Rookie Corner 055 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 055

Half Conceal the Soul Within by JollySwagman

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

This is JollySwagman’s second Rookie Puzzle.   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.

A review of this puzzle by Prolixic follows.

Many thanks to JollySwagman for the crossword.  The puzzle raises some interesting issues in relation to grid design and use of language.  A symmetrical grid is usual but not set in stone – and in exceptional circumstances you will find unsymmetrical grids.  The use of symmetry is a discipline that helps to ensure that the grid is a fair for the solver.  In this grid there were two triple unches (three unchecked letters in a row) and less than 50% of the answer having cross-checked letters.  Grids in daily papers will hardly ever have triple unches (I cannot recall having seen this in a long while) and at least checking is normal though occasionally you will see five letter words with only two letters cross-checked.

Double unches are often encountered, even in the Times.  I believe the rule in the Times is that double unches are permitted so long as the double unch is not at the beginning of the word.  Telegraph grids have some that contain double unches at the beginning of a word so there is no standard rule applied here.

The use of coarse language will inevitably be divisive and usually needs a good reason to be included.  Some papers would not allow the use of some of the words in this crossword.

I did wonder whether some of the clues require too much knowledge of language or words not in everyday use.


1/4/22/26 Singers in amazing skin-tights end happy after starting like that (6,6,3,3,4)
GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS – An anagram (amazing) of SKIN TIGHTS END HAPPY after a starting word meaning happy (like that).

9 Tram-smash in Alaska – 8d is ours (6)
AMTRAK – … an American railway operator.  An anagram (smash) of TRAM inside the abbreviation for the state of Alaska.

10 So well organised (2,5)
IN ORDER – A double definition, the first usually followed by that “so that” or “in order that”

11 Perhaps King Edward almost got a French film director in the shit (6)
POTATO – Remove the final letter (almost got a) from the name of a famous French film director and include this in another word for faeces.  Comments have been made in the blog about the use of coarse language in clues.  Policies differ across papers.  Only one third of the letters are cross-checked and there are three consecutive unchecked letters both of which would be highly unusual in a daily crossword.

12 Latin babe‘s a gas in America (8)
NEONATUS – … a Latin word for a baby or infant (not in Chambers which gives only neonate but which is in the free on-line dictionary and may be in others) a type of gas followed by a word meaning in (as I was at the railway station or I was in the railway station) followed by a two letter abbreviation for America.  As the word is not in common use, is it fair to expect the solver to know Latin words such as this?

13 See 28

15 Concert’s fairy-tale beginning (4)
ONCE – The answer is hidden in concert (the apostrophe s indicating has as the hidden word indicator)

16 See 28

17 8d’s objective. What is it? (3,1,5)
IT’S A STATE – The answer to what is the destination of the train referred to in 8d.

21 It’s not odd for beans (garden variety) to get blight (8)
ENDANGER – The even letters (it’s not odd for) in beans followed by an anagram (variety) of GARDEN.

22 See 1

24 See 28

26 See 1

27 Thora’s bronzes (6)
THIRDS – How a noted actress Thora might indicate her full name with an S on the end for the ‘s in clue.

28/13/16/24 1a 4a cut from “in vino veritas” so they say (1,5,2,7,3,9)
I HEARD IT ON THE GRAPEVINE – … a record by the themed artist cryptically and loosely referred to (more a collection of words that link wine and where it comes from) by “in vino veritas”.


1 “You men smell. Got to admit that.” (Wellington) (7)
GUMBOOT – Inside the word GOT from the clue add how you would be indicated when texting, an abbreviation for men (not a recognised abbreviation in Chambers) and an abbreviation for a nasty smell).

2 It’s a song from a musical – skip the intro (3)
AIR – Remove the first letter (skip the intro) from a rock musical.

3 Hi Tony. Good to be back playing ball – but I do miss John (4,3)
YOKO ONO – A two letter informal way of saying hi (as George Bush greeted Tony Blair) followed by a reversal (to be back) of a word meaning good followed by a two letter word meaning playing and the letter that looks like a ball.  I wonder whether the Tony greeting is in widely enough known to make this fair?  Also the clue would suggest that you need YO BLAIR in the answer.

