Rookie Corner 018 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 018

A Puzzle by Gepetto

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Gepetto warned me that this puzzle had a few obscure answers – he wasn’t wrong.  There’s also plenty for our resident expert to put in his review!  As usual, the setter will be delighted to receive feedback from you, the solvers. I do ask that you remember that for most setters this is a new experience, so please only offer constructive criticism.

[I have amended the clue for 8 down to include “European” instead of “cold”, as this is unquestionably incorrect, but I haven’t addressed the issue of the reversal only applying to one part of the wordplay (see Prolixic’s comments below).  BD]

A review of this puzzle by Prolixic follows.

Gepetto returns!  After his last crossword (Rookie 11), he commented: “Now that I know there’s a good, intelligent audience out there, I can have a little fun raising the bar higher.”  He may have succeeded with the difficultly level but I think that the quality of many of the clues and the enjoyment suffered in the process.  This felt like a much earlier crossword in terms of development of cluing than the previous crossword.


1 Apply for promotion to modern-day 18 (10)
ADMINISTER – A two letter word for a promotion followed by the modern equivalent of the answer to 18D in the sense of a priest or pardoner rather than a Roman official.  The structure of this clue does not work.  If you are using “for” as a link word, it should be “Wordplay for definition” not “Definition for wordplay”.

6 European bird loses most of an eye (4)
TURK – Remove the EY (most of an eye) from a bird eaten at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Given that Turkey straddles the divide between Europe and Asia, perhaps Eurasian may have been a fairer definition.

10 Investigation surrounds cheat’s 3,26 once? (7)
CASCADE – Another word for a police or social work investigation (four letters) goes around (surrounds) another word for someone who cheats in love or behaves dishonourably.  I am not sure what “once” adds here.  The answer is a synonym for a waterfall (the answer to 3, 26) so it seems redundant in the clue unless the theory is that the falls began as a small waterfall and have become bigger over time.

11 Heavy load signals last drinks? (7)
BARBELL – Another word for weights used by weightlifters (given as (3,4) in Chambers) could also indicate what is rung to indicate last orders in the pub.

12 American city like a country in Africa (9)
NYASALAND – The abbreviation for the New York followed by a two letter word meaning like, the A from the clue and another word for country.  One of my dislikes, though not wrong per se, is the use of prepositional definitions such as “in Africa” to indicate a country in Africa.

13 Love to fly but in debt! (5)
OWING – The letter representing a nil score (love) followed by another word meaning to fly.  I don’t think that “wordplay” but “definition” works

14 Fellow takes direction that is not so costly (7)
CHEAPIE – The abbreviation for east goes inside a four letter word for a fellow or man and this is followed by the abbreviation for that is (id est in Latin).

15 Flowering plant‘s right inside Gepetto’s agency (6)
MYRCIA – the abbreviation for right goes inside a two letter word indicating the setter’s and an American intelligence agency.  This plant is not given in Chambers but it is a well known species of plant details of which can be found on-line.

19 A bit of a boor as called by a scamp (6)
RASCAL – The answer is hidden inside (a bit of) BOOR AS CALLED.  Again, I don’t think that wordplay “by” definition works well.  Definition [given] by wordplay works much better.

21 Country cousin born to replace head of vegetable (7)
BUMPKIN – The abbreviation for born replaces the first letter of a “vegetable” associated with Halloween lanterns.  Technically, the pumpkin is a fruit not a vegetable.  The surface reading of this clue is not the best in the world.

25 Capital in so far a disturbance – not recommended to leave! (5)
SOFIA – Remove NR (not recommended) from IN SO FAR A and make an anagram (disturbance) of the remaining letters.  NR is not an abbreviation for “not recommended” that is given in Chambers.  It is customary for setters to use only recognised abbreviations!

