Rookie Corner – 276 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 276

A Puzzle by Chameleon

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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 Prolixic follows.

Chameleon is coming on leaps and bounds with his crosswords.  There was a theme of game shows in the crossword with a hint to the theme in 18a.  The comments are really picky ones to polish a good crossword.  The commentometer reads as 2/29 or 6.9%.


9 Old German discussing Merkel endlessly (5)
ANGLE – A homophone of the first name of the German Chancellor with the last letter of her name removed (endlessly)

10 Dracula, perhaps, to stop plane protocol before lift-off? (9)
COUNTDOWN – The style or title of which Dracula’s title is an example followed by a four letter word meaning to stop a plane, for example, a dogfight or missile attack.

11 Short-lived May’s successor in “chaos” is overwhelmed by radical repeal (9)
EPHEMERAL – The three letters that follow may in a word meaning chaos with an anagram (radical) of REPEAL around them (overwhelmed by).

12 Hazardous alcoholic spirit in Wossy’s mouth (5)
RISKY – The spelling of how Jonathan Ross (Wossy) might pronounce whiskey.  The clue does not quite work for me, as JR would pronounce the spirit as it is spelled.  He would say the solution so that it also sounds like whiskey but that is not what the clue suggests to me.

13 Touchstone, say – Shakespeare put two at the very start of a certain comedy (7)
MEASURE – Double definition, the second being the word that appears twice in one of Shakespeare’s comedies.

15 Join a couple of knights and Brussels government in bed (7)
CONNECT – The abbreviation for knight twice and the abbreviation for European Commission (Brussel’s government) inside a three letter word for a bed.  A pedantic point but the European Commission is the executive body of the EU (it exercises executive powers, but no legislative ones other than legislative initiative) and is accountable to the European Parliament.  Does this make it a government – discuss!

17 Rice dish a chef may have a yen for? (5)
SUSHI – Cryptic definition of a Japanese rice dish for which you may pay in yen.

18 Typers’ oddly overlooked response to ‘is there a theme?’ (3)
YES – The even letters (oddly overlooked) in the first word of the clue.

20 Thrifty person transferring capital to far east states (5)
AVERS -The word describing someone who keeps money in their account with the first letter (capital) moved to the end (to far east).

22 Most long-faced horse’s seat ditches learner by street (7)
SADDEST – The word for the seat on which a horse rider sits with the L (learner) removed followed by the abbreviation for street.

25 Prize Chameleon loses tail following short spat… (7)
ROSETTE – A description of Chameleon as a complier of crosswords with the final letter removed (losing tail) after (following) a three letter word for a spat with the final letter removed (short).

26 …I spy it go snap and squash (5)
GAMES – Five definitions of pastimes and sports that collectively give the solution.  Perhaps adding “Together I spy…” might give a better indication that the solution is in the plural where each of the constituent elements is in the singular.

27 In music hall, Engelbert covered something difficult (9)
CHALLENGE -The answer is hidden (in) in the second to fourth words of the clue.

30 Meaningless and futile… a 29 like this not worth much (9)
POINTLESS – Cryptic definition by reference to the usefulness of the solution to 29s that has been blunted.

31 Hunt exposed GCHQ bases (5)
CHASES – The inner letters (exposed) of the final two words of the clue.


1 See 3

2 Brainboxes, for example, finding good leads (8)
EGGHEADS – The abbreviation for ‘for example’ followed by the abbreviation for good and a five letter word

3/1 Tame wild pair – they’re on your side (4,4)
TEAM MATE – An anagram (wild) of TAME followed a word meaning to pair sexually.  I know that modern usage allowed the use of the plural to indicate a singular to avoid using he or she.  Nevertheless, a cryptic clue has to have greater precision so the definition here is perhaps too misleading.  Perhaps tame wild pair for partner might have ben better.

4 Vehicle enters small carbon city? Hardly! (8)
SCARCELY – A three letter word for a motor vehicle inside the abbreviations for small and carbon followed by a three letter Cathedral city on the Fens.  Perhaps the weakest clue in terms of the surface reading.

5/23 Property rights no longer apply here – vandalise a cold mini bar to start (6,6)
PUBLIC DOMAIN – An anagram (vandalise) of A COLD MINI preceded by (to start) a three letter word for a bar.

6 Experimental NT star is in film school (2,8)
ST TRINIANS – An anagram (experimental) of NT STAR IS IN.

7 14 27 initially announced – understand now? (3,3)
YOU SEE – How you would write the first letters of the solutions to 14d and 27a.

