Well. That was exciting! There are some Mephisto-ish words around, mostly workoutable from the wordplay, and quite a few places where the setter tries to bamboozle you into thinking you need some specialist knowledge to understand the clues or produce the building blocks of the answers. I’ve done the research on at least some of those so you don’t have to, but it helps to try not to panic because you have no idea who Zamenhof is or what happens is the second book of Kings (the hapless king Ahaziah dies, along with quite a few of his soldiers, on the word of Elijah). I spent 41 minutes plus (only just over 3 Verlaines, so not too bad) doing the solving, and a lot more digging out the mostly unnecessary detail.
I take this to be a proper, if rather bruising contest, and I expect to see it registering on the hard side. Lots of clues that would be CoD in lesser grids. Does it help that it’s a pangram? I saw the likelihood early on, but don’t think it helped me to any of the answers.
Here’s my stuff. Clues are in italics, definitions therein also underlined, and solutions look nice in bold capitals
1 One not thinking to take from Scripture (5)
ROBOT The definition works at least until AI develops still further. The wordplay? Take from: ROB, Scripture O(ld) T(estament)
4 Hill walker in fog could, say, wrongly (8)
MISSPEAK After trying for way too long to find a hill walker to fit into MIST, you realise it’s a pun: in fog, a hill walker might miss peak. Well, he might. I’ll stick with the definition being say, wrongly
8 Most unheard of! (6,8)
SILENT MAJORITY A cute cryptic definition
10 Bad weather expected to occur mostly in spring month, returning (9)
RAINSTORM Somewhat topical in the UK. Expected to occur (mostly) is IN STOR(e), thrown into a backward version of MAR standing in as a spring month
11 American’s game and, without question, profligate (5)
ROQUE …“is an American variant of croquet played on a hard, smooth surface. Popular in the first quarter of the 20th century and billed ‘the Game of the Century’ by its enthusiasts, it was an Olympic sport in the 1904 Summer Games, replacing croquet from the previous games.” Cheers Wiki. If you take the Q(uestion) out of the sport you get ROUÉ, “a profligate, rake, debauched man, esp an old man.” Cheers Chambers
12 Slowing down after abnormal power and vigour (6)
ESPRIT Slowing down, known to musicians as ritardando, is conventionally abbreviated to RIT. Your abnormal power is ESP. Combine.
14 You texted and tweeted about indication of inflation taking over (8)
USURPING You, texted, is U, though in these days of autocorrect it seems unnecessary. Tweeted is SUNG. The indication of inflation (one of them) is the Retail Price Index, or RPI. Assemble.
17 Bear with immature, backward and belligerent cry (3,5)
WAR WHOOP which Chambers assures me is a thing. The bear (of little brain) is POOH, with provides the W, and immature is RAW. Put them together and reverse the lot
18 Dope runs across grass becoming increasingly active (6)
SPRYER Right. SP is dope, from racing jargon (it’s short for Starting Price, the odds on a horse when the race begins, and by extension information about its capabilities). Runs gives you the (second) R, and grass the RYE. Assemble
20 Scandinavian drunk as a lord? (5)
ROALD The best known two being Amundsen and Dahl, though the latter was born in Wales. “Drunk as” is your anagram indicator, and the fodder is A LORD.
22 Something quotable from champ appearing on channel (5,4)
SOUND BITE Champ is BITE (one of its other meanings) and channel is SOUND, the seagoing version
24 Which story unfolds in 2 Kings I, 2 Kings II? Trivia time! (5-5-4)
RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI Kipling’s tale of a belligerent and feisty mongoose. You don’t need to know your Old Testament, you just need to read the code and sort out the anagram (unfolds) fodder. So you have two Kings: KK. I: I. Two Kings: KK. II: II, TRIVIA and T(ime). I’m willing to bet you biffed this and only worked out the wordplay to see how clever it was.
