In our last post, we discussed different ways to reference single letters, but we did not address what may be the most common way to refer to a single letter: as an abbreviation.
There are many ultra-standard abbreviations in cryptic clues, such as “club” for Y, “time” for T, “love” for O (zero in tennis,) “quietly” and “loud” for P and F (in music), “university” for U. We try to minimize our use of those clichés, but we often break down:
BYLAW Bawl uncontrollably about club’s rule (5)
HOT SPOT Photos distorted by time in radioactive location (3,4)
IDIOM I’d love to go inside—I’m getting a foot in the door, for instance (5)
PAVERS Quietly maintains street crews (6)
STUFFY Filthy locale outside university, very loud and poorly ventilated (6)
Many cryptic constructors use name for N, but we don’t think we’ve seen this outside of cryptics. Another abbreviation that seems to be common, but only within cryptic puzzles, is “new” for N. One could conceivably justify that because it is common in state abbreviations, but in that case why not use J for Jersey or M for Mexico?
Frank Lewis, our predecessor at The Nation, was fond of using “point” for “cardinal point”: N, E, W or S. However, we usually specify which one we are talking about:
SMIDGEN Between south and north, fly a little bit (7)
EERIE Spooky Eastern lake (5)
He also frequently used “number” to refer to Roman numerals. Again, we try to be more specific:
BLACK LUNG Fifty in rear, fifty in front of retreating antelope with disease (5,4)
As a policy, we prefer everyday abbreviations such as these:
• cold for C, hot for H (on faucets)
• salt for S, pepper for P (on shakers)
• left for L, right for R (on earphones)
• ace for A, king for K, queen for Q, jack for J (on playing cards)
However, for variety, we sometimes resort to more specialized and less well-known abbreviations:
• bishop for B, knight for N (chess)
• losses for L, error for E (sports)
• variable for x or y, irrational for e (math)
Alas, while the latter bring some variety to the puzzle, they are guaranteed to irritate some solvers who are not familiar with them. Our apologies: one person’s familiar is another person’s obscure. There’s nothing we can do about that.
Finally, somewhere in between familiar and specialized are many abbreviations we feel ambivalent about, such as the ROY G BIV abbreviations for the colors of the rainbow. And sometimes we disagree between ourselves: one of us looks askance at Y or N for “yes” or “no,” while the other thinks they’re perfectly fine.
As a solver, what abbreviations do you feel are acceptable?
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