Rookie Corner – 078 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 078

Border Agency by Hasslethymi

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

This puzzle from Hasslethymi is titled “Border Agency” – can you see why?  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.

Hasslethymi has produced an excellent crossword that includes a Nina around the perimeter that reads FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION.  Often when this is done, you find unusual words in the grid but our setter has managed to avoid this and to keep the overall feel of the clues light and simple.  However, with simplicity comes a price.  Just as in the Great British Bake Off, where a simple recipe requires greater perfection in its execution, simpler clues tend to highlight more any smaller imperfections in the cluing.  To use another analogy, from Strictly, the dance was fantastic but as Craig would say, “your thumb was sticking up!” 


8 Zero scope left after water becomes marmalade ingredient (6,4)
ORANGE PEEL – The letter representing zero followed by another word for the scope or ambit of something, a word for water that you pass and, finally, the abbreviation for left.

9 Efficient wrappers take to the stuffing of suit case (4)
ETUI – The outer letters (wrappers) followed by (take to) the inner letters (stuffing) of suit.  I think that the “take to” is out of place here as “take to” does not imply a charade.  Perhaps “with” would have been better here.

10 Greatest duty is essentially to lead largest number (6)
UTMOST – The inner letters (essential) before (to lead) a word for the largest number.  The “is” could have been omitted here and it would have improved the cryptic grammar whilst maintaining the surface reading.

11 Turning lovely (8)
BECOMING – A double definition.

12 Take back support when it comes before informant or judge (10)
ARBITRATOR – Reverse a female item of underwear (take back support) and follow it with the IT from the clue, a word meaning an informant and the OR from the clue.

14 Cheers following US lawyer’s evidence (4)
DATA – The abbreviation for District Attorney (US lawyer) followed by a word meaning cheers or thank you.

16 Ireland before the first person invaded? (4)
EIRE – The letter representing the first person goes inside (invaded) a word meaning before.

17 Audible toss of coins (5)
SONIC – An anagram (toss of) COINS.  I am not sure that the definition and the answer are synonyms.  Audible is an adjective meaning able to be heard.  The answer is an adjective meaning relating to sound.

18 Let it remain in trust eternally (4)
STET – The answer is hidden in TRUST ETERNALLY.

19 Regulate rule that lacks gravity (4)
REIN – Remove the abbreviation for the force of gravity from a word meaning rule.

21 Select a flower, we hear, as condiment (10)
PICCALILLI – The answer sound like (we hear) “pick a lily”, select a flower.

23 College poetry reveals everything (8)
UNIVERSE – A three letter abbreviation for a college followed by another word for universe.

26 Style from gold brought back by a pair of commanding officers (6)
ROCOCO – Reverse a two letter heraldic term for gold and follow it with the abbreviation for commanding officers twice (pair of).

27 Franklin maybe has a pulse (4)
BEAN – The short form of Benjamin (as in Benjamin Franklin) includes (has) an A included.  A minor niggle, but unless Benjamin Franklin was ever known by the diminutive, this is slightly unfair on the solver.  Has as an inclusion indicator is at best very weak and a stronger one such as “describes” would have improved the clue.

28 Nothing organic or ecofriendly is khaki (5,5)
OLIVE GREEN – The letter representing nothing followed by a word meaning organic and a word meaning eco-friendly.  I don’t think that live is a direct synonym for organic, something that is organic may be living.  Also, and more important, the “or” is simply wrong.  It could be replaced by an “and”.


1 Mix finest rare ingredients (10)
FRATERNISE – An anagram (ingredients) of FINEST RARE.  Some editors will not allow a noun as an anagram indicator. Also, although ingredients as a noun, implies component parts, there is nothing as a nounal anagram indicator to indicate rearrangement of the component parts.   To keep the surface reading this would be difficult but you could have “Mix recipe of finest rare ingredients”.

2 Bar open season without delay (2,2,4)
IN NO TIME – A three letter word for a bar or pub followed by an O (open?) and a word for a season.  O is not give as a recognised abbreviation in Chambers and I have not found any other reference to it used in this way.

3 Coconut shell sitting in almost sweet liquid (6)
NECTAR – The outer letters (shell) of coconut inside a word meaning almost.  As a synonym, almost would give “nearly” or “very nearly” rather than “near”.

4 Is part of riverbank crumbling, collapsing or eroding? (4)
VERB – The answer, forming part of the word riverbank is exemplified by the final words of the clue.  This construction could have been made a bit smoother to remove the “is” with “Part of riverbank maybe crumbling, collapsing or eroding?”.

