Rookie Corner 434 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 434

A Puzzle by Sheepish

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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 Silvanus follows:

Once again, I’m deputising for Prolixic, many condolences to him and his family on their recent loss.

Welcome to Sheepish, who has produced one of the more tricky puzzles to be found in Rookie Corner in recent memory. Although there was much invention on display, in many cases I felt the clues were unnecessarily over-complicated and wordy, 9a and 18a being prime examples of this. I counted eight full or partial anagrams which, in a twenty-eight clue grid, is probably two too many.

I also felt that there was far too much General Knowledge that the solver was expected to know, in some cases it was extremely niche/obscure GK (I’m looking at you particularly, 16d and 22d!).


1a Cycled through wood on a curved path (5)
ARCED The wood of a large evergreen conifer is “cycled”, i.e. its last two letters being moved to the front.
I don’t think “cycled through” tells the solver to move the position of the letters in the same way that just “cycled” or “cycling” would.

4a Release collection of Norse poetry, drawing outsiders to heart to see words of rage (4,4)
DROP DEAD A synonym for “release” followed by the name for two Scandinavian books of verse, with their outside letters moving to the centre.
Although the “Norse poetry” does crop up in crosswords from time to time, it’s somewhat obscure GK.

9a Porter perhaps harbours exhausted Nazis and controversial director, quietly giving soldiers the slip to get to old city (14)
CONSTANTINOPLE The first name of this American songwriter outside the outer letters of “Nazis” and the director of “Pulp Fiction”, amongst others, plus the abbreviation for “quietly”, with the director losing RA (“giving soldiers the slip”) from his name.
Phew. This reads more like the plot of a Hollywood movie than a crossword clue. Prolixic would no doubt call it an “otter” clue, one which the setter has allowed to get out of control, and it contained several GK elements. Eighteen-word clues are not my cup of tea at all, I think this one ought to have been substantially pruned back or, most probably, re-written.

10a Can calculate true mean with variance (8)
NUMERATE An anagram (“with variance”) of TRUE MEAN.

11a Unpaid runners retain record and get about fastest speed possible, showing great fibre (6)
ALPACA The abbreviation for the Amateur Athletics Association goes outside an abbreviation for a long-playing record and then goes outside the symbol for the speed of light, as in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
The cryptic grammar here requires “retaining” and getting” as the verbs. “Great” is essentially padding for the surface.

12a I bet lunch could be cause of going up a dress size or two (2,3,4)
IN THE CLUB An anagram (“could be”) of I BET LUNCH and a cryptic way of describing the colloquial definition.
I think a question mark at the end of the clue would not have gone amiss.

15a Essential ingredient of pesto’s detained by security – can’t make the sauce without it (5)
BASIL The middle letter (“essentially”) of PESTO inside a synonym for “security”, in a legal sense.

17a No amount of land can cover charitable Londoners (5)
NACRE A supposed abbreviation for “no” (not supported by Chambers or Collins) plus a measurement of land area.
Once again, I think the clue deserves a question mark at the end, as “charitable Londoners” is a somewhat cryptic definition of Pearly Kings and Queens. I’m not a huge fan of verbal phrases like this one used to clue nouns.

18a Having exhausted Midlands town’s Dutch spirits, Romeo slipped into robe and got high (9)
OVERGROWN A Derbyshire town, probably most well-known for having Dennis Skinner as its MP for almost fifty years, minus the name of a Dutch distiller, with the letter R inserted into a lady’s dress.
Presumably the setter felt that merely including a synonym for “over” made life too easy for solvers, so he decided to add extra layers of complexity by including rather obscure GK instead. A pity. I would have said Bolsover was not in the Midlands but the North, although I defer to any locals who’d argue otherwise. Wherever possible, verbs in wordplay and words linking wordplay to definitions should be in the present tense.

19a Fruit picker ignored British walker (6)
AMBLER The suggested name for someone who picks blackberries without the two-letter abbreviation for “British”.
As far as I can tell, the major dictionaries do not accept “brambler” as a bona fide word. As mentioned in the previous clue, “ignored” would be better as “ignores” or “ignoring”.

