Sunday Times Xmas Cryptic No 5039 by Dean Mayer — Season of light

Along with the flurry of references to the Christian holiday in this sparkling seasonal offering, there is also a luminary in the night sky (23) that has nothing to do with the birth of a messiah but whose purpose is rather to reveal a scene of deadly strife, reminding me of the invasion that forced us to migrate from LiveJournal last year. Slava Ukraini!

And happy New Year!

I indicate (MAGAs ran)* like this, and italicize anagrinds in the clues.

 1 Around time before Christmas, safe after motorway accident (12)
 7 Has risen, with presents first to open, maybe? (1,7,2)
I SUPPOSE SO   IS UP, “Has risen” + POSES, “presents” + O[-pen]
13 Retreats from zero sanctions (5)
14 As a voice, it’s strangely complementary (11)
ASSOCIATIVE   (As a voice, it’s)*
16 Some athl{ete ra}cing over rocky ridge (5)
ARETE   Reverse hidden
17 Staff longing to return — plonker! (6)
RODNEY   ROD, “Staff” + YEN<=“to return”   The definition is one of the insults (so I learned) often hurled at RODNEY Trotter, a character in the long-running BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses.
18 Vehicles outside northern holy city (6)
19 One handle opened by one crank before long (2,1,6)
IN A MINUTE   I, “one” + NAM(I)(NUT)E
21 Groups of angels get one in trouble — prepare for 53 (5,4)
HOIST SAIL   HO(I)STS + AIL, “trouble”
22 Warm sun and ice that is melting (12)
ENTHUSIASTIC   (sun + ice that is)*
25 Drinker needs present whether you like it or not (2,5)
SO THERE   SOT, “Drunk” + HERE, “present”
27 Non-clergy’s short joke about wedding (7)
NUPTIAL   LAIT[-y] + PUN, “joke” all <=“about”
28 Good boy needs heart to give a seductive stare (4,3)
GLAD EYE   G(ood) + LAD, “boy” + EYE, “heart” as in the “eye of the storm,” the center of a cyclonic disturbance
29 Being criminal is costly on the beat? (8)
SYSTOLIC   (is costly)*
31 Briefly sag? (4,5,5)
34 It might give Arab duo a little extra! (4,3,5,2)
READ ALL ABOUT IT  (Arab duo a little)*  The part of an old-time newsboy’s cry that typically followed “Extra! Extra!” (Or, as often heard, “Extree! Extree!” Which newspapers certainly are.)
35 Cricketer, about to bat, gets out of tight situation (6,2)
SOBERS UP   (Garfield) SOBERS, famed “Cricketer” + UP, “about to bat”  Jocularly cryptic definition.  …I had, of course, no idea about the sportsman, so this was my LOI.
38 Villain went west and did work with clubs (7)
CADDIED   CAD, “Villain” + DIED, “went west”
40 Variety of Spanish drink, or tea. Cheers! (7)
ORCHATA   OR, literally + CHA, “tea”+ TA, ”Cheers!”   “Variety” because it’s more commonly spelled “horchata”—and the caveat was appreciated. This spelling is unknown to Collins and, and the only alternative spelling offered in the Wikipedia entry is orxata. But a Google search shows that this spelling in use.
41 He left picture as peak of inspiration (7)
HELICON   HE + L(eft) + ICON, “picture”   In Greek mythology, Mount HELICON was the site of two springs sacred to the muses.
43 Beer guts? (5,7)
44 Railway worker with desire to get old lady to open points (9)
47 Author about to consume ancient spread (4,5)
49 Flood sort of entertains near university (6)
50 Person keeping Christmas tree lit (2,4)
52 Bulb working, current active (5)
ONION   ON, “working” + I, “current” + ON, “active”
53 Seafaring ruined at once by wind (5,6)
OCEAN TRAVEL   (at once)* + RAVEL, “wind”   RAVEL, besides meaning, as here, “twist” (“wind”) and “entangle,” can also mean its opposite (often followed by “out”).
54 Christmas tree decoration from a new set (5)
ANGEL   A + N(ew) + GEL, “set”
55 Above church, son fixes cracks outside (2,6,2)
IN EXCESS OF   (son fixes)* surrounds CE, yer Church of England
56 Manipulates festive looks, turning heads (12)
GERRYMANDERS   MERRY GANDERS, switching the first letters (“heads”)—without invoking Spooner!
 1 They like rulers to be available in Christmas crackers (11)
MONARCHISTS   (Christmas)* with ON, “available” inserted. The closest adjectival definition for ON that I can find is in Collins, “being broadcast on television or radio”; when a show is ON, you can tune in.  …I wanted first to make “in Christmas” the anagrist. But the clue couldn’t have read “on Christmas.” These “crackers” are not (I’ve learned) the kind you crunch in your mouth, and each typically has a little gift, a joke (see 48) and a paper hat(!) when you snap it apart. So “rulers”—whether miniature measuring devices or effigies of royal figures—would be “in” rather than “on” them.
 2 Wind and frost potentially a winter hazard (9)
SNOWDRIFT   (Wind + frost)*
 3 Due to eat last bit of Christmas pudding (7)
 4 Hairy man tucked into appl{e sau}ce (4)
ESAU   Hidden
 5 Soldiers’ trade — decorative hangings (10)
TASSELLING   T(erritorial) A(rmy)S + SELLING, “trade”
 6 Delivery from address in southern England? (8,13)
 8 Holiness of religious custom in place unknown (12)
 9 Appearing before and after game (9)
PREDATING   DD   …Clue 15 refers to this one, and when I told my crossword-creating friend Henri about these two, he called this clue “amazing!” I agree.
10 Arabian soon seen in revolution (5)
OMANI   IN A MO<=“in revolution”
11 Small devices to divert big guns (9,4)
12 Unwrapped gift for writer hidden in dictionary (6)
OPENED   O(PEN)ED   Here, PEN tout court is not “writer” as so often but “gift for writer”—otherwise, there would be an unclaimed “gift” here, belonging neither to the wordplay nor the definition, strictly for the surface. (Not that anyone would complain about an extra “gift” at Xmas!)
15 Christmas gift of just 9 letters (1,9,2,1,4,4)
A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE   Clue 9 provides the letter bank from which this entire clue is drawn.   …Brilliant! I had to tell Out of Left Field puzzle crafters Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto about this one, as they were among the first to deploy the device.
20 Real friend left to freshen up (8)
MATERIAL   MATE, “friend” + {L(eft) + AIR}<=“up”
23 Hero’s ordeal that would shed light on the battlefield (4,5)
STAR SHELL   STAR’S HELL   A form of artillery used to illuminate a battlefield at night, and as a way of passing signals
24 Christian event listed in broadcast (4)
LENT   “leant”
26 Vanity case? (9)
30 Variable amount, details are very clear (5,3,1,4)
STAND OUT A MILE   (amount, details)*
32 Joey Hart worried about one part of plant (4,4)
ROOT HAIR   ROO, “Joey” (kangaroo) + (HART + I, “one”)*
33 Extreme cold you may regard as OK (8,4)
ABSOLUTE ZERO   Or 0 (ZERO) K(elvin)   …Very cool clue!
34 One reliable music genre (4)
36 Long unwanted, short Christmas tree remains (4,7)
“This little green one here seems to need a home,” Charlie Brown tells a dubious Linus—who later says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
37 Leaves behind energy — proves awkward to retain it (6,4)
PASSES OVER   (proves)* holding ASS, “behind” + E(nergy)
39 Results of boys hiding one after start of Christmas month? (9)
DECISIONS   DEC I, “December 1” + S(I)ONS
42 Mix, mostly over fireplace (9)
45 Prisoner given article in tin kettle? (7)
CONTAIN   CON, “Prisoner” + T(A)IN   What cops do to demonstrators, forcing them into an area from which all exits are blocked
46 Clots taking over company welcomed by priest (6)
EMBOLI   ELI, our regular priest, hugs MBO, “Management Buyout,” which is a “taking over” of a “company,” as expressed somewhat elliptically here.
48 Supposedly treacherous Christmas cracker joke — I start to cackle (5)
PUNIC   PUN, “Christmas cracker joke” + I + C[-ackle]   A reference to the allegedly duplicitous character of the residents of ancient Carthage. PUNIC, also the name of their language, is from punicus, the word for “Phoenician” in Latin. The Carthagians were descended from the Phoenicians.
51 Choice of pudding ingredient (4)


