Rookie Corner – 066 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 066

A Puzzle by Mitz

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

This week we have another puzzle from Rookie Regular Mitz. 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.

Prolixic has updated his document entitled “A brief guide to the construction of cryptic crossword clues” which can be downloaded, in pdf format, from the Rookie Corner index page or by clicking below.

Download asa Word file

A review of this puzzle by Prolixic follows.

Thanks to Mitz for the crossword.  As many of the comments have indicated, is some places it seemed as though this crossword was trying too hard to be difficult leading to a lot of obscurities and some clunky surface readings.  Most of the wordplay itself was fine but the overall feeling was not as enjoyable as some of Mitz’s crosswords and it did not feel as polished as his previous one.


9 Igloo smashed about; Eskimo’s first opponents’ epoch (9)
OLIGOCENE – An anagram (smashed) of IGLOO followed by a one letter abbreviation for about (from the Latin circa), the first letter of Eskimo and opponents in bridge

10 Pull extra after giving and receiving pain all right (5)
SMOKE – An abbreviation for extra after a two letter abbreviation for sadomasochism and a two letter word meaning all right.

11 Quietly leaves mothballs for Santa’s little helpers (5)
ELVES – Remove a two letter abbreviation for quietly from a word meaning mothballs or suspends.

12 English and French said “head” without one leader (9)
EDITORIAL – The abbreviation for English followed by the French word meaning said and a word for a sexual practice also known has head around (without) the letter representing one.  This clue would not be acceptable for the daily papers who can make the editors very moralistic in their choice of acceptable clues. 

13 Someone of unusual intellect, queen takes the place of a maid? (7)
SERVANT – One of the A’s (the first) in savant (someone of unusual intellect) is replaced by an abbreviation for the current queen.

14 All entering into conjugal promise without a bad feeling (3,4)
ILL WILL – The promise used in wedding services (often incorrectly clued as I DO) includes the ALL from the clue after removing (without) the A.

17 Should express disgust, outwardly outraged and traumatised initially (5)
OUGHT – The first letters (initially) of Outraged and Traumatised go around (outwardly) a word used to express disgust.

19 What’s left of Aral Sea, hardly all right: evaporated (3)
ASH – Remove all but the first letters from Aral Sea Hardly (all right evaporated).

20 Drop Douglas, say, from first 1, only to be cast by true innocent (5)
STONE – Remove the type of tree of which Douglas is an example (say) from the first in the clue and follow this with the 1 from the clue spelled out.

21 Rich without German approval, Spanish ham viewed (7)
MONEYED – Remove (without) the German from yes from the Spanish word for ham and follow the letters that remain with a word meaning viewed.  I think that need to know the Spanish for ham is probably a step of general knowledge too far.

22 Not a taxing place for the 21? (7)
ONSHORE – Given that the rich place their funds in overseas tax havens, the answer is where most rich people don’t pay their taxes – including many for whom the words “accounting principles” is a tautology.

24 Hear of new, infamous intern’s incomplete reference to “breather” (9)
PNEUMONIC – A homophone of the word new (which does not give a real word) followed by the name of the White House intern who got Bill Clinton’s cigar in a twist without the final letter of her name (incomplete).

26 Something precious father removed from torn apparel (5)
PEARL – Remove a two letter word meaning father from APPAREL and make an anagram (torn) of the letters that remain.

28 Give one star review – one star review! – Ron put out about 50… (5)
SLATE – Remove (put out) the letters in RON from ONE STAR and make an anagram of the letters that remain around the letter that represents 50 in Roman numerals.

29 …Shades (part five); a long way before Australian backs the French writer (5,4)
EMILE ZOLA – The fifth letter (part five) of shades followed by a distance that is a long way, a reversal of a two letter word for Australia and the French for the.


