Sunday Times Christmas Cryptic 4935, by Robert Price — What, no figgy pudding?

This wonderful puzzle seemed like the largest helping of seasonal cheer I had anywhere at one time this year (besides when I gave another spin to Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart). If an answer here isn’t holiday related, the clue most likely is.

Usually, I like for there to be at least a few really long answers in a Jumbo, and none here exceed 14 letters, but I didn’t mind, as this made room for more wordplay and witty nuttiness.

I indicate (a ram sang)* like this, and italicize anagrinds in the clues.

 1 Currently empty, which place holds a panto? (4,5)
 6 In future return to one’s family perhaps (10)
HOMECOMING — “In” is HOME and “future” COMING.
12 Taking in “The Queen” calls for doubles (7)
13 Fugitive and criminal donning false beards (9)
ABSCONDER — CON, “criminal” in (beards)*
14 Took out fruit starter to defrost (5)
DATED — DATE+D[-efrost]
16 Mates start so badly as dinner hosts (12)
TOASTMASTERS — (Mates start so)*
17 Happened to be, in the main, carol singing (10)
WASSAILING — WAS, “Happened to be” + SAILING, “in the main,” the bounding main
19 They’re not still opened at Christmas? (9,5)
22 Jars of duck in a festive hamper (8)
AMPHORAE — A + (hamper)* with O, “duck” i.e. 0 inserted… wins my Creative Anagrind Prize
24 A travelling inn to mark as holy (6)
ANOINT — A + (inn to)*
25 Those engaged in passion that’s nothing next to God’s (10)
LOVEMAKERS — LOVE, “nothing” in tennis + MAKER[’]S, “God’s”
26 Hides from king, protected by religious ritual (5)
29 Rolling drunk eating last of sherry trifles (4)
TOYS — S([-sherr]Y)OT<=“rolling”… brilliant reversal indicator, with this surface
30 Flexible period up to the beginning of Yule (8)
STRETCHY — STRETCH, “period” + Y[-ule]
32 Cross about interrupting drinks for selfies? (9)
34 Grimace about cold, wearing headgear over whiskers (9)
MOUSTACHE — MOUE “about” H(C)ATS<=“over”
35 Occasion I’d start to enjoy late in the day (8)
EVENTIDE — EVENT, “occasion” + ID, “I’d” + E[-njoy]
36 Mark heavenly light, no time to tour around (4)
SCAR — S[-t(ime), + C, circa, ”around”]AR
39 Lustful reveller’s day shortly before year ends (5)
SATYR — SAT(urday) + Y[-ea]R
40 Drag one behind reindeer’s tail, helping to secure it (10)
IRRITATION — I + R, “reindeer’s tail” [also its head!] + RATION, “helping” holding I, “one”
42 Picked up after vacation, Xmas leftovers (6)
EXCESS — X[-ma]S
44 Reluctance to stir greatly enhanced husband’s stuffing (8)
LETHARGY — (greatly)* with H(usband) stuck inside… runner-up for Anagrind of the Week
46 Sweet kid hurt his leg dancing tango (7,7)
TURKISH DELIGHT — (kid hurt his leg)* + T, “tango” in the NATO phonetic alphabet… with an expertly camouflaged anagrind
48 Temper can test endless stores stocking gifts (10)
TANGERINES — T(ANGER, “temper”)IN + [-t]ES[-t]
49 Drunken support a stranger talked of (12)
BACCHANALIAN — “Back an alien”
53 Warm starter’s left to finish off (3,2)
54 Grease” number disco regularly cuts dead (9)
55 Signal to consume one’s home cooking (7)
CUISINE — CU(I[’]S)(IN, “home”)E
56 Advent plant swallowed by a reindeer almost (10)
APPEARANCE — A + P(PEA)RANCE[-r]… ♪ “You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer…”♪
57 Carols about child, good for vocal gatherings (9)
SINGSONGS — SING(SON)(G)S Americans call these “singalongs.” What else would you sing but a song?

