Rookie Corner 479 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 479

A Puzzle by Dharma

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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.

Since last summer the wait time for publication of Rookie Corner puzzles has been at least a few months, which might be discouraging for new setters trying to hone their setting skills in response to the feedback provided here. The queue is now significantly shorter, and so we encourage new or existing rookie compilers who wish to take advantage of this opportunity for faster publication to send their puzzles to

A nicely challenging crossword from Dharma but perhaps with more niggles than in his previous crossword.  The commentometer reads as 3/29 or 10.3%.


9a  No interest in it when uniform’s worn by former sweetheart Gail from time to time (7)
ASEXUAL: A two-letter word meaning when followed by the letter represented by Uniform in NATO phonetic alphabet inside (worn by) a two-letter word for a former lover and the even letters (from time to time) of Gail.  I wonder whether “worn by” is the correct positional indicator.  If the uniform is worn by someone, the uniform is on the outside, not the inside.

10a  Scotland’s top footballer maybe, one who enjoys away games? (7)
SWINGER: The initial letter (top) of Scotland followed by the description of a football player or other sportsperson by reference to the position that they play.

11a  Ear doctor changes profession (9)
DECORATOR: An anagram (changes) of EAR DOCTOR.

12a  Opinions given by papers, Sun and Express primarily, to move to the left (5)
IDEAS: The two-letter word for identity papers followed by the initial letters (primarily) of “Sun and Express” reversed (to move to the left).   Perhaps going to the left would be better at indicating a reversal rather than a simple movement of the letters to the left.

13a  Jauntily sing Sting’s first hit and Aha’s maybe? (8)
INSIGHTS: An anagram (jauntily) of SING S (Sting’s first) HIT.  The surface reading suffers from the fact that the group is A-ha. 

14a  Cut tutorial after Head of Science leaves for Italy (6)
LESION: A six-letter word for a tutorial or class with the second S (head of science) replaced by (leaves for) the IVR code for Italy.

16a  Leaving card portrayal overwhelms husband (11)
WITHDRAWING: A three-letter word for a card or comedian followed by a seven-letter word for a portrayal or picture all around  (overwhelms) the abbreviation for husband.

20a  Prepares cheese with tips from sous-chef from the East (6)
BRIEFS: A four-letter variety of soft French cheese followed by a reversal (from the east) of the outer letters (tips from) of sous-chef.

22a  Leading hotel cutting service can be nuisance (8)
HEADACHE: A four-letter word meaning leading followed by the letter in the NATO phonetic alphabet represented by hotel inside (cutting) a three-letter word for a tennis shot (service).

24a  Share everything out occasionally (5)
ALLOT: A three-letter word meaning everything followed by the odd letters (occasionally) of out.

25a  Highest in batting order originally? (9)
SMELLIEST: The initial letters (originally) of batting order give an abbreviation for a person problem that might be the highest if really intense.  I think that this suffers from being a clue to a clue.

26a  Backs players after conceding lead to Barcelona (7)
ASSISTS: An eight-letter word for guitar players without (conceding) the initial letter (lead to) of Barcelona.

27a  Students rejected plots for those providing darker tones? (7)
SUNBEDS: A reversal (rejected) of the abbreviation for the National Union of Students followed by a four-letter word for garden plots.


1d  No shock victory for former Prime Minister (7)
BALDWIN: A four-letter word meaning hairless (no shock) followed by a three-letter word for a victory.

2d  Swordsmen wanting right forms of protection (6)
FENCES: A seven-letter word for swordsmen or women without (wanting) the abbreviation for right.

3d  Perfect, or in France said to be ordinary (8)
OUTRIGHT: The two-letter word meaning or in France followed by a homophone (said) of trite (to be ordinary).

4d  Saw Philip finally given room to move (9)
PLATITUDE: The final letter of Philip followed by an eight-letter word meaning room to move.

5d  Druggie‘s value close to nadir (4)
USER: A three-letter word meaning value followed by the final letter (close to) of nadir.

6d  Eat around four or six?  Either is mouth-watering (6)
DIVINE: A four-letter word meaning eat around either of the Roman numerals for 4 or 6.

7d  Harmonising dancing in reggae (8)
AGREEING: An anagram (dancing) of IN REGGAE.

8d  Contemporary offering (7)
PRESENT: Double definition.

15d  Add up brands supported by Home Counties … about twenty essentially. (4,5)
MAKE SENSE: A five-letter word for brands and the abbreviation for the geographical location of the Home Counties around (about) the central two letters (essentially) of twenty.

16d  Wipe the floor with well-known cleaning product, losing top … it’s a pain in the neck! (8)
WHIPLASH: A four-letter word meaning to beat or wipe the floor with followed by the name of a proprietary cleaning product with its initial letter (losing top).  A repetition of top here.

