Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,093 / Rover

Posted by Eileen on August 19th, 2010


It’s rather surprising to have two posthumous puzzles in a row: Rover died in May this year. This is a typical ‘mixed bag’ of a Rover puzzle – some good clues interspersed with some rather dubious or weak cryptic definitions. There’s a rather dated feel to this puzzle, in both clues and answers.


1   SPANISH CUSTOMS: double /cryptic definition: I think  at least one of our regular contributors won’t like this one. Chambers’ definition of this pejorative phrase is ‘irregular or restrictive practices by a group of workers, such as overmanning and excessive overtime, which are costly, inefficient, etc.’, with no hint of its derivation. There’s some discussion of that in an article here:,,628288,00.htm
OVEN-READY: this raised a wry smile
10   OWLET: not very well hidden in shadOW LET
11   PRONG: cryptic definition, referring not to the farm implement, but the tuning fork used to tune musical instruments.
12  BAKEHOUSE:  a bloomer is a type of loaf but there’s also a reference to the women’s baggy trousers advocated by Amelia Bloomer in the mid – 19th century.
13  NEEDLING: cryptic definition
14  MARCEL: anagram of CALMER: reference to the Marcel Wave, an artificial hair wave created with heated curling irons by the 19th century French hairdresser, François Marcel.  I rather like this clue: the anagram indicator is ‘product of”  but the definition, ‘waves’,  provides a subsidiary one, I think.
17  CAPERS: double definition:  ‘cut a caper’ sounds rather old-fashioned; capers are flower buds that are pickled to make caper sauce.
19 CATHOLIC: double definition
22  NERVELESS: this is one of those words which seem to have contradictory meanings, since nerve means bravery.
24  RASTA: anagram of A STAR: abbr. for Rastafarian
25  RAPID: double definition: it’s an Austrian football club, apparently.
26  VERTEBRAE: a nice cryptic definition
27  STIR ONE’S STUMPS: double/cryptic definition and another rather dated expression, I think.


1   SHOPPING CENTRE: SHOPPING has two Ps in the middle
2   ANEMONE: a not very successful anagram of NAME ONE
3   IRREGULAR: double definition
4   HEADBAND: HEAD [leading] BAND [musician{s}]: a very weak charade, especially as the apostrophe is misplaced in both the paper and online versions.
5   UNYOKE: double [?] definition: the two seem rather close to me.
6   TROTH: ROT [decline] in TH[e]: Usually only seen in the words of the traditional marriage service:  ‘… and thereto I plight thee my troth’.
7   MOLLUSC: MO [doctor] + anagram of CULLS
8   STEEPLECHASERS: anagram of  HE PRESELECTS AS, making an ungrammatical surface
15  ABHORRENT: anagram of BROTHER AN
16 MANSARDS: SARD [Sardinian] in MAN’S [Island’s]: I thought this was a dodgy abbreviation but Chambers gives Sard = Sardinian: a mansard is a roof style named after Francois Mançart, a 17th century French architect
18 PARAPET: PARA [soldier] + PET [dog]: a rather whimsical picture!
20 LUSTRUM: I don’t know how to define this clue – it has no place in a cryptic crossword, I think. The clue is a straightforward definition of a fairly unusual word: adding a question mark does not make it cryptic! The lustrum was the expiatory offering made by the censors in ancient Rome for the whole people every five years, after completing the census.
21  HEAVEN: is this cryptic? It’s rather poignant, anyway, in the circumstances.
23  ELDER: anagram of DE[a] LER

48 Responses to “Guardian 25,093 / Rover”

  1. Matt says:

    Hi Eileen

    Re 20d – the online OED gives two definitions for Lustrum, so I took the answer as sort of a double definition.

    1. Rom. Antiq. A purificatory sacrifice made by the censors for the people once in five years, after the census had been taken

    2. A period of five years.

    It may be obvious to you seasoned solvers but can you explain the wordplay in 9a?


