Rookie Corner 493 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner 493

A Puzzle by Azuna

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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:

Thanks to Azuna for the crossword.  I think that there is a tendency for solvers to want Rookie crosswords to be easy and (perhaps) an assumption that if they are tough, it is down to poor clues.  I did not find this as tough as I was expecting having read the initial comments on the blog and whilst there were a number of rough edges and stretched synonyms, the majority of the clue were in the tough but fair category.  The commentometer reads as 4/32 or 12.5%.


1a  Principally, unity and love behind performance is genuine (6)
ACTUAL: The initial letters (principally) of “unity and love” after (behind) a three-letter word for a performance.

5a  Weather is interrupting break (6)
RESIST: The IS from clue inside (interrupting) a four-letter word for a break.

10a  International appeal amidst suggestions of unusual investigation on understanding… (9)
INTUITION: A three-letter abbreviation for international followed by a two-letter word for sex appeal inside (amidst) the initial letters (suggestions) of unusual investigation and the ON from the clue.

11a  …reason boxer swings both ways (5)
ALIBI: The usual three-letter heavyweight boxer followed by a two-letter word meaning bisexual (swings both ways).

12a  Character from film laughs (5)
ETHOS: The abbreviation for Extraterrestrial (film) followed by a three-letter word meaning laughs.

13a  Reluctant posh Northern fellow succumbs to work in contents (9)
UNWILLING: The single letter representing posh and the abbreviation for Northern followed by seven-letter word meaning the contents of something with the initial F (fellow) replaced (succumbs to) by the abbreviation for work.  The abbreviation W for work is not recognized by the dictionaries.

14a  Agreement concert is centrepiece of event (7)
PROMISE: A four-letter word for a concert followed by the IS from the clue and the middle letter (centrepiece) of event.

16a  Belongings emptied going around Austria sitting in sled (7)
LUGGAGE: The outer letters (emptied) of going around the IVR code for Austria with all the letter then put inside a four-letter word for a sled.

18a  Division in engineering school nothing to sister (7)
MITOSIS: The three-letter word for an American university with an emphasis on technology followed by the letter representing nothing and a three-letter abbreviation for sister.  Perhaps describing one of America’s top universities as an engineering school is a bit of a stretch.

20a  Azuna, after test, had stuff (7)
SATIATE: A single letter representing the setter after a three-letter school test followed by a three-letter word meaning had or consumed.

22a  Experienced hesitation – a thousand invested in incomplete… (9)
UNDERGONE: A two-letter word for expressing hesitation and the abbreviation for grand (a thousand) inside (invested) in six-letter word meaning incomplete.

24a  Share case to stop &lit (5)
SPLIT: The outer letters (case to) of stop followed (& or and) by the LIT from the clue.

25a  Japanese game show broadcast to heart of region (5)
SHOGI: A homophone (broadcast) of show followed by the middle letters (heart) of region.

26a  Wildfire remains hold up Southeast Portugal in this time of the year (9)
SEPTEMBER: a five-letter word for the remains of a wildfire before (hold up) the abbreviation for Southeast and the domain name for Portugal.  A number issues here.  Wildfire remains requires the plural embers but the singular is used in the solution.  Hold up should be used in a down clue.  It does not work in an across clue.  The use of internet domain names should perhaps be indicated.  However, they are now listed in Collins dictionary so are able to be used by setters.

27a  Art museum operator, embodying England, has a shot of the sky (6)
METEOR: The three-letter name of an art museum and a two-letter mathematical logic operator around the single letter abbreviation for England.  The dictionaries give E as the abbreviation for English.  The abbreviation for England is ENG.

28a  Replacement umpire catches hoax (6)
RELIEF: A three-letter word for an umpire around (catches) a three-letter for a hoax or untruth.


2d  Corrupt court that is ruthless (3-6)
CUT-THROAT: A anagram (corrupt) of COURT THAT.

3d  Items from M&S? (5)
UNITS: M could be mass and s for seconds for these items of measurement.

