February 3rd, 2021

Times 27891 - what was the largest city in the world, until 612 BC?

I enjoyed this a lot; it wasn't a particularly tough test I thought, but amongst the nomal insert-this-into-that and delete-that-from-this clues we had some less obvious wordplay. For example, 7d, 18d, 24d. I especially liked 18d for hiding its wordplay in a smooth and relevant surface. Two plants we've heard of, a deceased politician and a Greek slave; thank you, Mr Setter, a fine recipe.
My latest snowy owl was seen (not by me!) wintering in Central Park NYC this week, the first spotted there for over 100 years.

1 Rarely has one topic that one can crack (9)
PISTACHIO - (HAS I TOPIC)* where I = one.
9 Disappear, having crossed river in Japan? (7)
VARNISH - VANISH has R inside.
10 Sort of road test after component has been installed (7)
ORBITAL - ORAL (test) has BIT inside.
11 Poison in ancient city going round he got rid of (5)
VENIN - NINEVEH is our ancient city, reverse it and remove HE. (HE)VENIN. Yes, it was the largest, for a long time, until it was sacked; today it's part of Mosul in Iraq.
12 In island country group in retreat broods (9)
INCUBATES - IN, CUBA (island), SET reversed.
13 Like a drink and place for serving food by river (7)
POTABLE - River PO in Italy, TABLE place for serving food.
15 Reportedly, put out to search for water (5)
DOWSE - Sounds like DOUSE which means to put out by flooding with water.
17 Squat in small enclosed space (5)
CUBBY - double definition; as in cubby hole.
18 Walk ostentatiously to show support (5)
STRUT - another double definition.
19 Dickensian character's feeling of resentment, heading off (5)
RUDGE - GRUDGE loses G to become Barnaby Rudge.
20 In Ireland I am reminded about mythical creature (7)
MERMAID -  hidden reversed, see above.
23 OTT party type could make Tories err (9)
25 African mothers sitting by major road (5)
MASAI - MAS (mothers) A1 (major road from London to Edinburgh).
27 Generation after former Labour leader shown in bit of film (7)
FOOTAGE - Michael FOOT, (Labour leader 1980-83), AGE (generation). Remember, no politics here, says our leader. I was tempted to mention another politician.
28 Talk from the French priest about origin of temptation (7)
LECTURE - LE (the in French) T (origin of temptation) inside CURÉ (priest).
29 Exceptional dearness expressed primarily in these songs? (9)
SERENADES - (DEARNESS E)*, the E = expressed primarily.
1 Academic briefly leading appeal to make money (6)
PROFIT - PROF(essor), IT = (sex) appeal.
2 Editor and writer beginning to recognise their paying customer? (10)
SUBSCRIBER - SUB(editor), SCRIBE = writer, R = beginning of recognise.
3 Like ultra-spiritual type that offers response to disease? (8)
ANTIBODY - Well I suppose an 'ultra-spiritual type' would be anti body.
4 The fellow facing destiny as a lowly worker (5)
HELOT - HE (the fellow) LOT (destiny). Originally the Helots were the slaves of the Spartans.
5 Squander cash on account of what bookie offers? Then stop! (9)
OVERSPEND - OVER (on account of) SP (what the bookie offers) END (stop!).
6 Soft device for fixing shrub (6)
PRIVET - P (soft) RIVET (device for fixing).
7 Wild animal in European capital starts to scare Brits off (4)
LION - LISBON (European capital) loses its S and B (first letters of Scare Brits).
8 Most inadequate hotel and pub exposed in inspection (8)
THINNEST - H (hotel) INN (pub) inside TEST (inspection).
14 Command to invade indistinctive territory close to another country (10)
16 They have big clothes items old boy stuffed in drawers inappropriately (9)
WARDROBES -  (DRAWERS)* with OB inside.
17 Plant arrived — car turned up for collection (8)
CAMOMILE - CAME (arrived) has LIMO reversed inside.
18 Student now sadly denied university time, being this? (4,4)
SENT DOWN - This is clever; apart from being &lit (I think) we have an anagram (SDENT NOW)* where SDENT is student with U T (university time first letters) removed.
21 Last messages for couple seen round India (6)
ADIEUX - A DEUX means as a couple; insert I for India. Go to the naughty step if you got a pink square by putting in ADIEUS without doing the parsing properly.
22 Pants giving legal summaries (6)
BRIEFS - double definition.
24 Work out where area of fear is (5)
INFER - the A of FEAR is inside FER., or IN FER.
26 Bad film of oil obliterating lake (4)
SICK - remove the L from an oil SLICK.