Rookie Corner – 257 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 257

A Puzzle by Rex Bassett

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Today’s puzzle is the first one from Rex Bassett. 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.

Welcome to Rex Basset.  There was a lot of potential showed in the clues but also a considerable number of rough edges that need to be honed.  As well as the comments on the clues themselves, there is a major problem with the grid.  Each of the outer solutions has three unchecked letters.  This is considered a no-no when designing grids.  In particular, with the two outer down clues, you have 13 letter solutions with only 5 cross-checking letters giving a ration of checkers of 38%.  The ideal is to have at least 50% cross-checking letters in any solution.

The commentometer reads as 10/31 or 32.3%.


1 Bury a Kray without feelings almost in the space between Charles and his son (11)
INTERREGNUM – A five letter word meaning bury followed by the name of one of the Kray twins and a four letter word meaning without feelings with the final letter removed.  The period is the one between Charles I and his son Charles II.  A minor point but the twin in question was known as “Reggie” not the three letter term used in the wordplay.

8 Busy express with external flue broken (8)
EVENTFUL – A four letter word meaning to express or let out with an anagram (broken) of FLUE around it (external).

9 Bluff used by snooker player before stadium is not even half built (6)
CUESTA – The three letter name for the rod used to play snooker followed by the first three letters for stadium (not even half built).  As the solution is an unusual word, defining by bluff is, whilst not technically incorrect, not the fairest way this could have been clued.  The structure definition used by wordplay does not quite work.

11  Enlisted in the SAS, having only part of the uniform (4)
SASH – The answer is hidden (enlisted in) SAS HAVING.  A minor point but hidden words work best when the solution does not start or end at a word break.

12 Barker title sees story’s central characters appear in posh car (5)
ROVER – The central letters of novel (story) inside the abbreviation for Rolls Royce (posh car).

13 Colourful festival played early on in holiday (4)
HOLI – The first four letters (played early on) of the final word of the clue.  Perhaps seen earlier on would have been a better indicator.

16 Porters at a jumble sale (4)
ALES – An anagram (jumble) of SALE.  The at a does not work very well linking the definition and wordplay.  The cryptic reading becomes definition at a wordplay.  Porters in jumble sale would have been better.

17 See 30

19 Chock’s away for a visit! (7)
STOP OFF – A four letter word for a chock followed by a three letter word meaning away.  In the sense of visit, Chambers gives the enumeration as (4,3).

21 Drachma’s part in Euro bollocks (4)
OBOL – The answer is hidden in EURO BOLLOCKS.

23 One jerk left knowing nothing about yesterday’s kick off (4)
YANK – Reverse (left) the initial letters (kick-off) of the fourth to seventh words of clue.  The indicators in this clue do not quite work.  Something more than left is required for a reversal indicator and there needs to be an indication that the initial letters are taken from all the words.  The cryptic reading of “yesterday’s kick-off” means only the first letter of yesterday.  The one at the start of the clue should have been omitted as it does not contribute to the wordplay or to the definition.  Perhaps Jerk originally knowing nothing about yesterday coming back.

24 Exercise followed by pulse reading?   On your bike! (5)
PEDAL – A two letter word meaning exercise followed by a three letter word for a type of pulse or vegetable.  The “reading” in the clue is padding as it does not contribute to the wordplay or the definition.  Perhaps “Pulse following exercise on your bike!” would have been better.

25 Vacuous weakest Cardinal (4)
WEST – Remove the central letters (vacuous) from weakest.   As vacuous means empty, this really indicates the outer letters only, not the out pair of letters.  Perhaps Cardinal’s weakest losing heart.

28 Cross the borders of Eire full out (6)
IREFUL – Remove the outer letters (borders) from EIRE FULL.

29 Sign of times? No, something more (8)
ADDITION – Cryptic definition and definition of the sign used to indicate that you calculate the sum of two or more numbers.

30/17 Fit experienced by Tinnitus sufferer? (5,2,4,3,4)
SOUND IN MIND AND BODY – Definition and cryptic definition of the mental and physical symptoms of tinnitus.