 1 Christmas favourite a northern celebrity mostly hosts (5)
SANTA — S(A)(N)TA[-r]
 2 Going beyond blatant: Herod maybe? (10)
OVERTAKING — OVERT, “blatant” + A KING, “Herod, maybe?”
 3 Lead off dance with solo song. That’s a bloomer (8)
 4 Trimmed final present, just the wrapping’s not right (5)
INAPT — [-f]INA[-l] + P[-resen]T… neat combo of opposite subtraction methods
 5 Like a veteran’s relations heading off to Mass (2-7)
 6 Punch a panto villain (4)
 7 One poking his nose in heard something fruity (6)
MEDLAR — “meddler”
 8 Seasonal messages addressed by posters (9,5)
CHRISTMAS CARDS — CD So obvious, you could miss it!
 9 Out to lunch and might miss evening service (8,4)
MIDNIGHT MASS — Seems rather late for lunch! (and might miss)*… and another very clever anagrind
10 Lover given layer of cake with more almonds (7)
NUTTIER — NUT, “Lover” + TIER, “layer of cake”… Other nuts are equally seasonal, so I find the omission of a question mark anomalous here. Having, or giving, fruitcake on Christmas is an international custom. Why?
11 Sort of Christian object Santa unwrapped (10)
PROTESTANT — PROTEST, “object” + [-S]ANT[-a]
15 A son fills orders and cleans roasting tins? (9)
18 Many bits cooked maybe, eg turkey primarily (8)
MEGABYTE — (maybe eg t[-urkey])*
20 Suffering relative who gives advice periodically? (5,4)
AGONY AUNT — CD A sad reminder (no doubt unintended) of John Prine, whom we lost this year… yep, to Covid-19.
Dear Abby, dear Abby / My fountain pen leaks / My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks / Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed / If it weren’t so expensive I’d wish I were dead / Signed, Unhappy
Unhappy, Unhappy / You have no complaint / You are what your are and you ain’t what you ain’t / So listen up buster, and listen up good / Stop wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood
21 That’s the third person who’s not wanted fruit (10)
GOOSEBERRY — DD, the first being a reference to the expression “play gooseberry,” which The Phrase Finder says is “mostly limited to the UK and even there is somewhat archaic,” tracing it back as far as “the glossary of the English author Mary Palmer’s A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect, 1837.” “When ‘play gooseberry’ was coined…it referred to someone acting as a chaperone to a couple.… More recently the expression has come to refer to anyone who is present as a third party to a couple who would rather be alone”—in this latter sense, it is equivalent to the American “be the third wheel.” The chaperone “had to be present and within earshot of the romantic couple but had also to pretend to be otherwise occupied. If this scene was played out inside a home the pretext might be sewing or reading a book; if outside it might be picking flowers or fruit. ‘Playing gooseberry’ began as ‘playing gooseberry picker’.”
23 Feelings of tension as crackers start to snap (10)
SENSATIONS — (tension as)* + S[-nap]
27 Food and drink for one waiting at last (6,3)
SCOTCH EGG — SCOTCH, “drink” + EG or e.g., “for one” + [-waitin]G
28 A little Santa’s left leg? (8,6)
STOCKING FILLER — DD, one a typically jocular but atypically terse CD
31 Old king eating seconds inspired by the pureed this? (8)
CHESTNUT — CNUT ingesting [S(econds) inhaled by (the)*]… Which this clue is not, at least. It seems to desperately want to become, through some Christmas miracle, a full-fledged &lit, and I’ve underlined the whole thing to keep everyone happy. Apart from the wordplay—definition-wise—a leap of faith seems to be involved in connecting the answer with the mash consumed by this monarch (or is there some tradition that links them?); but the fact that this is a dish popular during the holidays provides the needed bridge, for this puzzle.
33 Take the lead and look good feeding the old a traditional dish (9,3)
STARGAZEY PIE — STAR, “Take the lead” + GAZE, “look” + Y(PI)E… and that’s Brit slang for “good,” short for “pious” and implying smugness and hypocrisy, inside an ancient definite article. (On checking my guess, I found that this isn’t the most common spelling, with the first E.) This was my LOI, having never heard of the… amazing Cornish confection. Honestly, the sight of fish heads sticking out of a flaky crust (as if staring at the celestial sparklies) does not cause my mouth to water (rather, my stomach to turn), mais à chacun son goût. There is a charming folkloric story about the 16th century origin of the delicacy in a town by the name of Mousehole, whose citizens were saved from starvation two days before Christmas when fisherman Tom Bawcock brought in a stupendous catch… But y’all surely know all about it!
34 You may hang this note outside broken toilets (9)
MISTLETOE — M (toilets)* E
37 Optimistic finally about red nose, it is put to work (4-6)
ROSE-TINTED — The Legend of Rudolph in a nutshell. ([-abou]t red nose it)* 
38 Reason to switch plan for ultimate rejoicing (10)
EXULTATION — “Reason” is “explanation”; swap “plan” there for “ult” and you’re ♪ on your way… ♪
41 Meals from a method that needs boxes (9)
43 Suggests a Latin number to separate foxtrots? (8)
45 Gutless knight in panto sporting knitwear (4,3)
TANK TOP — (panto)* involving K[nigh]T A garment seen in my profile picture. (But I am not a cowardly chevalier in a holiday play.)
47 Concerning curved pipe, last blown for a biblical patriarch (6)
REUBEN — RE, “concerning” + U-BEN[-d]
50 Pure energy required to feed large family (5)
51 Christmas leaves one with struggles (5)
IVIES — I, “one” + VIES, “struggles” Decorating with holly and ivy was once held to ward off evil spirits.
52 Really long Christmas tree (4)

