ECEMBER is Azed’s month for a straightforward Plain, shortly followed by a special Christmas treat, or Christmas beast, depending on his Muse. This puzzle stays entirely within the ambit of Chambers as far as solving is concerned, though a thorough search is needed to verify 7 down. The competition word is a proper noun from the Dictionary, and clue-writers doing a little external research into the named character may well find their clues benefit from it.
11. A cautious person ACHITOPHEL The competition word is the name of an Old Testament character, David’s wise counsel in 2 Samuel, who joined the rebellion of his son Absalom, only to be defeated in a timely countermove by God. The spelling chosen here isn’t the biblical one, but one used by Shakespeare and Dryden. A cautious person or a fickle advisor – solvers have a nice choice of definitions combined with challenging wordplay.
14. Unified creatures close to being included among hybrids ZOONS (on in zos) Dr Watson spent too long on the idea that ‘close to being’ must indicate a G in the answer. In fact it’s ‘close to’ (on) that’s being included in the crossword setter’s favourite yak/cow hybrid.
16. Tractor cutting pillar diagonally CATER (cater(pillar)) The solution is cater2 meaning diagonal(ly). Once again Dr Watson didn’t spot the wordplay until the clue was solved, despite having come across it in various versions before.
17. Lion maybe removing 50% of herd? CAT (cat(tle)) Azed set CAT as a competition word in No 891 (the only other 3-letter competition being LOB), but chose not to use any of its winning clues here.
24. Outsiders at Cheltenham – what many will have a punt on CAM (C(heltenh)am) A deviously misleading surface pointing to the race meeting but leading to the river that Cambridge bridges. The choice of outside letters might not be precisely specified, but as the solution has only three the ambiguity is minimal.
34. Blue dye that’s appropriate, as it’s said, for such bags SACS (‘saxe’) A little more ambiguous is this clue; with the homophone indicator placed between the two definitions, it’s possible that the solution is ‘saxe’ pronounced as ‘sacks’, and it needs the checking S of 18 down to resolve it.
1. I’ll leave ladies, maybe leading a Neapolitan folk dance KAZACHOC (kaz(i) + a choc) The definition of the Cossack dance is straightforward, but the journey to it via a WC and a chocolate confection is fun.
2. Like a jab? It’ll treat marsh rot SHORTARM (anag.) Solvers’ minds will no doubt have been on Covid boosters rather than boxing at the time of solving, and Azed takes advantage.
5. What’s guy whacked hard with end of baton? BODHRÀN (bo + anag. + n, & lit.) The best of three & lit. clues in the puzzle, delivered with Azed’s regular flair.
7. Article, green, showing what is height of fashion (or was) THE GO (the + go) Once the archaic solution is found the wordplay is obvious, but it does take some finding in Chambers’s long entry for ‘go’ – it’s the eighth nounal meaning ‘(with the) the current fashion’.
12. One just before stroke given a bone COXA (cox + a) Rowing rather than pet care knowledge is what will help identify this solution.
21. Endless outrage coming up about ‘dry’ functions COSECHS (sec in shoc(k) rev.) Since outrage over Christmas parties is pretty much every day’s news headline this month, it’s fortuitous that Azed has connected it with hyperbolic cosecants.
22. Dam in Germany gives this menacing rumble MUTTER (2 meanings) Not the Elbe Dam, but the partner of a sire or Vater.
28. Trucks? Squatter regularly moves around in these UTES (anag. of alternate letters) The clue would have been quite fair as an & lit. without the first word, but Azed has decided kindly to offer solvers an extra hint.
Across: 1. KISH (hidden); 4. OBSTRUCT (anag.); 14. REMUDA (mud in anag.); 15. SHAGBARK (b in shag ark); 19. HEARTACHE (hear tache1); 22. MONOECISM (E in anag.); 27. EAT UP (ea. + tup); 29. CLOTHIER (anag. incl. e, & lit.); 30. HAPTEN (apt in hen); 31. DOREE (or in Dee); 32. GEOCHEMIST (anag.); 33. PEERLESS (i.e. peer less).
Down: 3. HINDER (h + in Der(by)); 6. SPRAG (spra(in in)g); 8. REMBLE ((t)remble); 9. CARDANS (anag.); 10. TEAK (hidden); 17. CRITERIA (C rite + air, rev.); 18. TEMPLETS (let in temps; i.e. staff pool); 20. ÉTALAGE (al(l) in étage); 23. CAROMS (RA, rev., in CO + MS); 25. SHE’OL (anag.); 26. WINCE (C in wine); 29. CHOP (first letters & lit.).