Rookie Corner – 358 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 358

A Puzzle by Fiddlesticks

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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.

A review by Prolixic follows.

Mostly good clues but massively let down by a grid that has more holes in it than a fishing net.  Whilst Fiddlestick’s clues have become less complicated and (a few points apart) cryptically sound, the move to DIY grid construction has not worked.

In any answer, at least 50% of the letters in each answer should ideally be cross- checked – that is they intersect with another clue. Occasionally, with five letter answers, you will get unchecked, checked, unchecked, checked, unchecked. You should try to avoid these but one or two such clues in a grid are sometimes unavoidable.

A white square that does not intersect with another answer is referred to as an UNCH (unchecked).  Quite often you will get double unches in grids – these are two successive squares that are unchecked.  Even the Times crossword permits double unches but not where the two unchecked letters are at the beginning of a word. Double unches can make it more difficult to solve the crossword so too many double unches can be off-putting. However, 

provided that at least 50% of the letters are cross-checked, double unches are a fact of the solver’s life. If setting, try not to have too many though.  Triple unches are a different story and would not be acceptable.  Going for a quadruple unch is something of a record.

The commentometer reads as 7/28 or 25%.


1 Demand one goes to get seafood (4)
CLAM – A five-letter word meaning demand without the letter I (one goes).

3 Monstrous pimp picked up, a bear-like beast (5,5)
GIANT PANDA – A five-letter word meaning monstrous or large followed by a homophone (picked up) of pander (pimp).

8 To pluck introducing muscle produces a range of frequencies (8)
SPECTRUM – A five-letter word meaning to play a guitar includes (introducing) a three-letter word for a muscle.  As mentioned save for the commonality of means of playing a guitar, the two a not directly synonymous.

9 Salesperson, reportedly one on a bicycle (6)
PEDLAR – A homophone (reportedly) of peddler (one on a bicycle).

10 African country, initially barren, agriculture now growing under independence (6)
BANGUI – The initial letters of the final six words of the clue.  The setter has confessed to the mistake in the clue where the solution is a capital city and not a country.

12 Earth backs tribunal judgement (5)
TERRA – Reverse (backs) a five-letter word word a tribunal judgement.  Perhaps backing would have given a smoother cryptic reading of the clue.

13 Almost in heaven, love from the beginning (2,3)
AB OVO – A five letter word meaning in heaven or over with the final letter removed (almost) followed by the letter representing love.

14 Joker with drink knocked back in truck (6)
WAGGON – A three-letter word for a joker followed by a reversal (knocked back) of a three-letter word for a drink.  Watch out or repetition in wordplay indicators.  Backs and knocked back have been used with the back functioning as a reversal indicator.

15 Thai sauce from processed napalm (3,3)
NAM PLA – An anagram (processed) of NAPALM.

17 Read out the letters of “wheat” (5)
SPELT – Double definition for another way of saying spelled and a type of wheat.

18 Flashy bastard lacking caution (5)
BRASH – The abbreviation for bastard followed by a four-letter word meaning lacking caution.

20 Pretence to be very active, an obsession (6)
HUMBUG – A three-letter word meaning to be very active folioed by a three-letter word for an obsession.

23 Admits to private drink (4,2)
OWNS UP – A three-letter word meaning private followed by a three-letter word meaning to drink.

25 Pole gets take-home amount, Franc perhaps (8)
CABERNET – A five-letter word word for a pole used in Scottish highland games followed by a three-letter word meaning take-home amount.

27 Strike leads to dismissal–retire (3,3,4)
HIT THE SACK – A three-letter word meaning strike followed by a phrase 3,4 for dismissal from a job.

28 Globally produced cheese forced back (4)
EDAM – Reverse (back – for the third time) a four letter word meaning forced.


1 Shot across bows with secret weapon (8)
CROSSBOW – The answer is hidden (shot … with secret) in the second and third words of the clue.

2 Confused as rent gets behind (6)
ASTERN – An anagram (confused) of AS RENT.

3 Paper boat for protective care (12)
GUARDIANSHIP – An eight-letter word for the title of one of the national daily papers followed by a four-letter word for a ship.

4 Horse trouble (3)
NAG – Double definition for an old horse and a word meaning to trouble.

5 Odd, pearlier light (4)
PALE – The odd letters in the second word of the clue.  For the cryptic grammar to work, oddly would need to be used.

6 Cheat giving away a billion is more worthy (6)
NOBLER – A seven-letter word for a cheat without one of the letters B (giving away a billion)

7 Stop pong, held in by skill (5)
ABORT – A two-letter abbreviation for body odour (pong) inside (held in by) a three-letter word for skill.

9 Spooner’s “flying mammal” playing card design finds approval (3,2,3,4)
PAT ON THE BACK – A Spoonerism of bat (flying mammal) on the pack (playing card design).

11 Descend from High King? On the contrary (5)
LOWER – A three-letter word being the opposite of high and the two letter abbreviation for the current queen (opposite of king).  Not convinced that the solution is the same as the definition where you could use the two words interchangeably in a sentence.

16 Anxiety over gypsy unit (8)
ANGSTROM – A five-letter word for anxiety followed by a three-letter word fora gypsy.

19 Left quickly and expired (3,3)
RAN OUT – Double definition.

21 Outlawed group in broadcast (6)
BANNED – A homophone (in broadcast) of BAND (group).

22 Most of dry spell after start is hard (5)
ROUGH – A seven-letter word for a dry spell without the first letter (after start) and without the final letter (most of).

24 From glue to heroin? No (2-2)
UH-UH – A three-letter word being the proprietary name for a brand of followed by the abbreviation for heroin.

26 Observers miss first word of agreement (3)
YES – A four-letter word for the organs of sight without the first letter (miss first).  Again missing would be better than miss to maintain the cryptic grammar of the solution.

41 comments on “Rookie Corner – 358

  1. Sorry Fiddlesticks, not for me. I was defeated by the plethora of double unches; 22 if I counted correctly. Although I did surprise myself by solving the two clues with quadruple unches. And, I did get far enough to see that, by my reckoning, that 10a is the Capital City of an African country and not a country itself.
    Apologies again, but I don’t think this would ‘get past’ any editor worth her or his salt.

    1. Thanks Senf. 10a should indeed read “African capital”–silly me! And it seems I need to do my homework on good grid design now that I’m creating the grid as I go rather than starting from one of the grids from the Crossword Compiler library.

  2. Solvers using the on-line versions may also find that there is an error in the accepted solution for 25a where the solution requires a final “E” but you need to enter an “A” to compete the crossword successfully.

  3. I very rarely notice grids but I have to say I’ve never seen so many double unches in one grid in over 50 years of crossword solving!

    Thank you Fiddlesticks – I presume this isn’t your first crossword as there are some good clues in the mix. However, there are some mistakes such as the ‘country’ in 10a, (I think) the wrong use of B as an abbreviation in 18a and a couple of other clues where something isn’t quite right, and which probably should have been fixed before submission to BD. I do hope you’ll return with a more solver-friendly grid as I did enjoy solving this over breakfast.

    Thanks also in advance to Prolixic

    1. Thank you crypticsue, and I have put unches in red in my “quality checklist” for future puzzles. (To my shame, I see that I fell foul of this a while back, and Prolixic has already picked me up on it once.)

      I have just rechecked the “b” abbreviation, and it is in my Chambers electronic dictionary (13th ed.) so I hope it will be acceptable. Here is a screenshot just in case this is a quirk of my version:

      b or b.
      6.Bowled (cricket)

      Thanks again, and I’m happy that you found my puzzle enjoyable.

        1. My BRB (revised 13th Edition) gives the same list, including “bastard”, as mentioned by Fiddlesticks in his electronic version.

  4. I’ve very similar thoughts to Cryptic Sue: there are some decent clues here – well done! However, the grid is a bit of a shocker, I’m afraid. I use Sympathy for crossword construction, where you can set your rules for allowable lights in some detail and it will then flag anomalies for you as you create. I am sure other software offers the same. Another good source of the underlying grid rules used in many puzzles can be found at the Listener website under guidance for Setters. Hope this helps,

    1. Excellent, thank you Encota, I will follow those up and they sound very useful.

      Thank you for the positive feedback other than the grid!

  5. Thanks for the puzzle, Fiddlesticks. I’m not too concerned about the grid – that’s something you can easily solve with your next puzzle.
    There were some good clues here. I particularly liked 23a, 27a, 28a (‘globally produced cheese’ – excellent) and 11d.
    I look forward to your next puzzle.

  6. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen you in Rookie Corner, Fiddlesticks, and I am sorry to say that I think this is very much in the same vein as your last offering – good in parts and not good in others.

    Like CS, I rarely notice grids but this one hits you in the face with its huge number of double unches and even, horror of horrors, two quadruple unches. CS has also mentioned a couple of errors and, as a guitarist, I can assure you that, whatever any Thesaurus might say, plucking and strumming are not the same thing.

    I won’t list my many other comments and leave those to Prolixic. Please heed his wise words and come with a puzzle comprising all your good bits. Once you’ve got the basics in place, you will then need to work on your surface readings some of which are rather bizarre.

    Thanks, Fiddlesticks.

    1. Thank you Rabbit Dave for your comments; glad you found parts of my puzzle good and I will think over your points. And as you say, I will await Prolixic’s review with interest.

    2. Incidentally I play guitar too, and yes, “pluck” and “strum” certainly have distinct senses from one another (plucking an individual string as opposed to strumming across multiple strings). But I have the impression there are also overlapping senses (“man embraces woman” all over again!), no?

