Rookie Corner – 096

Keynote Address by Sprocker

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Tilsit is still putting the finishing touches to the special puzzle, which has been postponed for a second week.  Instead we have a delightful puzzle from Sprocker.  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 by Prolixic follows.

Greetings from the Egham vomitarium where a winter bug is wreaking havoc among Prolixic’s kith and kin.  As such, I solved this amid various cleaning and nursing duties and a trip to A&E so apologies for the late review and any shortcomings in the parsings as I bashed this one in very early in the morning having had very little sleep.

This was a feat of engineering to get all of the key and notes of various kinds into the grid and clues whilst maintaining the surface readings.  Congratulations to Sprocker


8 Key notes? (6)
MELODY – A mild cryptic definition of a tune.

9 Note I bed maltreated submissive (8)
OBEDIENT – An anagram (maltreated) of NOTE I BED.

10 Note in which I’m describing live bullet not even capable of being shot (8)
FILMABLE – The musical note Fa around (in which) the I’m from the clue around (describing) an abbreviation for live followed by the odd letters (not even) of bullet.

11 Note from opponents on the edge of Nevadan city (6)
RENOWN – The name of a city in Nevada followed by opposing players in a game of Bridge.

12 Noteworthy 6 precedes a half-century (6)
SIGNAL – The answer to 6 down followed by the A from the clue and the Roman numeral for 50 (half-century,

13 Key Largo’s southern tip strangely unknown (8)
GLOSSARY – An anagram (strangely) of LARGOS S (Southern tip) followed by a letter for an unknown quantity in algebra.

15 On two notes sweetheart delivers setback… (7)
RELAPSE – The abbreviation for on or about followed by the musical note La and a note added as an afterthought and completed with the middle letter (heart) of sweet.

17 …after three more notes, diamonds withdrawn (7)
RETIRED – The musical notes Re Ti Re followed by the abbreviation for diamonds.

20 Sad note follows service and provides colour (4,4)
NAVY BLUE – One of the armed services followed by a word for a sad note (which I suppose comes from the singular of a type of sad music).

22 Tasteless design is key inside small cat’s hospital (6)
KITSCH – The musical key of C inside a three letter word for a small cat with the ‘s added and the abbreviation for hospital.

23 Note I’ve stolen from investigator (6)
DETECT – Remove (stolen) the IVE from another word from an investigator such as a policeman.

25 Shower leaders of Southern Pacific Railroad in nasty key lime emulsion (8)
SPRINKLE – The first letters (leaders of) the fourth to eleventh letters of the clue.

26 Mostly dreary note by North-German creating fight (4-4)
DING DONG – Another word for dreary with the final letter removed (mostly) followed by the musical note Do and the abbreviations for North and German.

27 You can press in these keys right away (6)
INSETS – The plural of a key on a computer keyboard without the abbreviation for R.


1 Key I found in eviscerated, missing judge hanging upside-down (8)
DECISIVE – Remove a word meaning to judge from the eviscerated in the clue, reverse the letters (upside down) and include the I from the clue.

2 Note on a railway report (10)
COMMENTARY – Another word for a note or remark followed by the A from the clue and an abbreviation for railway.

3 Mark stupidly lost my key – not thrilled initially (6)
SYMBOL – An anagram (stupidly) of LOST MY B (key) without the T (not thrilled initially).  Rats, rats, rats an indirect anagram.  Sorry but this is on the wrong side of being an indirect anagram even with the preamble about each note and key being used only once.

4 Key overrule is strange (7)
FOREIGN – The musical key of F followed by the abbreviation for over and another word for rule.  Some editors will not accept having to split over/rule without an indication that you need to do so.

5 Fare badly, note setter is terrible (8)
FEARSOME – An anagram (badly) of FARE followed by the musical note So and a two letter word for a setter.

6 Notice short boy with good note (4)
SIGN – A shortened version of the name Simon followed by the abbreviations for good and note.

7 You need to find this key to solve this clue (6)
ANSWER – A somewhat elliptical cryptic definition.

14 Key one periodically needs is shady quality (10)
SHIFTINESS – A key on the computer keyboard followed by the letter represented by one and the odd letters (periodically) of needs is.  Remove the F from the answer and you get a very good description of the last couple of days here in Egham!

16 Key blend (8)
SOLUTION – A double definition.

18 Increase key quota at last, behind schedule (8)
ESCALATE – Another key on the computer keyboard followed by the final letter of quota and another word meaning behind schedule.

