Rookie Corner 021 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 021

A Puzzle by Axolotl

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Axolotl becomes the first to appear three times in Rookie Corner!  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.

If you have a puzzle you would like to see published here then why not write to me, using the contact page.

A review of this puzzle by Prolixic follows.

Axolotl has set a high standard following his previous two crosswords and he does himself credit again with his third.  A few points on the clues are the sort that would usually be picked up in the test solving process.  I thought that this was slightly easier than his second crossword.  Good attention has been paid to the surface readings of the clues and the cluing is fair and reasonable.  The only real point of concern is that a number of wordplay indicators were used more than once in the clues.  Best practice is to use a particular wordplay element only once is a crossword.


7 Big lorry followed by the French unit (7)
ARTICLE – A five letter word for a big lorry followed by the French masculine definite article.

9 Senseless Amin showed nervous reaction after nothing occurred (7)
IDIOTIC – The first name of the former Ugandan dictator followed by an O (nothing) and TIC (nervous reaction).  I think the occurred is simply a reference to the O appearing in the clue; “nothing appears” might have been slightly better.

11 Transporting coal, and running about area (5,5,5)
GRAND UNION CANAL – An anagram (transporting) of COAL AND RUNNING around an A (area).  The whole clue provides a definition of the canal.

12 Employ sound females? (4)
EWES – A homophone (sound) of USE.  As a general rule putting a homophone indicator between the definition and the wordplay leaves uncertainty for the solver, particularly when both have the same number of letters.  A similar point arises in respect of reversal indicators between the definition and wordplay.

14 Nick loses lead in crawl (4)
INCH – Remove the first letter (loses lead) from a word meaning to nick or steal something.

15 Nothing in bouquet for tying the knot (5)
NOOSE – Add an O (nothing) inside another word for bouquet (as in the scent of something such as wine).  As nothing for O has already been used in 9a, a different indicator should be used here.  Noose can be used as a verb as well as noun.

17 Sneak into workers’ lectures (7)
BERATES – A three letter meaning to sneak or betray goes inside one of the insect workers – these ones proverbially renowned for their knees!

19 Blows a gasket when 17 loses head and adds cold to mixture (7)
CREATES – Remove the first letter from the answer to 17a, add a C and make an anagram (mixture) of the remaining letters (actually just move one of them!).  As the crossword contains a 17d, conventionally, you would refer to 17a in the clue to make it clearer which of the answers provides the wordplay.  As mixture is a noun, some editors will not allow this as an anagram indicator.

21 Jersey possibly worn by performers for prickly crowd (5)
CACTI – The abbreviation for the islands of which Jersey forms a part goes around another word for a group of performers.

22 Business studies incomplete following company search (4)
COMB – The abbreviation for a company followed by MBA (business studies) with the final letter removed (incomplete).

23 Row about something to do with computers (4)
TIER – Reverse (about) RE IT (something to do with computers).

27 Reorganisation of useless UN force right for initiative (15)
RESOURCEFULNESS – An anagram (reorganisation of) USELESS UN FORCE R (right).

28 A rebel leader, spy chief linked to unknown school (7)
ACADEMY – The A from the clue followed by the surname of a 15th Century rebel leader followed by the cipher of Bond’s boss (spy chief) and one of the letters used in algebra to indicate an unknown variable.

29 Back later to hold retrospective Inland Revenue hearing? (7)
RETRIAL – Reverse (back) the LATER from the clue and include (to hold) a reversal (retrospective) of the abbreviation for Inland Revenue.


1 Might Cuban gleefully hold this up his sleeve? (6)
BANGLE – The answer is hidden (might … hold this) inside CUBAN GLEEFULLY

2 Way airmen start engagement? (6)
STRAFE – The abbreviation for street (way) followed by RAF (airmen) and an E (first letter- start- of engagement).  Strictly if start is used as a first letter indicator it should be start of X or X starts, not start X.

3 Ensigns surround French port showing no end of courage (8)
PENNANTS – Another word meaning surround or enclosed followed by NANTES (French port) without the E (showing no end of courage).

4 Scupper when truncheon heard laying about heads of incompetent burglars (6)
KIBOSH – A homophone of COSH (truncheon) around the first letter (heads of) Incompetent Burglars.

5 Excel and astound afresh with hit at last (5,3)
STAND OUT – An anagram (afresh) of ASTOUND followed by the final letter (at last) of hit.

6 Consolidated P & L account less used by forensic accountants? (8)
SCALPLES – An anagram (consolidated) of P L AC (account) LESS.

8 Hand over notes (4)
CEDE – The answer is four musical notes.

10 Experienced aromatherapy? Had opposite of calming effect (8)
INCENCED – A double definition, the first cryptic.

13 This shouted to stop trouble (3)
WOE – A homophone of WHOA.  I am not sure that this clue works entirely as the shouted seems to be doing double duty as in the wordplay as a homophone indicator and a definition of the word of which the homophone is made.