21a Poles grab beer and Pepsis regularly by the sea (8)
SKEGNESS S and N go outside a type of beer followed by the alternate letters of PEPSIS.
The cryptic grammar requires “grabbing” rather than “grab”, and I’d much prefer “somewhere by the sea” for the definition.

24a Recent malaria cases initially affected seven countries (7,7)
CENTRAL AMERICA An anagram (“affected”) of RECENT + MALARIA + the first letter of
I thought the definition to be somewhat vague.

25a Hardy fish at mouth of Seine swims west (8)
STALWART A synonym for “fish” (with nets) plus AT and the first letter of SEINE are reversed (“swims west”).

26a Stages brief series of lectures about principle of subsidiarity (5)
TIERS A reversal (“about”) of the annual BBC series of talks named after its first Director General without its final letter, plus the first letter (“principle”) of SUBSIDIARITY.
This is the third clue in a row to use a first-letter device, such repetition is best avoided. I wondered whether the setter meant to use “principal” here, which wouldn’t have made for a good surface, but “principle” (in the sense of “source” or “origin”) also works, I think.


1d Nicaea synods arranged Christian feast (9,3)
ASCENSION DAY An anagram (“arranged”) of NICAEA SYNODS.
Although not really an issue here, where the anagram indicator is placed in the middle of the clue, it can sometimes be uncertain as to which are the letters to be jumbled up, those preceding or those following.. “Christian feast Nicaea synods arranged” would get round that.

2d Cricket club hosts tight main tie fit for Hollywood (9)
CINEMATIC The abbreviation for “cricket club” goes outside an anagram (“tight”) of MAIN TIE.
Once again, the setter seems reluctant to use question marks, I think this is another instance where one would benefit the clue.

3d Hidden away, without keeping dry, overturned caution (5)
DETER A synonym for “hidden away”, removing its first three letters ( a synonym for “dry”, as in wines) reversed.

4d Renaissance man put on a Shakespeare work – started late and Henry had no presence (9)
DONATELLO A three-letter synonym for “put on” plus A and the title of one of the Bard’s plays minus its first letter (“started late”) and without the abbreviation for the Henry SI Unit.
Another rather convoluted clue, yet again “starting late” would be preferable to “started late” and “has” better than “had”.

5d Sample of rising antibodies indicates possible consequence of them being ineffective (4)
OBIT Answer is hidden in a reversal (“rising”) of ANTIBODIES.
Another good case for the neglected question mark after the definition, methinks.

6d Man, I hear you playing bugle – what a blast! (9)
DOODLEBUG A homophone of DUDE plus an anagram (“playing”) of BUGLE.
The definition is what the solution may have created rather than what it is/was, so it doesn’t work for me.

7d Craig’s other half’s a Bergman character (5)
AILSA The first half of the granite islet in the Firth of Clyde (a variety of tomato as well) is also the first name of the character played by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, preceded by the indefinite article.

9d Flaring lasts, spreading streaks across the sky (7,5)
FALLING STARS An anagram (“spreading”) of FLARING LASTS.
Answers on a postcard for what “flaring lasts” are, as I don’t know.

13d Primitive cheese beginning to mature, becoming Cashel Blue ultimately (9)
ELEMENTAL A type of Swiss cheese having its first M replaced by the final letters of Cashel Blue.

14d Weirdo’s face down in clutches of monster, no closer to rescue – could be toast (9)
BREAKFAST A synonym for “weirdo” having its first letter lowered (“face down”) inside a synonym for “monster” without its E (“no closer to rescue”).
Another clue that I think could have been less convoluted.

16d Result of software company being limited in function (9)
SCORELINE A Canadian software company, new to me, is inside a trigonometric function.

20d Crude David (5)
BRENT Double definition, a type oil and the surname of the character played by Ricky Gervais in “The Office”.
Two definitions by example, but neither indicated as such. Maybe “David, perhaps, is crude?” would have solved the issue.

22d Fell, losing money by the sound of it, in Belgium (5)
GHENT The name of a fell (unknown to me) in the Yorkshire Dales that’s missing its first two syllables which together are a homophone of a penny coin.
I was clearly not alone in struggling to parse this one, I was originally happy to follow Senf’s explanation until Jose came up trumps. As with 25a, I don’t like “in Belgium” as the definition and consider “somewhere in Belgium” far preferable.

