Rookie Corner – 362 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 362

A Puzzle by Conto

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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.

Welcome back to Conto.  This themed puzzle with shortened names of months appearing in the across clues, produced an awkward grid with 42 clues (too many for publication in a national paper given the constraints of space) and a somewhat unequal balance between number of across and down clues.  The large number of three letter solutions (12) is often the result of designing a themed grid.  Too many short solutions is not ideal.

Overall, I seemed to have fared better than most solvers with solving the clues.   There were a few rough edges and some of the surface readings could have been improved.  The commentometer reads as 4.5/42 or 10.7%


1 One taking care to cook in jar outside (7)
JANITOR – The TO from the clue with an anagram (cook) of IN JAR around it (outside).

5 After brief tussle, the Alsatian is feverish (7)
FEBRILE – An anagram (tussle) of BRIEF followed by the French (Alsatian) for the.

9 Mend broken boat in Scandinavia (7)
DENMARK – An anagram (broken) of MEND followed by a three-letter word for a rescue boat.  Three anagrams in a row is not ideal.  Perhaps somewhere in Scandinavia would be a better definition.

10 Pub where the sink is? (7)
TAPROOM – Definition and cryptic definition.

11 God? Conto says money is central concern (6)
DISMAY – The abbreviation for Deus (god) followed by a phrase 1,3 indicting that Conto, the setter, says with the abbreviation for money in the middle.  Given the overlap between says and say, perhaps Conto briefly states “Money is in the central concern” would have been better.

13 Extra cool teenager starts following John Peel? Nice one! (7)
ADJUNCT – The initial letters (starts) of cool teenager after a phrase (1,2) describing the profession of John Peel and the French word (Nice) for one.

17 Foot Exercise Society (3)
PES – A two letter abbreviation for exercise followed by the abbreviation for society.

18 Get this by doing so to shore and to tend (7)
SHORTEN – An elliptical clue where removing the last letter from shore and tend gives the process of removing the last letter.

20 Stuff inside a computer (3)
STUFF – Double definition.  I don’t think that inside a computer on its own works as a definition.  Perhaps Stuff something inside computer would be better but even that would not prevent the unintended solution PUT.  

21 Maria Trapp lacks this – ‘The Sound of Wind’ in French (3)
VON – A homophone (the sound of) wind in French (vent).

23 Helping put radish top into mixture (7)
PORTION – The initial letter (top) of radish inside a six-letter word for mixture.

25 Root may spread (3)
YAM – An anagram (spread) of MAY.  Anagram clues where the solution is three letters long should be avoided.

26 Former Dutch ruler and WikiLeaks founder? (7)
JULIANA – Split 6,1 the solution would be the first name and initial of the surname of the founder of WikiLeaks.

28 Heard about anything? (6)
CAUGHT – The single letter abbreviation for about followed by a five-letter word meaning anything.

32 Paciest bats will not decay (7)
ASEPTIC – An anagram (bats) of PACIEST.

34 Dolittle! Who quacks?! (7)
DOCTORS – The first two words are fictional examples of the solution.

36 Ballerina’s gem dropped in guava and lemon cocktail (7)
ULANOVA – An anagram (cocktail) of GUAVA LEMON after removing (dropped) the letters in gem.

37 Sit here and be moved by someone close to you (7)
SIDECAR – Cryptic definition of an accessory used with a motorbike to allow a second person to travel without riding pillion.


1 Tired? Stoned? (5)
JADED – Take a type of green stone and add a D to the end.  I don’t think that simply adding a question mark to the end of stoned adequately indicates the wordplay required.

2 Either way, it’s bread (3)
NAN – The answer is a palindrome (either way).

3 Infused inside of water, initially boiled, and given stir (7)
TEABAGS – An anagram (infused) of ATE (inside of water) followed by the initial letters of the final four words of the clue.

4 Smooth operator involved in bra kerfuffle (4)
RAKE – The answer is hidden (involved) in the final two words of the clue.

5 Rank of American agent taking on Tori’s case (5)
FETID – The three-letter abbreviation for a Federal Agent includes (taking on) the outer letters (case) of TORI.

6 Disco hit (3)
BOP – Double definition.

7 Dog star appears earlier, I agree (1,6)
I CONCUR – A four-letter word for a star followed by a three letter word for a dog.  The overlap of the I in the clue and the solution is unfortunate.  

