Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.
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[First, three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation-puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where all clues from past Nation puzzles are explained in detail.]
Earlier this week, the puzzle constructor Matt Gaffney wrote a witty article for Politico, examining the upcoming presidential election from a cruciverbal perspective. Matt was happy to leave policy matters to others; for him, the relevant question was which candidate was likely to bequeath the nation’s crossword constructors names whose patterns of vowels and consonants made them puzzle fodder. First daughters MALIA and SASHA Obama, for example, are crossword godsends, to which only TAGG Romney, of all the Republican candidate’s sons, comes close. Matt would also have preferred John THUNE or Marco RUBIO as Romney’s running mate, rather than the already easy-to-clue RYAN. And so on.
A big part of the joke here was the fact that crossword puzzles in general—as befits a form of entertainment designed to appeal to the widest possible audience—are expected to remain scrupulously neutral. It was OK for a constructor to weigh in on the election, as long as he did it on purely non-political grounds.
Conversely, one of the great pleasures of contributing crosswords to The Nation has been the freedom we’ve felt to let our political opinions seep into the puzzles. It’s not something we’ve done too often—that would quickly get tiresome—but it’s good to feel that clues evincing a left-wing point of view, which would certainly get shot down in other venues, are perfectly OK here.
The first couple of times we wrote a clue with a political angle, it felt a bit risqué. We would ask ourselves, or our test-solvers would ask us, “Is that really allowed?” And the answer would always come back, “If not in The Nation, then where?”
Often, an ostensibly political clue is really just a matter of surface meaning, making use of helpful names or terms from the political scene without any genuine content behind it. Here are a couple of examples from recent puzzles:
INPUT Putin’s terrible advice (5)
CALAIS Scalia drunk with French port (6)
LEFT-WINGER In Paris, the franc involves sharp pain for Sarkozy opponent, in all likelihood (4-6)
Some clues have both a political slant and plausible deniability, as in this clue we wrote around the time of the Wisconsin showdown between Governor Scott Walker and the state’s public-sector unions:
INTENDANT Governor is mean when up against worker, e.g. (9)
INHALER Popular, healthy Republican? Bill Clinton claimed he was not one (7)
PRESIDENT Obama is here, concealing birth certificate, perhaps (9)
RUSES Republican employs deceptive practices (5)
YANKS Americans can be jerks (5)
But every now and then we include a clue that is explicitly political in its outlook.
BOB DOLE Republican politician to cut welfare (3,4)
ELECTRON ”Vote for Reagan”—it’s got a negative charge (8)
NAFTA Dubious Clinton achievement: pushing back at supporter (5)
OIL The actual origins of Operation Iraqi Liberty? (3)
PEPPERONI It might come from a pig: kind of spray on individual’s face (9)
And our proudest accomplishment yet in this category (in a Down clue):
ROMNEY Questionable money supports Republican presidential candidate (6)
Do you have any favorite examples of political puzzling, either here or elsewhere? Please share your thoughts below, along with comments, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle.