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January 6th, 2019

As is traditional at this time of year, the last Sunday Times puzzle to appear before Christmas is a jumbo, and as is also somewhat traditional at this time of year, it’s a bit of a toughie. However for me this was a puzzle of two halves, the first very straightforward and the second much harder. So although I ended with a sense of having completed something very tough my overall time at 46:27 wasn’t off the scale. The Boxing Day puzzle was much harder.

Whatever the difficulty level I thought this was a thoroughly enjoyable challenge, and everything was clear to me in the end. So thanks to Dean and best wishes to him and everyone else for 2019.

Edit: turns out that in spite of everything being clear to me I had an error. Drat.

Definitions are underlined, anagrams indicated like (THIS)*, anagram indicators like this.

Across
1 Father Christmas’s first year in job with special outfit
PAPACY - PAPA, Christmas, Y. An interesting way of defining the pontiff’s job. It also comes with a nifty company car, and infallibility must come in handy when the annual review comes around.
4 Small chocolate boxes secure small chocolates
SMARTIES - S, MAR(TIE)S.
9 Preserved wrapping paper that’s accumulated
DRIFTED - DRI(FT)ED. A great misleading definition, which refers to snow.
13 Phenomenon in sky or atmosphere, say
AURORA - sounds like ‘or aura’.
14 Such a campaign, even if successful, isn’t working
INDUSTRIAL ACTION - CD.
16 After Mass, avoid American waterfowl
SHOAL DUCK - I confess I looked this one up before entering it (just to be sure I had everything clear for blogging duty, you understand). ‘Mass’ is not the most helpful definition for SHOAL, and I had never heard of this particular duck. I am familiar with the concept of a shoal as a mass of rock near the surface of a lake that will destroy your motor if you drive over it but that seemed a bit niche in the context of a Times crossword.
17 Musical notes staff sent back to record company
DO-RE-MI - reversal of ROD, EMI.
18 Coloured glass therefore must contain whiskey
SMALTO - S(MALT)O. Another I looked up, conscientious fellow that I am. The wordplay seemed clear but the answer looked unlikely.
21 Tango I’d turned into sensible routine
TRADITIONAL - T, ID reversed inside RATIONAL.
22 Lost the race to rebuild primitive toilet
EARTH-CLOSET - (LOST THE RACE)*. A new term for me but a logical (if not particularly pleasant) alternative to the water closet.
24 Extend Noel after upsetting scandal?
ELONGATE - (NOEL)*, GATE (scandal). Has anyone called the scandalous goings-on at Tesla ELONGATE yet?
25 Where stock is kept for Christmas shopper, you might say?
BYRE - sounds like ‘buyer’.
26 King of Norway liking Louisiana — it’s fine outside
SAINT OLAF - SA(INTO, LA), F. SA is sex appeal, also ‘it’ in crosswords but nowhere else. I didn’t know Norway had had a king who was also a saint but it seemed perfectly possible.
28 Publication, one for Christmas travellers
MAGI - MAG, I.
29 Kindly reach island’s empty temple
COMPASSIONATE - COMPASS, IONA, TemplE.
31 Garden close to place where thieves gather
EDEN - placE, DEN.
32 Stocking fillers from shop in Soho
PINS - contained in ‘shop in Soho’.
33 They’re partial to fashion shopping
RETAIL THERAPY - (THEY’RE PARTIAL)*.
34 It may adversely affect one’s view of last year
STYE - another containment clue, this time in ‘last year’.
36 Not here holding can, so not drinking
ABSTINENT - ABS(TIN)ENT.
37 Topless bar gets TV award
EMMY - jEMMY. A type of crowbar, to be precise.
39 Nanny turns around to feed baby
WET-NURSE - WEE (baby) containing an anagram of TURNS.
42 Tiny animals standing in time machine
TARDIGRADES - TARDI(GRADE)S. Fascinating creatures.
44 My turkey stuffing would be of no culinary use
TAXIDERMIST - CD.
45 What dove goes over to carry flying mammal.
COLUGO - CO(LUG)O. Knock knock. Who’s there? Doves go. Doves go who? No, silly, doves go coo, not who. (Also works for cows). A COLUGO is a flying lemur, which was news to me.
47 Stream circling power plant
SPURGE - S(P)URGE.
48 See you crossing river with long insect types
TRACHEARA TRACHEATA - T(R, ACHE)ARA. Another word I didn’t know, and which isn’t in any of the dictionaries I have access to at the moment. Collins and Chambers give TRACHEARIA. Edit: it turns out I didn’t know it because it didn’t exist! The answer is in fact TRACHEATA. Not that I knew that either of course. I don’t know why I picked ‘tara’ for ‘see you’: perhaps because it has appeared recently, perhaps because I thought the resulting word looked more likely. ‘Tata’ is a more ‘normal’ choice though..
51 Boxer may want this reason to fight?
BONE OF CONTENTION - a straight definition with a canine cryptic add-on.
52 Advent calendar to be opened outside home — wow!
COMING - Calendar, OMG (oh my god, wow) containing IN.
53 Second present, mum’s new “single white male”, outside
SNOWMAN -S, NOW, MA, N. Nice definition.
54 Without thinking properly, nurses got off
ABSENTLY - AB(SENT)LY. ‘Give me a minute, I just need to get this email off’.
55 Right parts to be bought in spring
VERNAL - VE(R)NAL, where ‘to be bought’ gives VENAL.