16 Position from height losing length but gaining time (8)
ATTITUDE – Remove the L (losing length) from altitude (height) and replace it with a T (gaining time).

17 Possibly cab, train or ship? (8)
BACTRIAN – … ship of the desert.  An anagram (possibly) of CAB TRAIN.

18 Might Delhi car whisk away its passengers? (8)
RICKSHAW – An anagram (Delhi belly meaning an upset stomach) of CAR WHISK.

19 Billy hung over at scene of afterdark revelries (8)
CAMPFIRE – A cryptic definition of where the Billy Can might be hung.

20 River crossing between two points (3)
EXE – The sign or symbol for a level crossing goes between two Es points.

22 Major, possibly, with two hundred unknowns he sat on (6)
COCCYX – The abbreviation for commanding officer followed by the roman numerals for two hundred and two unknown algebraic letters (again, this wordplay having been used previously, a different indicator should ideally be used here).  I am not convinced that the definition here is sufficient to define the answer.

24 When first of snows melts from Russian steppes one may find sunnier climes (6)
IBERIA – Remove (melts from) the S (first of) snows from SIBERIA (Russian steppes).

25 Philosopher sounds swish (6)
RUSTLE – A homophone (sounds) of RUSSELL (the philosopher Betrand).  Another instance where the homophone indicator is not ideally placed and the second use of sound / sounds as the homophone indicator.

26 Place where boor skips breakfast initially and starts tea instead (4)
SLOT – Remove the B (breakfast initially) from SLOB (boor) and replace it with a T (starts Tea).  Starts would indicate the starting letters of two words or the first two letters of one word.  Perhaps “skips breakfast initially before tea starts” would be better here. 

Construction of clues

A few more points on the construction of clues.

Surface readings

One of the terms often referred to in reviews is the “surface reading” of the clue.  This is simply a reference to how the clue reads as a sentence in its own right ignoring any wordplay and definition elements in the clue.  The smoother the surface reading, and the less like a crossword clue it reads, the better.

One of the key things is to ensure that the clue makes sense as a sentence in its own right.  A recent Rookie Corner crossword had this as a clue:

  • Country cousin born to replace head of vegetable (7)

As a series of instructions to create the answer, this works but as sentence in its own right, the surface reading does not make much sense.

Compare that with:

  • Sneak into workers’ lectures (7)

The surface reading tells a story in its own right regardless of the cryptic cluing it contains.

From the point of view of the setter, the smoother the surface reading, the more difficult it becomes to spot where the break between the wordplay and the definition comes.  One of the better setters at disguising those breaks is Anax (Elkamere in the Toughie).

Whilst the surface reading of the clue is important, it is not king!  A common mistake amongst new setters is to sacrifice the precision of the cryptic reading of the clue to make the surface reading smoother.  If you are setting a clue and are tempted to “bend” the cryptic rules to make the surface smoother, you probably need to think again about what you are doing.  Solvers will be more forgiving of the surface reading of the clue than liberties taken with the wordplay!


With the exception of a cryptic definition, where the whole clue provides a elliptical definition of the answer, a clue will have a definition or two definitions for a double definition type clue.

There are a few pointers to watch when providing the definition of the clue.

1. Is the definition a valid synonym for the solution?

As rule of thumb, you should be able to use the definition in a sentence in place of the solution without changing the meaning of the sentence.  One thing I have learned from an early and helpful piece of advice from a crossword editor is not to rely too heavily on thesauri.  Quite often a thesaurus will give you very loose synonyms for a word.  Just because a word is listed in the thesaurus alongside the solution, does not mean it is a good synonym.  Whilst Chambers dictionary is very good, I have found in practice, that its thesaurus is not always a reliable guide to suitable synonyms.  Even with common words, before I define a word, I will always look it up in the dictionary first to ensure that I am not going astray when providing a definition for it.

The other thing to watch with synonyms is to ensure that you are using direct synonyms.  Word A may mean Word B and Word B may mean Word C but that does not necessarily mean that Word A is a synonym for Word C.

2. Does the definition match the part of speech of the solution?

The definition should match the part of speech of the solution.  For example, a definition that is a noun cannot be used to provide a solution for an adjective or vice versa.  For example, you could not use “a bright person” (a noun) to clue “clever” (an adjective) even if in a sentence you could use “He is a bright person / clever” synonymously.

Of course, where a word is capable of being read in more than one way, it is perfectly legitimate to mislead the solver.  For example:

  •  Australian funds prestigious award (5) gives OSCAR.       The surface reading suggests that funds is a verb when cryptically it is a noun (Oscar is an Australian slang word for money).

3.  Are you using a definition by example?

If you are using the definition in the clue as an example of the solution, then this should usually be indicated.  For example, if you give “film-noir” as the definition for the solution “genre”, it should be indicated that film-noir is an example of the solution.

Definitions by example can be indicated simply by a question mark or by a word or expression such as “perhaps”, “maybe”, “for one”, “for example” or “could be”.

