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March 6th, 2019

Times Quick Cryptic No 1302 by Felix

A rare DNF ("did not finish") for me: I had LESLIE for 7 Down and SPECTRE for 21 Across. Rather silly mistakes, but I was demoralized/demoralised by what felt like rather heavy UK-centric content. Whenever I feel like a puzzle is too British, I start to doubt I'm capable of finishing it — never a wise approach to puzzle solving!

As for the puzzle itself, I thought there were a lot of nice, challenging clues to spice up what was mostly very gettable stuff.

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A reasonably easy challenge today, with three straightforward but chunky anagrams to get you well on the way. It helped, but wasn't essential, if you knew the playwright (wasn't the film director) and your duck species. It took me 18 minutes to do and parse, of which a couple were spent on 12a thinking why trouble at school had something to do with the answer, (Bunter perhaps?) then seeing the truth was not so obscure. 9d has to be CoD for obvious reasons, although 1d is very nice too.

If anyone living abroad didn't see my comment post about getting a good result on the proposed sub hike from £100 to £208 a year, q.v. under jackkt's blog yesterday.

Across
1 Athenian character's black mark for wasting time (5)
SIGMA - STIGMA = black mark, loses its T.
4 Large pad of hair behind back-to-front cap (8)
MATTRESS - TRESS (hair) follows TAM (cap) reversed.
8 Top criminal has turned cynical towards other people (14)
MISANTHROPICAL - (TOP CRIMINAL HAS)*.
10 Change of opinion regarding performance (5-4)
ABOUT-TURN - ABOUT = regarding, TURN as in circus turn.
11 Woman needing a good comfy home for the most part (5)
AGNES - A, G(ood), NES(T).
12 Cries from characters in trouble at school (6)
BLEATS - Hidden word in TROU(BLE AT S)CHOOL.
14 Give convincing evidence of travel to exhibition (2,2,4)
GO TO SHOW - Double definition, one literal.
17 Sweetheart getting nothing achieved (5,3)
LOVED ONE - LOVE = nothing, nil, DONE = achieved.
18 Was in awe of agent holding attention (6)
FEARED - FED (agent) holds EAR (attention).
20 A girl suffering setback needs the ultimate in moral fibre (5)
SISAL - A SIS reversed, (mora)L.
22 Hot-headed and no longer worth quoting (9)
EXCITABLE - Something Ex - citable would be no longer worth quoting.
24 Put off road trip, ascent being hazardous (14)
PROCRASTINATED - (ROAD TRIP ASCENT)*.
25 Second page reached by customer of paper that covers a wide area (8)
SPREADER - S, P, READER of paper.
26 Charge for trip (5)
SALLY - Double definition.
Down
1 One who is out and about (12)
SOMNAMBULIST - Witty cryptic definition.
2 Soldier's second mechanical device? (5)
GISMO - GI'S = soldier's, MO = second. I was going to explain the etymology of Gismo, or Gizmo, but no-one seems to have one.
3 Female set of books a young lout's written all over? (9)
ANNOTATED - ANN (a female), OT (set of books), A TED (a young lout). As in Teddy Boy I suppose, although not all were louts.
4 Poor performer upset and no longer fired up — one dealing with jumbo? (6)
MAHOUT -HAM actor = poor performer; reverse that and add OUT for no longer fired up. A Mahout is a chap who looks after elephants in S E Asia, I don't really see why the ? is present.
5 Wilder man of the stage? Yesteryear's character leading fashion (8)
THORNTON - THORN = yesterday's character, þ, an old letter in Gothic, Norse and Icelandic, ahead of TON = fashion. Thornton Wilder was a US playwright, d. 1975.
6 Rodent, one being caught on a food dish (5)
RAITA - RAT catches I, A. A yoghurt based Indian sauce.
7 More dependable VIP protecting a French revolutionary (9)
STAUNCHER - STAR (VIP) has UN and CHE the revolutionary inserted.
9 Time to start doing without has dawned, yes, sadly (3,9)
ASH WEDNESDAY - (HAS DAWNED YES)*.
13 Report of the decline of first female spy (9)
EAVESDROP - Sounds like EVE'S DROP, Eve being allegedly the first female.
15 Public individuals offering added nuances (9)
OVERTONES - OVERT = public, ONES = individuals.
16 Cricket side embarrassed about fellow awaiting trial (2,6)
ON REMAND - ON in cricket, RED = embarrassed, has MAN inserted.
19 One duck and another escaping from open vehicle (6)
SCOTER - O (another duck) escapes from SCOOTER. You have to know your duck varieties.
21 Money the attraction that traps Conservative (5)
LUCRE - LURE has C inserted.
23 Location of Jacob's ladder? Not hard to see plant (5)
BETEL - According to the Bible, Jacob had a dream where he saw a ladder ascending to Heaven, with angels going up and down. He named the place where he was dreaming BETHEL. So, drop the H (not hard). Betel is a plant genus including pepper and kava kava, and another one with leaves which are often chewed.