  2. Myrvin says:

    Thank you Eileen.
    This was tough for me.
    I thought SPANISH CUSTOMS seen in a Madrid airport was quite funny, when I got it.
    NEEDLING surely has two parts to it.
    12 is a cd too I think. Itchy and what sewers do.
    20d very odd I agree.
    21d I think has two parts. It’s wonderful = it’s heaven; and Up there = heaven.

  3. Myrvin says:

    “Itchy and what sewers do.” should follow NEEDLING not 12.

  4. Orange says:

    Matt, oven-ready food is moved from the shop/kitchen shelf straight to an oven shelf.
    10a There is a Screech owl, which presumably starts out as an owlet!

  5. tupu says:

    Thanks Eileen

    My heart sank a bit after all the previous controversy and just next day after a humdrum Quantum piece. Most of this was better than I feared, however.

    10a and 1d seemed pretty weak though I missed the two PPs in the centre of shopping which does improve it! But I enjoyed 9, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 26, and 4 and 8.

    I found that a few words and phrases were slightly off the radar of my everyday vocab – this resonates with Eileen’s comment about ‘a rather dated feeling’, and I checked with the dictionary more often than usual.

    12a kept me guessing till the end (a clever clue I think) and I kept hunting for bellhouse and bulbhouse and wondering why greenhouse was too long before the penny dropped.

    9a came fairly late – straight from shop shelf to oven shelf I suppose.

    As Myrvin said of Quantum, ‘RIP’ Rover.

  6. Matt says:

    Thanks Orange

    Must admit I hadn’t thought of the shelf in the shop!

  7. tupu says:

    Hi Orange
    Sorry, we ocrossed on 9a

  8. Eileen says:

    Hi Matt

    Yes, I was aware of the secondary meaning of ‘lustrum’ [analogous with ‘Olympiad’] but I don’t see how that redeems the clue.

    Sorry about the omission in 9ac: it reminded me of my friends’ amazement when their daughter, who had no interest in or aptitude for cooking, included baking trays on her wedding present list. ‘Well’, she said, ‘It says on everything: “Remove wrapping and place on a baking tray”‘!

  9. ACP says:

    Rover puzzles are still the least entertaining, and usually most irritating, puzzles that the Guardian uses.

    20dn LUSTRUM is just an awful clue that gave solvers no chance if they didn’t know it beforehand.
    Many others were borderline cryptic.

  10. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog, Eileen. Not my favourite setter and I found this pretty stodgy overall, although your explanation of 1dn redeemed this clue for me, at least. I guessed LUSTRUM, though I didn’t know what it meant and my last was 12ac.

  11. Rishi says:

    Anent posthumous publication of crosswords, see my Comment posted a while ago in Chat Room: General Crossword Discussion. I would be interested in what others have to say on the subject.

  12. Kathryn's Dad says:

    I wasn’t very complimentary about the last Rover puzzle that the Guardian published. Our mam taught us that if we didn’t have anything positive to say, say nothing. So I’ll go back under my stone and leave it to Eileen if she wishes to remind us of the appropriate Latin phrase.

  13. Eileen says:

    Hi K’s D

    I expect you’re thinking [more specifically] of ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum [dicendum est]: Say nothing but good about the dead.

  14. Eileen says:

    Or, more strictly: Nothing but good is to be said of the dead.

  15. Brigadier Carruthers says:

    I was so convinced that ‘heaven’ was toooo simple and therefore wrong that I couldn’t see 26a jumping out at me for ten minutes. 20d is too obscure for a dd.; a ewe’s delight might have helped. Swimsuit Syndrome: (looking too deeply, I suppose).

  16. otter says:

    I have nothing ill to say about Rover, who I’m sure was a perfectly nice person, but I didn’t like this crossword at all. There was too much which was barely cryptic or which relied on esoteric knowledge without any key for the answer to be worked out by those without that knowledge (eg 25a).