27 TV dinner served to eager traveller, perhaps (9)
PREPACKER – A reference to the supposition that an eager traveller may get his or her luggage ready well ahead of time.  I am assuming that the answer is an Australian slang word for a TV dinner?  It is not a word in Chambers or the other main dictionaries that I can find.  I suspect this is too obscure to be fair game for a crossword.

28 Returned german spirit with everything but its tail – now a lackwit! (7)
DULLARD – Reverse DRUDE (a German spirit found after much trawling of the Internet) with a word meaning everything inside after moving the final letter of the spirit.  Drude is a highly obscure word for a German spirit and is potentially unfair on solvers.  Also the wordplay does not work as A with B is a charade indicate indicating A + B not B inside A.  A minor point but German should have been capitalised.

29 Article round the East managed capital here (7)
TEHERAN – The definite article goes around the abbreviation for East and is followed by a word meaning managed.  E for East has already been used once in 14A.  It is good practice to try to avoid repeating abbreviations.  The “here” would appear to be superfluous and appears to have been added to improve the surface reading giving an allusion to an eastern capital.  Even then, this is another clue where the surface reading is not the greatest.

30 Oven is comfortably warm without covers (4)
OAST – The inner letters (without covers) of TOASTY (comfortably warm).

31 Look back at old spectre made hazy with time (10)
RETROSPECT – An anagram (made hazy) of O[ld] SPECTRE followed by the abbreviation for time.  As StanXYZ pointed out the anagram material here leaves us with an R short that cannot be accounted for in the clue.


1 Bow before European’s unopened secret (6)
ARCANE – Another word for a bow or curve followed by the generic term for someone from Denmark (European) without the initial letter (unopened).

2 That growth ought to hurt some! (9)
MUSTACHES – A four letter word meaning ought to followed a word meaning hurt some.  As the answer is the Americanised spelling of the word, this should have been indicated.  The “that” would appear to be superfluous.

3/26 Rainfall saga resulted in this? (7,5)
NIAGARA FALLS – An anagram (resulted in) of RAINFALL SAGA.  I am not convinced that “this” is strong enough to indicate a waterfall even given the “rainfall saga” as a story about water would not lead directly to a waterfall.

4 Nearly get wind of a river setting (8)
SCENARIO – A five letter word meaning get wind of or a smell with the final letter removed (nearly) followed by the A from the clue and the name of a river.  There are two possible main rivers, the Rio Grande or the Rio Tinto.  Referring to a river by only half of its name is unfair on the solver.  If Rio is being used as the foreign word for a river, this should have been indicated.

5 Include measure of a young man with his original design (6)
EMBODY – I think that this is a two letter word for a printer’s measure followed by a word for a young man including the first letter (original) of design.  However, I am open to better suggestions as I cannot then make sense of “of a” in the clue which appear to be redundant and there is no inclusion indicator unless “include” is doing double duty as a definition and a wordplay indicator and the whole clue is an &lit which seems a little bit of a stretch.

7 Women conceive here to take vehicle to Rhode Island (5)
UTERI – A three letter word for a utility vehicle (of Australian origin) followed by the abbreviation for Rhode Island.  Again the surface reading is not the greatest and the point of conception is probably in the Fallopian tubes in any event!

8 Woman raised akin to (but not with) cold mass (8)
Revised clue: Woman raised akin to (but not with) European mass (8
KILOGRAM – I know that the definition is “mass” but after that …. your guess is as good as mine.  It transpires that the reference to cold should have been a reference to European which makes a lot more sense!  The answer is a reversal of Margo Like with the E for European removed.  If you are using a reversal indicator, A reversed B does not mean the same as A + B reversed.  Applying the setters instructions in the clue would give you the answer OGRAMLIK or MARGOKIL depending on which element of the wordplay that you apply the reversal indicator to!