19 Note wizard swallowing drugs and beginning to scream (7)
MESSAGE – Another word for a wizard includes a pluralised abbreviation for ecstasy and the first letter (beginning to) scream.

21 After beer number eleven, key inability to recognise words or letters (6)
ALEXIA – A three letter word for a type of beer, the Roman numerals for 11 and the musical key of A.

22 A church pens note to support King defining a certain type of justice (6)
KARMIC – The a from the clue and the abbreviation for Roman Catholic goes around (pens) the musical note of Mi and all of this goes under (to support) an abbreviation for king.

24 Four key elements giving advantage (4)
EDGE – Four musical notes.


  1. snape
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    These instructions appear on the pdf, but not the interactive one:
    All 7 ‘notes’ of the Sol-Fa scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti), and all 7 musical ‘keys’
    (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) are represented in the wordplay, but each only appears in
    one clue. There are of course various other ‘notes’ and ‘keys’ that make an

  2. KiwiColin
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    That took a lot of really hard work and in the end I revealed a letter to help with 1d. Even with this it still took some time to unpick the wordplay. Another couple of points where I haven’t sorted everything, 10a looks to have an abbreviation that is not in BRB if I have read it correctly and I can’t justify all of 22d. An amazing accomplishment to have included so many note/key references. It is certainly a very clever puzzle.
    Thanks Sprocker.

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 7:36 am | Permalink


      As you solved this in the interactive version, and as Snape has pointed out the ‘instructions’ only appear in the PDF version, did you tackle this without them? If so, that wouldn’t have helped with the difficulty!

      For 10a the abbreviation is in Collins but not in Chambers. That does lead me into a question though – there is one clue in there which has two abbreviations, one of which is only in Chambers and one of which is only in Collins (at least in the online versions at any rate) – is it fair game to mix and match like that within a single clue?



      • KiwiColin
        Posted February 8, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Hi Sprocker, I printed the PDF as we always do. It never feels quite right to us to use the interactive version, must be an age thing. So I did have the full instructions when solving. I just went back to the site to get help with the last word.
        We certainly prefer it when we know that there is one recognised authority on what is acceptable and have got used to that being Chambers as it is the one The Telegraph uses. I have no idea on the rules or conventions with this.

        • Posted February 8, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          I’d like to say that omitting the instructions was deliberate, but it wasn’t!

          As far as abbreviations are concerned, I use Chambers and Chambers XWD: A Dictionary of Crossword Abbreviations and the one in question is in the latter.

  3. JollySwagman
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Thanks Sprocker – that was very good.

    I found that a lot harder to complete than I thought I would at first sight. Looking back I don’t know why. Most of the clues taken in isolation I would normally have a reasonable chance of solving cold after a bit of a stare. Somehow the knowledge of the theme put me off my usual game.

    I wondered whether it was really necessary to announce it all in a preamble – although later, when stuck about 3/4 the way through – I ticked off all the various notes that I had used and knowing which the few the remaining ones were helped me to get moving again. At least maybe omitting the second sentence would have made the “other” keys more of a surprise.

    Clues I ticked were: 10a, 15a, 5d, 18d.

    No quibbles on the clues themselves – except maybe (more of an observation than a quibble) – I wondered about the use of “key” in 7d and 16d. Barnard used the term “logical key” to describe what is these days commonly called a “definition” – certainly not the answer or solution itself – the thing that gives us (ie keys) the answer. But that’s a minor quibble – I twigged what you wanted straight away in those cases. Maybe I’m being too bogged down in the thought I just described

    Of course what we call “definitions” in crosswords are mostly not definitions at all – key is a much more accurate word – likewise “synonyms”.

    Just an observation – not a criticism. I’ve been doing quite a few old Araucaria puzzles lately – from the 3-volume compilation books – these are One Across puzzles – not Guardian ones. I noticed that quite often when he did a themed puzzle (ie mostly of the type where themed clues don’t have a definition) he limited the special clues to eg all the across ones and had all the down clues as conventional ones – with maybe sometimes a few intentionally easy ones – possibly to help weaker solvers get in and enjoy the fun.

    Anyway – many thanks – your aim was obviously to squeeze all that in and cover what the preamble set and you did that extremely well.

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink


      I did wonder about whether or not to include the ‘instructions’, but my intention was that they would help if people got stuck in the latter stages, and it appears that they did do that for you.

