Gong by Kea

This week sees another brilliant puzzle from Kea, reinforcing Kea's reputation as the master of grid construction. Although the idea may not be original, it is handled superbly and the result is one of Gregson's favourite puzzles of the year.

Gregson solved PADEREWSKI and some of the early athwart clues fairly quickly, wrote those confidently into the diagram and then discovered something horribly wrong on solving MULTIVARIATE and PHALLOCRATIC. Luckily the method of entry was soon spotted, although Gregson actually found this by considering the date and for a long time was convinced that a Catherine Wheel would appear - probably Kea or the editors having a quiet laugh at our expense!

Having solved the clues, the next problem is to determine the correct orientation of the grid from the eight possibilities. This is given by some of the clues where the wordplay defines the orientation of the answer. For example, the wordplay for SNELLY gives the hidden letter sequence YLLENS as being entered south then west. Gregson wonders whether the puzzle would have benefited from following this idea through consistently in all the clues, rather than just some - maybe not, but an interesting speculation.

The final unclued abbreviation to be entered in the centre of the grid is VC, which completes the four hidden thematic items VIBRIO, COCHLEA, CHALAZA and CARACOL, all connected with spirals. CHALAZA also resolves the ambiguous S/Z in MERCERIZER - a trap for the unwary. The title GONG is a lovely pun with two definitions hinting at spirals and medals. It is probably coincidental, but 2006 is also the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Victoria Cross

Clues where wordplay is used to determine the correct orientation of the grid are marked with an asterisk.

ALONG
He led Poland home before weak runner (10)
PADEREWSKI (PAD (home) + ERE (before) + W (weak) + SKI (runner))
Depending on many things, admitting a trivial wrong is dumb (12)
MULTIVARIATE (MUTE (dumb) round anag of A TRIVIAL)
Sexist rot I call chap's dodging (12)
PHALLOCRATIC (anag of ROT I CALL CHAP)
Set one last letter after twisted body of church converted to Christianity (11)
EVANGELIZED (NAVE (body of church) rev + GEL (set) + I (one) + ZED (last letter))
Strange dialect alienating outsiders around Aleppo, ultimately?
AEOLIC (anag of DIALECT minus first and last letters round O (last letter of Aleppo))
Lets go of East End dwelling lacking grace (10)
UNHANDSOME (UNHANDS (lets go of) + OME (Cockney home, East End dwelling))
Cloth worker dropping reservation after paid soldier returned anger (10)
MERCERIZER (MERC (paid soldier) + IRE (anger) rev + REZ (reservation) rev) *
I cursed at Mum, found like an adolescent (10)
IMMATURELY (I + anag of AT MUM + RELY (found))
Narcotic overdose involving traces of pituri in one's intestines (6)
OPIOID (OD (overdose) round PIOI (first letters))
Old Peruvian cut through intagliated parts (6)
INCAVI (INCA (old Peruvian) + VIA (through) minus last letter))
Indicate spread with a pair of rays (8)
DIACTINE (anag of INDICATE)
Island bracken marks clockwise-coiling ferns (8)
MARATTIA (AIT (island) + TARA (bracken) + M (marks) all rev) *
Pill taken before surgery, where it happens? (8, two words)
TABLE TOP (TABLET (pill) + OP (surgery))
Not quite an apt chef's garment (5)
APRON (A PRONE (an apt) minus last letter)
Prehistoric forts one left up for ancient goddess (6)
ISHTAR (RATHS (prehistoric forts) + I (one) rev) *
Some eddy'll ensure south and west Highland storm blows this way (6)
SNELLY (hidden rev) *
Head off enthusiasm preceding an old prophet (6)
ELISHA (RELISH (enthusiasm) minus first letter) + A)
Who wallows in heat's burn? (9)
SUNBATHER (anag of HEATS BURN &lit)
Alienate literary women's work, disheartened with shock treatment (9)
DISAFFECT (DISTAFF (literary women's work) minus middle letter + ECT (shock treatment))
Nut and oat chips I cooked (9)
PISTACHIO (anag of OAT CHIPS I)

ATHWART
1,9 Charity one withheld from western Indian city
ALMS (SIMLA (Indian city) minus I (one) rev) *
2 Director involved with racket
DIN (D (director) + IN (involved with))
3 In Italy here is a setback for football's insiders
ECCO (SOCCER (football) minus first and last letters rev) *
4 Sampler from Peru, a national costume there?
RUANA (hidden)
5 Expiry in Scots law for what's a local silence
WHISHT (WHAT with A replaced by ISH (expiry in Scots law))
6 Dashed off short letter to Hebrews
SADHE (anag of DASHED minus last letter)
7 Fuse blown at last in machinery
KNIT (KIT (machinery) round N (last letter of blown))
8 Independent banner possibly backing Labour woman?
IDA (I (independent) + AD (banner) rev) * See Chambers appendix for definition
10,17 Louvre architect ignoring European native militant group
IMPI (I M PEI (architect of the Louvre) minus E (European))
11 Check falling box full of earth
VET (TV (box) round E (earth) rev) *
12 Is yours truly king or prince?
AMIR (AM I (is yours truly?) + R (king))
13 Not warlike but fierce on pitch, dismissing those not even in position
IRENIC (odd letters of fierce on pitch)
14 Top points, millions, garnered by high cards
ACMES (ACES (high cards) round M (millions))
15 Robbers avoiding overhang duck
TEAL (TEA LEAVES (robbers) minus EAVES (overhang))
16 Unusual to go down when cleared of a blunder
ERR (RARE (unusual) minus A rev) *
18,25 Look of a heartless whoremonger?
LEER (LECHER (whoremonger) minus middle two letters)
19 Food not eaten locally, seen to be in poor taste
ORT (hidden)
20 Attraction within county's borders?
CITY (CY (first and last letters of county) round IT (attraction))
21 Mediterranean resort supposing that Buddhist priest goes east
AMALFI (IF (supposing that) + LAMA (Buddhist priest) all rev) *
22 Scotch eat it
TATIE (anag of EAT IT &lit) Although Chambers gives tattie as Scots but not tatie
23 Fists regularly cut, like palms
ITAS (IT (even letters of fists) + AS (like))
24 Insolent youth lively one once clipped to the right
CUB (BUCK (lively youth) minus last letter rev) *
26,32 Good boy is gratified …
GLAD (G (good) + LAD (boy))
27 … after which this entrance of mine is 18 25
EYE (GLAD EYE = LEER)
28 Brass pot that auctioneer sells first?
LOTA (LOT A (ie first lot to be sold))
29 Incomplete cigarette lighter found around heart of brush fire (two words)
ZIP UP (ZIPPO (cigarette lighter) round U (middle letter of brush))
30 Dawn's on parole, regularly sent up
EOAN (alternate letters of ON PAROLE rev) *
31 Wire coat
DIP (double def)