Rookie Corner 378 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 378

Words within Words by Madcap

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Madcap makes his debut today. 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 Madcap – you certainly needed one to solve this.  This was perhaps overly ambitious for a standard 15×15 crossword with two themed sets of solutions to be resolved.  My particular concern about this was those solution where the “definition” in the crossword was to another word into which you then had to add a theme word to get an undefined solution.  Each clue should have wordplay and definition (unless a cryptic definition or double definition).  Not have a clear definition puts the solver and an immediate disadvantage.

Th clue constructions themselves did not have many major errors but there were some areas where things could be tidied up.

The commentometer reads as 6/28 or 21.4%


7 In brief, engineer outlines extravagant and trendy finish (9)
ENDEARING – The abbreviation (briefly) for engineer around outlines a four-letter word meaning extravagant and a two letter word meaning trendy.  The definition of finish gives a six letter word into which you insert EAR (one of the theme words).  The solution is not defined by the clue.

8 Judge in row about prosecutor’s last letter (5)
TRIER – A four-letter word for a row around the last letter of prosecutor.

9 Preserve Parisian patient (9)
MARMALADE – Put ARM (one of the theme words) inside a six-letter word for a patient in France.

10 Chinese native has pork to start with and tea to finish (5)
PANDA – The first letter (to start with) of pork followed by the AND from the clue and the final letter of tea.  I don’t think that “to finish” indicates the final letter.  Maybe a final sip of tea.

12 He pointed to the left, indicating squirrel (6)
MARMOT – Reverse (pointed to the left) a three-letter boy’s name (he) and insert ARM (one of the theme words) into the resulting letters.  Using he to define a boy’s name in a themed clue is a tad unfair given the large number of possible boys names.

13 Propose rebate, adjusted to include first and last of April (8)
TEARABLE – An anagram (adjusted) of REBATE into which you insert the the first and last letters of April. The definition of Propose gives a five letter word into which you insert EAR (one of the theme words).  The solution is not defined by the clue.

14 Passionate chocolatier discards skin from lactose (7)
EARNEST – A six-letter name of a chocolate maker without the outer letters (discards skin) form lactose.  The theme word EAR goes at the start to give the solution.

17 Officer, full of his cockney charms (7)
DISARMS – The abbreviation for Detective Sergeant (office) include IS (his Cockney).  The word ARM has to be included in the resulting letters to get the solution.

20 Sweet with last of finger rolls perhaps (8)
CARMAKER – A four-letter word for a sweet baked item followed by the last letter of rolls.  The word ARM has to be included in the resulting letters to get the solution.  The convention is that you can capitalise a common noun to mislead but you must not put a proper noun into lower case to do so.  Watch out for repeating wordplay indicators.  This is the third time that “last” has been used to indicate the final letter.

22 Maybe wolf in party clothes? (3-3)
DOG-EAR – A two-letter word for a party followed by a four-letter word for clothes.  The definition of Maybe wolf gives a three letter word to which you add EAR (one of the theme words).  The solution is note defined by the clue.

24 Madcap boatman left tot (5)
BARMY = A four-letter word for a tot or child has the abbreviation for Able Seaman (boatman) removed (left).  Into the letters that remain you have to include ARM (one of the theme words).

25 Shaped, according to the gossip, like half an octopus? (9)
FOREARMED – A homophone (according to the gossip) of FOUR ARMED (like half an octopus).  The definition of shaped gives a six-letter word into which you add EAR (one of the theme words).  The solution is not defined by the clue itself..

26 Shepherd is stiffer, lacking exercise (5)
STEER – A seven-letter word meaning stiffer without (lacking) the abbreviation for exercise.

27 Second too soon to drink recycled gin by itself (9)
SEARINGLY – The abbreviation for second followed by a five-letter word meaning too soon includes (to drink) an anagram (recycled) of GIN.  The definition of by itself gives a six-letter word meaning alone into which you add EAR (one of the theme words).  The solution is not defined by the clue.