1 Went down badly? Good? Very, but not bloody coming round! (4)
DOVE – Remove a word meaning bloody from the letters in GOOD VERY and make an anagram (coming round) of the letters that remain.  As the answer is a North American spelling, this should be indicated in the clue.

2 Headless nag found under ranger (6)
SILVER – The name of the Lone Ranger’s horse is the name of a metal whose symbol comes from the word nag with the first letter removed.

3 Swindles Brown with odd tally all the time (10)
CONSTANTLY – A word meaning swindles followed by a word meaning brown and the odd letters in tally.

4/22 Leave otherwise berated racing legend of a certain shade? (6,6)
DESERT ORCHID – A word meaning leave without permission followed by a two letter word meaning otherwise and a word meaning berated.

5 Was up to his tricks like Nick (8)
DEVILISH – Reverse (up) a word meaning was or existed and follow this by an anagram (tricks) of HIS.

6 When back to front, snakes in yoof’s badge of honour (4)
ASBO – Take a word for a constricting snakes and put the back half of the word in front of the first half.  I am not convinced that back to front is specific enough to indicate taking one half of the word and putting it to the front.

7 One involuntary movement in game generally played by upper class member (8)
POLITICO – The letter represented by one followed by a word meaning involuntary movement inside a game on horseback played generally by upper class members.

8 See all, neither ending in tie (4)
SEAL – Remove the final letters from the first two words of the clue (neither ending).

13 Male Cockney’s desire rising in violence (5)
STORM – A two letter title for a man or male followed by a word meaning desire with the initial H removed (Cockney).

15 Endures happy poetry, evens out meal on Maundy Thursday? (4,6)
LAST SUPPER – A five letter word meaning endures followed by a two letter word meaning happy or elated and the odd letters (evens out) of poetry.

16 Old boss, say, taken in by story (5)
LIEGE – The Latin abbreviation for say or for example inside a word for a story or falsehood.

18 Muscle encountered by “Paul Simon” makes alloy (8)
GUNMETAL – Another word for a goon or muscle followed by a three letter word meaning encountered and the name Paul Simon said you could call him one of his songs.  I think that the final part of the wordplay is too specialised as a general knowledge clue for this to be fair.

19 Moderately slow works in conjunction with advances (8)
ANDANTES – A word meaning in conjunction with followed by the types of advances or stakes used in card games.

22 See 4

23 Satirical Kazakh loses his head: gold offered by speaker (6)
ORATOR – Remove the first letter (loses his head) from the Sasha Baron Cohen character and follow this by a two letter word for gold.  I am not convinced that wordplay offered by definition works.

24 Assistant’s time is over (4)
PAST – The abbreviation for personal assistant with the S from the ‘s in the clue followed by the abbreviation for time.

25 Image of Mike that is neutral (4)
MIEN – The letter in the Nato phonetic alphabet represented by mike, the abbreviation for that is followed by the abbreviation for neutral.

27 It’s dense but implicit in tangible advantage (4)
LEAD – The answer is hidden (implicit in) in TANGIBLE ADVANTAGE.

As Mitz pointed out there is a hidden theme in this crossword with 12 references to shades of grey.


82 comments on “Rookie Corner – 066

  1. Thanks Mitz – I enjoyed this. I thought it was pretty tough with perhaps a bit too much GK required. I don’t understand 22a. The BRB doesn’t list E as an abbreviation for extra. My favourite was the brilliant 2d (although ranger should probably be capitalised) but I got the biggest laugh from 12a.

    1. My take on 22a is that it is often somewhere where the 21a choose not to pay their taxes, preferring the opposite to 22a in fact.

  2. This one was certainly Toughie standard and I suspect will generate a number of comments such as “too clever for me” or “way above my pay-grade” etc.

    I was determined to stick with it however but I eventually conceded defeat with four or five remaining and used electronic assistance for the remainder. When Rookie Puzzles are this tough, for me the enjoyment factor is seriously diminished.

