Rookie Corner 396 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 396

A Puzzle by Bonster

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Bonster 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 Bonster.  You have clearly borrowed the DT book of obscure words when setting this.  As others have pointed out, one or two fairly clued new words / items of general knowledge is acceptable but this was overloaded with them, with some of the clues not compensating for the obscurity with simpler wordplay.  The clueing was largely precise although there were an unusually high number of repetitions of wordplay indicators.  The commentometer reads as 5 / 28 or 17.8%.


1 Her novel way to win a US Championships – almost nineteen and unqualified originally (4,8)
EMMA RADUCANU – A four letter name of a novel followed by the abbreviation for road (way) with an A included (to win) with the initial letters (originally) of US Championships – almost nineteen unqualified.

8 Balls shown by partners set in conflict (7)
OPPOSED – The two-letter first name of the former MP Balls after a five-letter word for partners.  As the word for partners has the dictionary meaning of opposite number, I don’t think that patterns is a fair indication.

9 Exercise volunteers returning in painful condition (7)
PILATES – The abbreviation for territorial army (volunteers) is reversed (return) in a five-letter word for haemorrhoids (painful condition).  As a matter cryptic grammar, you need returning rather than returns as the clue construction A return in B does not work.

11 English game set off boost in confidence (3-4)
EGO-TRIP – The abbreviation for English followed by a two-letter board game and a four-letter word meaning set off.

12 Blue touring before returning to capital (7)
YEREVAN – A four-letter word for a shade of blue includes a three-letter word meaning before with all of the letter then reversed (returning).  Try not to repeat wordplay indicators (return in 9a and returning in the this clue both indicating a reversal).

13 States collectively declare repeal (5)
UNSAY  – A two-letter abbreviation for an international association of states followed by a three-letter word meaning declare.

14 Use tummy very centrally, ready for gymnastic move (9)
SUMMERSET – The inner letters (internally) of the first three words of the clue followed by a three-letter word meaning ready.

16 Condition I’m in? A tumult, sadly (9)
ULTIMATUM – The I’m from the clue inside (found in) an anagram (sadly) of TUMULT.

19 Free? Over £1,000 off? It must have strings attached (5)
SITAR – A five-letter word meaning free is reversed (over) without the abbreviation for grand (£1,000).

21 Fatty Arbuckle’s first swim session occasionally recalled (7)
ADIPOSE – The first letter of Arbuckle followed by a three-letter word meaning a swim and the even letters in session reversed (recalled).

23 Troublesome old emperor busy with no clothes on (7)
ONEROUS – The abbreviation for old followed by a four-letter name for a Roman emperor and the inner letters (with no clothes on) of busy.

24 A hunter could be mine! (7)
UNEARTH – An anagram (could be) of A HUNTER.

25 Fancy Bonster’s going back up to university (7)
IMPULSE – A two-letter word meaning the setter (Bonster is) followed by a reversal (going back) of UP and a three-letter abbreviation for a London university.

26 Creative mail merges, introducing Queen flyers (12)
LAMMERGEIERS – An anagram (creative) of MAIL MERGES include the abbreviation for Queen.  A particular bete noir of mine is setters who produce an anagram from an obscure word that, even with the crossing letters, is more or less impossible to deduce correctly.  Whilst the clue is technically sound, it strikes me a being unfair.


1 Takes on strategies after chronic illness returns (7)
EMPLOYS – A five-letter word for strategies after a reversal (returns) of ME (chronic illness).  Another repetition of wordplay with return having been used in 9a.

2 Left in despair, like Scrooge (7)
MISERLY – The abbreviation for left In a six-letter word meaning despair.

3 Again invest in wine and illegal drug – it’s not right (9)
REDEPOSIT – A three-letter word for a variety of wine followed by a three-letter abbreviation for an illegal performance enhancing drug  used by athletes and an anagram (not right) of ITS.  I think that the abbreviation for the drug, whilst technically correct, is too obscure for solvers to know.

4 Out to lunch? Like taramasalata? (5)
DIPPY – Double definition, the first meaning slightly mad and the second identifying the quality of taramasalata.