5 Moving the French court into Morecambe, perhaps (8)
ELECTRIC – The French masculine form of “the” and the abbreviation for court go inside (into) the first name of the comedian Mr Morecambe.

6 Appeared to be joined in speech (6)
SEEMED – A homophone (in speech) of seamed (joined).

7 Go initially to where the Ashes are kept (4)
TURN – The first letter (initially) of to followed by another word for the vase in which the Ashes are kept.

13 Medicine for spasm’s working internally (5)
TONIC – A word meaning working goes inside a word for a nervous or muscular spasm.  The link word here does not work as we get definition FOR wordplay which is back to front.

15 Refurbished cell bereft of staff sign (6,4)
TREBLE CLEF – An anagram (refurbished) of CELL BEREFT.

17 Fabulous accommodation on the outskirts of Brazilian city is even better (8)
SUPERIOR – A meaning fabulous goes around (accommodation on the outskirts of) a Brazilian city.  As has been pointed out, the synonym in the wordplay for “fabulous” is closely related to the answer and a bit more misdirection could have been provided with “Police chief” or something similar.  Accommodation on the outskirts of is rather clunky containment indicator.  Maybe something along the lines of “Police chief’s touring Brazilian city’s lake”.   

18 Panic about family’s facial treatments, maybe (8)
SKINCARE – A word for a panic goes around a word for family.

20 Explosion of an oven elicits prayer (6)
NOVENA – An anagram (explosion of) AN OVEN.

22 One deadly sin is acceptable (6)
AGREED – A word meaning one (as in I will have one/a cake) followed by one of the seven deadly sins.

24 Festive season marks the change from flight to fight (4)
NOEL – Split 2, 2 the answer means removing the letter L (phonetically ‘el’), as in getting from flight to fight.

25 16’s rising lake (4)
ERIE – Reverse (rising) the answer 16a.


40 comments on “Rookie Corner – 078

  1. A very accomplished, and fairly straightforward crossword. (That’s two in a row that I’ve managed to do in my first bash – I normally have to work all day at them, and still often don’t complete).
    In terms of test solving, I would have preferred ‘and’ to ‘or’ in 28a, and ‘ingredients’ as an anagram indicator threw me for a while, perhaps unfairly, though it made for a very nice surface. I might have questioned a couple of the definitions, but all is probably fine. As you can see, this is a very short list of minor questions.
    The surfaces are superb throughout. I particularly liked most of the clues to the 4-letter words, with 27a just being beaten by 4d as my favourite.
    Very well done, and many thanks.

  2. Who would have thought to even check whether that would fit in alternate spaces round a 15×15 grid. Well done Hasslethymi. The puzzle was pretty good too so thanks, and for the laugh when the nina revealed irself.

  3. Great stuff Ash, on the gentle side at first, at least enough to give me the last word of the nina and the first three letters of the first, from which I was able to put in the rest, which made the left side rather easier than it might otherwise have been. I may not have got eg 10a quite as readily as I did without the helpful first letter. Funnily enough I thought as I solved 16a that it would serve equally well as a clue for 25d (mut mut) before I even read 25d. :). Loved 8a. As Snape said, some really nice surfaces. Educational too – never heard of 9a. Nice ambiguity with 27a, had me wondering whether Franklin was some kind of rhyming slang for wager before I twigged. :)

  4. A bit late getting on to it as we have been at daytime movies. We picked the Nina quite quickly which was certainly a big help in rattling through the answers. A nicely crafted puzzle with a good range of clue types. Plenty to enjoy.
    Many thanks Hasslethymi.

  5. I completed the grid before looking for the nina indicated by the puzzle title. Good one! I do tip my hat to anyone who can do those wrap-around ninas and devise good clues that involve the nina letters. I thought the surface readings were excellent, but perhaps the pitch of the puzzle overall was maybe just a tad on the easy side. The wording of 27A made me smile so I’m picking that as my favorite.

  6. Thanks to all for the lovely feedback and to Dave, of course, for the publication. (The easiness was intentional, by the way. Nobody likes to think too hard on a Monday morning, do they?!)

  7. Other people have already picked up on the things I’d have mentioned so I’ll just thank our setter for a nice gentle start to Monday morning. I saw the Nina once I’d filled in the solutions in the SW corner.

