Rookie Corner – 351 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 351

Christmas by 8ball

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

This seasonal puzzle is 8ball’s debut in Rookie Corner. 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 8Ball.  There was a lot of promise in the cluing and most of the clues were good.  The main problem was the repetition of wordplay indicators.

In terms of the grid, this was not ideal.  The norm (but very occasionally broken) is for the grid to be symmetrical.  Even if the rule is broken, the three unchecked letters as the end of 9 down would not be accepted by most editors.

The commentometer reads as 5/32 or 15.6%.


1 Drunk has it’s charms strangely – enjoy the festive season (5,9)
MERRY CHRISTMAS – A five-letter word meaning drunk followed by an anagram (strangely) of ITS CHARMS.

10 Heartless poacher has rumoured solution to reindeer that can fly (7)
PRANCER – The outer letters (heartless) of poacher followed by a homophone (rumoured) of ANSWER (solution)

11 Festive singer with beginning of song about a Christmas tree’s decoration (7)
BAUBLES – The surname of a Canadian-Italian singer and the first letter (beginning) of song about the A from the clue.  The Festive here is padding and, as the singer is not especially festive, it might be considered misleading.

12 Handsome horse regretted jumping over (6)
RUGGED A two letter childish way of referring to a horse with a four-letter word meaning referred around it (jumping over).

13 Sweet treat for Everton fans (7)
TOFFEES – Double definition of a a hard or chewy sweet and the nickname for Everton fans.

15 Flower lively, not very lacking in energy (4)
LILY – Remove the abbreviations for very and energy from the second word of the clue.

16 Quietly dislike gift (7)
PRESENT – The abbreviation for quietly followed by a six-letter word meaning dislike.

20 Singer covered with large bite after vacation – leave it alone (3,2,2)
LET IT BE – A three-letter word for a bird (singer) inside (covered by) the outer letters (after vacation) of large and bite.

22 Earn prize with raffle finally – could be 7 or 9 (4)
WINE – A three-letter word meaning earn followed by the final letter of raffle.

25 Merry go rounds’s useless Christmas song (5)
CAROL – An eight-letter word meaning a merry-go-round without the USE at the end (useless).

26 Tremendous show less good with bad acting (8)
GIGANTIC – A three-letter word for a show followed by an anagram (bad) of acting without the G – less good.  The word order for the cryptic reading of the clue puts the instructions in a very odd order – Perhaps “Tremendous show with bad stilted acting”

29 Christmas movie for singleton without support bubble? (4,5) (9)
HOME ALONE – Double definition for a Christmas movie and a description of a single person in lockdown who is not part of a support bubble.  Watch how clues are enumerated.  You only need the 4,5 here not the 9.

30 Initially Meghan and her husband returned without a gift for royal baby (5)
MYRRH – The first letter (initially) of Meghan followed by the name of her husband reversed (returned) without the letter A.

31 Christmas food – mine is baked with spice (5,4)
MINCE PIE – An anagram (baked) of MINE SPICE.

32 Gas produced by volcano – daredevils partially in retreat (5)
RADON – The answer is hidden (partially) and reversed (in retreat) in the fourth and fifth words of the clue.


2 Nag elves to dance – they bring good tidings (8)
EVANGELS – An anagram (to dance) of NAG ELVES.

3 Provider of a Christmas joke, endlessly given time to generate noise (6)
RACKET – The inner letters (endlessly) of CRACKER (provider of a Christmas joke) followed by the abbreviation for time.

4 Doctor and accountant about to get warning (4)
CARD – The abbreviation for doctor and accountant reversed (about).

5 Strips of meat have upper class person coming back (7)
RIBBONS – A cut of meat followed by a reversal (coming back) of a four-letter word for an upper-class person.  You need to watch cryptic grammar.  Here the cryptic reading translates as A have B reversed where have should be had.

6 Packaging from gifts fun to unwrap (8)
STUFFING – An anagram (to unwrap) of GIFTS FUN.

7 Pondered hair style – time that daughter replaced (6)
MULLED – The type of haircut that Chambers describes as “short at the front, long at the back, and ridiculous all round” with the final T (time) replaced by a D (daughter).

