A Puzzle by Sheepish
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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.
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.