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In Defense of Simplicity | 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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In Defense of Simplicity

[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.]

Every now and again—perhaps once or twice per puzzle—we write a clue that’s so easy to crack that our first response is to give it the stink-eye. “Well, that’s pretty obvious,” one of us will say to the other. “Where’s the sport? What kind of challenge is that?”

Then we reconsider, because the truth is that even bone-simple clues have a place in a good puzzle. For that matter, our ideal is to make sure that each puzzle is as varied as possible—covering a full range of clue types, balancing long, intricate constructions with straightforward clues, and encompassing every level of difficulty.

Why does it take an effort of will to include the easy ones? Because for us, there’s more fun in writing clues that are daunting, devilish and deceptive. That’s the nature of this enterprise, after all: We pose a challenge, and solvers try to rise to it. We’re never more content than when we’re cooking up fiendish ways to trick solvers.

But a puzzle made up of nothing but tough clues wouldn’t be much fun (at least, not for most solvers). It’s helpful to give solvers a way in—a few easy-to-parse, uncomplicated clues that can give them a leg up on the more dastardly stuff elsewhere. Plus, solvers come to puzzles with varying degrees of skill and experience, so a clue that seems transparent to a seasoned veteran might be at just the right level for a newbie.

What are the easiest clue types? Probably the easiest is an anagram clue in which the anagram fodder (the words containing the letters to be rearranged) aren’t especially well hidden. For instance:
DECOR  Design heretical credo (5)
IMPUTE  Assign uptime unfairly (6)
Also easy are double-definition clues that are stripped to their minimal two words, like these:
FINE  Swell penalty (4)
STERN  Inflexible back (5)
And some clues are easy just because they have so few component parts.
LARK  Bird left boat (4)
SLAP  Strike friends on the way back (4)

 

None of these clues have the elegance or panache of a multi-part container-cum-reversal lollapalooza. But they too have an important role to play in the microcosm that is a well-balanced puzzle.

Please share quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

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