There were also some clues that would only appeal to me if the puzzle was an open book exam. 14ac for example has a botanical answer that no doubt you could biff from the helpers if you knew it (which I didn’t), or you could derive from the wordplay if and only if you knew the other botanical term used there (which I didn’t). Otherwise, the whole clue might be a hell of a bore (sorry – couldn’t resist). Fortunately, I detected my vast ignorance early and looked up several answers, so for the purists I am an unrepentant DNF on this puzzle.
There were also many nice clues, but none stood out to me as the clue of the day. Perhaps I’ll pick 8dn for the pleasure of getting an unknown answer from wordplay. Feel free to make your nominations in the comments. Thanks to the setter for a very enjoyable puzzle.
Clues are in blue, with definitions underlined. Answers are in BOLD CAPS, then wordplay. (ABC*) means ‘anagram of ABC’, with the anagram indicator in bold italics. Deletions are in [square brackets].
1 Sacks returned for final part of letters (5)
SERIF: FIRES (sacks) backwards (returned). Very clever definition, I thought.
4 Weaving carpet and matting would surely defeat me (3-6)
TAP-DANCER: (CARPET AND*). And another clever definition – the whole clue describes a problem that might stump a tap-dancer.
9 Peace created by fog and frost by a river (9)
ARMISTICE: A / R (river) / MIST (fog) / ICE (frost).
10 This trailer is a water container (5)
GOURD: double definition, I assume, although I don’t know whether gourds necessarily grow on (trailing) vines. Some do, clearly.
11 Just know Eskimos will have little time inside (6)
INTUIT: T (time) inside INUIT. Another nice definition.
12 Way for London to lose its attraction and shopping centre (4,4)
PALL MALL: PALL (lose its attraction) / MALL (shopping centre).
14 Round campanula flower turned back in present flowering plant (9)
HELLEBORE: O (round) + BELL (campanula flower) all “turned back”, inside HERE (present). An open book clue as far as I’m concerned, since I didn’t know either the answer or the flower in the wordplay.
16 Bluff chap (5)
CLIFF: double definition.
17 Will possibly sounds like a small child (5)
MIGHT: sounds like “MITE”. I had to look carefully to identify the definition, since it’s so natural to assume “possibly” is a wordplay element.
19 Girl group with European dance number (9)
SARABANDE: SARA is the girl, BAND is the group, E is the European. I didn’t know the dance.
21 Large wild agaves adjacent to sierra resort (3,5)
LAS VEGAS: L (large) / (AGAVES*) / S (sierra, in the phonetic alphabet).
22 Man and woman creating fine woollen cloth (6)
VICUNA: VIC is the man, UNA the woman.
25 Way to change one’s view when queen enters (5)
TRACK: to change TACK after R (queen) enters.
26 Prickly, good for temperature, as most desert crops are (9)
IRRIGABLE: IRRITABLE (prickly) with T (temperature) changed to G (good).
27 Some rowing about agreement with king’s order to forces (4,5)
EYES RIGHT: the rowers are an EIGHT. Insert YES (agreement) and R (king).
28 Fail with a Japanese poem (5)
TANKA: TANK (fail) / A. Another that would be obvious if you knew this form of Japanese poetry.
1 Dish for a European spread is in character, mostly (7,8)
SPANISH OMELETTE: SPAN (spread) / IS / HOME (in) / LETTE[r] (character).
2 Right to give out pardon (5)
REMIT: R (right) / EMIT (give out).
3 What’s established during a number of Christmases? (7)
FESTIVE: EST inside FIVE.
4 Weak object loses its end (4)
5 Small flat pastry with fruit? Sin coming up! (4-1-5)
PIED-À-TERRE: PIE (pastry) / DATE (fruit) / ERR (sin) backwards.
6 Strangely genial Conservative is exceptionally kind (7)
ANGELIC: (GENIAL*) / C (Conservative).
7 Reason for action about America? No, it’s over (9)
CAUSATION: CA (about) / USA (America) / NO IT backwards (is over).
8 Film a red car for novel adaptation outside suspect café in Oxford location (9,6)
RADCLIFFE CAMERA: (FILM A RED CAR*) outside (CAFÉ*). Again, one anagram inside another – amounting in the end to one big anagram. I didn’t know of this building, but got it from the anagram.
13 Prophet’s hurrying to give an example of joint endeavour (3,7)
JOB SHARING: JOB’S / HARING.
15 Member misses deadline to vote through law (9)
LEGISLATE: LEG (member) / IS LATE.
18 Challenged traveller in space series killing star king and queen (7)
TREKKER: STAR TREK is the space series. Kill the STAR, and add K (king) and ER (queen).
20 Girl is cross over ending of benefit (7)
BRIDGET: BRIDGE (cross over) / [benefit]T.
23 Merged group of four banks in the City (5)
URBAN: hidden answer.
24 Run in Oscar Wilde, perhaps for a court order (4)
WRIT: R for run inside WIT.