The Short and Long of It | The Nation


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The Short and Long of It

In a previous post, we shared some of our unusually long clues. Today, we revisit some unusually short ones from the Nation puzzle. While we do not see brevity as the soul of cryptic clueing, there is something satisfying about a concise clue. This post may be helpful to beginners, as we will review just about every clue type. For more information on the clue types, see our recently improved and expanded guide.

First, a tour of three-word clues. For obvious reasons, they are not particularly flexible. The most common three-word clues are anagrams, charades and double definitions.

The format of three-word anagram clues is
      <anagram fodder> <anagram indicator> <definition>
but of course not necessarily in this order. The one thing you can count on is that the definition will not be in the middle. Here are some examples:
   AUGMENT  Increase toxic mutagen (7)
   IMPUTE  Assign uptime unfairly (6)
   DANSEUSE  Flexible Sudanese ballerina (8)
   MESCAL  Camels chewed peyote (6)

Charades do not require an indicator, so they lend themselves to three-word clues: <part 1> <part 2>, preceded or followed by the definition. Here are some examples:
   DENMARK  “Country Hideaway” sign (7)
   HEATHENS  Infidels cook chickens (8)
   JACKPOT  Prize cheese casserole (7)

Double definitions also do not require an indicator:
   LINER  Ship’s protective interior (5)
   SUPPLY  Endow with flexibility (6)
   TELL  Legendary archer, say (4)
   TENSE  Edgy present, perhaps (5)

And here are some punny double definitions:
BELLINI  Composer’s little glockenspiels? (7)
   DELIBERATED  Pondered and re-enslaved? (11)
   IN CAMERA  Secretly like film? (2,6)
   TACKY  Sticky and sharp? (5)

The remaining clue types tend to yield longer clues. Still, almost all are represented among our three-word clues:
   ROUGH  Transported unwrapped sketch (5) (deletion)
   LEGENDS  Stories of feet? (7) (heteronym)
   THROB  Bathrobe conceals pulse (5) (hidden word)
   LISZT  Composer’s catalog sung (5) (homophone)
   EVIAN  Reject green water (5) (reversal)
   STEWED  Drunk dries up? (6) (reversal in a down clue)
   ROCKING THE BOAT  Ate both? Revolting! (7,3,4) (rebus)
   HALO  Non-human character circle! (4) (&lit)
   VIBRATOS  Bravo—it’s “quavers”! (8) (&lit)

And here is an unusual punny clue in which we breach the firewall between definition and wordplay:
   INFANTRY  Battalions of babies? (8)

And now for some two-word clues. Most (but not all!) are double definitions of one sort or another:
   BLACKBALL  Bar #8 (9)
   DRAWERS  Artists’ underwear (7)
   LEGIT  Acceptable run (5)
   PAST  Father’s time! (4)
   POLISHED  Suave Sullivanski? (8)
   RIME  Frost poem (4)
   SECOND IN COMMAND  O, deputy! (6,2,7)
   TONY  High-class award (4)

Here is a heteronym:
   PREEN  Groom ‘em? (5)

And a heteronymic clue which we like even though we know some solvers object to that level of deviousness:
   IRONMAN  Triathlon’s female? (7)

Once, we managed a one-word charade &lit, which seemed to be the ultimate in brevity:
   CARAVAN  Vehicles! (7)

But we did improve on it, with this one-letter double definition &lit:
   NUMBER ONE  I! (6,3)

The only way to get even more concise would be to have an empty clue, perhaps
   CLUELESS  (8)

However in that situation, would the absence of a clue be a definition, or would it be wordplay? Or perhaps it is both? If so, tradition would require an exclamation point, making the clue not quite empty, but still a record-setter.

How do you feel about short 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 four links:
   • The current puzzle
   • Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
   • Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device)
   • 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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