9 Nothing can replace polyamorous Roy G. Biv in a fight, or so say the Rainbow Tribes (6)

GROOVY – … a word that might be said by hippies (Rainbow Tribes).  An anagram (in a fight) of ROY G BIV with the BI (polyamorous) replaced by an O (nothing).  Polyamorous means having more than one love, not bisexual.  Rainbow Tribes is not a mainstream word for hippies.  The Roy G Biv is an allusion to the colours of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).

16 Small marsupial tends to carry 21 east not south! (9)
CHICKAREE – A word meaning tends or nurses with the final S changed to an E (east not south) goes around another word for a bumpkin.  Further evidence of our setter’s Australian roots?  The main entry for Chickaree in Chambers is for an American squirrel rather than a marsupial.  Is there an Australian equivalent marsupial?

17 Before man lands on the moon, make settlement in Spain (8)
PRESIDIO – A three letter prefix meaning before followed by the diminutive form of Sidney (man) goes on top of (lands on) one of the moons of Jupiter.

18 Roman official being established an alternative (8)
QUAESTOR – An ancient Roman magistrate.  A three letter word meaning being (the Latin means “in the capacity of” so I am not sure that this is a direct synonym) followed by the abbreviation for established and a word expressing an alternative.

20 Manifestation of a woman sailor (6)
AVATAR – A three letter woman’s name followed by a three letter word for a sailor.

22 Evangelists surrender rights to these beauties! (7)
PEACHES – Another word for evangelists has both the Rs (rights) removed.  R for right has already been used in 15A so different wordplay should ideally have been used here.

23 Each father raised to carry papers for bees (6)
APIDAE – The abbreviation for each and a two letter word for father are reversed (raised) and another word for papers (used to indentify someone) is included.

24 Even-scoring Etta – the little tickler! (6)
CRINET – This appears as though it should be the even letters of sCoRINg EtTa but it isn’t.  The answer is not given in Chambers.  Merriam Webster defines it as “articulated armour protecting the upper surface of the neck of a medieval war horse” which seems somewhat removed from a little tickler.  A 1913 edition of Webster gives it as a very fine hair-like feather.  The answer is highly obscure.

26 See 3


In the post-match comments, StanXYZ asked if Gepetto abided by the “Telegraph Rules”.  The simple answer is that as he is not a Telegraph setter, we would not expect Gepetto to abide by “Telegraph Rules”.  As any rules that Phil McNeill has for setters in the paper are known only to him and the setters, “Telegraph Rules” is a vague concept in any event.  However, the question is deserving of a better reply than that.

There are two separate categories of rules that you can consider.

The first is “house style” rules.  These are rules that the editor of a crossword will ensure that setters follow for crosswords that they set for the paper.  Different papers will have different “house styles”.  For example, the Times has a policy of not having living people (other than the Queen) as the answer to a clue and has a narrow range of permitted abbreviations that can be used in clues.  The editor of the Independent does not like “stuttering clues” of the form d-dog… and will not allow complex subtractive anagrams as clues in the general crossword, etc.  Different papers will have different house styles.  These may cover other issues such as the number of anagram type clues and how many hidden word answers there can be.  Although I believe that the Telegraph used to have a detailed set of “house-style” rules, I don’t think that there is anything as formal in place as there used to be.

The second category of rules is much more complex and open to interpretation/debate/dispute/open warfare between setters, solvers and editors.  This category is the rules relating to how a cryptic clue should be constructed.

The starting point (that everyone agrees on – I hope) is that a cryptic clue must give the solver a fair chance of solving the clue.  The clue can mislead but it must do so in a fair way.  The oft repeated aphorism for the setter is “You need not say what you mean but you must mean exactly what you say”.

Fairness extends to using only words and abbreviations that are recognised in major dictionaries.  Chambers is the main one used by setters.  If a word is used that is not Chambers, then it is often the case that the setter will indicate this in the preamble to the crossword though this tends to be the case more in barred crosswords where there are no black squares.  Correspondingly, if there is a word that is Chambers but which is an unusual word, then the wordplay will usually be simpler so that the solver has a better chance of discovering the answer from the wordplay and be able to check that they have reached the right answer.  Fairness also requires that if you use synonyms, they are used in such a way that the two words could be exchanged in a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence and if you are using one word as a definition by example, then this is indicated.

