[First off, links to the current puzzle and solving guidelines.]

Early on in our stint as The Nation’s cryptic constructors, we heard complaints from more than one solver that our puzzles contained too many anagrams. At the same time, we heard from a friend who was helping a newbie learn about cryptics that she loved the anagrams, because even as a beginner, she could solve them! And there’s the conundrum in a nutshell. We don’t have a quota for how many of instances of each clue type we use in each puzzle, but when it comes to anagrams, it’s generally true that beginners want more of them and experienced solvers want fewer. Our hope is that we will err in both directions, visiting every proportion between the extremes and thus occasionally hitting the exactly right mix for each solver.

An anagram is a rearrangement of the letters of a word or phrase that yields another word or phrase. For example, in Puzzle 3205, we used the fact that the letters in CROATIANS can be rearranged to spell “raincoats”:
CROATIANS …tattered raincoats for Southern Europeans (9)

An anagram clue in a cryptic requires a definition (“Southern Europeans,” in the example above), some anagram fodder (the words whose letters will be rearranged, in this case “raincoats”) and an anagram indicator, which serves as an instruction to the solver (“tattered”). It’s hard to argue that “tattered” indicates the rearranging of letters, but any experienced solver of cryptic crosswords will have no trouble guessing that’s what’s going on. Certainly, there is a wide range of words that indicate anagrams. Some cryptic cognoscenti insist that only words that indicate disorder can be used as indicators. A typical example of the latter appeared in Puzzle 3208:
Here “upset” is the indicator, “sad, staid” is the fodder, and “provocative artists,” of course, is the definition.

However, there are other possibilities for anagram indicators. For example, words that make reference to sequencing without indicating disorder might be used, as in this clue from Puzzle 3220:
WOZNIAK Tech pioneer: “I know A-Z, but in a different order” (7)

A favorite anagram indicator of our predecessor Frank Lewis was “sort.” We used it in this clue in Puzzle 3226:
LAICISM Sort of Islamic philosophy of church-state separation (7)

Notice that these examples have between 7 and 9 letters, which strikes us as the most satisfying range for anagrams. Very short anagrams are perhaps too easy to solve, and can only be justified with a very natural surface reading. Here’s one from Puzzle 3218:
LIDS Tops slid off (4)
(Yes, “off” is a legitimate anagram indicator.)

In the case of long entries, we consider anagrams a last resort. The English language is such that a fourteen- or fifteen-letter phrase can always be rearranged into something else. Take KLEENEX TISSUES, which might appear unfriendly with that K and that X. Nevertheless, the Internet Anagram Server spits out 6,996 anagrams for those letters. Perhaps one of those could be used in a cryptic clue, but it was so much better to clue this with a charade (KLEE + NEXT + ISSUES in Puzzle 3199):
KLEENEX TISSUES Painter subsequently produces things to sneeze at? (7,7)

That said, we are sometimes forced to anagram a long entry, for lack of a better idea. Here’s an example from Puzzle 3232:
RENE DESCARTES Mathematician-philosopher misplaced decent erasers (4,9)

How do you feel about anagrams in clues? Do you have favorite anagram clues you came across or created? Please share below, where you can also post comments, questions, kudos, or complaints about last week’s puzzle or any previous puzzle.