Rookie Corner – 361 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 361

A Puzzle by Fez

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Fez is our latest debutant. 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 to Fez with an excellent themed debut puzzle.  With the exception of 10a there were no problems with clues.  In writing the review, I felt that there was an over-reliance on using first and last letters of words to build up the wordplay.  That may have been a constraint of the theme.  The length (wordiness) of clues is a matter of style.  I prefer shorter clues but you see a great deal of variation between setters.  The commentometer reads as 1/32 or 3.1%.


1 Unconventional line-up, like Wolves (6)
LUPINE – An anagram (unconventional) of LINEUP.

4 They keep going back to assess clocks (8)
STICKERS – The final letter (back to) of assess followed by a seven-letter word for clocks.

10 One flying right across Morocco to get an all-encompassing view of the interior (7)
NEORAMA – An anagram (flying) of ONE followed by the abbreviations for Right and Across and the IVR code for Morocco.  The solution is not in any of the modern dictionaries (Collins, Chambers and OED) that I consulted.  A search on the internet reveals it was defined in a 1913 edition of Websters.  Although a for across is used in crosswords, it is not given in dictionaries.

11 Dangerous types, kicking and smashing heads – getting worse! (7)
KILLERS – The initial letters (heads) of killing and smashing includes (getting) a five-letter word meaning getting worse.

12 Smirk as both sides take drugs (4)
LEER – The abbreviations for left and right (both sides) include (take) two letters E (drugs).

13 Swan around in Italy, entertaining popular singer and composer (10)
BOCCHERINI – A reversal (around) of the name of a male swan and the IN from the clue and the IVR code for Italy include (entertaining) a four-letter name of a popular singer.

15 Put lid back, first stopping to extract the most important bits (6)
DISTIL – A reversal (but back) of the LID from the clue includes (stopping) a three-letter representation of first.

16 Key part of diet for adolescent, say (7)
PROTEIN – A three-letter word meaning for or in favour of followed by a homophone (say) of TEEN (adolescent).

20 Beast in legendary tale about old soldier (7)
DRAGOON – A six-letter word for a legendary beast around (about) the abbreviation for old.

21 Awful taste of tobacco smoke comes back (6)
TRAGIC – The first letter (taste) of tobacco followed by a reversal (comes back) of CIGAR (smoke).

24 On vacation – dole cut, without doubt (10)
INDECISION – The outer letters (on vacation) of DOLE have an eight-letter word meaning cut around them (without).  Without is a disputed containment indicator sometimes used by setters.  I prefer not to use it.

26 Fussy about nits and lice, primarily (4)
ANAL – The initial letters (primarily) of the second to fifth words of the clue,

28 Tree chopped down to pursue source of dye? (7)
LOGWOOD – A three-letter word to describe a tree that has been chopped down followed by a three-letter word meaning to pursue romantically and the initial letter (source) of dye.

29 Boy returns to Royal Institution lectures, originally one of two to be picked? (7)
NOSTRIL – Reverse (returns) a three-letter word for a boy and follow with the initial letters (originally) of the third to sixth words of the clue.

30 Steadies tottering stockpile (3,5)
SET ASIDE – An anagram (tottering) of STEADIES.

31 Personal cover taken out as protection against falls? (6)
BROLLY – Cryptic definition of an item used to protect against the rain.


1 Pub manager worried all day after pinching new barmaid’s backside (8)
LANDLADY – An anagram (worried) of ALL DAY includes the abbreviation for new and the final letter (backside) of barmaid.

2 Academic leader to resign after department involved in promotion of petrol brand (9)
PROFESSOR – The abbreviation for public relations (department involved in promotion) followed by the OF from the clue and a four-letter word for a brand of petrol and the initial letter (leader) to resign.

3 Regularly interacts with elegant character (4)
NEAT – The even letters (regularly) of the second word of the clue.

5 Told to be cautious, returns to plug in electric vehicle (4,4)
TAKE CARE -A four-letter word meaning financial earnings includes a phrase 1-3 indicating an electric vehicle.

