Sunday Times Christmas Cryptic 4987, by David McLean — There ain’t no sanity clause!

You can’t fool me! Ha. Having got the long song title at the bottom right away, I expected very smooth sailing… but it turned out not to be a steady breeze. There were a few words or terms utterly new to me, but what stumped me even longer were the clues that could not have appeared in any puzzle other than a Christmas special. I’m going to bedeck these utterly context-dependent clues (mainly Acrosses)—and not every seasonal clue, mind you—with this ornament: 🎄

I’d never heard of (and have just now heard) the carol whose title is blazoned across the top of our puzzle and seems to conflate goofiness and the angelic. Working this was possibly my most Christmassy experience this season, with the many allusions to seasonal lore and the holiday’s two essential myths, joined somewhat incongruously by tradition and commercialism… Ho-ho-holy night! There were many cheery surprises, for the most part cunningly wrapped, maintaining the suspense until all the bows were untied.

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

 1 Carol and Barney in heaven imbibing cheerfully (4,4,7,2,4)
DING DONG MERRILY ON HIGH — “Barney,” in the sense of a loud altercation = DING DONG; “in heaven” = ON HIGH; both swallowing MERRILY, “cheerfully” …Very nearly my LOI.
12 Foreign thug kids one about end of arrests (6)
TSOTSI — TOTS, “kids” + I, “one” have [-arrest]S inserted. The eponymous hero of an Athol Fugard novel, which became a movie, his name means “criminal,” even. …Suddenly, we were thinking about South Africa again this week.
13 Star-stalkers who prefer Ernie to Eric? (4,3)
WISE MEN — That is, if you’re more a fan of Ernie Wise than of his partner Eric Morecambe, you’re a “Wise man.” The aforesaid Ernest’s original surname was Wiseman, actually… 🎄
14 Tasty treat and not so tasty treat knight tucks into (5,3)
MINCE PIE — MI(N)CE PIE …Cats might like it without the (i)N(gredient).
15 Why one might mix magenta and cyan suddenly? (3,2,3,4)
OUT OF THE BLUE — The idiom is defined as “Unexpectedly, without warning,” and “suddenly” is close enough. The cryptic hint (not quite a definition) must be the reason for the question mark: If your supply of the primary color were depleted, you could combine these two pigments as a substitute.
17 Rook and crow bishop shunned for turkey? (5)
ROAST — R(ook) + [-b]OAST
19 Kid’s application for awards in literature succeeded (4)
20 They may bring gifts of cats and dogs, and treasure I’m told (8)
REINDEER — “rain” + “dear” 🎄
22 Work out a number that’s almost “nth” — 22 for 23, for example (7)
TOTIENT — TOT, to add together, or “work out a number” + IE, i.e., “that’s” + NT, “almost nth” “The number of positive integers not greater than a specified integer that are relatively prime to it.” Since 23 is a prime number, all 22 positive integers preceding it are relatively prime to it (have no divisor common with it besides 1).
23 Yule tipple? Drunk knocked back over two gallons! (6)
EGGNOG — GON(G)(G)E<=“knocked back”
24 Heirs glide all over the place during this seasonal event (6,4)
SLEIGH RIDE — (Heirs glide)*
27 Snowy slope I manage to cross close to Aspen (5)
INRUN — I ([-aspe]N) RUN The approach ramp of a ski slope …which I had to guess at
28 One pulling ahead of a gifted fat bloke or Bolt? (6)
DASHER — 🎄 …I was too long trying to figure out how Usain might fit in here…
29 Specialist American cop nuts beggar “in error” (10)
GANGBUSTER — (nuts beggar)*
31 Locks put on noblewoman’s bloomers (5-7)
A chastity belt?
LADYS-TRESSES — LADYS, “noblewoman’s” with TRESSES, “locks”
33 Period just before the present day? (9,3)
CHRISTMAS EVE — CD, playing on “present”
35 Old Wranglers son paired with newish red pants (10)
SWINEHERDS — S(on) + (newish red)* Imagine if the Xmas story had featured pig farmers rather than shepherds.
37 Holy patch of ground in South Dakota (6)
39 Couples covering miles could be ages (5)
40 Vacuous neighbour in digger out gritting again (10)
REGRINDING — (N[-eighbou]R + in digger)*
41 Island hard at work with uni protecting 50 per cent of fish (6)
HONSHU — H(ard) + ON, “at work” + [-fi]SH + U(ni)
43 One giving support to Seat in the States? (4,3)
BUTT BRA — CD …This is a thing (over here), and I could hardly believe it. Too bad Vinyl has banned illustrative pictures.
45 Penny feels aggrieved at things such as gold (8)
PRESENTS — P + RESENTS …This gets a 🎄 because on this occasion we’re likely to be reminded of “gold” as one in a trio with frankincense and myrhh.
47 Spade for one in resistance that rogue pinches (4)
48 Some loathe Icelandic chap who loves a brew (5)
THEIC — Hidden A tea addict! Well, one who drinks “excessive amounts.” I’m not one to judge. NHO
49 Sour lads jest about one working in settlement (4,8)
LOSS ADJUSTER — (Sour lads jest)*
51 Head of Weflip will get to turn better profits (8)
WINNINGS — W[-eflip] + INNINGS, “turn” …Yes, this is singular as a cricket term, but y’all know that, and I learned it myself some time back.
53 Offer punters a deal for plonk, rum and drop of sherry (3,4)
LAY ODDS — LAY, “plonk” + ODD, “rum” + S[-herry]
54 Notable point for Labour — Brown capturing Tyneside initially (6)
STABLE — S(T)ABLE 🎄 Collins for SABLE: “black [my first thought] or dark brown,” from the color of the eponymous animal’s pelt
56 Why vast domestics flare up in this time of year (6,4,2,9)
TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS — (Why vast domestics flare)*