  7. We were aware of the unches, which definitely slowed us down, but didn’t spoil the enjoyment of completing the puzzle. Some research needed by us on one or two answers 15a, 16d, 13a and still not sure if our answer on 26d is correct. Favourites 1a, 28a, 7d. As solvers we have learned a great deal from comments on this site. Many thanks Fiddlesticks and to Prolixic in advance.

    1. Thank you Hilton for your comments and favourites.

      Research is an interesting one, and it certainly spoils puzzles for me if every single thing has to be looked up. At the right level, I usually find it adds to the experience because I end up learning new things all the time. Hopefully this puzzle will be in the latter category for many solvers; but anyway this is something else I have now added to my checklist for future puzzles.

      Thanks again, and I’m happy that you found my puzzle enjoyable.

      1. Thank you for coming back to us Fiddlesticks. I completely agree that some research adds to the experience, enjoyment and learning. We look forward to your next puzzle.

  8. Oh dear. If there has been a worse grid to appear in Rookie Corner then I must have missed it. Home-made grids like this one should always be avoided at all costs (as should some in Crossword Compiler, if I’m honest), but it least it was symmetrical! It would be bad enough coming from a debutant, but for someone making their fifth appearance here it really is inexcusable. To those who think it doesn’t matter, it does – it’s the reason why you would never see such a grid in a quality newspaper.

    I ticked a few clues (1a, 14a and 2d were good, I thought), but others like the contrived Spoonerism and the lurker in 2d weren’t great examples of such types of clue and almost certainly required re-working. The surface in 15a made me cringe and little niggles like “odd” in 5d (it should be “oddly”) were noticeable here and there.

    I hope the setter will read Prolixic’s guide (especially the section on grid design) as well as heeding the comments in his review. Thanks, Fiddlesticks.

    1. Thank you silvanus for the frank comments. Oh dear, I was actually rather pleased with the Spoonerism! For me, the groan of something contrived can sometimes be part of the fun. But I suppose that may not be to everyone’s taste. I think I am getting the message about the grid, and I will address this in future puzzles. Thanks for your other specific comments, which I will contemplate. (2d isn’t a lurker btw; perhaps you meant something else?) Thanks again!

      1. Hi Fiddlesticks,

        I’m pleased that you have taken the remarks I made in a positive way. For 1d, I instantly saw the answer within the second and third words of the clue, but I now see how your intention there. I still feel a different construction would have been better.

    2. silvanus I’m interested that you say 5d should be “oddly” rather than “odd”, and I feel I may have something to learn here as I’ve occasionally noticed similar comments on other people’s puzzles. I can certainly see that “oddly” works. But why should it be the adverb rather than the adjective? Are there absolute rules about this? I would love to understand this better.

      1. Hi again,

        Strictly speaking, “odd” in 5d does not mean “take the odd letters of” cryptically, but “oddly” does. As you say, this and similar examples crop up frequently in RC, and you are certainly not the first setter to go for this adjectival short cut. Cryptic grammar is often the hardest nut to crack when compiling puzzles, but practice does help to eliminate such instances.

  9. I didn’t mind all those unchecked blocks as I am a fan of Alphabetical crosswords where you have to solve the clue only from the wordplay.
    Although there seems to be a lot of black squares, you still managed to give us 28 clues which I appreciated.
    Learned a couple of new words including the spelling of 14a and the use of 12a in the UK.
    Thanks you Fiddlesticks and look forward to your next one.

    1. Thank you jean-luc! Yes, I enjoy those alpha puzzles too; they can take a while but can be very rewarding eventually. I’m glad you’re another who was able to enjoy my puzzle today despite the grid shortcomings–which is not to say I will take those any less seriously, lest anyone doubt this.

  10. Way back in the mists of time (Oct 2018) you told me that your goal was to one day create an entire puzzle that I loved. Sadly, I don’t think today was the day!
    The grid layout was dreadful, some of the surface reads were decidedly ‘iffy’ and the difficulty level swung wildly from the overly easy (such as the first three down clues) to the opposite extreme of entries such as 13a & 16d. I’m also guessing that 10a was a ‘painted myself into a corner’ moment?
    On the upside, I did enjoy the seafood and laughed at the bicycle salesman.
    Please take careful note of what Prolixic has to say in his review, Fiddlesticks, and I’ll be looking out for that puzzle I’ll love next time!

    1. Thank you jane once again for your comments. I do appreciate the time people are taking to give specific feedback, which is not always something that’s easy to do but is always useful to hear. And yes jane, how well I remember the promise I made to you back in 2018, and that remains my goal! Next time perhaps…

      The difficulty level is an interesting one. In the past I have been criticized for my puzzles being overly difficult, so I am trying to include some easier clues, which may explain the wild swinging you perceived. I can see that this too (the judging of how hard a clue will generally be felt to be) is an art that needs to be learned over time. It’s useful to have this feedback and I will work on this aspect.