6 Cello case opening up to reveal stash – at first, might they try to gather it all up? (10)
COLLECTORS – The CELLO from the clue and the first letter (opening) of case are reversed and followed by TO from the clue and the initial letter (at first) of reveal stash.

7 Time left over to bottle fragrant resin (5)
ELEMI – The answer is hidden (to bottle) in a reversal over of the first two words of the clue.

8 Is family following closer to Atticus Finch? (6)
SISKIN – The IS from the clue and a three-letter word for family after (following) the final letter (close to) of Atticus.

9 Exceptional American student’s specialisation (5)
MAJOR – Double definition.

14 Cards put out where lines end (5,5)
KINGS CROSS – A five-letter word for the plural of one of the face cards in a deck of cards followed by a five-letter word meaning put out.

17 Usually home before Gordon, for one (2,7)
IN GENERAL – A two-letter word meaning home followed by the army rank of which Gordon, for one, held.

18 Did slope turn out to be uneven? (8)
LOPSIDED – An anagram (turn out) of DID SLOPE.  

19 Decorate loaf with last drop of honey as a treat for kids (3,5)
ICE LOLLY – A three-letter word meaning to decorate a cake followed by a four-letter word meaning to loaf or idle and the final letter (last drop) of honey.

22 Innocent old lady initially taken in by villains’ introduction as members of a string quintet? (6)
VIOLAS – The initial letters (initially) of innocent old lady inside the initial letter (introduction) of villains and the AS from the clue.

23 Manage to check over five hundred – possibly make adjustment to the nearest one? (5)
ROUND – A three-letter word meaning to manage includes (to check) the abbreviation for over and the Roman numeral for 500.

25 Poke around, taking edges off with finger (5)
DIGIT – A three-letter word meaning to poke around followed in the inner letters (taking the edges off) of with.

27 Drug addict sure to be stoned (4)
USER – An anagram (to be stoned) of SURE.

47 comments on “Rookie Corner – 361

  1. Once again we had to work hard to get this one sorted. Interesting to see 29a occurring again after it attracted so much attention last Saturday. Who’s to say it’S NOT a good clue for all that. ( Couldn’t resist that.) 10a gave us a lot of trouble as the word is new to us and still not sure of the parsing for the last part of the wordplay.
    We enjoyed the challenge and the solve.
    Thanks Fez.

    1. Thanks 2Kiwis, glad you enjoyed. I’m not sure where 29a gained attention recently, but like what you did there! (Re 10a I’m expecting to hear it uses an abbreviation not recognised in the usual sources – but it is a common one we all use all the time so I think fair; unless it’s the country code thats’s causing problems?)
      Thanks again!

      1. Thanks. See it now. You’re right that the abbreviation is not in BRB but we should have got it anyway. As we never see IVR codes on vehicles in NZ they trip us up time and time again. We were looking, without any success, for a connection with leather, so well off track.

      2. Fez. 29a gained attention in last Saturday’s Prize crossword (DT29616) – see 1a and read the comments.

  2. Some head scratching towards the end that needed some electronic assistance, including reveals, to get across the finishing line.
    A sprinkling for which the parsings are eluding me so I will look forward to the wisdom of Prolixic.
    I did like 8d and 24a, the latter for the misdirection if the clue was not ‘broken down’ appropriately.
    Thanks Fez.

    1. Thanks Senf, sorry about the head scratching. I’m also looking forward to (read: ‘dreading’) Prolixic’s wisdom. Glad you found a couple to enjoy – interesting that you pick out 24a, as I understand one of the indicators used there is frowned upon as inaccurate (although I don’t agree, of course!)
      Thanks again!

      1. No need to apologise for the head scratching. The Rookie is the third puzzle, not counting two Quickies, of my Sunday evening solving so by that time there is usually some ‘brain fade’ which often results in the aforesaid scratching.