    Although there were some great surface readings (17a and my favourite 7d) there were sadly others, which were either contrived or gibberish depending on how charitable one is. Could anyone imagine 9a and 21a actually being said?

    Thanks but I hope that your next one will give us mere mortals an easier ride, Mitz.

    1. Here comes one of the ‘way above my pay grade’ brigade!
      Seven to go and – given the checkers I’ve got for those – I suspect I’ve got some of the others wrong.
      4d has to be my favourite – just because he always was.

      What with NTSPP’s like yesterday’s and now this Rookie Corner, I’m beginning to think the Toughies look quite benign.

  3. Thanks Mitz,

    With four left (1d,6d,10a, 20a), I’ve already spent too much time on this and I now look forward to the review. I don’t know if you intended to make this very hard, but I echo the comments above, the issue is that if you are not careful, the added layers of difficulty can detract from the enjoyment. Some things just seem unnecessarily obscure with general knowledge required, eg Paul Simon (if it’s the song, it’s a rather oblique reference).

    I’m amazed I got as far as I did, and I think it’s very clever to have put all this together so congratulations, the challenge will be containing the difficulty thereby enhancing the enjoyment. Good luck

  4. I think the reason this is difficult is that a number of the clues don’t quite work. The wordplay generally works but several of the definitions are pretty tenuous (and I don’t understand 2d’s definition at all). You need to remember that the solver doesn’t know what the word is, so even though a definition may seem blindingly obvious and a complete giveaway to you, it actually isn’t.

  5. Morning all, and thanks for the comments so far.

    I have no problem with my puzzles being considered hard – most of the comments I get here and elsewhere is that they usually are. I generally shy away from using definitions that are too obvious, whereby the first (or perhaps the only) thing that comes to mind is the solution, without any recourse to consideration of the wordplay part of the clue. There will always be exceptions – those clues that are a “way in”: for example, 26a and 24d are both pretty straightforward.

    However, I do have a massive problem if people think that any clues are unfair, whether it is because too much specialist GK is required or for any other reason. There are popular culture references in three clues in this puzzle (2d, 18d, 23d), one where a tiny smidgeon of American political (fairly recent) history is required (24a) and of course the definition at 29a might be off-putting for some – I would argue that all five are extremely widely known (did you solve 18d, dutch?), but others may disagree.

    Looking forward to the review very much.

    1. Thanks for dropping in Mitz. Yes, got 18d thanks, and the others you mention – i think I had the answers first and then worked out what the references were. The ones I didn’t get are listed above.

      1. I can only help you with 10 and 20.
        For 20 think of Douglas as in tree taken from first 1 and you end up with a biblical ref.
        10 is more Marquis de Sade + all right + extra .

  6. Just Four to go. 1,2,6d and 11a.
    Thought that 1d was the same construction as 28a but obviously not.
    A couple of bung ins along the way. 13d and 29a which I can’t parse.
    Perchance, you can call me al was on the radio while solving. What a coincidence but the alloy was already in the bag by then.
    The baron Cohen clue made me laugh but still can’t see the Ranger with the capital R as Gazza suggests.
    Thanks to Mitz and I shall keep trying until the review.

      1. Ah, that explains “found under” – I was thinking of a children’s series where they morph into different coloured costumed superheroes.

  7. I am a bit more than halfway through and finding it very slow going. If I could find the setter’s wavelength I would get on it!! Unfortunately, I do not have a block of time to spend until much later in the day, so if anyone is still around about 11:00 PM GMT, I’ll see you then!

  8. Well – I now have a completed grid but so many that I haven’t fully parsed.
    Thanks for the heads up re: 10a, JL – at least I now know why that one’s right!

  9. I’m finding this one really difficult – I’ve probably done about half of it and am now completely stuck.
    Having now read the comments I might be able to do a bit more with the anniversary stuff – or maybe not!
    I’ll carry on trying for a while – thanks to Mitz.

