HE FORTY-EIGHTH Christmas puzzle from Azed presents solvers with yet another originally-themed challenge. Unusually for a Christmas Azed the theme is only hinted at in the title, the preamble giving almost nothing away. Ten unmarked clues consist only of wordplay and must be thematically altered before entry. Dr Watson picked up a pencil and got stuck in.
Nothing stood out until 36 across, a hidden that could only reasonably lead in its full form to NYLON, but needed to fit into a three-letter light. With a few downs in place, the next thematic clue to fall was 6 across, leading to BOOTHOSE with its outer letters removed for entry. Stockings now looked like a good fit for a Christmas theme – and what’s left after removing their outsides are the fillings, or in this case STOCKING FILLERS to match the title and the specified 15 letters. Pencil could now be swapped for pen, and the rest of the puzzle was a pleasure to solve.
All the solutions are in Chambers, but as noted below, a couple of them are alternative spellings, properly cross-referenced in the full Dictionary but not in the mobile app that many solvers now use.
6. Register disapproval of that lot (B)OOTHOS(E) (boo those) One of the easier thematics, the second that Dr Watson solved, and the one where the penny dropped.
11. Well dry, look, lacking what’s central to monsoon (S)PATTE(E) (spa TT (s)ee) The thematic solution whose grid entry (coincidentally) is a real word. Quite a lot of wordplay to resolve in this one.
12. Wide branch caught in angler’s tackle (L)EG-WARME(R) (w arm in leger) ‘Leger’, listed in Chambers under the entry for ‘ledger’, is bait or tackle that is fixed to the ground in some way.
15. Lassie’s fit, most alluring having shed stone EXIES ((s)exies(t)) A good punning surface from Azed. The solution is a Scottish name for a fit in the medical sense.
25. Young fish caught in fishermen’s gear (N)ETHERLING(S) (herling in nets) The second thematic item caught by our fisherman. The word is attributed to Dickens, and looks very much like a Victorian euphemism.
26. Show failure to clean depth in winding tubes BEDUST (d in anag.) ‘Bedust’ as defined in Chambers is less failing to clean than actively making dusty.
29. Turned increasingly caustic about island image of old RETRAIT (I in tarter, rev.) One of two clues that users of the Chambers mobile app may have struggled with. ‘Retrait’ as used here is alternative spelling of retrate2, meaning, in Spenser, a portrait. This sense is cross-referenced in the paper dictionary, but the app only gives ‘retrait’ as an alternative spelling for ‘retreat’, while the alternative for retrate2 is ‘retraitt’. Confusingly, ‘retrate1’ is another alternative of ‘retreat’. Welcome to Elizabethan orthography.
35. Coarse fellow, German (H)OGGE(R) (hog Ger.) Once the theme is clear this is an easy-ish solve, but not before.
36. What’s intrinsic to many Londoners (N)YLO(N) (hidden) Dr Watson found the solution before discovering the theme, but didn’t yet know what to do with it.
40. Shut up in school? One the contrary one’s seen in King Tut exhibition maybe PSCHENT (i.e. Sch. in pent) A complex combination of unusual word (meaning a Pharaohic crown), a contrary wordplay indication, and the possibility of ‘sh!’ in the answer make this one to leave for the end.
1. Cop’s corrupted, in grip of power certainly (P)OPSOC(K) (anag. in P ok).
4. To row backwards at sea, sailor’s on board according to nature STARN (tar in sn) The second trap for users of the Chambers app, which gives ‘starn’ as an alternative spelling of stern3, once meaning a star, whereas the book also points to stern2, the back of a boat and a verb meaning to row backwards. The abbreviation ‘sn’ is for ‘secundum naturam’.
6. Way of working followed by crooked gang (M)OGGA(N) (MO + anag.) Moggans are apparently what is worn beneath a kilt.
8. Publican once offering tawny around Christmas with a bit off TAXMAN (Xma(s) in tan) Azed slides in a seasonal clue for our enjoyment. It might seem that half what you spend in the pub is tax, but publican was in Roman times a tax collector..
9. Some upset about poor service wherein breakage is inevitable? OMELETS (let in anag.) A clever surface, alluding to the expression ‘you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs’.
12. Having got stuck into drink, he trots jauntily (N)ETHERSTOC(K) (anag. in neck).
16. Touch headgear when one leaves (T)IGHT(S) (tig h(a)ts) ‘Tig1’ is the game of touch.
19. Name in realia distributed in script defying scholars LINEAR A (n in anag.) The easy wordplay is countered by an unfamiliar solution that really should have been enumerated as ‘2 words’. Linear A and B are prehistoric scripts found in Crete.
21. Stale pud I wrapped in napkin holder? NIEF (I in nef) ‘Stale pud’ is a tricky definition of an obsolete name for the fist. A nef is a ship-shaped stand for tableware.
30. Sally e.g. made by a military group I avoided AUNT (a un(I)t) This clue took Dr Watson longer than it should have, partly held up by failure to verify RETRAIT, but also by thinking of celebrity Sallys that might fit.
33. Damn king quits, causing cessation for poet BLIN (blin(king)) Dr Watson was held up here, too, this time by the urge to remove K or R from something rather than a whole monarch.
Across: 1. OPOSSUM (op + muss o, rev.); 13. SAI (a in (A)si(a)); 14. AIRT (tria(l), rev.); 17. HARMALA (harm + à la); 18. CLINGS (hidden); 20. ANADEM ((hea)d in mean a, rev.); 25. UNIATS (U + stain, rev.); 34. BANTU (bant U; see banting1); 37. ORGANIC (O + anag.); 38. ATRIA ((l)atria); 39. TAINTS (’taint S).
Down: 2. PAAN (pa(v)an); 3. OTIC (o + tic); 5. UPRISES (prise in US); 7. OWER (2 mngs.); 10. SESAME (anag. + ME (Maine)); 20. ALBUGOS (bug in a los(s)); 22. BURBOT (rub, rev. + bot1); 24. TARTAN (tar + tan (vb); Tartan®); 27. DOETH ((John) Doe + t(eet)h); 28. TROAT ((he)a(th) in Trot); 31. IWIS (2 mngs.); 32. GYRE (hidden).