Rookie Corner – 128

A Puzzle by Cyborg

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

Crossword logo

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Here’s Cyborg’s latest puzzle – he’s looking forward to seeing what you think of it. 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.

I concur with those who have said that Cyborg is due to be elevated to the pages of the NTSPP.  Although there are a few comments on the clues, these are [councils]counsels of perfection.


1 Support group provides luggage (8)

BACKPACK – A four letter word meaning support followed by a word meaning a group.

5 Kills time taking last of coffee to counter (6)

OFFSET – A four letter word meaning kills and the abbreviation for time includes (taking) the last letter of coffee.  I think taking is acceptable as an insertion indicator.  If I am taking food, I am eating it.

10 States unsympathetic after English exit (5)

AVERS – A word means unsympathetic has the final E (English) removed (after…exit).

11 Liquor‘s soon drunk before hour in pit (9)

MOONSHINE – An anagram (drunk) of SOON followed by the abbreviation for hour goes inside (in) a word for a pit where coal is extracted.

12 Star’s death in USA proven suspicious (9)

SUPERNOVA – An anagram (suspicious) of USA PROVEN.

13 Nominal fine reversed after tax cases (5)

TOKEN – A  reversal of a word meaning after tax goes around (cases) a two letter word meaning fine or all right.

14 Story of a cold nobleman (7)

ACCOUNT – The A from the clue followed by the abbreviation for cold and another word for a nobleman.

17 Dogs with dark spots (7)

SHADOWS – A double definition.  I think dark patches would be better but spots as in areas (as in a cool spot in a room) works for me.

19 Working domestically involves the state (7)

KINGDOM – The answer is hidden in (involves) WORKING DOMESTICALLY.

21 Music player cross with junk half yard from keyboard (7)

JUKEBOX – Half the word junk followed by the letters in keyboard with the letters in yard removed followed by the letter representing an X.   I think that A with B leads to AB unlike A on B which leads to BA (in across clues).

22 Funny turn at end of day (5)

DROLL – The abbreviation for day followed by (at the end of) a word meaning turn.

23 Debacle I’d set in motion can be resolved (9)

DECIDABLE – An anagram (set in motion) of DEBACLE ID.

26 Went back into grass to collect key (2-7)

RE-ENTERED – A four letter word for grass includes (to collect) one of the keys on a keyboard.

27 Including poison side effects entry into short table of contents (5)

TOXIC – The Roman numerals for 11 (side) inside (effects entry into) the abbreviation (short) for table of contents.

28 Gives up gains (6)

YIELDS – A double definition.

29 Braces heavy works around plant being retired (8)

TWOSOMES – A word for heavy books or works around a reversal (being retired) of a word meaning to plant.


1 Climber doesn’t allow chatter about energy (9)

BEANSTALK – A word meaning prohibits or doesn’t allow followed by a word meaning talk, all around the abbreviation for energy.

2 Regularly use scarce help to make gradual progress (5)

CREEP – The even letters (regularly use) in scarce help.

3 Question an impostor (5)

POSER – Double definition.

4 Expense covers MP taking over application to promote growth (7)

COMPOST – A four letter word for an expense includes (covers) the MP from the clue and (taking) the abbreviation for over.  In a down clue, covers implies A goes on top of B rather than A around B.  Taking is usually used as an insertion rather than A + B.

6 Cut calorie intake and follow simple programme (4,5)

FAST TRACK – A word meaning not eating (cut calorie intake) followed by a word meaning to follow.  I don’t think that the definition matches the dictionary definition of the answer.

7 In lower temperature, fail to produce practical joke (5,4)

STINK BOMB – Inside a word meaning lower or let down include the abbreviation for temperature and follow it by a word meaning to fail.

8 Related product that is packed in can (3-2)

TIE-IN – The abbreviation for that is goes inside (packed in) a word for a can.

9 King and queen return to execute soldiers (6)

ROYALS – Reverse (return) a word meaning to execute and the abbreviation for other ranks.  As King and Queen are definitions by example, a perhaps or maybe could have been included to indicate this.

15 Odd parts of Cretan sonnet translated into Eastern language (9)

CANTONESE – An anagram (translated) of CEA (odd letters or parts of Cretan) SONNET.

16 Neat string instrument dismantled outside (9)

UNDILUTED – A word meaning dismantled goes around (outside) the name of a stringed instrument.

18 Old coins found in inappropriate puppet? (9)

SIXPENCES – How many letters P are found in the letters of inappropriate puppet!

20 New way to lead navy (6)

MODERN – A word for a way goes before (to lead) the abbreviation for the Royal Navy.

