Rookie Corner 024 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 024

A Puzzle by Gepetto

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Gepetto is hoping to achieve some form of redemption following his “less-than-successful submission” of six weeks ago.  Has he succeeded?  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.  The cupboard is looking very bare at the moment, so new or repeat entries are more than welcome.

A review of this puzzle by Prolixic follows.

Welcome back to Gepetto. Our Australian setter is on much firmer ground this week with many fewer issues with the wordplay and definitions.  No obscure answers in this one which made it much easier to solve.  The biggest issue with the crossword was the repetition of wordplay indicators – G for Good three times, Ring for O twice and PR twice.  However, despite this, this was a distinct improvement on his previous crossword.


8 Parrot Othello, it’s said, and love will come to us in many guises (11)
POLYAMOROUS – A homophone (it’s said) of POLLY (parrot) and A MOOR (Othello) followed by an O (love) and US from the clue. It looks from the clue as if love is doing double duty as both a wordplay indicator for O and as part of the definition. Setters should avoid doing this.

10 For example, good seed (3)
EGG – The abbreviation for “for example” followed by the abbreviation for good.

11 Expert advertising ring (3)
PRO – The abbreviation for public relations or advertising followed by an O (ring).

12 No-good frypan is dead and full of holes (7)
Remove the G (good) from griddle (frypan – I assume that this is the Australian for frying pan). As G for good has already been used in 10a, a different indicator should have been used here.

15 Knew bath covers cut no ice (4)
NEAT – Remove the covers (outer letters) from [K]NE[W] and [B]AT[H].

16 Doctor’s after lithium leg (4)
LIMB – One of the abbreviations for a doctor after the chemical symbol for lithium.  As leg is a definition by example, this should have been indicated.

17 Grooms mostly safe upon rider’s return (7)
SPRUCES – Reverse (return) SECUR[E] (mostly safe – indicating removing the final E and PS (rider). I think that upon just about works as a charade indicator as in place names such as Staines upon Thames although it could be argued that a town upon a river is a town that straddles both sides of the river.

20 Rifle shot bags the meat (5)
FLESH – The answer is hidden (bags) inside RIFLE SHOT.

21 Singles disembark for fireplace (5)
INGLE – If to disembark is to leave the ship we need to remove SS (steamship) from SINGLES to get the answer. More of this type of inventive wordplay please.

22 Agent in the Capital returns for it’s sovereign (7)
EMPEROR – Put REP (agent) inside ROME (capital) and reverse (returns) the letters for the answer. Return has already been used as a reversal indicator and a different one could have been used here.

24 Loudly regret ordering fish (5)
RUFFE – This has been clued as an anagram (ordering) of FF RUE. The clue gives instructions to an indirect anagram. In reality you only need to include the FF in RUE but I cannot thing of an sense of ordering as meaning put one set of letters inside another.

26 Lassitude leads to early nights not usually ideal (5)
ENNUI – The initial letters (leads to) Early Nights Not Usually Ideal.

28 Indian hero attains martial distinction in fast time (7)
RAMADAN – A charade of RAMA (Indian hero) and DAN (a distinction in martial arts).

31 Passage sounds like a drag (4)
HAUL – A homophone of HALL (passage). This is exactly the type of clue that illustrates the problem of putting the homophone indicator in the middle of the clue as there is no way of telling which is the definition and which is the wordplay.

32 On a 33d? (4)
ATOP – The A from the clue and a synonym for the answer to 33d.

33 He doesn’t believe exposed sheath was worn first (7)
ATHEIST – An anagram (was worn) of the inner letters (exposed) of [S]HEAT[H] followed by IST (first).

