Rookie Corner – 120 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 120

A Puzzle by Moolally

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Moolally says that this, his debut, crossword is based on the Times Quick Cryptic in terms of size (13×13), style and intended difficulty. 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 by Prolixic follows.

Our thanks to Moolally for an encouraging debut in the Rookie Corner.  Overall, a very good start.  The main thing to concentrate is to produce some some meaningful surface readings.  Whilst they can be surreal, they should make some kind of sense.  


1 Recognize smasher after five hundred and one seconds (7)
DISCERN – The Roman numeral for 500, the letter representing one, the abbreviation for second and the name of the European facility for smashing together sub-atomic particles at high speed.

5 Point a round record store (5)
DEPOT – A three letter word for a point or spot goes around an abbreviation for a record.

8 Kitchen appliance cooled professor, compare, exchange and lose the French (4,9)
FOOD PROCESSOR – Within the phrase “cooled professor” exchange the letters that make up the Latin abbreviation for compare and remove the French masculine form of the.  I don’t think that compare exchange is necessarily a clear enough indication to take the letters from the abbreviation and swap them around.  The surface reading of the clue is meaningless.

9 Needle used to make a woman perhaps? (3)
RIB – Double definition, with needle meaning to tease and an allusion to the source of Eve in the creation stories in Genesis.

10 Count and jeer first two theatregoers making ticket office (9)
TOLLBOOTH – A four letter word meaning count (or number of casualties) followed by the sound an audience may make to jeer someone and the first two letters from theatregoers.  Depending on the editor, first two may need to be “first two of”, or “leading pair of” to satisfy the cryptic grammar.

12 Emergency credit is double (6)
CRISIS – The abbreviation for credit followed by two lots of the IS from the clue.

13 Guard caused loss of hearing, I hear? (6)
DEFEND – A homophone of deafened (caused loss of hearing).  Not sure that the homophone works for me.

15 Candid creeps regularly see the name used by postman (9)
ADDRESSEE – The even letter in cAnDiD cReEpS followed by the SEE from the clue.

16 Boat with the front sawn off towards the back (3)
AFT – Remove the first letter (with the front sawn off) from a type of boat used by the Kontiki expedition.

18 Crooked P R maniac’s game a slanderous plan to discredit (5,8)
SMEAR CAMPAIGN – An anagram (crooked) of PR MANIACS GAME

20 Throw English class (5)
CASTE – Another word for throw followed by the abbreviation for English.

21 Unlearn estuarian amongst serious minded (7)
EARNEST – The answer is hidden in UNLEARN ESTUARIAN.  I don’t think that the hidden word indicator “amongst” works when it comes after the words to be used and the answer.


1 Worldwide fervour, partly put off (5)
DEFER –The answer is hidden (partly) in WORLDWIDE FERVOUR.

2 Confused blondness wins sight loss from UV rays (4-9)
SNOW BLINDNESS – An anagram (confused) of BLONDNESS WINS.  Another clue where the surface reading makes little sense.

3 Identify worried atheist MEP without cross (9)
EMPATHISE – An anagram (worried) of ATHEIST MEP after removing one of the Ts (without cross).  Using cross for a T is not a usual indicator but does represent the shape of one form of cross used as a means of execution.  

4 Head found in chicken chow mein! (6)
NOODLE – One of the ingredients in a chow mein is also the name for a head.

5 Colour seen in gaudy enamel (3)
DYE – The answer is hidden in GUADY ENAMEL.

6 Following secret agent after surgery (4-9)
POST-OPERATIVE – Another word meaning following and another word meaning a secret agent.

7 Cremated editor under mountain church (7)
TORCHED – A three letter word for a rocky hill or height (hardly a mountain!) followed by the abbreviation for church and the abbreviation for editor.  

11 Retain queen after worker for man with a skep (9)
BEEKEEPER – An insect associated with workers followed by a word meaning retain and the abbreviation for the current queen.

12 Both typical and outstanding? (7)
CLASSIC – A double definition.

14 Bolt found onboard, top left (6)
ESCAPE – One of the keys found on a keyboard without the “key” (top left).  Some editors would not be happy with the requirement to split onboard to on board without an indication that the split is needed.

17 Principle returns too (5)
TENET – A palindromic (returns too) word for principle

19 Or first eight scrambled eggs (3)
ORE – An anagram (scrambled) of OR E (first eight).  Three letter anagrams are rarely worth the effort.  Some editors would require first of eight.

28 comments on “Rookie Corner – 120

  1. A good debut but there are a few things I’d point out.

    The wordplay for the anagram clues is a bit too complicated, particularly in the case of 8a where the definition and enumeration make it clear what the solution has to be from a first glance at the anagram fodder.
    13a I’ve muttered this several times and I don’t think it works as a homophone
    14a No idea how I get the solution
    3d The boss and I have discussed this at length and we think the solution for 3d is more ‘identify with’ than just ‘identify’
    19a Not sure an anagram works for a three letter word – might it have been better to reverse the OR?

