Rookie Corner 490 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 490

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.

There was a lot to enjoy in this crossword, but in places AgentB has been overambitious in the cluing 4.5/27 or 16.7% and from the comments, to obscure with some of the clues.  Looking at the comments, the grid filling process seems to have produced a number of solutions that are not in the main dictionaries.  This should be avoided.


1a  Miss a crime, an awfully irritated comment will appear on Big Dave’s blog! (12)
AMERICANISMS: An anagram (awfully) of MISS A CRIME AN.  Whilst tongue in cheek, the definition does not lead you to the solution.

10a  Permits a loud Fiesta, perhaps with joyous finalé (7)
AFFORDS: The A from the clue followed by the musical abbreviation for loud, the car maker who produces the Fiesta and the final letter of joyous.  Whilst Fiesta has been correctly capitalized, it looks out of place in the surface reading. 

11a  Vocal Conservative, an example might come from May (7)
TAUREAN: A homophone (vocal) of Tory (Conservative) followed by the AN from the clue.

12a  Relax on one’s support, tweeting initially (5)
ROOST: The initial letters of the first five words of the clue.

13a  Ben comes back with half the organic wine (8)
NEBBIOLO: Reverse (comes back) the BEN from the clue and follow with half of the word biological (organic).  Grammatically in cryptic reading of the clue you need “half of”.

15a  Crudely get piece in without altering DNA (10)
EPIGENETIC: An anagram (crudely) of GET PIECE IN.  I am never a great fan of using anagrams for more obscure words.

16a  Key worker’s first gripe (4)
BEEF: A musical key preceded by a flying worker insect.

18a  See 14d (4)

20a  Send not to know for whom he does his work! (4,6)
BELL TOLLER: Cryptic definition by reference to the John Donne’s poem “No man is an island”.  This one has grown on me.  Whilst the poem is well known, it is often misquoted following Kennedy’s speech that used the phrase “Do not ask for whom…” which might make is more obscure for the solver but I think it is right to use the original wording.

22a  Mineral which is reportedly sugar-free in 1a? (8)
SODALITE: Whimsical definition of how an American might describe a sugar-fee mineral.  I think that this might have been better if it were “Mineral drink which is reportedly…”

24a  Chic Mayfair café – calm barista finishes top of espresso (5)
CREMA: The last letter (finishes) of the first five words of the clue.

26a  Rescue or resupply if trail sabotaged (7)
AIRLIFT: An anagram (sabotaged) of IF TRAIL.

27a  Landing a couple of runs, four before a half-century… (7)
ARRIVAL: The A from the clue followed by the abbreviation for runs twice, the Roman numeral for four, the A from the clue and the Roman numeral for fifty (half-century).

28a  …break, leg point boundary’s fair (3,4,5)
ONE FOUR SEVEN: A two-letter word for leg in cricket, the number of runs you might get for a boundary with the ‘s from boundary’s maintained in the solution and a four-letter word meaning fair.


2d  Italian has change of heart, one’s upset some gangsters (7)
MAFIOSI: A five-letter Italian name with the middle letter changed followed by a reversal (upset) of i’s (one’s).

3d  Finds artist on Rhode Island and draws (8)
RARITIES: The abbreviations for Royal Academician (artist) and Rhode Island followed by a four-letter word meaning draws.

4d  House of 2d maybe, foremost of Calabrian and Sicilian ancestry (4)
CASA: The initial letters (foremost) of the first four words of the clue.

5d  Been ill, got injured, it’s impossible to read (3,7)
NOT LEGIBLE: An anagram (injured) of BEEN ILL GOT.  Avoid using phrases that do not have independent dictionary entries.

6d  Bisque runs short and goes off – one might have a pop (5)
SQUIB: An anagram (goes off) of BISQU (bisque without its final letter – runs short).

7d  Mozart’s first movement, andante? (4,3)
STEP ONE: Whimsical definition that fails on all levels.  Whilst Mozart was a child prodigy I suspect that even he crawled before he could walk and his first movement probably required his nappy to be changed!  The second part of the definition does not mean what the setter intended.

8d  A British race: 500 all out, unbeaten opener’s achievement (7,3,3)
CARRIED HIS BAT: An anagram (all out) of A BRITISH RACE D (five hundred).  Another case where this is a phrase that is not in the dictionaries.  Also, the definition requires a solution in the present tense but the solution is in the past tense.

