1. Oldies’ get-together that has Bess and ma tangling with a sort of eel. ASSEMBLAUNCE (anag. + launce1) This clue has a quite transparent surface, with the anagram indicated by ‘tangling’ most likely involving ‘Bess’, ‘ma’ and not ‘and’. Once that is decided one needs a six-letter name for a type of eel. ‘Oldies’ is used to indicate that a word not in modern use is required, in this instance, one peculiar to Edmund Spenser.
12. Goal for American body-builder? HUNK (2 defs., hunk2,1) The use of ‘for American’ to indicate a US term for ‘goal’ is beautifully disguised in the surface as seeming to qualify ‘body-builder’.
13. Way, first to last, for one opening another’s closet? OUTER (route with ‘r’ moved to last place) This clue is perhaps the weakest in this puzzle with its cryptic, even rather coy, definition. Dr Watson has struggled to find any satisfactory reading of the overall surface. The solution is listed under ‘out’ as a transitive verb.
20. Dance, hard for whales to take in, lots abandoned. CHA-CHA (H in cacha(lots)) By contrast, the baffling surface here is explained by two informal definitions of ‘whale’ – ‘a person with a large appetite’ and ‘something very large of its kind’. Either type of person may have difficulties with the deft movements required in dancing the cha-cha (q.v.), but the necessity of signalling the omission of ‘lots’ precludes an & lit reading. ‘Cachalot’ is a poignant alternative name for the sperm whale.
22. Percussion instrument rarely used to fluster conductor. RATTLE (3 defs, & lit.) Dr Watson is reminded of the traditions of the Promenaders in ‘demob’ mode by the amusing ‘& lit.’ surface achieved in this clue. They rarely unsettle the conductor by their antics. The conductor suggested is Sir Simon Rattle (q.v.).
24. Burning log, good in part as Yuletide warmer. GLOGG (hidden) A deftly disguised hidden word, and most subtly indicated. One of two untimely reminders of Christmas in this puzzle.
26. Grandpa’s pipe (not getting snuff out) alight as of old. AVALE (aval + (pip3)e) The key to understanding this clue is in the reading of ‘not getting snuff out’, the device by which Azed indicates the omission of ‘pip’ (to snuff out) from ‘pipe’. Additionally, two meanings of ‘alight’ are used here. The solution, ‘avale’, is Spenser’s term for ‘alight1’, to perch or to settle.
32. Stout after 50, I abandoned tight suit, last bit of trendy. LUSTY (L + anag. less I + (trend)y) This amusing clue is notable for its use of ‘tight’ (meaning drunk) to indicate the anagram of ‘suit’, in a sense not apparent in the surface.
6. Old-fashioned distiller, I’m on northern stream below loch. LIMBECK (L + I’m + beck2) The solution is an aphetic (q.v.) form of ‘alembic’ which is defined as ‘old-fashioned type of distilling apparatus’.
7. Dawn not quite rising, university friend appears rarely. UNUSUALLY (sun-u(p) (rev.) + U + ally1) The use of an intransitive verb (‘appears’) to knit the seam between subsidiary and definition is the feature of note here. Transitive linking verbs are commonplace in puzzles of mediocre quality, but this ‘rare’ use of the device is most apt and pleasing. Many solvers will have fond memories rekindled by this wistful and witty clue.
14. What goes up at Xmas? Distribution of cards – husband leaves the lot wretchedly for stuffing. MISTLETOE (anag. less h in mise) Another hilarious surface to enjoy, but few solvers will have been troubled by the word-play.
23. Opener dismissed, give support to English declaration as before. AVOURE ((f)avour + E) Yet another word from Spenser, meaning ‘declaration’ and indicated here by ‘as before’. To anyone wondering about the sense of the surface, a situation is imagined in which an opening batsman has batted throughout an innings and is the last competent batsman to be dismissed, rendering further batting by tail-enders futile.
25. Sea-goddesses, Greek, doubly aged. GRAEAE (Gr + ae. + ae., & lit.) This is quite a coup for Azed, completing a fine pair of & lits (with 22A), each having a very simple subsidiary part. The literal reading is justified in this instance by the goddesses in question being both old women and belonging to a culture of great antiquity, so truly ‘doubly aged’. Quite brilliant.
29. What can make this resin pay? A pine may. ANIMÉ (comp. anag.) A simple example of a composite anagram, transparently stated – ideal for inexperienced solvers to take as a model. The definition is referenced by ‘this resin’. What can make that plus ‘pay’? The answer is stated as an anagram, ‘a pine may’. Thus the solution is an anagram of that phrase with the letters ‘p’, ‘a’, and ‘y’ omitted.
This type of clue is ideal for devising an ‘& lit’ clue, where the whole clue may be construed as a definition of the solution. Since ‘animé’ is defined as the resin of the West Indian locust tree, but freely extended to that of other tree species, a pine may be used to make it pay. However, Dr Watson has this clue as an ‘& lit’ only tentatively, and notes that other explanations might be given, possibly citing pay2 (q.v.) in support. A near miss.
31. Trace holding in Land Registry. DREG (hidden) Solvers may have wondered initially how ‘holding in’ can be equivalent to ‘hiding in’. That’s asking the wrong question – ‘holding’ serves as a gerund (q.v.) in both surface and word-play, meaning a parcel of land in one, and a parcel of ‘Land Registry’ in the other.
Across: 10. COUMARIN (anag.) 15. GIBBSITE (anag. in gibe) 16. MOUILLÉ (ill in moue) 17. JUDAS (a in juds) 18. BUIST (is in but1) 28. FAILURE (anag.) 30. NOSEBAND (‘knows’ + ‘banned’) 33. LIEU (lie u(p)) 34. DEMERSAL (anag.) 35. DESEGREGATED (gate in anag.). Down: 2. SOU-SOU (2 sous) 3. SUNSUIT (n in Susu + it) 4. MANG (man (adj.) + g) 5. BRAIL (r(ope) in bail2) 8. NITID (it in nid) 9. CHETAH (anag. + h) 10. CHAMBRANLE (The competition word) 11. PRESAGEFUL (anag.) 19. DEFACER (cafe in red (all rev.)) 21. COUÉIST (Co.+ anag.) 27. ASSES (asses(s))