4d  Relaxation is certain with necklace from Hawaii (7)
LEISURE: A four-letter word for certain preceded by a three-letter word for a necklace from Hawaii.

5d  Repair kidney-related pinching? Disgusting! (7)
RENEWAL: A five-letter word meaning relating to the kidneys around (pinching) a two-letter word meaning disgusting.

6d  Cheers central actress bathed in faint glimmer (9)
STARLIGHT: A two-letter word meaning cheers and the middle letter (central) of actress inside (bathed in) a six-letter word meaning faint.  Some editors would require centre of rather than central to create a grammatically correct cryptic reading in the clue.

7d  Film genre is sick if without constant destruction (3-2)
SCI-FI: An anagram (destruction) of SICK IF without the K (abbreviation for the Boltzmann constant).  Some editors will not allow nouns as anagram indicators.

8d  Queue for team selection (4-2)
LINE-UP: Double definition.

9d  First to write headless complaint about member of children’s band (6)
WIGGLE: The initial letter (first to) of write followed by a six-letter word for a complaint or gripe without the initial letter (headless).  For a crossword intended for UK publication, asking for the name of an Australian children’s band is a bit of a stretch.

15d  Thrust endlessly – degeneracy done while working (2-7)
IN-SERVICE: A six-letter word meaning thrust or put in without the final letter (endlessly) followed by a four-letter word for degeneracy.

17d  Convenient trouble – gathering visa void before ascending Elba (9)
AVAILABLE: A three-letter word meaning trouble includes the outer letters (void) of visa and followed by a reversal (ascending) of the ELBA from the clue.

18d  Memorandum to initially sell Swedish dessert (6)
MOUSSE: The abbreviation for memorandum of understanding followed by the initial letter of sell and the internet domain name for Sweden.  Note that the domain name is for Sweden.  You cannot change this to Swedish in the clue to indicate the required letters.

19d  Spooner’s messed up not having Oriental benefactor (7)
SPONSOR: An anagram (messed up) of SPOONER without the E (Eastern or Oriental).

20d  Expensive beverage infuser, ultimately (7)
STEEPER: A five-letter word meaning expensive followed by the final letters (ultimately) of beverage infuser.

21d  Complete starter not finished gathering penultimate thesis (6)
ENTIRE: A six-letter word for a starter in a meal with the last letter removed (not finished) around the penultimate letter of thesis.  Some editors will not allow constructions such as penultimate X as grammatically you need penultimate of X in the cryptic reading of the clue.  Here “thesis penultimately” would work.

23d  Go on – Doctor, I… (5)
DRONE: The abbreviation for doctor followed by the word represented by I.

24d  …was in the end suffering being shot (5)
SHELL:  The final letter (in the end) of was followed by a four-letter word for suffering.

19 comments on “Rookie Corner 493
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  1. Sorry Azuna not for me. Too much e-help and too many Reveals before I retired hurt.

    A number of clues that I did solve/bung in where I don’t fully understand the parsing.

    Unless I am missing something, in 26a, I have not seen that abbreviation for Portugal before and the plural wildfire remains become singular in the answer.

    However, the non-Spoonerism in 19d raised a big smile and smiles for 11a, 16a, and 23d.

    Thanks anyway and thanks in advance to Prolixic.

    1. PT is the ISO standard 2-letter code for Portugal, as used in .pt domain names for that country.

      So it falls in the category of ‘well-known, but not in dictionaries’. As a non-driver who’s familiar with many countries’ domain names, I find it odd that solvers are expected to know IVR codes (with their inconsistent lengths making them particularly hard to guess) but the nice, neat 2-letter ISO codes widely used across the web aren’t allowed to be used by setters; I’m hoping that the 2-letter codes will get added to dictionaries soon.

      (The USA and the UK are the main exceptions to countries’ internet domains also ending in their ISO codes: the USA because, as the first, it didn’t need one — a bit like the UK a century earlier not putting its name on stamps, I suppose — and the UK just picked .uk before it was decided that the ISO standard abbreviations should be followed. Their ISO 2-letter codes are US and GB.)