    I eventually got ones such as ‘STIR ONE’S STUMPS’ (a phrase I’ve never heard) but eventually gave this puzzle up as a bad job with only about half of it completed. It just wasn’t worth trying any more. I’m not well at the mo so brain is not in good form and I’ve not managed to complete any cryptics this week, but it wasn’t worth even saving this one for later. I don’t like SPANISH CUSTOMS much – another phrase I’ve not heard, and which makes me think of phrases such as ‘Jerry-built’ – ie derogatory about another nationality. As Eileen points out, there are rather too many outdated expressions in this clue, ‘cut a caper’ being another.

    I immediately thought of bread/bakeries/bread ovens etc for 12a, but couldn’t for the life of me think of BAKEHOUSE. Again, I don’t think it’s a term I’ve ever come across.

    I think TROTH works in the old expression ‘By troth!’ which is an equivalent of ‘By faith!’ I think both are used in Shakespeare.

    1d works as cryptic because ‘shopping’ has two Ps in its middle, but I thought ‘oh, for goodness’ sake’ when I saw the answer. The only one with any fun to it was OVEN READY.

    Thanks for the blog, anyway. I think I enjoyed the blog more than the puzzle.

  17. Stella Heath says:

    Hi, Eileen. You’re right, I was a little peeved by 1a., but your explanation reconciled me to the expression – I can imagine the Spanish way of doing things may look that way to an outsider, and in the past I think they have often been guilty of such practices.

    They are actually very efficient, though, when they put their hearts into it – witness Barcelona ’92.

    Thanks for explaining ‘bloomer’. I’m rather into home baking at the moment, but I’d never heard of it. The same goes for the Marcel wave and Austrian football teams, while I needed your learned insight to fully understand 9a and 11a ( sorry for the split infinitive, anything else sounded pedantic)

    In general, I agree, this was a mixed bag, with some quite dated expressions – which is fine for me, as I’m probably more familiar with them than the modern ones :)

    I, for one, didn’t see much cryptic in 20d and 21d.

  18. sidey says:

    These posthumous puzzles don’t do much for the good memory of the compilers.

  19. tupu says:

    Hi Eileen

    Thanks re ‘De mortuis’. I have been tempted to explore this further having remembered it slightly differently with nihil (the longer form of nil). Your version, as Im sure you know, is the most quoted. There are also versions (argued about) in which ‘bonum’ is replaced by ‘bene’ (common outside English areas apparently).

    I can find no acknowledged original Latin source for the saying. It is said to have come from a Spartan C6BC philosopher, Chilon, and quoted as his in Greek by Diogenes Laertius many centuries later. Some refs seem to confuse it with Horace’s ‘dulce et decorum’ used and contradicted by Wilfred Owen. I have not seen Diogenes’ Greek text.

    One commentator quotes an English translation of a version by Erasmus “Rayle not vpon him that is deade”!

  20. Eileen says:

    Rishi, thanks for your comment #11

    I have read your comment in the Chat Room and will make a considered response later – away from my blog.

  21. Daniel Miller says:

    Wow, some interesting and archaic expressions to be found here. Really nice stuff.

    I’m going for my first full house tomorrow. I normally get 2 or 3 or so finished in a 5 day stretch and just give in on the last few clues – resorting to here for the missing answers when I just can’t see the last one or two. Happily managed all four this week – so here’s hoping!

  22. Dave Ellison says:

    Thanks, Eileen, needed you for my last few which I couldn’t get. It would have helped to spell UNYOKE correctly – I embarrassingly had put UNYOLK. I think that is because the grid had got so messy with my several attempts at 12a.

    I thought there were some excellent clues: 1d especially, worthy of many a fine setter; and 26a, though I am not usually a fan of CDs.

    And, as others have already remarked, some awful ones, too.

    Isn’t the expression STIR YOUR STUMPS, rather than ONES?

  23. Myrvin says:

    Dave E I like UNYOLK. Left you with albumen on your face.
    Your = ONES; I have noticed that setters often use ONE or ONES where I (we) would say YOU or YOUR. I assumed it was middle-class affectation. The queen of course uses ONE for I, which is even weirder – but not as bad as WE.