If I am using a question mark as a definition by example indicator, I will try to ensure that it appears immediately after the word or phrase that gives the definition by example otherwise, I don’t think that it makes it sufficiently clear that a definition by example is being used.  For example, “Film-noir – darker negative over exposed? (5)” would not work given the distance between film-noir and the question mark!

Like all rules, the definition by example rule is sometimes broken even in national daily cryptic crosswords and, unlike grammatical construction rules, this may be justified.  For example, you could possibly use “Axminster” to clue carpet as Axminster is so closely related to carpets that it would be reasonable to expect the solver to make the link between the two.

4.  Rules are meant to be broken

Rules are meant to be broken (or at least subject to honourable exceptions).  So it is when providing a definition.  Although the definition should usually match the part of speech of the solution, an exception is made in respect of “verbal phrases”.  It is possible to define a noun by a verbal phrase that describes the noun.  The example often given is “wags its tail and is man’s best friend” as a definition of a dog (not that this would provide a particularly suitable definition in a crossword).  However, at times this can be used effectively.  A prime example of this is the clue “Transporting coal, and running about area (5,5,5)” where the verbal phrase is a definition of the answer, a noun.

5.  What is sauce for the goose…

What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.  Therefore, the same rules will apply to synonyms that form part of the wordplay as well as synonyms that form the definition.

21 comments on “Rookie Corner 021

  1. Not too tricky and a lot of fun. We’re going to vote for 19d as our favourite, after we stopped searching for a goat there somewhere. Enjoyed 22d down too.
    Thanks Axolotl.

  2. Some very nice clues but a couple that I felt were a just bit iffy. Quite good fun, though, and I liked 4D and 17D a lot.

  3. I enjoyed this very much.
    I found the top half much easier than the bottom half – I was completely stuck there for quite a while.
    The only one that I can’t do now is 26d and I don’t understand why 19d is what I think it has to be.
    I liked 10 and 13d. My favourite was 2d which I thought was dead clever.
    With thanks to Axolotl for the entertainment on a very wet afternoon.

    1. 19D is one of the ones I would call a bit iffy. I think the first word of the clue may be one of those nasty old Americanisms! I was stuck on 26D too, and shamefully resorted to revealing the first letter. It’s another one that for me was a bit off.

      1. I think the first word of the clue for 19d is an Australianism – well, that’s how I’ve interpreted it anyway.
        Who knows? We’ll find out tomorrow.

          1. “. . . camped by a billabong” etc etc
            My maternal grandfather was an ANZAC so we have numerous second cousins who are Aussies. We haven’t met all of them but enough to have picked up lots of colloquialisms and slang.

      2. We find this conjecture interesting. Billy is certainly well known here and we were wondering what the usual word for this vessel would be in the UK. BRB does not suggest any alien origin for the word.

      3. I’m somewhat mystified by the reaction to this clue. In my days as a scout, we cooked in billy cans over a fire. Billy cans were made of aluminium, and the larger dixies of iron. Nothing to do with America or, for that matter, Australia, but right here in rural Surrey and Sussex.

        1. Nothing wrong with a little cross-continental discussion, to my mind. It does not detract from the overall consensus that this was a good puzzle.

  4. 26d is another word for a boor or idle person with the B at the end removed and replaced with a T.

    1. I did work it out (after I had sneaked a peek at the first letter), but what bothers me is that I don’t see the word with the B as being synonymous with either boor or idle person. I’m sure someone will shout me down on that, though!

        1. If you could see my messy office desk, you would think me a real slob…but I do hope that I do not fit the BRB definition of boor!

  5. Got thrown by 25d – I put RUSSEL in – which meant I could not get 29a or 26d but apart from that I thought it was a sterling effort.

  6. As before, I am delighted with all the positive feedback you have provided and indebted to Prolixic for his very constructive comments, which I will try to bear in mind for future puzzles. Sorry if Billy threw some of you, but this certainly used to be standard boy scout kit. I agree that 26d is one of the weaker clues; I think I may originally have had in mind for this word something based on an amusement arcade I once passed named ‘Slots of Fun’ but couldn’t come up with anything remotely possible!

  7. Thought this a really good third Axolotl puzzle and enjoyed solving it very much. I liked many of the clues, including 17a, 21a, 3d, 4d, 6d,17d and 22d.

    I also liked 25d, and it might have been my fave had I not been uncertain as to which was the definition. I originally had ‘Russell’ as my answer and only realised my error after I had worked out 29a!

    The only clue I couldn’t solve was 26d. It was quite clear how to arrive at the answer but I simply could not think of the right synonym needed. Why not, I know not!

    I did wonder whether this crossword was a pangram. It is only two letters short.

    Many thanks, Axolotl for this very enjoyable puzzle. Many thanks, Prolixic for the illumination — both of Axolotl’s clues and the ‘Construction of Clues’. Brilliant!

    p.s. Sorry about the lateness of this — have been offline.

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