      1. Thanks Smylers – even though it has been in existence for quite a while, a ‘list’ that has not fully registered with me.

        I am reminded of a conversation about 20 years ago when a friend reported a heated conversation with a co-worker in which the latter was insistent that UK was the domain code for Ukraine.

        Fun fact – apparently the IVR code for GB and NI is no longer GB – two years ago it became UK.

        1. I did not know that about GB stickers on the backs of cars — I’ll have to look out and try to spot some on vehicles round here.

          Your friend’s co-worker was close. Distinct from the 2-letter codes for countries, there’s another ISO list of 2-letter codes for languages — in which uk is the code for Ukrainian. The code for English is en, though this often has a suffix such as en_GB or en_CA to indicate English as used in a particular country.

          Confusingly, multi-language documents, such as instruction manuals, often use countries to label the languages each variant is written in. So the English bit may be labelled EN or GB or US, but if it’s labelled UK then that could be Ukrainian!

          Apologies to Azuna, for hijacking discussion of your puzzle with this arcane detail on abbreviations. In summary, I personally think that you should be able to use ‘Portugal’ to indicate PT, but currently it isn’t something which newspapers permit in their crosswords.

  2. Thanks Azuna, plenty to enjoy here. Some tricky stuff but all was reasonably steady until getting stuck in the SW … but eventually all became clear (albeit with a handful of quibbles along the way). My favourites 5a, 12a, 14a, 16a, 24a, 2d, 19d, 23d & 24d. LOI 25a unknown but fairly clued.
    Those quibbles include: second bit of 11a seems to be in wrong part of speech; work abbreviation in 13a; 26a has wordplay for a Down clue; capitalisation in 3d (if I:ve parsed correctly) seems unfair, and punctuation in 5d overly disrupts the cryptic reading for me. I’m not keen on use of internet domains, but ok – however, I think there are two used here which is a little repetitive (and 18d’s in wrong part of speech?) A few other bits and pieces too so I look forward to Prolixic’s review (thanks in advance)

    However, despite all those quibbles, mostly just small tweaks needed; a very enjoyable challenge, thanks again!

  3. That was a tough solve for first thing on a Monday morning. Breakfast was finished for a while before I eventually had a completed grid and have question marks by five clues which I solved from the definition and checking letters. I did like 24a and 19d.

    Thanks Azuna, but I think you’d win more friends if you made your crosswords a lot more user-friendly – and, in advance, to Prolixic

  4. I managed a full grid although I got a few answers from the definition and checkers without being able to parse them. There are some neat ideas here – thanks to Azuna but please crank down the difficulty a bit for your next puzzle.
    The clues I liked best were 2d, 19d, 23d and 24d.

  5. Welcome back to Rookie Corner, Azuna. Unlike your debut offering, at least I managed to complete this one but only after quite a struggle and with some electronic help. I still have four answers not fully parsed. I found the top half very tough but just about doable (apart from the parsing of 13a and the obscure children’s band in 9d), but the bottom half was pitched at yet another level of difficulty.

    I think that 5 sets of ellipses is too many, and a couple of your surfaces don’t make much sense to me, notably 9d & 17d. I also can’t see a definition for 20d.

    On the plus side you do have a lot of clever and unusual ideas, but please dial down the difficulty level in future.

    Many thanks Azuna, and thanks too in advance to Prolixic.

  6. Hey, exam-exhausted Azuna here.

    I see that currently a lot of complaints are about the puzzle’s difficulty. As a setter who doesn’t solve that often, it’s somewhat hard for me to know the difficulty of the clues I am making. Are there any general rules of thumb to keep the difficulty level somewhat manageable?

    Thanks to everyone in advance.

    1. Hi Azuna, at this stage of setting if you are relatively new to the game, gauging difficulty is almost impossible. Just keep going and solving/setting more and more, you’ll gradually get the feel for it. At least that’s what I’ve been told!

      Keep an eye out for everyone’s favourite clues and the ones solvers didn’t like. I use pink and yellow highlighter on a printout, keeping tally of all the favourites. Then I try to write more like that next time!