8 Novel idea – forget about Di eating M&M (4)
EMMA – Remove (forget) a reversal (about) of DI from the second word of the clue and include the MM from the clue.

12 Having lost book, cries ‘help!’ (1.1.1) (3)
SOS – Remove the abbreviation for book from a four-letter word meaning cries.

14 Large tea container? It’s run out! (3)
URN – An anagram (out) of RUN.  Another anagram of three letters that is not much of a challenge.

15 A good shot? John’s lacking in taste! (4)
FOUR – Remove a three-letter word for a toilet (John) from a seven-letter word for taste.

16 One leads Muslims at Mosque (4)
IMAM – The letter representing one followed by the initial letter (leads) of the final three words of the clue.  I don’t think that leads on its own works as an initial word indicator.  It would need to be leads to…. Perhaps One suppresses leaders of Muslims at Mosque would work better.

17 Put down stones and pick up wage – on this day the war ended (4)
PAVE – A homophone (pick up) of PAY (wage) and the abbreviation for Victory in Europe.

19 Haircut 100 + 2,900? (4)
TRIM – 100 + 2,900 = 3000 (MMM in Roman numerals).  The solution is another ways of saying three Ms.  

22 No university fellows heading up All Souls? (7)
NOUMENA – The NO from the clue followed by the abbreviation for University, a three-letter word for fellows and the initial letter (heading up) of All.  Another clue where the initial letter indicator does not quite work.  Heading to All Souls would have been better.

23 Acid letter (3)
PHI – Split 2,1 the solution would indicate an acid on the acid / alkali scale.

24 Subtly different, new universal dance is front-to-back (7)
NUANCED – The abbreviation for new and universal followed by the word dance with the first letter moved to the back.

25 Crystal found in ruby agate (3)
YAG – The answer is hidden (found) in the final two words of the clue.

27 Human with waist reduced by 90% exercising back of neck (5)
NUCHA – An anagram (exercising) of HUMAN after changing the M to a C  – waist reduced by 50%).  Perhaps the wordplay for a rare word is overly complex here and a simpler clue for an unusual word would have been fairer.

29 Stunner sat back by the Queen (5)
TASER – Reverse (back) the SAT from the clue and follow with the two-letter abbreviation for the current queen.

30 Bolognese guitar is broken without it (4)
RAGU – An anagram (broken) of GUITAR without the IT from the clue.

31 Chances during lull? They’re 50-50! (4)
ODDS – The odd letters in lull are L and L or 50-50 in Roman numerals.

33 Half of 15 or a third of 22 (3)
TWO – The answer is half of the answer to 15d or one-third of 22 when written in text.  As discussed in the blog, this clue looks as though it has a mistake.  Even where the clue is correct, if the solver justifiably thinks there might be an error, then the clue might be described as a bad clue.

35 Soaring bird is detailed creation of Tolkien (3)
ORC – Reverse (soaring) a four-letter type of bird without its final letter (detailed).

45 comments on “Rookie Corner – 362

  1. Clever move to incorporate all those ’18ed 23As of time’ into the grid, Conto, but I can’t help but feel that it was done at the expense of the puzzle as a whole. I thought there was rather too much reliance on not so general knowledge in the likes of 17&36a plus 22&25d and have something like 10 answers that await the forensic examination of Prolixic.
    On the plus side, I really liked 9&28a along with 1d.
    Perhaps it’s time to forget about themes and concentrate that cleverness on constructing the enjoyable solves I’m convinced you’re capable of producing?

    Thank you so much for your hard work, hope to see you in fine fettle next time around!

  2. Sorry Conto but I gave up after only solving 20 of the 42 clues, the ‘easiest’ ones to solve being those with anagrams. I have no idea of the theme as I didn’t solve 23a. I did like 34a and 37a. I did toy with the idea of revealing a few letters but felt that I would have had to do that a lot which defeats the object of solving a crossword using just the clues and your brain

    As Jane says, perhaps a more solver friendly non-themed crossword might be better next time. Thank you and in advance to Prolixic

  3. Conto, not for the first time, and I imagine not for the last time, I agree completely with Jane.

    I have never seen a 15×15 puzzle with so many clues, but personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to have more than a couple of three letter answers, maybe four at most. There appear to be two typos: you have two enumerations for 12d and I think that 33d should finish “… or a third of 222”. I went wrong initially with 20a, and entered “put” assuming it was a lurker until I realised the error of my ways. I’m not sure that 26a is entirely fair for the solver. 7d is rather strange, lifting the first word of the answer directly from the first word of the definition, and 6d is definitely not “disco”.