  24. Stella Heath says:

    Hi Myrvin

    I disagree, I’m afraid. I don’t think it’s affectation, but rather the reference book, impersonal form of the expression.

    True, in speech we use ‘you’ rather than ‘one’, but in writing about language and expressions, the correct pronoun is the latter, and this is how it appears in dictionaries. It is then substituted by the appropriate personal form in actual usage.

    There, I’m being schoolmarmish again :)

  25. Eileen says:

    Hi Stella – that’s what I’m usually accused of being!

    I remember one of the setters saying here that, when solving, he always leaves the pronoun until he has checking letters [the sensible thing to do!] I don’t think there is a crossword convention, except not to use one in the clue and the other in the answer.

    I agree with Dave E. that we’re more likely to hear ‘Stir your stumps’ [if at all – see earlier!] because it’s usually an exhortation. But, in this case, to make sense of the first part of the clue, it should really be ‘stir his stumps’!

  26. Stella Heath says:

    True, Eileen. That would be another gripe, poor Rover.

    Maybe the puzzle wasn’t published in his lifetime because he discarded it?

  27. walruss says:

    Hear, hear. As you say, two posthuimous puzzles in a row, and no medals. Unfortunate!

  28. Carrots says:

    Do you know how much a Spanish Air Traffic Controller gets paid (and to work with the best state-of-the-art kit in Europe)? Or how many retired Brits in Valencia have lost their homes due to local government chicanery?? Although I have never heard the term SPANISH CUSTOMS, the (guessed) answer went in with only two operatives tending to confirm it.

    I`d read LUSTRUM by Robert Harris on holiday last year and although the book was as thick as a Spanish ATC`s wage packet, it wasn`t one of his best.

    RAPID and MARCEL also went in as guesses, but MANSARDS failed to make it altogether. For all these, Auntie Eileen`s erudition and scholarship saved the day.

    One grumble (and, amazingly, Chambers is with me on this): I associate STEEPLECHASER with “horse” rather than “athlete”….and can`t wait to see the event in London 2012. The thought of a couple of dozen fitness freaks trying to scramble over Beecher`s Brook and falling back in is something worth continuing to live for.

  29. Eileen says:

    Hi Carrots

    Thanks – but ‘erudition and scholarship’, nothing!

    I googled the only R?P?D word I knew which meant ‘speedy’ – and discovered it was a football team! [My preferred game is played with a different-shaped ball.]

    I did remember my grandmother talking about a Marcel wave and MANSARD came from a Bamber Gascoigne ‘back of the mind’ moment, that it was something to do with roofs. When I googled it, I found it referred to those pretty French ones:

    [I wonder why links work properly on my comments but not on my blog? – rhetorical question: I wouldn’t understand the answer! :-) ]

    What I’m really ashamed of is not remembering the title of Robert Harris’ second Cicero book. I’ve not long finished ‘Imperium’ but, as you say, they are pretty hefty – many thanks for the reminder.

    And thanks, too, for the lovely picture you paint in your last paragraph!

  30. tupu says:

    Hi Carrots
    OED defines ‘steeplechaser’ as 1. One who rides in a steeplechase, b. One who runs in a steeplechase 2. A horse trained for steeplechasing. 1b fits the bill pretty well.

    :)I am relieved about this because the idea of moving Becher’s Brook from Aintree to London was as worrying as yours of the steeplechasers trying to negotiate it.

  31. don says:

    The steeplechase has been an Olympic event since 1900. ‘The picture’ I find even more ridiculous is the hoity-toity on horse back chasing steeples, all of which seem to be firmly stationary. But then that’s being needlessly disparaging!

    It may be circular, but does ‘headband’ = ‘circle’?

    Does ‘needling’ = ‘irritation’, rather than ‘irritating’?

  32. Myrvin says:

    Ah, “correct” in language usage is so often a class or geographic thing. The reference books are rarely written by anyone from the mass of speakers or writers. When I hear “correct” in such circumstances I suspect I am hearing what the dialect of a particular part of the country and/or a particlar stratum of society thinks is correct. I wrote on the G site that nobody I spoke to when I was young used “one”, and those who did, wouldn’t want to speak to the likes of me if they could help it. I don’t think even my schoolmarms would use it, except in a jokey, affected way.
    Interesting that Eileen reckons it ought to be “his”.

  33. Eileen says:

    Hi don

    On a very pleasant walk through fields yesterday evening, from one Leicestershire village to another, with church steeples being the most visible landmarks – and having to negotiate a very broad stile – one of the modern cross-country obstacles – it was easy to see how the original horse race got its name – but I see what you mean!

    I have more serious issues with HEADBAND – see blog – but I think I thought of it as ‘circlet’, which I’ve just looked up in Chambers and found, miraculously – ‘a little circle; a little circular band or hoop, esp. a metal headband’!

    NEEDLING: you need to think of it as a verbal noun rather than a participle, then it works, I think.

    Myrvin – sorry, of course, I meant ‘the second part of the clue': ‘not what a batsman wants the ball to do’!

  34. Myrvin says:

    don: good points.
    I couldn’t find ‘needling’ in my Chambers – Ostrakon has the latest one. But the OED does include “slang. The action of annoying, irritating, or goading a person; an instance of this.”
    And, for ‘circle':” A band encircling the head; a crown, coronet, diadem.”
    So they are out there.

  35. Davy says:

    Thanks Eileen,

    I totally agree with otter (#16) and did about half of this before giving up. I just could not be bothered especially after yesterday’s poor effort. The clues were poor, some of the answers strange and there’s no way to work out the answers apart from the odd (yes odd) anagram. Either you enter the strange world of Rover through that secret door or you don’t. I didn’t bother trying the handle.

    I really don’t think this puzzle was good enough to be published especially when the Guardian has so many marvellous setters who don’t get an outing very often. I’m talking about Enigmatist, Brendan, Brummie and even Pasquale.

    Yes, I’m sure Rover was a nice fellow but please no more of his puzzles.

  36. Eileen says:

    Hi davy

    May I suggest that you ‘try the handle’ of the Chat Room [General Crossword Discussion] where your comments would be very welcome. [What do you mean – ‘even’ Pasquale?! :-)

  37. Alex M says:

    Struggled with this before giving up about halfway. Agree with many of the comments so far. Some of the cluing was pretty feeble and not really cryptic. Even though I got 25a and 20d there was no great satisfaction because they lack a real cryptic element. As for 1a and 1d – awful.

  38. tupu says:

    When I first began to participate in this blog, I found myself involved in a quarrel over ‘Rover (puzzle) bashing’. I very nearly walked away, and until today and yesterday
    I at least have been very glad that I didn’t.

    I was not particularly taken by this puzzle, but as I said @5 I found a substantial number of clues enjoyable and would have found one more so (1d) if I’d noticed the ‘pp’ that Eileen pointed out. Also the apostrophe error re headband need not be the setter’s fault and it does not seriously damage a nice clue. I do not deny that others e.g. owlet and anemone are not inspired.

    Eileen herself was quite measured in her initial comment, mixing deserved praise with balanced criticism, and several other comments have praised particular clues, but as yesterday a, to me, surprising chorus of mutually reinforcing anger has started to develop as the blog moves on.

    Eileen invites Davy to go to General Chat. I have already been there. I express a view there which I fear many of you will not like. Briefly, we do not ‘own’ the Guardian cryptic and we probably represent a small proportion of those who do it and generally enjoy it. Many of us don’t even buy the paper.

    I also find the more general ‘hostility’ to ‘dead setters’ that seems to emerge from the blog rather puzzling. I’m sure that many will welcome Paul’s or Araucaria’s puzzles once they have passed on.

    I dare say that there are other issues which I am missing. No doubt these will be aired.