37 Shot small boy in half! (3)
NIP – Half of the word NIPPER (small boy).

38 Hostel‘s name is fashionable at the start (3)
INN – In (fashionable) followed by the abbreviation for Name.

39 Two men claim right to ancient Egyptian (11)
ALEXANDRIAN – Alex and Ian (two men) with an R (right) inserted (claim).



1 Improve pad with urge to renovate (7)
UPGRADE – An anagram (to renovate) of PAD URGE.

2 Ancient city under black cloud (4)
BLUR – BL (black) followed by (under in a down clue) UR (ancient city). Chambers does not support BL as an abbreviation for Black.

3 Praise God in song (4)
LAUD – A homophone (in song) of LORD (god).

4 Excrement left by kitty (4)
POOL – A charade of POO (excrement) and the abbreviation for left.

5 Like Humpty, loveless and empty (4)
VOID – Remover the O (loveless) from ovoid (a description of the egg shape of Humpty Dumpty).

6 Noticing special abilities receive any number entered – Good! (7)
ESPYING – ESP (special abilities) followed by Y (any number), IN (entered) and the abbreviation for Good.  The third use of G for Good.

7 Two-bit bicycle? (5-8)
PENNY FARTHING – The type of old bicycle named for two coins (bit).

9 Twin making low entrance to 25, perhaps (6-7)
DOUBLE DIPPING – Another word for a twin or duplicate followed by a word meaning making low. Chambers gives double dip as an economic recession or a twofold action. I cannot see the connection with 25d.

13 Improve appearance without public relations? Not this rascal! (3)
IMP – Remove the PR (public relations) from PRIMP. PR has already been used in 11a but with a different indicator.

14 Subsist on contents of single kettle (3)
EKE – The answer is hidden inside SINGLE KETTLE.

17 Utter quiet taken ever so literally (5)
SHEER – The abbreviation for quiet (SH) followed by a word literally meaning ever.

18 Final letters uncovered nonsense (3)
RIP – The inner letters (uncovered) of [T]RIP[E].

19 Temptress addresses King of the North (5)
SIREN – SIRE (Form of address used with a King) + N (Northern – of the North).

23 Ring road bypasses bar (3)
ROD – The abbreviation for road goes around O (ring). Ring has already been used for O in 11a.

25 Spooner’s a long way from the toilet – that’s a mistake! (4,3)
FAUX PAS – A Spoonerism of PO FAR (a long way from the toilet). Not the greatest Spoonerism and it is unusual for you not only to have to get the Spoonerism but also exchange the order of the words. PO FAR to FAR PO to FAUX PAS.

27 Half a mind to accept fine for diddly-squat (7)
NOTHING – Thin (fine) goes inside half of the word NOGGIN (half a mind).

29 Paul’s partner a real piece of work! (3)
ART –Double definition with a reference to the singers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

30 Fool gets young girl to remove her top (3)
ASS – Remove the first letter from LASS (young girl).

33 Penny used axe to cover tip (4)
APEX – An anagram (used) of AXE to cover P (for penny). Cover in a down clue means to go above, not to go around.

34 That man took up father’s load! (4)
HEAP – HE (That man) followed by a reversal (up) of PA (father).

35 Car race‘s many corners causes leader to drop out (4)
INDY – Remove the first letter (leader to drop out) from WINDY (many corners). I am not sure that causes words as a cryptic indicator however much it adds to the surface reading.

36 Time’s a facade. Get it? (4)
TWIG – The abbreviation for time followed by a covering or façade for the head.


Designing the grid


It appears that the original crossword had five unchecked letters across the middle entry with only the initial E and final R of EMPEROR linking to other clues. This would have also left SPRUCES at 17a and RAMADAN at 28a with three unchecked letters.  None of these are ideal from the point of view of the solver and Big Dave rightly suggested that two additional down clues were added (18d and 23d) to improve the grid.  This is a useful prompt to discuss the design of the crossword grid.


The basic grid


Standard UK cryptic crosswords are designed using a 15 x 15 blocked grid. Blocked simply means that some of the squares are black.  As a rule of thumb the ratio of blocked squares to white squares should be about 1 to 3.  The white squares in the grid are sometimes referred to as lights.  When designing the grid, you should try to avoid large blobs of black squares as these can look out of place.