5 Perhaps Boy George has lunch around different parts of the city (6)
NEOCON – … the political persuasion of George Osborne (I assume Boy George is a nickname for him but is this well known enough as I cannot see the pop singer being of this persuasion!).  A word for lunchtime goes around separate parts of the postcode for the City of London.  I don’t think that this clue gives sufficient indication that the elements of the postcode are inserted separately into the word for lunchtime.  I wonder also if NEOCON is more associated with the American far-right but I cannot find sufficient reference George Bush being referred to as Boy George.

6 Blimey – in America mating’s odd – it’s perverted (9)
GODDAMNIT – An anagram (it’s perverted) of MATING ODD.

7 Not up to herniation – it’s agony (7)
TORTURE – The TO from the clue and another name for a hernia (herniation is given in medical dictionaries but not in Chambers) with the UP removed (not up).

8 How 1a, 4a left La La land (8,5)
MIDNIGHT TRAIN – How the person in the song by 1a 4a went from Los Angels (LA) at night (La La Land) to Georgia.

14 Hello Mrs Sharples – we heard you liked a laugh … (5)
HYENA – A homophone (we heard) of HI ENA (Hello Mrs Sharples).

16 … later on in the snug (7)
TONIGHT – The ON from the clue goes inside a word meaning snug.  The use of the snug implies that the synonym is a noun but the required word is an adjective and I cannot think of a phrase where “the snug” could be replaced by the required word.

18 Chartered Accountant’s help dubious – you could get badly stung by this (7)
ACALEPH – … a type of jellyfish.  The abbreviation for a Chartered Accountant followed by an anagram (dubious) of HELP.

19 Like many shirts – frilly as drapes with the arse ripped out (1-6)
T-SHAPED – An anagram (frilly) of AS DRAPES THE (with the letters in arse removed).  Views differ on whether you need a secondary anagram indicator where the letters to be removed are in the same order in the clue – I tend to the view that you don’t but other setters and editors may have differing views.

20 Getting back a buck – maybe 8d’s objective in short – OK! (6)
AGREED – Reverse (getting back) the animal of which a buck is an example and the abbreviation for the state of Georgia (where the train in 8d was going).

23 Don’t dazzle Dawkins (3)
DIP – A double definition of what you do with your headlights so you don’t dazzle on-coming traffic and another word for a pickpocket from Jack Dawkins in Oliver Twist (thanks Gazza).

25 The greatest of all – not even I could add to that (3)
ALI – Remove the even letter from ALL and follow it with an I.

37 comments on “Rookie Corner 055

  1. Well that one was a challenge and really good fun. It was a good thing that at least one of our team had some knowledge of 1a, 4a or it might have been a bit different. The NE corner had the hardest nuts to crack and 5d was the very last to yield. Lots of clever and ‘interesting’ wordplay.
    Thanks JollySwagman.

  2. I printed the puzzle out, read through the clues, and when I saw 11A and 19D I was completely turned off. This is not about being prudish. I am far from that. I enjoy innuendo as much as the next person. But this is a long way from innuendo. I simply don’t find it clever or amusing to have such words and phrases in clues. I realize that we are supposed to be positive in the Rookie Corner, but this is Jolly Swagman’s second outing. I am deeply disappointed tonight.

  3. I have a completed grid but lots involved an educated guess and a click of the check button. My favourite was 16d because the wordplay is so simple but so well disguised. I’m going to check back with the review in due course because there were LOTS I haven’t parsed. For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the swearing, but I appreciate Chris being honest and saying otherwise rather than just not commenting at all. Interested to see what others think – not least because I have puzzle in the queue with BD that has a similar word.

    Also I just noticed that the grid is not symmetrical. Although I have played it safe and stuck to symmetrical so far, I strongly approve of the development that we can bend the rules on this!

    1. I do have some sympathy with Chris here, because such words would, I suspect, never be permitted in a Telegraph backpager, although I believe the Guardian and possibly the Independent would take a somewhat different view.

      I know that you like to push the boundaries a little in your creations, Beet, and I have no issue at all with that, but I must admit that for my own puzzles I tend to follow the line of “would it be ok for the Telegraph?” and have edited a couple of past clues as a consequence.

      I do think though that any RC puzzle should contain whatever words (within reason!) the setter feels are appropriate and the solvers can make their own judgements.

    2. Symmetrical grids can help to ensure the grid remains fair. At two of the points of asymmetry in this puzzle, 11a and 28a, there are rows of triple unchecked letters. (One of these could have been avoided easily by extending 2d.)

      Surprisingly, I’ve often found the symmetry helpful when constructing themed puzzles; I tend to swap the theme words between symmetrical positions until I get something that works. It does of course mean that sometimes there are words I can’t include, but maybe that’s not a bad thing as not all solvers appreciate a particularly high ratio of themed answers.

      1. My latest one is symmetrical, but with a couple of unches (doubles I think not triples). What’s better – a symmetrical grid with unches or a non-symmetrical grid without?

        1. Double unches are OK as long as you don’t fall below 50% of letters being checked; e.g if the checkers in a 6-letter entry are at 1,3, and 6, then 4-5 make a double unch but it’s still entirely OK because half the letters are checked.

          While I’m wittering, I have less of a problem with arse than with bullshit which I have less of a problem with than shit. For arse, the clue needs to be funnier with it than without. For bullshit I’d want more of a justification as to why it’s necessary, and for shit I’d want a lot of justification that there wasn’t really any other alternative. Donk’s famous Indy puzzle last year in which each pair of across clues were the same but the answers were different was one where trying to euphemise or avoid the “shit” would just have made things worse, but I haven’t come across many others – and I’m afraid 11A wasn’t one. I can’t really comment on whether the arse in 19D is particularly amusing, because as far as I can see the clue doesn’t actually work at all, and that’s a bit of a sine qua non.

          1. According to the setter’s notes, 19d is an anagram (frilly) of AS DRAPES with THE, after removing the contentious word (whose letters are in order within the fodder, so no secondary indicator is required).

            1. Ah, I see.

              For me, removing four separate letters from the fodder almost certainly needs a secondary indicator even if they’re in the correct sequence (removing the arse from Barsetshire certainly doesn’t because there the letters to remove are consecutive), but I’d accept that my view isn’t the only possible one on that.

  4. I respect Expat Chris’s viewpoint but I have no objection to the language here, I really enjoyed the puzzle and the theme – thanks JollySwagman. As usual for me I solved the long 1/4/22/26 clue from a few checking letters and the enumeration rather than by working out the anagram and after that it became much easier. There’s some very inventive clueing here (e.g. 3d) – the last one for me to parse was 23d where it took me a long time to twig the right Dawkins.
    I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no reference to 5d senior’s deputy in 11a. I agree with Beet on 16d – it’s also my favourite.

  5. Full marks on the theme, but I have to confess I didn’t really enjoy the experience, sorry.

    I’ll leave others to comment on the asymmetry of the grid and the triple unches, but the obscurity of several of the words felt as though they had been inserted merely to fill the gaps. I found the use of “The” as a single three letter word on its own as part of a multi-word answer very unsatisfactory I’m afraid.

    Like Beet, I have a completed puzzle, but there are a fair number of answers where I have absolutely no idea how they have been achieved, and for me that doesn’t make a satisfying solve.

    There was certainly some inventive cluing in the ones I could parse, however, and I do hope we’ll see more of your puzzles in the future, JollySwagman.

  6. Found this to be a bit of a mixed bag if I’m being honest. There are some clues I really liked, 6d & 16d in particular, but also quite a few that I didn’t, including a few too many obscurities for my liking, and of course the dreaded triple unches.