      Comments on here are more feedback to help you than complaints. All stuff for the melting pot.

    2. hi Azuna, thanks for the puzzle. Gauging difficulty is very hard! But I have to say I’m a little surprised that this one has been found quite so tough – certainly challenging (more of a Toughie tha a back-pager in Telegraph terms, but not especially tougher than a Guardian or Independent back-pager?) But a few thoughts.

      Firstly, whilst it mightn’t necessarily make things *easier*, it’s often *fairer* on the solver to ensure synonyms, abbreviations, etc are supported by Chambers (or Collins, say, though Chambers is the go-to reference) – so IVR codes are preferable to internet domains, for example, and W is not a standard abreviation for “work”.

      Secondly, try to avoid possibly “loose” or “stretchy” definitions and synonyms, or things that might be pushing the limits of many solvers’ general knowledge – e.g: 18d’s “memorandum” could be clearer in full (ie include “of understanding”),;18a’s “engineering school”, 22a’s “incomplete” or 15d’s “thrust” might be thought a bit stretchy as synonyms; and, 9d’s “children’s band” mightn’t be well-known outside of Australia whilst 27a’s logical “operator” mightn’t be familiar to non-mathematicians – the definition there also being a bit of a stretch. 19d’s “Oriental” is interesting, because it’s really a two-step proces to get from that to “Eastern” to the required letter … generally anything “two-step” like this should be used with caution, but the clarity of the clue here helps you get away with it.

      Thirdly, review any clues (especially those that are quite long – I’m a fan of wordy clues generally, but the wordiness has to be justified!) to check if what you’re asking has become a little too convoluted – and actually I think you’ve done a good job in that regard, 16a’s “Russian doll” construction perhaps being the most complex but very well put together and a favourite, 10a also quite tricky with lots of Lego bits but nicely constructed..

      And finally, just ensure the cryptic grammar is clear, so that when completely ignoring the surface it makes a grammatically correct instruction or description – e.g. 21d’s “penultimate thesis” ought to be “penultimate [character] *from/of* thesis”; or, 5d’s “pinching? Disgusting” doesn’t provide an instruction in the way that “pinching disgusting” does.

      I don’t think difficulty per se really matters – there’s an audience for everything from “quiptcs” to “super-toughies”, so set whatever you most enjoy – but the more important consideration is fairness (and often what feels overly *difficult* is actually just a little un*fair*!)

      Hope that helps – looking forward to the next Azuna :-)

  7. My experience of this puzzle very much reflects that of RD and I would certainly back the suggestion made that you need to invest in a copy of the BRB (Chambers) and abide by the abbreviations used in there. Most of the notes I made have already been the subject of comment from others so I won’t bother to repeat them but would ask our setter to pay careful attention to the review from Prolixic and use his wisdom to inform your future compilations.

    Thanks for the challenge, Azuna, and good luck with the exam results!

  8. Hi Azuna,

    I did have a go but only managed six clues I’m afraid then revealed the rest. Some I have no earthly idea how I would have solved, so I am glad I stopped. Just to let you know I’m even newer at this game than you are but I like to comment as many of the replies you’ll get are from very old hands, true experts, so maybe my inane babblings will provide a balance to add to your melting pot.

    Some of the clues I thought were very clever. 19d was my favourite too, I loved the misdirection to make the solver look for a spoonerism which isn’t there. My favourite crossword moments are the penny-dropping groans and smiles. Never forget a setter’s first job is to entertain. Being witty and not over-concealing your misdirection will win you many friends here 👍 I also liked 1a, 25a, 28a, 2d and 8d.