    1. Hi Kath,

      Would hate for you to be led up the wrong garden path – nothing to do with anniversaries I’m afraid. Dutch is on the money.

      1. That’s very kind of you – thank you. 26a could have led me for a very long walk up the wrong garden path thinking of anniversaries!
        Back now to plan A – Dutch’s idea but . . .

        1. Think – and only think – that I’ve found all twelve but there’s certainly a couple I wouldn’t have thought came into the right category without checking up with Mr. Google.
          Not sure the hint from Mitz is going to help you with ALL twelve answers, Kath, but then I could well be wrong (as with the GLA yesterday!).

  10. I got off to a reasonable start and got into double figures fairly quickly, which is pretty good for me, mostly in the NW and SE corners. I then ground to a halt, but could parse all I solved. I would agree with Silvanus about the surfaces, the good ones worked nicely (11a was amusingly absurd) and I was another who liked 2d (a silly point: if the R should be capitalised, should the a in nag be, too?), but Silvanus pointed out a couple that just seem a collection of words rather than a sentence. I’ll probably have more favourites after the review, when I found out what I’ve missed.
    Thanks Mitz.

    1. yes, the small a in nag is a niggle – as is the implied double duty of nag (though you can read the def as “found under ranger”)

      1. I got there via the ‘found under ranger’ route – ah well, confession is good for the soul.

        1. OK – either you get the answer via the Tonto route (as I did) or you think back to Saturday’s NTSPP chemistry lessons and look for a pertinent symbol.

  11. Well, I sacrificed my lunch hour and now have a completed grid (though I am unsure about 1D), but I would not have got there without Dutch’s hint as to the theme. Thanks, pal!

    I agree with others that some of the definitions are tenuous, and the surface reading of some (like 6D) doesn’t make sense to me. I’m one that dislikes obscure general knowledge in a cryptic puzzle, even if I happen to know the word There are some that I cannot parse at all or can only partially parse. Having said that, I thought 7D was clever. I will read the review with interest.

  12. Having read the comments before starting the puzzle, it sounds like I’m going to have my work cut out for me.

    Wish me luck – I’m going in!

    1. Very best of luck, indeed, Beet. Hours later I’m still fighting with some of the parsing!

    2. Good luck indeed, but maybe take a break at 8.30 to watch the Cluesmiths (team of Crossword compilers) take part in “Only Connect” on BBC2?

        1. Yeah! Well done to them. I got my usual score – a couple of lucky guesses on the wall and a ‘oh, I nearly got that’ on several of the missing vowel clues. Abba was almost there as well – honestly!

            1. I puffed my chest out no end when I got the cricket ground location question which neither team managed!

              1. I defer to your queenliness Kath and hereby demote myself to the Viscountess of Vowels

          1. Thanks for the link, Sylvanus. He seems like such a lovely man – but I still rather enjoyed the sight of one of our dastardly Toughie setters occasionally lost for an answer!

            1. I find it very interesting that so many setters seem to have cut their teeth (and many remained) as contributors to the Church Times. With the greatest of respect, it doesn’t seem like the sort of publication that the ‘man in the street’ would instinctively turn to for a good crossword puzzle.
              Is it fair to assume that it’s down to the Don’s connection?

              1. Yes. Don Manley has given many setters their first opportunity to have their crosswords appear in print, including Morph and me.

      1. I do so envy you all! I just googled Only Connect and viewed some clips. What fun! The most challenging quiz show we get here is Jeopardy where they give you the answer (plus a not very subtle hint) and you have to supply the question. I remember the good old days of Magnus Magnusson and Bamber Gascoigne.

        1. Chris,

          On the Only Connect BBC website, there are interactive “Walls” which you can tackle – they are really good fun and incredibly addictive!

          1. You should not have done that! Now I’m going batty trying to find the groups! Top score so far is 2 points. Practice…I need practice.

