TftT Christmas Crossword report

I hope you’re all having a good Christmas break. Here are my comments on the team effort. Starting with the grid, the checking side is fine. For me it seems a mild shame to have no answers longer than 11 letters, but in a shared puzzle, getting a 4-letter rather than 15-letter word to clue could seem disappointing, and maybe 32 was the number of volunteers. There were four -S plural answers, and I think without looking that the guide for Times setters has a limit of three.

Plunging into the clues (without looking at the solution notes unless I need to), and assuming that my notation is close enough to the norm:

1 Nothing in blasphemy and religion shows sincerity (4,5)
GOOD FAITH O IN “God!”, FAITH – Ideally, we’d like the break-up of parts not to match the two words forming the answer, but if the result is a convincing surface reading, it can turn out to be the best way to go.
6 Princess and soldier tango, becoming one? (5)
DIGIT Di + GI + T – familiar components, but combined well, and with a deceptive definition.
9 Anger about Conservative after lie, leader lacking core support (7)
RIBCAGE ((f)IB,C=Conservative) in RAGE. A lively surface, but a definition which I understood rather than think is really accurate – if we agree with ODE’s “muscles of the torso, especially the lower back and abdominal area”
10 All-in-one clue’s ending left out anagram for ‘skin cream’ (7)
LANOLIN (All in on(e)* Strictly a component of a cosmetic, though that difference is unlikely to prevent solution, but I’m reluctant about using cryptic crossword jargon like “All-in-one”, even when you don’t need to know what it means to solve the clue. There are still plenty of people as I was c. 1986, who have worked out enough for themselves about how clues work to solve, but don’t know the lingo yet.
11 As laid out by Brecht originally? Yes and no (2,3)
AD LIB laid*,B – I’m happy to count this as an &lit/all-in-one and to hope that no-one needs telling what Brecht was best known for.
13 Notices a politician in pub, and makes allowances (9)
PAMPHLETS ((A MP) in PH),LETS – maybe a mildly squinty definition – if to let is to allow, then to let is to make an allowance, and the number of allowed things could be plural. PH = public house is a shade unofficial – an OS map abbreviation rather a definition in dictionaries (including Chambers) but seen in puzzles from time to time. Stretchy def, I’d say – there are meanings of “notice” that could be a pamphlet, but most seem something shorter.
14 Critic rode roughshod over extensive field? (9)
DETRACTOR TRACT inside RODE* — I don’t think a full decision was made about the story being told here – if “ride roughshod” is the usual metaphorical version, an “extensive field” suggests a huge amount of criticism when “tract” could have been a publication, or something like “writer’s work”.
16 In vast territory a Shah reportedly … (4)
ASIA A + “Shah” or “A Shah” – either way, the homophone doesn’t work well enough for me, as the vowel in “Asia” is normally a schwa, and the one in “Shah” isn’t …
18 … killed a vast number (4)
SLEW … but maybe this pair of clues was from one person, attempting the tricky feat of linking two surface stories together. This double definition works well as part two.
19 Managing deliveries, tricky bit’s to score? Not so! (9)
OBSTETRIC (bits to score less “so”)* – I think a cricket surface is intended, but it took me a while to see what I think was meant by “score”.
22 Not got to the bottom of Horner’s pie, say? (9)
UNPLUMBED I can’t see that the second of the two definitions is really right – I don’t think a question mark is enough to allow a noun to be read as an adjective applying to it. Later addition: the “unplummed” idea was understood, but I didn’t agree that “Horner’s pie” (noun) could define it. With something like “like Horner’s pie”, it would have been fine for me.
24 Mean, spotty person’s first to leave (5)
IMPLY (p)IMPLY – not mad keen on “A’s first” meaning the first letter of A, but I think it’s comprehensible.
25 German abridging Lion King’s cool as a cucumber (7)
GHERKIN G=German, HER(o),KIN(g), with “cool” in its informal excellent/acceptable meaning making “cool as” a rather ingenious linking phrase between wordplay and def. As G=German is only in Collins, it’s not a favourite one-letter abbrev.  Alternatively, as intended, HER(o),K=king,IN=trendy=cool.
26 Stirring treacle well it becomes complex (7)
ELECTRA – treacle* – but I can’t see that Electra or Oedipus alone mean the same as they do with “complex” added, or that “complex” convincingly describes something stirred, so in a real puzzle scenario I’d be suggesting or requesting a different clue.
28 Bows and bouquets (5)
NOSES A double definition which needs the “smell” meaning of “nose” and the bows of multiple ships to be seen as the same thing as the noses of multiple aircraft. This seems OK, but it was a post-solve parse for me.
29 Cathedral city with botched burials in backward, unknown quarter (9)
SALISBURY With “quarter” as the direction of compass point, “backward,
unknown quarter” gives us S,Y in which to place “burials”. Especially in a world where “city” may indicate Ely or Wells, I think “Cathedral” could be fairly omitted, but maybe the idea was to suggest historical grimness.