    I had a look at your debut crossword – you’re after my own heart with the Japanese interest, but I did laugh – you’ll struggle to find another person in the world who likes cryptic crosswords and Kawaikute Gomen! Know your audience. On Big Dave you’ll find octagenarians and middle-aged twerps like me. You won’t find many who have heard of the Wiggles. In this crossword though you’ve kept reference to your keen Japanese interest (25a) without making it obscure, I thought this was really well done 👍

    Don’t try to be too clever for your own good, I learned this the hard way recently and will no doubt have to again! I winced at the “&lit” in 24a, I don’t think the clue needed crossword jargon, it felt like you were trying to show off your knowledge, even if that wasn’t the intention. Personal preference is a big thing for solvers too, I dislike wordy “lego” clues which feel like a chore, but many other solvers enjoy them. You can’t please everybody.

    Style is another thing. I can’t do Fez’s puzzles either 🤣 but I know he is a regular at MyCrosswords which is in the Guardian mould, and MC regulars usually rave over each others efforts. Big Dave blogs only Telegraph puzzles so this must show the difference between house styles. It’s fascinating and I must make more of an effort to branch out.

    The best piece of advice I have read so far is “Setting a crossword is a battle of wits which the setter should expect to lose gracefully”. Choosing a friendly grid is a good start (this one was perfect actually). Pop in a couple more witty anagrams maybe with obvious indicators. This helps solvers get going and provides “checkers” for harder clues nearby, making them “fairer”. I was reading the obituary of the legendary Excalibur recently. She said she never used automated grid filling as that was a sure-fire way to get obscure words difficult to clue. I’ll be taking that advice to heart.

    Anyway, that’s enough from me, hope you’re relaxed after your exams now, I look forward to your next puzzle with interest. 頑張ってね! 🎌🎏🍣

  9. I don’t think I found this quite as tricky as some but it is certainly towards the tougher end for Rookie Corner, Azuna. There are a few I have not been able to parse so I look forward to Prolixic’s review in due course. Fez has done a good job in terms of advice – the stretchiness of some of the links you asked us to make is the main area where I’d suggest you ease up on the solver. (Which is probably pretty rich, coming from me! 😉)

    That said, a big tick from me for 24a which really made me laugh when the penny dropped. (Ha – I’ve just read the note above which shows everyone has their own preferences. Maybe it would be a tad unfair on the generalist solver who just tackles a back pager but you are probably pitching at an audience here who will be aware of the &lit idea)

    Thanks for the puzzle and, yes, good luck with the results.

  10. Welcome back, Azuna.

    I found this less challenging than your last one, but it was still fairly tough, especially the lower half of the grid.

    In addition to the points others have already made, I noticed that “is” was lifted on three occasions from the clues (5a, 14a and 4d) to slot into the solutions. I think you get away with one such instance per puzzle, certainly not three times. I would have liked to have seen “changes” or something similar as the anagram indicator in 7d, as I’m not a fan of nouns being stuck at the end of clues after the anagram fodder. I didn’t really understand why “oriental” was preferred to “eastern” in 19d either. My favourite clue was 2d.

    I do detect an improvement of sorts from last time, fewer dodgy surfaces and over-ambitious constructions, so credit where credit’s due.

    Many thanks, Azuna.

  11. Thanks for the puzzle, Azuna. I really enjoyed most of it, though I look forward to Prolixic’s review to understand a few parsings, had to check some answers on Google post hoc, and had to resort to a letter reveal to confirm my direction in 9d.

    Having said that, most of this was not too difficult, and I’d have said more like a mid-week Toughie at most.

    I liked the variety of clue types, you’d worked hard on the surfaces, and I appreciated the cleverness of the puzzle’s construction, though I found it a little dry with very few chuckles.

    Hon Mentions to 5a, 18a, 25a, 5d & 19d. I had no criticisms of any of the clues, but 9d was utterly beyond me, a real “never heard of” answer.

    Thank you for the enjoyment, and thanks in advance to Prolixic.

  12. Hi. I found this quite satisfying to complete, albeit I could not parse everything (but that was most likely my fault). I can’t comment on the structure of the clues, as I am not a setter or any kind of expert. I quite liked the reference to the Wiggles. They are quite well known outside Australia to young children. In any case, as an Australian, I appreciated not having to know UK towns or shires, areas of London, or UK TV shows to complete this crossword.

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