After this, the waters start to get muddier.  The purist approach is that the clue must be capable of being broken down into a grammatically correct series of instructions to the solver that will lead them to the solution.  This purist approach is termed “Ximean” after Ximenes, the pseudonym for Derrick Somerset Macnutt, who was one of the first people to lay down standards for creating good crosswords.  Ximean cluing requires things such as:

  • Appropriate indicators for all clue types
  • No indirect anagrams
  • No misleading connectors or punctuation
  • Unambiguous, unique answer to every clue

Other setters will take a more “Libertarian” approach.  The biggest different between Ximean and Libertarian approaches comes when considering whether or not an indicator is appropriate for a clue type.  Perhaps some examples will illustrate this:

  • If you want to indicate that the solver needs to take the first letter of a word, you could say “head of maths”.   Ximeans would be happy with this. A more libertarian approach would be to use “Maidenhead”.       Gramatically, the Ximean would say that this does not tell you to take the first letter of maiden but the Libertarian would say that it is clear and therefore fair. Ximeans will tend not use “lead or leading” as an initial word indicator as grammatically this does not tell you to take the first letter;
  • Anagram indicators. Is “Organisation” a valid anagram indicator? The Ximean would say that “Organisation” is a noun and therefore is incapable of indicating an anagram which requires some sense of action – though they might allow “Organisation of X”.       The Libertarian would allow organisation as an anagram indicator.
  • Lift and separate clues. A Ximean would choke on his or her cornflakes if presented with a clue that contained the word “indeed” as an indicator that they would need to put another word inside the word “deed”. A recent example of this that generated a lot of debate was a crossword in the Guardian where part of the clue was “hasten round” as an instruction to the solver to put “I O” around another word “has ten (10) around”.

These are a few examples.  The two forms of cluing are not distinct and you should think of this more as a wide spectrum where different setters will be found at different points on the spectrum.

Of course, different crossword editors will have different views and so the difference between Ximean and Libertarian cluing (and points in between) will form part of the “house style” of individual papers.  The Times, Telegraph back page crossword and Independent crossword will usually be more Ximean; the Financial Times sits somewhere in the middle (depending on the setter) whilst the Guardian is firmly in the Libertarian camp – though Ximean setters do set crosswords for the Guardian.

Setters providing crosswords for the Not The Saturday Prize Puzzle, Monthly Prize Puzzles and Rookie Corner on Big Dave’s site are not expected to follow a set house style or adopt formal Ximean or Libertarian rules.  For example, I will tend to be more (though not strictly) Ximean when setting crossword for Big Dave whilst Radler may be more Libertarian.

When reviewing the Rookie Corner crosswords, I try to indicate where something is unfair and, if something falls within the spectrum of Ximean / Libertarian cluing try to indicate that a particular clue may not find favour with some editors.

With all thumbnail sketches, I have probably insulted everyone and grossly misrepresented different views – for which apologies!

21 comments on “Rookie Corner 018

  1. Sorry. We found this one just too abstruse and abandoned it with almost half the puzzle still blank. Maybe we will have another attempt tomorrow.

    1. Totally agree – too clever by half & will only be solved by the hard core troops among us IMO. Feel sorry for the poor beggar doing the review.

    1. You’re using a different email address so your comment needed moderation. Both should now work.

  2. Does Gepetto abide by the Telegraph Rules?

    Both 24d & 15a do not appear in my version of Chambers. (12th Edition)

    Also some quibbles about the anagrams in 25a & 31a – I presume they are anagrams?

    Once again looking forward to the review from our resident expert to resolve all these issues.

