NTSPP – 307

NTSPP – 307

Christmas by Hydra

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Make sure you read the instructions carefully.

A review of this puzzle by crypticsue follows:


The instructions said:

The Down clues are ‘normal’ and solvers may wish to start with them in order to obtain checking letters which will help when you look at the Across clues.   All the Across clues have definitions which lead to a solution that is one letter too long.   This letter should be omitted before the solution is entered into the grid –   the entries will be real words, some more well-known than others, and the wordplay matches the solution to be entered.   To help you get strated, the definition is in bold in the first five Across clues.

In clue order the omitted letters form a festive message which is fairly obvious once you know that the enumeration is 5,9,4,3,3,7 and writing these letters alongside each clue will definitely help you solve some of the trickier  clues.

In order to assist solvers, the ‘dictionary’ words in the Down solutions have the definition emboldened in the clue.   In addition, three further Across clues have their definitions in bold where either the definition or wordplay (but not both) leads to an unfamiliar word.

Due to the size of the crossword and considerable number of hours it has taken up of my time , both in October (test-solving,  drafting the review etc) and this weekend (checking any changes and tweaking and then putting up the blog) I won’t be providing illustrations for any individual solutions, but instead I thought you’d like to see one of the decorated pillar boxes created by the “Knit Bombers of Herne Bay” (and no I’m not one of them!)

Festive Pillar box 001


1a           Fusses over nothing – that woman’s on time (7)
MOTHERS   The letter that represents nothing and the abbreviation for time go before the word used to denote belong to that woman (don’t forget the s – woman’s)

4a           On either side of Xmas, half-cut? Starts off the rum in December (7)
ASTRIDE Remove the first half (half-cut) of XmAS and add the ‘starts’ of Rum In December.

8a           Jogger, perhaps streaking across entrance to Grotto (6)
NUDGER   The condition of someone streaking goes round the ‘entrance’ to Grotto.

13a         Tell tales including origin of terrifying yarn (6)
STRING     A slang term meaning to act as an informer goes round (includes) the ‘origin’ of Terrifying.

14a         Celebrating couple, when one’s left out, can start to grate (8)
PARTYING   Remove the I from a couple (one’s left out), add another word for can and the ‘start’ of Grate.

15a         Neil Armstrong perhaps cross about English mother (8)
SPACEMAN The abbreviation for English and an informal way of referring to one’s mother go inside a verb meaning to cross. The word to be fitted in the grid is a Scottish fortune teller

16a         One trains charges to be prepared for brief shower in Scotland (8)
SCOUTHER    Someone who trains the young people whose motto is “Be Prepared”.  Again another Scottish obscure word this time dialect for a light shower

17a         Conservative person with stoned foreign journalists (14)
CORRESPONDENTS   The abbreviation for Conservative and an anagram (foreign) of PERSON and STONED.

18a         Drool container one placed in reception room (10)
SALIVATION   Place a container and the letter that looks like a number one into a grand reception room.

19a         Old man’s right to argue (4)
SPAR   An informal way of referring to one’s father (old man) and the abbreviation for right.

20a         Resale I organised with the least delay (8)
EARLIEST   An anagram (organised) of RESALE I

22a         Setter and solver in the middle of elegant contemplation (6)
MUSING   US (setter and solver) IN (from the clue) and the middle of eleGant.

24a         Passages excerpted from Doris Lessing (6)
AISLES   Hidden in (excerpted from) DorIS LESsing.

26a         Tethered wild reindeer at back of the shed (10)
RESTRAINED   An anagram (wild) of REINDEER AT, once you have ‘shed’ an E (back of thEshed’).

27a         What actually happens with Spanish team’s position (4,4)
REAL LIFE   The abbreviated way of referring to one of Spain’s famous football teams followed by a position.

29a         Ought to cycle for depression (6)
TROUGH   ‘Cycle’ or move the last letter of OUGHT to the front of the word.

30a         Live grenade at last found, in the end, pinned (8)
DOWELLED   A literary way of saying live in a permanent residence, and the last letters of grenadE and founD.

31a         Snare fractured Suzie’s wrist bones (10)
TRAPEZIUMS   Follow a snare with an anagram (fractured) of SUZIES.

33a         Request from Bramley for one after knocking back last two (6)
APPEAL   Change the order of the last two of letters of this ‘cooker’ of which Bramley is the most well-known.

34a         Woman goes outside, returning very old spade (6)
SHOVEL   Female person pronoun (woman) goes ‘outside’ the reversed (returning) abbreviations for Very and Old.

36a         Roughly fashioned blackleg’s couch (8)
SCABBLED   A ‘blackleg’ followed by a couch – this ‘dictionary word means roughly worked or dressed stone

37a         I can afford quality (4)
TONE   Take the ‘missing letter’ from a quality and you get the alternative way of saying I.

