Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian Christmas Prize No 25,514 by Araucaria

Posted by bridgesong on January 5th, 2012


It was my privilege this year to solve and blog this puzzle whose theme was hinted at in the introduction:

“Many of the clues are of a kind and may not be further defined. They
relate to next year’s celebration of Spooner’s 43’s 10 part 1s.”

I thought at first that we might be looking at the royal diamond jubilee or perhaps the Olympics, but in fact it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens in 2012.  The undefined answers are all characters in Dickens novels and I have put those answers in bold.  It’s an extraordinary achievement to be able to include so many, even in an enlarged grid.

There are a couple of answers involving Dickensian characters (I think) where the wordplay has defeated me.  Hopefully all will be made clear by the annotated solution when it appears, but your suggestions are more than welcome.  Many thanks to PeeDee for making his software available so that I could use it for this blog.

* = anagram.

First thing it was in London and Paris, getting software in early (4,2,5)
*SOFT in BETIMES. A broad hint as to the theme, referring of course to the famous opening of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Choose a lot of evil (8)
PICK WICK(ed). The first Dickensian character (in the puzzle).

Society broadcaster (5)
S(ociety), MIKE. From Nicholas Nickleby.

Cat’s weight (5)
Double definition, although the only place I’ve ever come across the feline meaning is in crosswords!

Illicit liquor doesn’t exist (9)
Double definition again.

Leading man in bed could be lit (7)

Cruel time for lake isle without leader to start with (5)
(C)APRI, L(ake). A reference now to Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land.

Startled to find circle in radial diameter (7)
O in SPOKE, D(iameter).

Measure of clay, also skim (4)
Cryptic definition.  Claypole from Oliver Twist, and Skimpole from Bleak House.  

Musician José drops it on backward Italian city (6)
(It)URBI, ON(reversed).   The musician was Jose Iturbi.

Opposed to attitude of the Lady of Lake? (9)

A reason for not floating? (7)
Definition and cryptic definition.

St Robert’s opener (5)
Hidden in Saint Robert. Distinctly Araucarian, I thought.

Impasse for audience (7)
Sounds like “deadlock”. From Bleak House.

Sparky stuff to hoist (10)
FLINT, WINCH. From Little Dorrit.

High-rise heaven for 46? (10)
Cryptic definition, but I can’t explain the reference to 46 (Fagin). Skyscraper has various meanings in the OED, but none refers to criminal activity.

Chance of last year’s leaders including expert swimmer (7)
OTTER in L(ast) Y(ear). This clue seemed familiar: compare it with this one from a prize puzzle published a fortnight earlier: “Last year’s leaders keep carnivore on spec” – also by Araucaria. Unfortunate timing, although the two puzzles were probably composed much longer than two weeks apart.

Nick (5)
Cryptic definition, from Martin Chuzzlewit.

Bind tight to make someone start to walk like a duck (7)
S(omeone), WADDLE. A nod to the Christmas story, perhaps?

Revolutionary stock house backed by the French (9)
CHE (Guevara), BYRE(reversed), LE. From Nicholas Nickleby.

Branch number provided in beam (6)
M, IF in RAY.

Writer nominating tuberous flower? (4)
The dahlia is named after Anders Dahl, a 18th century Swedish botanist. I have no idea if Roald Dahl is related to him.

I have killer’s backing (7)
EGO, ORC’S (all rev).  From A Christmas Carol.

Work at home (5)
FAG IN. From Oliver Twist.

Taking a long time about writer (7)
PEN in SLOW. From David Copperfield.

Most of 33 follows tea lady (9)
CHAR, LOTTE(ry). There are at least two Charlottes in Dickens’s novels: Charlotte (Charley) Neckett in Bleak House, and Charlotte the maid to Sowerberry, the undertaker, in Oliver Twist.

Relating to the beginning of Zululand? (5)
Double definition.

Reason for cancellation at Newmarket, say? (5)
Sounds like “No gee-gees” or might do if spelled out in a particular way. A character from Nicholas Nickleby.

African country musicians (8)
CHAD, BAND. My route into the theme. From Bleak House.

Submerged piece of chain (11)
Cryptic definition (and not very cryptic, at that). Another character from Nicholas Nickleby.

Degree so fundamental? (5)

I go round Belgravia etc with Sam (as he said) (9)
SW1, “VELLER” (using the form of Cockney spoken by Sam Weller). Dick Swiveller is a character in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Part of month possible for king (6)
(Oct)OBER, ON. The king of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Job for one in motion (7)
Cryptic definition. Job Trotter is a character from Pickwick Papers.

