Rookie Corner 486 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 486

A Puzzle by AgentB

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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.

AgentB has made a good debut for someone setting their first crossword.  Whilst there are rough edges, they can easily be addressed and there are some Rufusesque touches of humour in the clues.  The commentometer reads as 7/28 or 25%.


6a  Airborne transmitter (7,6)
CARRIER PIGEON: Cryptic definition of a means of avian communication.

8a  Hiding place found in doors (8)
BOLTHOLE: The answer is where a part of the locking mechanism of a door would be engaged.

9a  Fly from Abuja via Tenerife (6)
AVIATE: The answer is hidden (from) the final three words of the clue.

10a  Praise or prays, either way she does both (3)
NUN: A palindromic (either way) religious sister.

11a  Vaguely recalled being laid down (8)
CELLARED: An anagram (vaguely) of RECALLED.

13a  Suspended opening rites, youth leader’s keen (6)
HUNGRY: A four-letter word meaning suspended followed by the first letter (opening) of rites and the first letter (leader).  As well as reading as a sentence in its own right, the clue should give a grammatically correct set of instructions to the solver to reach the solution.  Here, you need opening of rites to indicate the first letter.

14a  Salchow begins then skater runs amok – naked! (7)
STREAKS: The initial letter (begins) of Salchow followed by an anagram (runs amok) of SKATER.  You should not have part of a clue (runs amok) that does double duty as part of the wordplay (as an anagram indicator) and part of the solution.  Another clue where the begins does not cryptically indicate that you take the first letter.

17a  How the monarchy functions normally (2,1,4)
AS A RULE: Double definition.  I am not convinced that the first part of the definition works.  The “how the monarchy functions” requires “as rulers” as the solution.

20a  Sweet little creature holding son (6)
MOUSSE: A five-letter wee timorous beastie includes (holding) the abbreviation for son.

21a  Cause an incident (8)
OCCASION: Double definition .

24a  Very quietly sneak around university’s small lab (3)
PUP: The musical abbreviation for very quietly around the abbreviation for university.  Sneak does not work in the context of a containment indicator.  Going around would be better.  As lab is a definition by example, this should be indicated.

25a  Awful gas made without innermost expressions (6)
ADAGES: An anagram (awful) of GASMADE without the innermost letter.  Another case where the cryptic reading of the clue does not work as the is no context for innermost.

26a  Bottled by Loire pro, achingly slight (8)
REPROACH: The answer is hidden (bottled by) the third to fifth words of the clue.

27a  From Cain, it is a dreadful set of consequences (13)
RAMIFICATIONS: An anagram (dreadful) of FROM CAIN IT IS A.


1d  Tough, dry, initially acidic Limoux (6)
BRUTAL: A four-letter word meaning dry followed by the initial letters of the final two words of the clue.

2d  Number uttered for strength (6)
VIGOUR: A homophone (uttered) of figure (number).  The homophone does not work as the F is not sounded as a V.

3d  Dine out in priest’s company (7)
FRIENDS: An anagram (out) of DINE inside the two-letter abbreviation for father (priest) with the ‘s from priest’s preserved at the end.

4d  Nasty pain and rash when they bite? (8)
PIRANHAS: An anagram (nasty) of PAIN RASH.

5d  This setter perhaps, hidden following plea (8)
BEGINNER: A five-letter word meaning hidden after (following) a three-letter word mean plea.  I am not sure that plea and beg synonymous.  Plea is usually a noun and beg is a verb.  Whilst plea can be used as a verb, it is in the sense of to dispute in a lawcourt, which is not the same as to beg.

6d  A la carte anagrams might be prepared this way? (6,2,5)
COOKED TO ORDER: Double definition, the second part cryptic.

7d  Eco-warriors? (7,6)
NATURAL FORCES: Cryptic definition suggesting those who fight for nature, but having a different meaning in the solution.

12d  Could be used to bake a turnover (3)
AGA: The answer is a palindrome (a turnover).  Not sure that a turnover is sufficient to indicate that the solution is a palindrome.  Perhaps, either way, it could be used to bake.

15d  Simple occupation leads to effortless win (4,4)
EASY GAME: A four-letter word meaning simple followed by a four-letter word for an occupation.

16d  Guard castle’s central parapet, rifle arsenal (4,4)
KEEP SAFE: A four-letter word for a castle followed by the central letters of the final three words of the clue.  Another clue where central on its own does not indicate the central letters. 

18d  Express surprise to 19 stalwarts (3)
AHA: Double definition.  The second part of the definition does not work as the band in question has a hyphen in the name.

19d  Go off and list a musical genre (3-4)
POP-ROCK: A three-letter word meaning go off followed by a four-letter word meaning list.  I am not sure that list and rock are entirely synonymous.  To list means to cause to lean to one side.  To rock means to rock to an fro.

