groove, scratch circling barrels of / northerly old boy, authentic  SC-OBRE-AL; scrobe, boreal (b in score; OB real).  The ‘of’ at the end of the first clue is part of the indicator for ‘b’, i.e. ‘barrels of (oil, etc.)’. There is one other possible solution to the first clue that would lead to jumbles of both words in the centre, i.e. SCORBE, so the second clue is needed for an unambiguous solution.

15.     Supporter of monarchy, English, in newspaper strip / gets confused about extent government lost?  STEA-REAG-LIST; stearage, regalist (E in rag + list2; area in anag.).

17.     Cup for sampling savour, volume in turns imbibed, / I turn, tucking into new series – are they green?  TAST-NIVE-ERS; tastevin, enviers (v in, all rev., in taste; I veer in n s).  Dr Watson couldn’t find evidence for s = series in Chambers; ‘section’ would have done just as well in the surface reading.

19.     Italian governors imprisoning foreign troops in endless chain, / dying, indicate vital juice is receding  PAS-NGIS-ORIA; passing, signoria (GIs in noria; sign sap, rev.). About the most vivid of the across clue surfaces.

23.     Those encouraging sailor to be in French street, / genuine sport when it’s going after women  ABET-REST-LING; abetters, sterling (AB être St; (w)restling). The wordplay in the second clue is the most imaginative in the across clues, in Dr Watson’s view.

25.     Stage circle taken in by poet’s / carriage, gold, variable weight  AR-BAOR-DS; arroba, boards (arba or; O in bard’s).

28.     Crime involving unruly youth squashes / environmental creativity maybe, in Delaware ornament  DECO-ARTE-DSON; decorate, treads on (Ted in arson; eco art in DE).  A somewhat unexpected phrase solution to the second clue made the last four letters difficult to pin down.

30.     A pop presenter, one including cheap stuff, officer / anti getting corrupted in trial, smarter than the rest  ADJU-TATN-IEST; adjutant, nattiest (a DJ + tat in un; anag. in test).  The second clue offers several possible variations of the central letters, but the first has only one.

31.     More than one power supply that is restricted by Greens upset / the old author last night  YEST-ERNE-GIES; yestreen, energies (i.e. in anag.; ye Sterne).  Again there are several valid solutions for the second clue, and at least one author called Steren discoverable on the web, but there’s no doubt that Azed here intends ‘Tristram Shandy’ author Laurence Sterne.


1.       Church singer, third released, I’m surprised supermarket’s taken in for present occasion CHRISTMAS DAY (ch(o)rist + Asda in my!).  Azed has asked competiors to supply a Christmas-themed clue to their choice of ‘Christmas Cracker’, and here provides his own seasonal contribution to the grid.

8.       Clubs introduced some tennis parties  SECTS (C in sets).  The wordplay is more challenging in this clue than in most of the downs. ‘Some tennis’ indicates ‘sets’, into which C for clubs is introduced.

9.       Managers of landed property, form of asset Earl Grey’s gone into?  ESTATE AGENTS (tea gent in anag.).  Lateral thought is needed to recognise that Earl Grey could be called a ‘tea gent’, though an Earl is surely some way above a gent socially.

13.     It’s lashed trunks afloat  CAT (double mng.).  This may appear to be a straightforward cryptic definition, but Azed doesn’t do those. It’s a rare double meaning clue where the same words define two different meanings of ‘cat’. The obvious one is for cat-o’-nine-tails, but it can also mean a traditional catamaran consisting of logs strapped together. Azed can’t and wouldn’t take credit for the idea, which belongs to Roger Phillips (aka Kea), winner of Azed competition no. 891 in 1989.

16.     Old despatch boat, power in its belly, turned up?  AVISO (vis in (b)oa(t), rev.).  Another less straightforward piece of wordplay, with ‘its’ referring back to the ‘boat’ that appears in the definition.


Other solutions:

Down:  2. HEELTAP (heel tap);  3. COW (2 mngs.);  4. UNTORN (’untorn);  5. STAR (star(ling));  6. MIRE (mir + e);  7. RAFALE (a f in rale);  14. BEIGE ((ro)be I ge(t));  18. SINUOSE (anag.);  20. STROUT (’s trout);  21. STRENE (hidden);  22. OLD ((s)old(o));  24. BREDE (bred + e);  26. BATE (2 mngs.);  27. ARAR (hidden) ;  29. DIG (dig(it)).


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