Not the most testing of grids today, which I breezed through in 16 minutes, including parsing even when the answer was obvious and checking for typos, such is my devotion to duty. The top left to bottom right diagonal reads “pamper them” in Spanish* which is either completely accidental or the setters cryptic memo-to-self to be nice to us struggling solvers for once. There are several clues (more than usual?) where the majority of the word are there to offer up only their first or last letters. On the other hand, there are no random boys’ names or girls’ names, notes, or directions, which is refreshing.
My explications are presented with clues, definitions and SOLUTIONS
*So says Google Translate. Must be true.[My workings (click to open)]
1 Cocktail — special quality about it (6)
MOJITO Typically made with white rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint. Our recipe is rather simpler: MOJO for that special quality (Muddy Waters had his working) and the IT (not a bad synonym for this meaning of MOJO, as it happens) dropped in
4 Solid start in heat hampered by second group (8)
THICKSET Start in Heat, “hampered by” here meaning contained by TICK: second and SET: group.
10 Great thinker, realist struggling to assimilate religious text (9)
ARISTOTLE An anagram (struggling) of REALIST containing (to assimilate) OT: religious text
11 Medium brain, say? (5)
ORGAN Two meanings, medium being, for example, our beloved Times.
12 Where my gravestone will be placed under no circumstances (4,2,4,4)
OVER MY DEAD BODY Two meanings, one literal, the other idiomatic
14 Three-quarters loaded onto empty lorry, relatively light (5)
LYRIC Relatively light when applied to tenors such as Caruso. Loaded suppies RICH, knock off one quarter and attach it to an “empty” LorrY
16 Romantic intro by a male composer is buoyant and fragrant stuff (9)
AMBERGRIS “An ash-grey strongly-scented substance, originating in the intestines of the spermaceti whale” which sounds vile, but like the equally unlikely “very uncleanly flux of a cat” used in perfume manufacture. A + M(ale) + (Alban) BERG (composer of Wozzeck and Lulu) + R(omantic) intro+ IS. Those of you passionate about whale survival (and why not?) will be pleased to know there’s a synthetic alternative and sperm whales don’t have to die just so you can smell nice.
18 Borders down, cross familiar Irish county (9)
ROSCOMMON Remove the borders from cROSs and add COMMON: familiar.
20 A little move by a militant to the left, perhaps? (5)
MAYBE No politics (dear me, no) but a rather nice reverse hidden in movE BY A Militant and a definition disguised as an anagram indicator.
21 Sweet kid the girl shut out (7,7)
TURKISH DELIGHT (Yes, only nine days ago, also clued by an anagram) mixed from KID THE GIRL SHUT “out”.
25 Wings of harpy, hundred and four tails, a monster (5)
HYDRA HarpY wings + hundreD and fouR tails + A
26 Acquire evidence of debts without interest (9)
INCURIOUS A straight charade of acquire: INCUR and evidence of debts: IOUS
27 Extra brought to the table by beauty joining party (4,4)
SIDE DISH Party provides the SIDE and beauty provides the DISH, superannuated slang.
28 She wrote detective stories, they declare (6)
SAYERS Dorothy L, people wot say.
1 Marked low, a poor singer (10)
MEADOWLARK I was mildly surprised that this is not a native British bird but of the Americas. Alternatively one of these, or this celebrated Harlem Globetrotter. Anagram (poor) of MARKED LOW A
2 Liquid in pitcher unfinished, extra in glass? (5)
JUICE Your unfinished pitcher is a JAr and you might add ICE as an extra.
3 Venerated item toyed with in bed, turned over (7)
TOTEMIC An anagram (toyed with) of ITEM in a reversal of COT: bed.
5 Animal at altitude by the sound of it exhausted, needing air initially (5)
HYENA HY sounds like high, at altitude. Add the first letters of the remaining words (apart from initially, obviously).
6 Gear box (7)
CLOBBER Two definitions, gear as in clothes.
7 Cheese, very old, in European creamery's basement (4,5)
SAGE DERBY Cheese that’s actually meant to look green. AGED from very old, your European is SERB, the Y comes from the end of creamerY.
8 Container smelt when lid removed (4)
TANK Take the top off sTANK: smelt.
9 Fast finish of Red Rum stuttering, where career of racehorse ending? (4,4)
STUD FARM Derive the anagram fodder from FAST, finish of reD, RUM and then – um – stir. Ironically, Red Rum would have been of little use in a stud farm.
13 Complaint when first love meets close family member (10)
ASBESTOSIS Assemble as follows: when: AS, first: BEST, love: O, close family member: SIS
15 Sensible grass skirts made a comeback, reportedly? (9)
RESOUNDED Sensible: SOUND (which) grass: REED skirts. I think the “reportedly” is in there just to indicate acoustic nature.
17 Monk heading for Cairngorms in check, Scottish peak further north (8)
BENEDICT Check gives you EDIT, Cairngorms (heading only) is inserted, and both are preceded by BEN for Scottish peak.
19 California city sure to bag a win (7)
OAKLAND Sure is OK, A is itself and is “bagged”, win is LAND
20 A river flooding nation with a disease (7)
MALARIA The nation you’re looking for is MALI, A R(iver) runs through it, and the other A is tagged on.
22 Pack members in fits (5)
SUITS Two definitions, think cards for the first
23 Hand warmer’s good warm feeling (5)
GLOVE G(ood) and LOVE: warm feeling. Ah! There’s nice!
24 All kicking off, the hoodlums unfortunately swearing like that (4)
THUS All the “kicking off” start letters of the rest of the clue