            1. Stop it right now, Chris. I am NOT going to look, not even take a sneaky peek – no, no, no………

                1. With the recent NTSPP and today’s Rookie, I’m already quite sufficiently demoralised.

                  1. I hear you. Just look on them as blips on the radar and know you are far from alone.

    3. Perhaps because my expectations were managed by the comments, I didn’t think that it was that tough – I mean I cheated on a few but that is par for the course. Very clever theme that would have gone entirely over my head. My favourite was 14 a. I’m baffled by 20 a and 2 d and 3 d – actually maybe it was tougher than I thought! Thanks Mitz

      1. For 20a, I think Jean-Luc’s answer under Comment 5 should help….

        For 2d, think (Lone) Ranger and what Nag might represent without its first letter….

        For 3d, think “tan” for Brown…..

        You should successfully parse them now methinks :-)

      2. Oh I get 3d now – I got confused with my letters and thought there was someone famous called Stan Brown that i’d never heard of.

      3. 20a – see JL’s excellent hint.
        2d – Need to look into a cowboys and Indians TV series prob. well before your time!
        3d – split the answer 4,3,3.

        Oops! Sylvanus got there before me!

  13. Thank you, Prolixic, for the usual masterly review. Now I understand why I could not fully parse 12A. It would never occur to me that a setter would include such a euphemism in a clue. Dubious taste to say the least. This negates anything positive I had to add.

    1. I think I used the “said” bit twice in my parsing and the ” head” bit…well it went over my head.

  14. Many thanks for the excellent review (as always) Prolixic

    I think Snape was right (comment 13) in pointing out that chemical symbols ideally need to be capitalised (3d). This can be easily done by making use of the first word, eg “Avoiding extremes” or something similar. Ah, but then you lose the word “nag”, you might argue. I find this clue quite interesting – “nag”, as part of the wordplay, helps to give a hint towards the definition (ie, it suggests a horse). Nothing wrong with this, as long as it is superflous to the do-ability/fairness of the clue, ie the clue probably shouldn’t depend on this for its solvability. You should equally be able to use “bag” or “hag” for the wordplay without that making it harder. If it does make it harder, then there is a dependence – in general, is it fair to use hints from the wordplay?

    Not criticism, just discussion out of interest

    The clues I marked which had theme in either clue or answer were 10a, 13a, 19a, 20a, 26a, 28a, 29a, 2d, 4d/22d, 8d, 18d, 27d – did I miss any or get any wrong?

    1. Hi Dutch,
      Don’t think 29a is a shade of grey. Since the combo counts for two shades (according to Mr. Google) you’ve got the 12 anyway.
      Oops! Just read the review – I’d got 1d wrong (only got as far as ‘gore’) so Mitz was using the combo as one shade. Both desert grey and orchid grey do appear to be genuine shades so I’m almost prepared to forgive myself!

      1. You don’t know how close I was to suggesting to Big Dave that we call this puzzle “Farrow and Ball”…

        1. Now that might have helped, Mitz – I’ve got one of their shade cards somewhere around!

  15. Good morning everyone.

    Thanks to Prolixic for the review and to everyone else for your comments. Naturally I’m a little disappointed that most seem to have found this a bit of a grind rather than an enjoyably tough struggle, but nevertheless it is still good for anything you have spent time working on to get a public airing. I am genuinely interested in a few of the specific criticisms that have been made, and would be very grateful for some elaboration.

    More than one comment has mentioned “tenuous definitions”. Now, I’ll stand by what I said yesterday – with the exception of a handful of simpler “way in” clues I generally like to try and find definitions that are not completely obvious, or the first thing that would come to mind, more in the interest of finding new ways of clueing certain words that might not have been tried before rather than being willfully difficult – this is clearly a bit of a high risk strategy as sometimes it is bound not to work. And I absolutely accept Alchemi’s point – it is important for the setter to put him or herself in the mind of the solver, and think “would I have made that connection”. However, I have gone through every clue in this puzzle very carefully and as objectively as I can and I’m struggling to find one definition that does not match its solution precisely, as long as it is considered in the right way.