  3. Like Senf, one or two reveals required and some parsing that is beyond me for now – not sure whether that’s a good thing or not
    All seems pretty sound to me and the surfaces are generally good
    Thanks for the challenge and well done Fez

    1. Thanks LetterboxRoy, I am more than happy with “pretty sound” and “generally good”! I would be interested to know which ones are proving difficult to parse – I don’t have any test solvers (I’m hoping the community here will act in that capacity!) so it’s tricky to see the clues from others’ perspectives.
      Thanks again!

  4. Welcome to Rookie Corner, Fez, with a very assured debut – surely not your first ever crossword? Overall I found this quite challenging with a mixture of complex and straightforward clues, which is good to allow the solver to get a foothold. Although a couple of your surfaces were a bit bizarre, most were commendably smooth.

    I have only a few very minor comments. In 5d I would have said that “take” was an American expression for “returns”, and the wordplay order seems a bit Yoda-like in 24a but we’ll see what Prolixic makes of that tomorrow.

    I am not 100% convinced that “leer” and “smirk” are synonymous but they are probably close enough in crosswordland, and I wasn’t over keen on the definition for 4d although it is not incorrect.

    10a & 28a were new words for me but both were fairly clued. I had a lot of ticks and 8d was my favourite.

    Well done, Fez, and thank you. Thanks too in advance to Prolixic.

    1. Many thanks Rabbit Dave, glad you enjoyed it.
      If the bizarre surfaces were 6d and 22d, I hope they do in fact make sense in the context of the puzzle (see Prolixic @4 above). If they were others… do let me know, I’m eager to improve!
      5d I hadn’t thought of as an Americanism so that’s really helpful – thankfully I think this can be fixed simply by inserting “American” before “returns” without damaging the surface?
      I thought my blatant Yoda was 15a but see what you mean with 24a – I was more concerned about the apparently contentious use of “without” in that clue, so its other shortcomings eluded me.
      (This is my first ever attempt, but I’ve been solving for years!)
      Thanks again!

      1. That this is your first attempt, Fez, makes it all the more impressive, and good for you for expressing the willingness to accept criticisms as a means to improve.

        6d & 22d (and 23d too) are all overlong and convoluted, as you say perhaps as a result of the theme in the case of the first two, but, as it happens, I thought 22d was OK In terms of smoothness in spite of its length.

        The surfaces for which I would question the smoothness are 24a (double whammy for this one for me with the clumsy wordplay), 30a, 6d and, marginally, 23d. Apply the test that if you overheard it in a bar (chance would be a fine thing at the moment!) would it be clear what was meant.

        1. Thanks Rabbit Dave, very helpful.
          I’m glad 22d seems to be forgivable, agree 6d didn’t pull this off quite as hoped. For 23d, it’s the definiton part that’s wordy, so maybe ending it (after the ‘five hundred’) with “…near enough” or “or thereabouts” as the definition might work instead?
          24a was picked out as a favourite by Senf @2 so I guess there’s some subjectivity there – but on reflection I think I’m coming down more on your side of that argument! 30a may well have been a conscious effort to cut down the average word length. Hopefully that balance will improve in future offerings. (You’ve not mentioned it, but 10a also a little wordy – being such an obscure word I wanted a very clear definition, and I think it still reads OK. So perhaps the trick is just to ensure there’s a very good reason for verbosity – eg 10a, 22d – and keep it to a minimum.)
          Thanks again!

      2. Fez. There is nothing particularly contentious about your use of “without” in 24a – apart, maybe, from one or two pedants/purists on this blog. That particular indicator is valid has been used regularly by many of the top setters for decades.

          1. This one does, I accept its usage but I don’t like it – let’s not go there yet again for the sake of sanity! :smile:

            1. Thanks all! I was going to leave it out, especially given its specific reference in Prolixic’s excellent guide… but it’s one I do think is valid, so in the end I left it in it partly to see if/what Prolixic and others might comment! It sounds like this may have been gone over extensively in previous threads so apologies if a can of worms has been re-opened (as Easter approaches, I’ll stick to my Creme Egg…mmm, gooey stuff on the inside and a chocolately shell without!) ;-)

              1. Fez. I’ve forgotten how many times I have commented on this subject, but I think it’s worth another mention. The primary definition in the SOED is: “1. On the outside or outer surface ; externally.” Therefore, it would be correct to write/say: The hard shell is without [i.e. it contains] the soft part of the egg. I can’t see a problem with its usage at all.