23d Birds rise up leaving site of miracle (4)
CANA Some yellow caged birds minus an anagram (“up”) of RISE provide the location where Jesus is said to have turned water into wine.

49 comments on “Rookie Corner 434
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  1. Thanks Sheepish, quite enjoyable but a number of parsings for which I will await the opinions of the experts.

    Some convoluted clues that took a while to unscramble, surprisingly, 8a was not one of them.

    A couple of specifics:

    16d – I have heard of the software company but I was surprised to find out that it is still in business and I will be interested to find out how many others knew it ‘instantly.’

    22d – I think that you have mis-interpreted what you consider is the synonym of money that is removed from the synonym of fell. In short, the BRB has it as a Shakespearean term for a different meaning.

    Thanks again and thanks in advance to Prolixic.

    1. 16d I had a copy of ***** Draw … maybe 30 years ago? Astonished to find its still going! I thought this was a great clue, though – one of several gems in a mixed bag overall.

        1. Pen-y-Ghent losing Pen-y (or penny, by the sound of it) = Ghent. What more is required? Admittedly, there’s plenty of other fells in existence but the with wording of the clue that particular fell and the ensuing answer couldn’t really be anything else.

  2. Sorry Sheepish but I gave up after solving nine clues – all those wordy clues did nothing to encourage me to go further. The ones I did get were mostly anagrams. I didn’t bother to work out what the eighteen (!) words were on about in 8a as there aren’t that many fourteen-letter ancient cities starting with a C. When the penny finally dropped on 17a I did like that clue although it does require the solver to know what the solution actually is and who the charitable Londoners are.

    I would suggest you take careful note of the wise words of Silvanus, who will be providing this week’s Rookie review, and come back with something more solver-friendly next time

    1. 17a I think uses a ‘non-standard’ (i.e. ‘non-BRB’) abbreviation – that’s what threw me with that one, I thought the defintion (although arguably in wrong part of speech) was very clever indeed!

  3. Thanks Sheepish – a real mixed bag for me; plenty to enjoy, and plenty to work on e.g. several instances where the cryptic grammar isn’t quite right, and a few where I’m not sure of the parsing so could be genius or not! I’ll resist the temptation to go into too much detail (Silvanus’ review will no doubt provide plenty of advice – thanks in advance!) but just a couple of general observations.
    I love wordy/convoluted clues … but even for me, there was too much here. Individually, these were (generally, not exclusively) precise, often witty and/or clever – e.g. 4a, 15a, 4d, 14d (8a also precise but perhaps taking the word-count just that bit too far!) – I’d welcome a couple of these in a puzzle, even though they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but with so many long ‘uns it can be a little off-putting.
    At the other extreme we had 20d – a potentially lovely clue, but “David” doesn’t really give enough by way of definition (even taking the whole clue as definition, which I think is the intention … but there’s certainly a super clue to be had there), needs e.g. “Office boss..”. A few others seemed similarly “imprecise”, and compared to the wordiness, but precision, of other clues these seemed like a completely different setter.
    And some very good clues too – my favourites were 24a, 25a, 2d, 7d, 16d (despite the perhaps obscure reference), and 23d.
    Thanks again Sheepish, I thought despite the rough edges this debut displayed lots of interesting ideas and clever references – do pay good heed to Silvanus’ wise words, and I look forward to your next!

  4. Thanks all for your feedback – one of the things I was most uncertain about was the extent to which *my* general knowledge overlaps with the average solver’s (e.g. 16d).

  5. I agree completely with CS except that I threw the towel in after only eight answers.

    Sorry Sheepish, this was not for me, but well done on actually compiling a cryptic puzzle – something which is well beyond my capabilities.

    I suspect Silvanus is going to be kept busy when compiling his review. Thanks in advance to him.

  6. I enjoyed the struggle, and a struggle it was – thanks Sheepish.
    There are still two clues I can’t parse and some of the references needed a fair amount of thought (e.g. 17a, 26a, 7d, 20d). I did remember the software company.
    My ticks went to 18a, 25a and 13d.
    I’m looking forward to your next puzzle, Sheepish – perhaps you could make it a bit more user-friendly.