17d  Cheeky daughter having replaced son is unlikely to work? (8)
INDOLENT: An eight-letter word meaning cheeky with the S (son) replaced by a D (daughter).

18d  Maybe Lincoln supporter’s after a nerd on the radio (7)
ABRAHAM: A three-letter word for a clothing item that provides support after the A from the clue followed by a three-letter word for a radio enthusiast.

19d  Politically in the pink? (7)
LEFTISH: Cryptic definition.

21d  Obsessive desire to trawl around East on vacation (6)
FETISH: A four-letter word meaning to trawl around the outer letters (on vacation) of east.  A repetition of around (see 6d).

23d  Shrewd Conservative tipped party (6)
CLEVER: The abbreviation for Conservative followed by a reversal (tipped) of a five-letter word for party.

25d  Cry of distress over nothing special (2-2)
SO-SO: The international distress signal followed by the abbreviation for over.

40 comments on “Rookie Corner 479
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  1. Late (for us) getting on to this and found it a thoroughly enjoyable solve. Still need a bit more thought on the parsing of 25a but think we have got everything else sorted.
    The combination of 9a and 10a has to be our pick of the bunch.
    Thanks Dharma.

  2. Too hot to sleep. What to do? I know – solve today’s RC puzzle!

    Welcome back to RC, Dharma, with what for me was your best puzzle so far, one which was nicely challenging and great fun.

    My repetition radar bleeped regarding “top” being used in 10a and 16d to indicate a first letter; and a question for Prolixic: is it OK to use “top” in this way for an across clue?

    My only other concerns were the wordiness of a couple of the clues (9a & 16d) and the greengrocer’s apostrophe in the definition for 13a. I don’t think the “ignore punctuation” guideline applies to definitions.

    My podium choices were 25a, 1d, 4d & 8d.

    Many thanks, Dharma, and in advance to Prolixic.

    1. RD. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “top” used to trigger a first letter in an across clue before, but can’t think of a good example without doing some research. As in the sense of leading or prime, first, best etc. John was always the top player at the chess club, for example. Possibly not in the DT, though?

  3. A good puzzle with some fun clue surfaces and (mainly) accurate wordplay. I wasn’t sure about ‘well-known’ in 16d, for example, unless I am missing something. If you were looking for one area for improvement then I’d suggest trying to reduce the word-count in longer clues: 15 words for a 7-letter clue wouldn’t be accepted by some editors. Having said that you’ve several decent four-word clues here. And my favourite clue? Several to choose from but I think I’ll pick 1d.
    An enjoyable solve – thank you!

  4. A top-notch puzzle with pdms and laughs galore – many thanks to Dharma for brightening up Monday morning.
    My awards go to 9a, 10a, 25a, 1d and 4d.

  5. Still 6 shy of completion on the LHS but popped in to say I thought the first 2 across clues realcrackers.

  6. Still waiting for the penny-drop where the parsing of 25a but happy that I’ve got everything else satisfactorily sorted out.
    Favourite here was 1d.

    Thanks to Dharma, who seems to be getting quite prolific on the setting front!

  7. Thanks Dharma, good fun – quite tricky in parts (especially on the RHS, I found) but very enjoyably so. Favourites 14a, 26a (my COTD), 6d, 18d & 23d.

    My only two quibbles are rather pedantic and in both cases the fun surfaces probably do enough to compensate:

    In 13a, from a surface point-of-view, the band is “a-ha” (i.e. without capital letter and with hyphen), whilst from the cryptic grammar point-of-view I’m not sure the interjection can be pluralised (as opposed to e.g. “a-ha moments”)? And if it can be whimsically used as a noun (“that was something of an ‘a-ha’ for me”?) then I’m not sure the plural would take an apostrophe?

    In 25a, either: the wordplay leads to “something smelly” rather than the solution itself; or, taking the whole thing as definition, it doesn’t seem fair to mix in (otherwise unrelated) letter selections within an &lit? I do think, though, that an ellipsis (and possibly question mark) may be sufficient to indicate this ‘trick’, (i.e. “Highest … in batting order, originally?”) so the wordplay is linked to the definition without implying it is part of a ‘standard’ &lit?

    But as I said, these were fun clues and “gettable” (for 25a, “eventually gettable”!) so it does feel a little grouchy to bring in such pedantry. Thanks again!

  8. Many thanks to everyone who has done the puzzle and taken the trouble to comment so far, much appreciated and all noted and invaluable in my quest to improve.
    Re the possible “wordy” surface reads of a couple (fair point of course and something I’ll take into consideration in future)…one of my favourite setters is Django (ah, that explains a lot I hear you say!) so I’m occasionally happy to sacrifice conciseness and “safety” in the pursuit of an amusing clue as one of my main aims is to make the solver smile.