5 Cheat (7)
CALORIE – Double definition splitting the clue into C and HEAT.  Lift and separate clues like this are divisive.  Some editors allow them where there is a clear split in the word.  That is not the case here and, in the absence of any other wordplay, it is another clue that is not fair for the solver.

6 Those indigenous deviants dropping diamonds all over the place (7)
NATIVES – An anagram (all over the place) of DEVIANTS after removing (dropping) the abbreviation for diamonds.

7 Singer in city car backing country to get forward (6,6)
ROMELU LUKAKU – The four-letter name of a 1960’s singer inside a four letter name of a city in Italy, a two-letter name of a car and a reversal (backing) of UK (country).  The clue is technically sound.  However, where you have a general knowledge solution, you might need to give a bit more of a steer to the solver.  Indicators can be open or closed (pointing to a multitude of words or a single or limited number of solutions.  If you look at this clue all of the indicators city, car and country are open indicators each giving rise to a large number of potential solutions.

10 Lad with sports car by hotel takes no time getting birds (4,8)
SONG THRUSHES – A three-letter word for a lad followed by a two-letter abbreviation for a sports car, the abbreviation for hotel and a five-letter word meaning hurries or takes no time.

15 Is one hardened over a period pursuing money? (9)
MAMMONITE – A type of fossil (on hardened over a period of time) after the abbreviation for money.

17 “Give Boris a go!” shouted New York neighbourhood (7)
TRIBECA – A homophone (shouted) of TRY BECKER (give Boris a go).

18 Activity record from setter’s pulse, having breathed in oxygen (7)
MYOGRAM – A two-letter word meaning belonging to the setter followed by a four-letter word for a type of chickpea or pulse include (having breathed in) the abbreviation for oxygen.

19 Writer quietly hiding church feature (7)
STEEPLE – The name of the write Danielle includes hiding the abbreviation for quietly.

20 Suitor left broken (7)
TROILUS – An anagram (broken) of SUITOR L (left).  Another repetition of L for left (see 2d).  Although an all in one clue, it presumes that solvers will know the plot of the play in which the suitor appears.  Maybe too much general knowledge is required here.

22 Some calculate the right number (5)
ETHER – The answer is hidden in (some) the second to fourth words of the clue.

31 comments on “Rookie Corner 396

  1. Impressive debut with clever clues and a bit of wit, but some answers that might be too tough, particularly for a Rookie puzzle.
    Prolixic and others will be better judges, but I couldn’t see any glaring technical issues, which is obviously a sign of good setting.
    As to the difficult ones,12a, 26a and 18d were tricky, arguably obscure. 1a was excellent with a helpful clue, but the similar answer at 7d might not be well known enough for casual followers and non-fans.
    14a probably needs an indication of it being alternative or archaic.

    All clued fairly though, which is the main thing. Favourites were 1a, 19a (took me a while to parse), 21a, 10d (though I think ‘birds’ for women in the surface is not popular now), and the stand-out 20d.
    And 5d was clever but cheeky, the sort of divisive clue you might see in the Guardian but not The Times.

  2. Sorry Bonster, for me, after the ‘gimme’ in 1a, it went down hill fast and I needed Reveals and other electronic assistance to confirm answers and, in some cases such as 7d, definitely not known by me, to provide answers.

    Personally, I thought that 5d was just a little ‘too clever.’

    I will be interested to read what Prolixic says about ‘suitor’ doing ‘double duty’ in 20d.

    Thanks anyway.

    1. I don’t mind obscurity, and the need to look things up, but agree 7d probably took this too far (luckily I did know this one!) But I think 20d is a very clever &lit.

  3. Thanks Bonster, a challenging solve (several ‘obscure’ answers needed checking!) with lots to enjoy. I think Twmbarlwm has summarised it perfectly (except that 17d gets a podium place over 10d, for me).
    Thanks again, and in advance to Prolixic

  4. A very difficult crossword to solve – I’d only written in 17 solutions when I’d finished my breakfast cereal and large mug of tea and so decided to reveal some letters (and not just some, but many!).

