ZED’S first December competition offering is on the difficult side, perhaps limbering us up for the Christmas special, with some wordplay and definitions that reward extra research or lateral thinking or both. A few things come in pairs: there are two currencies, Tajik and Peruvian; two months, April and May; a pair of East End double acts; and a couple of clues (see below) that could probably have benefitted from more scrutiny at the checking stage.
12. Flow of old from poet perishing early RAYLE (anag.) Very straightforward, but with the first letter in place, Dr Watson got carried away with the idea that ‘poet perishing early’ must be Rilke, and the solution must be some variant of ‘rill’, thus ignoring the number 1 rule of cryptic crossword solving, which is basically ‘apply Occam’s razor’.
14. A Metro siège I adjusted for senior Parisians? TROISIÈME AGE (anag.) A well-spotted and apposite anagram (down to the grave E) from Azed in a clue that has the potential to be entirely in French.
15. Ill-tempered fellow, I’m often tastily dressed CRAB (2 mngs.) A dressed crab follows last month’s moules marinière. Dr Watson anticipates a full lobster thermidor for the Christmas special.
26. Invertebrates? Tern tribe’s mixed in with these AVES (comp. anag.) Dr Watson isn’t sure what to make of this. The second sentence is sufficient definition, but that doesn’t make the clue & lit., as the full wording would imply terns are invertebrates. Unless there’s a better explanation, it’s something Azed and his checker appear not to have noticed before publication.
28. Bud yielding infusion? It was of value in Peru INTI (inti(mate)) Two devious synonyms in this original approach to the frequently-clued ‘inti’. Bud2 is the short form of ‘buddy’ and mate3 or maté is the S. American hot drink.
33. Typical of (mostly young) learners (adj) STUDENTY An unusually long and explicit definition for the competition word, to avoid the chance of clues being submitted to STUDENTS. There will likely be one or two anyway. Competitors have been offered a good synonym for ‘stud’ at 17 across as well a somewhat studenty surface to 31 across.
1. Who often joined Daisy having tea? Come off it! GERTCHA (Gert + cha) Two comedy musical duos are referenced here. Gert and Daisy were a music hall double act who made the transition to radio during WW2 and then to the early days of TV. And Chas and Dave, from the same East End roots, popularised ‘gertcha!’ with their 1979 hit single.
3. What’s left penned by composer, unfinished, that can be erased DELIBLE (l in Delibe(s)) Léo Delibes enjoys far less crossword action than Bach or Arne or even Azed’s favourite Adès, so it’s good to see him here.
9. Ready for engagement? What Mr and Mrs share is embodied by mostly expensive rings coming up ARMED (Mr in dea(r), all rev.) At 75 letters and 16 words, a long clue for Azed, and another that Dr Watson thinks could have done with a second read-through. The indication of ‘Mr’ is good, as is the misleading surface, but having both ‘embodied’ and ‘rings’ to indicate the container-contents looks like an oversight.
19. Uproar once created by telly doctor on rearing owls WHOOBUB (Who + Bubo, rev.) There’s an intersection of Doctor Who fans and solvers that’s prone to huff when ‘Who, for instance’ is used to indicate ‘Dr’ and not ‘Doctor’, but they have no cause for complaint here. Bubo is a genus of owls.
22. Sneery, I maligned those labelled ‘kindly’ ERINYES (anag.) Azed brings his great Classics knowledge to the fore in this difficult definition. Erinyes are the Furies of Greek myth, also known more euphemistically as Eumenides or ‘kindly ones’
25. Seaweed rising up from below grating IRON (nori, rev.) This nice reversal has probably been used before, though it’s the first time Dr Watson has seen it. Iron means ‘grating’ in an adjectival sense of both words.
Across: 1. GUM DRAGON (gum drag on); 11. EPILATOR (anag. in rote, rev.); 13. DIRAM (I in dram; capital of Tajikistan); 16. SLOE (sole with ol rev.); 17. STUD (stud(y); boss2); 18. HOWLET (how3 let); 24. SUMMAR (m in ramus, rev.); 25. SMOG (hidden); 29. POOR RELATION (alt. letters of honour in prelation); 31. OUBIT (OU bit); 32. FIRRY (first letters); 34. ELAEAGNUS (anag.).
Down: 2. MAYO (May + 0); 4. APRIL (p in aril); 5. GIDEONS (anag.); 6. OLD MEN (lads less as in omen); 7. STRATUM (rat in stum(m)); 8. COAGULATORY (O in anag.); 10. PARROT MOUTH (0 in anag. less I); 20. TAVERNA (aver n in TA); 21. SMITING (I’m, rev., in sting); 23. CARTEL (i.e. car tel(ephone)); 25. SPOSH (s in hops, rev.; ref. US ski resort); 27. ELITE ((p)elite).