The other main size of gird used is 13 x 13 but this is usually reserved for quick crosswords although the Times has a beginners cryptic crossword with a 13 x 13 grid. Jumbo crosswords may use larger grids.  The only constant is that the dimensions are always an odd number.

The grid should contain a variety of word lengths.  It is usual to have words of at least three letters.  Two letter answers are not found save in very rare circumstances.


Advanced cryptic crosswords use what is known as a barred grid. This is one where all of the squares are white with word boundaries indicated by thicker black lines at the edge of a square.  The Enigmatic Variations crossword in the Sunday Telegraph, the Azed, Inquisitor and Listener crosswords all use barred grids.




It is usual for grids to be symmetrical. The two main symmetries are 180 degree symmetry where the gird looks the same if you rotate it through 180 degrees and 90 degree symmetry where the grid looks the same if you rotate it through 90 degrees.

GridOne  GridTwo




Very occasionally there will be minor breaches of symmetry with maybe one or two squares out of symmetry but this is very much the exception than the rule. A wholly unsymmetrical grid will look messy and will not feel pleasant to solve.



In any answer, at least 50% of the letters should ideally be cross-checked – that is they intersect with another clue. Occasionally, with five letter answers, you will get unchecked, checked, unchecked, checked, unchecked.  You should try to avoid these but one or two such clues in a grid are sometimes unavoidable where you are designing a themed crossword.


Double and triple unches


A white square that does not intersect with another answer is referred to as an UNCH (unchecked).


Quite often you will get double unches in grids – these are two successive squares that are unchecked. Even the Times crossword permits double unches but not where the two unclued letters are at the beginning of a word.  Double unches can make it more difficult to solve the crossword so too many double unches can be off-putting.  However, provided that at least 50% of the letters are cross-checked, double unches are a fact of the solver’s life.  If setting, try not to have too many though.


Triple unches are a different story. Virtually no newspaper uses them.  One of the stock of Daily Telegraph grids has triple unch but I cannot recall it having been used in recent memory.


Given that Gepetto’s original grid had two triple unches and one five letter unch, I can quite see why Big Dave asked for it to be amended.




All parts of the grid should interconnect. There should be no islands were one section of the grid is divorced from the remainder of the crossword.  This interconnectivity makes the solving process easier.  Some grids can produce four separate crosswords linked only in the middle.  These can be more difficult to solve.  The more interconnectivity between different parts of the grid, the better.




Odd checking or even checking


Crossword grids can be designed so that it is the odd numbered letters in a word that are cross-checked or the even numbered letters.



If the form of grid in the top left is used, it is easier for the setter to fill the grid or include hidden themes around the perimeter but the resulting grid is harder to solve. This is for two reasons.  The first is that it is easier to find a word where you have the initial letter.  The second is that where the cross-checked letters are at positions 2, 4, 6, etc, many more words will have unhelpful vowels as the cross-checking letters.  The form of checking at the bottom right of the picture is much easier to solve.


17 comments on “Rookie Corner 024

  1. Struggled mightily with the last two. Suspect there might be a couple of errors in the clues. The wordplay for 32a works if the clue read ” On a 33d? ” (There is no 31d anyway). The other one is 9d where the second word only makes any sense to us if the clue referred to 25 and not to 23.
    Apart from that we found it all good fun. Certainly gave us value for money as the short answers meant more than our usual ration of clues to unpick. Started off with a good laugh with 8a and the smiles stayed throughout the solve.
    Thanks Gepetto

  2. Aah yes! The clues you referred to are numerically out-of-order. The original puzzle i submitted did not have two of the short down clues in the middle of the grid. Big Dave suggested i add a couple more in to break it up but obviously the clues weren’t changed/updated to accommodate this! Bother and drat! My apologies… hopefully others will read this and amend the clues in their own minds.