1 Capital invested in Bank Arabia (6)
ANKARA – The answer is hidden (invested) in the final two words of the clue.

2 He’s in control of line and, at the front, manages to master navigation primarily (8)
HELMSMAN – The HES from the clue includes (in control of) the abbreviation for line and the initial letter (at the front) of manager.  These letters are followed by the abbreviation for Master of Arts and the first letter (primarily) of navigation.

3 Small branch regularly sells cheap stuff (6)
ARMLET – Every fourth letter (regularly) of the final three words of the clue.  The word ARM (on of the theme words) has to be added to the letters to get the solution.

4 Courting failure to end Alcoholics Anonymous (2,1,4)
ON A DATE – An anagram (failure) of TO END AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).  Failure of would need to be used if the anagram indicator goes before the letters to be rearranged.

5 Leaders are dextrous and fleet (6)
ARMADA – The first letters (leaders) of the second to fourth words of the clue.  You have to add ARM to the resulting letters to get to the solution.  Leaders on its own does not work to indicate the initial letters.  It needs to be leaders of.

6 Plum nude rudely reveals one hanging and swinging freely (8)
PENDULUM – An anagram (rudely) of PLUM NUDE.

11 Convey thank you letter (4)
TAXI – A two-letter word meaning thank you and a two-letter member of the Greek alphabet.

15 Alas, most cater poorly from the menu (1,2,5)
A LA CARTE – The first three letters (most) from the ALAS from the followed by an anagram (poorly) of CATER.  You would need mostly to indicate most of the letters given.

16 Follow sound of one reciting the five Banis, perhaps (4)
SIKH – A homophone (sound) of SEEK (follow).  The clue here is too ambiguous as the wording tells you that you need a homophone of one reciting the five Bands.

18 Enraging? (8)
ANGERING – An anagram (?) of ENRAGING.  I don’t think that a ? is enough to indicate an anagram.

19 Criminal poached perhaps, stealing rhino horn? (7)
CROOKED – A six-letter word meaning poached around (stealing) the first letter (horn) of rhino.  I think that for this to work its needs to be ring’s horn.

21 Recall forgetting about one of fourteen here (6)
MEMBER – An eight-letter word meaning recall without a two-letter word meaning about.

22 Extreme drollery about bottom is wry (6)
DREARY – The outer letters (extreme) of drollery around a four letter word  bottom.  The definition of wry gives a three letter word into which you add EAR (one of the theme words).  The solution is not defined the clue.  Again, watch for repeated wordplay indicators.  About was used in 8a.  Also to indicate the outer letters it would need to be extremes of.

23 Periphery of spot marking upsurge in buffalo eradication (6)
AREOLA – The solution is hidden and reversed (upsurge in) the final two words of the clue.

42 comments on “Rookie Corner 378

  1. Sorry Madcap, with instructions more complicated than on a Radler MPP I passed on this one.

  2. Only one question Madcap. Is it possible to simply solve the puzzle from the clues and ignore the farting around?

      1. Thank you. I’m not a fan of these type of puzzles. I like straightforward cryptic clues. And therefore I will not be attempting this puzzle. I’m sure that Madcap has put a lot of effort into this puzzle and I wish him or her well. Hopefully the rest of the comments will be more sympathetic and heartening. Thank you Madcap. Good luck

  3. Sorry, Madcap. This type of puzzle is not for me and I too will pass on this one.

    You have obviously put in a lot of work to compile this, and a quick glance at the grid and clues suggests you probably have a good grasp of the basics. However I think it is preferable for Rookie Corner puzzles not to include themes and gimmicks in order to allow more solvers to comment constructively.

    Please do come back soon with a more accessible offering which will appeal to a wider audience.

  4. Unfortunately my brain is scrambled just looking at the instructions never mind the puzzle. As the 2Ks have confirmed it’s not possible to solve without understanding them I will set it aside for now and await further comments. Hopefully some of these will be more positive Madcap (very apposite name!)