21 Sailor with a lot of money raised bird (7)

JACKDAW – A four letter word for a sailor followed by a reversal (raised) of a word for a large amount of money.

22 Starts to dig into ref that yelled “foul” (5)

DIRTY – The initial letters (starts to) the third to seventh words of the clue.

24 Determines age of boyfriends? (5)

DATES – A double definition.

25 Largely busted up crowd around unknown university (5)

BUXOM – A reversal (up) of a three letter word for a crowd around the abbreviations for university and the letter for an unknown quantity.  I am not sure that the clue really tells you to reverse the positions of the two abbreviations.


  1. 2Kiwis
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 1:00 am | Permalink | Reply

    A really clever puzzle that we enjoyed a lot. Have an answer for 18d but a bit of work still needed on the wordplay. It feels unfair to pick one favourite from so many good clues but 29a certainly is right up there. Into Toughie solving time for us with smiles and Doh moments all the way.
    Congratulations and thanks Cyborg.

  2. JollySwagman
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 3:42 am | Permalink | Reply

    Nice puzzle Cyborg – I got a reasonable sprinkling quickly on the first pass but the rest took a while longer.

    I ticked 21a, 27a, 29a and 25d – but many others came close.

    21a gave me 18d – from the definition at least. After a long stare I’ve finally twigged the wordplay – so we’ll add at least one tick for that.

    No quibbles. Initially suspected 26a of being a bit etymologically samebothsidesy – but I think at that remove it’s OK.

    Thanks for the fun – keep them coming.

  3. crypticsue
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    The RH side took longer than the left, and I’m still not worked out the wordplay for 18d.

    Lots of * by clues – thank you to Cyborg – I feel a promotion to Saturday afternoon may now be due – and to Prolixic in advance.

  4. Gazza
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Cyborg – I really enjoyed that. I found the right-hand side trickier than the left. I’ll nominate 13a, 25d and 18d for top honours (although in 18d a different letter might be more appropriate for the old coins).

    • Cyborg
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I must confess that I never thought of using the older letter! But I think either way works if the wordplay gives a (3,6) phrase rather than the coins themselves.

      • Encota
        Posted September 19, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Given Gazza’s idea, is there scope to build upon:

        Coins the phrase “Yadda yadda yadda”, at least in part ?

        Probably not – it was just a thort…

  5. Encota
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you Cyborg, this is a really high quality puzzle.

    So many strong and accurate clues throughout it is hard to pick out just a few – I liked the complexity/subtlety of 21a, 13a and 5d. Quite tough in one or two places – was that the intention?

    Only quibble is no doubt a misunderstanding on my part but I couldn’t quite get 6d’s definition to line up perfectly with the answer (I’m reading it to be defined by ‘simple programme’). Overall, very enjoyable. Last one in 17a. Last one parsed 18d.

    Some extended comments below.

    Thank you


    21a complex construction! Like it.
    18d Old coins – ok. The rest – don’t get it yet. What am I missing? (shil)LING? VID? TANNERS? Grrr – just got it: sneaky!!
    13a another complex construction. I was fooled by ‘after’ for a while! Clever.
    7d ‘In X Y’ to mean ‘In X (you will) find Y’. Though obviously related I’m struggling slightly to make X=X – I think it means the same? (I hope that makes sense without spoiling!)
    6d def = simple programme? Perhaps scope to slightly tighten this definition?
    5a good (and well-hidden) noun-verb disguise!

    • Cyborg
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks, Encota. The difficulty wasn’t really intentional, though I did try to hide the definitions better this time around. Sounds like I could have done with a couple of easier ones to unblock the right hand side.

      I’ll plead guilty to ‘simple programme’ – perhaps ‘simplified routine’ would have been better?

      • dutch
        Posted September 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

        for what it’s worth, I think of the answer as a process, rather than a routine or programme. not any easy phrase to define.

  6. dutch
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink | Reply

    Very nice Cyborg – beautifully done.

    last one in was 9d, and I don’t see the ‘inappropriate puppet’ yet (18d).

    Lots of great clues, I really liked 12a, 13a, 21a, 9d, 15d, 22d, 24d, 25d and more.

    I wasn’t sure about some definitions, e.g. ‘spots’ in 17a (maybe patches?) and ‘simple programme’ in 6a.

    Many thanks

    • Cyborg
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I was thinking ‘spots’ in the sense of locations, but now that you’ve suggested it I like ‘patches’ better.

