Rookie Corner – 175 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 175

A Puzzle by Rags

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Our latest debut puzzle comes from a setter who is using the alias Rags. 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 warm welcome to Rags.  Will he or she find riches on the road to setting glory!  This was a promising debut.  Whilst there were a few rough edges, these are one that will be polished with a little time and practice.  The main thing to consider is the surface reading of the resulting clues to ensure that they make sense as a sentence in their own right.  Overall there was a good variety of clues and innovative wordplay.  A minor point, but it is usual not to include a full stop at the end of the clue.


1 Sadness – see forbidding all around. (6)
DOLOUR – A four letter word meaning forbidding or grim around a two letter word meaning see or behold.

5 Marine creature sounds Polish or sticky to some. (8)
STARFISH – A homophone of a word meaning life a pole or like a stick if you pronounce the A in the word as “ar”, rather like “bath” or “barth”.  The “to some” rightly allows for regional variations in pronunciation.

9 “Sundial, Grandad?” (3-5)
OLD TIMER – The description of a sun dial as an ancient chronometer gives another way of describing a granddad.

10 Capacity to have lots of dosh? (6)
POTFUL – The capacity of a pot gives a word meaning having lots of cash.  The dictionaries I have looked at don’t give the solution as a word meaning having lots of money and I have not heard this as a colloquial usage.

11 Use a clacker to try it out. (4,2,1,5)
GIVE IT A WHIRL – How you would use a clacker or football rattle gives a phrase meaning to try it out.

13 House sailors, at a cape? (4)
HORN – A two letter abbreviation for house followed by the abbreviation for Royal Navy (sailors).

14 Sharp shapes over firm ones. (8)

ENSIFORM – Medical term describing sword shaped objects comes from an anagram (over) of FIRM ONES.  The position of the anagram indicator here does not work as the cryptic readings requires the solver to “over” the letters which does not make grammatical sense.  The solution is an adjective but the defintion tells the solver that they are looking for a noun.

17 Animal noise the French can make a basic language. (3,5)
LOW LATIN – A noise made by cows followed by the French feminine version of “the” and another word for a can.

18 Negativity returns a second time when ‘A’ becomes ‘P’? (4)
NOON – A word expressing the negative followed by the same word but this time reversed for when AM becomes PM.  The surface reading here makes little sense in its own right.

20 Being argumentative, call me back, for example, and tender lost dog. (12)

BELLIGERENCY – A four letter word meaning call or ring followed by a single letter word meaning the setter or me, a reversal (back) of the abbreviation for “for example” and a word for money or tender without the initial three letters “cur” (lost dog).  Again the surface reading is not the greatest.  Perhaps missing dog would give a better cryptic reading for the clue.  I am not sure that being argumentive gives the same sense of as the answer.  Being argumentative would lead to the the ending “..NT”

23 The missing ‘A’ is surely holding back Vlad’s country? (6)
RUSSIA – The answer is hidden and reversed (holding back) in A IS SURELY.  Views differ on whether “padding” should be used in clues.  There the words “The missing” contribute nothing to the definition or the wordplay and should therefore be removed if possible.

24 African in anger I suspect. (8)
NIGERIAN – An anagram (suspect) of IN ANGER I.

25 Good girl I heard, not a good looker though. (5,3)
GLASS EYE – The abbreviation for good followed by a four letter word for a girl and a homophone (heard) of I.

26 Agreement at present unknown. (6)
TREATY – A word for a gift or present followed by a letter used in algebra for an unknown variable. I don’t like the structure Definition AT wordplay.


2 Engine has no go at first, have a look! (4)
OGLE – Remove the GO from the name of a company that has the biggest presence on-line as a search engine.  I think that the link from engine to the name of the company that produces it is a little tenuous.

3 A month previously (November), a line of certain dimensions. (9)
OCTAGONAL – The shortened form of the tenth month of the year followed by a three letter word meaning previously, the abbreviation in the Nato phonetic alphabet for November, the A from the clue and the abbreviation for line.  The surface reading makes little or no sense in its own right.

4 Take away shift, again. (6)
REMOVE – Split 2-4, this word could mean shift again.

5 Where one enlists, the back door? (7,8)
SERVICE ENTRANCE – Where one might sign up for the armed forces cryptically gives the definition.  I can’t quite describe why by the cryptic definition does not quite hit the nail for me.

6 A quiet gap left in cheers. (8)
APPLAUSE – The A from the clue, the abbreviation for quiet (in musical terms) followed by a five letter word for a gap that includes the abbreviation for left.

7 What a lot will go for? Go get it! (5)
FETCH – Double definition of the price achieved for a lot at an auction and the instruction give to a dog to retrieve something.

8 ‘S’? A radical’s instruction to find this. (6,4)
SQUARE ROOT – A word for which S is an abbreviation followed by another word in mathematics for the radical gives a mathematical instruction to convert 4, say, to 2.  There is a little too much correspondence between the radical in the wordplay and the required solution.

12 Mars or Venus figures being adoring of their own. (10)
HOMOSEXUAL – A cryptic definition of those who are attracted to people of their own sex.

15 Plain, having no designs? (5-4)
FANCY-FREE – A word meaning plan could also mean having no plans or ideas for something.

16 Gnats eat rot and turn foul. (8)
STAGNATE – An anagram (rot) of GNATS EAT.

19 King, dark one on board. (6)
KNIGHT – An abbreviation for King followed by a word meaning dark.

21 Is sly about the breaking down of cells. (5)
LYSIS – An anagram (about) of IS SLY.

22 Books are still tough – origins are bark fibre or similar. (4)
BAST – The initial letters (origins) of the first four words of the clue.   The structure “wordplay ARE definition” does not quite word gramatically.

58 comments on “Rookie Corner – 175

  1. We have got a filled grid which we are pretty sure is correct but still have one or two where some more work is required to sort out all the wordplay. A couple of new words, 14a and 22d that needed checking but we did know 21d. A few easy clues scattered throughout to give entry points and these were much appreciated. Good fun to solve.
    Thanks Rags.

    1. Our take on 5a after much thought is that the wordplay is that the answer could sound like, ‘like a pole’ or pole-ish or ‘like a stick’ or stick-y.

      1. Mmm… That’s a very plausible explanation, 2Ks, but it seems like a very artificial construction to me.

      2. That’s what I was thinking for stick-y but I hadn’t twigged the pole-ish, so thanks 2Kiwis. However, I wonder who the ‘some’ are who pronounce the pole or stick anything like this.

        1. I might be ‘some’ – am I the only one? I don’t quite see what’s wrong with it. This was my favourite clue.

  2. There’s some really innovative clueing in this enjoyable puzzle – thanks Rags. There were several new words for me (14a, 21d and 22d) and I can’t fully parse 5a. The clues I liked best were 25a and 2d.

    1. Praise indeed, thank you Gazza. They are probably my favourites too.
      Most of the South of England and beyond would pronounce ‘Staff-ish’ as ‘Starfish’. No?
      Very pleased to have entertained you with 25a – made me smile, too.

      1. Most of England does not pronounce the rhotic R but it is pronounced in the West and South-West (where I live) and in Scotland, Ireland and most of the USA and Canada. So for a large proportion of native English speakers the R in starfish is pronounced.

  3. One of those crosswords that made me glad I was at home with the BRB rather than trying to solve this in the office as there were several words which I needed to check, although the wordplay was helpfully clear in each case. Like Gazza I can’t fully parse 5a.

    I don’t think this can be your first attempt at producing a cryptic crossword given the inventive clues. Thanks to you for the crossword and, in advance, to Prolixic

    Oh – and I meant to say – what’s with so many crosswords lately having the solution to 25a in them? Not exactly setters’ word of the week but definitely tending towards an obsession!

  4. Welcome, Rags.

    Had I not sought electronic assistance about three quarters of the way through, I’m doubtful if I would have ever finished this unaided. I have to say that I didn’t particularly enjoy the solve, for me there was often too much of a disconnect between the definition and the wordplay, and clues like 5a or 3d for example had surfaces which failed to convince.

