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From Point A to Point B (Part I) | 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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From Point A to Point B (Part I)

A regular solver of the Nation puzzle writes:

I know I’ll never win with the Nation defense of clues that parse A + B words or syllables as simply A + B. What they see as freedom from rules to be clever, on which I’d agree totally in principle, I see as lazy excuses to be less clever and not to scrutinize his own clues. (Everyone thinks his own jokes are funny.) And there are at least two such in long down answers in No. 3271. But am I seeing a few clues that are new lows?

Clearly, this solver—let’s call him John—is frustrated with our puzzles. We may in fact never win him over. But let us try to clarify our stance in response to his comments.

Parsing A + B words as simply A + B

Long multiword entries are somewhat rare in US cryptics, in part because many constructors agree with John. (By long, let’s say twelve letters or longer.) In a long entry, the likelihood of a reversal is nil. The likelihood of a hidden word or double definition is very low. The likelihood of a homophone, container or charade is fairly low. So if you rule out parsing A + B entries as A + B, the inevitable result is that you are almost always reduced to using an anagram. We’ve written before about our reluctance to use long anagrams. (In a nutshell: they’re trivial for the constructor, and laborious for the solver.) That said, when we can find a good way to clue A + B without breaking it up as A + B, we do it. We even resign ourselves to long anagrams on occasion. Here are some examples from past puzzles:

A rare long hidden word, totally John-kosher:
   ERIC ALTERMAN  Nation columnist captivated by chimerical term: “Antineoliberalism” (4,8)

A rare long homophone, which nevertheless probably violates John’s sensibilities since AND BARREL are separate:
   LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL  Totally overheard: conversation concerning smoked fish and mineral (4,5,3,6)
   [“lox, talk and beryl”]

A nearly but not quite John-acceptable charade:
   MEET FACE TO FACE  Proper side of expert seen in alternative to Skype (4,4,2,4)
   [MEET + FACET + OFT + ACE]

Two long, perfectly John-legitimate anagrams:
   ST PAUL MINNESOTA  Pastel mountains crumbled in state capital (2,4,9)
   TITUS ANDRONICUS  Unsound artistic interpretation in play by Shakespeare (5,10)

A double-double definition:
   NAIL POLISH Some paint is secure, coming from Krakow (4,6)
The John-worthiness of this last clue is open to question. On the one hand, it breaks the answer phrase into its component parts. On the other hand, each part is clued by a perfectly unobjectionable double definition (NAIL/NAIL, POLISH/POLISH). Does the concatenation of two legitimate clues make the result illegitimate?

Of course, there are many examples where we combine an anagram with some other device, as in this example:
   BACHELOR’S DEGREE  German composer with horrible greed, or else evidence of a college education (9,6)

We’ve also used nontraditional rebus clues for long entries.

But there’s more to say on this. Many, many multiword phrases include short components such as OF THE and AND. We’ve broken up OF THE as OFT HE once or twice, as in this example:
   STATE OF THE ART  Announce frequently: “Love is on the cutting edge” (5,2,3,3)
   [STATE + OFT + HEART]

But obviously that’s not always possible, and it would get boring fast. Likewise, there are only so many ways to deal with AND. Here is one:
   FIRST AND FOREMOST  Taking priority can be a way to do things in woods, behind a conifer-covered area (5,3,8)
   [FIR STAND + FORE(M.O.)ST]

In general, however, we have decided we’d rather allow ourselves to clue “A of the B” as “A of the B,” or “A and B” as “A and B.” We prefer not to turn our back on this sort of multiword phrase. Why should those only be available to American-style crossword constructors?

We’ll have more to say on this subject in our next post.

Are you concerned about clues that break along word boundaries? How do you feel about multiword entries? Please share 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.

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