Fellow soldiers left in island (9)
MAN, TA, L IN I. Another name from Nicholas Nickleby.

Lead out (10)
Charade, from David Copperfield.

Quiet like Uriah with 10 part 1 from Oz (11)
P, ‘UMBLE, CHOOK. Uriah Heep constantly describes himself as “‘umble” in David Copperfield; a chook is an Australian term for a chicken. From Great Expectations.

Permission accordingly grasped by Tory novelist (7)
OK, SO in CON. Catherine Cookson was a prolific novelist.

Total failure at centre of power is followed by a loud cry (7)
(po)W(er), A SHOUT. A very nice surface reading.

Some potato — suck one rudely coming in for food (7,4)
*(SUCK ONE) in CHIP. I’m not entirely happy about “some potato” for CHIP.

Died in the embrace of 3 (6)
D in Merle (Oberon – film actress).  From Little Dorrit.  Beadle would have fitted the letters here as well, and was my first guess, but I couldn’t relate it to the clue.

Not serious drama, less than half empty? (7)
PLAY, FUL(l). So three-quarters of the letters of FULL means “less than half empty”.

Fish with ink (6)
Cryptic definition; from Dombey and Son.

Solomon’s flower (5)
Solomon (also shown as Soloman on some websites) Daisy is a character in Barnaby Rudge.

Recordings of debate without Brits or Yanks (5)
DISC(us)S. A clever clue, using two ways of showing US.

Insert more thread into agreement (6)
DARN, AY. From A Tale of Two Cities.

One among kings to distinguish German corner? (7)
A between K and R, TELL. The German form of “cartel”.

When it’s not observed beneath rich pickings (2,3,6)

Little money put on the remaining runners (11)
COPPER, FIELD. From the eponymous book.

Union girl involved with a derivative (10)

Another month in (for example) a Somerset village (9)

Absolutely easy to carry? Bull’s-eye! (9)
DEAD LIGHT. Although Chambers only gives this in its plural form, the OED uses the singular (although all of its examples are in the plural). A bull’s eye can refer to the thick glass of a lantern.

Acting family see you reported fire (6)
C U (sounds like “see you”), SACK. I assume the reference is to Cyril Cusack and his four actor daughters, but there is also an American acting family of the same name.

Searched for truffles given to older characters (7)

Insect eating amphibian gets a nourishing drink (4,3)
EFT in BEE, A. An eft is an old word for a newt or lizard.

Pasta shooter, possibly? (7)
A fusil is a flintlock musket. Given that “fusilli” is a plural form, the cryptic part of the clue should really have reflected this.

Request to turn pale? Eat away (6)
BEG, WAN(reversed).

Flower in which we serve (5)
Hidden in “we serve”.  A river in Germany.

27 Responses to “Guardian Christmas Prize No 25,514 by Araucaria”

  1. chas says:

    Thanks to bridgesong for the blog. You explained a couple where I had failed to parse them.
    You also filled in those which I had totally failed on i.e. MERDLE and KARTELL.

    In my case the route to the theme was COPPERFIELD.

    Something I have noticed several times in the past with Araucaria: I may fail to identify the theme to begin with but solving one of the themed clues then, in a back to front way, gives me the theme itself :(

  2. chas says:

    Further note to add to bridgesong’s introduction: Dickens wrote 16 novels and 13 of them are represented here.
    The mind boggles at the amount of effort that must have gone into the construction of this one!

  3. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    It does indicate just how deeply authors like Dickens become ingrained in our culture. I cannot recall ever reading a single Dickens novel and yet most of these characters and the quotation were familiar to me.
    So much so that I thoroughly enjoyed it and failed with only one. So thanks BS for ‘pole’ as both Claypole and Skimpole were both quite unknown to me.
    Another treat from Araucaria.

  4. molonglo says:

    Thanks bridgesong. It was one thing to get the theme – it came early in the NE corner, with the K of SPOOKED and the CHOOK of 7d. I got a fair number of characters but in the end Dickens’s quirkiness forced me to hone in via Google. The setter’s quirkiness compounded the problem: was BEGNAW a Dickensian? Or 27d, the hardest and last in? Good slogging challenge.

  5. Tom Johnson says:

    Araucaria’s Jumbo took me a long time to solve and it was ages before I realised what the theme was, as the 2012 Olympics overrode all other thoughts. My solving was such that I left the top right-hand quarter of the puzzle until last, and cracking the clue to PUMBLECHOOK eventually gave me entry to this section of the grid.