18 comments on “Sunday Times Xmas Cryptic No 5039 by Dean Mayer — Season of light”

  1. An hour for this one

    But I had COVERS UP

    And right now I have a hangover so terrible I can’t even figure out if that’s ironic or not. I think I’ll go back to bed.

    Happy new year all

  2. NHO of SOBERS, of course, and in desperation put in COVERS UP at 35ac. DNK STAR SHELL, ORCHATA in any of its avatars, MBO. DNK that the Punic folk were reputedly duplicitous. DNK RODNEY, and figured it was another name used as an insult, like Charlie, or Kevin. Didn’t see ME as ‘author’ at 47ac; still seems odd. Lots of good clues, of course; I especially liked PREDATING, COMMINGLE, OCEAN TRAVEL, A PARTRIDGE (though I biffed it from the enumeration), and COD to LONG STORY SHORT.

  3. I thought ORCHATA was a bit off. I could only find this ‘wrong spelling’ recorded in the OED supplement. Google didn’t find it for me. SOBERS meant nothing to me but I did like DERBY WINNER. Overall a but tough but enjoyable.

  4. 35A: Gary Sobers (as usually known) has lasting fame from a couple of old sporting factoids – a long-standing record for a score in a test-match innings of 365, set in 1958 and not beaten until 1994, and being the first to hit six sixes in an over (i.e. 6 balls) in a first-class cricket match, in 1968.

    1D: If you agree that “on” is the opposite of “off”, there’s a logical reason for it to mean “available”, from the “not currently available” meaning of “off”, in disappointing news from a waiter about the dish you wanted.

    15D: As the number of letters used in the anagram is 9, it’s an accurate clue in another way too.

    1. I’ve never heard a waiter say a dish was simply “off.” “Off the menu,” maybe. Might be strictly UK.

      Yes, and there are also nine letters just in PARTRIDGE (I think the convention—it’s mine, anyway—is to use numerals to indicate clue numbers), and this can be also a little (no doubt deliberately) misleading as regards the wordplay, as those letters are not the nine distinct letters in PREDATING that make up the whole clue. Then you see (or at least then I saw) it’s not an anagram but drawn from PREDATING as a letter bank.

      1. I’ve heard (in the US) “sorry, the sole is off” before. It’s not really off the menu, just that they’ve run out of the fish that night.

        1. Oh, OK. I’ve never heard it, and if I had, I would have said: “Well, I sure don’t want the fish if it’s off!” (i.e., gone bad).

    2. I would add another reason for Gary Sobers’ lasting fame. Conversations about cricket from my year living in Jamaica more than once touched on how he exemplified the highest level of fair play and sportsmanship. Statistics can be surpassed and become dated while one’s character lives on.
      From Sunil Gavaskar’s Colin Cowdrey Lecture, delivered at the MCC in 2003:
      “That greatest of cricketers, Gary Sobers, not only indicated more than once to umpires that he had caught the ball on the bounce he also declared his innings closed once in a Test Match in spite of having two of his main bowlers injured and left a challenging target for England to get……. all Gary wanted was to enliven a dead series.”