    • dutch
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

      ah, just got 18d. Gazza’s comment was a hint, thanks

  7. Starhorse
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Cyborg

    As others have said very much a tale of two halves. Most of the left went in fairly easily; most of the right didn’t. There’s a lot of clever wordplay, much of which I had to try to unravel having got the answers from definitions and crossers.

    I loved the definition in 4d and the construction in 11d. Other favourite clues were 1d and 25d.

    Best of the lot for me was 17a, a really good clue because the overall surface has nothing to do with the individual definitions.

    I struggled to parse 10 a for a while and I’m not convinced it works. Surely the answer would have been “unsympathetic” BEFORE the E was removed, not after?

    I don’t see what “death” is doing in 12a.

    I had to reveal 5a to get going on the right, and unless I’ve got its parsing totally wrong (very likely) I don’t see how the first four letters are defined, nor how the E gets on that side of the T.

    I agree with others that the 6d definition isn’t quite right.

    Most of the surfaces read very nicely although I thought couple didn’t – 21a in particular; ugly sort of word to clue though.

    I have no idea how 18d works beyond the definition, even with Gazza’s comment, but I’m sure it’s very clever. The story in the surface seems a bit unlikely too.

    • Cyborg
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks, Starhorse, that’s all very useful feedback. It’s a pity so much difficult stuff piled up on the right. I hadn’t identified any particular monster clues to worry about, and so didn’t think much about connectivity.

      I can see 10a both ways – the answer is [“unsympathetic” after a removal is performed], or the answer was [“unsympathetic”], before a removal was performed.

      The start of 5a is US slang, although the usage is gradually creeping into British English via the never-ending stream of violent Hollywood movies.

    • dutch
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

      death in 12a is part of the definition!

      5a, the E is inserted into kills time.

      I’ll leave 18d with you…

      • Starhorse
        Posted September 19, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Hi guys, thanks for the comments.

        Certainly didn’t know that US slang but then I never watch films, or much TV come to that. But putting that aside I don’t see “taking” as an indicator to insert (or contain) fodder. Taking in, yes. But I guess that’s personal preference and to be fair I probably wouldn’t even have noticed had I got the first part.

        I shall have to be leaving 18d with Prolixic!

  8. Kath
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I really enjoyed that.
    I can’t do 9d and there are quite a few others where I don’t understand my answer, including 18d even having read Gazza’s comment which seems to have helped others.
    I agree with everyone about the left side being less tricky than the right – I’d finished the left before anything was in on the right.
    I didn’t have any trouble with the ‘simple programme’ in 6d.
    I liked several clues but will just pick a few to keep it simple – 17, 22 and 29a and 7 and 21d. My favourite was 25d.
    With thanks and congratulations to Cyborg and thanks in advance to Prolixic.

    • Gazza
      Posted September 19, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

      In 9d ‘King and queen’ are examples (there should probably be a ‘perhaps’ in there) and are the definition.

      • Kath
        Posted September 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Ah – thank you very much Gazza – now I get it, and about time too, really.

  9. jean-luc cheval
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Liked it a lot. Thanks to Cyborg.
    The money in 18d wasn’t a problem having read all the Asterix books although I never saw it spelled that way before.
    Liked the misdirection in 22a. Had a Y penciled in for a while.
    Liked the “in lower temperature” in 7d and many other clues.
    A real pleasure to solve.
    Thanks again.

  10. snape
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Very good, and if you have been working on hiding the definitions more, it has worked.
    I didn’t particularly notice the right being harder than the left, but I have 2 or 3 still to parse.
    Many excellent definitions- 25d and 29a I picked out as particularly nicely hidden although I thought 29a could benefit from a better surface, like 21. The other surfaces were consistently excellent, though. 25d would have been my favourite if ‘unknown university’ had not seemed the tiniest fraction forced, but I think I’ll go for 1d, just beating 17a.
    Thanks to Cyborg, and to Prolixic in advance.

  11. Jane
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Same comments coming from me as from most others. LH side far easier than RH, not sure about the definition in 6d (can be far from simple!) and still struggling to parse 18d.
    Hard to pick a favourite but I’ll settle for a top three of 1&17a plus 1d.

    Well done, Cyborg – as CS has already said, I sense that Rookie Corner may have to part with another setter ‘ere long!

  12. Arepo
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 8:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Loved it.