  8. No need to ask where your nom de plume ccmes from Ashley! An enjoyable romp for a Monday morning, indeed. Nice discovery for the Nina – makes me wonder how many other 26 letterers are out there waiting to used…
    I filled the right side of the grid first, as it happened, after which the Nina was a gimme. Did you hesitate before giving us that title, I wonder? It certainly made for a much quicker solve.
    A faulttless puzzle as far as I could see – all I could really question was the somewhat stretched definition in 5d. On the other hand there were loads of clues with ticks by them when I’d finished: 11a, 12a, 16a, 4d, 15d, 18d, 24d and 25d.
    Excellent achievement on many levels. Thank you!

  9. Many thanks Ash,

    Loved the Border Agency, very good. Congratulations on keeping it simple. Lots of great clues that would be fine in published crosswords: I ticked 14a (cheers..), 17a (audible toss – very nice), 18a (Let it remain in trust eternally – brilliant!), 23a (college poetry), 27a (Franklin), 6d (appeared to be joined), 13d (medicine), 18d (panic..), and 24d (festive season). Pretty good!

    Some pretty minor comments that I hope will be useful to you: 9a not sure you need both “take” and “to”, 10a – I don’t think you want the “is” (the surface would have to be “is essential”), 28a people might disagree with your colour interpretation! (and Snape’s point about the “or”), 2d I don’t think this abbreviation for o is in Chambers, 4d you chose a tense that can also be an adjective or even a noun, the infinitive might have been preferable, 17d I found this a confusing surrounding indicator since outskirts of sort of means the limits, and is often used to mean first and last letter: “surrounding” or similar would have been smoother for me.

    oh, in 1d I think ingredients works fine, as in “components of”, a great surface too and nice play on mix.

    Congratulations, great stuff, many thanks for this, look forward to the next one

    1. hm, in light of other comments, ingredients is indeed a nounal anagrind and perhaps used more effectively as “using ingredients of xx” or “xx ingredients providing” or similar. On the other hand, brb defines ingredient as “something put into a mixture”. An interesting one.

  10. Thanks to Hasslethymi for a nice Monday crossword. I’ll pick 23a as my favourite.

    Since there’s not much room left for improvement on the technical side, I’ve got a slightly different suggestion to offer which I hope may be of interest.

    In an interview with an Australian setter, David Stickley, I once discovered mention of a “no definition/wordplay etymology crossover” rule, which is apparently common in US cryptic crosswords. The idea is that no part of the wordplay should share an etymological connection with the answer. No UK newspapers apply such a rule, but Mr Stickley is of the opinion that it leads to more satisfying clues. I always find it useful just to keep it in mind as a guideline, and would probably look for alternative constructions of 17d and 28a as a result.

    If anyone would like to read the full interview, it’s online here:

    Thanks once more, Hasslethymi, and keep them coming!

    1. Thanks, Cyborg. I’ve seen this point made elsewhere a couple of times, but couldn’t make out what it was on about. Your explanation, together with the useful direct reference to my own clues, has made the penny drop, so now I know how to go forward. Many thanks again!

  11. Most enjoyable Ash – and I for one didn’t find it easier than today’s back-pager. I’ll leave it to the experts to nit-pick and just say that the best ones for me were 12&21a plus 4&24d.
    As Pommers said – who would have thought that such a seemingly long Nina would fit!

  12. Top marks for yet another superbly crafted puzzle, Ashley.

    The Nina became apparent about half-way in, and certainly helped to accelerate the completion of the remaining clues. 20d represented a new word for me, but wasn’t difficult to work out.

    Putting on my Craig Revel Horwood ultra-picky hat, it could be argued that the definitions in 17a and 5d were somewhat questionable, and I wasn’t totally struck on “take to” as linkage in 9a, although I really did like the idea of combining outside letters and inside letters together. These are merely minor points though in what was overall a first rate effort.

    Despite the surface not being the strongest (it stood out a little as the others were so smooth), I’ll nominate 24d as my personal favourite as I did like the construction.

    Congratulations Ashley and look forward to your next one.

  13. Very nice puzzle, lots of excellently constructed clues, too many to list them all but particularly liked 4d, 21a (the clue – can’t stand the actual product), and 24a. Hinting at the nina in the intro was very helpful, I’d probably have missed it otherwise, I normally do!

    Like Snape I’d noted the dodgy “or” in 28a.

    I have one quibble though and that is with 2d. Some people don’t like any nounal anagrinds; personally I see nothing wrong as long as they are words such as “development” or “organisation” i.e. where the noun relates to a verb that suggests positively rearranging the letters. So the fodder might have been “developed” or “organised”. I don’t see this works for “ingredients”, and furthermore there is a genuine anagrind on show in “mix”. So I read the wordplay as “rearrange FINEST RARE to make a word meaning ingredients”. So I picked the answer from that instruction as the only word that I could make fit, and then pondered how it could mean “ingredients”. And unfortunately the overall clue doesn’t work as a definition to make it an &lit.