    1. I’m a big fan of wordy clues (if they’re not too “bitty”) and Django specifically – very much enjoyed his recent show in Canterbury, I’m sure many other commenters here would appreciate his “crosswordy” section too – in which he does mention that clues are generally better when more concise. I’m not keen on hard & fast rules for length, but when it goes over 12, say, or when there are a lot of clues over ~8, it’s worth reviewing. 9a, for example, could use “occasionally” (and btw I think definition would be more accurate with “Not interested…”), “the” could be lost from 16d and “cleaning product” / “pain in the neck” might have suitable one-word alternatives (“cleaner” / “chore”? and “cap” / “lid” to avoid repetition?) – whilst 12a’s surface I think fully justifies the wordiness. It’s very much personal preference but there does seem to be a general feeling that brevity is worth aiming for in the main. Thanks again for the “top” puzzle!

      1. Hi Fez, thanks for your feedback and pleased you liked it overall.
        In 9a I’d used occasionally in another clue so didn’t want to repeat it The definition would suffer using your suggestion as the “it” is a specific reference to sex.
        I think the wordplay reads better with “the” left in 16d though I could have made “well-known cleaning product” cleaner and used lid I concede.. I think the definition is good as it has a cryptic element and changing it to one word would lose it.

        1. Yes, 9a’s “in it” is essential – I hadn’t meant to imply that should be cut, sorry, but it’s the first two words that I think provide the wrong part of speech for the solution. As for the wordy clues – I like them, and agree “pain in the neck” is probably the better definition; “from time to time” could perhaps be swapped with 24a’s “occasionally” (or use e.g. “regularly” for one of them) *if* you wanted to balance things out a bit. I guess that’s where the setter’s style/personality comes in; I certainly wouldn’t make *all* those changes just for the sake of brevity, just flagging up areas that might be considered possibilities for pruning a little.

  9. Welcome back, Dharma/Stephen.

    I’ve always been a fan of your puzzles, but I didn’t feel that this one was quite up there with your previous ones, unfortunately. Like RD, I was disappointed to see “top” repeated as a first-letter indicator (and yes, the Telegraph accepts it in Across clues) and with “first”, “lead”, “primarily”, “originally” and “head” also used as initial indicators, and “tips” used for the first and last letters, there seemed to be an over-reliance on this one device. Like Fez, it irked me that the Norwegian band is A-ha (not Aha) and it is not really permissible to take liberties with names in order to fit the surface of the clue. I agree with Encota about the wordiness of 9a and 16d especially and thought that both could easily have been reduced in length. I wouldn’t recommend going down the “sacrificing brevity for the sake of a smile” route, personally. The case for the prosecution now rests! I did think there were some tremendous clues though, 11a, 22a and 1d make up my podium.

    I’m sure your next one will be more to my liking!

    Many thanks, Dharma.

  10. Came back to it after a break & finished albeit after revealing the 3d/13a checker – both the context of perfect & the crafty A-ha had me beat without the G. Certainly not too wordy for me (Django on my dream team of setters). Liked your usual inclusion of political clues at 12a (nice irony) &19d. Picks for me those super first 2 across clues, 13a (hyphen notwithstanding), 25a (unparsed before the nudge from Gazza) & 1d.
    Great stuff Dharma.

  11. Thanks Dharma, I very much enjoyed this notwithstanding some technical quibbles highlighted by others. Like Fez, I found the right-hand side trickier than the left, particularly the SE. My picks were: 10a, 16a, 26a and 17d.

  12. Hi Dharma, firstly, there were some cracking clues here, specifically, though not restricted to , 13a, 26a, 21d and 23d. There was all the wit and elegance we’ve come to expect from you on display. But….

    …I think in 13a Aha’s is an example of not letting go of a great idea when the grammar doesn’t quite work and 25a probably needs “worst” or some such before “batting order”. I am also struggling with 20a. “Tips from sous-chef” suggests to me SC, reversed by “from the East”. What you seem to be asking solvers to do is to reverse “sous-chef” first and then take the tips from it and I am not sure this instruction is clear. No-one else has mentioned this, so I may be wrong but I will be interested in Prolixic’s take. Similarly, in 6d I exactly see the intent but I can’t quite work out how the wordplay gets me there and tells me a shared letter is involved – again one for Prolixic. Apart from that I thought a couple of definitions were stretchy for my liking – 10a, for example, where I get it but don’t really (why away?), if you see what I mean and 27a, where I feel the articles in question may be associated with darker tones but are in no way responsible for providing them.

    All very pedantic, but really I just want to finish by saying that this was nonetheless extremely enjoyable.