    Difficulty-wise I thought this was very challenging and I needed a few reveals and a lot of electronic help (particularly around the theme) to complete the grid, and there are still a number where I don’t get the parsing.

    The bits I liked I did really like, so thanks & well done for that JollySwagman.

  7. Proper challenging – although once I got 1a/4a etc it did help although I am now stuck singing 8d in my head.

    The way I solve means I never notice double or treble unches but I am with Chris about the unnecessary language. As Sprocker says, a very mixed bag.

  8. What a struggle that was.
    It’s turning more and more into a toughie rookie corner
    The title threw me off totally as I was thinking of lord Alfred Tennyson.
    But decided to concentrate on the NW corner and managed 1,2, 3d and 9 and 11a after a while. Then guessed the singer and the songs followed.
    Guessed also 5d as I got the gist of the construction and remembered that word.
    Liked the mid letters of 8d in 20d but although the answer was obvious it’s a very complex process.
    My favourite is 14d. It made me laugh.
    Thanks JollySwagman.

  9. I’ve got the 1/4/22/26 – more by good luck than anything else – and half a dozen others but, to be honest, I’m rather losing the will to live!
    Maybe give it another try during the week but suspect I’m rather off wavelength with this one.
    By the way – I’m another who’s not overly keen on the language used – not necessary and not particularly amusing. Sorry, JollyS.

  10. Well, I did tackle the puzzle. 9A was easy since it’s my rail system, and that opened up 8D and the 1/4/22/26 combo. I am now stuck with three to go in the NE corner…5D, 6D and 12A. Like others, I have a bunch of question marks regarding parsing.

  11. Blimey and – this is too difficult for me.
    I had a quick read through of all the clues – ended up with about five answers.
    I decided that the first across clue had to be “somebody, somebody and the somebodies”. Went up the garden to dig veggie patches and have a think about it.
    After many hours and lots of digging came up with an answer . . . slightly helpful but I’m still a long way off finishing this one.
    I respect the views of Expat Chris and CS but I don’t have any problem with the language – there’s plenty worse than this.
    I hate being beaten, but I am. I look forward to the review tomorrow. I really liked 27a.
    With thanks to JollySwagman for putting me through the wringer and leaving me not just wrung out but chewed up and spat out too.

  12. I just want to say this. Jolly Swagman has taken a lot of hits today, and I have been part of that. I just hope he is not too discouraged. There are many positives in with the negatives. I certainly couldn’t even blog a crossword let alone compile one, so I salute his work and trust that he will use the comments as a spur to bigger and better things and come back to us soon.

  13. Owww! I know when to give up and this is one of those times. Don’t worry though, Jolly Swagman – I might not like to be beaten but I will come back for more. I am looking forward to your next puzzle, but please promise to be a little gentler!

    I liked 16d and 27a and lots of other bits and pieces.

    Thanks for the pain, JS, and thanks (and hats off) in advance for the review.

  14. Sheer b-mindedness brought me back to have another go. Think (and only think) I’ve got to within two of a completed grid, but I shall be fascinated to read the review!

  15. Thanks, Prolixic, for your usual thorough review, and posted early enough (EST) for me to put this behind me before dinner! I just might have got the last one (12A) if I had not stupidly misspelled 6D. And about 6D, I can tell JS without reservation that the answer in the US is not synonymous with “blimey”. Blimey, to me, is an expression of surprise. 6D is an expression of outright anger here.

  16. Thanks, Prolixic – it constantly amazes me that you can always come up with the ‘whys & wherefores’ of our Rookie puzzles.
    Not remotely surprised that I didn’t get either 12a or 5d and I would never have managed to fully parse 11a or 3d.
    Wonder whether anyone actually got the 1a etc. clue by working out the anagram? I eventually got 1d and that plus 2d gave me a reasonable chance to guess the singers.

    I wouldn’t presume to doubt the ability of JollyS – I certainly couldn’t construct a puzzle – but I do hope he takes on board the wisdom Prolixic has offered.