Down
1 Wrestles with God when worship is heard
PRAYS - sounds like ‘praise’. I don’t really understand ‘wrestles with God’. Surely wrestling requires some countervailing action from one’s counterpart, and even if you believe in the existence of said counterpart this surely isn’t how praying works.
2 Electronic device for a boy holding paper is real fancy
PERSONAL ORGANISER - PER (for a), SON (boy), (REAL)* containing ORGAN (paper).
3 A Christmas activity alternatively turned into job
CAROLLING - reversal of OR in CALLING (job).
5 Swimsuit on, reasonably concealed by dress
MONOKINI - M(ON, OK)INI.
6 After some drinks, see about a song
ROUNDELAY - ROUND, EL(A)Y.
7 Delay winter — the fire’s out
INTERFERE WITH - (WINTER THE FIRE)*.
8 Hard to lance boil? Tinsel might do it
SHIMMER - S(H)IMMER.
9 One escorted around part of supermarket
DELI - reversal of I, LED. A slightly odd definition in that a supermarket might have a DELI counter, but the word usually refers to a dedicated shop.
10 Wanting revenue, collecting penny rent
INCOMPLETE - INCOM(P, LET)E.
11 Minimal air traffic to hold back pilot
TRIAL - contained reversed in ‘minimal air traffic’.
12 Get into party given by Nag’s Head
DON - DO, Nag.
15 Glad tidings from Rome — no suitcases lost!
MUSIC TO ONES EARS - (ROME NO SUITCASES)*.
19 By the way, is this what lacking appreciation means?
OUT OF INTEREST - because appreciation is something that happens to a sum of money if it earns interest.
20 This dancer’s worried about work with female ice skater
CHRISTOPHER DEAN - (THIS DANCER)* containing OP, HER. I am just about old enough to remember Torvill and Dean.
21 Idiotically claim PET short for PET?
THERMOPLASTIC - (CLAIM PET SHORT)*. Polyethylene terephthalate being an example (indicated by the question mark) of this.
23 Mistletoe + friend + an unexpected freedom
SELF-DETERMINATION - (MISTLETOE FRIEND AN)*.
26 Divers get warm out of water
SUNDRY - SUN, DRY.
27 Wrong shape for mine shaft
UPCAST - UP (wrong, as in ‘what’s up?’), CAST (shape). Another word I didn’t know.
30 They are using the Internet and getting on with it
SILVER SURFERS - CD.
35 Uproar at home — curry in place of Christmas meal?
DINING ROOM - DIN, IN, GROOM.
38 Old men will keep turning to passion
MOTH-EATEN - M(reversal of TO, HEAT)EN.
40 Where Santa is, and not the welcoming people, oddly
NORTH POLE - NOR, TH(PeOpLe)E.
41 Is it going to suggest voting results?
EXIT POLL - I’m not really sure how this is supposed to work. ‘Going’ is a word for EXIT… er I think that’s it.
43 Water flea, possibly an aphid
DAPHNIA - (AN APHID)*.
46 Fast, or primarily slow
LENTO - LENT (fast), Or.
49 Christmas tree decoration made by a new setter
ANGEL - A, N, GEL.
50 I do a portrait
ICON - I CON.
51 Public transport not quite working
BUS - BUSy.
Happy New Year to all.

Unless you’re very experienced you are unlikely to solve a Mephisto without using Chambers. The idea is that you use the precise wordplay to derive an answer that you then verify in the dictionary. 9A is a perfect example.


This puzzle was a bit chewy in parts. A little help needed with 22A please.

In the clues, definitions are underlined. Wordplay explanation is followed by very helpful comments.