    1. Hi DD, pleased that overall you enjoyed it.
      To answer a couple of your queries, sous-chef is hyphenated so in cryptic grammar one word, so the tips are S&F.
      In 6d, no letter is shared, the wordplay works as either “4 or 6”
      In 10a the “away” is a reference to the metaphor “playing away” or not confining relations to within the household so it’s an essential element of the wordplay.
      27a … people use the solution to darken the tone of their skin.
      Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks Dharma. My brain not working on the sous-chef front nor in 6d where I got fixed in the IVI! In 10a, like I said, I get what you mean but to me ‘playing away’ is not what those in the answer do (or so I am lead to believe!!). Does that not refer more to those acting without the knowledge or consent of their partner (hence the “away”)? And in 27a I would still argue that the solution is used WHILE getting darker tones and does not PROVIDE them. The solution no more provides the tones than the beach or swimwear does, for instance. It is pedantic and didn’t stop me solving it, but my immediate reaction was “Well, not really…”

        BTW I also think “strongest” before “batting order” would work really well

        1. Hi DD.
          We’ll just have to agree to disagree on 27a because the solution certainly do provide darker tones in my book, it’s the specific purpose of them. Chambers agrees.
          Re 10a…I think there’s a danger of “analysing the humour out of it”. I note that it appears as a favourite in several comments. Thanks again for your feedback.

        2. DD – I wonder whether you and Dharma are referring to different types of 27a?

          There’s the type that one finds on a beach or around a swimming pool (and which do indeed assist rather than provide the darker tones), and the type found in tanning salons & elsewhere, with UV tubes in the top and bottom sections to provide the darker tones (and even greater risk of skin cancers).

  13. Thanks for an enjoyable puzzle, Dharma/Stephen. I found most of it reasonably straightforward but ground to a crawl in the SE, the last 4/5 clues probably taking as long as the rest combined. Some very clever clue construction, and plenty of smiles.

    I’m not generally a fan of verbose clues: while the combined surface & answer to 9a were wonderful and justified the length, *personally* I’m not convinced either 12a or 16d merited being so wordy. In 12a I did wonder whether “move to the left” was sufficient a reversal indicator – while the answer could not have been anything else, I read the instruction as meaning “move sae towards the left within the answer”. There were an awful lot of clues instructing one to use/lose a leading/closing letter: as with your admirable self-restraint in employing anagrams, “less is more”. Even if that should be “fewer” …

    Having said all that, I really did enjoy your very accomplished puzzle, and had ticks all over the place: 9a, 25a (my LOI, and on finally parsing it, a real LOL), 1d, 3d, 17d & 21d.

    Thank you once again, and in advance thanks also to Prolixic

    1. Many thanks for your comment Mustafa, much appreciated and pleased you found much to smile at.
      I counted around seven or eight clues involved the use of single letters but they were used in a wide variety of ways and all within the context of the surface read. Maybe a little excessive but I deliberately kept the anagram count to a minimum (only two pure) and only used one DD and no lurkers (often seen as easy options). Maybe a lesson in there for me!

  14. We started well but struggled in the SE corner, nevertheless we enjoyed the challenge. Favourites were 9a, 16a and 1d. Thank you Dharma – and thanks also to Prolixic.

  15. I found this a bit tougher than your last one Dharma. However, some of the clues I thought were terrific. Biggest ticks from me for 10a 14a 27a 1d and 25d. No problem with having one or two lengthy clues IMHO. They were easily digestible so the word count didn’t jar and I enjoyed the clues.
    I await with interest Prolixic’s judgement on 6d and I’m never sure whether “occasionally” (24a) works as an alternate letter indicator. It seem opinions are divided on the matter.
    I did struggle with some of your relatively obscure synonyms particularly 4d and 5d where i thought using more obvious synonyms would have been kinder to the solver! As a new compiler myself I know I’ve deliberately made myself pull back from using some stretched synonyms even though they might have provided a smooth surface for the clue.
    Many thanks for the entertainment.

    1. Many thanks Jeemz, so pleased a fellow rookie enjoyed it. Judging difficulty is a difficulty in itself!!! …but I don’t think the two you mentioned were obscure, maybe 4d but that definition presented a good opportunity for misdirection. Thanks again.

  16. Many thanks Prolixic for your review and invaluable feedback. Thanks also to everyone who commented and last but not least my infinitely patient test solver.

  17. A bit of a challenge in places. I needed a wordfinder for 16dn and only got 25ac from the definition. I’d agree with the review that the latter is a clue to a clue, i.e. a bit indirect. Otherwise no real problems. Thanks, Dharma.

  18. Many thanks for the review, Prolixic. I’ve no doubt that Dharma will take your comments on board and bear them in mind when he comes to set his next puzzle.

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