      Interesting points about the key’s in 7d and 16d – I’m going to claim them as fair game, and besides, within the constraints of the theme I think a little leeway would be justified if someone were to disagree.

      In hindsight I would likely have been better off limiting the theme somewhat as it did prove to be very constraining, and that did mean I didn’t end up with as much ‘sparkle’ as I might have liked.



  4. crypticsue
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    A proper toughie. I can’t make my mind up whether the instructions helped or hindered, as having both ‘note’ and ‘key’ in the clues does tell you what you are looking for. The NW corner held me up the longest.

    I would go for a lie down now but sadly they want me to start work.

    Thanks Sprocker and, in advance, to Prolixic too.

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t actually set out to make this one a toughie, but I did get somewhat constrained by the theme which necessitated some bits of fairly complicated wordplay.



  5. Gazza
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks Sprocker – it was no mean achievement to fit in all the keys and notes and still come up with meaningful surfaces. My favourite was 13a.

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks – 13a was significantly improved by Silvanus during the test solving, so he deserves the credit on that one.

  6. dutch
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Hi Sprocker,

    I was seriously held up with 1d at the end because of an accounting problem: I desperately wanted to get a “B” in there – until I remembered I’d already used it!

    My first impression on seeing the instructions were “what a pity, maybe they give too much away” since I kinda like ghost themes, but it became obvious that you do need to tell the solver that each key and note appear in only one clue, and actually the upfront clarification between key and note is extremely helpful!

    The additional use of key and note throughout, used to contribute to wordplay in at least 6 different clue types, as well as at least 6 different definitions, is most impressive. Well done! I have no problems with the various synonyms, when i wasn’t sure, i did find them in my chambers thesaurus app. I noticed the abbreviation that was not in chambers but found it in collins, anyway it was obvious what it needed to be.

    The two bits I wasn’t sure about were “sad note” rather than just sad in 20a, and the need for “elements” in 24a, but maybe the inclusion just helps the synonym in each case.

    I’m going to do something else now because i’ve got notes and keys swimming around everywhere i look.

    Many thanks and congratulations! lots of fun

    I’m going to be away skiing next week so I’ll miss the rookie puzzle created at the birthday bash – i’m hoping Tilsit can manage some serious editing to all the alcohol-fuelled contributions that came his way, I’m not surprised it needs another week! Many thanks Tilsit for all that effort in advance.

    • dutch
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      after beer number eleven indeed…(21d)

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! – Have fun skiing, hope you get good snow.



  7. Expat Chris
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Morning! For some reason, I’m not seeing the Rookie (or the hints for yesterday’s cryptic) on screen in the usual way when I access the blog. Last thing visible is from Saturday. I went through the FB page to download it just now so I’ll be back later.

    • stanXYZ
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Good afternoon! Expat Chris.

      I’ve been experiencing problems with this site for ages.

      As Kath would say ..”I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

  8. Maize
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Well I loved this Sprocker. It sort of sent my brain into a stew of notes and keys of various kind, out of which all the answers eventually emerged. Held up longest by thinking the second word in 20a was going to be ‘tone’, which it wasn’t, of course.
    The instructions DEFINITELY helped me – otherwise I think I might have submerged in a sea of possibilities..
    Ticks by 11a, 12a, 15a, 3d, 5d, 6d, 7d, 16d, 18d, 21d, 22d. Double ticks by 10a, 13a and my favourite, 1d.
    Many thanks – a great idea and quite an achievement to pull it off!

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      Hi Maize,

      Thanks for the lovely comments – glad you enjoyed it!



  9. jean-luc cheval
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    The instructions did help enormously especially the “only appear once” (except in 15…17 of course) and I happily ticked them off as I went along.
    Really loved all the meanings of key and note sprinkled in the clues.
    Very clever crossword and perfect clues.
    Maybe “overrule” in 4d is a bit osé and the near-indirect anagram in 3d might cause some niggling.
    Loved the construction of “note in which I’m describing live” in 10a and favourite is 18d.
    Thanks to Sprocker for an excellent achievement.

    • jean-luc cheval
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      Oh no! Sorry Sprocker. The first one in 15a is on and not a note. Silly me.

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Thanks – overrule won’t have been to everyone’s taste, but I personally quite like that kind of construction so I’m going to keep using it.

  10. Rabbit Dave
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    For too tough for me, I’m afraid. After my normal 4* time I had managed just three answers and I’ve thrown in the towel. Thanks anyway, Sprocker, and I’m glad to see that others have enjoyed your efforts.

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      I had the same experience with Encota’s latest effort a few weeks ago. As I’ve said above, I didn’t set out to make this one difficult, but working to the theme seems to have made it so.

      • Encota
        Posted February 9, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        I’ll aim to take that as a compliment ;-)

        Loved it – see my comments below!

        By the way, I’ve now submitted what I hope to be a significantly easier one to BD, so hopefully that’ll appear in the coming month or two.


  11. Jane
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Got into a bit of a two-and-eight with the instructions because I couldn’t decide whether the notes and keys were represented as spelt or as sounded. Anyway, I battled on without worrying about it but have had to ‘phone a friend’ re: 22d.

    Sorry, Sprocker, I’ve obviously gone about this one in entirely the wrong way! :phew:

    • Sprocker
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jane,

      They are all spelt out as per the instructions – I guess the best advice would be to cross them off as you use them, and Dutch’s comment above might give a few more hints to what else to look for.

      • Jane
        Posted February 8, 2016 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        Hi Sprocker,
        I did complete it all bar 22d, despite ignoring the instructions. I’ll now go back over it to make sure I can ‘tick off’ all the relevant notes and keys. By the way – ‘phone a friend’ came up trumps on 22d!

        • Sprocker
          Posted February 9, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

          Excellent – glad to hear it!


  12. Sprocker
    Posted February 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi all,

    Sorry I couldn’t make it to the birthday bash – sounds like it was lots of fun though.

    Thanks for the comments – for this one I need to give a super special big shout out to Beet, Silvanus and Snape all of whom helped enormously with test solving the initial version, and then providing lots of excellent input to get it to it’s final state. :good:



    • silvanus
      Posted February 8, 2016 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      An absolute pleasure to help, Sprocker.

      For anyone who hasn’t yet attempted the puzzle (or even those who have started but have considered it too tough to complete) I would urge you to persevere as it’s well worth it and is honestly not as tricky as you might think, especially if you follow Sprocker’s advice and tick off the respective notes and keys as you solve them.

    • snape
      Posted February 9, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Yes, an absolute pleasure, although test solving was not really what I did as my solving wasn’t up to it, so I read the answers and tried to help from there. Sorry we allowed 3d, we slipped up. It is an astonishing construction to get key or note into every single clue with one of each, especially seeing as a few were completely rewritten after comments, and to keep the clues readable and fun.

      Thanks for the review Prolixic, and hopefully everyone is back to full fitness very soon.

  13. Sprocker
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Hi Prolixic,

    Sorry to hear about your suffering. Thanks for the review – I did wonder about 3d – I justified it on the basis of the preamble, but I’m not too surprised you thought it was the wrong side of acceptable.


    Sprocker :bye:

  14. Beet
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Oh dear, things chez Prolixic sound grim. Hope everyone recovers soon.

    Congratulations to Sprocker on a real achievement of a puzzle – it didn’t have the preamble when I solved and I remember the penny dropping when I realised he’d manage to use every ABC and do re mi note, but each one only once. He does like to set himself a challenge our Sprocker!

  15. Encota
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Thanks Sprocker – I agree with others that this was Tough! Loved it!!

    When I saw the Preamble I thought “that’s giving too much away, isn’t it?” but I definitely needed it; it is the first time I have ever printed a copy off as I had to mark them off as I went along to avoid Key overload. Eventually finished in the SE corner with 27a LOI.
    Loved 13a (and feeling dopey that I did use Google Maps to check out the Southern tip of Key Largo!). 1d a very clever spot, too. 4d’s ‘lift and separate’ fine in less Ximenean puzzles – fine with me here. Accurate definitions throughout, I felt – well done given the constraints you set yourself! Aside: agree with others about the L abbreviation – and not really one I know or use, but feels ok (and I will consider it from now on).
    Wasn’t sure whether several ‘types’ of key where used should have had Definition By Example indicators – worked fine for me but others might be pickier?

    Anyway, in summary, very hard but very enjoyable! I thought that ‘hot towel over head’ I’ve had on since just finishing Saturday’s Listener was going to come off this morning, but I think I’ll need to keep it on for a while longer till I’ve recovered from yours!

    cheers and thanks again


  16. Encota
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    And thanks Prolixic for your insight as ever. Your Prologue and ‘oversharing’ in 14d’s explanation reminded me of an offhand comment once made by an Australian band about a cheap wine (to be said in a strong Australian accent): “Really opens up the sluices at both ends.”

