Rookie Corner – 264 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 264

A Puzzle by Heno

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Heno is back with another 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.

Welcome back to Heno.  Whilst the wordplay was largely accurate, there was a lot of repetition in the wordplay elements that needs to be addressed.  The grid was not particularly solver friendly.  Whilst the large number of clues without an initial checked letter is not unusual, 12 out of 30 of the clues had less than 50% checking.  Surface readings could be improved.  As I mention in the notes, accurate wordplay should come first but the resulting clue should make basic sense.  The commentometer reads as 5 / 30 or 16.7%.


8 Note returning wearing glasses just the opposite could be a godsend (4)
BOON – The abbreviation for note well is reversed (returning) and includes two letters O (glasses).  Just the opposite tells us that the Os go inside the abbreviation and not the opposite suggested by the first part of the wordplay.  A note on surface readings.  For Rookies, I look for correct wordplay over perfectly polished surface readings.  It is easier to develop the skill of creating convincing surface readings once the basics of clue construction have been mastered than it is to correct sloppy wordplay to fit a surface reading.  However, I still like the surface reading to make some kind of sense and this clue and the next one do not make basic sense.

9 Star Maestri eddying without time they are found in wind tunnel (10)
AIRSTREAMS – An anagram (eddying) of STAR MAESTRI without the abbreviation for time.

10 Tanning salt has nickel to make Old Boys … (6)
ALUMNI – A four letter word for a salt used in tanning leather followed by the chemical symbol for Nickel.

11 …have stress with memory unit (8)
ANGSTROM – A five letter word stress followed by the abbreviation for read only memory.

12 Sonic aids onscreen it’s subtle oddly (9)
SUBTITLES – An anagram (oddly) of ITS SUBTLE.  A pernickety point but the aids are visual aids not sonic ones.

14 Move canoe without leader to go off (5)
ADDLE – A six letter word meaning propel or move a canoe without the leading letter.

17 Sounds like you might need one after a sneeze? (7)
ATISHOO – After the A from the clue add a homophone (sounds like) something you might need to blow your nose.

18 Flying hub to freshen wine (7)
AIRPORT – A three letter word meaning to freshen followed by a four letter word for a type of fortified wine.

21 Good currency was mighty fine (5)
GRAND – The abbreviation for good followed by the name of the currency of South Africa.  Here as in a number of clues, avoid using the past tense for a link word, “is mighty fine” would work just as well.

23 Choose way on the radio to get pole? (9)
ELECTRODE – A five letter word meaning choose followed by a homophone (on the radio) of road (way).

25 Key drug circle was changing (8)
ALTERING – A three letter word for a key on a computer keyboard followed by the abbreviation for ecstasy (drug) and a four letter word for a circle.  Again the use of the past tense “was” jars.  In terms of surface readings, perhaps “drug cartel” would have been better.

27 Women captured by Romans were around in base (6)
SABINE – An anagram (around) of IN BASE.  Another past tense in the link word.  Also the anagram indicator “around” does not work where it comes before the letters to be rearranged and you do not “around something”.

29 Youngster had a handout with perfume (10)
ADOLESCENT – The A from the clue followed by a four letter word for a state handout and a five letter word for perfume.  Has would be better than had here.

30 Short shed without a religious time (4)
LENT – A phrase 4,2 for a type of shed without the final letter (short) and without the A.  I like the fact that there is the double deletion with different indicators for each although this is offset by the repetition of “without” as a deletion indicator which was used in 9 across.


1 Thwart sword (4)
FOIL – Double definition, the second being a fencing sword.

2 Setback supporting soul enlivens (8)
ANIMATES – Reverse (back) the SET and above it (supporting) a five letter word for soul.  Some editors will not allow a single word “setback” to indicate a reversal of part of the word.  Also, given that the solution is based on the same root word as soul, it might have been better to find a different way of cluing the first part of the word.

3 Energy coming from star may retune a tin radio (9)
RADIATION – An anagram (retune) of A TIN RADIO.  The “may” as the link word jars slightly.  Perhaps putting the anagram first “Retune a tin radio to find energy coming from star” would have worked better.

4 Imagined this had setter in fear (7)
DREAMED – A two letter word for setter inside a five letter word for fear.  Another case of the past tense of “had” where the present tense “has” would work just as well.

5 Short venerable time was part of rocket (5)
STAGE – The abbreviation for saint (short venerable) followed by a three letter word for time.

6 Took it easy after finding strange trees died (6)
RESTED – An anagram (strange) of TREES followed by the abbreviation for died.  I would omit the finding from this clue.

7 Writing desk a mob made? (4)
AMBO – An anagram (made) of A MOB.  The solution is a reading desk used in a church not a writing desk.

13 Speak about decapitated ram (6) (5)
UTTER – Remove the initial letter (decapitated) from a six letter word describing an animal such as a ram that is know for butting things.

15 Garish with energy for current enticed (5)
LURED – A five letter word meaning garish with the abbreviation for energy replacing the abbreviation for current.

16 Stickiness from short pass with note back in the city (9)
VISCOSITY – A four letter word for a travel document or pass with the last letter removed (short) followed by a reversal (back) of a musical note inside the city from the clue.  There is a lot of wordplay repetition with both short and back being used in other clues.

19 Arc a highball back supports soldier (8)
PARABOLA – The A from the clue and a three letter word for a highball are reversed (back) and above these letters add (supporting) a four letter word for an airborne soldier.  Another wordplay repetition with supporting having been used previously.

20 Lumberjack supporting a follower one comments online (8) (7)
BLOGGER – The letter following A (a follower) above (supporting – again!) followed by another word for a lumberjack.

22 Nark want the French to annoy… (6)
NEEDLE – A four letter word meaning want followed by the French masculine form of “the”.  I would omit the “nark” to give a single definition.

24 …itinerant hog back with heartless agent (5)
GIPSY – Reverse (back – another repetition) a three letter word for a hog and follow with a three letter word for a secret agent with the central letter removed (heartless).

26 Pool idol swam around? (4)
LIDO – An anagram (swam around) of IDOL.

28 Nothing the French said no to Cardinal (4)
NONE – The French for no followed by one of the cardinal points of the compass.

34 comments on “Rookie Corner – 264

  1. We thoroughly enjoyed that. Some really clever clues that had us head-scratching in places, the wordplay for 16d and 23a are examples of this. There are lots of clues that have ticks beside them so we won’t select just one for special mention.
    Well done Heno, many thanks.

  2. Like the 2Ks, very enjoyable with a decent amount of head scratching.

    Stand out clue – 4d.

    While solving, there seemed to be a lot of anagrams but a post-solve count gave me seven. Some might consider this to be too many, but I think it is just inside the recommended top number.

    22d seems to be a little ‘clumsy’ and I am not entirely certain how ‘nark’ fits in as I took the definition to be ‘to annoy.’

    Well done and thanks Heno on sticking your head above the ramparts for the second time.

  3. Very enjoyable with for me only a tiny amount of head-scratching. My only query relates to 22d where we seem to have two definitions?

    Thank you to Heno – more please – and in advance, to Prolixic

  4. Thanks Heno, all solved without much trouble. The clues are all clear and fair enough.
    On the other hand, I didn’t really like many clues. My impression is that you looked at the solution word, identified possible wordplay elements, stuck them together and thought job done. Sometimes this gave you a sensible clue – eg. ‘move canoe without leader to go off’ holds together as a sentence – but more often not.
    The first across clue is a particularly striking example: returning (reversal), wearing (contained by), glasses (OO), just the opposite (swap elements), could be a (equals solution) are all standard crossword fare. The effect of putting them together in such an indiscriminate order, apart from destroying the clue’s superficial sense, is to highlight each element’s function in the wordplay. A setter’s aim should be to put them together in a way that disguises their wordplay function, or at least distracts from it. In this clue, and many others, it seemed liked you hadn’t made any attempt to do that.

    1. Fair points, I’ll try some more disguise next time, but it’ll be trickier if I succeed.

  5. It’s good to see Heno making another appearance in Rookie Corner. This is very enjoyable – thanks.
    My favourite clue is 26d.

  6. I enjoyed this, Heno. You have concentrated on accurate wordplay although a lot of your surfaces leave much to be desired. That said, I think you’re working at it the right way round as polishing the surfaces is icing on the cake.

    A handful of minor comments:

    23a – you could have made a good clue great by simply changing it to “……. to get to Pole” improving the surface and disguising the definition with the false capitalisation.
    3d – it’s a pity that the first four letters of the answer appear in that order in one of the words of the anagram fodder.
    7d – I had to look up the answer. Chambers says it’s a reading desk not a writing desk.
    22d – you could omit “nark” which is not needed as you would still have “annoy” as the definition and this would also improve the surface reading.

    I had a lot of ticks and I put 11a, 17a & 26d on my podium.

    Well done and many thanks, Heno. Keep them coming!

  7. A lovely way to start the cruciverbal week, thanks Heno. I found this reasonably straightforward, but perhaps that’s because you have kindly let me test solve some of your puzzles in the past, so I’m fairly familiar with your style. Favourites were 29a, 3d, 4d and 24d. I think given a bit of work on the surface readings, your next puzzle might be nudging the boundaries of the NTSPP slot.

    (By the way, I hope you recover from the Arsenal result yesterday!)

    1. Thanks, It’s been a nightmare season, but at least we’re in with a chance of the top four.

  8. Not too tricky and pleasant enough, so thanks Heno.

    I agree with Mucky that quite a few definitions/clues, including the anagrams, could have been better disguised but that’s not really a problem.

    An enjoyable puzzle so well done and thanks again.

  9. I know that Prolixic downplays the importance of good surface reads when it comes to Rookie Corner and I can understand that he’s more concerned with the accuracy of the clues. Unfortunately, I find the surfaces impossible to ignore and as a result didn’t particularly enjoy a lot of this solve.

    Sorry, Heno, I think it’s great that you continue to submit your puzzles and hope that you’ll learn to perfect that aspect in the future.
    I wouldn’t even attempt to construct a puzzle so you’re well ahead of me anyway!

  10. Thanks, Heno, the clues were all very clear and solvable. Regarding surfaces, in my admittedly limited experience I have not found them simply to be icing on the cake. That would imply that the surface can be applied to an already baked article, but I have found that it actually often emerges from the underlying structure of the clue. When that is not the case it is sometimes necessary to rethink the whole thing. If you look at an Arachne puzzle (there is an excellent example in today’s Guardian) you will find a kind of beautiful logic that only becomes apparent when you solve the clue. Before that it looks like an often amusing observation or aphorism. Since you clearly understand the mechanics of compiling I would look at more than one way of breaking down a solution to see which one naturally suggests a second, totally misleading interpretation.

    1. I agree. At the risk of stretching a metaphor too far (or maybe burning the cake?) I’d say that the surface is the cake. We can digest raw flour, eggs, butter and sugar but they’re only tasty when combined in the right way. Except for butter, that is, which is great by itself.

  11. I found this a very accessible puzzle from a rookie setter, suitable for rookie solvers too, despite deficiencies in some of the clues and a couple of clues, the intersecting 5dn and 11ac, that I had to resort to help for. 11ac was obvious in retrospect, but I think ‘unit’ is a bit too vague a definition, and if I’ve got the right answer to 5dn I can’t see how to parse it.
    One or two other specific comments:
    In both 21ac and 25ac ‘is’ would be better than ‘was’.
    In 19dn the surface doesn’t make sense. I don’t fully subscribe to the ‘is it something someone might say in conversation?’ test, but this would certainly fail it.
    In 7dn the answer is obvious but the definition in both Chambers and Collins is ‘reading desk’, not ‘writing desk’.
    And in 16dn the answer does not define stickiness although it is related to a word that can mean sticky. The answer is actually a measure of how fluid or otherwise a substance is – the higher the value the less fluid it is.
    On the other hand I liked the ideas behind 10ac and 27ac although both clues could have done with some polishing.
    But keep at it – we all learn from experience, and I look forward to your next one.

  12. Welcome back, Heno.

    Well done on producing another puzzle, I do wish you had made more of an effort with the surfaces though, quite a few didn’t make a great deal of sense.

    My repetition radar was kept very busy, “back”, “short”, “supporting” and “around” each cropped up more than once,

    Like Exit, I couldn’t quite understand why, on several occasions, “was” or “were” were used as link words, when the present tense could, and should, have been used instead.

    It was pitched at a fairly solver-friendly level, which was nice to see.

    Thank you, Heno.

  13. Hello Heno,

    To your credit this was readily solvable. in my warped mind, there were multiple issues. Some have been highlighted. Do not use past tense unless the clue absolutely demands it (was, 25a, 5d). Be sure of your definitions (no one writes on 7d, and 12a is a visual aid – you can’t hear them).

    The Grid is not the most user-friendly. There are 20 words without a checked first letter, which makes it harder for the solver. Is this what you wanted? And the 5-letter words only have 2 checkers.

    I’m not sure I got 27a

    I am going to have to disagree with “surface is the icing on the cake” crowd. For me It’s the sole purpose, without the surface there is no art, just mechaniics, and that’s pretty boring for me. So I think it is critical to play with surfaces, hide definitions, use vowel/noun misdirections, splice your wordplay beautifully into your definition, etc. Use anagram and other indicators that just melt into the surface. Design your fodder to create a sentence together with your indicators and definition. And make sure it makes sense, the surface must be a plausible story.

    The whole clue should flow nicely

    Arachne, in today’s guardian, is a good role model.

    Looking forward to prolixic’s review.

    I am happy to suggest Heno that you send your next puzzle to me for a test solve. I can also give you a clue by clue breakdown of today’s puzzle, if you wish. Big Dave will happily give you mu email, if you don’t have it already.

    1. Got 27a now, I had bunged in viscidity. Making me wonder about the note. Doh, so to speak.

    2. Dutch et al, I seem to have expressed it poorly. I am a stickler for smooth surfaces which are a totally integral part of a good crossword and I agree that for the most part you can’t generally tweak a poor surface and make it good.

      The point I was trying to make is that for Rookie puzzles, which are by definition composed by setters who are learning their trade, it’s better to focus initially on the side of accurate and accessible wordplay and improve the surfaces as they gain experience.

      1. I agree that learning the basics of cryptic grammar is essential. The challenge for the setter is to have perfect cryptic grammar with a simple and entertaining surface. A clue without a surface is a non-clue (in my book). So I think we would do well to advertise that a puzzle is only ever good if the surfaces are good, and the sooner you incorporate that the better. it affects the whole concept of what you are trying to do.

        i concede there are many barred crosswords where the art seems to be less in the surface than the endplay. To each their own. however, we are talking here about 15×15 blocked crosswords.

        Anax used to run DIYCOW, a great resource for aspiring setters (it’s where I learned). It’s a weekly clue competition, but it shows you quite dramatically how different people clue the same word, some mechanically, and others with an exceptional surface. A great learning environment. It was an eye-opener for me.

      2. I agree that learning the basics of cryptic grammar is essential. The challenge for the setter is to have perfect cryptic grammar with a simple and entertaining surface. A clue without a surface is a non-clue (in my book). So I think we would do well to advertise that a puzzle is only ever good if the surfaces are good, and the sooner you incorporate that the better. it affects the whole concept of what you are trying to do.

        i concede there are many barred crosswords where the art seems to be less in the surface than the endplay. To each their own. however, we are talking here about 15×15 blocked crosswords.

        Anax used to run DIYCOW, a great resource for aspiring setters (it’s where I learned). It’s a weekly clue competition, but it shows you quite dramatically how different people clue the same word, some mechanically, and others with an exceptional surface. A great learning environment. It was an eye-opener for me.

  14. Hi Heno & All,

    I generally enjoyed the solve. The clues that were by far the most satisfying were those with a decent surface in their own right. One good friend of the Big Dave site tests any clue by asking herself, “Could you reasonably use the clue as a sentence down the pub (without it being obvious that it is a crossword clue, of course!)?”

    To me those that pass easily include:
    – 4d: Imagined this had setter in fear (7)
    – 1d: Thwart sword (4)
    – 25a: Key drug circle was changing (8)
    Each of these conjure up some sort of image. 4d I particularly like!

    Those that – to me at least – don’t work so well include 30a, 18a, 15d, 23a, 29a, 24d. The wordplay is generally ok but as you progress you’ll find that that won’t be enough, as others have said.

    For me, the best surface writers around (from the named setters, at least) are Nutmeg and Arachne. Well worth studying their clues and seeing what I and others above are ‘banging on about’, if you aren’t already familiar with their work.

    Hope this helps & I look forward to the next!


    1. 4d I thought “this had” was unnecessary and not quite right, whereas “Imagined setter in fear” works fine.

  15. Thanks for all your comments, I’ll try and take it all on board for my next one. I know I’ve got to work on the surfaces and try not to repeat constructions. Great fun in trying to improve.

  16. Thanks for the review Prolixic, very clear advice which is invaluable for Rookie setters.

  17. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. Your ability to be so fair-minded never ceases to impress me!

  18. It was a pleasure to have a Rookie puzzle that was accessible, had some very good clues, and was fun to solve. Thank you very much indeed, Heno. Well done! I look forward to more of your puzzles in due course.

    Many thanks for the excellent review, Prolixic. Much appreciated.

  19. A good uncomplicated puzzle. I did have an issue, though, with some of the surface readings – a few aren’t fully grammatically correct (I’m thinking of , eg, 8a, 12a, 19d, 20d, 28d) , Others didn’t seem to have an intelligible surface meaning (18a, 30a). In 16d, the ‘the’ is redundant and misleading. I think all this could be sorted with a bit of tidying up, though. Faves 23a, 4d.

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