  3. I still have a couple to go, but it’s getting late here so I’m shelving this until the morning. . I’m enjoying it very much so far, with several smiles along the way. But as an American resident, let me be the first to ask whether, if I’m correct on 35D, it is reasonable in a UK crossword?

    1. Having finally got 35d I suspect it is fair in a UK crossword. Even though I had to ask Mr Google to make sure that it existed I think if I can do it then so can others.

      1. I just wondered. It’s such a big event here so I suppose it probably has made it across the pond.

  4. My apologies for the cross-referencing error.

    The original puzzle had five unchecked letters in the central across clue and the grid was changed to add two new clues. Unfortunately I forgot to change the cross-references. Should be OK now,

  5. All done now, but the last few too me ages to sort out (4d, 15a, and three in the bottom left). I picked the wrong spelling for 31a, which was the hold-up. Once that was corrected, and I finally worked out 24a, 25d then became clear. I really did enjoy this, but especially likes 17a and 29d. Lots to smile about or, in the case of 4d, laugh outright. Great job, Gepetto!

  6. I found this difficult but really enjoyed it.
    I’ve got several answers that I can’t explain properly but I think they’re probably right – who knows – I’ll find out tomorrow.
    I think there was only one anagram, unless I’ve missed any, which is possibly why I found it tricky – they’re such a good start to a crossword.
    I liked all the little three letter answers – they provided lots of checking letters so, for me anyway, maybe took the place of anagrams as a way in.
    I liked 39a and 25d. My favourite is either 4 or 29d.
    With thanks to Gepetto.

  7. Disappointing not to have more commenters responding by now to this very enjoyable puzzle. The “new kids” work hard to hone their submittals and it’s a shame their efforts are not given that much attention. Hopefully, things will pick up tomorrow. Perhaps we can do our bit to drawing more attention to the Rookie Corner by mentioning on the regular cryptic comment threads?

    1. Totally agree Chris. This was a clever, good fun puzzle and with a degree of difficulty that puts it well within the range of many back-page solvers. It deserves more attention than it seems to be getting. Cheers.

  8. Thank you, everybody! It seems I have achieved redemption for my last train wreck of a puzzle. Maybe I burned too many bridges with that one, hence the lack of response. Either way, I am glad that the level of enjoyment has reached a certain optimum which was entirely my intention this time. It was a lot of fun for me to compose which i think translates well to everyone else. The number of 3 and 4-letter solutions was quite a different approach and certainly did add ‘value for money’.

    Many thanks again!

    1. Burned too many bridges? I don’t think so. We’re a forgiving lot…and in my case also forgetting! I can clearly remember what I did 60 years ago but not the crossword I did last week! Keep on keeping on, and I hope we see you back here very soon. You’re an asset to crossword land.

      1. Vigo (below) has defined ‘double-dipping’ perfectly and to a poetic extreme… Perhaps something of a pop-culture reference although it’s been in circulation through most western circles since the 80’s.

  9. A nice puzzle , not too hard.Some of the down clues Idon’t understand why they are right, such as 3, 25, 36, 17. Never heard of the Indian hero. Anyway, Thanks Gepetto.

  10. Thanks to Gepetto for an entertaining puzzle and to Prolixic for the review. I am really enjoying your extra notes at the end of the Rookie series. Thank you. (Double dipping is the socially unacceptable practice of dipping one’s carrot baton in hummus, taking a bite, and then putting the same stick (freshly bitten side first) into the hummus again, thus introducing your saliva to a shared dip. (It doesn’t have to be hummus, the same rule also applies for nachos and guacamole/potato wedges and sour cream etc (I just happen to live in one of those London areas where it would probably be a 25d to have a hummus free fridge)).

    1. Interesting, because it might have started out that way but nowadays double-dipping means something entirely different in the USA. It’s more going like back to the same money-pot twice.

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