    I did know the birds in 26a but would never ever have got the forward in 7d. I have a number of question marks by clues and so will await Prolixic’s review tomorrow with great interest. I can’t decide whether I really like 5d or whether as Senf says, it is too clever. Ia is obvious from the first seven words so I didn’t bother to work out the rest of the clue. My favourite has to be 17a

    Welcome, and thank you, Bonster, Your shorter clues are much more solver-friendly – there are quite a few things I would mention but then if everyone does that, and I’m sure the usual suspects will be here to do so later, there probably won’t be much left for Prolixic’s review.

  5. Welcome to Rookie Corner, Bonster.
    I thought that this was technically very proficient but with too many obscurities to make it really enjoyable.
    I liked the chuckle-inducing 9a and 5d but my podium contains 8a, 23a and the excellent 20d.
    Another puzzle from you would be very welcome but please try to cut down on the obscure GK.

  6. Welcome to Rookie Corner, Bonster. This was an impressive debut but I found it very tough. Parts of the bottom half were almost impenetrable with several obscure answers linked together. 26a was my last one in and, even though I could see it was an anagram, I couldn’t solve it without reluctantly using an anagram solver to finish the grid. (I am sure Jane will have had no problem with this one!)

    Despite being a very wordy clue, 1a is very clever although its surface jarred with me as “a US Championships” mixes singular and plural. However, I suppose it could be argued that it is OK as “US Championships” might be considered as a single event (normally called the “US Open”).

    I preferred your shorter clues. Your clueing is generally accurate and I don’t imagine that Prolixic will have too much to comment on in this respect.

    Well done and thank you, Bonster. Please aim to make your next offering more solver friendly and rein back the difficultly level.

    1. There’s a difference between knowing 26a and being able to confidently spell it, RD! I did hesitate over the ending………

  7. Welcome Bonster.

    This was a very accomplished first puzzle with mostly excellent surfaces and I can tell that you have an eye for what makes a good clue. Unfortunately, I think you fell into the trap of deciding to make some clues harder than they needed to be, i.e. using GK in the wordplay of 7d where more GK is required to know the answer. Although I ticked several clues, I needed electronic help to complete the grid because I found others almost impenetrable. I’m sorry to say that I’m in the “too clever/unfair” camp for 5d.

    My repetition radar was working overtime today, as well as “back” and “return” each repeated as reversal indicators, “left” was used twice to clue L, and “in” appeared no fewer than four times as an insertion indicator (9a, 16a, 7d and 18d). My ticks went to 12a, 2d, 4d and 22d.

    I hope we’ll see you again with something a little more solver-friendly and with fewer repetitions of wordplay devices!

    Many thanks, Bonster.

  8. I am not sure what of make of this Bonster. As others have said, there was not too much technically wrong, though I don’t like 5d or 20d (that have been praised by others, so perhaps I am wrong!!). For me, 5d is both very clever and grossly unfair as it has neither definition nor instruction and the one word clue doesn’t relate in any way to the answer. I also agree with Silvanus that SUITOR in 20d is doing double duty and can’t be both fodder and definition. Starting the clue with Shakespearean would resolve that.
    But my main issue was the number of obscurities – 12a, 14a, 21a, 26a, 7a, 15d,17d, 18d all either required some obscure knowledge or knowledge of obscure words or variants. One or two is fine, but such a concentration seems unfair, as shown by some of the better solvers here having to resort to help. The contract is to misdirect, to challenge, to hide in plain sight from the solver but ultimately to reveal yourself. I personally don’t think you achieved the latter.
    What is obvious, however, is your ability. Perhaps just have a bit more empathy with the solver next time!

      1. Dr D, I assumed 20d was an all-in-one, although one falling into the fairly specialised GK category.

        1. I bow to your greater knowledge, RD, but I wasn’t aware you could have an anagram where the fodder/wordplay is also the definition. Will be interested to hear from Prolixic.

