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

[This is a continuation of our response to a comment from John, a regular solver of our puzzles.]

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our predecessor Frank Lewis’s puzzles was his frequent use of multiword phrases—some of them very long—and his punny clues for them. Here are some examples along these lines from our own short tenure:

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE Part of home stereo system for politician (7,2,3,5)

MOTHER-OF-PEARL Hester Prynne’s nacre (6-2-5)

CHARACTER STRING Letter sequence in an old joke, one that concludes with “I’m a frayed knot” (9,6)

ONE-NIGHT STAND  Single piece of furniture’s hookup (3,5,5)

PORT AUTHORITY Where you might find a bus—or a sommelier? (4,9)

ORGAN RECITAL  What you might hear in church: “liver, kidneys, pancreas…” (5,7)

ROCKET SCIENTIST Arugula expert? You don’t have to be one to make a salad (6,9)

What is interesting about these clues, and clues like them, is that they often generate an enthusiastic response from some solvers, while simultaneously triggering condemnation from others. As La Fontaine said: “He’s crazy in the head, he who pretends to satisfy everyone—and his father too.”

…freedom from rules to be clever…

It is true that we award ourselves that freedom, and perhaps we are delusional in thinking we can make that call. However, that is not what is under consideration here. The prohibition on breaking up a phrase or compound word A+B into A and B is not a rule. Rather, it is a subsidiary to the etymological taboo that is a convention among many US constructors—a convention we usually respect. But that taboo is ignored routinely by, for example, Richard Maltby in the Harper’s puzzle. Cox and Rathvon, who are less rigid than their disciples, violate it on occasion (we cited one such case in a comment on our post on the etymological taboo). Another violator of this so-called rule is free spirit Henry Hook, who once brilliantly clued I STAND CORRECTED with a reference to orthopedic shoes!

US cryptics are a small minority of the world’s cryptics, and this strictly American taboo is not a rule anywhere else. John does not have to agree with us on this, but we stand with the majority of cryptic constructors worldwide.

…lazy excuses to be less clever and not to scrutinize his own clues…

Perhaps we’re heretics, and perhaps we’re not any fun, but lazy we’re not. We do a lot of scrutinizing for each clue. We have outlined our construction process before and will not review it here, except to say that we edit each other’s clues, and incorporate input from not one or two, but sometimes up to a dozen test solvers. We know we are occasionally pushing the US cryptic envelope, and thus we appreciate feedback from solvers, as it helps us calibrate our experiments. We also know that, even though our departures from tradition are few and far between, we risk offending traditionalists. We don’t take this lightly, as some of our best friends are traditionalists, but we prioritize entertainment over conformity, and where the muse leads, we will follow.

am I seeing a few clues that are new lows?

Clues that actually do not work are unlikely in The Nation puzzle, given our process. We encourage John and any solvers who don’t understand some of our clues to look up Braze’s detailed dissection of them, which appears on the Monday or Tuesday following online publication of the puzzle, and thus is posted well before the hard copy magazine reaches you.

Do you appreciate our occasional punny clues? 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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