22d  Novelist engaged in esoterica, potentially (6)
CAPOTE: The answer is hidden (engaged) in the final two words of the clue.

23d  Precisely position the cricket side (4,2)
SPOT ON: A four-letter word meaning position followed by a two-letter word for a cricket side.

29 comments on “Rookie Corner 486
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  1. We started slowly but picked up momentum once we had a few checkers and generally enjoyed the solve.
    Saw a few technical inconsistencies but will leave these for others to point out.
    Thanks AgentB.

  2. Thanks AgentB – a pleasantly enjoyable end to my Sunday evening cruciverbalism.

    A sprinkling of observations:

    For me, others may be OK with it, it wasn’t immediately obvious that ‘initially’ in 1d applied to acidic and Limoux.

    I cannot immediately think of any examples where Eff is used to give a Vee sound as in the 2d homophone.

    I cannot find any support for game and occupation being synonymous in 15d.

    But, 6a, 17a, 24a, and 23d did get smiles.

    Thanks again and thanks in advance to Prolixic.

    1. Welcome Agent B. As 2Kiwis said, quite a few relatively minor technical issues for Prolixic – none that really got in the way of the solve (except 2d), but I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your sense of humour and succinct style very much. So, listen to the advice and come back stronger!

    2. There are a handful of English words where the f at the end of the word is sounded as a v, “of”, “whereof”, “thereof”, “hereof”, etc. In Welsh, the “f” is pronounced as a “v”. I don’t think that the homophone works in the context of 2d though.

        1. I assume that the setter is relying on the fact that, in certain circumstances, F can be pronounced as V and then extrapolating it to make figure (number) become vigour (strength). Good idea – not sure if it works!

    3. S. The BRB does list the following (amonst others) for “game”: business [or occupation], activity, operation. As in: Be patient with the check-out girl – she’s new to this game/occupation.

  3. Welcome to Rookie Corner, AgentB.

    I thought this was a promising first puzzle, although a few of the surface readings did seem strained (25a and 2d were probably the worst offenders). I also felt that the indefinite articles in both 21a and 19d were superfluous. 24a really needs an apostrophe, as a minimum, as “lab” is a definition by example and in the same clue you would need “sneak” to become “sneaking” for the cryptic grammar to work. In 13a and 14a, I can see how you wanted the initial letter indicators to function, but once again they don’t work for me as written. I would have preferred “expression of surprise” in 18d.

    I did like the four palindromic three-letter solutions, although 12d seemed a “nearly but not quite” clue. My favourite was 4d.

    Many thanks, AgentB, I hope you’ll return with an even better puzzle next time.

  4. Good fun (except for 2d which had me sucking my teeth) – thanks AgentB.
    I liked 6a, 20a and 5d.
    I hope we get more puzzles from you.

  5. Welcome to Rookie Corner, AgentB, with what I thought was a creditable debut. There were some rough edges but overall I enjoyed the solve.

    A selection of minor comments from me:
    – Some of your surfaces read strangely, but this is often the last element for Rookie setters to master
    – The surface of 8a could have been be improved by using “indoors” together with a “lift and separate” indicator, perhaps “… found indoors separately”?
    – “Runs amok” appears to be doing double duty in 14a both as an anagram indicator and part of the definition.
    – I’m not convinced that 17a quite works.
    – I’m not sure if “innermost” in 25a can apply to the central letter of two words.
    – I struggled with what for me was a non-homophone in 2d.
    – In 18d, the group’s name is A-ha so a double definition doesn’t work as the enumeration (3) only applies to “express surprise”. You could have got round this by changing the clue to wordplay – definition. e.g. “We hear 19 stalwarts express surprise”.
    – For me, “list” in 19d is not a synonym of the second word of the answer.

    There was a lot to like here with 6a, 5d & 7d my top picks.

    Please pay heed to all the comments, particularly those from Prolixic and hurry back with more puzzles. Well done and thank you, AgentB.

  6. Welcome to the Corner, Agent B. As others have already commented, there are several ‘nearly but not quite’ entries in this one but you do seem to have some good ideas. My particular favourite was 11a.
    Pay careful heed to the words of wisdom from Prolixic and our other experts and I look forward to seeing your next compilation.

  7. Hi everyone,

    I thought I’d wait until the review and all the comments are up before writing something pertinent, but before that I just wanted to say a quick thank you to 2Kiwis, Senf, Dr Diva, Silvanus, Jose, Gazza, Crypticsue, Prolixic, Rabbit Dave and Jane for taking the time to have a go at my puzzle and write a comment with your thoughts – it it much appreciated! If anybody else is reading this then please do comment with your thoughts.