8 Doubly overweight when coming back? It’s ok (2-2)
SO-SO – Two abbreviations for over-sized returned (when coming back).  Coming back has already been used as a reversal indicator in 5d so a different indicator should have been used here.

9 Bubbly student driver limited by test’s third maneuver (9)
SPARKLING – The abbreviation for a student drive inside (limited by) the third letter of test and a driving manoeuvre.  Watch spellings.  Maneuver is wrong for a UK crossword.

14 French nudist regularly taking out plums? (5)
FRUIT – A two-letter abbreviation for French followed by the even letters (regularly taken out) of nudist.

17 Female from Paris giving one of many Christmas gifts (6,3) (9)
FRENCH HEN – One of the birds given in the Twelve Days of Christmas could be descriptive of a female from Paris.

18 Spruce up the place after November say (8)
DECORATE – The abbreviation for the month after November followed by a five-letter word meaning say.

19 Spent the cold months initially tucking into merlot perhaps after colour drops (8)
WINTERED – The first letter (initially) of tucking in a description (3,4) of Merlot with the colour moved to the end.  Try to avoid reusing wordplay indicators.  Initially has been used as an initial letter indication in 30a and it appears again in 27d.

21 Yes, drunk after take off from Irish cream liqueur (7)
BAILEYS – An anagram (drunk) of YES after a four-letter word meaning take off.  Perhaps the word  meaning take off is slightly stretched here and not included in UK dictionaries.  Even as an Americanism, take off would leave to ???? out.

23 One might get roasted when putting bullets in gun oddly (6)
GAMMON – A four-letter word for bullets inside the odd letters of gun.

24 One grows mass military force boosted with queen’s support (6)
FARMER – The abbreviations for mass and Royal Air Force reversed (boosted – as in pushed up or raised) above the two letter abbreviation for the current queen.  

27 Mother returns initially half of what they gave us last Christmas (4)
WHAM – A reversed (returns) of a two-letter word for mother after (initially) of half of the word what.  Its is not permissible to put a proper noun into lower case.  Here it should be Last Christmas.  Also, watch duplicating reversal indicators – here return has already been used in 30a.

28 Travel over endlessly large desert (4)
GOBI – A two-letter word meaning travel followed by a three-letter word meaning large without the final letter (endlessly).  Another repetition of endlessly, here used as a final letter deletion but previously used as an instruction to remove the first and last letters.

At the end of the Rookie series for 2020, I would like to thank all of our Rookies for providing us with weekly puzzles to entertain and amuse us this year.  As 2021 approaches, we look forward to more puzzles and a brighter year than this one. 

41 comments on “Rookie Corner – 351

  1. Competently written clues and a real pleasure to solve. Some head scratching needed for 27d.
    Thanks 8ball.

  2. About two thirds of the way through, when I noticed the triple unch at the end of 9d, I realised that the grid was completely asymmetrical which also probably led to the double unch at the beginning of 17d. This might lead to further comments from the expert setters.
    I don’t think that there is an actual definition in 27d which may be why the 2Kiwis had to do some head scratching – for me, ‘what they gave us last Christmas’ does not lead to the answer.
    18d also seems to be ‘lacking something.’
    Enumeration ‘problems’ on 29a and 17d – the (9) is not required on either of them.
    The use of the American spelling of ‘maneuver’ in 9d had me wondering if 8ball is not from the UK.
    But, after all that, thanks for an enjoyable solve 8ball.

    1. Hi Senf,

      The definition for 27d is “they gave us last Christmas”, but “last” ought to be capitalised.

      I had the same thought as you regarding “maneuver”, but then how would the setter know about the GK used for 13a, for instance? Very odd.

      1. Thanks on ‘Last Christmas’ – I had forgotten, probably never knew, that was the song title and then I probably confused myself with what was given in the song. But it was the fifth puzzle of my Sunday evening – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

  3. I only have two problems with this excellent crossword – firstly the American spelling of manoeuvre in 9d and secondly the ear worm from the definition (the las five words) in 27d. If someone could mention some other song so that I can be stuck with that instead, I’d be very grateful [on edit – I’ve just remembered that I can ‘use’ 20a instead]

    Thanks 8Ball – I’d say that definitely wasn’t your first crossword – more please, and in advance, to Prolixic

    1. Thanks. My surprise at your preference for 20a led me to spot I’d gone wrong with it: I had the right first two words then had bunged in the third one, giving a expression with a similar meaning which is also a song title — but from the Disney film Frozen, and not one that I’d expect people to actively seek as an earworm.