8 Nothing but love can heal humanity, ultimately (4)
ONLY – The letter representing love or nothing followed by the final letters (ultimately) of the fourth to sixth words of the clue.

13 After a short while, leaders in scientific enterprise suggest tablet dispenser (5)
MOSES – A two letter word for a short period of time followed by the first letters (leaders) of the seventh to ninth words of the clue.

14 Virtue and sin clash over unknown academic institution (10)
UNIVERSITY – An anagram (clash) of VIRTUE SIN over a letter representing an unknown quantity.

16 Roots of ancient Inca spices inject welcome flavour (5)
TASTE – The final letters (roots) of the third to seventh words of the clue.

19 Weed in the sea (8)
SARGASSO – The name of a sea noted for its seaweed.

21 European society taken over by Boris Johnson, for one (8)
ESTONIAN – The abbreviation for society inside (taken over by) the name given to a public schoolboy from BJ’s alma mater.

23 See 5

24 Camera team’s essentially hurtful tape machine upset us (2,4)
TV CREW – The central letter (essentially) of hurtful followed by the abbreviation for a video recorder and a reversal (upset) of a pronoun incorrectly clued by “us”. 

26 Breaks a little pasta up (4)
GAPS – A reversal (up) of the diminutive spelling of spaghetti.  The diminutive spelling is not given in the main dictionaries except in the definition of Spaghetti Bolognese.

28 Fortune made by headless chicken’s noise (4)
LUCK – Remove the first letter from the sound made by a chicken.  Another clue where the surface reading is not the greatest.

29 Life peer’s smuggling something for a fence? (4)
– The answer is hidden (smuggling) in the first two words of the clue.

41 comments on “Rookie Corner – 276

  1. We got the hint from 18a that we should look a bit more closely at the puzzle but it was not until we had a filled grid that we spotted what that would be. An enjoyable solve for us with a lot of original twists in some of the clues.
    Thanks Chameleon

  2. Very enjoyable with some head scratching required but the only assistance required was the Small Red Book.
    Like the 2Kiwis, 18a was an early solve but it took completion to spot what it was as most of the themed answers are not that familiar to this non-UK resident. I think that 14d/27a is the only one that I readily recognise as I still follow it in its present form on YouTube and have fond memories of its (much) earlier version.
    I am not totally convinced about the 9a homophone.
    Thanks Chameleon.

  3. Thank you, Chameleon. This themed puzzle was very enjoyable and certainly challenging in parts. I’m pleased to see that you have continued more in the vein of your second Rookie puzzle rather than your first, although you do still have a few iffy surfaces on show.

    With my pedant’s hat on, there are a couple of grammatical issues. In 3/1 you have used a plural personal pronoun to define a singular answer and in 24d the objective form of a personal pronoun is used to define the subjective form.

    I felt spoilt for choice in selecting a favourite clue (11a gets the nod) and I can’t pick a favourite from the themed answers as I enjoy all of them.

    Very well done, Chameleon. Please keep them coming.

    1. Hi, RD. Glad you liked it. I did anticipate that 3/1 might raise eyebrows, but I was deliberately using ‘they’ as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. I think it’s widely used (e.g. the first random example I’ve found on the BBC website “If a person receives only one recessive allele, their one dominant allele means they do not have symptoms of the disorder. However, they are able to pass it to their children. They are called a carrier”.) The online Chambers has ‘colloq. he or she’.

      I may be bang to rights on the other pronoun issue! I thought setters sometimes used ‘I’ in wordplay for ‘me’ in answer, though, and assumed this sort of equivalence would be fine – after all, we frequently need to infer grammatical switches e.g. to get from third person “setter’s” to first person “I’m”.

      Thanks for solving

      1. Thanks for replying, Chameleon. My BRB sums up “they” nicely: “used, with a plural verb, instead of he or she, where the antecedent is a single common-gender word such as someone or person (but unacceptable to some, esp in written English). I suspect I am one of the some.
        Clever clue, though.