    1. As the setters are not “Telegraph” setters we do not expect them to abide by the “Telegraph Rules”, if indeed there is such a thing! I will add a note about the “rules” of setting crosswords when I add the review.

      As your post appeared twice, I have deleted one of them!

      1. I noticed that my post appeared twice … but the “Delete” option was NOT available … I wonder why?

      2. … but being like a dog with a bone … 31a where is the second “R” to make the anagram complete?

        1. Well spotted. I have amended the review.

          Be very careful, you may end up doing the reviews yourself if you keep spotting these points

  3. Compared to last week’s Rookie Corner, number 017 (which incidentally was my first attempt in Rookie Corner) and one I enjoyed very much, this one was far to deep for me. I had to take a peep at four answers just to try and make a start. One of the solutions was so far over my head that I still can’t understand it. This puzzle left me feeling totally confused and I gave up trying altogether. Sorry Gepetto, but zero for enjoyment on this occasion.

  4. I was able to complete only a few answers. My track record is usually better than that for the rookie corner. My enjoyment level (and that’s as important as satisfaction in completing the grid for me) was consequently very low, I’m afraid. Even for toughies, I feel that the aim should be to entertain as well as stretch the mind, but give the solver a fighting chance. I will be interested in the review and analysis.

  5. Just popped in to see if this was another one that was “just me”. I’m glad to find that it isn’t.
    I really, really really tried – I really, really really couldn’t do it.
    I did manage to get five answers but just couldn’t get any further at all.
    Now I feel sorry for Gepetto – he, or she, has put an awful lot of work into this crossword and hasn’t received any positive feedback.
    Gepetto – I don’t remember your previous Rookie Corner crossword but neither do I remember having such trouble with another in this series so I assume that the last one wasn’t quite as tricky – thank you anyway but this was far too difficult for me.

  6. Indeed, my last one was a lot easier. I’m also using pre-established grids which often restricts my choice of what words i want to use, so a few obscure words appear. I’m still new to all of this and enjoy the mental acrobatics involved, as i’m sure we all do. I live in Australia and there are virtually NO good cryptics here, totally unchallenging and pedestrian. Those which do offer some involved thought are trolled from “The Independent” and “The Times” and then I discovered those of “The Guardian” from which I taught myself most of the rules. I enjoy the humour and wit exhibited by many of their compilers; “The Times” i find to dry and so less enjoyable.

    From your comments so far, I can see that enjoyability is big on everyone’s list of requirements, which makes sense. I pushed the clever aspect in this one because my last seemed too much like an amateur’s walk-in-the-park. :) I will endeavour to be more ‘fun’ and less ‘clever’ in the future.

    O, and there was a mistake in 8 down. You need to disregard the word ‘cold’ in the clue for something ‘European’ or ‘English’. Sorry, this was perhaps too much of a rush job on my part.

    1. ‘I will endeavour to be more ‘fun’ and less ‘clever’ in the future.’ – if that is the case then I look forward to trying to solve your next submission. Keep persavating as one amongst us would say.

  7. Australia? I had you pegged for an American resident. No good cryptics here, either. Appreciate your input.

  8. Many thanks to Prolixic for his masterful dissection, and especially for his attempt to explain the “rules” that everyone expects to be followed but no-one can tell you precisely what they are.

    1. Indeed! Prolixic has managed to encapsulate in a few paragraphs what other writers would have published a book about. Maybe he is missing a trick…

  9. I appreciate all the effort you put into this puzzle, Gepetto. I was looking forward to doing this crossword as I liked your earlier one.

    Having looked at this one several times, however, I felt it wasn’t worth struggling with it. I’m afraid that you raised the bar too high for me.

    I look forward to further of your puzzles in the hope they will contain more fun and less esotericism.

    On the beneficial side though, we have a brilliant review plus explanation of the ‘rules’ from Prolixic. Agree with Spindrift. A Rookie Corner manual … Prolixic’s explanations are always lucid and succinct.

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