ZED usually starts the new year with slightly easier puzzle and a more pliable competition word, to help solvers whose brains have been fuddled by Christmas excesses (or in Dr Watson’s case, by a Christmas lurgy). This puzzle opens the new decade in a more challenging way, with some tricky wordplay and a quite fiendish competition phrase, that will stubbornly resist the favourite fallback of an anagram. Mentally it’s more like hitting the gym for the new year than peeping out from under the covers.
11. Public opinion VOX POP There it is. 20 Scrabble points in six letters. A great opportunity for competitors to try somethng new.
16. Scottish region that has group almost open-mouthed LOTHIAN (lot hian(t)) One of three clues that calls for knowledge outside of Chambers, though Lothian region, which includes Edinburgh, will be more familiar to most than ‘hiant’. Dr Watson spent a while looking for something that contains ‘agape’.
18. One millions held in dreadful esteem ADMIRE (a + m in dire) A classy surface showing Azed’s special touch.
22. Hammer or punch idiot TOOL (2 mngs.) The double option in the first definition adds a tricky fillip.
28. Santa’s helpers – seamen might one suppose TARANDS (i.e. tar and s = tars) Three problems to overcome here: first it’s not elves but reindeer; second they’re Greek mythical colour-shifting reindeer; and third, the wordplay hints rather than points at the answer.
33. Fires up superstar on the pitch? STOKES (2 mngs.) Ok, you barely need to be acquainted with cricket to have heard of Ben Stokes, but Azed assumes you’ll know which pitch he has in mind – otherwise it would surely have to be Bobby Stokes, the hero of Southampton’s victorious 1976 FA Cup run.
2. Short-story writer, after taking year out, carried over RUN-ON (Run(y)on) Those of a more literary bent may have spotted Damon Runyon faster than Ben Stokes.
3. Cars out of order – lubricate one on account (joint) SACROILIAC (anag. + oil + I + a/c) Just about squeezing the definition in at the end of some hard-won wordplay.
5. Surrendered garland swept up in swirling eddy YIELDED (lei, rev., in anag.) Dr Watson decided early on that this must be one of those Spenserian past tenses like ‘yclept’, and spent some time looking for it, but the answer was altogether simpler.
12. Author with little to do and year left, having standard quota on hand PENTADACTYL (pen tad act y l) A classic charade leading to a very clever definition.
16. Circus performer behaving hilariously with applause all around CHARIOTEER (a riot in cheer) Another smooth surface distracting solvers from the intended type of circus.
26. Take care of house that’s all right inside LOOK TO (ok in loto) Possibly not the house you were expecting.
27. Treated this tooth so I’ll get no caries CRENA (comp. anag.) The composite anagram doesn’t jump out from the clue, but crena with ‘so I’ can give ‘no caries’.
29. What’s fizzing? This, right! ASTI (asti(r), & lit.) It’s hard to know where to start when solving this concise & lit., but guessing the answer is something fizzy certainly helps.
Across: 1. PRESBYACUSIS (anag.); 10. RUBAI (ruba(to) + I); 13. ON-SCREEN (anag.); 15. SOUR (savour less a, v); 17. FOEDERATI (foe + anag. + i(f)); 21. RUTA (rut a); 24. ALIPED (a + PE in lid); 26. BRIER-ROOT (R I err in boot); 30. TORC (hidden); 31. SPIKELET (s + pikelet); 34. TENNY (t + (p)enny); 35. SINISTRORSAL (anag. in s, l).
Down: 1. PROSTATITIS (I in anag.); 4. BIRDER (de(ad) in birr); 6. AVE (i.e. abbrev. for average); 7. CONTRA (Contra(ct Bridge)); 8. SPLIT-UP (lit in pups, rev.); 9. IOTA (0 in ita); 19. MORRION (Ir. rom, rev. + on); 20. TARSIER (anag.); 23. MENSES (esne, rev., in MS); 32. PST (hidden).