    BTW – I learned something new in that “dove” is the North American past participle of “dive”. I think I would always say “I dove into the pool” rather than “I dived into the pool” – funny how sometimes one can be completely oblivious to this sort of thing.

    Clunky surfaces. It’s an interesting one. Some people don’t care about surfaces at all, while others think that without smoothness and a clue seeming to be the sort of thing one might actually say the whole thing is badly devalued. Brummie of the Guardian, for example, seems to pay little heed to surfaces in most of his puzzles, whereas if something clunky appeared in an Orlando it would be a real surprise. In this puzzle I was concentrating hard on intricate wordplay and making sure that colour was not mentioned once in the definition of any of the definitions of the various shades of grey. A couple of the clues (especially the linked 28-29 combination) referred to the most notorious novel of the last few years and I hoped that once a few of the greys started to appear some solvers would spot what was going on, while others might twig once the grid was filled. Either way, I’ll admit that surface smoothness was sacrificed in a couple of cases – Silvanus (amongst others) stated clearly enough that he didn’t like this and I can only accept the charge.

    Rudeness. ExpatChris – sorry that you were offended. However, contrary to what Prolixic says in his review of 12a I have seen much worse, in print, in the national press. Indeed one of the most prolific setters of all is well known for ribald humour. Not to everyone’s taste, obviously, but really – it’s only words. And gazza laughed (comment #1).

    General knowledge. Another thorny one. Again, it had honestly not occurred to me that the Spanish jamon would not be widely known – just goes to show how careful setters need to be. The more obvious example in this puzzle is clearly the Paul Simon song. I would be really interested to know how many people had never heard of “You Can Call Me Al”, and of those how many failed to solve GUNMETAL. I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t familiar with Simon and his work this would have been one of the last in; the crossers G-N-E-A- and the fairly obvious “encountered” from the clue would have lead to G-NMETA- and the answer is inescapable. How many, like me, would not have minded Googling “PAUL SIMON AL” to find an explanation of the rest?

    Long post – apologies. Hope this hasn’t come across as huffy or petulant – I am, as I said, genuinely interested in people’s thoughts. Why else would I be here?!


    1. I for one had not heard of the Paul Simon record so had to Google to confirm the reference. However, as soon as I get to the stage of having to Google general knowledge type clues, I tend to lose interest. I know that we live in the age of the internet but it is always worth considering whether the average solver stuck on a train without a signal would stand a chance of solving it.

      More importantly here, even if you knew that Paul Simon had a record called you “Can call me Al” that does not mean immediately that you can replace the Paul Simon with Al without knowing that it is a partly autobiographical song which. to me requires. more than general knowledge of Paul Simon’s works.

      1. I hadn’t got the ‘call me Al’ reference so relied on ‘metal’ for muscle and a slightly recalled incidence concerning Mr. Simon’s involvement in a gun related incident.
        Oh – the tangled webs we weave!

      2. I’ve never heard of the song either so I would never have made the connection that was required to parse the clue properly. I got the answer from Dutch’s hint about shades of grey and the checkers, and bunged it in without bothering to go any further. I think this clue is a good example of ‘tenuous.’

        1. Have to confess, Chris, that I did know the song – can even manage some of the lyrics – but the dredging equipment obviously wasn’t working too well on the day!

        2. But Chris, the definition is “alloy” – perfectly willing to take it on the chin that the GK required in this clue is too much to be considered fair for many (although I don’t think you need to know that the song is autobiographical to make the leap – I didn’t), but there’s nothing tenuous about the definition.

          1. I understand that the definition is alloy. It’s what it takes to get there that bothered me.

            On the other hand, I’m probably one of the few for whom 9A was a write-in!