ACROSS

1 Derbyshire’s gully runs into Yorkshire opening bowler (6)
GROUGH: G(R)OUGH; Darren Gough is a retired English cricketer and former captain of Yorkshire County Cricket Club who opened the bowling – perhaps a tad obscure; a gulley in the Peak District
5 Stories about Catholic churchgoers (6)
ONCERS: ON(C)ERS; ONERS=lies; C=Catholic; people who attend church once on Sunday;
9 One disrupting US President will get returned on time or early retirement (8)
RETRAICT: C(I)ARTER all reversed - T; obsolete (early) word for retreat=retirement;
11 Figure of speech over in a new schedule (12)
ANTIMETABOLE: A-N-TIMETAB(O)LE; O=over (more cricket); the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order. For example, "I know what I like, and I like what I know".
13 Ordinary member in cut coming back earnestly (7, two words)
EX,ANIMO: OM-IN-AXE all reversed;
14 One who’s made a proposal married again (5)
MOVER: M-OVER;
16 Victor’s against more than one rowing in Shetland springs (5)
VOARS: V-OARS; victor=V (phonetic alphabet); Spring in Lerwick;
17 Scratch before squeezing a head on spot (5)
ERASE: ER(A-S)E; S from S(pot);
19 Pulls punches, relieving pressure (4)
LUGS: (p)LUGS;
22 Harsh notes one’s omitted around Christmas poem opening (4)
TWAS: TWA(ng)S; don’t quite see the wordplay; "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" well known poem by Clement Clarke Moore
23 Taking extra time and time again bent over (5)
LEANT: LEAN-T; taking extra time = LEAN in printing jargon;
25 Sage Henry also known as Mark (5)
HAKAM: H-AKA-M;
29 Unarmed soldier miles to the rear (5)
INERM: soldier=miner (a sapper) then move “m” to the rear;
30 Suit includes unusually neat fur (7)
GENETTE: GE(NETT)E; to suit=GEE; neat=NETT; fur of the genet;
31 One hint of departure poll to be considered further (12, two words)
AD,REFERENDUM: A-D-REFERENDUM; D from D(eparture);
32 Worker behind tackles one having a long snout (8)
ANTLIATE: ANT-L(I)ATE; insect’s proboscis;
33 See this writer with poet take away business card (6)
MEISHI: ME-(R)ISHI; R=take;
34 Excellent backing put across song subjected to criticism (6)
FLAYED: DEF reversed surrounds LAY; slang for excellent = DEF;

DOWN

1 Two experts, both caught out supporting Greek mythological sisters (6)
GRAEAE: GR-A(C)E-A(C)E; three sisters who shared one eye and one tooth among them
2 Intervals excessive overlooking a considerable tenor cast (7)
OTTAVAS: OTT-A-VAS(t); t=tenor; octaves
3 Wee statuette? Fig leaves! (5)
URINE: (fig)URINE;
4 Mike underneath Georgia having sex (5)
GAMIC: GA-MIC;
5 Pool player of the month has work with champion, nothing less (10)
OCTOPUSHER: OCT-OPUS-HER(o); an underwater hockey player apparently;
6 American at the rear gets derisive cheer in state (7)
CABOOSE: CA(BOO)SE;
7 Standard disc is striking (8)
RULERING: RULE-RING; old school punishment;
8 Pole by himself supplying old-fashioned spread (6)
SPERSE: S-PER-SE;
10 Very boring moderation for a Madagascan (4)
HOVA: HO(V)A;
12 African rhino turning up in say, stream before yours truly (10)
EMALANGENI: IN-EG-NALA-ME all reversed; stream=NALA; currency of Eswatini
15 Newspaper has to pass on fine material (8)
ORGANDIE: ORGAN-DIE;
18 Figures going around on Russian adviser (7)
STARETS: STA(RE)TS; an elder of a Russian Orthodox monastery who functions as an adviser
20 Dissolute period? The opposite, time for prayer (7)
FASTDAY: FAST-DAY; dissolute=FAST;
21 Cross-shaped connection one’s seen in opening (6)
CHIASM: CH(I)ASM;
24 Like some parties in sea around Malta (6)
THEMED: THE-MED;
26 Finally back garden plot gets cut (4)
KERF: (bac)K-ERF;
27 Soprano Eleanor is sharp, concerning the wind (5)
SNELL: S-NELL; a keen wind in Kelso
28 Headbands given by number close to Midwest state?
TENIA: TEN-IA; IA=Iowa, a Midwest state;

Mephisto 3043 - Don Manley

This puzzle had an extended closing date because of the festive season, and since Jim was quicker on the draw than me, it is going to end up slightly out of order on the site. I was planning on getting this written up yesterday and got caught in my travel back from Australia.

