Rookie Corner 023 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 023

A Puzzle by Imsety

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Imsety makes a speedy return to 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.  I have only a few puzzles in hand, so new or repeat entries are more than welcome.

A review of this puzzle Prolixic follows.

Our minor Egyptian deity returns with a tightly clued and tricky crossword that was excellent and fun to solve!  This was highly accomplished cluing and possibly one of the most polished of the Rookie Corner crosswords we have seen.  On with the review:


1 A complaint about state of hotel (8,4)
ATHLETE’S FOOT – An anagram (about) of STATE OF HOTEL.

7 I struck oil in the middle of nowhere – property of old province? (7)
HOLLAND – Remove the I (struck) from oil and put the remaining letters inside H (middle of nowhere) LAND (property).

8 Humiliated when object of desire became uninterested, ultimately (7)
CRUSHED – A five letter for someone you madly fancy and the final letters (ultimately) of became interested.

10 Lack of enthusiasm, say, shown during birth (10)
NEGATIVITY – The abbreviation for “for example” or “say” goes inside anther word for birth associated with Christmas.

11 Map of national park returned (4)
PLAN – The answer is hidden (of) and reversed (returned) in NATIONAL PARK.

12 Feature of weather chart – rainbows all over the place, bar the northwest (6)
ISOBARS – An anagram (all over the place) of RAI[N]BO[W]S having removed (bar) the abbreviation for Northwest.

13 One stake about to pierce another animal (8)
ANTELOPE – Reverse (about) a type of wooden or metal stake and put it inside (to pierce) a monetary stake.

16 6th chapter of Genesis: religious person to see Flood? (8)
INUNDATE – The sixth letter of Genesis followed by a religious person lives in a convent and a word meaning to see or go out with.  My only real point on this crossword is that I don’t think that 6th Chapter can really indicate the sixth letter of a word.

18 Slow when road ahead joins pass (6)
STUPID – Put together the abbreviation for a street (road), a word meaning leading or ahead and a pass as in personal identification papers.

21 Start to broadcast surrender (4)
SEED – A homophone (broadcast) of CEDE (to surrender).

22 Cook regularly bought saffron for dish (10)
STROGANOFF – An anagram (cook) of the even letters (regularly) of bOuGhT and SAFFRON.

24 Travelled westwards at speed to deliver report (7)
NARRATE – Reverse (westwards) a word meaning travelled and follow this be a word meaning speed.

25 City’s outskirts caught by isolated storm (7)
CYCLONE – The outer letters (outskirts) of city followed by the abbreviation for caught and a word meaning isolated.

26 Inventor whose design’s a symbol of inspiration for others (6,6)
THOMAS EDISON – The symbol of inspiration is the light bulb moment. We want the name of an inventor who designed a type of light bulb.


1 Lively Italian makes a contribution to football, e.g. Rossi (7)
ALLEGRO – The answer is hidden in (makes a contribution to) FOOTBALL EG ROSSI.

2 Tried to capture the high points of Tripoli – Libya’s an important region (9)
HEARTLAND – The first letters (high points of – in a down clue) of Tripoli and Libya and the AN from the clue go inside a word meaning tried (as in a court case).

3 Garden of Eden resident eats remnants of forbidden food – broccoli, or another vegetable? (6)
ENDIVE – The name of the first lady (Garden of Eden resident) holds (eats) the final letters (remnants of) forbidden food broccoli.

4 Going to take drug – how dramatic! (8)
EXCITING – The abbreviation for cocaine (Charlie) goes inside a word meaning going or leaving.

5 Disgusting breach of the rules (4)
FOUL – Double definition.

6 Too corrupt to curb torture? That’s a tragedy (7)
OTHELLO – An anagram (corrupt) of TOO goes around (to curb) a word meaning torture or agony.

7 Bergman extremely keen to work with Irish playwright (6,5)
HENRIK IBSEN – An anagram (to work) of BN (outer letters – extremely – of Bergman) KEEN IRISH.

9 Stress of deadline suffocating Express’s leader writer (6,5)
DANIEL DEFOE – An anagram (stress) of OF DEADLINE around (suffocating) the first letter (leader) of Express.

14 Engages nefarious character at the back door, initially (9)
ENTRANCES – Another word for a door goes before (initially) the final letter (character at the back) of nefarious.

15 Stumped! Unqualified batsman’s focus falters (8)
STUTTERS – The abbreviation for stumped followed by a word meaning unqualified and the central letter (focus) of batsman.

17 Discover nature resort at the beginning of holiday (7)
UNEARTH – An anagram (resort) of NATURE followed by the first letter (beginning of) holiday.

19 Perhaps they declare the abolition of church? (7)
PRONOUN – A word meaning declare with the CE (church) removed (abolition).