                1. And I’ve just noticed you mentioned Creme Egg, above. Never mind: two eggs are better than one! :-)

  5. Add me to the list of people who had to reveal letters to finish the crossword. A mix of the friendly and the difficult, some of which was too difficult!!

    I thought 15 words in 22d was possibly too many and then I encountered the 18 letter 6d! I have a number of ?s where I don’t quite understand the wordplay but I’m sure Prolixic will explain all in the morning

    Thanks to Fez – a good crossword but it really needed to be ‘all solver-friendly’ not just partly so. Thanks also in advance to Prolixic

    1. Thanks crypticsue, sorry some of it was overly difficult – I really need test solvers to point out where I’ve gone too far. 22d and 6d are both intended to stand out (see Prolixic @4 above), but I guess if the theme is unknown they are more than a litte bizarre.
      Personally, I like long clues (every now and then) but appreciate they’re not to everyone’s taste – however I’d be interested to know if this is more than simply a matter of taste?
      Do let me know any specific ?s as it will be very helpful to know where improvements can be made.
      Thanks again!

  6. This was a very enjoyable Toughie-level solve for me – thanks Fez. It’s very accomplished and I can’t believe that Fez is a new setter.
    The top half, especially the NE quadrant, provided the most difficulty for me – I’d never heard of 10a or 12a – but I managed with some help from Mr Google.
    I had lots of ticks including 16a, 24a, 8d, 14d and 25d.
    More like this please.

    1. Thanks Gazza, your comments very much appreciated. I’m guessing it’s 13a rather than 12a that was obscure… but I think a particular tune might be familiar to many, if not the name of the composer himself. I’ll happily take being ‘Toughie-level’ though admit it wasn’t intended to be too taxing – so the comments on difficulty level have been enlightening!
      Thanks again!

  7. Thank you Fez, a great start to Monday with your puzzle. 10a was new to us and the code for Morocco was unexpected. We had to check with google to confirm 13a, 7d and 28a. Still not completely parsed 24a. Favourites were 8d, 18d, 15a and 29a. We look forward to your next ones. Thanks in advance to Prolixic.

    1. Thanks Hilton, glad you enjoyed it and your kind comments are appreciated. 8d seems to be quite popular. Re 24a – it breaks down as [3 words] [2 words] [definition] – hope that helps
      Thanks again!

  8. Welcome to Rookie Corner, Fez.

    As debuts go, this was an extremely impressive start and one of the best Rookie puzzles of 2021 so far, the surfaces were mostly of a very high quality indeed. Like others though, I found some of the clues impossible to solve without electronic assistance and, overall, I think the level of difficulty was set a little too high, the obscurity of some answers and certain convoluted wordplay made the puzzle less satisfying to solve.

    I did feel that the pruning shears would have been of help with reducing the length of 6d and 23d, for example, but because 22d brilliantly summarised the plot of “The Ladykillers”, I shan’t quibble with that one! My favourite clue was probably 1d, although I have quite a number of ticks on my printed page. A very low Commentometer mark awaits, methinks.

    A very promising first puzzle, Fez, congratulations and thanks. Hope to see you again soon.

    1. Thanks silvanus, much appreciated – sorry it wasn’t entirely satisfying. Consensus seems to be it was a little too difficult in places, which is really useful feedback. I like a few obscurities (I don’t regard Google as ‘cheating’ at all, I think finding out new words is part of the fun) but perhaps there were one or two too many here. I’m awaiting Prolixic’s verdict on just how convoluted the wordplay may be, but if you do have specific examples that would be helpful. Thanks for forgiving 22d, 6d was intended in same vein, but less successful (I couldn’t resist the opening provided by the first 6 letters). 23d I will get the shears out. I think 1d was my own favourite, too, so glad you enjoyed it.
      Thanks again!

  9. Ah, “American” already used for that purpose in 9d, I guess “Yankee” or similar might do [Edit: sorry, this was intended as follow-up to Rabbit Dave @5]

    1. Interestingly Chambers doesn’t say that “take” in that sense is American, although Collins does. It definitely originated in the US but I’m pretty sure that it would be very unusual for a Brit to use that expression.

      Full marks though for being aware that you should avoid repetition!

  10. Relieved to read that I wasn’t alone in needing some electronic help to get to the end of this one – 10,12 &28a were beyond me although, as our setter commented, I was certainly very familiar with the composer’s minuet.
    There were a few abbreviations I wasn’t convinced would pass muster with most editors, a couple of definitions that were decidedly stretched and I wasn’t keen on the implied definition in 29a. Add to that the fact that I know little or nothing about Ealing Comedies and it’s perhaps small wonder that this took me quite a while to solve!
    Not all adverse criticism though – I really liked 8,17,19,25&26d.

    Thank you, Fez, a very interesting debut – I’ll be intrigued to see what you come up with next time. I’d definitely suggest that you get a test solver on board to give you some feedback in future.

    1. Many thanks Jane – sorry I pressed the wrong button (not for the first time)… my full reply is @12 below :-)

  11. [Edit: intended as reply to Jane @11]
    Thank you Jane. ‘A little too difficult’ seems to be the key feedback, so I’ll try to tone down the next one… a little! (Actually Fez#2 is complete in draft, but in its current form I think is as tough or even tougher than this one; plus it’s pushing the anagramometer a tad too far, and would need a health warning for crypticsue and others re clue length! So lots of editing to do, or maybe just back to the drawing board…)
    I did hope that this would still be accessible for those unfamiliar with the theme, but I guess the verbose thematic clues and obscure thematic composer put paid to that, sorry. (Oh and sorry also for 29a – I’m used to e.g.Paul in the Guardian, and Cyclops in Private Eye… this may have affected my sense of taste.)
    Thanks for the ticks (8d emerging as common favourite), and I’m delighted with “very interesting”, thank you – I hope you’ll enjoy the next one more.
    Thanks again!

  12. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic – and many thanks also to Big Dave for providing this opportunity, and of course to all those who have tried the puzzle and left feedback – I’m delighted there’s been a generally positive response but all the feedback has been incredibly helpful and constructive.
    Prolixic makes a good point about over-reliance on initial/final letter selections – in this case, I don’t think it was to do with constraints of the theme, it’s probably just the way my mind works (I seem to like breaking things down into little bits and building back up from there) and probably also contributes to the use of longer clues. It’s ridiculously self-indulgent after having unleashed just the one puzzle, but I think this may be my ‘style’. So… I like long ‘convoluted’ clues, obscure words, and themes/gimmicks – I can’t promise to eliminate such features, indeed I think they will be expected in a Fez puzzle, but will try to rein them in a bit! I hope that sounds fair, and that you’ll still have me back.

    By the way (if anyone’s still reading!) the thematic answers were [land]LADY/KILLERS, BOCCHERINI, BROLLY, PROFESSOR (Marcus), MAJOR (Courtenay), KINGS CROSS, [in] GENERAL GORDON (from the clue 17d), (Mrs) LOPSIDED, [ice] LOLLY, and ONE (from the clue 23d, or ends of dragoON and take carE) ROUND (Lawson); with the clue for 22d describing the basic premise of the film and 6d describing the scene where the gang is caught out.

    Huge thanks again to BD, Prolixic and all the commenters. I do hope to produce more puzzles, my worry after this one is that perhaps the only way is down, but I’ll try my best :-)


    1. Thought I might have missed a couple a couple – clearly need to watch it again. Thanks for the list.

      1. :-O Oh yes, that was of course entirely intentional, I, err… forgot!
        Seriously, a nice spot LetterboxRoy, that I had’t even considered.