25 Attack article penned by surrogate NCO (8)
PAROXYSM That sort of attack. The article is A, “penned” or enclosed by PROXY, standing in for surrogate. The NCO is a S(ergeant) M(ajor)
26 What Mayerhof and Zamenhof do that’s final (3,2)
END OF I believe this to be a vulgar expression use by the lower classes. Again you don’t need to know who Mayerhof (Otto Fritz, German physician and biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1922) or Zamenhof (Ludwik Lejzer, Polish ophthalmologist, linguist and the inventor of the international language Esperanto) are, just that what they do is end (in) OF
1 Kept promise, while being an example in Java, say (8,4)
RESERVED WORD The wordplay is just kept: RESERVED, promise: WORD. The definition is “a word in a programming language which has a fixed meaning and cannot be redefined by the programmer” (cheers Wiki) and might just as well be in Java. The programming language, not the place Krakatoa is east of
2 Italian left party after serving up hot food (5)
BALTI This really got to me. It had to be, but that “left” was one L too many. Except LAB is (in the UK) a party of the left, until it re-forms itself to become electable, as under Tony Blair. So IT(alian) plus left party LAB for the Brummie take on Indian cuisine (probably)
3 Composer minus the lyricist ultimately useless (9)
TUNESMITH So again, no obscure composer needed, though I lost time trying to think of one. The thing is an anagram (“useless”) of MINUS THE plus the last letter (ultimately) of lyricist. Which is a T
4 Staff acquiring millions: instant wealth (6)
MAMMON We have staff, the verb, for MAN, bringing in M(illions) and MO for (an) instant. It’s what you can’t serve as well as the Deity (Matthew 6:24, KJV)
5 Judge getting in way disarranged royal court (2,6)
ST JAMES’S Where monarchs meet Their Excellencies. J for Judge finding its way into way: ST(reet) and disarranged: A MESS. It looks odd without the apostrophe.
6 Sound of matchmaker’s cutting tool? (5)
PARER Oh, gosh, an easy one! Except I didn’t see it for thinking of what the Yiddish word for matchmaker was. It’s not actually Yenta or Yente, but she’s the matchmaker if Fiddler. It’s actually Shadchan. Squeeze that into five squares! Anyway, the easy version is that a matchmaker is a PAIRER, of which the sound is our answer
7 Times long ago opposing Leave? Yes, at first (9)
ANTIQUITY Maybe it just seems long ago that one could oppose Leave (the setter’s capital) without being trashed, but hey, we’ve Left! Whoop di do! Enough politics: here it’s ANTI QUIT for opposing leave, plus “at first” Y(es)
9 Pulling leg, eg a fibber cannot be credible (6,6)
BEGGAR BELIEF Looking a bit awkward without the S, I think. It’s an anagram (pulling) of LEG EG A FIBBER
13 A head start for police with, in time, better IT (3,6)
PER CAPITA Head of Police P, then in time: ERA, both better: CAP, and IT in plain sight
15 Tick off papers put out and delivered fast (5-4)
RAPID FIRE I think it’s tick off: RAP (as in reprove, censure) plus ID paper, plus put out for FIRE, which seems a bit soft.
16 Stays on track, gracious and firm (8)
CORSETRY Clever misdirection. The track, separated from the stays, is RY (railway), the gracious is the similar exclamation COR! And the firm bit is SET
19 Rubbish I must think should be placed under bed (6)
BUNKUM UM is the noise we make while pretending to think, the bed’s a BUNK. That’s history.
21 Butcher’s cleared up, packing last of pork (5)
DEKKO (can be DECKO, but not here) Butchers is CRS for look (-hook). Cleared is OKED, a variant spelling of okayed, and in this down clue it’s reversed “up”. Throw in the last letter of porK. The word is of Hindi origin.
23 Monitor possibly not needing large chamois (5)
IZARD Monitor is LIZARD. It doesn’t need L(arge). A Pyrenean chamois (cheers Chambers)