  17. If nothing else, I think Jolly Swagman has single-handedly put paid to the notion that bad language is a sign of a poor vocabulary! Thanks again JS

  18. This is quite a surprise. It’s a month ago that BD circulated an email saying that he was desperately short of puzzles for this thread. Not having any others to hand I replied saying only this one and attaching it in pdf form. I actually doctored the original grid in MS Paint = so BD must have transposed it into Crossword Compiler format (another example of all the work he does for us all) and presumably still been short of puzzles just now.

    It’s a puzzle which I put together two years ago – I was trying out a couple of ideas – how to squeeze big themed answers into a grid, doctoring the grid where necessary – also the idea of having a title which hints at the theme, like many barred-grid puzzles do. A few people test-solved it and they all liked it – all agreeing that it was quite tough – and looking at it myself afresh I think it is – I had to look at my own notes to solve some of the clues – quickly at least.

    Some notes on points raised follow:
    Rude words: 11a AND 19D

    No intention to amuse here. Just using the voice of a plain-speaking person. No test solvers even commented on them. But I think Silvanus makes a good point (“would it be ok for the Telegraph?”) – for this forum I might have used a euphemism for the 11d one – deep doo-doo, mess, or something. Of course the thing with euphemisms is that they immediately bring to mind the matter being avoided.

    The one in 19d was actually used by Giovanni in Toughie 962 to clue COARSEN as:

    Against including rude word to become more vulgar (7)

    and Mr Google tells me that it’s even appeared a few times here in comments.

    I must say – when I saw the first one it did rather hit me in the face and I could sense that the fan wasn’t far away. I’ll agree – it’s a regularly used colloquialism but it doesn’t look good in print.

    Unch ratios

    This of course comes from Ximenes and many have memorised his slogans on the subject – which were probably originally formulated for barred-grid puzzles as (on account of the needs of the printers) daily puzzles were always done using each paper’s standard set of grids.

    Some time ago the Guardian reprinted their first ever crytpic puzzle. The grid was not symmetrical. It almost was. It looked as if it had started out symmetrical and then had a couple of cells blacked out in order to put maybe the last couple of answers in the gridfill – either where no word existed or to avoid a particularly obscure word. I think that’s a good practice and one that should be revived. Solvers love to complete puzzles and it’s a shame to spoil an otherwise good gridfill with obscurities.

    Once we go down the path of doctoring grids (and indeed if we make our own from scratch) the possibility arises that the checked/unchecked ratio of cells (normally >= 50%) will fall below that. If that happens my suggestion would be that those lights should be covered by very easy clues.

    That’s what I’ve done in 11a (if “perhaps King Edward” doesn’t give you “potato” before reading the rest of the clue maybe time to find a different pastime) and 28a (which is part of a long themed clue which, after getting the principal one would be a giveaway).

    Anyway – whether it worked or not here – that would be my approach.

    Foreign words

    Foreign words always cause trouble. Folk of my generation brought up in the UK all know French to schoolboy level at least – older folk Latin too. 12a – def Latin babe – needs (not surprisingly) a Latin word for babe – the Anglicised word neonate is in the dictionary – guessing a Latinisation is surely not that hard (some dictionaries even give it as the etymology) – plus the WP is simple. As a Latin word it is hardly a surprise not to find it in an English dictionary. I plead not guilty on that one.

    Topical allusions

    Probably these would have worked better had the puzzle not been two years old. “Yo Blair” (by G W Bush) I thought was common knowledge. It turns out (A bit like “Beam me up Scottie” etc) that he didn’t actually say it – but the legend remains.

    Boy George for George Osborne. That was certainly his nickname when he first became chancellor – reflecting his (relative) youthfulness and inexperience – and he was at the outset known as a hardliner who was going to give the nation a dose of neocon economics to get the deficit down – it was only later that he thought it more fun to double it and become a nice guy.

    FT 18 March 2015 – headline: “UK Budget 2015: Not perfect but ‘Boy George’ has grown into his prefect’s blazer”
    DT 18 March 2015 (re budget speech): There was no hint of Boy George; this was a grown-up, skilled performance.
    and Andrew Neill (on This Week) uses it regularly.