  13. Sandy Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers is probably my pick of the Ealing comedies, all of which I love. I suspected there may be a theme after 22&14d followed by 31a which was duly confirmed by the 2nd bit of 1d/11a plus 2d & 13a & the 6d surface. I knew that it was the string quartet composer I was looking for but really had to trawl the memory recesses to drag it up despite twigging it started BOC – parsed it afterwards.
    As for the crossword well it was very tough for the likes of me. Couldn’t make head nor tail of 10a beyond assuming it began NEO with an M likely involved & similarly 7d eluded me but hadn’t heard of either answers before. Only got 9d after revealing the 2nd letter checker & couldn’t properly parse a couple (6d&24a) but otherwise got there. Yes some of the clues were very wordy but you’ve explained why in your responses.
    I thoroughly enjoyed it Fez & would reckon it an extremely accomplished debut though perhaps a tad easier next time with by all means another excellent film Nina.
    Thanks Prolixic for the review

    1. Many thanks Huntsman, glad you enjoyed it.

      Hopefully Prolixic’s review should have cleared up any parsing issues. I’ll try to rein in the obscurities a little in future – I do like a couple, though (not just for grid filling!) and perhaps solvers will remember BOCCHERINI’s name now, not just the tune (Mrs W. does name-check him in the film!) I like to find out new words when solving (and, now, setting) so was happy with ELEMI and LOGWOOD… but I fully accept NEORAMA was a step too far. ‘The Ladykillers’ is also my pick of a very good bunch.

      Thanks again!

  14. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic, which cleared up the couple of parsing issues I had with 2&6d. That must be one of the best scores ever in Rookie Corner and I’m sure Fez will be proud of it.
    I’m a little worried by his stated pleasure in constructing long clues and using obscure words but time will tell!

    1. Thanks jane, yes I am really pleased with the review/score. I’m glad it was ‘technically’ sound even if a little too difficult… hopefully my judgement on that will improve with experience.

      At the moment I’m clearly not great at ‘self-editing’. In my own ‘review’ before submission I looked for where I thought issues might arise, and had notes beside perhaps half of the clues. The two clues with two notes were 10a (obscure; A=across?) and… 8d (obscure-ish? Surface a bit clunky/meaningless?) Well the SISKIN has seemed to be quite popular, so what do I know?

      I really will hold back on unnecessarily long clues and overly obscure words (even if not eliminating them completely – or saving them for puzzles clearly intended to be Toughie ) and you’ll be pleased to hear the next one will be test-solved first too.

      Thanks again!

  15. As an indifferent solver, this was hard and I solved about half the clues unaided. Prolixic’s comments have cleared up all areas of obscurity and I’d agree that there was overuse of the first/last letter wordplay building – I actually started to tire of it by the end though they still worked really well with the surfaces. Just too many overall. But congratulations on the deserved “impressive” and “excellent” comments, though others have said “too hard”. Personally I’d agree with the latter, not because I couldn’t solve it unaided, but because, even knowing the solution, some definitions seem unduly cryptic or only loosely associated with rather than grammatically defining the answer – especially 4a, 31a, 3d, 9d. But Prolixic is happy so who am I to grumble?
    For me, big ticks for 15a, 16a, 8d.

    1. Thanks Dr Diva, glad you found some to enjoy, I’ll be taking all feedback on board so hopefully you might enjoy the next one more.

      I thought definitions on the whole were ok – 4a and 3d I’d agree not what might first come to mind, but I think precise/correct – and for these clues I thought the wordplay easy enough to allow a mildly off-beat definition (9d I think is pretty straight, though?)

      31a was my attempt at a cryptic definition. I thought it was… ok, if anything perhaps insufficiently cryptic! So yet again I’m a poor judge of difficulty and this is a key area for improvement.

      I’d agree on the overuse of build-the-word clues, I’m somehow naturally inclined towards these. I did try to get some variety in (I think most clue types were used… although no Spoonerisms, that’s not my thing!) but it’s another lesson learned that I need to improve the overall balance.

      Thanks again!

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