  7. To focus on the positive… Well done on putting together a complete crossword, Sheepish, which as Rabbit Dave implies, is much harder to achieve than many people realise.

    As others have said, the main problem here is the wordiness, which is a bit off-putting for solvers. Obviously when we’re publishing online, we don’t have the same space constraints as newspapers, but solvers tend to prefer snappier clues anyway – and I do think your best clues are the more succinct ones, eg 10a, which was excellent.

    By a quick reckoning, you’re averaging over 9 words per clue. For my own crosswords, I try to aim for an average of 6-7 words, with a maximum of 12 words for a single clue (unless I think it really merits being longer than that, which is very rare). This is my personal approach – other setters/editors may have different rules, but I hope that’s helpful for you. Try to look for simpler wordplay – clues like 8a suffer from being over-elaborate, which makes them a bit of a chore to unravel.

    I look forward to reading Silvanus’s review, for which thanks in advance.

  8. My heart often sinks when I see over-wordy clues in the Rookie Corner, as you have to be accomplished to pull them off… so it often ends up as a case of attempting to run before you can walk.
    For example 4a, a relatively easy word to clue I would have thought without the convoluted wordplay you employed. Also, some were just not precise enough, 20d being a prime example. Having said that I could see there were a quite a few clever and witty clues in there, and of the ones I got and fully understood I particularly liked 12,15&21a plus 6d.
    Simpler and briefer next time please Sheepish but well done, you clearly have some good ideas. Thanks for the challenge and thanks in advance to Silvanus

  9. Welcome Sheepish!
    There are several clues I failed to parse here, with, I have to admit, the wordiness increasingly becoming a block to trying too hard in the end. Like Fez, I am up for the odd wordy offering, but it was a bit overwhelming. However, I can see enough to identify a wicked sense of humour (5d for example, although I’m not sure the clue overall will be without comment). I thought your anagrams were excellent (10a, 24a, 2d especially) and as a debut, while not perfect, there really is plenty of cleverness and wit to admire. I will look forward to a more succinct follow up!

  10. Sorry, Sheepish, but I’m in the ‘not for me’ camp. I found this far too wordy and peppered with some overly complicated clues for relatively simple words.
    Nevertheless, thank you for putting the puzzle together for us. I await the comments from Silvanus with interest and I don’t envy him his task!

  11. We really enjoyed the challenge but we did struggle after a while and we have several answers which we cannot parse so we await the review tomorrow. We didn’t know the company in 16d. The length of the clues didn’t deter us. Many thanks, Sheepish – and Silvanus tomorrow.

  12. Thanks for all the comments, I do value them. The big surprise for me was that I half expected that people would say several of the clues were too obvious. I now realise “I quickly spotted a way to clue X” is not equal to “It’s an easy clue to solve”

    This is a substantial rewrite (I replaced seven of the answers and changed a lot of the cluing for the others) of a puzzle I wrote on last year and this is less convoluted than that first version, so I am at least heading in the right direction, even if there’s a long way to go!

  13. Hello Sheepish – as has been said, one or two Mary Shelley clues is fine, but there are way too many to hold interest in this puzzle
    There were quite a few dated references too, which left the puzzle unfinished and me a bit bewildered
    Well done for putting the puzzle together and thanks for the challenge

  14. Hi Sheepish. First of all, thank you for the puzzle, for spending what was clearly a lot of time putting together a full and challenging grid. I may be able to solve crosswords, but I know I sure as heck couldn’t set one. Muchos kudos to those who can!

    There were some gems among the clues, but in the end I quit with two to go (17d – I can’t make any word make sense of a clue that I just don’t understand; 23d – I’m lost, no idea, too many words would fit the gaps, but the list is too long) and I look forward to the review.

    General comment: far too many excessively long clues. Answers for such as 8a, 11a, 15a, 18a, 14d I bunged-in and just couldn’t be bothered to fully parse, which doesn’t do justice to your creative efforts. Various others were shorter, but were also bung-ins because I found the clues somewhat unclear/vague.

    I felt that the synonym for beer in 21a was odd – it is a container of liquids; the fell in 22a is as obscure as it ghets – or would be if that prize hadn’t been won by the software company in 16d: truly specialised knowledge possessed only by the few. I smiled at 19a – I am such a fruit picker – but did wonder whether that is truly a term: it’s not in the BRB, for example.