1 Fish net is below deck (7)
GARLAND GAR=fish, NET=land=secure (vb). With “is below” as the only words actually meaning what they seem to mean, this is a pleasingly deceptive clue with a good surface reading.
2 British men first in basketball, for example (3)
ORB OR=men+B=British, with a basketball as a sample “orb”.  B as a possible “first in basketball” is a presumably deliberate false trail.
3 Lover carries book to university holding a torch (8)
FLAMBEAU A in ((B in FLAME),A) – I liked the idea of a (would-be) lover holding a torch, though if that was a deliberate idea, we might as well use “carry” as in the usual expression about it. Later: we would of course need to replace the “carries” earlier on.
4 I drink noisily? Chill! (3,2)
ICE UP – “I sup” which worked fine as a homophone, but for this to mean “chill” rather than “show the results of chilling”, we seem to need a definition from the American English parts of Collins online, which is supposed to be where we don’t go.
5 Signs of heartless hoaxers taking in every possible victim (9)
HALLMARKS (ALL=“every possible”, MARK=victim (of a scam)) in H(oaxer)S, and hallmarks=signs as distinctive features, as in “deceptive definitions are hallmarks of good cryptic clues”
6 Little craft but not good housekeeping initially in home improvement (6)
DINGHY – N,G,H in DIY=“home improvement”. I’m not sure exactly what the surface is telling us, but it’s enough to take us away from the true meaning of “craft”.
7 Drugs openly used as a sweetener (6,5)
GOLDEN SYRUP – (drugs openly)*, with “sweetener” = bribe in the surface story.
8 Great if French fan turns up in this country (7)
TUNISIA (A1,SI = (if French),NUT) all reversed – with “if French” as fair as “the French”, and the pleasing but presumably incidental point that if you go there and have little Arabic, French is very useful indeed.
12 Character pursued by journalists to provide some elevated words (11)
LETTERPRESS LETTER+PRESS – nicely artful definition, letterpress being the proper printing version of your old John Bull printing set – a raised surface for the printed image and ink applied with pressure. On the other hand, “character” is as discussed in the 27D comment.
15 Starting to realise old metal remains are brass (9)
TROMBONES – T R O M, BONES – for me this pushes “starting to” a bit too hard, and I’d prefer “Starts to realise …” which makes it clear that multiple initials are needed. But thanks for the nod to my main spare time activity these days.
17 Delicatessen I re-establish, sandwiches on the counter – uncanny quality (8)
EERINESS – Full marks for attempting an 8-letter (reverse) hidden word clue, but the definition following a hyphen as a bit of a give-away separator is one of those defs that could be added to many beginnings. In a real puzzle scenario, especially knowing the clue type for the next clue, this seems a candidate for trying something different.
18 Stung unpleasantly? Yes, partly, by one of these perhaps (4,3)
STUN GUN – hidden in the first two words, and the story told is very convincing.
20 Softie is keen on sweetheart (7)
CRYBABY – I like “keen on sweetheart” for CRY,BABY but I’m not quite convinced that a softie is a crybaby.
21 Scene of game with outspoken disagreeable fellow (6)
RUCKUS – RU = game, “CUSS” – a homophone that seems close enough. This is arguably fussy technicality, but I think multiple adjectives for the same noun are a weak point in clues – the fellow could be just outspoken or disagreeable as far as the surface reading goes. This is mostly avoided in this puzzle — the “mean, spotty person” in 24A and the quarter in 29D are the only other examples I can see.
23 Striking over pin – fifty remain (5)
DWELL – D(o)WEL,L – a dowel is usually a peg in dictionary definitions, but can also be called a “dowel pin”, supporting common sense. As the L indication, “fifty” is pretty easy, and I can’t see much of a surface story, so I think I’d have looked for something else.
27 Character up at university (3)
TAU – AT<,U – Definitions for Greek letters are pretty much restricted to “character” or a synonym, or the well-worn trick of indicating the relevant letter in a word that is clearly Greek. So this was a bit of a thankless task, and the writer was probably well aware that however hard setters try to convince us that a character is a real or fictional person, they will usually fail when the solver is experienced.

28 comments on “TftT Christmas Crossword report”

  1. Thank-you, Peter, for your time and your thoughts. And a big thank-you to all contributors; and apologies to those I upset – either harassling with emails, or making unwarranted suggestions, or the few whose clues suffered last-minute edits just before publishing, without consultation. And thanks for all the alternative clues profferred, allowed us to get a reasonable (but not-quite-Times-like) distribution.

    Two points in the explanations above:
    In GHERKIN the HER{o} is abridged, the KING is just K, and COOL in the clue is cluing IN in the answer. That was my favourite clue from the 100-odd received, for the “cool as a cucumber”. An unpublished Stormy petrels rest for relief (LETTERPRESS) was a close second.

    The two clues linked by ellipses ASIA … SLEW were written by different people independently. It was only when we printed out the puzzle to get a feel of it that we realised they could be joined. This was one of the late edits – inserted VAST into the SLEW clue, to match the VAST in the ASIA clue.

    Thanks all.

    Edited at 2021-12-27 01:12 pm (UTC)

    1. Thank you too to you Isla, for volunteering, and for undertaking what is traditionally a thankless task with style and aplomb.
      And a personal apology, should it be needed, in case any of my sardonic remarks were misunderstood
  2. A very interesting read, Peter, so many thanks for your constructive input and giving detailed consideration to each clue.

