Quick Cryptic 538 by Mara

Hello there!

My name's RolyToly and I'll be filling in for Olivia for a bit, doing alternate Thursdays. As you might guess from the messed up format, this is my first attempt at blogging an answer. I'm afraid there is also a bit of a clarity deficit from what you are used to - I will aim for (if I can't promise) something more systematic, less long-winded and easier on the eye next time round.

As for today's crossword, I found it both very enjoyable and a return - after a couple of harder days - to a more average difficulty level. Slightly easier than average, I'd say. Given that it's my first proper dissection of a crossword, it's hard to be objective, but I thought there were quite a few really nice clues today. Aside from the four (or five) double definitions, which I always like, there were some lovely surface readings, such as the underwear pun in 12A, but COD to the plausible and succinct 1D. I hadn't heard of the native American - it thankfully wasn't the most obscure clueing, but that didn't stop me carelessly reading the clue and typing 'Aparaho' into wiki. Very close, and still no cigar - I'd say Wikipedia needs to improve its search function, but there's always google for that. And it's good for me, because, in my rather lax little rule book, I don't consider finding out that the Aparaho don't exist is a full resort to aids, whereas finding out the answer just by being vaguely close to it would be. Anyway, here we go. Definitions are underlined where applicable, and many thanks to Mara.

1 COURSE - channel: homophone of rough (by the sound of it).
4 EARWIG - double definition. The OED tells me the verb derives from the insect, and originally meant to secretly influence someone by whispering in their ear, with the sense of eavesdropping coming a bit later. As for the insect, it's an old and widespread myth that they slither into people's ears - not hard to see why though, they look exactly like that's the type of thing they'd get up to.
8 PETROL STATION - where to fill up: anagram (broken) of 'plate or not it's.'
10 ENTRY - admission: sentry is the guard, scrap the first letter.
11 REACTOR - nuclear device: rector is the parish official, and it welcomes the letter 'a'.
12 RED-HOT-POKER - bloomer (flower): 'sexy' is 'red-hot', and poker is the game. Either that or it's a double definition, and there's some fevered variant of strip poker out there called red-hot.
16 EPITAPH - final words: a pit is a mine, and it goes in an anagram (jumbled) of 'heap'.
17 NYLON - material: ultimate [letter] in fashion is 'n', add an anagram (tailored) of 'only'. [And nylon is not, of course, a combo of NY and London.]
18 THUNDERSHOWER - stormy weather: and another anagram (to get changed) of 'there rush down'.
19 CHERRY - a shade of red: howl equals cry, and cry hugs 'her'.
20 HURRAY - word of joy: rush equals hurry, and hurry embraces the letter 'a'. I was a lot longer staring at ?U?R?Y than I should have been.

1 COPPER - a very nice, succinct double definition, with both bobbies and peelers named after Robert Peel.
2 UP-TO-THE-MINUTE - very new: 'happy' is 'up', 'infant' is 'tot', 'male' is 'he', and 'baby' is 'minute'. I suppose at a push it could be 'baby, very' for 'minute', leaving the definition simply as 'new'. The general rule of cryptics is that each word can only do one job, so take your pick which one is more requiring of the word 'very'.
3 STORY - fib: first [letter] of several, with TORY. I briefly wondered if Robert Peel had cropped up twice, and there was a variant spelling of 'spiel', but there isn't.
5 ARAPAHO - native American: 'a paratrooper briefly put up' is APARA going up the way, followed by 'ho.' - an abbreviation for house.
6 WHISTLE-BLOWER - another double definition.
7 GANTRY - supportive framework: 'failing in the end' gives the letter 'g', an attempt is AN TRY. 'To provide' provides a very nice link between clue and definition that makes for a good surface reading.
9 STRETCHER - and another nice double definition, which I needed a few checkers before getting.
13 HOARDER - 'not for him!' is the &lit definition: 'more dificult' is 'harder', which goes around 'o' ('to keep objects, primarily'), and if you're a hoarder, you do not find it difficult to keep objects. Of course, it depends how good a hoarder you happen to be - assuming proficiency and limited space, it's going to become more difficult at some point.
14 SEPTIC - bad: Sept is the month, i is i, and C is 'confess, initially.'
15 GNARLY - knotted: anagram (terribly) of 'angry', going around L(abour) leader. You don't tend to start off an anagram hunt with 'gn...' words.
17 NEHRU - Ex-Indian premier: anagram (off) of 'he run'.