20 comments on “Sunday Times Christmas Cryptic 4935, by Robert Price — What, no figgy pudding?”

  1. I seem to have hurried through this, as I left a couple of clues unparsed, and have no notes other than a ‘DNK’ at GOOSEBERRY, and a ‘COD’ at EXCESS, LUBRICATE, TANK TOP, & IVIES. I’m sure I didn’t notice the clever anagrinds Guy points out. But I’m also sure I enjoyed it. Now I’ve got 4 more jumbi to finish. Guy, 49ac should be ‘back AN alien’.
    1. Thanks. Fixed. I suspected that there was still one typo or oversight in there, but I was also quite sure that you would find it before anyone else.
    2. 5 in 8 days! I’ve caught up now and yesterday’s is the hardest… and mine to blog.
      1. I haven’t gotten very far with the latest one yet. Amazed that I’ve done four in such quick succession—I usually don’t work them at all.
  2. Thanks to the setter for a well crafted, delightful Yuletide romp. Also to Guy for the informative blog. I’m not in a hurry to make stargazey pie!
    72’21” (unfortunately ruins the monthly average for the leaderboard but well worth it)
  3. All but 33dn STARGAZEY PIE which rings a distant bell, but Cornwall and its pasties has never appealed. I’ve only been once and like skiing…..

    There were 21dn GOOSEBERRY(-ies) and wallflowers when I was a lad.

    FOI 55ac EAT UP

    (LOI) 44ac LETHARGY


    WOD 46ac TURKISH DELIGHT which we always had on January 7th, my grandfather’s birthday! His fave and mine.

    All very Christmassy!

    Edited at 2021-01-03 04:27 am (UTC)

  4. Good fun with all the holiday / Christmas related clues and answers, but not exactly a relaxing solve – more clues than usual of course and quite a few tough ones to kick the mind back into gear after the Christmas festivities.

    STARGAZEY PIE was my last in too. I might be making this up, but I think it was mentioned in an episode of “Pie In The Sky”, so I perhaps should have got it earlier. I’m a big fan of Cornish pasties (known as tiddly oggies by one bakery chain here), but I draw the line at those pilchard heads poking up through the pie crust! GOOSEBERRY was also a barely remembered term from somewhere, possibly in another part of crossword land.

    Satisfying to have finally solved this, even if my time was up there in the stratosphere. A big thanks to our “very own” setter and to Guy.

  5. Dipped into this over the Christmas period and managed to solve most of it. Was most pleased to work out AMPHORAE. Had never heard of STARGAZEY PIE. Was looking for PIE but could have been PUD as 56a did not appear. If PLANT =PEA, that’s tough in my book.
    My first thought at 20a was GIDDY AUNT.
    I had fun along the way. Thank you Robert for this welcome diversion.
    1. Plant => PEA is tough as there are many plants, but reindeer=> (one of the usual 9 or so) gives you more of the answer when you identify the right one …
  6. First time I heard of stargazey pie was a feature about it on Blue Peter. I think Sarah Greene was involved.

    I thought this was a superb puzzle, slightly easier than RP’s usual standard, perhaps deliberately for the occasion. I had the feeling this one squeezed in slightly more references to Christmas than other setters had managed before, which is really something if so.

    Does Robert Price set elsewhere, apart from the TLS?

    … ‘Blorenge’

  7. 51 minutes of fun, finishing, like others, with the unremembered STARGAZEY PIE. (It appeared without the E in daily 26139 in 2015). I had a MER at “ORDERS” for DEGREES at 15D. Lots of ticks against good clues, but COD to STOCKING FILLER. Thanks Robert and Guy.
  8. Lots of fun, completed in 42 minutes. Curiously, the apparent unknowns for others were both familiar to me: Stargazey Pie possibly from my time living net door in Devon, maybe from a visit to Mousehole. Gooseberry as an unwelcome guest mooning around and spoiling the party common enough, and quite surprising that it has escaped the notice of others. I think I frowned a bit at “plant” for PEA, but it is one.
    I think LOVEMAKERS was my last in: properly deceptive.
    Fine comprehensive blog over and above normal ST duty, and some splendid diversions along the way.
  9. Whether deliberate or not, or just the result of thematics, there’s some delightful pairings in the the grid:
    PROTESTANT MISTLETOE: like ordinary mistletoe but without the kissing.
    MIDNIGHT MASS EXULTATION in short supply this year with No Singing.
    ANOINT LOVEMAKERS’ MASKS combining sensualism with proper Covid precautions.
  10. An entertaining puzzle which kept me busy for 75:54, but at least no pink squares appeared. STARGAZEY PIE was assembled from the recipe, but I couldn’t have said what the actual ingredients were. LOVEMAKERS was my LOI. Great puzzle . Thanks Bob and Guy.
  11. My first proper go at a cryptic jumbo. It was big and hard. A very slow start. I almost decided this wasn’t for me. But once under way I managed to keep going for the 2:24:02 I needed. And all green. A great sense of achievement. Lots to like, but not STARGAZEY PIE. I know of it, but I’ve never eaten out and never will. LOI 25ac LOVEMAKERS, and COD for the joy of finishing.

    Thanks to the setter for the workout and, in particular, thanks for not using any words I do not know (except moue, but I managed not to notice it). And thanks to the blogger for making me work through the delightfully economical blog too.

  12. 23:24. I didn’t find this particularly hard, but thought it was a wonderful puzzle: spotting the Christmas theme in almost all the clues was like opening the doors on an Advent calendar. Often puzzles with so many thematic clues can end up feeling forced, but this one didn’t at all. A real tour de force, so thank you very much Bob, and GdS for discharging the extended blogging duties.
    I knew STARGAZEY PIE from the book The Mousehole Cat, which I read to a subsection of my kids at various times. I’ve also been to Mousehole (pronounced ‘mouzle’).
    The concept of being a GOOSEBERRY is also perfectly familiar to me and still very much in use.

    Edited at 2021-01-03 01:29 pm (UTC)

  13. I have no notes for this, but it took me seconds inside 70 minutes now that I check. I suspect I may have left the timer running, as there was other stuff going on. I do know I enjoyed it !
  14. I thought this was quite outstanding and Robert Price is now near the top of my list. When the setter has to link each clue to a theme it can be a bit stretched in places, but it wasn’t here: every clue seemed simple and natural and just happened to be connected to Christmas.

    The only other setter I know who has achieved such a feat is Paul Henderson (Phi) in the BBC Music Magazine.

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