 1 I upset crook after first of defamations in this (7)
DISPUTE — D[-efamations] + (I upset)* …Seems somewhat lacking in the definition department; it doesn’t work as an &lit, and “this” can only refer to some confused situation involving a disturbed outlaw and the impugning of someone’s character.
 2 Stocking filler a Parisian picked up on time (3)
NUT — UN<=“picked up” + T(ime)
 3 Potential pile-up on icy roads in Germany and Split (5)
DRIFT — D(eutschland) + RIFT, “Split”
 4 What might soon be entered by a resolute drunk? (3,4)
NEW YEAR — CD Because people tend to drink a lot on NYE and also to list their heartfelt good intentions for the next solar cycle… though that might wait for the morning after …Really had me stumped.
 5 A plant by which smack dealer might find success? (9)
 6 Spirit collected around Sweden is most unusual (7)
RUMMEST — RUM, “Spirit” + ME(S)T
 7 Man women intended to go south of private islands (5,8)
INNER HEBRIDES — INNER, “private” is north of HE, “Man” + BRIDES, “women intended”
 8 Possible reaction to 23 years married? You gulped! (3)
 9 New article all about United … not at all (4,3)
NONE THE — N(ew) + ONE, “United” + THE, “article”
10 People like Marx list goodies for redistribution (11)
IDEOLOGISTS — (list goodies)* Here I can’t help but imagine Uncle Karl in a Santa suit.
11 Drop of ice in Polish drinks troubles tenor (9)
16 Swine sounds old next to fashionable royal (7)
OINKING — O(ld) + IN, “fashionable” + KING, “royal”
18 In need of new direction as nothing is amazing (11)
ASTONISHING — (as nothing is)* …And we have a winner this week for the Creative Anagrind Prize! This one is pretty… amazing. Over half the clue!
21 Worn-out old lover despised grasping American (9)
EXHAUSTED — EX, “old lover” + HA(US)TED
25 Swimmer — one in northern water (5)
26 Talent I crab about being difficult to direct (11)
INTRACTABLE — (Talent I crab)*
27 Disorder in Clydesdale staggers? (7)
ILLNESS — There seems to be two definitions here, one (doubly) by example, but they amount to the same thing, the “staggers” being an ILLNESS among equines, like the Clydesdale horse. …I don’t know if the surface wants me to see something different, and I don’t see any wordplay either.
28 New glider general gets with drone-type qualities (9)
DIRGELIKE — (glider)* + IKE
30 Police cut hair lamely in a painfully creaky way (13)
RHEUMATICALLY — (cut hair lamely)* Police in the sense “to regulate, control, or keep in order.” …A shoo-in for the Obscure Anagrind of the Year award. But I have seen it before.
32 Nurse fellow with his rear pointing towards you? (3,2)
END ON — EN, “Nurse” + DON, “fellow” …I didn’t know the term Enrolled Nurse (for which one qualifies after a two-year course, while becoming a Registered Nurse requires three years).
34 Dine with sincere criminal at home (2,9)
IN RESIDENCE — (dine + sincere)*
36 Tiresomely long foreign article probing deaths (7)
38 Just one street supports a person like Trump? (9)
AMORALIST — A held up by MORAL, “Just” + I, “one” + ST(reet) …Excellent definition! Spot-on!
40 Is hard cop on drugs high as a kite, perhaps (9)
RHAPSODIC — (is hard cop)*
42 Old raconteur appearing during August in Oviedo (7)
USTINOV — Hidden The actor was indeed almost equally renowned as a story-teller, a talent notably put on display in autobiographical one-man shows in his later years.
44 Lots of cops Yard put on hobo’s case (5-2)
BILLY-HO — BILL, as in (Lexico): “informal British | (the Bill or the Old Bill) the police” + Y(ard) + H[-ob]O Lexico has only “billy-o,” meaning “Very much, hard or strongly,” in the phrase “like billy-o”—whereas Collins says BILLY-HO is “another name for billyo…or billy-o or billyoh… | NOUN | See like billyo.” “Like billyo” was unlinked there, but there is an entry: “informal | (intensifier)”
45 Religious type in spin about act of ascension? (7)
46 One supporting climbers very welcoming up hill with shrouded top (7)
TRELLIS — TRES, “very” takes in [-h]ILL<=“up”
50 I’m in Mont-Saint-Michel to dismiss island delivery agent (5)
JESUS — JE SU[-i]S …This is a clue resonant with but not particular to Xmas. The delivery of the divine babe in the manger is central to the tale, but Baby Jesus is delivered; he’s not the one who does the delivering. So what must be meant is Jesus as the supposed “agent” of one’s salvation (deliverance).
52 Down clues a disaster in part (3)
SAD — Hidden
55 Goal not accounted for after clash to be reviewed (3)
AIM — M.I.A.<=“to be reviewed” Missing In Action