38a         Spikes in pets exposing gassiness (10)
CHATTINESS   Spikes on a fork, for example, inserted into some feline pets.    Gassiness here referring to a lot of idle talking.

40a         What will be sung by socialist doctor at John Smith’s burial place before long (14)
INTERNATIONALE     A junior doctor AT (from the clue) the island where John Smith (Labour Party leader from 1992-1994) is buried and the abbreviation for long.

42a         Calmly submissive concerning regular wigging by newspaper boss (8)
RESIGNED   The two letters used to mean concerning, about, the ‘regular’ letters of wIgGiNg and the abbreviation for the newspaper boss.

44a         Having a blow-out as a result of swindle by sporting body? (8)
FEASTING   Split 2,5 this might be a swindle by the body governing English football.

45a         This writer’s just ageless (8)
IMMORTAL   IM (I’m, this writer) and another word for just or right.

46a         Sanctions for certain Hungarian wines (6)
TOKAYS   The name of certain wines from Hungary.

47a         American’s time in Royal Society starts again (6)
RESETS   An abbreviated way of describing the time zone on one side of the USA inserted into the abbreviation for Royal Society.

48a         Struggle to shield cardinal almost converting (7)
TURNING   Pull strongly at something (struggle) ‘shields’ or has inserted almost all of a cardinal number.

49a         Bloated users of Big Dave’s Crossword blog, extremely lyrical by the close of festive day (7)
SWELLED   WE (users of BD’s blog) the ‘extreme’ or outside letters of LyricaL, the ‘close’ of festive and the abbreviation for Day.

So the letters to be removed spell out the festive message MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ALL THE SETTERS

1d           Ring when it’s time to leave watering hole (5)
OASIS   The letter that looks like a ring, a conjunction meaning ‘when’ and ITS (once you’ve removed the T for Time (time to leave)

2d           Henry cries about vote for common people (3,6)
HOIPOLLOI   The abbreviation for Henry and a vote inserted into two lots of a rough way of attracting attention

3d           A target shot in sporting event (7)
REGATTA   An anagram (shot) of A TARGET

5d           Ball hit high in the air is the one going downhill (5)
SKIER   A nice easy double definition.

6d           Junior doctor’s up to date with record keeping duties (13)
REGISTRARSHIP   A junior doctor plus the S  from the end of doctorS and an informal way of saying up to date, modern.

7d           Wanting husband to notice taste of turkey (9)
DISCOVERT An adjective used in legal matters to mean not under the bonds of matrimony, either of a spinster or widow … Notice or find out followed by the first letter (taste) of turkey.

8d           Primitive people from Eastern land haphazardly capture queen (13)
NEANDERTALERS An anagram (haphazardly) of EASTERN LAND into which is inserted (capture) the regnal cipher of our current Queen.

9d           It can be brought to mind a line is one-___________ (11)
DIMENSIONAL   An anagram (can be brought) of MIND A L(ine) IS ONE.

10d         Birds of prey found in Inverness-shire (5)
ERNES   Hidden (found) in InvERNESs-shire.

11d         Thus I’d bathe, ultimately taking wave that’s deadly to little swimmers (10)
SPERMICIDE    The Latin abbreviation for scilicet (thus) into which is inserted something used to put a wave in hair, ID (from the clue) and the result finished with the ultimate letter of bathE.

12d         Heading to Boy Scout location in Wales (6)
BRECON   The ‘heading’ to Boy followed by an abbreviated way of saying scout or survey (especially an enemy’s territory).   This clue has the great honour of being the only clue I marked as a favourite during the epic test solving process.

18d         Interferes with antique: puts up prices (9)
STUPRATES   An archaic (antique) way of saying interferes with – a particularly helpful bit of wordplay – reverse (up in a Down clue) PUTS and follow with prices.

19d         Propose to include East German university in picture (9)
POSTULATE   Insert the German word for East and the abbreviation for University into a picture.

21d         Fertilise dried out heads of every sunflower on board (4-5)
SIDE-DRESS  To fertilise plans by applying nutrients to the soil near the roots – An anagram (out) of DRIED and the ‘heads’ of Every and Sunflower put inside the abbreviation for Steam Ship (on board)

23d         Surprisingly Rand seedling bore soft, edible, South African fruits (13)
GOLDENBERRIES   An anagram (surprisingly) of R (rand) SEEDLING BORE.

25d         Soloist, ignoring leader, nips out, casually adopting relaxed attitude (5,8)
LOTUS POSITION Remove (ignoring leader) the S from the start of SOLOIST and then use the remaining letters and those in NIPS OUT to make an anagram (casually).

28d         Pat abstains after conversion in church group (11)
ANABAPTISTS   An anagram (after conversion) of PAT ABSTAINS.