  39. Carrots says:

    Hi there Tupu! Isn`t one who rides in a steeplechase a jockey? Isn`t one who runs in a steeplechase a horse? Chambers defines the origin of steeplechase as “…an impromptu horse race with a visible church steeple as a goal.” This would, of course, mean jumping hedges and ditches etc. en route. (It does also say a race of this kind can be run on foot, but I wasn`t going to let on about that). I don`t watch athletics (as much an anathema to me as football) so it`s not suprising I`ve never seen a human steeplechase. Until I do, I shall cherish a vision of Eileen vaulting over her broad stile…hopefully on her way to the next village pub.

  40. rrc says:

    Didnt like Spanish customs for it brought back unpleasant experiences at Madrid Airport which I suppose you could describe as dodgy practices. Disliked oven ready and even with the explainations am not really convinced Never heard the expression stir ones stumps Not a crossword that really engaged me Im afraid.

  41. tupu says:

    Good try carrots! But, sadly, no – the OED is quite clear. :) But you can take solace perhaps in the old song ‘You can say no, no, honey. That’s all right. But I’ll get even with you tonight. You can’t stop me from dreaming!’. So sleep well and sweet dreams of steeplechases wierd and wonderful!!

  42. Scarpia says:

    Thanks Eileen.
    The usual curate’s egg of a puzzle from Rover.I found most of it o.k. even if some of the expressions used were slightly different to what I remember.”Come on shake your stumps” was a common exhortation in my boyhood.
    Knew of Spanish practices,but not customs.
    Thought HEAVEN and UNYOKE were weak for reasons already stated here.
    Top clues for me,26 across and the super 1 down.

  43. Martin says:

    The Guardian Crossword Editor’s July news letter mentioned that he had a considerable stock of Rover puzzles to publish.

    For every one person that likes Shed or Enigmatist there are probably ten or twelve who dislike them and prefer Rover. However three of “the weaker setters” in four days is a bit much. I solve the Graun most days and the Telegraph Toughie as well, and their list of compilers has the same broad church. Some there like Warbler, Campbell and Busman would probably be routine daily puzzles in the Graun and don’t get me started on the puzzles by Excalibur which are best forgotten.

    I personally feel this has been a pretty dull Graun week so far with only Araucaria’s puzzle as a beacon of light in a murky tunnel. You may hear the screams in twenty minutes time if Auster appears on the website.

  44. easy peasy not says:

    Enjoyed this but always do when I finish a Grauniad cryptic. For 17 ac. (“They can be cut and pickled”) I originally had “drunks” which is at least plausible in a vernacular way, though wrong. On which point I find progress sometimes accelerated after a couple of beers, as happened here. Solving these things is becoming rather expensive.

  45. PS says:

    Rapid Vienna played Aston Villa yesterday evening(25a) I would say that Vienna is the name of the club not Rapid. Argyle is not the name of a football club in Plymouth.

  46. Davy says:

    tupu #38,

    There is no hostility towards ‘dead setters’, only towards poor crosswords. I don’t believe that just because someone is deceased, this means that a poor crossword should be viewed with rose-coloured spectacles.

    To quote you, “Briefly, we do not ‘own’ the Guardian cryptic and we probably represent a small proportion of those who do it and generally enjoy it. Many of us don’t even buy the paper.” This is a very valid point tupu and one which is beyond my own selfish horizon but I do buy the Guardian on a Saturday (£1.90).

    So, I apologise to Rover fans out there but unfortunately most of them will not read this.

  47. tupu says:

    Hi Davy.

    Thanks for your response. I am sorry if I wrongly sensed a more general hostility here, and at the same time I am glad if I was wrong (if you see what I mean). The problem has partly been one of intertwining general discussion (qv) and this specific blog. The point was almost a ps to my main comment, part of which you also kindly acknowledge.

    Like you I don’t think the setter’s death enhances a puzzle or particularly detracts from it, and I agree that living setters new or old should not be squeezed out by those in the grave.

    I still believe that some reactions to the puzzle were OTT – and why not, providing a balance is maintained?

  48. tupu says:

    Hi Martin @43

    Thanks. Your point about ‘proportionate (sic) representation’ is helpful.

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