    I believe I heard mention of some sort of theme going on in the answers here, but I didn’t spot it in the solving.

      1. Well, this is the place for explaining things and nobody is worrying about spoilers at this stage, so please expand…
  3. I very much enjoyed both setting a clue and solving the crossword. A great effort by all involved. Thank you isla3 for the organisation and Mr Biddlecombe for the very interesting commentary above. Brilliant.
  4. Thanks to isla3 for organising the whole shooting match and to Peter for his expert thoughts. All good fun.
  5. Rereading the blog… think this one needs some explaining, too, as per the setter’s notes:
    UNPLUMBED = not got to the bottom of.
    Horner’s pie is “unplummed” noting the Uxbridge English Dictionary definition of unplum – stick in your thumb and pull out a plum – “say” is the homophone indicator for unplumbed. The question mark is to indicate the extreme corniness of the clue. Another clue I really liked, for its humour, and especially its corniness.
  6. A splendid Christmas bonus. Thanks to all for the crossword and to Mr PB for the analysis. As Bruce Forsythe might have said, didn’t they do well. I loved the non-homophone at 16ac ASIA. Worthy of a Rotter Award. COD 1dn GARLAND
  7. I was asked by Isla to supply three clues and try to avoid an anagram, which I duly did.
    To my surprise none of these were included — the clue was set as an anagram by another.

    Back in the day Sotira (Sarah) was in contact if she thought a change was required. Not this year apparently. No communication whatsoever. I binned it. I thought this was meant to be fun!

    Mood Meldrewvian.

    1. Hi Horryd,
      I sent multiple emails, both direct and to your LJ account. Maybe they ended up in the spam folder? Sorry for the changes, but I tried.
  8. Well done everybody, a very nice crossword. I meant to submit a clue but forgot about it. Probably for the best. The homophone at 16ac is unforgivably, disgracefully awful and I love it.
    1. In the preferred pronunciation, the consonant sound is quite different, too, from the one in “shah.” I got it, no problem, but might need another two or three drinks to find it amusing…

      Edited at 2021-12-28 02:09 am (UTC)

  9. I really enjoyed this and thought there were some great clues. Many thanks to isla3 for managing this for us all and Peter Biddlecombe for the analysis.

    My favourite clue was GOLDEN SYRUP. Nice anagram.

    Seasonal greetings all.

  10. Full marks to GARLAND. I was completely fooled and went looking for a fish (gurnard anyone?) and missed “deck” entirely. Thanks all setters, editors and blogger. P.S. I meant to say – I know there are those who say there’s no such thing as “wavelength”. I say there so is wavelength because when you have a puzzle with 30 setters it’s noticeable by its complete absence.

    Edited at 2021-12-28 01:17 pm (UTC)

  11. I agree with oliviarhinebeck and was going to make the same point about wavelength.

    Yes great fun and thank you isla3 for putting up with us all and steering us to the final offering. A real achievement, the difficulty of which I believe is hugely underestimated.

    Re the NINA, yes, that fits well as I believe we used to refer to this exercise, highly self-deprecatingly, as the ‘Christmas Turkey’, which we would all ‘stuff’ with clues.

    Many thanks to Peter of course for his expert opinions and invaluable insights on the editors’/setters’ minds. My only claim to fame in this exercise was that my clue last time round (2 years ago?) was his LOI which I regarded as a result! Can’t remember what it was now though.

    Hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season and looking forward to a much happier New Year!


  12. I solved this whilst full of Christmas cheer and so a little foggy. This may account for my one failure, gurnard instead of garland. I just couldn’t see it, was sure it had to be a fish. An excellent clue now I see the correct solution. I thought gherkin was another tough one. I also really liked golden syrup, trombones and stun gun. Well done to all the contributors, to Isla and John for pulling it all together and to Peter for giving us a professional crossword editor’s perspective in the blog. Fascinating.
  13. As the author of 10a, I’d make a couple of points. The clue was not designed for the general public of crossword solvers, but as a kind of in-joke for the couple of dozen people who frequent these pages, for whom ‘all-in-one’ is an everyday phrase.

    Also, pure lanolin is available as a cosmetic, rather than just an ingredient. (I checked.) In retrospect, I’d have gone with ‘secretion’ at the end of the clue. I needed a nine-letter word so that the solver wouldn’t be sure which end of the clue held the definition, and SCRETION looks more likely anagram fodder than SKINCRAM.

    Edit: Arithmetic is clearly not my strong point, though in my defence, the definition was originally ‘cosmetic.’

    Edited at 2021-12-29 10:32 am (UTC)

  14. Yes Peter, a cricket-related surface was intended (what a surprise).

    Was aware that it was clunky when I submitted it, promising isla that I’d provide an improved version later. Then forgot.

    Thanks everyone for joining in the fun. And making Horryd grumpy was an added bonus!

  15. Peter’s suggestion is a good one. I guess I got a bit carried away with the ‘brilliance’ of my ‘rode roughshod.’

Comments are closed.