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The Rebus Clue | The Nation

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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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The Rebus Clue

A few links before this week’s post:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A new Nation puzzle solver’s blog hosted by Braze, a Pennsylvania cryptic fan who is also a hockey referee (zebra). Braze will post his annotated solutions on the Monday following the appearance of the puzzle online. Fortunately, it seems like the hard-copy solvers (most of you, we think) can easily scroll back to a previous puzzle and avoid seeing solutions you don’t want to see.
• An interview with Henri on the Guardian (UK) crossword blog

As we mentioned in a previous post, our predecessor, Frank Lewis, occasionally wrote reversed clues, such as “Earth despair (6,5)” for BROKEN HEART. Here the definition is “despair” and the wordplay is, in a way, “earth.” This is the reverse of the usual cryptic crossword anagram, where “broken heart” would be used as wordplay for EARTH. 

In the terminology of the National Puzzlers’ League, this sort of wordplay is a rebus. In a rebus, you start from a so-called rubric (“earth” in the above example), and figure out a way to read it that supplies the solution. Of course, some context is required, and in the case of a cryptic clue it is supplied by the definition.

Here are some examples of rebus clues we have used, with a brief explanation of each. First, some examples in the style of Frank Lewis:

From puzzle 3200:
ROCKING THE BOAT   Ate both? Revolting! (7,3,4)
ROCKING is the anagram indicator and THE BOAT is the anagram fodder, yielding “Ate both.”

From puzzle 3205:
INTEGER VARIABLE   Non-fractional quantity in a program makes it green? (7,8)
VARIABLE is the anagram indicator and INTEGER is the anagram fodder, yielding “it green.”

From puzzle 3244:
LOOSE-LEAF   Flea’s kind of binder (5-4)

The next three examples are based on the position of a specific letter in a word in the solution:

From puzzle 3198:
BEETHOVEN’S THIRD   E is for “Eroica” (10,5)
From puzzle 3229:
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE H in an isolated location (6,2,7)

From puzzle 3237:
SECOND IN COMMAND   O, deputy! (6,2,7)

And finally an idiosyncratic example, from puzzle 3222:
TEA FOR TWO AND TWO FOR TEA   Song excerp2 from 19T5? (3,3,3,3,3,3,3)
This is a somewhat phonetic clue, where 2 was used for t, and T was used for 2 in the clue, to suggest the solution.

Rebus clues are very popular among our test solvers, and in fact, the first example above was suggested by a test solver (thanks, Yossi!). Obviously, we don’t often have the opportunity to use them, but we love to do it when we can.

If you have thoughts on this type of puzzle clue, please share them below, along with comments, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle.

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