    Not surprisingly my podium is identical to Jane’s: 9a, 28a & 1d, although I also made room for 34a.

    Thank you, Conto, and well done for the obvious effort that went into producing this. Please pay good heed to the wise words of Prolixic and come back with something less complex next time.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Dave – much appreciated. I agree with it all, except for one…SPOILER ALERT…33D is not a typo – for it to work, you need to imagine 22 written as a word, though I agree this is too far a leap!

    2. And, yes, I can see why you would put ‘put’ for 20A. I never spotted that. Yet more evidence to support me seeking out a test solver.

    3. Sorry, forgot to ask this yesterday, Rabbit Dave. If you’re still here, how would you distinguish a bop from a disco? Thanks.

      At uni in the 1990s, our halls of residence would hold a bop a couple of times a term — a DJ playing music in the common room, with dancing and drinking. Basically a school disco, but with alcohol.

      And the weekly cheesy club night at the Leeds Met Uni students’ union was always known as ‘The Poly Bop’. Maybe it had actually been called that back when LMU had been a polytechnic; the tickets and listings called the event ‘Saturday Night’, but in 5 years I never heard a single person refer to it as that; it was always The Poly Bop.

  4. It was clever to get all the 18ed 23as into the grid (and in the right order) but I felt that the puzzle was marred by having too many very short answers.
    There are some really good clues here – I particularly liked 28a, 37a, 1d and 15d.
    I can’t fully parse 19d and 33d.
    Thanks Conto.

    1. Gazza, I parsed 19d as three thousand = MMM = Tri-m. (Haircut 100 was the name of a “new wave” band in the 80s). I assumed 33d contains a typo and should have read 222 instead of 22.

      1. Thanks Gazza for the feedback – much appreciated. Dave is spot on regarding 19D. See my reply to Dave above regarding 33D.

    2. As I understand them:
      19d Definition = Haircut. 100 misdirects as it suggests the pop group Haircut 100, but when added to 2900 leads to the answer (ie 3 x 1000)
      33d is an excellent clue ruined by a typo as pointed out by RabbitDave above (ie have the answer to 15d and a third of 222 (ie 22 + the missing 2!!!)

  5. A clever grid fill but that alone is not enough to make a good puzzle – too many clues left me nonplussed I’m afraid
    Many thanks for making the effort, Conto

  6. Thanks to all those who’ve already had a go at this and fed back – I really appreciate it. I’m sorry that this puzzle hasn’t gone down particularly well – I’ll regard it as another valuable lesson.

    1. Absolutely, Conto
      The grid fill is remarkable – did you write in the key words then try to connect them up, resulting in so many short words?

      1. Thanks Roy. The grid-fill took place at least six months ago, though I think the process was quite lengthy and painstaking. I think the problem is that the sheer relief that came from resolving the design aspect caused me to underestimate other aspects such as word length and obscurity. So, ‘what Jane said’, in other words!

  7. Thanks Conto… that was quite a challenge but got there in the end! Last one in 27D I’ll admit to electronic assistance – actually a very clever clue but very tricky and perhaps, given the obscurity of the solution, a little too tricky.

    Overall a mixed bag for me. I agree there are too many 3-letter solutions, and (dare I say?) maybe a couple too many obscure words… but I’m guessing that was a restriction of the theme which was excellently implemented.

    Parsing for 15D and first half of 17D eludes me, will await Prolixic on those. 19D quite clever but may be pushing it a little.