30d         Wasting time desperately, I’d try all 10 (10)
DILATORILY   An anagram (desperately) of ID TRY ALL IO (the last two being the letters than look like a number 10).

32d         Popular beer on tap’s a current attraction (9)
INDRAUGHT   An inward flow, especially of air – Another way of saying popular followed by a way of describing beer available on tap.

35d         Everybody left in pursuit of an exposed “wizard” (3,3,3)
ONE AND ALL   ONE (an) and a Lord of the Rings wizard with his outside letters removed (exposed) followed by the abbreviation for Left.

38d         Great celestial circle‘s firm attraction (6)
COLURE The abbreviation for company (firm) and an attraction go together to give us an astronomical term for either of two great circles intersecting at right angles at the celestial poles and passing through the ecliptic at either the equinoxes or the solstices.  

39d         Saint from Seville that is embracing ditzy Doris (7)
ISIDORE   The Latin abbreviation meaning that is ‘embracing’ an anagram (ditzy) of DORIS

40d         Gather at home by Christmas tree, say (5)
INFER   Another way of saying at home followed by a homophone (say) of the type of tree used for Christmas.

41d         God’s name united people (5)
NUMEN  The spirit or divine power presiding over a thing or place – The abbreviations for Name and United and some people.   Thank goodness for clear wordplay.

43d         Treated the same, finishes off Christmas puzzle – end of crossword! (5)
DOSED   The abbreviation for ditto (the same) and the ‘finishes’ of ChristmaS, PuzzlE and the end of crossword

As Jane correctly guessed, Radler was the person responsible for preparing this crossword.  The ‘heads’ are made of up of the setters who provided one or more puzzles for the NTSPP slot in the twelve  months preceding the inception date of the CHristmas Special NTSPP.

In setter order…

Alchemi 15a , 34a, 5d and 30d
Beet 14a, 37a, and 3d
Bufo 19a, 40a, 9d, and 39d
Chalicea 20a, 42a, 10d and 23d
Gazza 16a, 31a, 6d and 32d
Hieroglyph 4a, 30a, 49a and 43d
Imsety 26a, 46a and 40d
Prolixic 27a, 41a, 19d and 28d
Radler 1a, 8a, 7d and 18d
Shark 29a, 48a and 21d
Soup 22a, 44a, 11d and 41d
Toro 24a, 45a and 12d
Vigo 18a, 38a, 8d and 38d
Wiglaf 17a, 33a, 1d and 35d
Windsurfer 13a, 36a, 2d and 25d

Oh… and I’m quite pleased with the way I rewrote the original instructions to make them into the more user-friendly version you see here


  1. stanXYZ
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    And Seasonal Greetings to you, Hydra!

    I wonder how many heads were involved in devising this fiendish puzzle?

  2. Jane
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Just popped in to see whether anyone had got to the end of this one yet. Apparently not, or else you’re all too busy to comment!

    Fortunately, I guessed the ‘festive message’, which was just as well – the wording of the instructions initially led me to believe that it would always be the final letter of the across answers that was to be left out.

    About two-thirds of the way through now – still battling on! http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/smiley-phew.gif

  3. Rabbit Dave
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    That was one tough challenge, but very enjoyable. It took countless sittings to complete but each break and restart seemed to bring more inspiration. I learned several new words with the indispensable help of my BRB, and I still haven’t been able to parse fully what I think are the answers to 37a and 48a so need to wait with bated breath for tomorrow’s review.

    Many thanks and Happy New Year To All The Setters.

  4. Maize
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    This Hydra must have had a fiendishly clever brain to come up with that grid- wow! With the help of BRB it was all eminently solvable though, and very enjoyably too.
    I couldn’t help but wonder how it might have been without the emboldened text, which certainty made things easier. But all those across words, the lights, the wordplay and the spare letter message – that really is something!
    Merry Christmas from all the solvers (I’ll be the first to say that!) – that was a real treat!

  5. 2Kiwis
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    Well that took an awfully long time and a great deal of effort but we eventually got there. Very grateful for the hints given in the instructions as it would have been well nigh impossible for us without them. Will probably go back and check all the parsing a bit later on just to make sure that everything is sorted.
    Many thanks to the team that put it all together. It will be interesting to see in due course who’s diabolical minds were at work on some of those clues.

  6. Jane
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    OK – I’ve given it my all but am still missing one answer (that doesn’t include the several that could well be wrong!).
    Can anyone give me a nudge re: fertilise. I can’t find any word that will fit the checkers I’ve got. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_unsure.gif

    Edit – cancel that – I’ve just found it!

