Rookie Corner – 151 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 151

Spies by Dill

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

It’s the third time for Dill – enjoy her latest puzzle. 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.

A review by Prolixic follows.

A very nice crossword from Dill who unfortunately got herself into a pickle with some of the original clues that were edited later after publication.  I have reviewed against the amended clues.

The grid was not the most friendly.  Double unchecked letters are fair game but in 15,19 and 24 across had two sets of double unchecked letters so that parts of the words had only one cross-checker in five letters.  Editors will not usually allow this.  The Times and the Independent (but not the Daily Telegraph) will not allow double unchecked letters at the beginning of a word.

The connectivity between the quadrants of the grid might be an issue for some but there are worse grids in the  Daily Telegraph library where four quadrants meet only in the middle.


9 Name-dropping Evita Peron affected when performing (9)
OPERATIVE – An anagram (affected) of EVITA PERON after removing the N (name dropping).  Nice spot on the subtractive anagram.   

10 Country people in China invade Georgia (5)
GHANA – The name given to a group of Chinese people inside (invade) the abbreviation for the American state of Georgia.  Perhaps invading would be better than invade otherwise the cryptic grammar could be A invade B, which is grammatically incorrect.  Here, as with 15a, the contrary argument is that the wordplay refers to the letters that hide, not the word that hides.

11 Hooks in boxing match reflected on medical department initially (7)
ENTRAPS – The abbreviation for Ear Nose and Throat (medical department) before (on … initially) a reversal (reflected) of a word for a boxing match.  I am not sure that the surface reading here makes much sense.

13 Lady ran riot in the rigging (7)
LANYARD –An anagram (riot) of LADY RAN.  I think that rigging implies a system of ropes where as the answer is usually a single rope.

15 Cheat does hide nasty vice (8)
DECEIVER – An anagram (nasty) of VICE inside (hide) another word for does (as in the animals).  Again, a strict grammatical reading should be A hiding/hides B leads to C.

16 Get away with key on board (6)
ESCAPE – Double definition time, the second being on a computer keyboard.

19 Exhibits capture present day spirits (7)
SHADOWS – A word meaning exhibits includes (capture – again capturing / captures maintains the cryptic reading better) the abbreviation for Anno Domini (present day).

22 Blunt spy ditches Penny for Bob (6)
CURTSY – A four letter word meaning blunt followed by the SPY from the clue without (ditches) the abbreviation for Penny.  Good misdirection here with Blunt spy needing a lift and separate to get the wordplay.

24/17D FBI’s mission maybe not in a real US city (8,8)
NATIONAL SECURITY – An anagram (maybe) of NOT IN A REAL USE CITY.  Apparantly this is the CIA’s mission, not that of the FBI.

25 Fuss erupts in court (7)
RUCTION – An anagram (erupts) of IN COURT.  Perhaps as an intransitive verb “in court erupts” would be better.

27 Made sense of something fishy indeed (7)
DECODED – The three letter name of a fish inside IN the DEED from the clue.  It was not simply overuse that led this sort of wordplay to be dropped.  As an instruction to the solver in deed is not the same as indeed unless the split is highlighted.  Different papers have different views of this lift and separate device.  “Queen has to entertain succession (5)”

30 Hint comical dick exchanges unknown quantity for drug (5)
TRACE – Remove the letter used to represent an unknown quantity from the name of a comic book detective and replace it with the abbreviation for Ecstasy.  As Dick is being used a proper noun, it should remain capitalised in the clue.  The convention is you can capitalise an improper noun but not carry out the reverse.

31 Torn about vocal nun having the capacity to hold out (9)
RESISTANT – A four letter word meaning torn around a homophone (vocal) of SISTER (nun).  Not a very precise homophone!