  16. For the record, the 12 greys are: 10a, 19a, 20a, 26a, 28a, 1d, 2d, 8d, 13d, 18d, 27d and of course 4d/22d. The theme is referred to in the linked clues for 28a and 29a. This was actually the 50th puzzle I have compiled, which gave me the idea for the theme.

  17. I count seven that I hadn’t fully parsed and one that I’d got wrong (gore instead of dove).
    Amazing that I still finished up with a completed grid and 12 shades of grey!
    Many thanks for the review, Prolixic – don’t think I’ll be fighting you for a place in the Church Times any time soon.

    1. I got 1D wrong, too. I had ‘gone’, as in dead so not ever coming round!! Funny thing, I’ve lived here for decades and I would never use that spelling.

  18. Hi Mitz

    First of all, congratulations on your half-century. I really do like the idea of the theme – especially for your 50th – and think it was well-executed, although these things are always wasted on me until someone points them out in the comments. I can’t see the wood for the trees when solving. Also I think that your more risque references should be taken in the context of the theme. They won’t be to everyone’s taste but they fit the theme and in fact maybe a few more references like that in the clues would have finally nudged me in the direction of the theme. I need these things to be clearly sign-posted! Although perhaps there are lots of references – I haven’t actually read 50 shades.

    In terms of definitions, I think clues are more satisfying where the definition is quite obvious if it were separated out from the rest of the clue, but the context of the clue has hidden it or misdirected the solver to think of another meaning. Then when you do spot it – it’s more of an “aha! of course…” rather than a “maybe, let me check my chambers”. That’s more of a general comment though – I don’t recall being too outraged by your definitions when doing this latest puzzle.

    General knowledge – this is always a bit of a minefield and very difficult to judge. I would guess that more people know that Paul Simon did a song called “you can call me Al” , than know that there is an Italian river called Po for example. But one is established crossword GK and one isn’t. There is in fact a lot of GK in cryptics; names of rivers, ancient cities, french directors, not to mention Shakesperian characters, Biblical references and sodding cricketing fielding positions. As long as cryptic crosswords stay cryptic and don’t become plain GK crosswords (and yours was very far from that) I think it is fair enough for setters to use a smattering of GK at their discretion. Different setters will use different amounts and different references depending on their age, background and interests, and my view is hooray for that – variety is the spice etc.

    I did enjoy your puzzle and for me, the thing that would have made me enjoy it more would have been surface readings that made more sense. As you say, there is doubtless a range of opinions on how important surface readings are, and personally I appreciate a smooth surface very much. Looking forward to what others have to say on the subject.

    Once again, congratulations on your 50th puzzle – here’s to the next 50!

    1. Thanks, Beet, especially for your thoughts on GK – you have expressed my feelings precisely. Cricket, love it or loathe it, is a goldmine for the crossword setter!

      I have never read 50 Shades either, but more because I’m afraid of being offended by the appalling writing than the subject matter…

      1. As ever, I can’t really improve on what Beet has said so cogently, particularly with regard to definitions and general knowledge.

        I’ve already said more than enough about the importance of good surface readings and the reason my comments yesterday may have seemed a trifle harsh was that you are not a novice setter by your own admission, and therefore I was less willing to overlook clunkiness in someone with several previous appearances in RC and now 50 puzzles under their belt! I can’t speak for The Guardian as I never look at their crosswords, but I am constantly trying to achieve Telegraph-style smoothness in my own clues. One day I might get there, who knows!

        I appreciate your openness in accepting the criticisms in the constructive spirit in which they were intended.

      2. Hi Mitz,
        Congratulations on your 50th puzzle, thanks for the (post-solve) pleasure of the `shades` and your typically thoughtful responses here.

        Had I been aware of the theme (which I hardly ever am) 8d might not have been my last – `tie` for a synonym of the solution is duly noted. (As is `muscle`.)