9d  Awkward French one told to collect desk (13)
UNCOMFORTABLE: The French masculine singular for one followed by a homophone (told) of COME FOR (to collect) followed by a five-letter word for a table.

14d  &18a. Three day course in short-hand notation? (7-3)
SEVENTY-TWO HOUR: Cryptic definition by reference to the short hand of the clock.  This does not quite work for me.

17d  Agreement on drug to give retired flier (8)
CONCORDE: A seven-letter word for an agreement followed by the abbreviation for ecstasy.

19d  Experience a bit of sound ergonomics (7)
UNDERGO: The answer is hidden (a bit of) in the final two words of the clue.

21d  Parisian gallery holds Eastern work, they’d say (7)
L’OEUVRE: The name of a famous art gallery in Paris includes (holds) the abbreviation for Eastern.  Normally, apostrophes are omitted in the enumeration but this is not a hard and fast rule.  I think here with the use of a foreign word, it might have been better to include the apostrophe.

23d  Flower from Oslo, I recall (5)
LOIRE: The answer is hidden (from) in the final three words of the clue.

25d  Accountant and bishop could be two comedians? (4)
CARR: The abbreviations for Chartered Accountant and Right Reverend (Bishop).

37 comments on “Rookie Corner 490

  1. Hi everyone, a big warm thank you in advance for taking the time to have a stab at this little offering, and for sharing your thoughts to help a cheeky rookie along the way!

    A quick point re 7d, since getting to grips with my new BRB I see my (very specific) definition isn’t listed how I assumed it would be. There didn’t seem much point altering it now – learning curves and all that! So if you are stuck with 7d, Mr Google is your friend.

  2. We had to work very long and hard to get there, with quite a lot of Googling along the way but perseverance paid off in the end and we didn’t need to reveal any letters.
    Lots of clever wordplay and allusions and we’ll make special mention of 20a.
    Overall though, we feel that there were just a few too many obscure or unfamiliar references to suit us, and we suspect, the majority of solvers.
    Thanks AgentB.

  3. A very tough crossword where I wonder if some of the unknowns could have been more fairly clued. The left hand side is friendlier than the right, and we actually have a piece of 22a (many years ago, a young son no 1 picked it out from a selection of minerals in the Science Museum shop as he liked the “rude” name). There are a couple of solutions where I’m not sure how I got there (actually I am, I revealed letters!) so I look forward to Prolixic’s review with interest. Like the 2Ks, I did like 20a

    Thanks to AgentB – please come back with something more solver-friendly next time – and, in advance, to Prolixic

    1. I’ve been finding that gauging difficulty when doing these feels like one of the “great unknowns”. I think Dr Diva had a similar thing the other week. They look easier when you know the answers! Live and learn I suppose. Sorry everyone! 😬😟

  4. Pretty tricky but I did complete it with only having to reveal a single letter. There were some really good ideas on display here and I did enjoy the challenge – many thanks to AgentB.
    There were a couple of ‘very nearly but not quite’ clues I thought (1a and 8d where an achievement would be ‘carrying’ not ‘carried’).
    The clues I liked best were 11a, 16a, 20a, 28a and 9d (which made me laugh).
    More like this, with the difficulty turned down a notch, would be very welcome.

  5. Welcome back to Rookie Corner, AgentB. I am late getting round to this today and was surprised initially by the comments about the degree of difficulty as this started to come together smoothly. However, I ran into difficulty with my last few on the RHS. Nevertheless I enjoyed this a lot and there some very good ideas on show.

    I can’t parse 24a and, even with your comment at 1 above, I am bemused by 7d.

    A few comments:
    – Although I do like the sentiment, 1a appears to lack a definition.
    – In 11a, I don’t think you can use a non-word like “Toryan” as a homophone.
    – The definition for 28a is too imprecise. Perhaps it should be “maximum” break?
    – The answer to 5d is not a recognised phrase.
    – I don’t think 8d quite works.
    – I think that 21d should be enumerated (1’6).

    My favourite is a toss up between 1a & 9d.

    Very well done and thank you, AgentB, and please keep them coming. Thanks too in advance to Prolixic.

      1. Thanks Gazza. I see now. The answer is neither in the BRB nor in Collins, so I assumed that there must be a Café Crema in Mayfair making the wordplay “calm barista finishes top of espresso”. :oops:

        I have now found the definition in Wikipedia.

    1. Thanks Rabbit Dave for having a go and taking the time to share your thoughts! A lot of what you say I very much agree with – I wasn’t sure of several things and included some notes with my submission requesting advice in various places and it tallies with almost all of what you’ve said. Probably in some places I was trying to be too smart for my own good 🤦‍♂️

      – In 11a the ‘an’ comes from the clue, after the homophone – although from my first RC you’ll know I’m not great at homophones! I need to keep practising to get the hang of them.
      – 8d was one of a handful of clues I wrote a decade ago on a scrap of paper for fun. I was very into my cricket but realise now that not everybody can be expected to know obscure references like this!
      – 1a was really just to get a cheap laugh from all of you guys 😅

      1. Thanks very much for replying, AgentB. I missed that the homophone only represented the first two syllables of the answer to 11a. My comment is withdrawn!

        As a lifelong cricketer, 8d was not a problem for me. (As it happens I managed to do this last week!) My concern is the tense used in the answer. Perhaps the definition could have been tweaked to “unbeaten opener did this”.

        1a certainly got a laugh from me!

  6. Sorry AgentB, not for me and, unlike the 8d unbeaten opener, I retired hurt and I am relieved to read that CS had to use some letter reveals.

    Thanks anyway and thanks in advance to Prolixic.

  7. Hello again, AgentB.

    Like others, I found this tough as well and I felt that often the clues were either a little too ambitious (1a, particularly) or not especially solver -friendly. I therefore found it less of a pleasure and more of a slog as I went through the puzzle, which I never like saying, but it’s wrong to pretend otherwise.

    I would suggest avoiding having two lurkers (hiddens) in the space of three clues and also avoiding both an all first letters clue and an all last letters clue in the same puzzle.

    Thank you, Agent B, I hope your next one will be more to my taste.

    1. Thank you Silvanus. That is a very good point about positioning and quantity of clue types which I hadn’t considered before – and one I will definitely pay close attention to 👍

  8. In all honesty, I felt this represented something of a step backwards. Perhaps a case of trying to be too ambitious and not quite nailing it?
    I did have ticks alongside 10,11,20&24a but I had to resort to letter reveals to discover where you were going with several others. I also felt that you’d not given enough thought to some of the surface reads.
    Sorry, AgentB, but I think I’d mark this one ‘could try harder’.

    1. Constructive criticism would be helpful Jane. That’s what I am listening out for really. What do you think worked well? What didn’t? How could clues that didn’t work be improved? What do you think makes a great surface reading in a crossword? As a solver, how do you think when solving clues? How does this offering differ to your favourite backpagers?

      I’m new to this and primarily having some fun in my spare time. I’m not a naughty schoolboy returning from the Headmaster’s office.

      1. The clues I felt worked well were the ones that I said I’d given ticks to in my comment. Clues that I didn’t feel worked included 1a (no definition), 28a (as RD commented, it needs the inclusion of something to indicate ‘maximum’) 5d (as a stand-alone the word required would be ‘illegible’), 7d – too much of a stretch, 8d (to the uninitiated, there isn’t sufficient information given).
        An example of a poor surface read would be the clue for 5d. As has been said many times on here, you need to ask yourself whether an answer passes the ‘pub’ test – that is to say, could you come out with it down at the pub and be understood. To gain insight into this area, look no further than the puzzles compiled by Silvanus.

        When solving, I work through the clues fairly methodically unless an obvious answer leaps out at me. Where I can’t immediately fathom the wordplay, I look for ‘devices’ that the setter may have used and what checkers I may already have in place. I always appreciate a bit of humour and conciseness – as brilliantly showcased by Ray T.

        My apologies if the flippant final sentence in my original comment upset you.

        1. Thanks Jane, this is really helpful, especially the “pub test”.

          What started as “Ooh, setting a crossword, sounds like fun” has shown to be an exercise in navigating nuance and subjectivity. I like to take all this feedback and go through my puzzle again (also several unfinished grids) with an MOT of sorts to fix any problems thrown up by this new information. So these pointers with everyone’s varied opinions really do help.

          I agree wholeheartedly about brevity and humour. I was brought up on Roger Squires backpagers and love a cheeky pun! And not to worry, online comments are easily lost in translation, one reason I use all those annoying emojis 😁👍🥂

          1. AB. I wouldn’t take too much notice of the “pub test” suggestion. Firsly, why test a clue surface out in a pub – where much nonsense is spoken and heard? Secondly, it is of course preferable to have smooth surfaces but far from obligatory – most cryptic puzzles in the DT (and anywhere else) contain one or two (or even more) clues than have clunky or nonsensical surfaces. The clue surface is decidedly secondary to the word-play it contains – which must work precisely. Better to have a clue with a dodgy surface and brilliant word-play than a clue with a perfect surface but with mediocre/transparent/simple-to-solve word-play.