1 Hot chocolate sauce stays undergound (4)
MOLE – Double definition, the first being a chilli chocolate sauce used in Mexican cooking and the second an imprecise verbal definition of an animal that is usually underground.  The presence of their hills on lawns gives lie to the fact that is stays underground!  Nice use of hot chocolate sauce for a chocolate and chilli sauce.

2 Give authority to clobber without arms (4)
VEST – Double definition, the second being a sleeveless garment.

3 Singers are able to sign (8)
CANARIES – A three letter word meaning are able to followed by a sign of the zodiac.

4 Align skis to touch gently (4)
KISS – An anagram (align) of SKIS.

5 Report William shot accurately (4)
TELL – Double definition, the second by reference to the legend of the Swiss archer.  I think would have been better as Report William?  This would give a definition by example for the second part.  William shot accurately does not really lead to the answer, though “William who shot accurately” might do so.

6 A place to relieve oneself of third parties (6)
AGENTS – The A from the clue followed by another word for the toilets (place to relieve oneself).  A minor point is that definition of wordplay is usually allowed but some editors dislike wordplay of definition.  An improvement cryptically and for the surface reading would be “with third parties”.

7 Desert king in the style of female double crosser (8)
KALAHARI – The abbreviation for king followed be a phrase 1,2 meaning in the style of followed by the name of a temptress and spy.

8 Headless daddy ram genetically engineered with drug to gather wool (8)
DAYDREAM – An anagram (genetically engineered) of ADDY (headless daddy) RAM with the abbreviation for ecstasy.  This is a correction for the previous clue whose letters did not make the required anagram.  With the edit, the wordplay for the drug has been repeated.  It happens frequently to me that when a clue has to be edited, I inadvertently repeat a wordplay element so I try to take particular care when an edit is requested to check the other clues for duplication.

12 Alien supporting US city makes Russia negative (4)
NYET – The abbreviation for New York followed by the eponymous cutesy film alien.  As pointed out by Dutch, this should really be Russian negative. 

14 Move quickly up in government’s primary dealing (7)
TRADING – A word meaning move quickly reversed (up) followed by the IN from the clue and the first letter (primary) of government.  As G is a recognised abbreviation for Government, the clue could have been simplified to government’s dealing. 

17 See 24 Across

18 Belgian money caught sneak in the Brussels administration (8)
EUROCRAT – The current currency of Belgium followed by the abbreviation for caught and another word for a sneak.  This is another phrasal definition.  Perhaps “one in the Brussels administration” would be better.

20 Check out after two-piecer is packed (8)
SUITCASE – A two piece item of clothing followed by (after) a word meaning to check out or reconnoitre.   Another phrasal definition.  Too many can become a little off-putting so try to use them sparingly. 

21 The American presidential election leaders release recording (4)
TAPE – The first letters (leaders) of the first four words of the clue.

23 Emoticon exposed my lies (6)
SMILEY – An anagram (exposed) of MYLIES.

26 Vessel piloted by new informer (4)
NARK – The abbreviation for new over (piloted by) the Biblical rescue vessel.

27 Fund is conveniently hiding circle (4)
DISC – The answer is hidden (hiding) in FUND IS CONVENIENTLY.

28 Allegedly Roald cooked lentils in India (4)
DHAL – A homophone of DAHL.

29 In brief, prosecutor: ” thanks for the info” (4)
DATA – The abbreviation of District Attorney followed by a two letter word meaning thanks.

46 comments on “Rookie Corner – 151

  1. That was a lot of fun. The grid was rather unfriendly with a lot of unchecked first letters and double unches but still all solvable. Not sure how 8d works. We thought it was going to be an anagram but one of the letters is wrong for that. We’ll keep pondering. We were beautifully misled for a while with 7d too.
    A nice level of difficulty for us and much enjoyed.
    Thanks Dill.

  2. Couldn’t resist taking a peep and this was certainly worth staying up for – many thanks Dill.
    Masses of ticks including 19,22,25&27a plus 3,5&6d.
    Like 2Ks, I’m still pondering the mechanics of 8d.

