ZED’S Christmas puzzles in recent years have been mixture of tried and tested formulas, and new, innovative grids and clue types. This one falls into the former category: Letters Latent clues that supply, one way or another, a Playfair codeword which in turn leads to the competition word or phrase. A variation appeared two years ago, in which a Playfair phrase was needed to decode the puzzle’s title. This time the code phrase ‘from a familiar seasonal verse’ is obtained by rearranging the latent letters of thirteen across clues, and a preceding word from the verse needs to be clued. Four across solutions must be Playfair encoded before entry in the grid. Their clues are italicised in the notes below.
In this comfortable setting Azed produces a solid grid and a superb set of clues. For Dr Watson it was the most entertaining competition Azed puzzle of the year. The code phrase fell out late in the solving process, as it should, thanks in part to its unusually low vowel count, with only I and O among the thirteen letters. A bit of experimentation revealed it as the very familiar FLOCKS BY NIGHT from the carollers’ favourite, and the competition word as SHEPHERDS: a welcome change from words of recent months that have been anagram-friendly, but hard to define inventively.
1. To get moving, cart’s given shake in it (K)IC(K)START (anag. in it).
7. Oddly unruffled, led off in cheap boa? SFSCZE (FUN FUR; anag. less led) One of the easier pair of encoded solutions, providing at least a hint of the Playfair square in the FU → SF pair.
12. Work late shifts, extra hour put in? Not him! (C)LO(C)K-WAT(C)HER (h in anag.). A beauty of a semi-&lit. anagram. There’s some debate in clue-writing circles as to whether the wordplay can be said to lead to the defined solution in a LL clue, and joining words like ‘in’ are generally frowned on, but the consensus is that & lit. and semi-& lit. devices such as this are fair and acceptable.
14. Former affliction of cows perhaps lost award (G)AR(G)ET (2 mngs.). ‘Aret’ is an obsolete word meaning adjudge or award, and garget was a name for throat inflammation in cattle.
15. Pass self-rule to Irishman, with cost PATR(I)ATE (Pat rate). Another cleverly realised surface reading. Patriation is the form of home rule taken by Canada in 1867.
16. Group of soldiers I catch behind bed CO(N)TI(N)GE(N)T (cot + I get).
18. Flowering shrub’s name in label I affix HNMFND (ABELIA; hidden). Solvers might feel at this point that the solutions to the encoded words are going to fall out readily, but there are two more to go…
19. Bogged down, is trapped – failed in one’s aim MIS(F)IRED (is in mired). The grid entry is straightforward, but when it came to finding the code phrase, with so few latent vowels, Dr Watson wondered if the full solution here could really be providing an F.
20. Lacking Latin A1 Latin class struggles making connections ASS(O)CIATI(O)NAL (anag. less L). Dr Watson was very pleased to solve this long grid entry on the first pass through the clues.
24. Line got scrambled booking NY desk (H)OTELING (anag.). Dr Watson has participated in any number of ruses to defeat pointless hot-desking policies at work, but hadn’t come across this term for advance booking before.
25. Fish round river verge DPQSLA (TRENCH; R in tench). It’s fairly clear what the wordplay requires – you just have to go find the fish. Thanks partly to the uncommon definition, Dr Watson didn’t solve the clue until the Playfair square was constructed.
28. Terrestrial bear (old) nursing terrible harm EAR(T)HMAN (anag. in ean). ‘Ean’ is a Shakesperian term for ‘give birth to’.
31. Harden at being confined, being bad-tempered I(LL) NATURE (at in inure). A neat container clue. The definition doesn’t feel like a noun phrase, but ‘being’ can be read as a gerund.
32. Company row brought to an end by Director (B)OARD (oar + D).
33. What fossickers do, remain changing situation? MINERALI(S)E (anag. + lie). The original meaning of ‘fossick’ is to search for gold.
34. Rear moving forward sat composed GUGDGP (SEDATE; d moved in seated). A remarkably difficult clue when there are no checked letters to work with.
35. Sand troubled cattle regularly having fused digits S(Y)NDACT(Y)L(Y) (anag. + alternate letters). ‘Syndatctyl’ would equally fit the clue, but Azed deserves credit for the possibility at least that the solution has triple latent Y’s.
5. A party with free eats? Put on new dress ALIGN (a lig + n). Lining up troops on parade is known as ‘dressing’. There’s been some discussion recently over whether ‘on’ is a valid indicator for attaching something after (i.e. below) something else in a down clue. Azed has opposed this in the past, but now seems to accept it on the basis that ‘on’ means ‘just after’. One could argue too that here the instruction is to put ‘a lig’ on n.
8. Vessels for liquids or oils FATS (2 mngs.). With the first letter checked by an encoded solution, this alternative spelling of ‘vats’ took a bit of finding.
13. Thickets in the Broads? Deer wandering in margins REED-RANDS. (anag. in rands). Solvers who decided the solution must begin with ‘reed’ and perused Chambers should have got this quite quickly. Those like Dr Watson who decided it must end with ‘lands’ will have been more frustrated. ‘Deer wandering on margins’ might have helped.
26. Had a nose of various colours, including a bit of red PRIED (r in pied). Dr Watson’s favourite of a sparkling set of normal down clues, with a great definition.
30. Polo finishing early? Refuse MARC (Marc(o)). It took Dr Watson longer than it should have to realise that Polo was not a mint, a car, or a sport, but the explorer. Marc is waste from a wine-making process.
Down: 2. CORONATE (0 in corn + ate); 3. SHET (h in set); 4. TITI (tit + i(S)); 6. ROWED (‘road’); 7. SWAG IT (anag. + git); 9. STRAIN (2 mngs.); 10. CHAKRA (K in chara); 11. MACHZORIM (anag. of alternate letters); 17. CELLARET (el in claret); 19. MAG (2 mngs.); 21. SERANG ((c)re(w), rev. in sang); 22. SLATED (deta(I)ls, rev.); 23. INWRAP (w in in rap); 25. DATIN (hidden; see Datuk); 27. BURG (grub, rev.); 29. HOYA (anag. less lid).