11. Viper’s bugloss exuded sap - universal sheep tucked in. BLUEWEED (U + ewe, all in bled) The solution is an alternative name for Viper’s Bugloss, unsurprisingly. Quite what a universal sheep is, or whether one such would tuck in to blueweed, Dr Watson cannot find. He found many products for the sheep-rearing industry branded ‘Universal’, but not a single sheep.
14. Bovril precursor you may find to be still significant. LIEBIG (lie2 + big1) You may find some significant information about the inventor of this beef extract here.
17. E.g. plainest music may be played by US giant thus. SEMPLICE (comp. anag. &lit.) The composite anagram in this clue equates ‘e.g. plainest music’ with the solution: ‘semplice’ + ‘US giant’, or, put another way, the solution is found to be an anagram of ‘e.g. plainest music’ with the letters of ‘US giant’ removed. The whole clue serves to indicate this and also to give a definition by example.
18. Poet’s lost very little of Shakespeare’s density. TYNED (tyne (s.v tine5) + d; s.v. tine2) It has been mentioned elsewhere that this is an extreme example of a typical Azed clue, one in which (normally) either the solution or some part of the indication is a word peculiar to the literature of a great writer. The point is made that, in this case, where both parts are affected, there is precious little help for the solver without cross-checking letters in place. The solution is Spenser’s (poet’s) term for ‘lost’, listed under ‘tine2’, and the indication involves Shakespeare’s term meaning ‘tiny’, listed under ‘tine5’. The conventional ‘density’ for the unchecked letter ‘d’ is Azed’s helping hand - sweetly appropriate in the context of these generously cross-checked puzzles.
20. Like some earls, hit hard. BELTED (2 defs) An Internet search for ‘belted earl’ reveals little of use to anyone needing an explanation as to why some earls are belted, on the assumption that others are not. Many results are little more than the complaints of users frustrated by the lack of an authoritative explanation.
By the 14th century, creating an earl included a special public ceremony where the king personally tied a sword belt around the waist of the new earl, emphasizing the fact that the earl's rights came from him.
At his local library, Dr Watson found Debrett’s Peerage (1990 ed.) and, under its section: THE SOVEREIGNS, TITLES AND DIGNITIES, this summary:-
Before Canute an ealdorman administered a shire or province for the King. In Latin documents he was styled Dux or Comes, taking a place between the royal Atheling and the thegn. Under Canute the Danish equivalent of Earl was introduced.
Under the Normans the government of an earl was normally restricted to one county and became hereditary, though losing the functions of the King’s representation in the county to the sheriff. An earl was usually invested with the third penny out of the sheriff’s court of the county, of Anglo-Saxon origin.
The dignity was created by the girding on of the sword as a symbol of temporal authority, but this lost some of its significance when in 1328 Roger Mortimer was created Earl of March, derived neither from a county nor a city. The ceremony continued after earls were created by patent, and in the reign of Edward VI a cape of dignity and a golden circlet were added to the ceremony, but in 1615 such ceremonies ceased.
Dr Watson has read elsewhere that although the ceremonies were discontinued, the award of the belted sword (amongst others) was deemed to remain and that this was confirmed in letters patent for each newly created earl. However, this still begs the question whether the expression ‘belted earl’ may mean this, or whether it is restricted to those earls created by ceremony.
31. Regarding site of the Taj, it opens late in the day. ONAGRA (on + Agra) A simple clue, a ‘charade’, referring, of course, to the Taj Mahal in Agra. It also includes a charming cryptic definition of our solution, the evening primrose, which is formally known as Oenothera, and, in former times, as Onagra.
34. Simple compounds concealed in notecase. ACETONES (anag.) This clue may be read in its entirety as an immediate prompt to consider one-word anagrams of ‘notecase’. Solvers who may question ‘concealed in’ as properly indicating an anagram may have missed the point of this exquisite clue.
3. Snails etc a palm nut, ravaged, briefly has on inside. PULMONATA (o’ in anag.) The interesting feature here is the indication of the inclusion of an abbreviated ‘on’ by the phrase ‘briefly has on inside’, which fits the chosen surface, rather than one which qualified ‘on’ directly, which most probably would not.
5. Silken textiles must include it. KENTE (hidden &lit?) If there is some reason why all textiles made of silk must be made in the manner of the African method indicated here, then the whole clue may be read as a valid definition of ‘Kente’. If not, the clue has no valid definition, and so Doctor Watson assumes that the valid reason must exist, but that it has eluded him.
10. Nigella gargled wildly on broadcast day. RAGGED-LADY (anag. + anag.; s.v. rag1) First brought to mind by the brilliantly witty surface may have been thoughts of confidences shared in the pantry by the delightful Nigella Lawson. The clue is otherwise notable as a sequence of two anagrams linked by ‘on’ as appropriate in a down clue. Our solution is one of several common names for nigella damascena.
19. Young fish having nose round inverted tin. FINNACK (can (rev.) in fink) The interest in this clue is in discovering the equivalence between ‘nose’ and ‘fink’. Both are derogatory slang terms for an informer. A finnack is a young sea-trout.
23. Member of the brass section? ‘What a good boy’. HORNER (2 defs, ref. ‘Little Jack Horner’) Azed has resorted here to two cryptic definitions, the first referring to the brass section of an orchestra, and the second to the famous nursery rhyme quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as:
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie:
He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum,
And said, ‘What a good boy am I!’
25. After zero in French pupil topped Latin in exam once. O level (0 + élève + L(atin); s.v. abbrev. ‘O’) Azed has shown here that a French word may be correctly indicated by ‘in French ...’ as much as by ‘French ...’ so as to accommodate the desired surface reading.
29. Old church plate and at least four cups BRAS (2 defs, s.v. brass & brassière) More brass sections. ‘Bras’, in our first meaning, is yet another (old) word of Edmund Spenser’s, for ‘brass’, defined in Chambers as ‘a memorial plate of brass in a church’.
Across: 1. APPLE-KNOCKER (The competition word) 12. RIVA (hidden) 13. SOLVE (‘V’ in sole3) 15. PIMENT (men in pit) 22. CHATTI (c + anag.; s.v. chatty2) 24. METOL (hidden) 26. HOT PANTS (pant in anag.) 30. OPINED (pin in OED) 32. PRIVY (iv in pry) 33. CEDE (hidden) 35. KRISS KRINGLE (anag. + ring in elk (rev.))
Down: 2. PLOIDY (I’d in ploy) 4. LEVERET (t(h)e + revel, (all rev.); s.v. puss1) 6. NELUMBO (anag. less s,l in No.) 7. ODIC (0 + dic(key)) 8. CREEL (Cree + l) 9. EVINCE (n in (d)evice) 13. SPATCHCOCK (s + patch1 + cock1) 16. KITTENING (kit + anag.) 21. LEG-IRON (i.e. Le Giron, s.v. gyron) 27. PAGES (p + anag. less m) 28. TONER (one in TR; s.v. tone1)