    A little background: My mother loved the Telegraph crossword and I started to learn the art of solving cryptics with her as a child. I have a real fondness for atrocious puns and witty wordplay. I rarely have difficulty with any DT backpager but cannot get on with other newspapers, most Toughies, and to be honest many of the puzzles here too – I’ll keep trying of course. I recently rediscovered this blog with its friendly residents and superb resources, so was inspired to have a crack at setting – it was such a lot of fun! So I am pleased and relieved that most of you seem to have had some fun solving it. I doubt I’d ever set a truly evil crossword – what you can expect from me is what I call a “grin ‘n’ groan grid” 😁😁 There are plenty more terrible puns where these came from so I am sure I will be back once I’ve deliberated, digested and conjugated… or whatever it was Loyd Grossman used to say!

  8. Great to read you’ll be back with more AgentB as we really enjoyed this puzzle. The homophone didn’t quite work for us but we had lots of favourites, 6a, 13a, 14a 6d to name but a few. Thank you, AgentB and in advance, Prolixic.

  9. I thought this was a jolly good first attempt. Well done. 2d aside I enjoyed it & like Jane 11a was my fav. I did spot a few of the technical errors highlighted by the experts but am sure you’ll take those on board & look forward to your next one. Good to see you passing comment on the back-pagers too

  10. Welcome and congratulations on your debut, Agent B. I too cut my teeth, as it were, on the Telegraph crossword many years ago before progressing through other papers and now usually get the Indy and FT online plus the Indy reprint in the i (which I’ve forgotten in the meantime). But enough of me; this was challenging in places and in fact 2 down, 8 and 11 across defeated me. There’s no need to repeat Prolixic’s comments so I’ll just pick out a few of my favourites (even if the clues could do with a little polishing) – 14 and 20 across; 1, 4, 16 and 22 down. Hope to see you again soon.

  11. Thank you Prolixic for your in-depth review and taking so much time with your advice, I really appreciate it. And thank you to Hilton & Huntsman (I’m sure that’s a pub!) and Exit, for your comments 👍👍

    Just a few thoughts on the actual puzzle, and to be clear this is in no way defensive, I’m simply really interested in how all this works! Like any newbie I have a ton of questions 😁 I deliberately didn’t touch most clues after writing, preferring to hear expert opinion rather than overthink, overcomplicate, and ruin the fun.

    Generally, I can see that with cryptic crosswords one person’s grape juice is another’s gripe water. Toeing that line must be very difficult. Likewise the nuances of where a clue sits between acceptable/solvable and grammatically perfect on all three levels? I’m sure I will repeat many of the same mistakes in order to learn these things. What really does help a LOT is when comments include a “this is what good looks like” example from the solver’s viewpoint.

    Some musings:

    2d. The universal disdain for this really  made me laugh 😅 Learning cryptic as a kid, I hated homophones; the very sight of “we hear” on the back page had me running for the hills! I will need to learn the roaps.

    18d. I knew about the hyphen, I thought about it but determined “oh surely nobody will be thaaat pedantic” 🤣🤣

    12d. Prolixic’s suggestion was actually my initial clue, verbatim. I was pleased with my bakery product pun as I thought the first attempt unadventurous and too obvious. Is it wrong to go for the joke? Nuances again.

    14a. Likewise, is “double duty” really so unacceptable? I was pleased with the layered joke and it shortened the clue. Verbose clues are my bugbear! I’m sure I’ve come across this sort of thing on back pages but can’t remember anything specific 🤓

    5d, 19d. Point taken with synonyms, I don’t have a BRB (yet!) and my full Collins is AWOL so had been using Google/Collins/Mirriam online for synonyms. I will be more careful with this. However on the NTSPP and Toughies (I printed out a stack) I sometimes see the most outrageously vague and obscure synonyms which I find impenetrable; I didn’t think these two seemed that bad. Where does the line sit and to what point can it be blurred to make a solve more entertaining?

    15d. This was a pure bung to finish the grid and was my least favourite clue. I suspect this is a colloquialism where I grew up as you’d often hear “oh you’re in retail, that’s an easy game” etc. But I wasn’t happy with it and appreciate the feedback 👍

    16d. I struggled here with a word that would work. What would’ve been best in place of ‘central’? Or a restructuring perhaps?

    25a. Serves me right for trying to introduce gaseous vulgarity 🤣

    (Oh, apologies for emoji overuse if anybody hates them, long-term unbreakable habit)

    1. Well done on putting a puzzle together, AgentB. Like you, I also find issues with clues easier to understand when accompanied by examples of similar clues that are acceptable.

      I’ll respond to a couple of your questions above, and hope that others wiser than I can help you with the rest.