    Some good lurkers and lots to enjoy, I particularly liked 4d.

    Hope to see you back here again with another puzzle as this is definitely a great start to your crossword setting “career”

    1. CS, I think 8a is more Lego than anagram. You just take the two words, swap the two letters which are an abbreviation for compare and remove the French word for “the”.

      I too was in two minds about 3d, but aren’t “identify with” and “3d with” interchangeable?

      1. Good spot on 8a, RD. That makes it a better clue than the anagram I’d assumed (though the surface is still not great).

    2. Thank you all for your very encouraging and incredibly helpful comments – and most importantly for your criticisms and quibbles. What an astonishingly helpful community there is on this website.

      On a particular point – does anyone know where I can find the relevant acceptable first letter indications for each of the major dailies – Times, Telegraph, Guardian and FT.

      P.S. Jolly Swagman – nice guess, Moolally is the first name my baby daughter ever gave anything [her favourite spoon] and we thought it a worthy attempt at I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’s Uxbridge English Dictionary round for just that reason.

      PPS crypticsue – 14d ESCAPE is from the top left key on a computer keyboard. I was worried this wouldn’t be acceptable so very interested to hear what you think now I’ve described the logic. Does it breach the rules for being too convoluted/obscure?

      PPS empathise and identify, I struggled with this and after consulting a dozen dictionaries which all described them as synonyms – decided that because you can “empathise with” someone, that empathise on it’s own couldn’t mean “identify with”. Either way, I empathise with you finding the clue unsatisfactory

      thanks again everyone – I can’t wait to crack on with my next one!

      1. Look forward to seeing the next one! As Jean-Luc and Silvanus have said (either explicitly or otherwise), how about a 15×15 next time?


  2. Welcome Moolally! A good first crossword and an enjoyable solve. Thank you! More detailed feedback below.


    Most of the wordplay is accurate and you’ve used some nice cryptic definitions or part-definitions here and there – I particularly liked ‘smasher’ in 1a and ‘onboard’ in 14d. You’ll get some great tips from Prolixic tomorrow on wordplay – things like ‘A amongst B’ in 21a are ones to watch for and slip-ups we’ve all made at some time or another! I also wasn’t sure about 13a and 3d. Perhaps the anagram in 8a is a bit too similar to the answer. In your next one perhaps your focus should be on the surface reading of your clues, as some of them don’t really make sense in their own right e.g. 8a. My favourite was 15a and my LOI was 10a as I waited for the checking letters to be sure of the first half. Finally I also always like a new piece of vocabulary from either an answer or clue and ‘skep’ was a new one for me. I hope this helps and thanks again!

  3. An enjoyable puzzle – thanks Moolally. I don’t know the Times Quick Cryptic so I can’t tell if you’ve matched its level of difficulty but I thought you achieved a good mixture of clue types. As mentioned above a couple of the long anagrams (8a and 2d) were a bit too obvious from the enumeration and fodder and some of the surface readings (e.g. 8a and 21a) weren’t terribly smooth. I wasn’t convinced by the 13a homophone. I liked the ‘smasher’ in 1a but my favourite clue was 14d.
    I look forward to your next puzzle.

  4. Hi Moolally, and welcome. Thank you for an very enjoyable first crossword, I hope we see more from you soon.
    I thought you got the difficulty level right for what you were aiming for (well done, this is no easy thing!) and my favourite was the nicely spotted and worked anagram in 18a – the surface raised a smile.

    Prolixic will no doubt raise a couple of points in the review, for example the use of ‘first two theatregoers’ to indicate ‘th’ (for the Times, certainly, it would need to be ‘first two of theatregoers’ or something similar) but I would agree with Encota that the surfaces are something to work on. 8a was the obvious culprit here – try saying that sentence to someone and see what reaction you get! 11d is a clue that can be slightly dissatisfying – nothing wrong with it, certainly not in a quick cryptic – but the components are broken down into parts that are derived from exactly the same root in the wordplay and the answer, and you wouldn’t want to do this many times in a puzzle. All those Es in the answer make it awkward to clue though.
    My thoughts with 3d were the same as CS’s.
    Great start, well done.

    1. I believe that under the new editor Times rules for first letter indications and the like are different from before.

      I suppose we’ll keep calling him “new” until he’s been there for about 10 years of so.