  4. An enjoyable solve – thanks Chameleon! LOI was 26a. Some good misdirection in definitions: I enjoyed seeing ‘tablet dispenser’, for example. I agree with RD on 3/1 and re. 24, though there ‘may’ be a dialect where this is ok, you’d probably need to indicate that, if that was your thinking. As something of a tangent, that reminds me of the comedian Henning Wehn, who describes learning English in school in Germany, saying they had to decline verbs, such as ‘to be’: “I was, you were, he or she was, we were etc.”. He then went on to say that, when he actually arrived in London and listened to people, he realised that his school had got it all wrong and that modern English was actually, “I was, you was, he was, we was, you was, they was.”

    I’ll put my tin hat on.



    1. Oh, and I thought 27 and 31 had excellent surfaces, too – probably my favourite clues.

      1. Glad you liked those surfaces, Encota. I was meaning to ask BD if he saved this puzzle to go out the day before the next PM is announced (when I wrote the crossword the contest was in its early stages, so I didn’t realise I was including the eventual final 2 in answers).

    2. Pedant Dave here again – you conjugate verbs and decline nouns, or perhaps they didn’t teach Henning that in Germany. :wink:

      1. I asked Henning politely if he could teach us how to conjugate verbs but he declined …

        Dave, do you have one of those signs over your desk that reads “Pedents Corner”? :-)


  5. A very enjoyable puzzle – thanks Chameleon. I was alerted to the theme by 18a (otherwise I’d probably have missed it) and even then my first thought was that it was all about the current leadership election. The penny eventually dropped, helped by the further hint at 26a.
    I liked lots of clues, especially 20a, 27a and the pithy 19d.
    More like this please.

  6. Very enjoyable thank you Chameleon – unusually for a Rookie, I haven’t put a ? by any of the clues. I did spot the theme and have marked several clues for favouritism but I think the top spot must go to 13a

    Thanks in advance to Prolixic

    PS I forgot to say that there does seem to be a lot of ‘doing things with letters’, using the outsides of words, removing single letters etc

    1. Hi, Crypticsue. Glad to have dodged the ?s this time! I do seem to have an overreliance on letter manipulatuon clues, that’s true. I spend a lot of time wondering how the cryptic devices should be distributed. I’m never sure whether I’m providing too few anagrams because I tend to hold back a bit on them for fear of providing too many…


      1. If you scroll down to the bottom of the Rookie page under Cryptic Crosswords above, you’ll find a link to Prolixic’s guide – page 36/37 has a very useful table of clue types which you can use to mark down how many of each type of clue you’ve used. I find it particularly useful when I test solve crosswords so that I can report back to the setter whether there is enough of a mix of clue types

        1. I’ve seen Prolixic’s incredibly detailed guide and have referred to his list when setting, but there’s still the issue of how much of each type goes in. It’s something that comes with experience I suppose, like being able to adjust the quantities in a recipe on the fly.

  7. Pretty good puzzle Chameleon, well done. My only thoughts were that one or two of the surfaces (eg 28d) don’t make a great deal of sense, but we’ve seen worse.

    Thanks for the work out and well done on the theme, even though I’m not really a fan of themes and definitely not a fan of the pernicious box.

    1. I was imagining a half-dead and supposedly psychic chicken converted into a profitable enterprise by some unscrupulous farmer for 28 down. :)

      Thanks for solving

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this, helped by a theme definitely to my 16d. It’s always gratifying to see a setter’s improvement from puzzle to puzzle, and this was definitely Chameleon’s best one yet in my opinion. As others have said, certain surfaces are perhaps not as smooth as they could be, but I think that aspect can be honed with more practice . My favourite clue was 20a.

    Congratulations to Chameleon, well done indeed. Many thanks for a puzzle that was a pleasure to solve.

    1. Thanks, Silvanus. That’s very kind of you to say. Very glad that I seem to be moving in the right direction. Would you mind pointing out some of the surfaces you didn’t like, please?

      1. Hi Chameleon,

        I thought your weakest surfaces were 10a (a bit too surreal?), 4d (“small carbon” jarred compared to “low carbon”, say) and 28d (very unconvincing, despite your explanation to LbR ) , but I did feel that many others showed that a lot of extra attention had been spent on them.

        For 10a, it would have probably been better to use a synonym for “count” (e.g. reckon or check spring to mind). I must commend you for incorporating so many themed answers in the grid without resorting to using obscure words around them, as some setters might!

        1. Hi Silvanus. Many thanks for your reply. I take the point on “small carbon”. When setting I had a pretty clear image of Dracula getting cold feet and trying to stop a flight, but I can understand that might not have come across very convincingly. It’s difficult to peel back what you read into your own surfaces in order to read them as a solver coming to them for the first time would!