  5. We did persevere with this and with a lot of effort did fill most of the lights and eventually revealed a few letters in the SW to complete the grid-fill..
    When we encounter a puzzle of this complexity and difficulty we do need to know that the accuracy and ‘grammar’ are going to be spot on. Unfortunately this was not the case so ultimately a rather frustrating exercise.
    Obviously Madcap has a lot of ability in putting clues together but feel this was just too ambitious.

  6. This is very complex so it might help if I give a nudge with the two types of clue as an early set of hints;

    7a In brief, engineer outlines extravagant and trendy finish (9)

    An abbreviation (in brief) for engineer goes around (outlines) a four-letter word meaning extravagant and a two-letter word meaning trendy. This wordplay gives you the full solution required. The “definition” is not a definition to the solution but to another six-letter word meaning finish. Adding the theme word into the word meaning finish also gets you to the solution.

    14a Passionate chocolatier discards skin from lactose (7)

    Here the definition is passionate. The wordplay gives you part of the definition. Take the name of a chocolate maker and remove (discards) the outer letters (skin) from lactose. This gives you four of the letters required in the solution. Then add the theme word (in this case to the start of the letters to give the word defined by passionate.

    Hope that this helps rather than hinders.

    1. That is it in a nutshell Prolixic. Possibly a coconut shell (are there any bigger)? It’s not my kind of puzzle. I do hope those who like this type of puzzle will attempt this and comment though

  7. Hi Madcap, I enjoyed giving this a go and once I had deciphered the theme words quite a lot of it fell into place. I needed a little help at the end but overall was very impressed. However, as you have seen from comments so far, and from my own personal experience not that long ago, it is quite ‘brave’ to come straight into Rookie Corner with a tricky crossword, particular a special such as this. From the evidence of many clues in this puzzle, a more straightforward plain cryptic should go down well here. Rookies are often criticised for meaningless surfaces but I thought yours were mostly very good.
    Prolixic will provide a full expert review tomorrow. In the meantime I had a few minor niggles:
    – 20A where I felt the definition was possibly unfair without a capital letter, particularly given the difficulty of the format generally
    – 2D, which seems extremely intricate and I still can’t quite parse
    – 3D where the regular letters were very hard to spot – again maybe harsh on the solver in the context of the format
    – 4D, not convinced by failure as an anagrind
    – 16D where the homophone was at best ambiguous (I thought the other word was the answer to start with)
    However, I thought lots of the clues were very good including 8A, 10A, 14A, 22A, 26A, 1D, 6D and 19D. Looking forward to your next (more straightforward) puzzle!

  8. Oh dear. The 2Ks have summed up my thoughts very well. Trying to run before one can barely walk is never a good idea, and when I noticed that “last” was being utilised three times in the space of eight clues (If I’ve understood them correctly) as a final letter indicator, I gave up. Whereas it is fair game for a setter to falsely capitalise a word to mislead solvers, it is not acceptable to do it the other way round and remove a capital from a proper noun (20a). I had a few other misgivings in the clues I managed to decipher unaided, before I resorted to electronic assistance.

    Although it was very clever to populate the grid without reverting to obscurities, I’m another who doesn’t like puzzles to be “mysteries wrapped inside enigmas” and the preamble was more inclined to discourage than encourage solvers, I suspect. An opportunity missed, I’d suggest, but thanks to Madcap all the same.

  9. A crossword with ‘structions and first thing on a Monday too :roll: Not to mention the font of the instructions being quite large so that the clues themselves were in such a small font that a trip to Specsavers was nearly required

    However I was intrigued and so I perservated, finding a couple of the non-themed clues/solutions which gave me a start in the NE and SW corners. Looking at the other clues, I soon realised the two types of 21d that were required and, although I will admit to a couple of letter reveals to make sure I had the right letter/word, I did end up with a completed with the ‘fourteen’ highlighted.