        Mmm – surfaces? I ticked mothballs, 14, 17, 28, `headless nag` & `advances’ , but my favourite was `old boss`. Widest grins? 7 & 15d.
        Thanks, I enjoyed this. x

      3. Yes, congratulations on reaching 50.
        I knew I’d have more favourites after seeing the review – as well as the two I mentioned, 7, 14 and 16 looked excellent clues to me. The silliness of 11 still keeps it at the top, though.

    2. Hi Beet,
      Regarding good surface reads – that’s always a major consideration for me. A lot of folk could doubtless become sufficiently proficient to string together words and phrases to form a clue. It takes real craftsmanship to perfect a great surface read and I always appreciate that immensely.

    3. 50 puzzles! blimey. That no Rookie, that a pro! I’m obviously going to have to do more than one a year if I ever want to catch up.

      For me it’s all about the surface. I like surfaces that beautifully weave the wordplay and definition into a coherent sentence with a plausible, ideally funny story that misleads thinking away from the answer and disguises the wordplay/def. There lies the art that complements the technical mastery.

      I’m as impressed with setters of gentle puzzles who have elegant surfaces as with tight and ingenious wordplay

  19. Regarding 12a, I’ve been reading the crossword blogs for a few months now, and I get the impression that a majority of solvers enjoy a bit of mild smut, double entendres and toilet humour in their crosswords. I would be surprised if anything like 12a has appeared anywhere other than Private Eye, though. I think the difference is (and maybe you have examples to prove me wrong) that their clues have allusions to rudeness, a saucy surface reading perhaps, but for your clue, to understand the answer you have to make the direct connection that you are referring to something rude and find a rude synonym for it – there is no innocent way to avoid it, and it’s just a bit in your face.
    I also think the ruder the clue, the more brilliant it has to be to justify it – and using off-colour words in the clue itself would only be justified if it fitted naturally into the surface, and there is no equally good way of doing it. Although head isn’t an obvious obscenity, it doesn’t naturally fit into the surface.

    As for the General Knowledge, I have no problem with reasonable requirements for General Knowledge, and thought ‘jamon’ was fine. Needing to know the Paul Simon song would have been fine, too. My problem with it is that there is no real indication of what it is you need to know (and hence can’t look up it up). I can’t see that Paul Simon = Al, even with the quotation marks. In the song, he is singing about someone else (‘A man walks down the street..’) so Paul Simon isn’t even referring to himself as Al.
    Having said that, I’ve used a very slightly similar device on in a crossword I submitted to RC a while ago, so I’ll get ready for the comments when that appears…

    Edit: I’ve just read your comment that it was autobiographical – I didn’t know that, and it’s not obvious (to me) from the lyrics

    1. I agree with all of this, thanks Snape. I knew the song and I could solve the clue, but I just thought whoa, we’re relying on words from a song just by mentioning the artist?

      I knew jamon, but does everyone? and what is the logical extension of that? Any language, any word?

      the issue is not the solvability. Some indirect anagrams are easy to solve. It’s about fair clueing, which perhaps will always be a shade of grey. Plenty of examples of people pushing the boundaries….

      Be that as it may, I hope it has been absolutely clear to everyone that I have been well captivated by this puzzle, thanks again Mitz – just saw your pictures from the Birmingham meeting, nice to add a face to a name, I hope to meet you soon.

  20. Well, rookie corner solvers can be harsh critics to those setters who have already been around the block a time or several, but I do think that we are honest in our opinions and it really shouldn’t be any other way. We may not know all the rights and wrongs of crossword setting, but we know what we like…and what we don’t like. There’s a few hundred years of collective cryptic solving in play here, so it shouldn’t be discounted. But having said that, I could fly to the moon under my own power easier than I could set a crossword that pleased anyone, let alone everyone, so hats off to Mitz and all the other rookies who put themselves out there and face the slings and arrows with good grace (even if tempered sometimes with a bit of mustard). The Rookie Corner is still my favorite puzzle of the week.

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