  3. Hi Dill

    Plain enough sailing (but fun) until the end when I had to give up on 1d (perfectly good but I’ve never heard of it) and 8d, which I should have got from the very neat definition, but still don’t fully understand the wordplay (I can kind of see what it might be).

    Good to see the old in-deed device being used (27a) – as far as I understand it was originally banned form the DT not because there was anything wrong with it, but because it was getting overused to death. You’ll probably cop a “some editors” [can’t think which one] for that though.

    As far as the grid goes some of your entries are a bit light on cross-checkers. There are different views on this – also on whether double-unches (two adjacent unchecked cells) are OK.

    My view on the cross-checking ratios is that the minimum ratio of checked to unchecked should be N:(2N + 1). Ie 3 crosschecked in a 7 letter clue 4/9 etc.

    Put another way that’s half checked but one extra unchecked allowed.

    In 7d, 8d, 17d, 18d, 15a and 24a you’ve got 3/8. Also two lots of double-unches. I hadn’t thought of that before but maybe one double-unch per answer would be a good guide – not sure – some folk won’t have any at all – opinions vary. I think the important thing is that having teased the solver a bit you still give them something that’s solvable. 24a/17d probably passes that test even though it offends both of those criteria twice over – but I did need most of the crossing letters in to get it.

    I tried it out and if you had extended 12d and 21d by one letter (generating two 3 intersecting 3-letter words) you could have avoided that issue without using any obscure words.

    Those grids that have sticky-out cells along the top are prone to that problem – it’s also harder for the solver when the uppermost across clues don’t generate first letters in the “danglers”. That’s just an observation – by no means a complaint – but many solvers like tough clues in friendly grids – rather than the converse of that.

    As far as the cluing grammar goes I didn’t have any problems but I did notice a few non-ximeneanisms, which no doubt Prolixic will identify – from memory a couple of answers where the definition is a descriptive phrase rather than an exact match or a verb phrase – once again many differing views on that sort of thing.

    Overall a nice medium-difficulty solve with a light touch and a gently amusing style in the cluing.

    Many thanks for the fun.

  4. Morning guys,
    I’ll respond to comments later, but I need to correct 8d as this version is wrong. I didn’t submit my corrected version so I’m really sorry. Try this

    Headless daddy ram genetically engineered with drug to gather wool

    Speak to you later

  5. I enjoyed solving this and didn’t find it that difficult – so thank you Dill – I like a crossword with opportunities for smiling as you solve. As usual, I didn’t notice the double unches. Some nice d’oh moments . Shame about the ‘anagram’ in 8d

  6. Thanks Dill – that was fun with a nice theme. I liked 15a and 2d but my favourite clue was 22a for the clever juxtaposition of Blunt and spy which sent me off in totally the wrong direction.
    I didn’t know the sauce in 1d. I think that ‘Allign’ in 4d is mis-spelled and I can’t find any evidence of Emoton in 23d being a real word. ‘dick’ in 30a really needs a capital letter.

  7. Congratulations Dill, lovely clues!

    ! thought 1a was brilliant – I liked ‘name-dropping’, I liked ‘Evita Peron’ and you may like to know that after having recently spent quite some time trying to clue this word unsuccessfully, i ended up ditching it.

    I really liked the singers/sign thing in 3d, another lovely clue. having just returned from my skiing holiday, i appreciate the advice in 4d. I particularly like this clue for its simple elegance and surface. I keep my skis close but then hear people ask whether I learnt to ski in the 70’s – I’m never sure how to take that – apparently these days a modest distance between the skis is recommended.

    I also liked 14d, where I initially went in a different direction. I think g is an accepted abbreviation for government (G-man) so the primary may not be essential.

    There’s loads more to like, clobber without arms, country people, relief oneself of third parties, etc etc – all very nice.

    I’m glad to hear 8d was intended as an anagram, i was beginning to think the genetic engineering involved a mutation, which might have been taking things too far.

