Chars by Pieman

Pieman offers us an excellent puzzle this week - as you would expect from Pieman who nevers seems to produce anything else. The puzzle features a superb piece of grid construction and some extremely tough but fair clues. Gregson was particularly taken with the number of & lit clues, probably the hardest for a setter to write.

The theme is to do with benevolent creatures who help secretly with the housework. Mind you, Gregson's experience of chars is that they are rarely benevolent and never help secretly!

The first two chars are to be found in the answers to two clues lacking a definition - 10A KOBOLD and 17D DOBBIE. The third char appears in the misprints in across clues - BROWNIE. The fourth char is found in the misprints in down answers taken in column order - LUBBER FIEND. What the lubber fiend requires as payment is found in the correct versions of the down misprints - BOWL OF CREAM; verification of this appears in the Chambers entry for Lob-lie-by-the-fire, an alternative name for a lubber fiend. The ninth letter of lubber fiend is the same as the ninth letter of bowl of cream, and so the E in 7D DORSE is misprinted by itself. Taking every ninth letter in the grid, reading left to right and top to bottom, spells out DOMESTIC TASKS, to be highlighted in the finished grid.

In the following explanations the corrections for misprints in across clues are shown in [square brackets], as are the misprints to be made when entering down answers.

ACROSS

1 O[b]ut and about to punish (7)
ALGATES (ALS (and) round GATE (punish))
6 She's a delight even if one on state income returns (4)
EDNA (AND (even if) + E (one on state income) all rev) See Chambers appendix for definition
9 Liberal country restricts right to surf without registering? (4)
LURK (L (Liberal) + UK (country) round R (right)) A wonderful definition of lurk which was new to Gregson - memo to self, must stop lurking!
10 Price in ancient Greece, perhaps, knocked down at the margins (6)
KOBOLD (KD (knocked down) round OBOL (Greek money))
11 Corrupt politician's excuse for not voting? (8)
IMPAIRED (I'M PAIRED - ref to pairing procedure in parliament)
13 One's dim-witted about what he probably says! (5)
TWERP (TWP (dim-witted) round ER (expression of hesitation) &lit) Superb clue which had Gregson laughing out loud
15 Old fool's wife leaving the location - ha-ha? (7, two words)
SO THERE (SOT (old fool) + WHERE (the location) minus W (wife))
16 Fail[r] to be effective once energy's at an end (4)
FETE (FET (to be effective, see fetch) + E (energy))
18 Head of sultanate usurping knight's power (7)
SALADIN (PALADIN (knight) with P (power) replaced by S (first letter of sultanate) &lit) Another excellent &lit
21 In pampas, this isolated tree's hollow, lacking cocaine for everyone (4)
OMBU (COMB (hollow) minus C (cocaine) + U (for everyone))
23 It may sa[o]lve one's conscience initially in aged opening (7)
ACETONE (AET (aged) round C (first letter of conscience) + ONE)
26 Tor[w]n out of back of magazine (5)
FROME (FROM (out of) + E (last letter of magazine))
28 Break for training head of department, yes! (8, two words)
BAKER DAY (anag of BREAK + D (first letter of department) + AY (yes) &lit)
29 Biased about daughter's league g[n]ame (6)
ISABEL (anag of BIASED with D (daughter) replaced by L (league))
30 Wa[i]shed, stripped and lost (4)
AKED (NAKED (stripped) minus N (and))
31 Who played for old ma[e]n river around Nova Scotia (4)
ENSA (EA (river) round NS (Nova Scotia))
32 Maverick as rose at net originally out of Romania (7)
NASTASE (anag of AS ROSE AT N (first letter of net) minus RO (Romania) &lit ref to the tennis player Ilie Nastase) Magnificent and utterly apt

DOWN
1 What candle-holder does cryptically completes atom?
AB[L]ET (second half of ALPHABET - A to M is the first half) Very difficult to unravel but Pieman acknowledges its non-Ximenean nature with the query
2 Local management of schools holds argument with man over these at the end of the line? (8)
LO[U]BWORMS (LMS (local management of schools) round ROW (argument) + BO (man) rev)
3 Tears shed initially, following favour? Not necessarily (6)
GREETS (GREE (favour) + TS (first letters of tears shed) &lit)
4 Bait short of movement (5)
TEMPO[E] (TEMPT (bait) minus last letter) + O (of))
5 Asked out entertaining old drunk (6)
SOAKED (anag of ASKED round O (old))
6 It flows in Europe where one feels great affinity because of residence? (4)
EBR[I]O (E (Europe) + BRO (where one feels…))
7 Illustrator has section in back of book (5)
DORSE[E] (DORE (illustrator - Gustave Doré) round S (section))
8 Seem out of sorts initially after increase in award once (6)
ADDEEM (ADD (increase) + SEEM minus S (first letter of sorts))
12 Beefy, perhaps, is presence in school (7)
POF[R]ACED (POD (school) round FACE (presence))
14 Jock cleans his socks in these lofts, doing duty for Kelvin's side (8)
STEA[N]MIES (SKIES (lofts) with K (Kelvin) replaced by TEAM (side))
17 Betray switch hitter, perhaps, on base (6)
DOBBIE (DOB (betray) + BI (switch hitter) + E (logarithmic base)) Very difficult to unravel without a definition but Gregson was full of admiration after getting it
19 She makes loan none the less without practice (6)
LAUREN (LOAN minus O (none) round URE (practice))
20 Tribe originally in corner to America? (6)
NOOTKA (NOOK (corner) round T (first letter of tribe) + A (America) &lit) And another superb &lit
22 After short course ask about canoes (5)
W[B]AKAS (WAY (course) minus last letter) + anag of ASK)
24 They have different forms depending on their environment in continental promotional campaign? (5)
EC[F]ADS (EC (continental) + ADS (promotional campaign))
25 Spiderman could make one raise an obstruction (4)
TEL[B]A (A + LET (obstruction) all rev)
27 Uncle has hugged loved French boy (4)
ESM[D]E (EME (uncle) round S (has))