Contraindication | The Nation


Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Most cryptic clues include an indicator, a word of phrase that identifies what type of wordplay is involved. We wrote about this in last week’s post, and today we discuss three clue types with no indicators. Interestingly, all three involve forms of wordplay with a long history.

In a double definition, the two definitions are stated consecutively, sometimes with a connector that indicates equivalence:
   BLUNT  Dull reefer (5)
   CONSTITUTIONAL  Walk within legal limits (14)
   WREN  Architect’s songbird (4)
   THOU  You could be grand (4)

Some cryptic constructors do not allow any wordplay in their double definitions, and insist that the two meanings have no common etymological root. We are not that strict, and we welcome puns into our double definitions. After all, to most people, puns are the quintessential form of wordplay. Here are some examples of punny double defs:
   YELLOW SUBMARINE  Song about a sandwich with extra mustard? (6,9)
   WINE PRESS  Device for crushing grapes—or where you might read about one? (4,5)
   THE TEMPEST  Play about the most briefly employed worker? (3,7)

Another traditional form of wordplay is the charade. Before charades were a performance parlor game, they were a form of riddle in verse. In that form, the charade is heavily indicated. Here is an example by Jane Austen:
   You may lie on my first by the side of a stream,
   And my second compose to the nymph you adore,
   But if, when you’ve none of my whole, her esteem
   And affection diminish—think of her no more!

The indicators are not trying to hide. Quite the opposite: “my first,” “my second,” and “my whole” are absolutely standard. We found this charade (and you can find its solution) here. (If you like your wordplay in verse form, check out The Enigma, where light verse and wordplay have coexisted for more than a century.)

In cryptic crosswords, charades need no indicators as long as the parts are clued in order, with the definition preceding or following. Here are some examples:
   WINSLOW HOMER  Artist’s triumph with unhurried smash hit (7,5)
   TONALLY  Heavyweight friend with a key (7)
   STATE OF THE ART  Announce frequently: “Love is on the cutting edge” (5,2,3,3)

However, any change in the order must be indicated:
   DRAKE  Libertine following the lead of Donald Duck (5)
   TAPERED  Diminished bureaucracy had the last word on top (7)

The third and last type of clue that requires no indicator is the rebus clue. Here are some examples:
   NONPLUS  Baffle -? (7)
   ABALONE  Mollusk:          B (7)
   SWITCHING GEARS  Sarge is changing course (9,5)

Once again, this is an ancient type of wordplay incorporated into cryptic cluing. We have given serious thought to how a rebus could be indicated, but we were unable to come up with a range of indicators that would be sufficiently accurate and, at the same time, potentially misleading. Moreover, as solvers, we enjoyed the occasional rebus clues in Frank Lewis’s puzzles, precisely because they were not indicated. This made the “aha” moment of realizing “this must be a rebus clue!” all the more enjoyable.

What do you think of incorporating traditional puzzle forms into cryptic crosswords? 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, with many hints provided
    by the software)
   • A Nation puzzle solver’s blog, where every one of our clues is explained in detail

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