    The grid, ouch. I complain about a grid where there is only a single connection between quadrants ( giving 2 ways into each quadrant, one from each adjacent quadrant). In NE and SW you have less, only a single way in, which gives you the feeling of entering some kind of cul-de-sac. Jolly Swagman’s suggestion is excellent – connecting the tops of 17 & 18 (and the symmetry equivalent) would have made a world of difference. People have commented on the double unches – in themselves not an issue, but 3/8 checkers is pushing things too far – and this happens twice in 24/17! It took me a while to find that answer. The combination of that with the isolated quadrants is not very nice – so the simple advice is to be aware of your grid.

    Some other concerns I had marked, which did not detract from the enjoyment, but since this is a feedback exercise:

    15a – I’m not sure A hide B works, shouldn’t it be hides? of course that clashes with the surface, which is clever.

    25a – This works fine, but it is worth commenting perhaps that this is an exception because here the definition works as the subject of the anagrind (in an ‘answer does the anagrinding..’ sense) – an anagrind preceding fodder might more typically be in the imperative

    27a – AS JS mentioned, not all editors would be keen on wordsplits, but they do seem to be increasing in popularity

    30a. Misleading capitalisation is great, but misleading de-capitalisation is frowned upon.

    12a. I’m not convinced ‘Russia negative’ works, I’d prefer Russian or ‘In Russia, negative’. You wouldn’t clue ‘France article’ for LE would you?

    18d I think of the answer as a person and I’m not sure I see that in the definition

    5d adding ‘shot accurately’ seems to move this away from defining a person – maybe ‘who shot accurately’?

    20d answer is a noun which i’m not sure is reflected in the definition

    28d apparently, the lentils have varying spellings including Roald – allegedly may not be needed, but it doesn’t look out of place.

    There, that’s all – not too bad, really – hope that is useful.

    I don’t think it is necessary to have a title, but that is just personal preference. I think it’s nicer to discover a theme, and this one would readily be discovered.

    Thanks again for the enjoyment and congratulations on your excellent cluemanship

    1. I thought the Evita Peron clue was excellent, too. I’ve just discovered the ‘contained in’ feature on Crossword Compiler. The solution is contained in many things, including, unhelpfully, ‘bovine spongiform encephalopathy’ but no sign of Evita Peron – nice one, Dill

      1. just about everything is contained in BSE, it comes up most of the time – I think Toro once decided to use it as a joke on DIYCOW.

        guess that should be 9a

        and that should be ‘answer does the anagramming’ in 25a

        just to show how easy it is to mistyp

  8. This took me about ****** to complete, which combined with the unfamiliarity and note-taking puts it at the easier end of the spectrum for me. It was a fun solve, and I was pleased that the ones I had left at the end turned out to be clues I really liked rather than ones I hadn’t solved because of some oddity. (the clobber and the cheat)
    Plenty of ticks: 9a, 15a, 24a, 27a, 2d, 7d
    Shame about the wool-gathering – I don’t think the mistake actually hindered the solve, and it’s a nice clue apart from that.
    Did you see Qaos’s Friday puzzle in the Guardian, with the same emoticon? Check it out, if not.
    Haven’t parsed 1d, I expect from ignorance
    I think the grid’s a bit of a stinker. It’s not just the crossers ratio, as helpfully described by JS above. There’s also the top right/bottom left corner, that only have one way in. I occasionally try producing my own grid when I have themed clues to fit in, and it nearly always ends in tearing my hair out. I find picking an existing grid with plenty of shorter word lengths best for fitting in themers.
    I think I did your last puzzle here, and commented that there were some unnecessary words in the clues. I didn’t find that here, although I thought you might have omitted the ‘the’ in the rigging clue. A lady in rigging might refer to her clothing, whereas in ‘the rigging’ you are taken straight to sea.
    I thought the anagrams very neat. I liked the FBI clue, but actually put a different word in for the first half (without checking the letters). I would associate the answer with CIA rather than FBI, but I’m probably being a) pedantic and b) wrong.