    Hope all gets better soon for you and yours…


    • Sprocker
      Posted February 9, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      HI Encota,

      Glad you enjoyed it, and I’m very much looking forward to your next one.



  17. Jane
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks, Prolixic – definitely service ‘above and beyond’ today. Hope the bug leaves you soon – by the sounds of it you’re shifting it through fairly rapidly!

    This was certainly tough, but only 22d had me calling for assistance at the end of the day – new word for me.
    Having read the review, I’m still glad I chose to more or less ignore the instructions, although knowing about the ‘keys’ did help me to worry less about the random letters that I needed to add to some of the wordplay.

    Wrong method, right result – sounds a little like the maths teacher’s comments on my daughters’ homework when I’d tried to help them out using ‘old school’ techniques!

  18. dutch
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks Prolixic for the great review – well done picking up on the indirect anagram; I read straight past it.

    Hope everyone gets better soon

  19. JollySwagman
    Posted February 10, 2016 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    Re 3d

    Where does the idea come from that splitting surface words (either at all or without indicating that it’s to be done) is either non-ximenean or indeed a solecism in any other setting idiom?

    Barnard was fine with it.

    Ximenes (as far back as 1947) gave VHC to the following clue:

    Increases of clothing? Perhaps in 100 years! (6) for CREASY

    i.e. in creases; anag. incl. C; ref. clothes rationing

    and there the word-split (or lift-and-separate as many are now calling them) is in the *definition*.

    Re 4d

    Feeding derived single letters into anagram fodder may strictly count as indirectness but it’s not normally regarded as a solecism even in ximeneanism. I won’t bore you with examples trawled from the ximenes archive – they’re too numerous – in fact the clue above provides one already. 0nly when two or more letters are involved does the issue arise.

    • Encota
      Posted February 10, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      A really interesting read – thanks Jolly Swagman. It also encouraged me to look up Douglas Barnard, of whom I knew very little.
      I sometimes wonder if current-Times-house-rules and Ximenean are used (clearly incorrectly) interchangeably? Though I could be wrong!
      Thank you,

      • JollySwagman
        Posted February 10, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        Thanks E

        You’ve probably already discovered this but just in case – Douglas Barnard (who adopted the style D St P Barnard in publications) was, in the words of former DT puzzle editor Val Gilbert “one of the greatest crossword compilers to grace the pages of the Telegraph” – I would say (particularly allowing for the period in which he was setting) *the* greatest. His 1963 book Anatomy of the Crossword is *the* seminal book on clue-writing and it has never been surpassed – certainly not by Ximenes – although X deserves credit for his chapter on &lit (all-in-one) clues in his own otherwise unindexed book.

        The Barnard book is written in a fairly antiquated style which some people may find difficult at first sight – it is also completely rigorous – so, just like a mathematician, he has to define terms for the abstract concepts under discussion – terms which sadly have not caught on as the ximeneans have seen to it that their own looser ones are the ones which have been adopted.

        If nothing else his book is worth reading for its example clues, all of which would pass muster in most leading UK dailies today. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of. I was lucky to get an ex-library copy for quite a keen price before the prices went up. Val Gilbert’s book “A Display of Lights” describes the man himself and also provides some samples of his puzzles.

        He deserves more recognition. He was clearly a long way ahead of his time. The ximeneans have done their best to airbrush him out of history. Obviously the problem for them is that it gives the lie to the notion that the only options are ximeneanism and libertarianism (= “anything goes” according to Azed). To describe Barnard’s disciplined and well thought out notions as libertarian simply because they differ (on only a few issues) from ximeneanism would be absurd.

        I read elsewhere that The Times is moving away from its former starchiness on one or two issues. “Completely” for in T…OTO I liked (so did the blogger and the commenters) the other day.

        • Maize
          Posted February 10, 2016 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          ‘Anatomy of the Crossword’ is now on my shopping list!

  20. jean-luc cheval
    Posted February 10, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks again to Sprocker and to Prolixic for the review.
    Glad to see that the abbreviation for Live didn’t cause any problems. I was beginning to think I was the only one who had ever fitted an electrical plug with the three poles Live Neutral and Earth.