26 comments on “Sunday Times Christmas Cryptic 4987, by David McLean — There ain’t no sanity clause!”

  1. I can’t say I enjoyed this much. There were a few unknown words but my main beef was that there were too many obvious answers requiring too much effort to unravel their workings. After a while I just wrote them in without bothering to try to parse them. All very well but not very satisfying
  2. Took me 1:41:08 to slog my way through this one. I enjoyed some of it, but gave up and looked up 5 or 6 answers. NHO TOTIENT, THEIC, BUTT BRA or TSOTSI. I managed the wordplay for THEIC and TSOTSI but had to look the other 2 up. Failed in the end with LASS for LIST and a despairing NEW BEER for our resolute drunk. Thanks Harry and Guy.
  3. By the end I was past caring. I’m sure I must have used aids but I still ended up with 3 wrong answers:
    BILLY HO, BUTT BRA? Really?
    I hope normal service will be resumed today.
  4. Managed to finish but found this one a crossword of contrasts, some super-easy, some distinctly tough. FOI 56ac TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, LOI 22ac TOTIENT, though it’s among a few I’d either never heard of – BUTT BRA? – or couldn’t figure out, eg, 19ac, 27ac, 11d, 27d. Also thought NONE THE at 9d was an odd answer; more like only half the answer. As a Scot, I was amused by DIRGELIKE at 28d. All in all this probably took a couple of hours over two days and several sessions, and was a bit of a grind. Made it, though. Happy new year!
  5. I struggled with this, and gave up trying to solve it without aids in the end. I don’t think I’d ever have got TOTIENT, for instance, and I was completely stumped by LIST. I still don’t see it: Santa has a list (which he checks twice), and children write letters, but ‘don’t forget to send your list to Santa’ just isn’t a thing, is it?
  6. Didn’t care for this one, and 38dn is a disgraceful clue. Whatever you think of the ‘target’ (and I am by no means a fan), this sort of partisan-opinion-given-as-fact does not belong here. I do crosswords to get away from all that garbage
  7. I am cross with myself for missing Jesu(i)s at 50d but butt bra?? Had guessed BUTT but BRA?
    Humph, Andyf
  8. Didn’t much like this. Bit up-and-down, I thought

    Disagree with 38dn in several ways, not least because if we are in personal opinion territory, I would say im- rather than a- .. There is a famous AP Herbert Misleading Case in which it was held that a crossword clue can be defamatory, so Mr Maclean needs to watch out ..

    “Inning” is a strictly US term so far as I know. Here in England one always has an innings.

  9. A few here I never really understood. I’d never heard of billy-ho and entered tally-ho without understanding why. Goodness knows where the wranglers came into 35ac. In 19ac why is a list a kid’s application for awards? 4dn seemed a bit odd: ‘resolute’? Nho the rapper M.I.A. in 55dn, and not even sure that this is the right way to go: ‘clash’?

    ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ is very often heard at Christmas in the UK, Guy, but it seems not to have crossed the Atlantic.

    1. I think the idea is that a kid might send a LIST of presents he or she wants to Santa, or possibly give it to his or her parents. As I mentioned I’m puzzled by this. I mean I suppose a child might do this, just as I might give a list of my favourite Beatles songs to the Dalai Lama, but neither is a particularly recognised practice.
      I don’t think rappers come into it: MIA is ‘missing in action’, ‘not accounted for after clash’.

      Edited at 2022-01-02 01:01 pm (UTC)

      1. Yes, that’s why I put the dots in. I thought that should suffice, but have added a gloss above.

        I didn’t raise a single eyebrow a millimeter over the list for Santa. A very common practice, in my experience. When I’m really out of bed, I may find a link or three.

        Edited at 2022-01-02 02:09 pm (UTC)

        1. If you say so, not familiar to me. As I said Santa’s the one with the list in my experience. The idea of sending him a list strikes me as a bit presumptious!
    2. There’s a general sense of a “wrangler” as a handler of livestock animals, but it is true that it is not commonly applied to SWINEHERDS

      Not sure why you thought of the rapper M.I.A. (Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam), whose stage name is identical to the original acronym for lost soldiers, but she is also mentioned in today’s Sunday New York Times crossword.

      Edited at 2022-01-02 05:05 pm (UTC)

      1. Thanks to everyone for their help. M.I.A. the rapper was just at the top of the Google list. Good clue. And the Santa list yes fine, OK. But still not very comfortable with the wranglers or resolute.

        Edited at 2022-01-02 10:22 pm (UTC)

  10. For me, there was a Donald Rumsfeld feel to this puzzle. There were several unknowns of varying description. TOTIENT was a completely new term to me; while once I had looked up TSOTSI, I remembered that I had seen the film of the same name which got an award of some sort; it was about bad lads in South Africa. The knowns were easy enough to fathom and gave me some pleasure en route.
    I looked at this over several days, doubting whether anyone could solve it all without aids.
  11. If this is what we can expect then thank goodness it’s only once a year. I was looking for the 15×15 and could only find this. I don’t usually do the jumbos. It’s enjoyable to slog through challenging puzzles but I disliked this one for a lot of reasons.. I’ve come to expect some wit in the Sunday offering and found very little here. I can’t understand 1d and thankfully had never heard of BUTT BRA. I know staggers is a horse disease but left ILLNESS till I had all the checkers because I couldn’t see what was cryptic about the clue.I objected to the political statement at 38 down – quite inappropriate in any season let alone the season of goodwill. Is it really worth having a themed crossword if it hamstrings the setter in this way? Mr Mclean normally produces very enjoyable puzzles but this charmless offering was both difficult and boring – an unusual combination.
    1. It’s really a statement of objective fact, if you know anything about the man’s history. Which few of his supporters, apparently, really do. (I am not counting you as one.)
      1. It’s a value judgement on a living politician. Whether true or not it’s inappropriate here
        1. Agree. I was very surprised to see it, and I don’t remember any similar example ever, in The Times or ST cryptics… breaking new ground.

          Edited at 2022-01-02 05:26 pm (UTC)

          1. I agree although I’ve seen similar in The Guardian. Perhaps the setter also contributes there and forgot where he was!

            Edited at 2022-01-02 06:51 pm (UTC)

          2. I agree, Jerry. In the daily quiz in The Times Online, there is an accepted practice that is adhered to for the most part, that we avoid controversial subjects when commenting. There is enough controversy in other comment threads in the ToL IS THE VIEW.
          1. Well, I can assure everyone that I didn’t intend the line I lifted from Chico Marx for a headline to be a veiled allusion to the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution…
  12. On the tougher answers like totient, I don’t mind having a few of these in the Christmas jumbo, partly to allow more seasonal answers, and partly as the prizes for the contest are better than usual, and I’d like them to go to someone with the right answers including some tough ones.

    On 38D, I appreciate that it’s a clue people are going to love or hate, but as far as controversy goes, I haven’t yet had any letters or emails to answer from people outside this forum, so it seems less offensive than the time I allowed a setter to equate policemen with pigs.

    1. Was hoping you’d drop by, Pete!

      I seem to have enjoyed this puzzle more than almost everyone else here, which reinforces my feeling that this clue was written especially to please me.

      Edited at 2022-01-02 09:13 pm (UTC)

Comments are closed.