          1. Dr D, an all-in-one clue (also called “&lit”) is one where the entire clue is both the definition and the wordplay. 20d here is a good example:
            Anagram fodder = suitor + L(eft)
            Anagram indicator = broken
            Definition = Suitor left broken : Troilus was shattered when Cressida was unfaithful to him

            1. Thanks RD. An education as ever!
              Can’t say I’m a fan of the construction, especially as in this case it describes pretty much every tragic love story ever written. I would hope for something a little more precise
              Having said that, I did actually solve this one, so maybe I am talking my usual nonsense!

  9. Got about two thirds of the way through before resorted to reveals to unlock some of the clues, requiring knowledge that I didn’t possess.

    Of those I solved I thought the clueing was fine except perhaps 5d. Less GK would increase enjoyment.

    Thankyou for the challenge.

  10. My gut instinct told me that this one wouldn’t be for me and so it proved. 1a went in easily enough although I didn’t even attempt to arrive at any wordplay, both lots of flyers were OK and I quite liked 9a & 2d but that was about the height of it.
    Use of the ‘reveal’ button gave me a long list of ‘things to look up’ which isn’t what I want from a crossword – how about some more enjoyment?
    Sorry, Bonster, I’ll happily try your next offering but I hope it’s a great deal different.

  11. Tough and enjoyable! Welcome & many thanks Bonster :-) I’ll be very interested in Prolixic’s feedback tomorrow.

  12. Managed 20 unaided & then needed 6 letter reveals to finish. Think 20d is fair but can’t comment on 5d as don’t understand it. Never heard of either 18d or 26a (some spelling). I quite liked 5d & only wish the penny dropped before revealing the R – wonder if Terence would get it. There were some terrific clues here though – 8,9,19,23&25a plus 2,4 & best of all for me 17d all ticks in my book.
    Thanks but go easier on us next time Bonster

  13. A largely enjoyable puzzle, and most impressive for a debut. Five-sixths went in quite straightforwardly and I thought I was heading for a 1.5* finish, but the final four or five clues took me comfortably to 4* time.

    Once I had the *u*a*u in the second half of 7d the answer leapt out – it is a very well known sporting name and no more demanding than knowing 12a. In my view it is not obscure in the way that 18d and 26a are obscure. My own sticking points were the (very fairly clued) obscure birds in 26a, the chart in 18d, a big question mark over 5d (if the answer is what I think it is, and I can find no other word that fits, I’m not convinced the clue is fairly constructed or gives a definition) and ambivalence about 20d – part of me admires the brilliance of the concise clueing, part feels that it is missing something that would put the answer in context.

    I will be interested to see Prolixic’s review to understand the (let alone my attempts at) parsing of a few clues (eg 1a – an easy bung-in, but I have no idea how her surname derives from the clue, 19a and 15d). Otherwise I felt the construction was very sound, there were plenty of laughs, and I thought 17d was quite superb!

    Thank you Bonster, I look forward to your next grid.

    1. As possibly Confucius once said (or should have said?), GK is only obscure if you don’t know it! It’s unarguable that there was too much in this puzzle.

      The important difference between 12a and 7d is that 12a is sympathetically clued in my opinion (a reversal of a shade of blue surrounding a synonym for “before”) whereas 7d requires the solver to know the name of a singer as part of the wordplay to get to the answer (two steps of GK) and the definition of just “forward” is not solver-friendly either. Non-sporting solvers might have heard of the footballer, but I think expecting them to know what position he plays is unfair.

      1. It’s an interesting question, what constitutes ‘fair’ GK – for me 7d is much better known than 1a – but I think you’re right, it needs to be used sparingly and with sympathetic cluing, which 1a and others had, and 7d didn’t. (But surely that singer is ok! I feel sorry for the forgotten man in all this, Neasden FC’s talismanic Osloch Erupsu)

      2. I tend to agree with you about GK, Senf, and yours is the defence resorted to by many a Setter, let alone Solver, as daily debate on this blog shows. Indeed, Cryptic Crossword GK can be somewhat like an irregular verb …

        I think that clue requires pretty basic, every-day, general knowledge.
        You think that clue requires fairly specialist general knowledge.
        They think that clue requires abstruse, arcane and obscure special interest information known only to those few souls who have been inducted into the ninth degree of an unholy Cult.”