    As the earlier comments say, not the type of crossword to appeal to the usual Rookie Corner ‘constructive criticisers’ but I enjoyed the challenge. If RD had solved it, he’d have had something to say about the nebulous ‘he’ in 12a My comment on 16d would be that I think the clue reads the wrong way round – I had the synonym for follow rather than the reciter until I realised what was going on in 20a

    Thank you to Madcap – a wonderful feat of crossword setting even if, as others have said, there are a number of things to work on – but when you return to Rookie Corner, I’d suggest you try an ‘ordinary’ crossword. Thanks also in advance to Prolixic

    1. Is 12a nebulous? It is a “he-cat”, for example – I thought this was one of the best clues!

      1. Probably not – I’ve just reached a stage where I can’t solve a crossword without thinking ‘RD wouldn’t like this or that’

  10. My first inclination on reading the instructions was to give this one a miss but I did persevere (it gets easier once the two theme words become apparent) and got a full grid. I’m not a great fan of clues where there’s no proper definition.
    I had most problems with the SW corner. There definitely needs to be a capital letter in 20a and I can’t see the boatman in 24a.
    On the plus side I liked a number of the clues (mainly those with no gimmicks) including 10a, 6d and 19d.
    You obviously put a lot of effort into the puzzle, Madcap, so thanks for that but I’d suggest a straightforward puzzle next time would get a more positive welcome.

      1. Thanks, Coot. I couldn’t get ‘baddy’ out of my head and I couldn’t equate that with boatman.

  11. Sorry, I’m passing on this as well – Reminds me too much of the puzzle of 2 trains leaving different stations at different times and different speeds etc. – all being described, and then being asked what colour are the drivers’ socks!

    1. Clearly the trick here is that the puzzle began “I’m driving a train…” – so you just need to check the riddler’s socks for your answer :-)

  12. We are struggling on, encouraged by Prolixic and CS’s comments. Having so many words without being able to check the first letter from another clue isn’t helping the solve. We have one theme word (we think!) and we shall ‘perservate’ also.

  13. Thanks Madcap, that was tough, and perhaps a little overly ambitious with some flaws – but still a very enjoyable work-out.

    The preamble seemed very ‘clunky’ for a relatively simple device, and I’m sure this could be improved. Eg “7 clues conatain a 21, omitted from the wordplay. 7 other clues contain a further 21, omitted from the definition.” That said … I think one of the theme words is perhaps a bit of a stretch to be defined as a 21, there would be a far better ‘partner’ – although I appreciate the grid construction is very clever.

    20a needs a capital letter for the definition to work.
    25a includes a theme word despite not being one of the fourteen. This really should have been avoided – I’ve found two possibilities that would fit with the crossers.
    3d is technically fine but perhaps a bit too much for a ‘regular’ 15×15?
    4d I don’t think the anagram indicator works
    5d I think this needs “leaders of/in”, or for “leaders” to follow the words, to work as an indicator
    15d Again, I think the indicator (“most”) is insufficient as it is – could be eg “mostly”
    16d This just about works but is a little ambiguous
    18d A cute little clue, but perhaps with the final three letters staying put not the most satisfying anagram
    19d Interesting indicator, I think it works (though “rhino” probably should be “rhino’s”)

    Both “last” and “about” were repeated as indicators. Surfaces were mostly good, even when sometimes a little bizarre … although I think the made-up(?) bank in 1d jarred a little and made the lurker a bit too easy to spot.

    But desite all that, a very entertaining and satisfying solve with a lot of clever clues – my favourites were the tricky &lit 2d (assuming I’ve parsed it correctly!) and the rather simpler 10a. Perhaps dial down the difficulty a little for the Rookie Corner slot, and concentrate on getting all the clues technically sound – I’ll very much look forward to another Madcap offering.

    Thanks again! (And thanks in advance to Prolixic – will be very interesting to see the review!)

    1. Sorry, the suggested preamble should refer to solutions rather than clues: “7 solutions conatain a 21, omitted from the wordplay. 7 other solutions contain a further 21, omitted from the definition.”