    I thought a few clues needed little edits to ensure the grammar really worked (9A needs an ‘it’s’ or similar; 16D probably needs a “to” after leads; “on” in 5D is superfluous; a definition not including “I” would be better for 7D; 22D I think needs “head to” rather than “heading up”; 37D I think works better with just “Half of 15 or 22”)

    Despite all that, I did enjoy the challenge and had lots of ticks – 1A, 5A, 37A, 1D, 8D (despite slightly odd surface), and especially 13A, 27D and (my top pick) 31D

    Thanks again Conto (and in advance to Prolixic)

    1. Sorry, in the list of ticks it should be 23D (acid letter) not 27D (good but too tricky)! And bung 28A in there in the ‘double ticks’ too :-)

      1. And got the parsing for both 15D and 17D now, d’oh… both nice. In fact, add 15D to the tick list!

    2. Thanks Fez for the feedback – I really appreciate it and agree with pretty much all of it.

      (NB I usually try to complete other Rookie puzzles but in recent weeks have struggled to do so due to having to combine home-schooling, work and moving house! The kids are back to school though today, in Scotland – hooray! Hopefully I’ll be able to do your next puzzle.)

      1. hi Conto – not sure if you’ll pick this up, but I’m considering using (plagiarising!?) a v. similar device to your 23d as part of a clue in a puzzle I’m working on… would that be OK with you?

          1. Thanks Conto – I’ve used something else (as a placeholder) for now, but “yours” is (quite a bit) better!

  8. Well done Conto. Like others I found the gird was a let down with too many short words, but thought they were well clued by and large, albeit very difficult at times (some I am struggling to parse even having revealed letters, which I do shamelessly as an indifferent solver!). What a pity 33d was spoiled by a typo (thanks RabbitDave for clarifying that). I also think 1d would be improved as Stoned? Tired! with the punctuation important here and 7d might be better ending …”with my agreement”, though I like the wordplay. But there is a lot of creativity in your work and I admire you for trying things out. I particularly liked 9a,20a, 6d, 8d, 19d. Take on board the comments by people more knowledgeable than I and I am sure next time will show a big improvement.

    1. Thanks Dr Diva – I appreciate you taking the time to feed back and agree with your comments. See my comment above regarding 33D, though I agree with you that changing it to either half or 222 would be better.

  9. Welcome back, Conto.

    However clever or satisfying it is to incorporate a theme within a puzzle, an important consideration for every setter should be whether its inclusion detracts from the puzzle as a whole. Unfortunately, in this case, I believe it did and, had I test solved the puzzle, I would have recommended scrapping the idea completely and definitely opting for a different grid.

    Whilst I ticked 28a and 5d, I found it hard to warm to too many other clues. Beginning with three successive anagrams is never a good idea, and to use anagrams to clue some of numerous three-letter answers wasn’t great either. I was unfamiliar with the solutions to 36a 22d, 25d and 27d and I found many of the surface readings very disappointing (18a, 32a, 17d and 27d being some of the worst offenders). A popular issue recently, but in subtractive anagrams like 8d, if multiple letters to be removed are in a different order (“Di being removed from “idea”) then convention requires a secondary indicator. Little tweaks could have made several of the clues better, i.e. “where the sink is perhaps in pub?” for 10a would have earned a third tick from me.

    Perhaps I expected more after your previous appearances, Conto, but I didn’t see this puzzle as a step forward, and the general hope is that setters in Rookie Corner progress with each crossword. I hope you’ll get back on track with your next one. Thanks, Conto.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll try to take it all on board. The only thing I’d counter with relates to 8D – the intention was that ‘about’ signified the reversal of the letters being removed.

      1. Ah, that was on my list, too: I parsed “forget about” as an atomic instruction and thought a reversal indicator was missing. Does “about” work as a prefixed indicator? It feels more natural when following the letters to move about, but maybe it’s fine.

        1. To be honest I don’t think it does work as an adjective within the cryptic grammar.

  10. Conto. I don’t solve many of these “rookie” puzzles because I often find them a little irksome, but I stuck with this one and found it fairly enjoyable. As others have mentioned, the grid wasn’t the best choice and I think several of the clues could have been improved by tweaking after a test-solve by an experienced solver/setter. But there were some very good clues, also. Unless I’ve missed something (which is eminently possible with me), I don’t think 26a really works. The clue just mentions two people who have similar Christian names of different length, doesn’t it? It could easily have been tweaked to something like: WikiLeaks founder and a former Dutch ruler (7), with the last 3 words being the clue definition. This would give Julian + a (from the clue) = Juliana. But well done – these puzzles are a lot harder to compile than many people realise.