    • Jane
      Posted December 27, 2015 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      In the depths of my frustration I completely forgot to thank the fiends who set this one! Well done to you all and I’d like to bet that a certain Mr. Radler had more than a hand in it. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_yes.gif

  7. Snape
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Not many replies, probably because people are either busy, are finding it very difficult, or helped set the puzzle, so I’m just going to show my appreciation for it even though I’m nowhere near finished – the top half is getting there, but the bottom half is pretty much empty, and I’ve actually got more across answers than down. I guess the test-solvers originally went ‘whoa, that’s too tough’, hence the extra help with some? It was certainly appreciated.
    A really clever construction, many thanks to all the setters especially whoever managed to come up with the grid, and the sentiments are reciprocated with best wishes for the New Year.

    Edit: Many thanks to CS for the review, too, which has just appeared

    • crypticsue
      Posted December 27, 2015 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Those weren’t the exact words the test solver used but a polite approximation of what she actually said

      • Snape
        Posted December 27, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink


  8. Maize
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Thank you crypticsue for a brilliant review. Whilst for me the real star of the show was Radler’s grid, the clues were all of a remarkably consistent high quality. Not surprising really, given the identity of the heads!
    I hadn’t actually parsed 40a, so thanks for that, CS, and I can’t help wondering if Chalicea knows something about 23d that could explain why a South African fruit would have the name Physalis peruviana?

    Hopefully other solvers are on their way…

    • Chalicea
      Posted January 4, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Maize, I was surprised myself, but apparently the Rand or Cape gooseberry was originally a fruit from Peru. I learn something new every day when setting these things, and, of course, we were each given our clues to set – the work was Radler’s.

  9. Jane
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    May thanks, CS – I’m not surprised to learn that it took hours even for you to test-solve and subsequently review this one!
    I did get it all correct (eventually) although I’d missed the anagram at 23d and it’s amazing how many different ‘berries’ almost fitted the clue. My favourite was 40d.
    Interestingly, the answers I needed help to fully parse all came from different setters – 26&37a plus 2,11&18d – so I can’t lay the blame at any particular door other than my own!
    A sterling effort, Hydra, and a very happy New Year to you all. As for you, Mr. Radler – I think you owe all the solvers of this and your previous creations a very large drink at the Birthday bash. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_yes.gif

    • Toro
      Posted December 27, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Either that or a very large bash at the birthday drinks! I think all of us involved should thank our loyal solvers for attempting this very challenging puzzle.

      Above all, congratulations to Radler on an incredible feat of grid construction.

  10. dutch
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Many thanks for this wonderful gift from the NTSPP setters. I did 3/4 of this in the pub yesterday with a friend (it would have been hard to continue), and finished SW this morning. Yes it took a long time, but it was a big puzzle. Initially put off by the preamble, thinking life was too short, I soon got into it: got the message after getting 1a and 29a, which proved a very useful check for all the across answers. Many thanks for sticking to real words in the grid! Must be tricky getting all the combinations to spell out a message. My last one in was 42a, but only because I had stupidly misspelled the saint checker. I got stuck on 47a, didn’t see “american time” (I should have) so thank you CS for that hint. Like Maize I wondered how much harder it would have been without highlighting some of the definitions, it’s hard to tell – I expect that was a very good move. Thank you again setters and CS for all the hard work

  11. Snape
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I have only just noticed that you mentioned that the down clues have the definitions in bold. This is only on the pdf version. On the interactive version, not only are the definitions not in bold, but they are not there at all, but replaced by a hyphen. This explains (at least in part) why I struggled so much with the down clues, especially in the bottom half, where there are many more missing definitions.
    And may explain why there are so few comments!http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_smile.gif

    • Jane
      Posted December 27, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      If it makes you feel any better, Snape, there were only seven of the down clues that had the definitions in bold and, to be honest, with two of them that simply made the situation worse! http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_unsure.gif

    • Posted December 27, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      A “feature” of Crossword Compiler deleted all the underlined words from the interactive versions, but the underlining was changed to emboldening very soon after publication – you must have been very unlucky. I certainly expected most people to use the pdf version rather than the interactive one.

    • Snape
      Posted December 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Ah, a quick press of f5 sorted that out, thanks. Oh well. The challenge was big enough when the definitions were there. I wondered why so many clues were of the missing word type, and explains why 7d was so difficult, despite having the checking letters.

  12. Radler
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Merry Christmas and Thank You to everyone involved with this puzzle: Crypticsue, Big Dave, all the other “heads” (who were given no choice in their selection of words to clue) and of course to you, the solvers.

  13. Hieroglyph
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Belated festive greetings to my fellow setters, thanks to Cryptic Sue for the sterling review, Big Dave as always for hosting, and to Radler for putting this all together! :-)

  14. jean-luc cheval
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Wow! That was great stuff.
    Took more time than the Elgar special but really worthwhile.
    Made only one mistake in 36a where I thought the answer was ” shamb(l)ed” but couldn’t find any reference for that word. So as BD always says, if it doesn’t make sense it’s probably wrong.
    Lots of favourites from each of the setters.
    Thanks for the concerted effort and to CS for the review.