  5. Thanks for all this Guy (and setter.)
    I never got to the bottom of A Partridge etc, but now you have explained it is indeed brilliant.

  6. This one took several sittings together with Mr Ego, but we were determined to finish. Lucky it was a Sunday one, as there was no world in which we could have even started it on Christmas Day! Thanks for the blog, Guy, as I failed (again) to parse 42D, fooled as usual by the punctuation-as-part-of-clue. I also failed to parse MBO, though by some miracle I did get EMBOLI, since Eli was the obvious priest and I had the M and O. Did anyone else start off with CRAB PASTE? It was only when I remembered that George Crabbe was spelt with a double B, that I thought of MEAT PASTE and then it took me ages to parse, as I wasn’t expecting ME as author. But then it’s Dean Mayer – expect the unexpected! All round a brilliant puzzle – I never did get the significance of the Partridge clue, hence missed its cleverness, but loved SOBERS UP, DUTCH COURAGE and GERRYMANDERS. A big MER at ORCHATA, however – the only way it would be spelt like that is by people who couldn’t spell it. Finally, I was grateful that ARETE was the hidden, as I would almost certainly have misspelled it!

  7. My first ever Jumbo attempt. Some very good clues but even after the explanation I still don’t understand how the clue to 15d gives the answer. Yes 9ac gives the letter bank for one of the words in the answer but how does the w/p give the whole answer? And in 9ac how is PREDATING “after game”?

    Otherwise an hour and a half for two wrong. Another COVERS UP even though I well knew the cricketer, and as NECROMANCERS filled the spots for GERRYMANDERS in it went w/o fully knowing what was going on

    LOI LONG STORY SHORT which I only understood when I came here. COD

    Impressive effort from setter and blogger – thanks muchly

    1. 15: “Christmas gift” is, of course, the definition, and “of just 9 letters” says (cryptically) that it’s made up only of the letters in clue 9—that the nine letters in 9, PREDATING, are all you need (and it is, after all, over a third of the alphabet) for the 21-letter answer. One actual dictionary definition of PREDATE (this not a pun!) is what predators do. When they’re seeking prey, they’re PREDATING.

  8. Thank you Guy – appreciated.

    Wow. Now got it. Missed both that “in a pear tree” uses the same 9 letters plus the predator sense of predating.

    Very very clever

  9. I know Sobers as a famous cricketer, but I didn’t think of him so like many others went for COVERS UP without quite seeing how it works, because it doesn’t. But this was a fun crossword. And thank you to the crossword team for giving us such a great crossword on a day when the paper doesn’t appear so it is just people solving online who get to appreciate it. I’m not quite sure why the blog post was delayed until today given that it was like a daily crossword in that you got the green (and, unfortunately for me, pink) squares when you submitted on the day.

    1. I was a bit surprised by the wait too, but the blog organisers might have predicted the possibility of a bit of 5038 discussion slipping in (as it did in one of the early comments), and decided that the wisest idea was to wait for both.

  10. Thanks Dean and guy
    Christmas in July here … struggle to get time to do these big puzzles – actually started this one in March and picked it up again in May to complete it. Even then, took another couple of months to go through the grid again to check the answers and finish off any of the parsing. Worth the wait to then come to the blog and still find out that I had erred with PREDATING (not seeing the clever cross-reference relevance and still taking ages to twig to the ‘predator after game’ – so clever). Didn’t get the proper parsing for INRUSH either – the sneaky -ISH and an unfamiliar abbreviation of ‘near’.
    Lots of really excellent clues throughout and well placed in a special puzzle like this – favourites were LONG STORY SHORT after seeing the ‘sag[a]’ trick, the economically clued DUTCH COURAGE and SOBERS UP (for the memory of that great WI cricketer).
    Finished in the NE corner with SPIRITUALITY (corrected from an unparsed SPIRITUALISM when LONG STORY SHORT went in) and EXECUTIVE TOYS as the last one in.

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