The first defnition in clues is underlined. Definitions can be confirmed in Chambers, so I will focus on the wordplay in clues.

Away we go...

Across
1 Leggings in fashion, shortened and special (5)
SHAPS - SHAPE(fashion) missing the last letter, then S(special)
5 Vigorous university lecturer rebuffed criticism (7)
LUSTICK - U(university) and L(lecturer) reversed, then STICK(criticism)
11 Old year tuck that’s unhooked a freak (10, two words)
COLD TURKEY - anagram of OLD,YEAR,TUCK minus A. An all-in-one clue where the entire clue is the definition.
13 Tower in second home by water in France (7)
MOINEAU - MO(second), IN(home), then EAU(water in French)
14 Italian provides accommodation for horse in travellers’ inn (6)
IMARET - IT(Italian) containing MARE
15 Street dog heading off for a while (6)
STOUND - ST(street) then HOUND missing the first letter
16 What makes emperor well finally, one sort of oil (6)
NEROLI - the emperor NERO, then (wel)L, I(one)
18 Music from the Monkees (3)
EMO - hidden in thE MOnkees
19 Put out of home, get vessel on river (8)
DISHOUSE - DISH(vessel) then the river OUSE
20 Dangerous material’s found in demolished cab sites (8)
ASBESTIC - anagram of CAB,SITES
24 Tribe wandering about (3)
GAD - double definition, one of the twelve Tribes of Israel
27 Hospital procedure taking long time after short journey (6)
TRIAGE - AGE(long time) after TRIP cut short
29 Very drunk graduate got rid of (6)
MASHED - MA(Master of Arts), SHED(got rid of)
30 Fantastic Spice Girls finally becoming stars (6)
PISCES - anagram of SPICE then (girl)S
31 Description of acid that’s used to kill man (fine!) (7)
PIPERIC - PIP(kill), ERIC.  ERIC is both a man's name and a blood-fine.
32 Old ruler and baronet getting drunk in skin tent (10)
GUBERNATOR - anagram of BARONET in GUT(skin tent). Surprised to see this listed in Chambers as "rare". It is a pretty common term in the US.
33 Password as reset works (7)
TESSERA - anagram of AS,RESET
34 The enemy heard something fragrant? (5)
THYME - sounds like TIME (the enemy)

Down
1 Old box in teachers’ room with unopened brandy (6)
SCRINE - SCR (Senior Common Room), then WINE missing the start - brandy being distilled wine. As pointed out in the comments, it was most likely FINE for French brandy missing the beginning.
2 Male in very old age shows goal-directed behaviour (5)
HORME - M(male) in HORE (Spenserian version of HOAR, old age)
3 A boy tucked into seaweed and fruit (8)
ALGAROBA - A, ROB(boy) inside ALGA(seaweed)
4 Horse gets left inside, fixed north of the border (6)
STEELD - STEED(horse) containing L
6 Problem with the waterworks troubled our little girl (6)
UROSIS - anagram of OUR, then SIS(little girl)
7 Boaster renders funny performance with energy (5)
SKITE - a comedy SKIT then E
8 Operator in temporary accommodation — no man is allowed in (10)
TENOTOMIST - TENT(tempoary accommodation) containing O(no), TOM(man), IS
9 Drugs making people irascible in America (6)
CRANKS - double definition
10 Bad patch in last bit of work glued carelessly (6)
KLUDGE - (wor)K, then an anagram of GLUED
12 One out to be the supremo? (10)
PROMETHEUS - anagram of THE,SURPEMO and another all-in-one.
17 Inclination to escape pollution hanging over a big town (8)
FUGACITY - FUG(pollution), A, CITY
20 A politician in ceremony taken short — a hairy situation? (6)
ARMPIT - A then MP(politician) in RITE shortened
21 Deep problem? I cease to be troubled (6)
SEA-ICE - anagram of I,CEASE. This is two words in Chambers, but it would make sense for it to be hyphenated
22 More presentable girl involved in row (6)
TIDIER - DI(girl) in TIER(row)
23 Not entirely nice, art ridiculously garish (6)
CRIANT - anagram of NIC(e),ART
25 Queen once said to be upset by this request (6)
DESIRE - the Queen is ER I, then SED(Miltonic form of SAID), all reversed
26 Diving bird a bit confused inside fountain once (5)
GERBE - mess up the middle letters of GREBE(diving bird)
28 Set in biology, number probing something precious (5)
GENOM - NO(number) inside GEM(something precious), former term for GENOME