    Once I had them I loved 20d and 3d, but I do wonder whether that’s a fair clue, having to deduce and remove a second synonym.

    I do look forward to your next puzzle, and fervently hope there are as many clues but about 25% fewer words in them!

    Many thanks once again, and in advance to Prolixix/Silvanus, whose review I shall read with keen interest.

    1. Surely that Yorkshire fell (or hill/mountain as I’d call it) is one of the most famous/well-known in the UK!

      1. Never heard of it, and from the name would have thought it in Wales, probably the south. To presume that every hillock and mound across the country is well known is expecting rather much in my view!

        1. It is well-known, MG – one of the famous Three Peaks in Yorkshire – partly because it sounds as though it should be in Wales (the name comes fron the old Cumbric language). Generally, I’d say it’s more well-known than Bodmin Moor or Solsbury Hill but not quite so famous as Glastonbury Tor!

          1. I think that must depend on where one lives or originates from, Jose, and am relieved it was also unknown to Silvanus. Dales, yes, but I’d never heard of Yorkshire having three peaks, let alone any famous Three Peaks! I’m in the far south west and so individual tors on Bodmin Moor & Dartmoor are familiar to me, as individual fells in the Yorkshire Dales may be familiar to those who live in, or have holidayed in, the North / North East.

            Despite fell-walking holidays in and around the Lakes I’ve never yet had cause to venture east and learn the slopes and fells of the white rose county (on which God learnt his craft before making Cornwall …. !)

            1. Within the right circles it is perhaps well known. I have lived in ( East and North) Yorkshire most of my life and haven’t heard of it despite being a keen walker. And that is the problem, isn’t it? It requires the GK without which an admittedly clever clue becomes meaningless.

      2. I have a simple rule when setting: don’t try to second-guess the general knowledge of the solver.

        As a solver, I rarely complain about general knowledge being obscure. After all, what’s obscure to me is well known to others. I’ve certainly heard of Pen-y-Ghent and I think I would be happy to include it in a grid as a solution, but I would be inclined to give it a clue towards the easier end of the spectrum.

        However, the real problem with 22d is not the general knowledge required but how the name of the hill fits into the clue overall, viz:

        Think of the name of a hill, then subtract the part of its name that is a homophone for a word that could loosely be defined as “money”, and what you’re left with is something that might loosely be defined by “in Belgium”.


      3. Guess a fell! Well known by whom, those who have walked up it at least 50 times? I’ll take guess a girl every day!

        Try this – Former RAF airfield (7,6)

    2. There is a verb: brambling – to pick blackberries. So, even if only by inference to suit a cryptic clue, “brambler” sounds OK to me.

    3. I have to confess 17d was a replacement for a different word when I discovered the way I’d clued it wasn’t valid from Prolixic’s comments on a Rookie corner blog from a while ago. I made the mistake of switching to a different, more obscure word, rather than trying to get a better clue for the original one.

      I’m not a beer drinker, but had checked in Chambers, which confirmed my belief that keg can be a type of beer as well as the container, but that doesn’t excuse it being an obscure reference. The feedback is certainly convincing me my next attempt needs to stick to a narrower vocab in cluing.

      1. Agreed that ‘keg’ is a type of beer – fizzy, bland, kept in metal kegs and served chilled. Anathema to connoisseurs of real ale, which many crossword solvers are.

  15. Commenting – as usual – without reading the other comments so the points here have probably been raised already.
    Anyway, there were some brilliant clues and I particularly liked 10ac and 15ac, both of which had something of ‘clue-as-definition’ character about them. There were also some clues which required some thinking about to see how they worked; for instance 23dn where I guessed the answer (the miracle site) at the outset but only saw how the clue worked when I’d almost finished.
    On the other hand, I thought there were far too many ‘War & Peace’ – i.e. over-long – clues. I solve on paper and before printing I re-format so that most, if not all, clues take up just one line of text and for most crosswords only one or two clues take up more than one line. Here there were eight! The worst offender was 8ac – which I solved but still can’t quite see how it all fits together.
    And a minor point: homophone clues frequently generate comments about pronunciation; I tend to be rather relaxed about this but I don’t think the homophone in 6dn really works.
    All in all I liked this and will look forward to your next puzzle, particularly if the clues are more concise.