1 Exists to fly back from Essen International Airport (2,4)
IN ESSE – The answer is hidden and reversed (to fly back from) ESSEN INTERNATIONAL.  Again, a hidden word should not, ideally, stop at a word break.  In addition, the “airport” is padding and should ideally be avoided, though some editors will allow padding like this.  Perhaps “Being returning from Messenia”

2 Little ones bounce back (4)
TOTS – Reverse (back) a Scottish word meaning bounce.  Where dialect or Scottish words are being used, this should be indicated.  

3 It’s harsh to scour gold roughly (7)
RAUCOUS – An anagram (roughly) of SCOUR AU (gold).  This comes just over the borderline for an indirect anagram for me.  The letters to be rearranged should be given in the clue.  Whilst abbreviations can be used, it is better to use words where there is a direct link between the letter and the abbreviation (for example B for British.  However, this is a marginal example and some may be happy with it.

4 We French show common sense (4)
NOUS – Double definition of the French pronoun and a word meaning common sense.  The link word here should be shows or showing.  The cryptic reading of first definition show second definition does not works.

5 Dispatched nomads to find old hoofed tusker (8)
MASTODON – An anagram (dispatched) of NOMADS TO.  Again, the link word gives wordplay find definition where it should be wordplay finds definition.   

6 What target practice and a good Ophthalmological transplant surgeon does? (4,4,3,2)
GETS ONES EYE IN – Definition and cryptic definition.

7 Notes for issue and return to wealth (6,7)
FAMILY FORTUNE – Reverse the order (and return) to get issue for notes and replace issue with a six letter word for offspring, use the FOR from the clue and add another word for a series of musical notes.

10 Hellenic character is seen when Boeotian is regular ignored (4)
BETA – Remove the even letters (is regularly ignored) from Boeotian.

14 One master reportedly pulls back (5)
SLOOP – Reverse (back) POOLS (homophone of pulls).  Possible the worst homophone of the year. This simply does not work.

15 When needed, made Sophocles central to both (2,3)
AD HOC – The central letter of made and Sophocles.

18 Goes down academically one day a year (8)
FOUNDERS – Double definition, the second being the day celebrating a school’s founder.

20 Wear on musician’s fingertips? (4)
FRET – Double definition.  A minor point but the fingertip are on the solution not the other way around.

21 Constantly what makes you get up in the middle of the day dizzy (2,3,2)
ON AND ON – Reverse (get up) DNA (what make you) inside an anagram (dizzy) of NOON.  Firstly, this is directly in indirect anagram territory.  The two step process to go from midday to noon and then make an anagram of it is considered unfair in all but advance cryptic crossword and even then only where absolutely necessary.  Secondly the reversal indicator should be gets up.

22 Stop time (6)
PERIOD – Double definition, the first being an American term for a full stop.  Where an American terms is being used, it is thought fairer to indicate this.

26 Expert hears W almost breaking into G&R (4)
GURU – Put two Us (double U as a homophone – hears – of W) split into the G and R.  The wordplay indicates that the two Us go inside the G & R, not straddle them.

27 Modern concert followed by a 50s film (4)
GIGI – A three letter word for a concert followed by a letter meaning one or a.

60 comments on “Rookie Corner – 257

  1. There are some nice clues here, and at first I sailed along. But then things got decidedly harder. Part of the reason might be the grid, in which there are three consecutive unchecked letters in two down clues. I was defeated by 9, 13 and 14. Thanks to Rex Bassett for the challenge, and I’m sure Prolixic will have a lot of helpful comments in his review.

    1. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. I can claim no “credit” for the treble unches since this was a copied grid with clues set waaaay before I knew of such things!! I know better now though! Thanks

      1. I probably should add that I do these puzzles on a tablet and do not look anything up lest I lose my work! So if I don’t know a word I’m unlikely to get that answer. Having said that I do of course know the 14d answer and, while I admire the definition, I don’t know where you have to live for the homophobe to work!