20 Pressured rioting Confederates to destroy Senate building (6)
FORCED – Remove the letters of SENATE from CO[N]F[E]DER[ATES] and make an anagram (rioting) of the letters that remain. Rightly, as the letters in senate are not in order when removed, there is a secondary anagram indicator (building).

23 Seriously damage spy’s chief objective (4)
MAIM – M (spy chief) followed by AIM (objective).

Continuing our look at setting cryptic crosswords, this week here are a few thoughts on the wordplay of cryptic clues.

Cryptic wordplay

A wordplay and definition clue should give an indicator of how the clue is constructed.  The key types of wordplay that you will find in cryptic crosswords are:

  • Abbreviations – a word is replaced by its abbreviation, for example small becomes S;
  • Anagrams – a series of letters are rearranged to give the answer;
  • Charades or word sums – two words are added together to give the solution, for example PART + RIDGE;
  • Container and contents – one word is put inside another, for example A{GIN}G where age is put inside the abbreviation for silver. The can be clued either as insert word A inside word B or put word A around word B;
  • Deletions – A letter is deleted from a word to give the answer or part of the answer. Deletions may tell you to remove the first letter, the middle letter or letters or the last letter from a word. Instructions may also be give to remove a specific letter, for example timeless to delete the letter T, or a specific word – ageless to remove AGE, etc;
  • Double definition – two meanings of the same word;
  • Hidden words – The solution is hidden inside the words of the clue – for example CUBAN GLEEFULLY hides the word bangle;
  • Homophones – One word sounds like another – for example maize sounds like maze;
  • Palindromes – word that reads the same which ever way it is read, for example ROTOR;
  • Reversals – One word is reversed to give another – for example STUN becomes NUTS;
  • Select letters – The reverse of a delete letter clue you have to select the first, middle, last, outer or alternate letters of a word to give the answer or part of the answer – for example head of maths would give you the letter M;
  • Switch letters – Letters in the clue are switched either in their order – first letter to last, swap the middle letters around or one letter replaces another, etc;
  • Spoonerisms – The first letters or syllables of two words are exchanged – for example Down Train could become Town Drain.

The art of the setter is skilfully to disguise the wordplay indicators and the skill of the solver is to spot the tricks that the setter uses. It is a battle that the setter should expect to lose gracefully!

This guide is not the place to provide lists of the standard wordplay indicators that may be used. Setters can find such lists in places such as Chambers Dictionary where the publishers include a “Word Lovers Miscellany” that includes common wordplay indicators. Some on-line resources such as Cryptipedia ( can provide limited lists.

Tense and voice

Although it is not an absolute rule (as far as I am aware), it is good practice to try and use the present tense when constructing wordplay elements in a clue.

For example, the clue “Lament described worker living initially with grace (9)” tells you to put the word ELEGY (lament) around (described) ANT (worker) + L (living initially) to give ELEGANTLY (grace). To me, the use of the past tense jars slightly as this implies it once was the case that word A went around word B but that it is no longer the case. In this clue, “Lament describes worker living initially with grace (9)” works equally well as a series of instructions to the solver and accurately conveys the present construction of the answer!

When writing, it is good practice to use the active voice rather than the passive voice whenever possible. However, when writing a crossword clue, less emphasis is placed on this rule. “A describes B” to suggest that word A goes around word B is fine as is “B is described by A”.

It is permissible to put the wordplay indicator after the relevant words to be played with. A clue of the form “A B inserted” tells the solver to insert word B inside word A. However, care has to be taken with this type of construction as the resulting clue can become “yoda like”.


Depending on whether a clue is an across clue or a down clue, certain wordplay indicators will have different meanings or uses. Setters should ensure that the wordplay indicator is appropriate to the positioning of the clue in the grid.

Particular case has to be taken with charade indicators and reversal indicators.

  • “On” as a charade indicator. “A on B” in an across clue is usually (though not universally) used to indicate word B followed by word A. In a down clue, solvers “A on B” should mean “A on top of B” and solvers will feel rightly aggrieved if the setter uses “A on B” in down clue to mean word B followed by word A.
  • “Over” as a charade indicator. In a down clue, “A over B” means that word A goes on top of word B. In an across clue “A over B” has an entirely different meaning. It means that word A is laid over or surrounds word B.
  • “Supports” – “A supports B” in a down clue means that word A goes underneath (supports) word B. You could not use this construction in an across clue.
  • In reversal clues any indicator that the word goes upwards or northwards should be used only in a down clue. Similarly any indication that a word reads from right to left should be used only in an across clue.

With apologies to Warbler whose clue I have lifted, the difference in direction could be exploited thus:

  • 5d Note number on back of car (5) – FIVE (number) on (top of) R.
  • 10a Note number on back of car – MINIM – MINI + M.