            1. Reckon convoluted though accurate wordplay at the expense of the surface far more prevalent in Graun puzzles than the DT. Not sure Jane would agree that the clue surface is secondary which is why Zandio guzzles aren’t her thing. The aim has to be to try & ensure one isn’t at the expense of the other which is why the likes of Silvanus & Robyn are surely the benchmarks wannabe setters ought to aspire to

  9. I seem to be in a minority but i really enjoyed this challenge. Many thanks to the setter; don’t think I would ever be able to produce a puzzle let alone one that gave the pleasure this did. Living in Northampton, I liked 24D but, as I love it, 13A had to be my favourite!! Thanks AgentB

    1. Thank you Deebee! That’s very kind. I do like a glass of 13a myself but I didn’t twig that it’s a bad idea to have so many obscure words in a crossword! Everybody has different favourites and it is really interesting to hear them. So far, nobody has liked my own favourite clue 🤣🤣

            1. Oh go on then 😅 12a was my proud attempt at an all-in-one, or at least it was until Elon Musk went and changed the name of the site to X!

              Also 14/18 which I hoped solvers would find to be a penny-dropper. I know it wasn’t perfect though, must’ve reworded that clue a hundred times.

  10. I managed about a third before having to start reveals, AgentB but as someone who has tried to compile a cryptic I know how difficult it can be. I would be interested in how you approach compilation. I have used Crossword Compiler but I let it fill the grid automatically then try to come up with clues to fit. Do you start with a blank grid?

    Anyway, despite finding some clues obscure, I admire you for having a go and I enjoyed he ones I managed to solve.

    1. Thanks Steve, much appreciated! I’ve definitely learned a few tough lessons with this one, but that was the whole point 😊

      I’ve always annoyed friends and family with wordplay and puns so now I note them all down on my phone in proto-clue form. I have downloaded the frustratingly limited demo of CC and experimented designing grids – now scrapped after learning about double unches! Most often I recycle a random grid from here. I start with a few of my favourite recent clues, then gradually fill in the rest. My weakest clues are usually the final words where very little else will fit (15a and 5d in this case), so I must improve on that front.

      I’ve found some “CC bungs” not in the three major dictionaries (another harsh lesson!) so I avoid that altogether now. A crossword solver website with the format a?b?c?d? helps me find ideas to fit, otherwise it’s all in my head. After that, print out the grid, grab a pencil, open the wine and engage the brain 😁🍷 Then look over with fresh eyes several times.

      It’s been good fun so far. I do recommend having another go at it and not taking it too seriously 🍻

  11. Crikey Agent B that was tough & with a capital T. Despite this & like Deebee I rather enjoyed it & was extremely chuffed to somehow eventually complete without a letter reveal albeit last ins 6&7d are bung ins – only filled in once the penny finally dropped with Theresa. 15&22a both unfamiliar & requiring a word with Mr G. I think the points made by RD are valid & agree with Jane that the odd surface read wasn’t great but I thought there were some very clever clues in there. Runaway fav was 20a with ticks for 11,13,27&28d (I’d have sporting break) plus runner up 9d. Also liked 2&4d.
    I had intended your guzzle as a warm up for yesterday’s still to have a bash at Zandio Toughie but think the brain cells need a good rest before the morrow’s blog.
    Thanks & look forward to your next one

    1. Thank you Huntsman, much appreciated! My next puzzle will take all of this on board. Hopefully I can help soothe your brain with a couple of nice virtual glasses of 13a 🍷🍷

  12. Thank you Prolixic for the review and the helpful advice where I needed it, very much appreciated! Yes we can all laugh at 7d now, I loved your comment 🤣 See you next time everyone 👋

  13. Thanks Prolixic – no wonder I could make neither head nor tail of the Mozart one but no excuses for failing to parse squib & other than mentally frazzled

    1. I think 7d was a “beer goggles clue” – seemed like a good idea at the time, in the cold light of day you realise the mistake, everyone disapproves and you’re laughed all the way home 😅😅😅

      Hope you’ve had a nice rest now after your blog. Just working through today’s backpager now 🤓🍷

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