Perhaps it’s the sheer plethora of extra puzzles over the holiday period, or the sheer horror that was yesterday’s competition sample, but I find I’m not at my quickest at the moment, and this one took 24 and a quarter minutes. There’s an Americanism of sorts, balanced by a Britishism that tends to jar mildly on Americans, but otherwise there’s not much to frighten us tenderer solvers.
17 across gives me the excuse to congratulate NASA on two momentous achievements in 24 hours that certainly moved and thrilled me: their first picture of the snowman in space at Ultima Thule 4 billion miles away and the extraordinary feat of going into orbit round the 500 metre asteroid Bennu, at 1/5 millionth the gravity of Earth. And best wishes to China, attempting shortly to land on the far side of the Moon. Humanity is not all insane politics.
Back to the puzzle: my exposition is coded with clues, definitions and SOLUTIONS. Enjoy![(click to open)]
1 Territory bordering a pole, oddly? (7)
LAPLAND And we start with a rather nice &lit. Territory is LAND, which “borders” A and the odd letters of PoLe. If we were being picky, we’d say Lapland doesn’t quite border the North Pole, but it’s only just past Christmas so we’ll allow a certain chap-with-a-beard based licence.
5 Barren wife deputising for husband in expedition (5)
WASTE Both mean “unproductive” in Chambers. W(ife) replaces H(usband) in expedition: HASTE
9 Marine vehicle driven to port by a learner (5)
NAVAL The vehicle is a VAN, which when driven to the left gives NAV, add A L(earner)
10 Spooner's secured location, in a few words (5,4)
SOUND BITE Which in Speverend Rooner’s orchard tinglish would be BOUND SITE
11 Yankee on drug adopting Republican line, roughly (7)
HARSHLY First NATO of the day, Y(ankee) tacked onto drug-of-choice HASH containing R(epublican) after L(ine) has been added.
12 Went out with clean 5 across from timberyard (7)
SAWDUST 5 across WASTE becomes pat of the definition. SAW for went out with, DUST for clean
13 Mac's strength of spirit added to general excellence (10)
WATERPROOF In a Mephisto, Mac usually means a delve into the hoots mon section of the dictionary. Not here. Strength of spirit is PROOF, general excellence is WATER. The link is in the phrase (most commonly) “of the first water”: the more gemstones, especially diamonds, resemble pure, clear water, the better. Extended to mean excellence in anything.
15 Charge double, initially, for forage (4)
FEED I think more in the noun sense. Charge: FEE, Double initially D
18 Sort of tale that'll keep you in stitches? (4)
YARN whimsical cryptic definition
20 Victor commanding guards, impossible to pass (10)
IMPERVIOUS Commanding provides IMPERIOUS, which guards our second NATO of the day, V(ictor)
23 Better medic with peculiarly regal bearing (7)
GAMBLER The medic you want here is MB (Medicinae Baccalaureus - Bachelor of Medicine) borne by a variant on REGAL
24 House maybe trades gold (7)
WINDSOR Trades are the WINDS that blow towards the Equator (if I correctly recall my O-level Geography), so a definition by example heralded by “maybe”. Add OR for gold.
25 Concession that man's pocketed in republic (9)
FRANCHISE The republic, currently their cinquième, is FRANCE. Include (pocket) HIS for that man’s
26 Return of goods — deficiency ultimately unclear (5)
FOGGY Follow the instructions. Retut=rn of: FO, add G(oods), 2 of them, and the last of deficiencY
27 Tail-enders in the marathon put a strain on all runners (5)
ENTRY The tail enders of thE and marathoN plus put a srain on: TRY
28 Crowd on balcony when faithful audience is catered for (3,4)
GOD SLOT Was (is still?) the term for the religious bit in broadcasting such as “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4. Balcony is interpreted in its highest (physical) form as GODS, crowd is LOT. Respace.
1 Continually blocking grant to youngster in form (7)
LEVERET Now you need to know that form is what a hare calls its sleeping place, and its young is our answer, and all makes sense. Continually: EVER “blocks” grant: LET
2 Fish cut up with great force (8)
PILCHARD Cut is CLIP, which in a down clue reverses when “up”. The rest comes from with great force: HARD
3 Analyse a singular state (5)
ASSAY A S(ingular) state: SAY
4 Doctor gets our compound — here in US, perhaps (4,5)
DRUG STORE What we on this side of the pond would call a chemist’s D(octo)R GETS OUR is “compounded” in this &littish clue
5 Thrillers incorporating papers women left behind (6)
WIDOWS WOWS are thrillers, papers ID
6 Apprehension from last character that is returning to crack safe (7)
SEIZURE Last character Z (in my alphabet, anyway) that is IE, both reversed and contained in safe: SURE. Apprehension more as in arrest than anxiety.
7 Leave old mate with distress (5)
Latin stage direction for one character going off stage. No it isn't (see below). It means "let him go" and is public school pretentious Latin for leave of absence..EX for your old mate, EAT for distress as in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
8 Why a note goes astray in transit? (2,3,3)
ON THE WAY A kindly straightforward anagram of WHY A NOTE
14 Mentioning task for second examiner? (9)
REMARKING A double definition, made easier for me by one of Mrs Z’s former occupations.
16 Puts down free oyster cards, taking car out (8)
DESTROYS Puts down sounds so much nicer for what one does to poor old ailing Rover. Free indicates anagram, the fodder is OYSTER CARDS minus the CAR bit. You don’t need to know that Oyster Cards are Transport for London’s automated fare paying system, but there, I’ve told you anyway.
17 Momentous contest well-nigh complete (8)
EVENTFUL Contest provides EVENT, and most of complete is FUL
19 Wild rave a politician's caught in (7)
RAMPANT Rave give RANT, insert A MP
21 Against crew changing direction without a second glance? (2,5)
ON SIGHT ON for against (I suppose as in on/against the wall). The crew is an EIGTH with its direction E(ast) replaced by S(outh)
22 Courageous chap's end providential (6)
PLUCKY The ast of chap plus LUCKY for providential.
23 Raised e-cigarette's casing following blunder (5)
GAFFE In much the same way as we Brits snigger at Germans who fahrt, we’re well aware of our transatlantic cousins’ reaction to FAG, but hey, it’s just a cigarette, guys. E-FAG is reversed and contains F(ollowing)
24 Energy-filled, unrestrained exercise (5)
WIELD Unrestrained gives WILD, fill with E(nergy)