    I like Gazza’s idea that “Boy George” might have alluded to George W Bush – presumably on account if his being the son of George W Bush – and also a neocon. That’s what I call cryptic – and including POTATO without making any reference to Dan Quayle was clearly an oversight on my part.

    Disappearing definite articles

    Ignoring the occasional (if not all) occurrence of “the” was a standard part of cryptic licence for setters in the past – Ximenes did it too – maybe only on noun-noun translations – probably invoking the “dictionary excuse” – which for me doesn’t wash with definite articles except in special cases. The point of the old idea was to allow proper sentence-like surfaces. Nowadays we are more accustomed to headline/telegram style surfaces and you go through a lot of puzzles before encountering a single instance of “the” these days.

    That was the problem for me with 16d – not so much the noun-adjective problem. They’re linked but adjectives can usually act as nouns too. Eg “Blessed are the meek”. Dictionaries only give “meek” as an adjective – there obviously it’s a noun meaning “people who are meek” – so you can sometimes wriggle out if it using that argument.

    Two commenters identified 16d as their favourite clue. I was pleased to have found the run-on (for younger folk it’s from the early days of Coronation Street) and so was reluctant to ditch it – so I didn’t. Maybe an exclamation mark as a signal would have helped.

    BTW nobody said so but really we shouldn’t be assuming that anyone other than we oldies knows who Ena Sharples was – a household name at the time – but not any more.


    Expat Chris – I think you’re absolutely right. Dictionary-wise at least – I picked up the “surprise” meaning from Collins- but only on the English-English side. It’s probably something that’s been imported into the UK from the US and used differently.

    Actually, for religiously inclined folk it’s blasphemous and much worse than anything lavatorial – in fact so is blimey. I’d rather not have had it in but I’d already doctored the grid to death.

    I’ve had to do that quickly so sorry if I’ve omitted anything.

    Anyway many thanks to BD for reformatting and running it.
    Thanks to those who actually liked it and solved it – I did notice just a few in there.
    Double thanks to those who didn’t like it – said so – but kindly came back with soothing remarks.
    And triple thanks to Prolixic for the blog.

    Kudos to Jean-Luc Cheval for knowing his Tennyson.
    It is of course from the famous (and very long) In Memoriam A.H.H. the full stanza being:

    I sometimes hold it half a sin
    To put in words the grief I feel
    For words, like Nature, half reveal
    And half conceal the Soul within.

    If BD will have me back I’ll try to make the next one easier.
    BTW – if there’s a title don’t forget – it’s probably there to help. you.

    1. Many thanks to JS, not only for the puzzle but especially for the above comments.

      As far as unsymmetrical grids are concerned, they are a lot easier to set up than alphabetical puzzles, which don’t readily lend themselves to Crossword Compiler format!

    2. Thanks JS.
      I used to go to the Isle of Wight quite regularly. Taking the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth and go up to stay at Farringford House. What a great place to relax from busy London town.
      Didn’t read all his work though as we used to spend the day riding or hiking around the island. But it did make some lovely night time reading.

  19. Thanks for your thoughts above JS I thought they were very interesting.

    In relation to the hot topic of profanity – as said above I have no problem with it and in fact have bullshit coming up in one of my own puzzles. I barely consider arse a swearword to be honest, but for those that do, I think that there is a difference between the Giovanni example you have given and a clue where the four letter word is actually written down and not just alluded to.

    The main thing that would have improved my enjoyment of the puzzle were if it had been easier – but many of the toughies are too tough for me so that’s not necessarily a good reason for you to dumb down. But if there is an easier JS puzzle in the pipeline then I look forward to it.

  20. Great response, JS! I’m looking forward to the next puzzle. I am located in the US so I’m up on the American colloquialisms, but not so much the British ones. Over here, you’ll often hear country folk say “dagnammit” as an alternative. Horse Feathers is another one, used instead of BS. I rather like that.

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