    There were some really good ideas though, and 25a stands out as a superb clue, but overall I found it something of a slog. For several clues I still don’t understand the parsing, so I’ll await Prolixic’s review with interest,

    Thanks, Rags, I hope that I’ll warm to your next one much more.

    1. Sorry I didn’t raise a smile, silvanus. I understand the disconnection thing: so if you’ve kicked an idea (or clue) around for a while and it ‘s still not really that good, should I give up and try another avenue?
      Thanks for your feedback, it is noted well.

  5. Found this one to be something of a curate’s egg. I thought there were some good ideas in the likes of 9&18a plus 3d but they would have benefitted from a slight re-working of the clues to give better surface reads – 25a was a splendid example of what can be achieved.
    I wasn’t sure that ‘being argumentative’ quite defined the answer at 20a and the ‘at’ in 26a also jarred a little – I shall look forward to reading Prolixic’s view on those.
    The parsing of 5a is still a complete mystery to me and I’m not doing much better with 8d, although I suspect the problem with the latter is down to ignorance on my part!
    One final point – given that there were so many options for 22d, why choose to use such an obscure word? I think it leaves the solver with the feeling that the setter is just trying to be a bit too clever.

    I did enjoy much of this one, Rags – 25a,2d & 15d were my top three – and hope you don’t mind me being honest about the niggles!

    1. I am happy with honesty, it cannot be faulted.
      Jane, there is a reason for the letter at 22d. :smile:
      Look at the grid, then look again for a Nina! No-one else has spotted anything :wink:

      1. D’oh! Funnily enough I did notice the letter shapes in the grid but never thought to look for a Nina.

      2. Ahh – reminds me of those Magic Eye pictures that were so popular some time ago.
        To be fair, I can still think of several alternatives for 22d!

  6. I enjoyed this overall with, as Gazza says, some inventive cluing. A lot of the surfaces were very good but a few were rather clunky (e.g.: 18a, 20a, 3d). There is some surface padding in 17a (“noise”) and in 23a (“The missing”), and I’m not sure if “at” is an acceptable link word in 26a – I look forward to Prolixic’s comments on these clues.

    There were three new words for me too in 14a, 21d & 22d, and one hitherto long forgotten one in 1a. I’m another in the “can’t parse 5a” camp and I can’t fully unravel 8d.

    2d was my favourite with 25a a close second.

    This was an impressive Rookie debut, Rags. Well done and thank you.

    1. I think the ‘noise’ is needed in 17a (unless I’ve got the answer wrong) but I can see an alternative answer where it wouldn’t be needed.

      1. Thanks very much, Gazza. I started with “pig” as the first word for 17a and changed it to “dog” after solving 12d. Now I’ve looked it up I’m sure your answer is right and it’s another answer to add to my list of things I’ve never heard of before. At least the wordplay now makes sense!

      2. I’ve gone with the ‘noise’ option too – one of the things I needed the BRB to check!

  7. A mixed bag for me, too. I would not have got the answer to 12D had I not looked in on the comments earlier and saw the discussion on 17A. I had ‘pig’ for that one first, then dog, and finally twigged the noise part. Some new words also. I did like 11A and 25A in particular, and also 15D. I have a couple of question marks on my page that Prolixic will no doubt sort out. Well done, Rags. A promising debut.

  8. Far too difficult for me … no-one has yet mentioned the full stops at the end of many of the clues.

    Maybe it’s Rags pretending to be a Rookie?

    25a – My favourite! LOL

  9. Generally good clues – thanks Rags. I think tightening up your definitions would probably make the biggest single improvement overall. I liked some of the inventiveness but at times this left words that hinted at the definition rather than precisely defined it.

    PS More notes I took as I went through – feel free to ignore:
    24a good
    6d good; perhaps the surface could be slightly improved?
    18a I like the inventiveness of the definition. Some may argue it isn’t exactly accurate?
    1a good
    10a ??
    20a is -cy right for the def?
    7d def1?
    8d def is imprecise, unless I am missing something
    3d def imprecise
    5d fine
    2d Google as a search engine is imprecisely defined as simply an engine
    9a ok, though ‘Grandad’s sundial’ appears to improve the surface
    14a ‘over’ as the anagram indicator can probably be improved
    25a fine
    26a ‘at’ as linkword? Some suggest that if you can do without a linkword then do so. e.g. ‘Present unknown agreement’ or perhaps ‘Present Axis agreement’, depending on your views on Capitalisation.
    15d the two defs look suspiciously similar and the common meaning not used? Am I missing something?
    23 Unclear what the surface is trying to conjure up. May be my ignorance the Russian / Cyrillic alphabet, though
    16d good
    21d ok

    1. I was missing something on 15d – I hadn’t read ‘designs’ as ideas/plans. This clue is fine :-) Thanks Prolixic and Rags!

    2. Thank you for your detailed post; you make some good points which are duly noted. Will work on definitions and surfaces. Thanks again for taking the time, Encota, much appreciated.

  10. I enjoyed this.
    I have two gaps – 14a which I can’t do at all but am feeling marginally better about that as others have said it’s a new word for them – and 15d – I’ve guessed the last word but don’t have any idea about the first bit.
    I also have a few answers that I don’t quite get but I’m sure all we become clear tomorrow.
    I liked 17a and 2d, once I realised what kind of ‘engine’ I was after. 5a made me laugh so that is my favourite.
    With thanks and congratulations to Rags for the crossword and thanks, in advance, to Prolixic who’s going to sort out all my problems.

  11. A tricky but enjoyable solve. Thanks, Rags. I can see one word of a possible Nina in row 14. Is there something else in the grid that I have missed?

        1. Don’t know whether you noticed but, with just a couple of small tweaks, you’d also have achieved a pangram.

            1. You little terror! Please reassure me that you sought permission from the headmaster in advance?!!

            2. I’ve got a hunch who you might be. If you don’t out yourself before January I’ll check and see if I’m right then …

            3. I did check Jane, and BD was very helpful and obliging as ever.

              RD – If you have an idea, you are almost certainly correct. That now makes four successful sleuths by my reckoning. Gazza, Jane, Miffypops and your good self.

              1. Now you have got me really curious.
                Should I be able to work out who you are or would I have needed to be at the Birthday Bash to understand what is going on.

                1. Not necessarily – Rags comments quite regularly – but I have to admit that it could have helped.
                  So – what are you doing next January?

                  1. It does have its attractions but to leave a NZ summer to be in UK in January needs a bit of consideration.

                2. Yes. There are two Ninas. You will recognise the last part of the first one (near to where the second one starts).

        2. I did and am none the wiser. Now that the review is up, perhaps you will enlighten we poor myopic souls.

  12. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. I have a feeling that Rags will bear all your advice in mind when (hopefully) setting the next one.

        1. Thanks for looking in, MP. I make that three sleuths – Gazza, Jane and your good self.
          Hope you’re feeling more full of beans.

          1. I am full of beans today. The cavalry flew in on Saturday but Sunday was a real nightmare. Yesterday and today have calmed down. I know what I am on about. Nobody else needs to know. I think I agree with the comments so far about your puzzle. Well done you.

  13. Would have been so much easier if I didn’t think that 11a was “give it a twirl”
    Took ages to get 7d.
    Ending 20a with an E didn’t help either.
    Oh dear! To quote Kath.
    10a was a no no and I ‘m not talking about 8d either.
    All that to say that I messed up the NE corner completely.
    Not your fault Rags.
    Just me a bit more tired than Miffypops.
    Thanks for the good fun and to Prolixic for sorting it all out.

  14. Nice puzzle Rags

    You kept me working and entertained for a good while; the top right-hand corner took me a while to complete.

    You obviously have a clear understanding of cluing. I didn’t have any technical quibbles at all. The only minor quibble I would make would be that it seemed to be mainly wordplay-driven at the expense of surface. All the surfaces were readable and *worked* in one sense or another but a few were not particularly graphic or natural.

    Great debut – keep them coming.

  15. I cannot tell you how much fun the whole experience has been – from setting with the blog in mind to enjoying the observations and comments
    Thanks all round; be back soon hopefully. :smile:

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