Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.
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Cryptic clues are all about words, and to some extent people’s names are simply a subset of that category. But when a name appears in a clue, it brings along a whole range of references that can enliven—and sometimes complicate—the solving process.
As a general rule, we prefer to limit our use of names to those of real people, because the alternative can seem jury-rigged. The fact that PRESBYTERIANS is an anagram of BRITNEY SPEARS is a noteworthy and interesting discovery; that CONGREGATIONALISTS can be anagrammed to spell the hypothetical name GEORGINA S. TALCISTON is not.
One cliché of cryptic clueing is to append “Wilder,” as an anagram indicator, to a first name with the anagrammable letters. We can proudly say that the only “Wilder” in our files is this one:
GENE Wilder means of inheritance (4)
On the other hand, we have invented one or two spurious people over the years:
GOTCHA Margot Chapman embraces one kind of journalism (6)
PARAGRAPH Norm Silver destroyed harp, gets consecutive sentences (9)
Still, for the most part, our name-dropping has been restricted to the real world. Sometimes we use a name simply as the best example of a type of person:
BANJOIST Prohibit support for Pete Seeger, e.g. (8)
DIARIST Bridget Jones, for example, is supremely terrible when read aloud (7)
Sometimes we use a well-known last name to clue a first name:
DUSTBIN Hoffman hiding black trashcan (7)
E-COMMERCE Come apart over Cunningham’s on-line business (1-8)
INCENTIVE Van Gogh, a little late: “I have a carrot” (9)
WATERGATE With Garbo making a comeback, devoured scandal (9)
But the most satisfying type of clue involves using the full name, perhaps by way of revealing some latent quality of wordplay that the name exhibits. The most common example involves hidden words, which can often lurk astride the gap between a first and last name:
ELMO Michael Moore describes a red puppet (4)
EVEN SO While this may be true, it is assumed by Steven Soderbergh (4,2)
LYRIC Singable excerpt from Joely Richardson (5)
RIFLE Weapon concealed by Ari Fleischer (5)
Whenever possible, we like to include both first and last names, but use them in different ways. Ideally, one of the names can serve as a definition, while the other is part of the wordplay:
OPEN Frank O’Hara’s chief writing implement (4)
RED-BAITER Fire ant, perhaps, consuming the head of Andrew McCarthy, famously (3-6)
Or the two names may both be part of the wordplay, but in different ways:
FORMATTED Matt Drudge, finally taken in by president, laid out… (9)
SPINAL Originally, Sarah Palin edited a certain column (6)
A delightful subset of the latter category are names that can also serve as indicators for a particular type of wordplay, such as anagram…
RETYPE Peter Tosh welcomes Mary, at last, to enter again (6)
KRYPTONITE Harry Potter with inky substance that counteracts supernatural powers (10)
…or initial letter (this one we stole from the puzzler Brian Tivol):
NOODLES Tip O’Neill has plentiful quantities of pasta (7)
To date, our most concentrated name blowout remains this clue:
FLAGELLATED Jack Fitzgerald Kennedy is whipped (11)
With this post, we begin a regular weekly clueing challenge for our readers. Can you come up with a cryptic clue for DENOMINATION? 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—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail.