Rookie Corner – 266 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 266

A Puzzle by Rex Bassett

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

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 Rex Bassett.  Like his first crossword, there are some good ideas in this crossword but far too many rough edges.  On a positive note, the grid was much better   The commentometer reads at 10.5 / 30 or 35%.


1 Applies to those in the cabinet in charge of promotion? (11)
ADMINISTERS – Split 2,9 this might mean members of the cabinet responsible for adverts.

7 Complexes before noon? The pits (7)
AMMINES -The abbreviation for morning followed by another word for pits where minerals / ores are extracted. The definition might have been a little more precise but the wordplay was clear.

8/2 Perhaps doubtful or curious and ofttimes bewildered (5,2,4)
STATE OF MIND – An anagram (bewildered) of AND OFTTIMES.

10 A line connecting Collage to the network (4)
CLAN – The abbreviation for college followed by the abbreviation for local area network.  If the setter intended Collage as the indicator for C, this is an error – you cannot use any old word beginning with the letter you want to use in the wordplay.  Only recognised abbreviations should be used.  If the setter intended college, then the typo is an error that makes the clue impossible to solve.

11 Make animal noise round the table (5)
BLEAT – An anagram (round) of TABLE.  The “the” should be omitted from the clue.  Also, round as an anagram indicator before the letters to be rearranged does not really work.  Whilst you might round the horn, it means to go around, not to rearrange.

12 Usually in a sea passage late getting underway (4)
ISLE – Another word for a passage with the first letter removed (late getting underway).  Verbal phrases to indicate a noun are fair but not all solvers like them.

15 Not something normally seen on Commando! (9)
UNDERWEAR – Cryptic definition of something not worn if you are going commando.  Whilst potentially a good clue, you would need “going commando” in the wordplay for this to work.

17 Emergency rations allegedly made by married woman (5)
MANNA – The abbreviation for married followed by a four letter woman’s name.

18 Lake leads to a healthy outside existence (5)
TAHOE – The initial letters (leads) of the final five words of the clue.  Leads on its own does not work as the initial letter indicator – it would need to be “leads to” but as the “to” is already in the clue, you would end up with “leads to to” – perhaps “leads to taking a…” would work better.

20 Shows signs of being a sadist or tediously twisted . (9)
DISTORTED – The answer is hidden in SADIST OR TEDIOUSLY.  I am not wholly convinced by “shows signs of” as the hidden word indicator and the “being” is padding.  Perhaps “In part a sadist or tediously twisted.

22 ..but shows signs of being noble (4)
NEON – Cryptic definition of a noble gas used in signs.

23 Having none of it is nothing to do with you! (5)
TRUCK – Cryptic definition.

25 Test shows note reverberating in airway? (4)
BETA – A reversal (reverberating) of a musical note inside the abbreviation for British Airways.  Whilst in the plural form, airways can refer to airline companies, it does not have the same meaning in the singular.

28 Flat with a variety of Antirrhinum plants (4,3)
SALT PAN – The a from the clue followed by an anagram (variety of) of PLANTS.  I see the setter has said that the “A” was superfluous in the clue.  If this is the case, then you cannot use Antirrhinum as an indicator for A as it is not an abbreviation given in the dictionaries.  Perhaps “Flat area with variety of plants” would have been better.

29 Songbird in late spring? What nonsense (7)
MALARKY – A four letter bird’s name inside one the late spring months.

30 Teacher training by an expert? (11)
MASTERCLASS – A six letter word for a teacher followed by another word for training.  There is too much overlap between component elements of this clue to make it entirely satisfactory.


1 Insignia worn by almost all military musicians (7)
ARMBAND – A four letter word for the military with the final word removed followed by a four letter word for musicians.  Insignia is a plural noun though can be used in the singular.

2 See 8 Across

3 Get oneself occasionally involved with support group for protection historically (5)
NASAL – An anagram (involved) of NSL (the even letters – occasionally – in oneself) AA (the abbreviation for Alcoholics Anonymous).  The first of two indirect anagrams.  As there could be many support groups whose abbreviations could be used, it is not fair on the solver to expect them to alight on the right pair of initials required.  The crime is compounded by using an ancient nounal form of the solution as a protective bridge on a helmet which makes it even harder to get back from the definition to divine the correct wordplay.

4 Twice the SAS have bewildered airmen in for tea (9)
SASSAFRAS – An anagram (bewildered) of SAS SAS RAF.  The second of our indirect anagrams.  A simple rule for rookie setters.  Don’t use indirect anagrams.  Also, whilst anagram clues for obscure words are technically allowed, they really do not give solvers much chance unless the cross-checking letters are friendly.

5 Surprised expression from aged doctor (4)
EGAD – An anagram (doctor) of AGED.  The position of the anagram indicator is wrong.  You doctor something.  Therefore, the anagram indicator must go before the letters to be rearranged.  Many of the anagrams in this crossword are four or five letters.  This does not give the solver much of a challenge.

6 Often worn on the hands (7)
STETSON – Cryptic definition of a hat worn by cowboys (hands).  Again a nice attempt at a cryptic definition but fails as the hats are worn by (not on) hands.  “They may found on American hands” would be a little better.

7 They give balance to stories going round at National Assembly (11)
ACCOUNTANTS – An eight letter word for stories around an anagram (assembly) of AT N (national).  The clue structure of definition TO wordplay does not work.  Wordplay to definition is the accepted order.

9 Relaxed safe and yearned to get drunk (4,3,4)
FREE AND EASY – An anagram (to get drunk) of SAFE YEARNED.

13 Persistent juror? (5)
TRIER – Double definition of someone who is persistent and someone who tries a case giving a verdict as a jury member.

14 Is smut regularly seen with binoculars through a hole in the hedge (5)
SMOOT – The even letters (regularly) of “is smut” around (seen with … through) a pair of letter that look like the end of binoculars.  The definition is an obscure one.  You should use the definition from one of the main English dictionaries such as Chambers, Collins or the OED and not rely on on-line dictionaries where the provenance of the definition is not known.

16 Guts and cooks deer and Aberdeen Angus, nice now and again (9)
ENDURANCE – An anagram (cooks) of DEED A (Aberdeen) NU NC (the even letter – now and again – in Angus Nice).  Another instance where the setter has taken word where the first letter is to be used in an illegal manner.  “…head of Aberdeen Angus…” would be better.

19 It is criminal to stop smoking! (7)
HOODLUM – If you were to put a cover over a three letter word for a chimney you would get a name of a criminal.  As the answer is a person, the “It is” could be omitted.

21 Creativity from unorthodox Non- European theatres (3,4)
THE ARTS – An anagram (unorthodox) of THEATRES without the E (non-European).

24 Type of opera children will see? (5)
COMIC – Double definition of a type of opera and something that children will read and see.

26 Bird’s nest soup after a big bottle of bubbly usually (4)
OPUS – An anagram (bird’s nest) of SOUP. It is bad enough having nouns following the letters to be rearranged as an anagram indicator.  To put the noun before the letters compounds the problem.  Perhaps “Soup is prepared after…” would be better.

27 Return to the heart of Casablanca to see Rose (4)
ALBA -The answer is hidden in (the heart of) and reversed (return) in CASABLANCA.  The first “to” in the clue jars and destroys the cryptic reading.  Perhaps “Rose returns from the centre of Casablanca”

I will see you all in two weeks’ time.  Next week we have a mystery reviewer who will blog the next puzzle in the Rookie Crossword Corner.

41 comments on “Rookie Corner – 266

  1. This was far too tough for me, Rex. After my normal 4* solving time I have five answers entered so I can’t comment on whether or not you have addressed the various technical issues raised by your debut puzzle (apart from the obvious absence of double unches and correct enumeration of multiple word answers).

    It’s clear that you must have done a great deal of work to compose this. I do hope that others will have enjoyed it and can make some constructive suggestions of how to make your puzzles more accessible to a wider range of solvers.

    I am sorry not to be able to be more positive but thank you for making the effort.

    1. Sorry you found this tough. Answers seem clear to me because I know what they are. I sometimes find it hard to judge clue difficulty for solvers who are trying to find them and clearly go too far on occasions.
      Thanks for taking the time to help.

      1. Thanks for replying, Rex. I can see that it is not easy for setters to judge how difficult solvers will find their puzzles. Have you considered asking a couple of friends to act as test solvers before you publish your puzzles so that you can get an independent opinion not only regarding difficulty but also all the technical aspects as well?

        1. Thanks
          Yes I have given puzzles to friends but generally they don’t have as much wisdom as those on the blog so difficult for them to comment on technicalities. I do a #cluefortheweek on Twitter @BassettRex but get little or no feedback sadly.
          I must explore your suggestion further.

  2. You know when there aren’t any overnight comments that you are going to be solving a particular type of Rookie and it didn’t take me long to realise that this was the case.

    It took me an age to get going and in many cases I had to reveal letters to make sure that I had the right solution from what are, in so many places, clues that are trying too hard to be cryptic.

    I did like 15a (my first one in) which made me smile but there are quite a few clues where I have written a ? or nq (not quite right) , In 28a not only is antirrhinum spelt incorrectly but I don’t think it is necessary to include it as the letters required for the solution are all already in the clue. 27d requires some plant knowledge and there are several other clues where you need particular types of knowledge for the penny to eventually drop as to what the definition is.

    Thanks to Rex Bassett – I would take careful note of all Prolixic will have to say in his review and then come back with another crossword in due course. Thanks in advance to Prolixic – I’m going to need quite a few of your explanations.

    1. While I am reluctant to change clues, spelling mistakes are a different kettle of fish, so I have amended antirrhinum.

    2. Thanks for taking time to comment again Crypticsue, it’s appreciated. A spelling error, in spite of multiple checks, is not great and the “a” before “variety” is superfluous. As to difficulty, see reply to Rabbit Dave above.

  3. I managed to complete about 90% of this before resorting to the reveal button to finish it. I think there are quite a few problems here which Prolixic will deal with (including what seems to be an indirect anagram in 4d).
    There are still a couple of answers I don’t understand, e.g. 14d where Chambers says the answer means a compositor who does odd jobs in printing houses.
    On the plus side there are some good ideas here and I particularly liked 1a, 29a and 19d. Thanks, Rex.

    1. Good of you to reply with comment Gazza, thanks.
      4d was indeed a partially indirecy anagram but I thought the indirect bit was obvious enough to get away with. Patently not.
      Must admit my definition is not immediately obvious in 14d
      is where I think is saw it. Note to self, make sure to use more standard references.

  4. I didn’t get far with this before resorting to the reveal button and in most cases rather than the penny dropping, I put a question mark beside the clue. Some obscure vocabulary clued difficulty did not add to the enjoyment factor and once I found a few ?? clues, interest faded rapidly.

    Nothing wrong with a tricky puzzle and you doubtless have a mind for setting, but I would suggest using basic English gridfills and focus on accessible wordplay and smooth surfaces.

    Many thanks for making the effort to put the puzzle together Rex, and thanks in advance to Prolixic for what I’m sure will be an interesting review.

    1. Good of you to comment, thanks LetterboxRoy
      My reply to Rabbit Dave may some way explain the difficulty, but all similar comments have been taken to heart. Smooth surfaces at the very least are what I always aim for.

  5. CrypticSue is right that we chose not to leave an ‘overnight’ comment.
    We were away on holiday when Rex’s first puzzle was published so this was the first one of his for us to tackle. We gave up after quite some time when we had found several clues that did not seem to work and still nine left blank. We reverted to the reveal button at this stage and then tried to work through the parsing. Still lots of ??? left.
    Agree with Gazza there are some good ideas here but……
    Thanks Rex.

  6. When I saw that other regular Rookie solvers had experienced huge problems, I knew that I would have to use the Reveal button liberally too, and so it proved.

    I was disappointed that, like the setter’s previous puzzle, there were still several obscure words in the grid, including a couple that I couldn’t find in Chambers, more unnecessary “padding” in the wordplay, and some very vague definitions, of which 6d was probably the worst offender. I spotted “bewildered” twice used as an anagram indicator and, like others, noted several constructions that either defied the usual conventions or simply didn’t work. At least the grid was an improvement on last time!

    I would encourage the setter to use more clues like 15a and 29a and far fewer (actually none at all) like 14d and 26d next time. Please, please take heed of Prolixic’s comments before embarking on Puzzle No. 3.

    Thanks, RB.

    1. I am indeed bewildered as to how that slipped through!
      At least the grid was better.
      Cryptic ranch “hands”, perhaps a ? would sort it?
      I’d appreciate more feedback on specific “vague definitions”
      Thanks for your time

      1. In response to your request for more feedback, I think you are trying too hard to disguise definitions to the point that they stray too far from what is fair to a solver.

        In 7a, “complexes” is too specialised for anyone other than a chemist to know, I’d venture. It’s often said that the more obscure the word, the more straightforward the wordplay and definition should be, and that’s a good rule of thumb.

        in 12a “usually in a sea”, could mean almost anything marine.

        In 6d, “hands” is far too vague, hands (workers) where? Obviously you intended it to refer to what cowboys (ranch hands) might wear ,but how is the solver meant to make that leap?

        7d – “they give balance”, but do they, possibly in the plural they might, but not in the singular? I can see what you meant, but once again I don’t think it is fair to the solver.

        I hope the foregoing is of assistance.

        1. Thanks, that’s just what I need, very helpful and appreciated.
          This wasn’t one of my finest hours!


  7. Hi Rex Bassett

    Congratulations on putting together another puzzle, a feat in itself.

    A few answers not in Chambers, so i had no way of confirming whether they were right or wrong, so I too had to revert to using the reveal buttons.

    In general I think you might want to try eliminating all words that are not directly involved in wordplay from your clue (e.g. articles in 11a, 4d), especially in a Hidden clue. “It is” probably best omitted in 19d, since we’re talking about a person.

    Should Collage be College in 10a? If so, that typo held me up quite a long time.

    There were several minor niggles that resulted in the clues not quite doing what they said on the tin. Insignia is plural. is the answer? (1d). The expression is “go commando”, so that clue does not work, pity because it’s funny. 22a is a nice idea but doesn’t work for me as is. The answer to 13 would correspond to a judge rather than a juror, wouldn’t it? 4d is an indirect anagram i think.

    I did like 29a, and i liked many of the ideas. I hope you will find prolixic’s review useful and that you will be able to translate these excellent ideas into equally excellent clues.

    good luck on your next one

    1. Thanks for this helpful comment.
      I’ve made a mental note to use more standard reference books.
      Eliminating articles etc …point well made and taken.
      CollEge indeed. Initial only used but unforgivable nonetheless.
      Surely “insignia” is both singular and plural, like fish? plural also “insignias”
      I thought the “!” might mitigate against the lack of “go”.
      Is one not tried by either a judge and jury or just by a judge?
      4d …correct a bit of indirect anagram there. I thought the indirect bit was obvious enough to get away with.

      1. Collins gives ‘insignia’ as singular or plural, with insignias also valid, the online BRB also agrees, but cites ‘badges’

  8. Finally got letters in all the spaces, thanks to copious use of the ‘reveal a letter’ function. Almost every answer on my sheet has either ‘umm’ or ‘?’ alongside it – something of a record!

    I think you have a long way to go, Rex, and would echo the suggestion from RD that you get a couple of test solvers on board for future puzzles.

    1. Every journey starts with a single step. This is only my second and with help
      I’ll get there.
      At least you have a new record!

  9. I’m afraid my comments echo those already made, so there’s not a lot to add. I’ll just pick out a couple of clues: 7ac I only got because of being a chemist (although I’ve been criticised for including what I thought was general knowledge but others thought specialised – not in chemistry, though). And whilst I got 14dn from the wordplay I just don’t understand the definition – the answer according to Chambers is a jobbing compositor who does work for different printers – how does that equate to a hole in the hedge?

    On the other hand 18ac was straightforward, and I particularly liked 29ac and 4dn.

    But those of us who are setters, published or aspiring, are still learning, so don’t give up.

    1. 14d is archaic – a hole in the wall of an enclosure, designed so a man (ok, or a woman…) can escape a stampede, say, but not cattle. No idea where the ‘hedge’ bit comes from though.
      Follow setter’s link @#3, which is not an ideal source

    2. Exit thanks for your comment. Glad there was something you liked! This was not one of my best efforts and a lot has been learned which is he aim of the exercise.

  10. In a flurry of inspiration (or dumb luck) after a very slow start yesterday I got answers for all but eight of the clues without revealing any letters, and for the most part was able to work out how they were arrived at. There were some that totally flummoxed me though. I leave the post-solve analytics to the experts on here, but once I got going I did enjoy the tussle. I liked 1A, 30A and 21D best. Thanks Rex B. and Prolixic.

    1. No dumb luck, let’s put it down to good cluing, or perhaps not!! but glad someone enjoyed it.
      Not on of my finest hours I suspect but lots learned. If I’ve got any head left I’ll put it above the parapet again soon.
      Thanks for taking time to comment

  11. Thanks RB
    I got most of it, but did some revealing at the end. Quite a few I solutions I entered and checked, to be surprised when they turned out to be correct.
    I don’t mind a difficult puzzle. This one seemed difficult but looking back there are not that many obscurities – I think the difficulty is because the clues are just not accurate enough. For example, 22a: there are two hints in the clue, signs and noble, of what the solution is. Unfortunately, all of the other words are vague, superfluous or misleading parts of speech. Given that, how is the solver supposed to extract the two relevant bits?
    Smoot is rather a lovely word. I googled it before looking it up in Chambers (finding only the printing-related definition) and enjoyed this wiki entry:

    1. Thanks Mucky, I’m learning fast that I have to tighten up on cluing, leaving out bits that I think help the surface. and be more precise with definitions although if you are getting some without realising they are correct then something must be working.
      I’ll just say that it smoot whether I got the correct definition in 14! (sorry, couldn’t resist!) I knew about the wiki entry but found the definition somewhere odd, which in itself is a mistake to be corrected.
      Onwards and upwards

  12. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic, and your usual good sense.
    Tough job for someone to assume your mantle next week!

  13. Thanks Prolixic for a very helpful mauling! Lots to take on board which is why we do it after all.
    10 was indeed a typo so I clearly need guidance as to when Capitals can be used in clues (as was intended here and in 28a) as opposed to abbreviations. Well, that and many other things!
    Re indirect anagrams, I am aware that there can be an element of indirectness eg “1st man” to = Adam, so long as that bit has virtually no alternative possibilities. I have clearly overstepped the mark in this regard.
    Enjoy your “break”

    1. On its own, a capital used to start a word is never sufficient to indicate a particular letter.
      College would have been ok for C, not because of the capital c, but because under ‘c’ in the dictionary you will find college given as one of a number of words for which c stands. If you want to clue a letter using a word without giving an indicator to take the first letter (such as ‘first of’, ‘beginning to’ etc.) you should only use words which are listed under that letter.
      Different dictionaries have different lists. I usually use Chambers because that’s what I have but I think Collins is possibly more useful for abbreviations. The dictionary lists are not exhaustive, which is frustrating, but you will get stick whenever you stray.
      There are exceptions. For example, L stands for learner or learner driver but it’s so familiar that anything goes for L, such as student, beginner etc. Note, the exceptions only apply to the words you can use to clue the abbreviation; if the abbreviation’s not listed you shouldn’t clue it at all.

      1. Thanks again for your time and effort, it really is appreciated.
        I get the bit about abbreviations ok, it’s Capitals I seem to be having trouble with.
        So as a rule of thumb Capital letters, (not intended as abbreviations as such like proper nouns like Richard or Hoover) representing words must be either indicated (“beginning of Autumn”) or be the first word in the clue unless they are accepted dictionary abbreviations?


        1. So as a rule of thumb Capital letters, (not intended as abbreviations as such like proper nouns like Richard or Hoover) representing words must be either indicated (“beginning of Autumn”) or be the first word in the clue unless they are accepted dictionary abbreviations?

          Forgive me if I am misunderstanding you, but I get the impression you still think capital letters give you more than they actually do. Capitals give you nothing.

          If a word in a clue usually has a capital letter (eg. Richard or Hoover), give it one. If it doesn’t, then don’t. Autumn doesn’t, so if you want to use autumn to give an A in your solution, say ‘beginning of autumn’ not ‘beginning of Autumn’.
          If you want to use a word in a clue to give you a letter of the solution, it is irrelevant whether or not that word has a capital letter. It is irrelevant whether or not it is a proper noun. It is also irrelevant where it comes in the clue; beginning, middle or end. The ONLY thing that is relevant is whether there is a listed abbreviation for that word.

          R is not a listed abbreviation for Richard, so if you have an R in your solution you can’t use Richard, unless you add something to tell the solver to take the R, like ‘Richard’s head’.
          H is not a listed abbreviation for Hoover so the same applies.
          H is a listed abbreviation for henry (with a small h), the unit of inductance. So you can use henry on its own in a clue to give H in your solution. You will usually see henry given with a capital H. The only effect of this is to make it seem like the setter is referring to a person called Henry, rather than the unit of inductance. That is a trick. It does not mean that the man’s name Henry has been abbreviated to H. For some reason it is considered acceptable to add a capital to a word, but not the other way round. For example:
          D is a listed abbreviation for Dutch (as in from the Netherlands). So you can use Dutch on its own in the clue to give D in your solution. ‘dutch’ with a small d is also a word. The abbreviation D for Dutch does not refer to dutch meaning wife. It would be considered unfair, as Big Dave points out, to use dutch with a small d to indicate a D in your solution.

          Your comment:
          Re indirect anagrams, I am aware that there can be an element of indirectness eg “1st man” to = Adam, so long as that bit has virtually no alternative possibilities. I have clearly overstepped the mark in this regard.

          NO. See Prolixic’s comment ‘a simple rule for Rookie setters. Don’t use indirect anagrams’. Take it literally. You will not ever find a clue in a regular daily puzzle that requires an anagram of Adam unless Adam is in the clue.

          1. Thanks for all that. It’s great to receive so much assistance.
            Regarding initials and abbreviations that’s what, in my perhaps clumsy way, I was trying to say. The examples I gave were probably not the best.
            I hear and understand what you say re indirect anagrams, I did read in a book recommended by Peter Biddlecombe that if the indirect bit was “obvious” or “unique” the rule could be bent slightly so horses for courses to a degree I suppose but your point is well made.
            Thanks again

  14. So we’d all never heard of a smoot – on the radio this morning, someone was talking about creating a ‘hedgehog smoot’ to enable them to travel between gardens to meet other hedgehogs

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