Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.
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In recent posts, we discussed the views of (London’s) Sunday Times cryptic crossword editor, Peter Biddlecombe, on definitions: the possibility of cryptic clues in which the definition is at neither the beginning nor the end, and the validity of defining by example. Today, we conclude this series with Biddlecombe’s ideas about compound anagram clues.
We offered a basic introduction to anagrams in this post. Later, we presented our thoughts about anagram aesthetics. But anagrams are one of the mainstays of cryptic construction, so there is yet more to say!
Normally, in US cryptics, anagram fodder is expected to be in one consecutive string, perhaps interrupted by spaces. That constraint makes anagram clues both easier to spot and easier to solve: If you’re looking for a seven-letter answer, you search through the clue for a seven-letter string that might be the anagram fodder, then look on either side of it for a plausible anagram indicator. Thus, anagrams can offer a good entry point into the puzzle. They are a beginner’s friend, and in a tough puzzle they are every solver’s friend.
Nonetheless, an experienced solver may enjoy a break with those expectations, and appreciate the opportunity to discover anagram fodder that is broken up into two or more chunks. Biddlecombe gives these examples:
Slope: garden with it is dodgy (8)
This clue disguises the anagram fodder by requiring us to convert “garden with it” into “garden, it.”
(The answer is GRADIENT.) Because the cryptic reading of such a clue is entirely consistent and logical, we can see no objection to this sort of structure—other than the fact it’s not done (or not done much) in the US. And as readers of our blog and solvers of our puzzles probably know by now, that would not be a convincing argument to us.
Bacon and ham sandwich initially prepared in carriage (6, 3)
This time, the anagram fodder is “bacon,” “ham” and the initial S of “sandwich,” giving us HANSOM CAB.
Again, the cryptic reading for this clue does work, so we don’t see that as a reason to reject it. What makes it debatable, perhaps, is that “sandwich initially” requires an extra step: translate the phrase to an S, and add that to the fodder before anagramming. However, this is such a straightforward step that we are perfectly willing to accept it. We have not used this sort of clue in the past, but we might in the future.
One final example from Biddlecombe:
Awful meal, zero marks—it may make folk take to the street (5,5)
Here, we have to convert zero to O before combining it with “meal” and “marks” to make SMOKE ALARM.
Something normally not allowed is the “indirect anagram,” which requires you to correctly interpret a definition for all or part of the fodder.[…] You might ask whether “zero = O” […] isn’t also indirect. It is, but the replacement is a familiar one and only affects one letter of the fodder.
To us, this is a borderline case. There is no indicator that we are looking for a one-character replacement for “zero,” and given US cryptic tradition, the result is quite difficult. If we came up with a clue along these lines, we might try it out with our test solvers first to gauge whether it is acceptable.
How do you feel about compound anagram clues such as the above? Please share your thoughts here, along with any 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.
And here are 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 every one of our clues is explained in detail.