  9. Welcome back, Dill.

    I enjoyed this a lot, the level of difficulty was pitched about right I felt. The best of your three puzzles so far, in my opinion.

    My principal reservations about the format of the grid and the typos have already been covered, my only hold-up was to check 8d, surprisingly I’d never encountered the expression “gather wool” before. I have huge sympathy with anyone getting the anagram fodder slightly wrong, as I have just done it myself in a recent puzzle.

    I awarded ticks to 9a, 10a, 22a, 24a/17d, 27a, 2d and 7d. You made 28d far too easy by the inclusion of “Roald”, “author” would have been much better I think.

    Congratulations and thanks for the entertainment, Dill.

    1. i would agree, and in addition Roald offers 3/4 of the letters in the answer for the subliminally influenced

  10. Thanks, Dill, and well done!

    I thought this was probably a nice level of difficulty, but admit I did cheat a little as I spread myself too thinly today, crosswords-wise.

    Like Gazza I didn’t know the saucy 1d.

    The typo in 23d didn’t bother me, and I did (having cheated to get it) suspect the misteke at 8d … a bit unfortunate, but understandable – I recommend you find a test solver or two. (I could be persuaded here – my email address is in my gravatar profile.)

    Favourites are 9a (especially having read Dutch’s comment), 22a and 3d.

    16a immediately brought this pic to mind with a smile.

    Many thanks again Dill.

  11. I thought this was smashing. I didn’t notice the double unches either because their presence was no hindrance to solving the clues. I’m not into (or capable of) detailed clue-by-clue analysis. I’m just here for the fun, and there was plenty to smile about. I loved 1D, not least because of the clever use of “hot”. I also ticked 13A, 2D, 3D, and 6D. My only quibble is that strictly speaking 24/17D is not the FBI’s job. Well done, Dill. Very much looking forward to the next one.

  12. I agree with Expat Chris’ comments both about not noticing the double unches and lots of smiles along the way.

    Fortunately a restaurant I went to recently had 1d on their dessert menu which prompted some discussion with the waitress and helped me write the answer in. My comments about the non-anagram in 8d and the typo 23d have already been fully aired in previous comments.

    There was much to enjoy in this excellent puzzle, with 22a, 3d, 6d & 7d top of the pile for me.

    Well done and thank you, Dill.

    1. A long time ago we were in a little bistro and saw one of the waitresses rubbing something off the blackboard that had the menus written on it. She then wrote ‘Ratatouille pancakes’ and told us that the ‘Rat pancakes’ didn’t seem to be selling too well.

  13. Help, please can I have my brain back. Having a few minutes to spare after completing the back page I picked up my trusty pencil and ended up wishing I had not done so. Roll on tomorrow when all will be made clear. :phew: Why I do these things I do not know but junior apprentices are being too ambitious sometimes. :cry:

  14. Good fun – thank you Dill for keeping me happily occupied on a cold wet afternoon.
    I’m not going to admit how long it took me to see 5d – dim, really dim.
    I’ve only just caught on to why my answer to 22a is right.
    I thought the 24/17d was a smart anagram.
    I’m stuck with 2d.
    Thanks again to Dill and, in advance, to Prolixic.

    1. 2d is a double definition, the second being a piece of clothing without arms (i.e. without sleeves).

      1. Thank you – I don’t think I’d ever have got that having tied myself up in knots going in a completely different direction.

  15. This was very enjoyable indeed.
    Very smooth clues such as 15a (cheat does hide) and 10a (country people) were a real pleasure.
    The anagram in 24/17 was fun-tastic.
    Not sure about the one in 13a (lady ran riot) though.
    31a favourite as it conjured up Sister Act and drove me to the answer.
    Thanks for the super crossword.