    Thereafter, 14 Across seemed the next obvious clue to solve as I had its initial M. Reading the clue led me to enter MURDSTONE — anagram of RUM (ie “illicit” indicating the anagram of “RUM” (liqueur) + DSTONE (ie “doesn’t + CHANGE as the anagram indicator”).

    This solution proved incorrect, and so delayed me even further. Araucaria assures me that this alternative reading of the MOONSHINE hadn’t occurred to him. Did any other solver fall into this trap, or am I too devious in my reading of Araucaria’s clues!?

  6. mhl says:

    Tom Johnson: since it would involve an indirect anagram of RUM (and “exist” would be superfluous to the cryptic reading), I think that would be a very unlikely reading of the clue.

    Thanks for the post, bridgesong. For 31 across, we assumed that “heaven” = SKY but were then confused by FAGIN = SCRAPER. Was Fagin a violinist? Was he particularly obsequious?

    Without wishing to sound too “Bah, humbug!” I thought this was a disappointing Christmas crossword. I’ve never particularly enjoyed Dickens, and unlike RCWhiting I found that most of the names were unfamiliar – that made clues like 18 across pretty impenetrable. We completed it in the end, but it was just rather less fun than in previous years.

    Does anyone else have a problem with MIKE = “broadcaster”, incidentally? Perhaps I’m missing some old usage, but it’s clearly not the microphone that broadcasts in any meaningful sense, unlike, say, a megaphone or a radio presenter.

  7. tupu says:

    Thanks bridgesong and Araucaria

    I found this excellent Xmas fare despite not being a Dickens ‘expert’. The answers were well clued and needed little more than confirmation when unrecognised.

    I much enjoyed the spoonerism when the penny dropped.

    I could only find that Micael fagin wa set designer of a theatrical production called Skyscraper but this may well be irrelevant – though cf the shift to Merle Oberon. It seems there is also s violinist Harry Fagin a la mhl! But…..

  8. Davy says:

    Thanks bridgesong,

    You did not elaborate on Spooner’s 43’s 10 part 1s which evaluates to Spooner’s Dahls Chickens which amused me greatly. In fact it reminded me of the old bookshop sketch where Marty Feldman is the customer and John Cleese is the assistant. He asks for all manner of crazy things including Rarnaby Budge by Charles Dikkens, the famoud Dutch author with two ‘k’s. If anyone is interested, here’s the link to it :

    As Chas said, COPPERFIELD was also my entry into the puzzle after looking blankly at it for ages. As RCW says, it is surprising how many Dickens’ characters do stick in the memory and so many wonderful names too. A lot were very guessable like FLINTWINCH and some not so like MANTALINI (all I kept seeing was Manhattan).

    Yes it was a bit of a slog but enjoyable nevertheless. The puzzle becomes far more difficult when it’s not known which clues are partial and which aren’t.
    I struggled to finish the NW section and failed on 18a (what, no capitalisation in the clue !) and got URBINO wrong. I didn’t know Mr Iturbi and neither could I locate him online. I put Orsino just because if fitted and know that A is a Shakespeare buff.

    Thanks A for all the mental torment and enjoyment.

  9. Davy says:

    Forgot to say, there was The Fagin Building, the first skyscraper in St Louis, Missouri :

  10. ChrisChunders says:

    Merle Oberon was a tough name to recall, but typical of Araucaria (or Cinephile) to give deserved recognition to great names that might just be slipping from memory in the Great Eternal Present which defines our times.

  11. cholecyst says:

    Thanks bridgesong. Brilliant Xword – a compelling mixture of easy and difficult clues.

    Davy @9. I thought your suggestion for the SKYSCRAPER/FAGIN connection unlikely. That is until I explored the link you provided and discovered the building was in Olive Street and the architect had a daughter called Nancy! How does Araucaria know these things? And well done , Davy!

  12. bridgesong says:

    Thanks all for your comments. The annotated solution is now available, but doesn’t answer the question about SKYSCRAPER. Davy, your suggestion is indeed ingenious. Perhaps Tom Johnson @5, who is in contact with Araucaria, can ask him for confirmation?

    MHL@6, I take your point about MIKE, although I’m sure I’ve come across this before in other crosswords.

  13. Wolfie says:

    Thanks Bridgesong for the blog.

    I worked at this off and on for a week and eventually gave up with one clue unsolved – 11d (MERDLE). I was also tempted to write in BEADLE but couldn’t reconcile this with the wordplay. Merle Oberon never occurred to me.

    I resorted to my Chambers ‘Dictionary of Literary Characters’ (an excellent resource for literary puzzles such as this) to check some of my answers. I hope this doesn’t count as cheating! I have read most of Dickens’s novels over the years, but have never liked his habit of inventing bizarre names for his characters. All credit to the setter for finding space for so many of them.

  14. sidey says:

    Thank you Bridgesong for the blog.

    Very cleverly constructed grid.

  15. bridgesong says:

    Wolfie@13: I certainly don’t regard it as cheating to refer to a dictionary! I have no hesitation in revealing that for this puzzle I had to use a website listing Dickens characters (the Wikipedia one doesn’t include a couple mentioned in this puzzle). I nearly went wrong with POLE, since there is a Dickens character by the name of PELL, but although an ell is a measure, I couldn’t make it fit the clue.

  16. fearsome says:

    Really enjoyed the crossword and resisted for a long time to google Dickens characters but needed to have any chance of completing it. Also a couple of incorrect guesses held me up for some time. Thanks for the blog and in particular explaining Merdle.

  17. tupu says:

    re 31a The word scraper is defined in OED as (inter alia) an ‘unscrupulous plunderer’. Collins has other connotatiomns of scrape as being ‘very economical’ (as in scrimp and scrape) and ‘behave with excessive humility’.
    Also mhl’s query re ‘fiddler’ might proceed from violinist to swindler.

    All this (and perhaps especially the first) leads me to to think that the answer is ‘defined’ as ‘high rise’ and is made up of ‘sky’ going next to (for) scraper.

  18. bridgesong says:


    Seems plausible to me. I checked the OED for “skyscraper” without result, but didn’t think to look at the entry for “scraper”.

  19. Mike says:

    31a – Fagin was a pickpocket.
    Sky Rocket is rhyming slang for pocket, hence skyscraper = pickpocket.

  20. sidey says:

    Sounds plausible but Fagin wasn’t a pickpocket, he was a fence and a ‘kidsman’.

  21. Mitz says:

    Happy new year all.

    My way in to the theme was via ‘chicken soup’ which led me to ‘Pumblechook’ and hence to ‘Dahl’s Chickens’. I’m another that wouldn’t have had a hope without a list of Dickens characters, but even so I found this special less challenging than the August Potter horror. Kept me pleasantly diverted around Christmas.

    Re: Skyscraper. Is it too convoluted to suggest that ‘scraper’ = ‘fiddler’ (as in violinist) and that Fagin was certainly a fiddler the sense of being a cheat?

    Re: Cusack. I definitely thought of the American Cusacks, especially John and Joan.

    In retrospect my favourite is ‘pole’. I completely missed the two Dickens characters referred to and was lucky to arrive at the correct answer as a double definition of ‘measure’ and ‘skim’ (as in a punt) being not particularly happy with the latter and baffled by ‘clay’.

    Finally, I too was tempted by Beadle, but found Merdle just in time.

    Thanks for the blog bridgesong, and as ever thanks to the Master.

  22. Bogeyman says:

    I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned that “Dahls Chickens” is the Big Friendly Giant’s malapropism for Charles Dickens in Roald Dahl’s book, The BFG!

  23. Coffee says:

    Bogeyman, isn’t it a Spoonerism, not a Malaproprism? That’s the whole point of the clue. Anyway, enjoyed what we could do, loved FAGIN, though our way in was PICKWICK – COPPERFIELD took a while, shamefully! Always interesting to see how everyone gets their way in. Glad I wasn’t the only one who was distracted by Monty Python, Davy! Happy New Year, all.

  24. PeeDee says:

    Thanks to bridgesong and Araucaria.

    I solved this quite quickly (for an xmas special). I made a lucky guess and got the theme almost on the first clue. There after I have to admit cheating and looking up lists of Dickens character names on the web. I have read many Dickens books, but even the most recent was probably 30 years ago so I could remeber very little.

    If you have not seen it already then try Gozo’s xmas alphabetical jigsaw puzzle in the FT. I thought this was much more of an xmas challenge.

  25. rrc says:

    Undefined answers and spoonerisms do not draw me to a crossword, but having got unoriginal I did wonder whether Fagin was right. Unfortunately I could not find a link with fag and work therefore was hestitant to go for Dickens although I did realise it was his 200yr anniversary. I too was amazed at the number of Dickensian characters who found there way into this puzzle and I am still chuckling over Noggs which I think is absolutely brilliant. I just wish the way into the crossword had been a little more straight forward then the enjoyment would have been all the greater.

  26. mike04 says:

    42dn: FUSILLI
    For the second definition, I wondered if “shooter, possibly?”
    meaning “a gun, maybe” could be read as FUSIL, LI
    i.e. a musket (in the) Light Infantry

  27. mike04 says:

    A Light Infantry Fusil is shown here:

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