      1. The setting is certainly more liberal now than it used to be but I think the point Snape makes would still apply, likewise “first eight” wouldn’t work in 19d. I tackle the Times main puzzle most days and I don’t think I’ve seen different on this particular point, but of course if I manage to solve the clues as written I don’t normally stop and analyse them in the way we do here as “test-solvers”

  5. Hi Moolally and welcome from me too.

    If you are not aware of it already, the feedback which you’ll receive in Rookie Corner is second to none and the first few commenters today have already covered just about all of the points I was going to make, but much more succinctly! Like Encota, “skep” was a new word for me too, and I’ve taken a liking to it already :-)

    I think that, despite the evident rough edges, there is a lot of promise to be found in your debut puzzle and there are clear signs from certain clues (like the use of “smasher” and “onboard”) that you already have the capability to disguise meanings of words to deceive the solver.

    My ticks went to 1a, 10a, 11d and 14d.

    Many thanks and I look forward to your next one – a 15 x 15 grid hopefully?

  6. Nice puzzle Moolally – and I had to wonder whether your moniker has anything to do with mad (or crazy) cows – maybe you’re a dairy farmer.

    I’m not familiar with The Times Quick Cryptic series although all credit to Murdoch and his minions for running one – please the punters to make the mullah – why not – but if I’d found this puzzle in a local paper or a women’s magazine (which I imagine is generally the same sort of thing being pitched at) I would have been more than pleasantly pleased.

    My favourite was 3d – lots of elements of top-class clues there but still not tricky to solve – also 12a.

    A few minor quibbles

    21a – the post-operative indicator is probably more suited to tougher puzzles – otherwise casual solvers reckon it to be inside out.

    13a – homophones – always good for controversy. Why can’t we just say puns? Oh – of course – the uberquibblers won’t accept a good groanworthy pun – it has to be a homophone – an exact match – then leading to endless debates about different regional pronunciations. Anyway – that said – and having staked out my broader-than-most acceptance of variation – I have to say I can’t make that one work – so it falls to you to name a locality with whose pronunciation it does work.

    Not a quibble really – but not all your surfaces painted a graphic image. That leaves you in good company – eg Araucaria – whose surfaces varied from couldn’t-care-less to surreal and of course brilliant and multi-layered in his hall-of-fame clues – a form of intentional chiaroscuro possibly, which made those latter ones stand out even more. I’m not sure what the expectations are in the sort of puzzles this is pitched at – but in the so-called qualities (ha-ha – out of date term – horoscopes in the Seikenised DT can’t be far away) every surface a clear image seems to be the rule these days.

    Aside from that I think you achieved your aim – and, although it’s not my usual cup of tea, I enjoyed the solve very much.

    Many thanks.

  7. Well, what can I say other than I agree completely with Silvanus? I’d only add 4d to his list of ticks.

    In 3d, is it OK to use “without cross” to mean remove a T?

    Lots of humour and good surfaces here (although I thought 8a was clunky), and as others have mentioned some nice disguises.

    Very well done Moolally, and many thanks for the entertainment.

  8. Hi, Moolally, welcome to Rookie Corner.
    As Silvanus commented, the points I would raise have already been covered by the first few to leave feedback. I made particular note of the following:-
    I think it’s important for surface reads to make sense. Getting someone to test solve might help a lot in that respect.
    A couple of the anagrams (8a&2d) are too obvious but 18a proves that you can do it well!
    The wording of 21a gives the wrong instruction to the solver.
    3d – as CS remarked – probably needs the addition of ‘with’ to get the correct sense.
    13a doesn’t seem to work as a homophone, which is a pity as it was a great idea.

    However, I thought this was a good debut puzzle showing variety in clue types and an ability to ‘think outside the box’.
    My personal ticks went to 9&18a.
    Thank you, Moolally, hope we see some more from you soon.

  9. I’m not a Timeser, but this seemed perfectly pitched as a quick cryptic to me. Others have mentioned the technical issues and there’s no need for me to copy and paste from Snape’s comment! I’m you’ll have those sorts of things ironed out in no time. I enjoyed this, my only problem being with parsing 14d. Skep was a new word for me.

    Btw, given that a debut puzzle is unlikely to be flawless, pitching it at this level is admirable. Are you planning to perfect the foundations and then move on to more fiendish territory or continue with the quiptics? Either would be a good aim, I’m merely interested.

    I thought 12a and 7d particularly smooth and polished. My favourites are 18a and 4d.

    Thanks to Moolally (I like your name!) and thanks in advance to Prolixic for the review.

  10. In 3d the answer and “identify” can both precede “with” to give two-word phrases which are interchangeable.

    Strip away “with” and you have an exact match.

    If you can find examples where one needs the “with” and the other doesn’t that’s by the way – it’s the one that works that counts.

  11. Smashing start Moolally from 1a onwards.
    I’m with others on does T = cross at 3d?
    13a either doesn’t quite work or works brilliantly if “I hear” serves as both homophone indicator and an &lit.