On the subject of direction, one type of construction that can be a source of confusion is the use of “A pursues B”. To pursue means to follow and therefore as an instruction to the solver is means that word A follows (goes after) word B. The confusion arises because the mental image of A pursuing B is of A running behind B to catch them. Forget the mental image – pursue means to follow or go after.


What distinguishes tough wordplay in a clue from the easier clue? It seems to me that a number of factors distinguish a tough cryptic from a more straightforward one:

  • the complexity of the wordplay. In a straightforward puzzle, you will see one or maybe two wordplay elements, such as put word X inside word Y to find the answer. In a tougher crossword, there maybe three or four wordplay elements, such as put and anagram of A inside a reversal of B and add this to word C;
  • cleverly disguising the wordplay indicators;
  • disguising breaks in the answer so that an answer such as COP OUT could be clued to give the elements CO + POUT which joined together give the answer;
  • disguising breaks between the definition word and the wordplay. A favourite trick is to take a well known phrase that the solver reads as one but which must be mentally split to give the answer. For example, “It may help to part company with doctor (4)” requires you to split the clue as “It may help to part” as the definition and “company with doctor” as the wordplay giving CO + MB.  This one was from a Virgilius crossword.
  • using obscure definitions of words in the wordplay or as the answer. This final one will often get you brickbats from the solver! If you are using an obscure word as the answer, it is usual to use less complex wordplay to compensate.


23 comments on “Rookie Corner 023

  1. Thanks to Imsety for a really enjoyable puzzle, with standout surfaces and some great clues. I struggled to finish the 14, 18, 19 corner with pass=ID a good idea but too tough for me. I was a bit unsure about the drug in 4d and the batsman’s focus in15.
    1a is a fantastic clue, but I think 13 is even better.
    many thanks

  2. Really enjoyable stuff which I found quite tricky (excellent compensation for the lack of a Monday Toughie). My favourite clue is 13a. Many thanks to Imsety.

  3. Great stuff! I saw the answers to the four peripheral clues immediately then worked out the ‘why.’ As usual for me and the Rookie puzzles, I struggled a bit to parse a couple of the others , and why 25D is what I think it must be still eludes me. 18A and 19D were the last two to yield. I thought 26A was brilliant. Many thanks, Imsety!

        1. I had that as ST (stumped) + UTTER (unqualified) + S (where I took “batsman’s focus” to be the centre of the word “batsman”)

  4. Definitely a Toughie for me! But most welcome on Monday!

    Excellent surface readings throughout the whole puzzle.

    Not sure I understand 26a – My best shot is


    1. Yes! I was lucky enough to tour his laboratory and workshop some years back. The man was a genius.

  5. Thoroughly enjoyed that , thanks Imsety. I should own up and admit that I still cannot see why 14d is what it is. 26a my fave

  6. I loved this and thought there were some really good clues.
    7a took me ages to understand and I needed BD’s help to see why 14d was what it had to be on the grounds that I couldn’t think of another word that would fit.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘stress’ as an anagram indicator before – 9d.
    I liked 1 and 18a and 2, 3 and 17d. My favourite was 7d.
    With thanks and a big well done to Imsety.

    1. PS I’m not quite sure that I’ve sorted out 19d. I’m assuming that ‘they’ is an example indicated by ‘perhaps’ so have split it 3,2,2 but
      Perhaps I’m being a bit 27a in the back page cryptic – well, the inside back page cryptic anyway.

  7. Many thanks, Imsety. I found this a most enjoyable puzzle and had lots of laughs. Fave was 3d, followed by 8a, 10a, 16a, 19d and 20d. Looking at the grid, I thought it was rather neatly balanced to have a playwright in 7d and a novelist in 9d. Both their Christian names have the same number of letters, as do their surnames. Deliberate?

    When I first read it through, I thought I’d never be able to do it. Then got onto the right wavelength and managed to complete it. Thanks to Big Dave’s splendid list of cricketing terms, I worked out the parsing for most of 15d, but wasn’t sure where the final ‘s’ came from. Now it’s been revealed, it’s clever! In 1d, I had just ‘lively’ as the definition and should have included ‘Italian’. Other than these two errors, I was able to follow all the wordplay correctly.

    Well done, Imsety! What a splendid compliment you have received from Prolixic:a ‘ tightly clued and tricky crossword that was excellent and fun to solve! This was highly accomplished cluing and possibly one of the most polished of the Rookie Corner crosswords we have seen’. You must be walking on air!

    And many thanks, too, to Prolixic for the very fine review. These ongoing ‘look[s] at setting cryptic crosswords’ must be an absolute boon to the Rookie setters. They’re also invaluable for we who solve! Today I find the discussion of ‘Direction’ particularly interesting and relevant to difficulties I’ve encountered.

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