          Thanks again

  9. I enjoyed this very much more than your last puzzle, Chameleon, it’s so nice to see a contributor to Rookie Corner taking comments on board and acting on them. In fairness, I had a head-start by latching onto the theme with very few answers in place but I still think you’ve worked to make this a far more accessible solve.

    I do consider that the protocol in 10a refers more to rockets than planes and – as others have mentioned – I wasn’t overly happy with the singular/plural in 3/1. Is the enumeration in 24d correct? I don’t know what the convention is regarding that type of clue but it took me some time to work out!

    Well done – keep them coming!

  10. Thanks Chameleon, I enjoyed that. Ticks against 11,20,5/23 and 29.
    The slightly loose definition and the enumeration of 24 meant it was LOI for me.
    I went ‘hmm’ at the homophone in 9.

    1. Hi Gonzo. Glad you enjoyed. Not really sure the problem with 24: enumerating TV as 1,1 doesn’t seem to make much sense if we don’t use a space when writing – the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and Independent all write “TV crew” in headlines, with no full stops or spaces. A hyphen would just be confusing. Not sure TV CREW has been used before, but from a quick 225 search, Financial Times 15,937 and Guardian Quiptic 684 numberered REALITY TV as (7,2). An [inits.] marker of some kind is the only sensible alternative to treating acronyms as honorary words as far as I can see, but that’s not possible in the software as far as I know.

      As for the 9a homophone… I suspect Prolixic will be banging his gavel on that one in half an hour :) And rightly so, in hindsight!

      1. I think the 9a homophone is perfect given the German pronunciation of Angela with a hard G.

        1. I think the vowel after the G is the problem. Angela and Angle have slightly different varieties of vowel. If I say Angle to myself and add an unstressed vowel at the end it doesn’t quite sound like Dr Merkel’s name.

  11. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. Glad I’m heading the right direction re: the commentometer.

    Just to clarify, “Hazardous alcholic drink in Wossy’s mouth”, was intended as “RISKY, as said by Wossy, sounds like WHISKEY”, not “RISKY sounds like how Wossy says WHISKEY”. Now I look at it I realise I’d probably need a homophone indicator in addition to “Wossy” to make the intended work.

    Also, the intended parsing for 3/1 was a ‘pair’ of anagrams (‘wild’) of TAME, i.e. TEAM + MATE; I hadn’t anticipated the “pair (v.)” for “mate” parsing although it works just as well.

    Just in case anybody missed any out, the full list of quiz/game shows included is POINTLESS, EGGHEADS, COUNTDOWN, [THE] CHASE, UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE and ONLY CONNECT.

    Thanks again to Prolixic and to all solvers

  12. Thanks as ever Prolixic for the review – and again to Chameleon for a fun puzzle


  13. Thanks to Prolixic for the review
    After a bit of thought, I read the whisky/Wossy clue as intended by Chameleon and liked it, didn’t think it needed anything else.
    The government is the executive, isn’t it? So the European Commission exercises a government function, even if it’s not the whole thing. It’s a quirk of our system that the government usually has control of the legislature too.
    Not a crosswording point, more a philosophical one: how can an epee not have a point? If you start with an epee and take the point off, you still have an epee, and it still has a point. If you carry on taking the point off, at some point it will no longer be an epee, but then it’s not a pointless epee.

      1. An epee doesn’t have a point to begin with, it is blunted by definition. If you take the tip off, you just have a broken epee

        A point doesn’t necessarily have to be sharp, but to be pointy it’d have to be at least point-like, surely

        1. Interesting… if epees are by definition blunted, then it almost seems that the clue should in fact have been “Meaningless and futile, like 29”, in the sense of it having a blunted end rather than a pointy point. (Reminder to self to research fully the nature of any fencing weapons referenced in clues.)

          1. I’ve always thought of epees as having blunt ends, as LBR says, but Chambers has ‘a sharp-pointed, narrow-bladed sword used for duelling and, with a button on the point, for fencing.’ So you’re in the clear, not that you ever weren’t.

            1. Phew… Thought I might have gone down as a case of “clue by the sword, die by the sword” for a minute there.

    1. Re 12, it requires you to supply punctuation to get what the setter means, and even then you could read it both ways. An ambiguity too far I think.

  14. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic, particularly for pointing out the way I should have looked at wordplay for 10a.

    Hope you’re hard at work on the next one, Chameleon!

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