      (Apologies for any collateral damage caused by this comment. If you’ve now got that song stuck in your head, perhaps you’l find this fun arrangement of a carol that ended our church’s Christmas Day service more pleasant?)

  4. Welcome, 8ball.

    Although it was enjoyable to solve, with some nice seasonal touches, the issues that Senf has raised regarding the grid itself with its double and triple unches and the confusing enumeration of certain clues were impossible to ignore unfortunately.

    Having been mostly redundant over the last few weeks, my Repetition Radar almost blew a fuse with this puzzle. “Drunk” was repeated as an anagram indicator, “return” and “coming back” each used twice as reversal indicators, “endlessly” used for both a last letter removal and deleting first and last letters, and “initially” appearing no fewer than three times. All could have been avoided with better editing before submission.

    The surfaces read quite well in most cases, but a few grated, for example I don’t think horses ever exhibit regret, do they? (12a). The clues involving anagrams were probably the best part of the puzzle, for me.

    Thank you, 8ball, I hope we’ll see you again.

  5. Well done to 8ball for giving us an enjoyable puzzle and getting so many themed answers into the grid.
    The clues I liked best were 10a, 30a and 19d.

  6. Loved it! Thank you 8ball for this very enjoyable puzzle regardless of unches etc. Lifted the spirits over breakfast on a cold winter morning. Thank you in advance to Prolixic to fully parse 14d and 24d for us although we are sure we have the correct answers.

    1. 14d is FR for French plus alternate letters from nudist – plums? being the definition

      I particularly liked 17d

  7. Morning all. Thanks for your great feedback. I did sacrifice grid aesthetics/design for extra thematic words this time. Certainly is not normal for me to do so. I will be sharing future puzzles too.

    R.e the “they gave us last Christmas” clue. Understood about needing the capital L. My bad

  8. Thanks for an enjoyable puzzle 8ball. Like others, I was some way into the puzzle before I noticed the assymetric grid, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment, since I guessed that you weren’t a brand new setter and that the grid might have had to fit the theme. I thought that 27d was very clever. A nice start to a cold bank holiday.

  9. Enjoyable and topical crossword despite the gloom of this not very festive season.
    Really liked 30a and 27d.
    Thanks to 8ball.

  10. I’m all at sixes and sevens today and didn’t realise until late this morning that it was Monday! At least Silvanus has saved me having to write several comments as I can just say “ditto” to his remarks. I will just add that 25a would look less ugly without affecting the wordplay by writing “round’s” instead of “rounds’s”; the surface leaves a bit to be desired either way though.

    I shuddered when I saw the American spelling of manoeuvre, but this didn’t mar my overall enjoyment of a light puzzle with a nice theme.

    In 21d I don’t think “bail” equals “take off”; it’s more like “take out”, and I can’t parse 24d.

    30a was my favourite.

    Well done, 8ball, and thanks for the fun.

    1. My reading of 24d was: – ‘One grows’ = definition; ‘mass military’ = arm (amass military would be better English); force boosted = F put at the top/beginning; ‘with queen’s support = ER at the end.

      Agree the doubt in the use of ‘bail’ in 21d

      1. I think it is M for mass and RAF for the military force both up supported by the Queen’s cipher.

    2. I assumed that 21d was using two slang expressions for leaving – ‘I’m going to bail (out)’ and ‘I’m going to take off’.
      As for 24d – I used ‘boosted’ as a reversal indicator to give m (mass) followed by RAF (military force) all reversed and followed by ER (queen).

      1. Thanks to Ruth, Jean-Luc and Jane. It never occurred to me that “boosted” might be a reversal indicator.

        1. I don’t see in what sense ‘boosted’ can be a reversal instruction? I see ‘pushed up’ is one definition but that doesn’t really mean a vertical thing upended does it?

      2. Jane, regarding 21d, I had heard that use of “bail” but couldn’t find it either in the BRB or Collins online. I think it may be an Americanism.

        1. Checking online does lead me to believe that you’re right about it being an Americanism. A relatively recent one from what I could discover.

          1. Ah interesting, I didn’t realise it was an Americanism (I will sometimes say “Im going to bail” as a way of saying “I’m going to take off/ I’m going to leave” so thought it was ok). I can certainly see the argument of saying ‘bail’ and ‘take off’ are both slang for this so perhaps isn’t great to use as synonyms.

  11. I enjoyed this but I do understand the issues brought up by others. My favourite clue was 30a, which I thought was quite clever.

    Many thanks, 8ball.

  12. Well I thought this was a beauty 8ball & once again preferred Rookie Corner to the Monday back pager. Am sure the advice from the experts is all very sound but by golly they don’t miss much. My podium was the same as 3 highlighted by Gazza with 30a just edging it for top spot.
    Thanks & well done.
    Ps liked 27d too – the clue not the dreadful song

  13. Welcome to the Corner, 8ball, and I have to say that overall I enjoyed this puzzle with its festive theme – they seem to have been in rather short supply this year.
    The grid layout and unches didn’t particularly bother me but I’d agree with Silvanus that you should have taken more care to avoid indicator repetitions. My only other gripe concerned the Everton fans – thank goodness for Mr Google!

    Hope we see more from you in the future.

    1. Toffees for Everton fans is something I’ve always known, Everton toffee being a feature of my childhood, so it didn’t occur to me that it might not be common GK

  14. Thanks 8ball,

    I really enjoyed this puzzle.I solved it whilst the bloke over the road cleard the snow off his drive and the put a curtain rail up.
    A nice easy start with 1A .Favourite clue10A still don’t get the word play on
    11A. Last in 24D
    I’ve read the previous cemments still don’t know what an unch is!

    I will read the expert’s appraisal tomorrow.

    Thanks again I look forward to your future puzzles.

    Yuletide felicitations (an all that swaddln)


    1. The alternate letters in a crossword answer usually intersect with another answer, providing checking letters
      If there are no intersections that is an ‘unch’, or unchecked letter; so two consecutively is a double unch and three in a row, a triple unch (see grid)

  15. Many enjoyable clues entertained, thank you 8Ball
    Unfortunately the slight lack of attention to detail was niggling and creating a terrible grid in order to fit in themed entries is the tail wagging the dog in my view
    Well done for producing a good puzzle clue-wise, and I look forward to your next

  16. Really enjoyed this puzzle; particularly 25A & 27D. Well done 8ball; look forward to your next offering.

  17. Thanks 8ball – I enjoyed this – it was as short and sweet as the pastry of 31A! Special mentions to 25A and 30A. I’m surprised nobody’s yet raised 1A – in addition to the apostrofly, I thought the surface of this clue was rather awkward. Generally fun though – thanks again!

  18. Thank you, 8Ball — this was an enjoyable puzzle. And thank you, Prolixic, for the review and advice, which is always interesting to read.

    Re 11a, I didn’t find “festive” to be padding or misleading: quite the opposite, it aided narrowing down the massive list of potential singers to those who have Christmas songs. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album is (according to Wikipedia) certified 10 × Platinum in the UK, and he’s somebody I reckon I hear more on the radio and in shops during December, so I think it’s reasonable to describe him as a festive singer. (I didn’t, however, know about the -Italian part of his ethnicity.)

  19. I don’t always get to do the Rookie Corner (or at least not until it’s too late to make any worthwhile comment), but in the absence of the FT this made an admirable substitute. The asymmetrical grid was a bit of a surprise and I did raise an eybrow at 9dn having only 33⅓% checking plus a triple unch. But it all came together and the wordplay repetitions didn’t bother me unduly, although they should of course be avoided.
    Thanks, 8ball and Prolixic – and a Happy New Yeat to all.

  20. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. I learn from Mr Google that an 8ball is a ‘quantity of cocaine or crystal that weighs an eighth of an ounce’ – not sure whether our setter is aware of that!
    Thank you also for the many Rookie Corner reviews of 2020, hope to ‘see’ you again next year.

    1. I was not – I used 8ball as I play a lot of pool in teams/tournaments etc. Happy to change if deemed not appropriate, certainly not precious to it

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