    1. Jose, the WikiLeaks founder is ‘Julian A’ — you need the first letter of his surname in there as well.

      1. Mmmm…. I suppose the ? might just allow that, but it’s a bit indirect/obscure. I think my version is much fairer to the solver, though.

  11. Thanks, Conto: that was fun! And your getting the themed entries in there was so impressive.

    The less-well-known terms didn’t bother me: I’m not a very good solver, and make use some electronic help to finish most crosswords. As such, this didn’t for me seem harder or take longer than usual.

    I gave up with 4 to go in the bottom-left corner, looked at the comments above, and saw reference to a theme. Somehow I’d managed to miss the existence of the rubric! Once I read that, it was enough to get the missing across answers, which then had enough crossing letters for the downs. I do like it when a theme provides a third way of helping with answers; my apologies for initially not noticing it.

    A quibble with the rubric: the 18ed 23As of time are in most across answers, not clues.

    In 17D, I’m not keen on homophones of part of a word, especially part of a syllable. While “pave” does start with the sound of “pay”, I don’t think you can divide it up and attribute the “pay” sound to the letters “pa”. (Think how you’d pronounce “pav”. I don’t think it should be divided at all, but if it is, the final magic E definitely affects the pronunciation of the A vowel sound.)

    For 33D I managed to spot that TEN is a third of the letters (in-order) of “TwENty-two” and X is half the letters of XV. Given the anagram fodder for 36A had an N in it, that was awkward to unravel.

    My only other quibbles have been covered by others: 9A’s definition not being a noun; 7D (which I loved the wordplay in) would be better with a definition which doesn’t start “I”; and 8D’s DI reversal.

    My favourites are 13A’s John Peel follower and 21A’s singing nun. I also ticked 1D, 6D, 8D, 18A, 23A, 29D, 30D, and 34A — far more than I do with most crosswords. Well done, and thank you.

    Have you considered setting any barred puzzles (Enigmatic Variations and similar)? Themes are expected — and obscure terms, many short words, and solvers needing to use reference sources all accepted as necessary for fitting in the theme and filling the grid. I realize this is pretty much the opposite to some of the advice above, but instead of forgetting about those things, maybe you could embrace them?

    1. Thanks so much for your time and for your considered response to the puzzle.

      The point you make about barred puzzles is a good one. I suppose it gets to the heart of my quandary. Although I have nothing against barred thematic puzzles, there is something about the look of them and the accompanying instructions that puts off the casual solver and results in them being a relatively niche pastime. Again, there is nothing wrong with this – it’s just I’m drawn to the simplicity and universality of a ‘normal’ crossword. I like the idea of making a solver unwittingly enjoy the delights of a thematic puzzle when they thought they were just going to enjoy a standard non-thematic puzzle.

      Based on the tone of this website, being mercenary about it, I think I’d do well to use it to help me hone the basic art of good clueing, which is the bread and butter of the good folk here (as it should be). However, beyond that, ‘man shall not live on bread alone’!

  12. It was an unequal battle but this has kept me entertained while listening to some good new (to me) music. Got to within 22&27d of a finish (never heard of either) though needed 3 letter reveals to get me that far. Bung ins a plenty & to be honest not sure I understand a few. Didn’t read the 18ed of 23As instruction to begin with but not sure it would have greatly assisted. 4 letter clues are usually my nemesis so was surprised I didn’t really mind (for a one off) so many 3 letter ones. A bit too tough for my level but there were plenty of clues that I liked: 1,5,9,10,13,23,28&37a plus 1,3,6,8,24,29,30 &31d all worked for me.
    A bit easier though next time please.
    Thanks Conto

  13. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. Interesting that the commentometer was so benign towards Conto, I’m sure he’ll be very pleased.

  14. Thanks Proloxic for the analysis. Once again I am moved by the amount of time someone is willing to volunteer in order to support an aspiring setter. Similar can be said to all those who have taken the time to comment. As far as I’m aware, this Rookie Corner is unique in that it gives aspiring setters an extremely valuable opportunity to have their puzzles tested by folk who know their stuff. I think it is a vital asset to the cruciverbalist community.

  15. Thank you very much for the review, Prolixic. By a bizarre coincidence, today’s puzzle in the Independent also has 42 clues.

  16. I’m thoroughly embarrassed to admit that even with comments referring to the cleverness of putting them in the right order the shortened month theme STILL escaped me.

Comments are closed.