    I don’t have much original to say – like everybody else, I found the west side remarkably easier than the east, and like everybody else I was very pleased with the cluing. Couple of nitpicky quibbles – 28a is a bit same-both-sides-y for me, and 23a seems to be the wrong part of speech. If I’m being harsh, I think there is quite a lot of “reverse grammar” as well – “in X Y” to mean “Y in X” and the like – which has never been my favourite sort of construction. But that’s all down to taste…

    Can’t figure out what’s going on with 18d – having read other comments I’m even starting to wonder if I have the right answer! But it must be… mustn’t it? Perhaps I’ll be wiser after sleeping on it. Like some others I had some difficulty with 9d and 17a as well, though they both seem perfectly simple in retrospect.

    Favourite was 10a – very topical. Also very nice were 5a, 11a, 12a, 13a, … oh, this could go on for a while! Cracking set of clues and a very enjoyable solve – thanks Cyborg!

  13. silvanus
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Making one of my rare appearances for the time being until (I hope) more normal service is resumed soon.

    I’m with those who thought the RHS was trickier than the left. Overall, I thought this was excellent, the level of difficulty I felt was well pitched too.

    21a and 18d especially were very cleverly constructed, it took ages for the penny to drop (pun intended) for the latter. As well as these, I gave ticks to 17a, 22a, 1d, 2d, 22d and 25d. My favourite, 12a, appropriately earned “douze points” as they say in Eurovision.

    I had quibbles about the smoothness of the surfaces in both 27a and 29a, and felt both needed a little more work. I also would have preferred “European” instead of “English” in 10a, and “politician” instead of “MP” in 4d. Fairly small beer though.

    Great stuff, Cyborg, very entertaining and many congratulations.

  14. Cyborg
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks everyone! I really appreciate all the comments, and have some things to watch for next time.

    Since I’m not usually the quickest of setters, I experimented on this one by putting it together over about a week, rather than my usual 4 or 5 weeks. I had to drop the gimmicks to manage it, but I think I’ve got a more streamlined process out of it. I used an obscurely-themed word list just to seed the grid, which now gives me an opportunity to link this:

    Thanks as always to Big Dave for providing the best Corner of the internet, and to Prolixic in advance. I’ll check in again tomorrow after the review.

  15. Beet
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I thought this one was very well crafted. Kudos for even attempting to clue the word at 21a – most unpromising letters. Like others I needed hints in the comments to understand 18d. That was a favourite, along with 5 and 12 a.

  16. Jeroboam
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 9:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    As a recent first timer I can appreciate the consistently high standard of the cluing here. It seems most crosswords I solve in the Telegraph have an “easier” half or quarter so to me it’s just a way into the puzzle and does not distract from the enjoyment. I enjoyed the link by the way. I’m a big music fan and always on the look out for something good that I haven’t heard before. Thanks Cyborg.

  17. Sprocker
    Posted September 19, 2016 at 9:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Cyborg,

    Excellent stuff, I thought this was very good, with lots of cleverness e.g. 18d, but the standout for me was the definitions, which were very good. I’ll go with 25d as my favourite.

    As others have mentioned it was definitely a puzzle of two halves difficulty wise, with the LHS much easier than the RHS.

    Great stuff!

  18. JollySwagman
    Posted September 20, 2016 at 1:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    Are “councils of perfection” ones which always empty your bins on time?

  19. Arepo
    Posted September 20, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Prolixic, particularly for the enlightenment re the puppet. Not sure the penny would ever have dropped on that one.

    I think 25d is fine as long as you take the ‘up’ to refer to the entire remainder of the wordplay, not just the crowd.

  20. Encota
    Posted September 20, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great puzzle & an insightful review – thanks Cyborg & Prolixic.

  21. Jane
    Posted September 20, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink | Reply

    Many thanks, Prolixic – 18d was driving me mad! I’d quite decided that ‘inappropriate’ was ‘sick’ and was trying to make Spence into some sort of puppet!
    I liked ‘spots’ in 17a because of the association with ‘dogs’ as in Dalmatians or the old fashioned school pudding.
    23a just about qualifies as one of those ‘non-words’ in my book but that’s a minor quibble.

    Well done again, Cyborg.

    • Starhorse
      Posted September 20, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink | Reply

      Ah, have seen 18d now thanks to Prolixic and am mightily embarrassed having written a clue using a similar principle a year or so ago. Very neat! Maybe I’ll work mine into a puzzle on here one day.

  22. Cyborg
    Posted September 20, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Prolixic, both for the review and the vote of confidence. The question now is how vanilla to make the next one. If you don’t hear from me for a while, send help! I might be trying to compile a 200-word clue with 30 alternate answers.

Leave a Reply, but please read the Comment Etiquette (under Contact on the menu) first, especially if you are asking a question

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *