Rookie Corner – 299 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 299

A Puzzle by Porcia

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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.

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A plea to all Rookies – the Rookie queue is now empty, so please send your puzzles in asap.  If you have submitted a puzzle thet has not been published, it may have been lost in transit so please send it again.

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A review by Prolixic follows.

It is good to welcome back Porcia with this crossword.  Relatively speaking it was easier than his previous ones though still of Toughie standard.  The commentometer reads as 2.5/25 or 10%


1a/12a The last place you’d be expecting royal patient: it’s HM being treated (9,8)
MATERNITY HOSPITAL – An anagram (being treated) of ROYAL PATIENT ITS HM.  Lovely topical clue with good use of the anagram material.

6a Trump for Pope!” (4)
RUFF – Double definition, the second being a European fish.

9a Jet set (6)
STREAM – Double definition for a jet of water or an academic group of pupils.

10a Does round edges and flushes (8)
CRIMSONS – A four letter word meaning does or cheats around a four letter word for edges

12a See 1

13a Engage and pay attention when recycling (6)
ENLIST – A six letter word meaning pay attention with the first to letter cycling to the end.  A little like initial letter selections, cycling or recycling means moving one letter to the beginning or end.  More precision is required if you are asking the solver to move two letters.

14a Taking blade into consideration, lad’s relation to be locked up (6)
INSIDE – Where the LAD from the clue can be found in the word BLADE!

15a 18‘s clue fools around so? (5-2)
STAND-IN – A four letter word meaning fools reversed (around) put as a clue.  I cannot see how the solver is supposed to know that you need to split the solution with the AND in between the pair of letters.

16a Old bastards using puff and bluster (2-5)
BY-BLOWS – A two letter word meaning using followed by a five letter plural word for both puff and bluster.

18a Bill Cash: good for getting stuff done (6)
ACTING – A two letter abbreviation for a bill or account, a three letter slang word for cash and the abbreviation for good.

21a Audibly express dejection, on account of what has to be solved (6)
CIPHER – A homophone (audibly) of SIGH (express dejection) and FOR (on account of).  The homophone requires the cockney pronunciation “fer” as in tit fer tat.

22a White man braves combat (8)
PALEFACE – Single definition defined two ways.

23a Setter’s cribbing six (or a shade over) (3, 5)
SUN-VISOR – The star that sets in the evening on earth around (cribbing) the Roman numerals for 6 all followed by the OR from the clue.

24a Get present for fan (6)
WINNOW – A three letter word meaning get followed by a three letter word meaning present (in the temporal sense of the word).

25a 70s tennis player scratching backside all the time (4)
EVER – The name of the 1970’s women’s tennis player Chris ????? without final letter (scratching backside).

26a These used to catch wind, principally of Spooner’s stable boys (9)
MAINSAILS – A Spoonerism of sane (stable) males (boys).


2d Hag I initially imagined future Tory? Haggard’s She-who-must-be obeyed perhaps (9,6)
AUTHORITY FIGURE – An anagram (haggard) of HAG I I (first letter – initially of imagined) FUTURE TORY.

3d Old flames politician kept on top of tallboy as spares (7)
EXEMPTS – A three letter word for old flames includes (kept) the two-letter abbreviation for a member of parliament on the firsts letter (top of) tallboy.  Looking at the cryptic grammar, it does not really tell you that both the abbreviation and the first letter are kept inside the old flames.

4d Supply me words to mean intestinal parasites (8,5)
NEMATODE WORMS – An anagram (supply) of ME WORDS TO MEAN.

5d Make someone laugh, putting article over one’s equipment (6)
TACKLE – A six letter word meaning to make someone laugh with an A (article) replacing (over) the I (one).

7d Unchecked letter? (7)
UPSILON – The Greek letter whose inner letters are surrounded by (checked) the UN from the beginning of the word.  Some editors will not allow lift and separate clues of this nature.  Given that the clue also relies on a cryptic reading of checked meaning to surround, it make the clue particularly solver unfriendly.  I suspect that not many people will have solved this one without most of the cross-checked letters.

8d Black Ops training college? (9,6)
FINISHING SCHOOL – Cryptic definition of where assassins (Black Ops) might be trained.

11d A twit inclined (being vulnerable) to double (9,4)
IDENTICAL TWIN – An anagram (being vulnerable) of A TWIT INCLINED

17d On board Minerva he limped back into port (2,5)
LE HAVRE – The answer is hidden (on board) and reversed (back) in the third to fifth words of the clue.

19d Spanish girl born with a silver spoon in her mouth is literally speechless (7)
INFANTA – The first part of the clue is a definition of a Spanish princess, the second part is an indication that babies cannot talk from the root word of the solution which is from the Latin unable to speak.

20d A person completing this crossword without tremendous speed reveals a confused state-of-mind (6)
APORIA – The A from the clue followed by the name of the setter without the letter used to represent the speed of light.

28 comments on “Rookie Corner – 299

  1. We have a completed grid but still a bit of parsing such as 7d to sort out. In fact the NE corner held out for a long time, mainly because the ‘pope’ was something we did not know. Over all, considerably gentler than the last offering and all the better for that. We started off with a chuckle about 1a/12a and that’s always a good way to start a solve.
    We enjoyed the tussle.
    Thanks Porcia.

    1. Thanks 2Kiwis. I was surprised to come across the pope, too, and was a little doubtful about its obscurity. Noticed it when doing Trump jousting in clues with Whynot elsewhere, so I let it stand really for his benefit, as he promised to have a go at my next Rookie if it wasn’t over-hard.
      I’m glad I got a smile: I was a little worried that joke would fall on its face if a medical emergency laid out one of the royals over Christmas. Phew!

  2. I also thought that the difficulty factor had been cranked back a little this time, but it was still far from straightforward in many places, and I am struggling to parse a few clues, which is often a sign in a Rookie Puzzle that the wordplay may be unfair on the solver.

    As well as making the clues a tad less convoluted overall, I’m pleased that the setter is continuing to progress, and my ticks went to the 1/12 combo, the topical 18a, plus 22a and 25a. The occasional surface (like 3d and 11d) failed to convince, but the majority passed muster comfortably.

    Certainly more even a contest between setter and solver this time, but I look forward to Prolixic’s explanations of the ones that are defying my parsing attempts.

    Many thanks, Porcia, and Season’s Greetings to all.

    1. Thanks silvanus. I’ve done a lot of thinking about difficulty in the light of your comments on my last, and now analyse the clues I’ve solved by established setters to work out in what their difficulty consists, trying to avoid going further than they do in my own clues. It appears with limited success so far… I also specifically tried to simplify each clue, as you advised. I’m not sure that’s helped much in practice either, although it’s been an interesting exercise in itself.
      I was channelling Boris for the 3d surface, and although the indicator feels wrong in 11d I think the bridge surface is at least coherent, if not very inspiring.

  3. Thanks Porcia
    I didn’t find it easier than last time, harder if anything, but I don’t think last time was really as hard as everyone made it. I found there were fewer easy ones here to get going. I finished without revealing any but did need to check a few I don’t understand. I don’t think there were any I didn’t understand last time.
    Those I don’t get:
    15a all the parts are there, but I’m not sure why the fools are doing what they’re doing
    19d I see that ‘speechlessness’ is given in Chambers for a similar word, but not sure how it transfers to the solution.
    13a Why ‘re’cycling?
    Those I liked:
    23 def particularly

    1. Thanks mucky. I find everything hard, unless I’ve clued it myself; then it’s a doddle. I did wonder in revising this if deliberately looking for ways to make it easier made the whole thing fall rather flat, its boringness then making it seem paradoxically harder than it was.
      15a: not sure what the problem is if you can see all the bits. ‘Clue’ as imperative?
      7d: This seems to have been surprisingly awkward to a few. I’ll be interested to see Prolixic’s view on it.
      19d: Etymology to explain cryptic-ish definition seemed like an interesting idea at the time.
      13a: Started life as an attempt to do a slightly different cycling clue. I didn’t notice, once the verbiage of my original had been pruned, that it worked better as a standard one. Oh well..

      1. 15a: I thought ‘and’ was given by ‘so’ in the clue (as in ‘So what?/ And?’ when replying to an objectionable statement)
        7d: my best guess was that ‘unchecked’ meant ‘there is no wordplay for this letter’. The explanation makes sense but it’s so hard to see from this side.
        13a: I think you lose the cycling function of cycling when you put re in front of it. The words mean different things. I don’t agree with Prolixic’s point that you have to indicate how many letters are cycled. Admittedly, most cycling clues only cycle one letter, but I would put this down to how easy it is for the setter to spot the potential wordplay. As a function, cycling can apply to any section of a series so long as the order remains the same. I have found this recent example in the Independent:
        Entry of Russian leader, cycling (5) for INPUT
        3d: I liked ‘politician kept on top of tallboy’ for MPT. If you say ‘in the cupboard pasta’s kept on top of rice’ you don’t mean the cupboard’s on top of the rice.
        Your comments about the puzzle being boring or flat are inapt. 1) It’s not a boring puzzle. 2) When you write a crossword, you are not inventing a new type of entertainment. People do crosswords because they like crosswords per se. The most basic enjoyment to be had from a crossword is working out the answer and writing it in. You are just providing a vehicle for them to do it.

        1. Thanks again mucky.
          15a: I only twigged that your original query related to where the ‘and’ came from on reading Prolixic’s review. Your explanation is ingenious and thankfully wrong. I’m not sure my explanation holds any more water though.
          7d: Another ingenious reading which passed me by, regretably. I feel slightly cheated (by myself) for wasting this idea on this crossword, as I nicked it from a complicated construction I’m working on where its context makes it fairer.
          13a: You’re dead right on REcycling: just too eager to find an alternative I suppose. I started from the same assumptions as you for repeated cycles, and I still basically agree. But having been criticised for this 3 times now I wonder if there are conflicting views.
          Thanks for your encouragement.

  4. I can’t remember Porcia’s previous puzzles so I don’t know how this one compares but I certainly found this one tough with several clues that I can’t parse. Those I liked included 22a, 25a, 5d and 17d.
    Thanks Porcia.

    1. Thanks Gazza. Your picks are some of the few that remain basically unchanged since the first draft, which is interesting.

  5. I enjoyed the challenge with some nice clues to savour in the mix. There are three or four though where I cannot see how the wordplay works which diminishes the satisfaction a little. As is often the case the more simple but misleading clues were most effective for me
    Well done and thanks for the entertainment Porcia

    1. Thanks LetterboxRoy. You’ve consistently asked for simplicity with a deceptive twist, and I keep trying to get a few like that in. It’s so hard though! and I keep getting drawn back to piecing things together. I’ll make pleasing my imaginary LbR the primary aim for next time, as I’m now fairly sure it corresponds with where I need to improve most.

      1. I know another setter who used to have a tendency to ‘piece together’ clues
        Eg 20d – a fourteen letter mouthful; why not simply Perplexity of a setter caught out? Six words
        Same idea but ‘caught out’ is a nice natural phrase and ‘perplexity’ is just an interesting word – also a rather apt surface for a Rookie Corner puzzle
        I’ll keep a keen eye out for your next

        1. You’ve mercilessly exposed my blind spot in this puzzle: this clue was never likely to be subjected to the indignity of an edit because the whole puzzle was built around it and its conceit: appearing in the surface to be laughing at solvers’ struggles with my crosswords, but revealing in the solution that the setter can’t set without getting thoroughly confused themselves. The intention was to have it as the only long clue after a glorious sequence of succinct ones. Beyond my skill though: having a 6-letter answer for the last down meant I needed to have lots of long downs to preserve connectivity, and my short clues for those long answers were almost all rubbish. A lesson not to be governed by the idea behind a puzzle…
          Your clue is obviously better as it’s divorced from my private joke with myself.

  6. Porcia, I feel I ought to enjoy your puzzles more than I do, but I can’t quite put my finger on the problem. :unsure:

    You have clearly put in a lot of work into composing this but, for me, the end result is a curate’s egg. There are a lot of good clues mixed with a lot of sigh-inducing ones (including the non-homophonic 21a!). This puzzle was certainly a challenge overall but some of your clues are over complicated.

    Most of your surfaces are good although one or two are a bit iffy, and I have a lot of question marks awaiting Prolixic’s clarification.

    Nevertheless, well done and thank you, Porcia.

    1. Thanks Rabbit Dave. I seem to be able to do ‘vaguely interesting, but too hard’ or ‘easier, but boring’. I’ll reflect..
      A list of a few of the sigh-inducing ones would be useful, although I suspect I can guess some of them.
      21a: Even Chambers’ limited pronunciation notes support two ways of sounding ‘for’.

      1. Thanks for replying, Porcia.

        My sighs were for 10a (I know it’s in Chambers but for me it is a horrible word when used as a verb), 13a (inaccurate wordplay), 21a (whatever Chambers says on the matter, “for” should be pronounced “four”), 23a (clunky surface), 3d (inaccurate wordplay), 7d (impenetrable), 8d (my fault for not knowing “Black Ops”), 19d (I still don’t understand this even with Prolixic’s explanation – Chambers only offers “infancy” as “speechlessness”), 20d (far too long winded).

        I don’t want to come across as overwhelmingly negative as you have some great ideas and a lot of good clues. You simply need to try to make your puzzles more solver friendly – easy to say, much harder to do. I look forward to the challenge of your next offering.

        1. Thanks for taking the extra trouble to do that. All your remarks, in hindsight, are all valid.
          19d: it’s just a truism really – ‘the adjectival noun used by the Spanish to indicate a princess literally means speechless’, with the surface reading’s alternative explanation giving enough cover for it to be a clue; whether satisfactory or not I think you (and others) have already answered.

  7. I came within 3 clues of completion this time so I guess that means our setter scaled back a bit but I think obscurities, such as 6a, should come with rather more instructions to give the solver a fighting chance.
    Like RD, I have several question marks that await the review from Prolixic, meantime I rather liked both 22a & 19d in this one.

    I’d like to see you ‘lighten up’ a bit, Porcia, but perhaps that’s not your style?
    Thank you for today’s compilation.

    1. Thanks jane. I too get irritated when I’m confronted by obscure marine life when solving, but I suppose I was hoping to be forgiven the effort of having to fish out Chambers because of the silliness of the image.
      It’s nice to find someone on my wavelength for the silver spoon one. Another silliness.
      Not really sure about what to do re lightening up… Maybe a theme, to distract my solvers from the utter tedium? Although that’s not necessarily gone too well for me in the past.

      1. No, I didn’t mean to suggest a themed puzzle – perish the thought as to what obscure topic you’d choose for that! I was thinking more along the lines of moving away from so much GK and concentrating on clever wordplay as demonstrated in today’s 22a.

        1. You say too much GK, and others have mentioned that before on here for my puzzles. I’m baffled though: I put hardly any GK in, and far less specialised lexical knowledge than most. I think my grid fills are more generous than most too: I certainly seem to spend longer on that aspect than others I know. 4d here is a rare technical word for me, and therefore very generously clued. Or at least I thought so.

  8. I have tried – I have really, really tried but this is beyond me.
    Now I’m grumpy because I can’t do any more – I’m grumpy with myself rather than the setter.
    I confess, as I’ve said so many times before on this blog, that I have the attention span of a gnat but I give up – this gnat is worn out – I can’t do any more and I hate giving up, but I am now.
    Of the answers that I managed I particularly enjoyed the 1/12 combination and 25a. I think my favourite might have been 24a.
    With thanks, and well done – I think you’re very brave – to Porcia and, in advance to Prolixic.

    1. I’m sorry Kath. One of my special skills seems to be making would-be solvers grumpy. It’s good to have one talent at least that’s dependable. It sounds as if we’re quite similar solvers: I too have a short attention-span allied to extreme tenacity. It means I take ages to solve most things, but am particularly pleased when I do. I’m glad that some of the bits that clicked pleased you, and sorry they were not more plentiful.

  9. Thanks Prolixic. All useful criticism, as usual. My rationalisations for some of the transgressions you’ve highlighted:
    13a: I’ve misunderstood ‘cycling’ clues: I thought that the opportunity to have multiple promotions, in order, was a feature of the device – keep cycling until you reach your destination. Your objection might explain why a clue I did with 5 cycles elsewhere was met with bafflement.
    15a: I nicked the idea in the wordplay from Boatman’s “Clue for shy drinker’s light refreshment (6)”, and although I was a little uncomfortable with the added reversal and synonym, I thought I’d softened the extra difficulty with ‘so’ + QM to indicate the example.
    3d: I hadn’t noticed that a slightly stilted reading of the cryptic grammar was needed to make it work, probably because a small change in the way I got ‘T’ didn’t ring alarm bells.
    7d: See what happens when I try to do short snappy clues!

    I look forward to having another go, the next time Big Dave has to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

  10. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic, particularly the parsing of 15a & 7d which had eluded me.
    I do hope some more rookie compilers will take note of BD’s plea and send in their puzzles – the ‘corner’ has produced some excellent setters in its time.

  11. A pretty tough one, with a few rough edges. One or two I couldn’t do at all, eg 21a (but I hardly think PHER is a valid homophone of ‘for’) + 16a. Others I guessed, but didn’t follow the cryptic reading. Eg, 8d (never heard of Black Ops!) and 19d (I thought the answer must mean ‘speechless’ in some sense, but I’ve never heard of it even though I’ve done a fair bit of Latin (from which I now know i originates). This ruff/pope fish is a new one on me too (like 20d) so, all in all, some v obscure refs, I think, as I don’t normally come across so many I’ve never encountered. Further gripes: 15a (wrongly) uses ‘around’ both as a reversal indicator and as a sandwich indicator. In 3d , at least strictly speaking, the position of ‘kept’ in the word order indicates that ‘top of tallboy’ should come at the very end of the answer, not (as is the case) sandwiched in the middle alongside ‘politician’. In 11d, I find ‘be’ng vulnerable’ a rather dodgy anagrind.
    But some good ones too, especially the anagrams – 1/12 combines ingenious anagram dodder with a highly entertainnig surface reading. I liked 4d nearly as much, for the same reasons. 5d too had a nice surface reading.

    1. Thanks Brunel, that’s pretty thorough.
      I pointed to Chambers’ support for the homophone in 21a earlier, but I’ll defend it more vigorously now that you’ve objected more emphatically: Oxford Dictionaries use standard IPA notation for their pronunciation, which should remove doubt. ‘Cipher’ is shown as /ˈsʌɪfə/, ‘sigh’ as /sʌɪ/, and ‘for’ as /fɔː/ (strong) or /fə/ (weak). /ˈsʌɪfə/= /sʌɪ/+/fə/ is about as close a homophone as you’re likely to see.
      There’s no double duty for the ‘around’ in 15a. Boatman’s clue for ‘shandy’ (‘Clue for shy drinker’s light refreshment (6)’) asks you to supply your own ‘and’ in building a clue for the target word. Mine does the same: it’s difficulty lies not in faulty grammar but in asking the solver to supply a synonym and reverse it first.
      I too was slightly uncomfortable with ‘being vulnerable’ as an anagram indicator, but it’s supported by Chambers Crossword Dictionary.
      I agree I probably demand too much for the Pope, and that the assassins might easily fail to register. Gentle etymology seems fair game to me for an audience of word lovers though.
      Thanks for taking the time to do the puzzle and provide thorough feedback: it’s particularly useful to hear specifically about the clues that don’t work rather than just the ones you like: it forces me to think about the right ones, even if it’s only to dig myself a deeper hole defending myself.

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