        On the other hand I thought 7d reasonably sympathetically clued once I had a few checkers: the Us suggested the singer’s name, and then, like Jericho’s walls, the defences tumbled. As you say, it required two steps of GK, but that is quite common for Toughies and even the occasional “back”pager. There were also a few other clues in this puzzle that were not particularly solver-friendly, but I thought it was nonetheless a really good challenge to set before us all.

  14. Thanks to Dave for publishing the puzzle, to Prolixic for the review, and to everyone who took the time to try it out and post comments. There’s the inevitable ‘horses for courses’ response to many of the clues but the overall message is loud and clear. I was rather constrained by ‘manually’ completing the grid with words that would fit, leaving me to pick the best of a bad bunch in many cases. I have since discovered automatic grid fillers!

    I have another puzzle done which, I hope, addresses most of the complaints raised here. I will revisit the clues bearing in mind some of the technical issues noted by Prolixic and others, and send it on in due course.

  15. Grateful thanks to Prolixic for some of those parsings, a few of which resulted in audible groans when I saw what I had missed!

    Re 19d : to justify my bunged-in answer my chosen writer was Sir Richard Steele, Irish writer and co-founder of The Spectator, rather than Danielle – who I see from Wikipedia and Amazon is Steel rather than Steele. But as this was another clue with a very open ‘G’K indicator, did Bonster perhaps have an entirely different Steele in mind?

  16. Many thanks for the review Prolixic.

    The GK/obscure words debate is very interesting! The more I think about it, the better I like 7d – RL is, after all, the star striker for the No.1 ranked international football team, and for the reigning European club champions. So hardly ‘obscure’ but of course if you don’t follow football at all you’re never going to guess his name. However with all the crossers in place the wordplay was, on reflection, not too difficult. (If you don’t follow tennis, is ER a name that’ll come easily to mind – perhaps, given her achievement, she’s a special case? Similarly Elgar recently clued the cricketer “Mark Wood” whose name was vaguely familiar but I know very little about cricket so this was a struggle – but surely the fault there is mine not Elgar’s? And for some reason cricket seems fair game in crossword-land.)

    Ed Balls pops up regularly in Cyclops’ Private Eye offerings (alongside other favourites such as Brenda=ER) … but is he ‘fair’ outside of that esteemed organ, without any definiton-by-example indicator? (By the way, in that clue “oppo” is defined in BRB as “a person who is alloted to one as partner…” – I agree oppo=partner doesn’t seem quite right, but if BRB is to be the ultimate referee then it should be OK, at least for a Toughie-style puzzle like Bonster’s?)

    Anyway, thanks again Bonster, will look forward to your next!

  17. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic, which I certainly needed to make sense of some of the answers. Think I was slightly surprised that 26a was considered so obscure as the one which toured parts of the UK for quite some time during the latter part of 2020 caused quite a media sensation and was given the name of Vigo. Having said that, I didn’t have a clue about the footballer so I guess that helps to confirm the theory that it’s impossible to state with certainty exactly what constitutes GK!

  18. Many thanks to Prolixic for the review, on which I have a couple of minor comments.

    The comment regarding patterns on 8A made no sense to me. Neither did that on 9A since the clue does include the word returning. I think the comment on 3D should only have the first two words in blue and the word in 19D should be writer.

    Regarding the puzzle, I only got 9 clues and now I have read the review I can see why.

    7D struck me as particularly hard. Forwards occur in many games. Even only counting forwards who have represented the UK in the last century there must be hundreds. Never heard of this one.

    1. S, re 8a and 9a.

      8a, I think this is a mere typo – the patterns in the comment should read partners (as in the clue). Also, in the BRB, oppo does mean opposite number. But listed under opposite, oppo means (the required meaning for the clue) a person allotted as a partner, opponent, etc; mate, friend, colleague.

      9a. Agreed, the clue does include returning.

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