  16. Thank you Dill for the entertainment.

    Nothing much to add to the comments made already – especially by Dutch and JollySwagman – except to recommend Prolixic’s guide to Crosswords available on this site, which includes a section on grid design.

    Favourite clues 4d and 22a.

  17. An excellent review which must have taken you quite some time, Prolixic!
    I’m sure that Dill will appreciate your comments and take them on board for her next puzzle. Overall, I did feel that this particular offering showed that she has already come a long way – please keep them coming, Dill.

  18. Great detailed review
    I am confused about some of Prolixic’s comments on containment:
    I thought ‘Cheat does hide nasty vice’ an excellent clue. Prolixic says, grammatically it should be hiding or hides. Does the hide not go with the ‘does’ in the cryptic reading. Does is a plural noun, so hide makes sense. Deer (plural) conceal *(vice)
    Likewise with the Chinese invading Georgia – invade going with the plural people
    I think the answer may be in the comment:
    ‘Here, as with 15a, the contrary argument is that the wordplay refers to the letters that hide, not the word that hides.’
    However, I don’t quite understand this sentence. Can anyone explain it to me?

    1. I was so sad to see that 10a and 15a were not approved by Prolixic.
      Unfortunately I am no authority on English grammar but they sounded really good to me.
      Thanks to Prolixic for all the explanations.

    2. There’s nothing further to explain – you’ve hit the nail on the head. In both cases the words (HAN and DEER) can be read as either singular of plural.

      There’s nothing wrong with either clue – neither in the ximenean nor the normal logical approach.

      It’s probably just a case of excessive ximzeal. Had that not been the case ximeneans would have grounds for complaint; normal people would not since you could equally think of eg HAN as H, A, and N and so treat it not as a single word but as a collection of letters.

  19. Hi everyone
    Sorry to join in so late but I was on holiday yesterday and travelling home today, so availability/connectivity was thin on the ground. Thank you for your helpful comments and constructive criticisms which I will certainly take on board (watch that grid!) Although there is much room for progress, I’m chuffed to hear that there were some smiles nontheless, so you encourage me to keep me going!

      1. Hi
        Yes I do have crossword compiler now, but in my enthusiasm to fit in theme words, tend to then mess about with the standard grid the software supplies. I need to be more disciplined to fit my words to the grid rather than the other way around!
        Thanks again for the feedback!

        1. Solving I will work with any grid. Compiling I have at look at what CC throws up and reject what I think will either be tricky for solvers or what will raise adverse comments. You can set your own grid and that is what I do now copying suitable grids from,The Daily Telegraph.

          Incidentally, I only do about three Grauniad puzzles a year. Although I might read some comments afterwards I have only commented once. That was where you asked where you could get puzzles published. Pure coincidence that I had chosen to solve a
          Grauniad puzzle that day. I am glad that I did

  20. I’m afraid the rather unfair grid and the proliferation of phrasal definitions (not my favourite at the best of times) probably impacted my enjoyment of this puzzle more than they should have. Got off to a jolly old start but sadly ground to a halt about 3/4 of the way through and lost enthusiasm. Which isn’t really a fair reflection on the quality, since the theme was nicely woven in and (as others have pointed out) there was no short supply of good clues here (I find 9a, 30a, 2d, 3d, 14d and my favourite, 27a, to be particularly worthy of mention). In a more pleasant setting they’d have shone even more.

    I must say though that the non-capitalisation in 30a seems fine to me. Is “dick” really being used as a proper noun, or just as a synonym for “detective”? Seems to me you could argue it either way, so it passes my test.

    Thanks for the fun, and sorry I couldn’t be more effusive – I look forward to the next one!

  21. Re 27a

    Barnard (Anatomy of the Crossword) Chapter 10 – The disjunctive clue p99 clue 29ac

    gives the example:

    Indeed not all went (8) for DE(PART)ED

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