      With “double duty”, I think the problem is overlapping duty, where there’s a bit that that’s just-definition, a bit that’s just wordplay, and a bit which overlaps both. The ones you’ve encountered on back pages probably had the definition being the whole clue and the wordplay being just part of it (“semi-&lit” in the jargon), which is different. If you’re going to do double duty, the entire wordplay needs to do double duty.

      With synonyms, the key is that the words have to actually be capable of substituting for each other: there could be a sentence where, without changing any of the other words, you could replace the definition with the solution and it would mean the same thing. Not just something along similar lines; nor meaning the same if you also make minor edits to the rest of the sentence.

      Obscure synonyms are still synonyms (and in dictionaries) — just ones that many solvers might not know, or might not know that meaning of.

      Vague synonyms are still synonyms. And it’s fine for the answer to be a more specific instance of the definition. So “State” could be a definition for, say, Florida (a US state), Ireland (a nation state), country (another word for a nation state), or solid (a state of matter). Undoubtedly vague, but also definitely correct that those things are states.

      But you couldn’t use “state” to clue “county”. Even though a state and a county are both subdivisions of countries, and states in one country may be equivalent of counties in another — and if you accidentally use the wrong term, somebody would often know what you mean — the point is that a county is not a state. “Along similar lines to” isn’t close enough (unless you manage to get something indicating ‘analogous to’ or ‘local equivalent of’ into your wordplay).

      The best way of getting tips on how to entertain with definitions is just to solve more, and analyse the definitions that entertain you the most: verify that they are indeed fair as a definition, then look at what the setter did to make it look like something else. Dave Gorman has said he tries to write definitions before he comes up with the wordplay, and his puzzles often have some splendid definitions in them.

      Hope that helps, and you come up with another puzzle soon.

    2. AgentB. Further to Smylers comments, I have a couple:

      1. There is much subjectivity regarding technicalities in the structure of cryptic clues. With most Rookie puzzles, there are usually 2 or 3 (or more) “experts” (and most of them are, to be fair) who all comment about the same technical error/s in certain clues. But in the review, Prolixic often doesn’t agree with some/all of them and explains the parsing without italics – meaning that they are fine/valid/error-free. So, who is right?

      2. The definition of “synonym” in the BRB is: A word having the same meaning as another word in the same language (usually very nearly the same meaning). Therefore, a synonym can be a definition and a synonym with very nearly the same meaning would probably pass for a definition in a cryptic clue (in most cases). But not all listed synonyms (in a thesaurus for example) for a word could be used as a definition – not by a long chalk. The BRB is the “bible” for DT puzzles because it contains more listed words than any other single-volume dictionary and is considered the best reference for crossword solving. But, there isn’t enough room in the BRB to list every single-word definition/exact or nearly exact synonym, and there never will be. In 15d, the BRB doesn’t list occupation under “game”. But is does list business. And business is a definition of occupation – so it is eminently reasonable to extrapolate that game = busines = occupation (and there’s no A=B, etc. nonsense here, folks!). Therefore, if it isn’t listed as a definition in the BRB it does not necessarily mean it’s invalid.

  12. I enjoyed this, even managed the anagrams without help.

    My critical abilities are limited to “Hmmm, not sure that quite works ……”, but I had the answer, anyway.

    So, thank you, AgentB. I look forward to the next one.

    1. You’ve used a different alias from those you’ve previously so this required moderation. All the aliases you’ve used should work in future.

  13. I have enjoyed solving this puzzle. Favourite clue for me was 1a, followed by 7d. I liked the hidden clue 22d. 5d made me chuckle! I’m afraid I did not get the 2d homophone.
    All in all, I thought this was an excellent first attempt. Congratulations and very well done, AgentB. If you follow Prolixic’s sage advice, I believe you will progress well. I look forward to your next puzzle with interest.
    Many appreciative thanks to Prolixic for the excellent review.

    Prolixic, I have much enjoyed reading about our bloggers. This Rookie Corner was a brilliant inception and something of which Big Dave’s Blog may be justifiably proud. I, for one, would love to see a ‘who’s who’ of our Rookie Corner graduates who are now established setters…

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback Catnap! I’m glad you enjoyed it. There weren’t as many pleas for me to be hidden as I expected 😅

      My second and third grids are complete but the clues will go through several rounds of fresh-eyes inspection and polishing (probably still emerging tarnished!), based on all everybody’s helpful comments. I’m pleased to say there are a few more dodgy puns and almost certainly no dodgy homophones 😁

      I fully agree the Rookie Corner is a fantastic resource. Prolixic and others must put in so much of their own time to help the newbies and also entertain and teach us all – it is really appreciated 👍

      1. That sounds excellent AgentB. All the best for your ‘fresh-eyes inspection and polishing’, and I hope you find it rewarding.

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