  16. Many thanks for thorough review Silvanus – lots of really helpful advice, looking forward to seeing the benefits in the next Sheepish. I agree this was GK-heavy – but is the “fell” really any more or less obscure than the Bergman character, say? Although it defeated me (until Jose came to the rescue) I don’t think it’s at all unfair, just difficult. The Dutch alcohol was the other one that I couldn’t figure out. Yes they’re very difficult, but I’d think any of this GK would be fair game for a Friday Toughie (the Norse poetry perhaps even a bit of a staple?)

  17. Hi Sheepish
    Further to Silvanus’ excellent and (IMO) very fair review, it might be worth reflecting on something someone told me and that I have been trying to live up to ever since. “The objective of the setter must always be to engage in a battle with the solver that he sets out to lose gracefully.” No matter how clever clues are (and there was ample evidence of cleverness here), they must be willing to surrender their answers. I would suggest your next puzzle is much more succinct and much more mindful of the solver. Once the right balance has been established and the grammar issues resolved, you can introduce a bit more of the “devil” that clearly lurks within! I shall look forward to your next one.

  18. I’m afraid this was way beyond my abilities, Sheepish. I did give it a good try but gave up in the end with only eight clues solved. I found it too wordy and did not have the necessary GK.
    Nonetheless, very well done for putting together this crossword, Sheepish, even though it has flaws. Sylvanus has provided an excellent critique which you should find worth its weight in gold. Do try to follow his advice and come back soon with a crossword in which the clues are far less convoluted. Something altogether easier would be very acceptable!

  19. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it just may be a duck.
    This puzzle from Sheepish looks nothing like any regular cryptic crossword puzzle. Few of the clues here bear any resemblance to the clues we see every day. Those puzzles in Rookie Corner that get the most favourable comments are the ones that could be used as a regular back pager. I think Sheepish needs to make his next puzzle walk, look and sound more like the proverbial duck. Thanks to Sheepish for the trouble taken and to Silvanus for the comprehensive analysis

  20. Many thanks for an excellent and comprehensive review, Silvanus, I do hope Sheepish appreciates your efforts to steer him in a better direction and carefully considers your comments when compiling his next puzzle.
    Thanks again to Sheepish – your debut could not have landed in a safer pair of hands!

  21. Thank you Silvanus for your review and wise comments and congratulations Sheepish for putting together such a stretching puzzle with a number of excellent clues.

    I do very much echo Dr Diva’s comments above. My limited experience of compiling and reading reviews here has certainly made me realise that providing enjoyment for the solver needs to be the number one objective of any compiler.

    I confess I did wait for Silvanus’s review to see the solutions. I looked at this on Sunday evening and I’m afraid I was so put off by the wordiness of the clues that I decided not to enter the fray. The standard shown by the compilers we regularly see published in our newspapers shows that one rarely sees a clue with a word count of 10 or more. I think that allows the solvers to have the satisfaction of penny drop moments rather than having to fight their way through lengthy clues and reaching an answer with only a feeling of “phew I’m glad that’s over.”

    Might I also suggest, having now seen the solutions, that whilst the need for wide general knowledge does regularly crop up in puzzles, we usually see this limited to just one or perhaps two clues per puzzle. Furthermore, if the general knowledge is obscure, then the word play is often designed to more readily lead to the solution.

    Thank you Sheepish. I look forward to trying your next effort.

  22. Thank you Sheepish and Silvanus, I got through this OK, though I didn’t get the Dutch liquor company so although I had the right answer in the grid, I hadn’t got it parsed.

    In 4d, the spelling of the ‘Shakespearean character’ is actually that of the title character of the Verdi opera based on the play, so that could perhaps have been clued in a less wordy manner..

  23. Apologies for only only being able to reply so late – today was unexpectedly hectic. Thanks to Silvanus and all who have commented.

    I wasn’t trying to be convoluted or obscure, but clearly misjudged the level of difficulty in many of the clues, and that some of my “general” knowledge wasn’t so general.

    I get the message – next attempt has to be simpler, clearer and with well known references!

    Thanks again

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