  12. Many thanks and well done Moolally.

    I thought you hit the level rather well – reasonably simple but a few requiring more thought – that’s a great achievement.

    Then were were some tricks that you wouldn’t normally see in an easy crossword – without cross, compare exchange (though I might have preferred exchange compare, with exchange as an imperative coming before cf).

    I thought the anagrams were a bit obvious but then I was delighted with “after surgery”, which looks like an anagram indicator but is a def.

    I too was a fan of smasher, though I suppose that involves some familiarity with the answer. But I am still missing the parsing of 14d, even though the others have said how much they like onboard – ok, just got it. So that requires a lift-and-separate which also tends to be typical of more difficult puzzles.

    Clues I liked include 1a, 9a, 20a, 1d, 4d, 5d, 6d, 12d. 17d.

    I really liked 4d, a good laugh – I think it works as a CD – if it is intended as a DD, you might want to make the second half nounal (head that is found…)

    I wasn’t happy with amongst coming after the fodder instead of before (21d) and the first eight (vs first of eight) and first two theatregoers (19d, 10a) but opinion may be divided.

    I look forward to Prolixic’s full commentary

    Well done, keep up the good work, already looking forward to your next one

  13. Really enjoyed your first crossword Moolally.
    Liked the smasher in 1a.
    Over too soon due to the size of the grid so had a chance to have a go at a third crossword (guardian Rufus as it happens).
    Thanks for the challenge and hope to see more soon.

  14. Hi Moolally,

    This was enjoyable gentle fun, so perfect for a quick cryptic I would say (not that I’ve done the Times one though!). All my quibbles have been highlighted by the commenters above so I won’t restate them here. I really liked 14d, which was my last one to parse, but I’ll pick 1a as my favourite as I really liked the use of ‘smasher’.

    Well done on a great debut. Thanks!

  15. Hi Moolally

    Having solved your puzzle this morning I occupied some of my time this afternoon waiting for a hospital appointment – which was inevitably running late – by trying the Times quick cryptic. Yours took me about 10 minutes longer than the Times, so not a big difference. Based on this, and on the other odd occasions I’ve done the quick cryptic, I’d say you’ve come pretty close to what you aimed for.

    Subject to some of the reservations already discussed above most of the clues fit the bill in having simple enough wordplay, which I think is the key to it, and apart from skep no obscure vocab. I’m not sure something like 3d does though as the fodder for the anagram has to be modified first (I don’t get “without cross” = delete T either). Nor perhaps 14d where you have to separate on from board first to get the cryptic meaning you wanted.

    8a is definitely too convoluted and the second word in the 2d anagram only has one letter changed. I’m sure it’s much harder to set “easy” clues for some words and phrases than it looks and it might well be that the 2d phrase just doesn’t lend itself to a straightforward approach.

    But overall if you can make the surfaces smoother I think you’ll have done a great job. Thanks for posting it.

  16. One of our first actions on returning to the realm of crosswords was to print this one out and tackle it. Nice level of difficulty and good fun.
    Thanks Moolally.

  17. I really don’t have anything to add, except to say that the “rules” can be learned but coming up with consistently smooth surfaces that make sense and relate to the answer without being too obvious is a skill that surely can only be honed with time and practice. My favorite is 11D because I thought it was a winner on all counts. Good job, Moolally.

  18. Brilliant idea – and a bold one – to debut with a 13 x 13.
    My favourite clues were 5a (neat) 9a (original) 15a (well worked) 16a (natty) 4d (great fun, even if I did balk at the self-congratulatoty exclamation mark) 7d (nicely put together) and 17d (clever device).
    However my standout favourite from a super puzzle must surely go to 12a – concise, a great surface and a top notch bit of wordplay.
    Looking forward ro the next one Moolally – maybe a 15 X 15?

  19. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic – appreciated as ever. Just a couple of points, if I may – the incorrect answer has been given for 1d (doubtless just a slip of the keys) and the comment re: splitting ‘onboard’ has been put with 7d instead of 14d.

    Thanks again to Moolally – hope the review encourages you to produce another puzzle for us.

  20. This is the first crossword I’ve attempted in nearly two months – thank you Moolally!

    My first RC entry was published while I was on my stag do in May, and since then I’ve been busy preparing for ‘the big day’, then turning 40 on my honeymoon (part 1) in Ibiza.

    This crossword was a very enjoyable lunchtime solve – the 13 x 13 grid made my eyes widen immediately! I hope the feedback will encourage you to write many more, I would be lost without the advice of the splendid people on this website.

    And you should see another one from me soon!

    1. Great to see you back and I hope all is going / has gone to plan! Look forward to your next puzzle…

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