ONGRATULATIONS to Azed on his 50th Christmas puzzle! It’s a series that has kept solvers delighted and perplexed through the decades with its constant variety of themes. The creativity shows no sign of flagging as he approaches his Golden Jubilee at the Observer in March, and here once more is a brand new idea.
The premise is simpler than many of Azed’s previous Christmas puzzles. For each grid entry the solution has been been cut in two at some point, and the parts pasted back together in the wrong order (or looked at another way, the letters cycled by a varying number of places). The definition leads to the original word or words, and the wordplay to the mutilated form to be entered.
As long as he keeps his wits about him (and when does Azed not do that?), this makes for a relatively straightforward grid construction. Here it’s allowed him to include two seasonal solutions in the 13-letter across lights top and bottom of the grid. Wordplay is also less constrained than it was e.g. last year, when many of the solutions were long and ungainly non-words, so there’s more fluency in the clues. It also benefits competitors, who must provide a clue in the same style for the eleven-letter solution to be deduced in the middle row.
As noted below, it’s possible to write clues that lead to solutions where the ‘cut’ is ambiguous, or could even give the original unmutilated word. So, for example, straight or compounded anagrams of the full solution can’t fairly be used. Azed does provide several clues where the wordplay consists of something inside an anagram, for which the grid entry can only be precisely determined by its checking letters. Competitors don’t have the benefit of checking letters for their own cut and pasted solutions, and so their wordplay will need to be more exacting.
1. Seasonal postal item: cosmetic colouring mostly damaged shirt (about 600) MASCARDCHRIST (CHRISTMAS CARD; DC in mascar(a) + anag.) A clue to get every solver up and running. The ‘DC’ wordplay is a good hint as to where the two parts of the solution have been re-joined, as it’s an uncommon pairing in regular words. In combination with the ‘shirt’ anagram and the straight definition, it emits a distinct whiff of a ‘Christmas’ word.
12. Extra label chap reversed disguised age NAMEAG (AGNAME; man, rev. + anag.) As with several clues, the wordplay for the cut and pasted solution here could almost give the original word.
13. Splosh, reverse of fitting, cut short within TTERSPA (SPATTER; ters(e) in apt, rev.)
14. Number I issue, with backing, small and cosy TIMEIN (INTIME; n I emit, rev.)
15. Eastern purveyor of cheese etc Germany suppressed EDELID (ELIDED; E deli D)
16. Fish? Cross having to return number caught UNAT (TUNA; n in tau, rev.) Tau (T-shaped) crosses are regular visitors to cryptic wordplay.
17. Assault rifle – I rage following pain MALITEAR (ARMALITE; mal + I tear)
19. Growing medium orchestra requires leader for inspiration LSOI (SOIL; LSO + i) A reference to the London Symphony Orchestra.
20. See preamble GIFT-WRAPPED Here’s the seasonal competition word that solvers must cut and paste before clueing. The anagram of ‘paper’ (‘fancy paper’?) will surely be hard resist, but as we see elsewhere, they’ll need to take care that the position of the cut isn’t ambiguous. Competitors are asked to ‘indicate clearly where your clue cuts the unmutilated word’.
24. Member of family taking on university duty SONU (ONUS; son + U)
26. Chunk of a meteor landed in O’Hare, exploding EROLITHA (AEROLITH; lit in anag.; see light3) One of the ambiguous cuts. The wordplay could indicate the solutions OLITHAER and ROLITHAE, as well as this one and the original AEROLITH.
29. Part of traditional Burns night? A wee bittie sleep needed EPNE (NEEP; hidden) Haggis and neeps are only a month away at the time of writing.
31. Pike to disentangle? Special net required GEDRED (DREDGE; ged red4) Two dialect terms make up the charade. ‘Ged’ is a Scottish or north English term for the pike fish. ‘Red4’ in the sense of ‘put in order’ turns up as an anagram indicator in harder cryptic puzzles often enough that it’s familiar to regular solvers.
33. Sort of rabbit dies horribly in it SSIEDA (DASSIE; anag. in SA)
34. Member of staff, one opposed to inaction having retired ANTSERV (SERVANT; an + v. rest, rev.)
35. I’ll be replaced by soprano in psalm voice in certain parts VENSTE (STEVEN; s for I in venite) Two unfamiliar definitions: the venite is a psalm for Christmas (‘come let us rejoice’), and ‘steven’ is an old or dialect word for a voice.
36. This time accepting church mass it tried being converted ISTMASTIDECHR (CHRISTMASTIDE; Ch in anag.) There are no fewer than ten valid ‘cuts’ for this wordplay, by Dr Watson’s reckoning, anywhere from R/I to D/E. Dr Watson solved it with the first I checked, but even this left the alternative IDECHRISTMAST as a possibility, and at least one more checking entry was needed to solve it with certainty.
1. Wrongly calculate partner’s gambling stake – it’s raised MATEMISESTI (MISESTIMATE; mate + mise + it’s, rev.) The best of the clues to longer solutions, with a nicely worked charade.
2. River fish died, overcome by skill ARTD (DART; art + d.)
3. Thinks force must be limited to opportune time locally SFEEL (FEELS; F in seel2)
4. Passage to bear in course of wild rant ANSITTR (TRANSIT; sit in anag.) Another container anagram, allowing two possible ‘cuts’ (this one and NSITTRA; RANSITT doesn’t create an anagram).
5. Sacred plant representation depicted in artistic diploma DMAPA (PADMA; map in DA) More familiar as District Attorney, DA also abbreviates Diploma of Arts.
6. Ancient Greek region after college excited the artist CETHRA (THRACE; C + anag. + RA)
7. There’s a dash of alcohol in this tea HAIC (CHAI; a in hic2) The best surface of the puzzle.
8. Ingredient in veggie cookery, concentrated, without a name ITENSE (SEITEN; i(n)tense)
9. As I changed inside that will do as an alternative SSIAO (OSSIA; anag. in so) Ossia is nothing to do with bones, but is a musical instruction indicating an alternative note, etc.
10. Careless campin’ had briefly got pitched among cattle once TENTINADVER (INADVERTENT; tentin’ + ’d in aver2) This solution held Dr Watson up for a while, trying to fit a cut and pasted INATTENTIVE into the grid, until finally the alternative meaning of ‘aver’ (a Scottish word for chattels or cattle) revealed itself.
11. Maximum sentence? Left inside, passion rises ERLIF (LIFER; l in fire, rev.)
18. Exhaust twisted deep, obstruction inside EPLETED (DEPLETE; let2 in anag.) The wordplay allows two different ‘cuts’ here, with PLETEDE also valid.
21. One of many downed at the Gabba boozer, that is before time INNIET (TINNIE; inn i.e. + t) England’s cricket supporters may not wish to be reminded why tinnies are being downed around Australia at the moment!
22. Our set was working with special retort WERANS (ANSWER; we ran + s) All the elements of this charade are well disguised, and the definition cleverly punned.
23. Tasty slice of delicatessen consumed in Italian city PIDSA (SAPID; d in Pisa)
25. Computer expert, spy carelessly breaking bone OPSYS (SYSOP; anag. in os)
27. Fillet maybe served in trattoria’s tariff RIAST (STRIA; hidden)
28. Tense before race strangely, take a sudden fall after mounting TREAC (REACT; T + anag.) The definition refers to the stockmarket, where a share price ‘reacts’ when it takes a sudden downward turn.
30. Scots bury beloved, end given priority RDEA (EARD; r to start in dear) The clue could equally lead to the original EARD if we regard EAR as the end of ‘dear’
32. Greek bust, what takes little room within ERMH (HERM; rm. in eh?)