      1. hmm, still not quite right (due to pluralisation of 21) but I do think with a bit of work a more satisfying preamble could be achieved!

      1. [Warning: Spoiler alert]
        Those 7 are 9a, 12a, 17a, 20a, 24a, 3d, 5d … 25a has complete wordplay (the whimsical homophone), and omitting the theme word doesn’t create a real word. The definition “shaped” is perhaps a little off, but I guess synonymous with “readied / prepared”.
        Although the theme word did help me to get to the answer here!
        “Rose trees” or “home fries” would have been better, I think.

  14. With several reveals we have now completed the puzzle. Thank you for the challenge, Madcap. We do hope your next crossword will be simpler and with a different grid without such a long, confusing preamble. Favourite clues were 9a and10a. We still need Prolixic’s help to parse some of our answers.

  15. This puzzle is similar in construct to those that appear in “The Oldie” but many times more complicated. I’ll pass on this one though. Sorry Madcap.

  16. I was at a loose end and decided to have a look at this puzzle, I don’t do many of these Rookies. I read the instructions and immediately resolved not to bother (mainly because I hadn’t got a clue what they meant). I don’t like these type of crosswords but you have to admire those people who are competent and tenacious enough to solve them. I couldn’t help thinking that the late Alan Turing would probably love them. My apologies to the setter.

  17. With the help of the two nudges from Prolixic and a fair amount of guesswork, I managed 17 answers before turning to the ‘reveal’ button for more assistance.
    I’m sorry, Madcap, but the combination of tough clues, some strange surfaces and a poorly defined theme rendered this one mostly un-enjoyable. The one exception was 25a which made me laugh uproariously!

  18. Completed the puzzle with many guesses/bung ins, along with 4 letter reveals.
    Spotted the theme words but even with the answers now in front of me, I haven’t a clue how to follow the instructions to verify the answers/ parsing
    Not my type of puzzle, but I do feel a sense of achievement in finishing it.
    So thanks to Madcap for the workout

  19. i was very impressed by this. It all works fine, as far as I can see, and the cluing is pretty sound. Madcap clearly has some significant talent.

  20. Many thanks for the review Prolixic. I think 12a works with he=tom, not as a name but as in tomcat.

  21. I am admittedly not the best solver (though improving) so I was always going to struggle with this. But with even the instructions posing me a tough challenge, I’m afraid I just gave up fairly quickly like others. Kudos to those that persevered but it strikes me that this is only the sort of puzzle that should be attempted once one has demonstrated absolute mastery of the basics. Some clues showed that you are more than capable of that Madcap, so perhaps next time aim for something more accessible to everyone?

  22. Thanks for the feedback. I am finding it really helpful as I work on my next crossword! These are the things I have learned from your feedback:
    1. Pay more attention to the overall difficulty or obscurity of the crossword.
    2. Be careful not to repeat indicators such as ‘last’ or ‘about’ in the clues. I did try to balance other aspects of the crossword but missed that issue.
    3. Be very careful that indicators are worded such that the prepositions do apply the indicators to the ‘fodder’ being utilised in the wordplay.
    4. Do not mess around with definitions such as using ‘rolls’ when it should be ‘Rolls’. I was seduced there as I really liked the clue but should have re-written it so that ‘Rolls’ appeared at the front of the clue.
    Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for commenting Madcap and thanks for entering the fray. The comments from those brave enough to tackle this puzzle were favourable in the main

  23. (catching up) — I found this a hard challenge but made it to the end. Was massively held up by going the wrong way with the SEEK/SIKH homophone. And lower-case rolls had me bamboozled for a Long Time. All in all, I was impressed by many of the clues (10a, 13a because April is when US taxes have to be filed for which one might expect a rebate, 24a (because Madcap was always going to “me” or “I”, right?). A couple of surface readings were unlikely imho – e.g. “Plum nude…”, “… like half an octopus” (a wonderful homophone though!)>

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