  2. Welcome to Rookie Corner, Rex. I’m afraid that I’m another DNF. After a couple of passes through the grid it became clear that some of the answers were going to be obscure and that some of the wordplay would not adhere to the usual conventions. Faced with that combination and having limited time, I revealed the rest of the grid and tried to parse the ones I hadn’t got. You’ve come up with some very clever decompositions of your answers, but I noted a few grammar errors that prevented that inventiveness from coming through, including words doing double duty, punctuation unfairly omitted or added, and an indirect anagram. There are a couple of unindicated Americanisms that may bother some solvers, and some of the reversal and inclusion indicators didn’t work for me. Most of your surfaces read well, but in a few places that’s because they include padding words that have no role in the cryptic reading of the clue. That’s frowned upon because it can make it much harder to unscramble the wordplay. I thought several of your simpler clues, such as 20d, were really good. Setting crosswords is not easy, and this is a very good effort for which you are to be congratulated. You obviously have a lot of clever and original ideas, and if you take on board the grammar advice you’ll get in Prolixic’s review your next one should receive a lot of praise here.

  3. I’ve been pondering how a rookie setter is supposed to know all the points that I mentioned above, because solving blogs don’t typically devote a lot of space to the fine points of cryptic grammar. So here are a few references that I’ve found useful when preparing the Tuesday hints. Perhaps they will also help current and future rookies.

    The best discussion of cryptic grammar and conventions is found right here on BD’s site, in the form of Prolixic’s “Brief Guide to the Construction of Cryptic Crossword Clues” ( This PDF booklet is a concise summary of almost all the cryptic grammar a setter (or hinter) needs to know. It’s also effectively the textbook for Prolixic’s Rookie Corner exam, so following its advice should lead to a low score on the commentometer.

    I’m aware of only one book currently in print that discusses setting cryptics, namely Don Manley’s “Chambers Crossword Manual”. In addition to covering cryptic grammar, it has a chapter in which the author describes creating a crossword from scratch.

    The classic books on setting and solving cryptics are all out of print and used copies almost always command high prices. However, Alec Robins’ excellent “The ABC of Crosswords” has been an exception – I recently found a used copy on Amazon for £2.

    1. There is also some very useful guidance for novice setters on Alberich’s crossword website.

    2. I appreciate your time taken with helpful hints and the kind words. I am as we speak in the middle of Mr Manley’s fine publication (£1.90 on Amazon!) subsequent to setting this puzzle and am finding it helpful.

  4. Hi Rex,

    Some quick feedback.

    The 4-way symmetry in grid is nice. Triple unchecked letters in the border words aren’t ideal, though.

    My favourite clues were 8, 21, 30/17 and the delightfully concise 22d.

    Mr K’s pointers to Prolixic’s fine document and to the Chambers Crossword Manual are excellent suggestions. [I do also have & refer to a copy of ‘Ximenes on the art of the crossword’ which is worth getting a second hand copy of, if available at a decent price.]

    I make notes as I solve which aren’t usually appropriate to post here without spoiling. If you’d like me to share them with you then do ask Big Dave to put us in email contact. I won’t be offended if not, though!

    Cheers and wishing you all the best with your crossword setting!


    1. Thanks Encota for taking time to help. Can claim no “credit” for grid as it was a copy made loooooong before I knew of such things as unches! But I know better now. I’d be delighted to have your notes to help and will be in touch.

  5. Welcome to Rookie Corner, Rex. I found this hard going for several reasons and I will leave it to Prolixic to go through the clue by clue detail which will be invaluable to you in terms of making your puzzles more accessible to solvers in future. Mr K has some good advice for you in comment 3 above too.

    My page is covered with scribbles, and I have comments/questions written by 24 of the 32 clues. I seemed to be forever reaching for my BRB while solving. Added to that, there were a couple of partial indirect anagrams, several very stretched definitions, some padded surfaces and a wrong enumeration. Although I never ever notice double “unches”, I couldn’t miss your 4 triples here, and I think one clue may be intended to involve a homophone but, for me, it is so far from being one that I’m not certain if I have parsed it correctly.

    You have clearly put in a lot of work to compile this with some interesting ideas on show. Well done for that and I hope the comments and advice you get from this site prove helpful.

    1. Thanks RD, grateful for your time to help, thanks for that.
      See reply to Encota re grid. Enumeration error was my bad typing on the softwear, not spotted…ooops!! Guilty as charged m’ lud! I’ll “tak tent” of other words of wisdom. RB

      1. It’s great that you have taken the time to pop and respond to all the comments. You’ll learn a lot here through your interactions with all the friendly folk (and Brian :wink: ) when you’re not doing the ironing. I’m looking forward to your next offering.

  6. Having read the other comments, I’m going to be slightly different and say that I enjoyed quite a lot of this crossword. Yes the grid has triple unches at top and bottom, yes some of the surface readings need work, but there are also some good clues in the mix. It probably helps that I knew the ‘stuff’ required for the definitions in 9a and 21a. I have a few ?s where I’m not sure how I got from the clue to the solution, a couple of *s by clues I liked, and a ‘shouldn’t the enumeration for 19a be 4,3?? ‘

    Thank you to Rex for the crossword – I’m sure as others have said, you’ll gain a lot from both Prolixic’s review of this crossword and his excellent Guide mentioned above.

    1. Hi crypticsue Guilty as charged re enumeration. Lack of checking! Glad you enjoyed a lot though thanks for making the effort to help. RB

      1. The enumeration was missing for all the multi-word answers and I corrected them. I did look at 19a – Chambers has both 7 and 4-3 as a noun (but not 4,3 which it defines as a phrasal verb), which is why I left it at 7.

        1. Thanks for doing that. I have no idea how I could miss ALL the multi word numerations. One perhaps but… They are all OK on my softwear file. That’s a mystery.

  7. There are some really inventive ideas here and I enjoyed it – thanks Rex. As others have said there are a number of technical issues which Prolixic will give you lots of help on.
    The clues I liked best were 28a, 5d and 14d.

    1. Thanks Gazza for taking time out to help. I’m addressing some of the issues mentioned and yes I liked 14d as well!

  8. Hi Rex
    That was fun, thanks.
    1a, very nice clue that got me on your side straight away
    30/17 excellent
    Other ones I liked were 18d 22d 29a 6d
    19 I like, but I was thrown by the enumeration. I thought it might be a mistake, but I just looked it up, and found your version given as an alternative, but it seems odd to me. (4,3) as a verb ‘visit’ (so without the ‘a’) or (4-3) would have made it easier. Chock’s away is lovely wordplay.
    14d very good definition, but wordplay not and only two crossing letters, so unfortunately had to reveal it.
    Elsewhere, generally I liked definitions more than wordplay, some of which was pretty weak. E.g. in 13a, it’s an obscure solution (at least, I don’t know it). The wordplay is very simple but vague, and not at all helpful unless you know what you’re looking for.
    I revealed quite a few letters to keep me going.

    1. Thanks mucky, glad you enjoyed it, mostly. Guilty though, the enumeration was my mistake,not checking thoroughly enough. 13a the hidden word indicator IS a bit vague. Google videos of “playing Holi” it’s brilliant. RB

    1. My advice to this chap who is trying too hard to be clever is to study the puzzles of the Friday setter Giovanni and even though i dislike his puzzles DADA. New setters have to understand that’s the idea of a crossword is to entertain not to demonstrate the ‘talent’ of the setter.
      Keep going, with experience I am sure you will get there.

      1. Taking into account the placement of this puzzle (ROOKIE Corner) it would seem to indicate that “this chap” is looking to gain “talent” as opposed to “demonstrate” it. I’m devastated that you found my puzzle too tricky, I’m sure if you persevere with solving, things will become more clear. Thank you for taking the time to be helpful. T. Chap

        1. Do not be disheartened RB. Brian’s bark is worse than his bite – he regularly slates nationally published setters. BTW, Giovanni is not everyone’s favourite setter. (Mr Mutch, Mr Greer, Mr Terrell, Mr Lancaster etc)

          No disrespect intended to Brian, hope you are recovering nicely.

  9. Hi Rex – thanks for putting the puzzle together. This was a mixed bag for me. There are doubtless some good, original ideas on display but as others have said, there are also some errors and some mystifying clues and obscure answers which unfortunately had to be revealed.

    My tuppenceworth would be this: clues should be misleading, not just difficult; so when the solver realises what you’re getting at there is a loud ‘D’oh!’ (tea tray, penny-drop, whatever) – as opposed to ‘what?’.

    With regard to surfaces, I’d read through the clues and think ‘Would this look out of place in a Virgilius Sunday puzzle?’ If the answer is yes, it needs a rethink and/or different construction.

    Well done for having a go, and I dare say your next will be quite a leap with Prolixic’s excellent, sound advice to go on.

    Thanks again, look forward to your next.

    1. Good to get constructive assistance, thanks LetterboxRoy. I did try to give the more obscure answers what I thought was a simpler clue but perhaps it didn’t work in some cases. I’m such a novice that I’ve never heard of Virgilius so must have a look. Glad you liked some of it. RB

      1. Virgilius is Brian Greer. He retired from setting the Sunday Telegraph puzzles last year, but can still be found as Virgilius in the Independent, Brendan in the Guardian and Jed in the Telegraph Toughie series. Many regard him as the yardstick by which other setters are judged.

        1. OK, thanks for that. Good to know. I wonder if that was the “Brian” who commented above!

  10. Welcome, Rex.

    Some very good ideas on display, but my solving experience was similar to Mr K’s, I ended up revealing almost as much as I had solved independently.

    I’m sure that the setter will use a better grid next time and will be less keen to use obscurities like 1d and 9a as essentially grid fillers. The removal of unnecessary “padding” from clues and honing the correct cryptic grammar may take a little longer, but are both very important if one wishes to progress. It also pays to be more scrupulous with the editing of the puzzle before submission to BD, so that grammatical errors (such as in 10d) can be kept to a minimum, or preferably avoided completely.

    With Prolixic’s invaluable clue-by-clue review to aid the setter, I’m confident that Rex’s second effort will be much improved.

    Many thanks, Rex.

    1. Silvanus thanks for that. To be fair only 1d was a grid filler but point taken. The grid was a copied one used long before I became aware of these niceties. Padding is something I am aware of and am trying to improve on and yes (mis-numeration in 19a and a “y” missed out in 10d) checking, checking and checking again…GUILTY as charged.

  11. Congratulations on your Rookie Corner debut, Rex. I think that this is a perfect demonstration of how Rookie Corner works as an educational tool for the novice setter. You have set a solvable puzzle, using some good clues, some not so good, in a slightly iffy grid. The collective expertise of the regular solvers who comment here (and the forthcoming review) will benefit you when it comes to future puzzles, of which I hope there will be plenty. Most important for me was that it was entertaining.

    As to the puzzle itself, favourites were 8a,30/17, 5d, 15d,18d and 21d. Last one in was 14d where although the wordplay was a bit suspect, the definition gave me a ‘penny-drop’ moment.

    1. Cheers Kelotoph, thanks for all that. I’ve explained the grid in previous replies. Most previous comments have been helpful too and I’m glad you seem to have enjoyed it, unlike in some! Watch those pennies now!

  12. A public apology to all seeing/doing my puzzle in Rookie Corner for the mis-numeration in 19a, should be 4,3 and the missed out “ly” from regularly in 10d. Totally inexcusable! Penance is currently being done. (the ironing!)

  13. Welcome to the lions’ den, Rex.
    I think most of the pros and cons arising from your debut puzzle have already been covered by people who have more experience than I do when it comes to setting/solving. The only thing I would add is that it takes an experienced setter to clue unusual/obscure words in such a way that a solver can reasonably be expected to work out the answer from the wordplay.

    Might be worth your while to look back at some of the previous offerings in Rookie Corner which you can access via the drop down box beneath the Cryptic Crosswords heading at the top of this page. ‘Start simple and hone your basic skills before increasing the difficulty’ features quite often in the comments.

    Hope to see you here again.

    1. Hay thanks Jane for taking the time and effort to help. I did try to make the more obscure words have what I thought were easier clues but I suppose that’s tricky to judge sometimes since you know the answer yourself but you point is well made and taken, thanks and I’ll do as you suggest re “back issues” on Rookie Corner. (“back issues”? that might be a good phrase to clue sometime)

  14. Hi Rex,
    Thanks for setting. My favourite clues were 1a, 14, 29, & 30.
    Wasn’t familiar with 1d, 9a, 21a, but got them from the clues and crossers.
    A few that I didn’t get the clueing of – I’m sure Prolixic will clear those up.

    1. Good of you to make the effort Void, thanks. Glad there were some good ones in there and yes, a few odd words.

  15. Many thanks to Prolixic for his comprehensive review which covers almost all my scribbled notes.

    My only remaining comment relates to 1a. Isn’t there a significant difference between “feeling” and “feelings”? “Without feeling” means “numb”, but “without feelings” means “hard-hearted”. However, “feeling” would ruin the surface.

  16. Thanks to Prolixic for the excellent review, although I’m surprised that he thinks the 14d homophone is the worst of the year. It seems fine to me and I see what I consider to be much worse every week. I suppose the lesson to setters is to be very wary of using any homophone because the chances are that it won’t work for everyone.

      1. I saw an advert pushing a hair product the other day with a voice-over urging viewers to “take keh of yaw heh”. That’s the sort of pronunciation that leads to the horrible homophones I dislike. In comparison pulls/pools is no problem to me.

    1. Yes, it took me by surprise I must admit but I suppose I’d better pool my socks up a bit on homophones!

      1. For me, if you were ‘pooling’ your socks they wouldn’t be going ‘up’ but concertinaing around your ankles! I actually had a ? by 14d yesterday as I couldn’t understand how I got to the solution

          1. Pulls rhymes with bulls – pools rhymes with tools, but admittedly that’s a bit rich coming from me.

  17. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. I was somewhat surprised to see that you made no comment about the ‘two step’ process required in 12a and I agree with RD when it comes to ‘feeling’ and ‘feelings’.

  18. @Prolixic. With regard to 19a, the definition is definitely a noun (a visit) and Chambers (and Collins) gives the (4,3) enumeration as a verb [to break one’s journey, pay a visit to (usu with at)]. Both also give the enumeration of the noun as (7) or (4-3). I agree that (4-3) makes the clue easier to solve.

  19. Thanks Rex and Prolixic. The parsing of ROVER had eluded me.
    I didn’t know that ‘stot’ was Scot, I associate it with gazelles in wildlife documentaries (also known as pronking) so thought it a fair clue.
    I think the point of 26d is that one part is *almost* contained in the other.
    In 9ac the ‘used by’ isn’t linkage, just wordplay.

    1. Hi Gonzo, good of you to take part and reply.
      Stot is a guid Scots word. “Gang an’ dinnae stot yer ba’ agin ma hoose ya wee nyaff” (please desist from bouncing your ball against the wall of my residence little boy) ! :-)
      Yes in 26 and 9 that is exactly what I intended.
      Thanks again

  20. On the question of homophones, perhaps one way of reaching agreement about what works satisfactorily and what doesn’t might be to agree to use Chambers as the authority, given that it seems to be the standard reference source here for definitions. So, for example, on that basis, “air” and “heir” would get the thumbs up, whereas “pull” and “pool” would not. Just an idea. What do others think?

    1. I’m really trying hard to see what the issue is here.
      I’m very far from being an expert, as can be sen by the above review, but is it just being a Scot that allows me to see that “pulls” and “pools” sound identical, like “air” and “heir” or am I missing something?

      1. Hi Rex,
        I think it must be a case of regional accents. For me, the ‘u’ sound in pulls would be pronounced as in ‘rug’ whilst the ‘oo’ in ‘pools’ would be as in ‘hoop’. Does that help?

        1. Thanks but being from here I can’t get how the “u” in “pull” could sound like “rug” but hey ho, there you are! I guess homophone clues will have to carry a “Government Accent Warning” from now on! “BEWARE: This homophone may not sound the same where you live” ;-)

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