  11. Quite a lot to think about here, Fiddlesticks, and I can’t help but think that you should have recognised that the grid simply doesn’t look right
    In CC, under the statistics tab, it shows the percentage of blocks and flags it in red if it is outside of the normal range
    Having to use foreign words is also a warning sign (to me) that the grid fill is not ideal
    Some good clues but overall I think you set yourself the task of raking treacle up a slide
    Thanks for the challenge Fiddlesticks and I look forward to your next with interest

    1. Thank you LetterboxRoy for your comments–love the “raking treacle up a slide” metaphor! And especially useful will be the tip about the Statistics panel in CC. I have not used that previously and it is one more thing that’s now been added to my checklist for future puzzles.

      1. The stats are also useful for checking variety of word lengths and letters used
        Typically there are too many of what Anax calls ‘setters letters’ S, E, T, R, so look to balance that too
        That often throws up some more interesting words in the process, so well worth spending some time preparing a good balanced grid before you even start to clue, otherwise you’re struggling to produce something that is flawed from the outset

        1. I don’t know if you joined Anax’s live stream, when he compiled a puzzle in around 4hrs I seem to remember? At one point he started muttering about “setters’ letters” while trying out words, but I missed the point he was making so I’m glad you’ve explained what they are! The funny thing is, prior to that session all my puzzles were created by filling a grid and then cluing. When Anax clued as he went, it gave me the idea of doing it that way instead. Maybe there are pros and cons either way.

  12. What can I add to what’s already been said. There are some good clues here but the grid is, frankly, rubbish. A good proportion of the lights have less than 50% checking (double unches, per se, don’t worry me too much – 2dn for instance is fine because 3 of the 6 letters are checked, but 8ac with two double unches and only 3 out of 8 checked is a no-no.)
    But on the positive side this was a fairly quick and easy solve and I liked 13ac, 17ac (a word I’ve used with that meaning in a crossword myself but clued differently) and 16dn. And 6dn, incidentally, is similar to a clue in today’s Independent.
    So do take note of Prolixic’s comments, and we’ll hope to see you again with a more conventional grid – I notice that several setters in both Rookie Corner and the NTSPP seem to use grids favoured by the Financial Times.

  13. Thank you exit for your frank comments. And as I’ve mentioned to others, the specifics on favourites or anything else are very useful, and I’ve been away and looked at the examples mentioned.

    I’m happy to hear that grid problems aside, you found this fairly quick and easy (which I was aiming at) as well as deriving some enjoyment from it.

    I was interested in your mention of “grids favoured by the Financial Times”. What is it about those grids?

    1. Nothing particularly special about those grids. It’s just that the FT is one of the puzzles I solve regularly and certain grid patterns come up quite often so that I get to recognise them – and recognise them when they occur here. In any case, the FT, like most nationals, has set grids for its compilers to use.

  14. Well the grid was certainly a challenge but strangely it didn’t really spoil my enjoyment. To focus purely on the positive I thought there were some rather good clues – 1,8,9,14,17,25&28a plus 6&16d are the ones I liked best. Learnt a new capital city, a Thai sauce (took a couple of stabs) & finally some more Latin which I’ll immediately forget.
    Anyway a pleasant solve while listening to some nice music & enjoying a nice glass of South African 25a Sauvignon Franc blend.
    Thanks Fiddlesticks & pleased to see the positive way you’ve received & responded to the feedback (even if RD’s criticism of 8a was a bit picky)

  15. Thank you Huntsman, and I’m very happy to hear that you too found my puzzle enjoyable despite the grid’s shortcomings. And again, thank you for taking the time to mention specific points and (long!) list of favourite clues, all of which are extremely useful to receive.

  16. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. I’m sure the record Fiddlesticks has achieved with unches will be one that he’d like to put behind him – hopefully your warning will sink in this time!

  17. Thank you Prolixic for another valuable review, and one that will be very helpful to me going forward. The same is true of all the comments from everyone, and I thank you all again for them. My first foray into grid construction certainly proved educative, and although it’s now clear that this is a lesson I really should have learned already, it is not one I will forget in a hurry.

    I enjoyed Rookie Corner 358. Thanks again friends.

  18. Hi Fiddlesticks. Enjoyed the solve. i wouldn’t have noticed the unches if they hadn’t been mentioned by so many above. Can’t remember who and when now, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were congratulating a setter for being really clever by having four sets of double unches with the same letters in each – I think it was also a double pangram, so obviously worth the plaudits. Take it all in and move on to the next one, I’d say.

  19. Thank you Cryptor for your kind words and advice, and I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed my puzzle. Onwards and upwards!

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