    A very good enjoyable solve though, thanks for sharing it, look forward to the next one.

    1. Do you mean 1D? I have no issue with this. I read it as the ingredients ((letters) of ‘finest rare’ gives a word meaning mix. Seems to me that it’s a perfectly fair clue. The ingredients of a recipe are all the bits that go into making the final dish!

      1. Sorry, 1d, not 2d, glad someone’s awake!

        I can’t agree with that. You can have all the ingredients you like but you’ve got to be told to do something with them. Here that requires “mix” to do double duty (as definition and anagrind), which only works in an &lit as far as I know. It feels to me as though it crosses the line for this kind of clue, but I do sometimes argue that if the solver doesn’t mind then it’s not unfair. I don’t normally win that one though.

        1. I’m just a simple soul. I spot what seems to be the obvious path and if it makes sense I happily take it. I really don’t care to analyse every nuance for some indiscretion on the setter’s part, though I do understand that for some detailed analysis is integral to the solve. Not for me. I just like to have a little brain exercise that’s fun at the same time.

  14. Thanks Hasslethymi, I really enjoyed this. Excellent work on the wrap around Nina, and thanks to the helpful signposting in the title I was for once able to spot it before having it pointed out to me. I only had a couple of minor quibbles and those have already been picked up in the comments above.

    I think you did an excellent job with the 4 letter clues, which can often be problematic. My favourite was 24d.

  15. I think people on this page in particular would appreciate the joint puzzle put together by 21 rookies from Anax’s DIY COW forum

    it is presented as the guest puzzle on


    1. Umm – got there in the end without the hints but found some of it a bit ‘off the wall’. I did check afterwards and discovered that none of my ‘really!’ comments applied to your clues.

      1. Hi Dutch – just did that truly remarkable puzzle. What a thing! Has that ever been done before, I wonder?
        Don’t tell the others, but 5d -Square menswear for older age group? (8) was actually my favourite clue! Thanks for letting us know. :)

    2. Thanks for trailing the puzzle, Dutch (great clues of yours, BTW!) – but I fancy that eXternal might not be best described as a rookie! The puzzle is by setters who are members of The DIY COW and aims to show the breadth of talent there and has setters all the way from the newish, to the, er, eXternal!

      Cheers also to everyone who has had a peek from the brilliant Big Dave’s – hope you enjoyed it. :)

  16. Very refreshing crossword.
    Smooth surface and easy to parse clueing.
    Great Nina too.
    Thanks to Mr Smith and bring on Number 3.

  17. Even I spotted the nina with the helpful title and that was a big help. All very smooth 4d is my favourite for the wordplay, and 21a is timely because I made a huge batch this weekend to be ready for Christmas. Only problem is I ran out of little jars so friends and family will be getting enormous vats of the stuff. I digress… Thanks Hasslethymi for a very well done crossword

  18. I loved it – I did spot the Nina, just for once, – couldn’t really miss it – and I don’t know enough about what’s allowed and what isn’t to notice if anyone’s thumb is sticking up!
    Spent a long time trying to decide whether 28a was ‘green brown’ or ‘brown green’ – oh dear – wrong again!
    I liked 21a, although I hate the beastly yellow stuff, and 4d.
    With thanks for the crossword and congratulations to the setter, and thanks to Prolixic for the review.

        1. If only you were coming to the meet up later this month! I’d bring you a big jar and some chutney to boot.

  19. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic – always a most interesting read. The seeming ease with which you re-clue something that doesn’t quite work must have our Rookies gnashing their teeth at times!

    1. Forgot to mention – I did come across two characters called Franklin Bean. One is a major character in the Fantastic Mr. Fox series and the other a dog in the books written for children by Emmy Swain. I wondered whether Hasslethymi was thinking of one of those?

      1. It’s very common over here for Benjamin Franklin to be referred to simply as Ben Franklin.

  20. Huge thanks to Prolixic for the review, all of which is most enlightening and will continue to help me to develop my style as I go forward. Particularly annoyed with myself for missing the opportunity to define ‘superior’ with ‘lake’, given my usual geographical obsessions!

  21. Sorry H. I did this as soon as it came out and was about to post when the phone went – then …

    As I recall I found it quite easy but nonetheless very enjoyable. I particularly liked the naturalness of the surfaces.

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