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Word Salad

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

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Puzzling Women

Why is the world of crossword puzzles such a damn boy’s club? This question was raised a couple of weeks ago—a bit less bluntly and far more eloquently—in a splendidly impassioned essay at The American Reader by Anna Schechtman. Schechtman can speak with some authority on the subject—at 23, she has already established herself as one of the more inventive figures in the wave of young constructors that have helped revitalize the field.

And Schechtman’s critique of the field in which she is making her mark pulls no punches. Citing data compiled by her fellow wunderkind, the 17-year-old puzzle whiz David Steinberg, about the authorship of the New York Times puzzle over the decades, she lays out the problem with convincing fervor. Not only are women hugely underrepresented among Times constructors, but the gap has steadily widened over the years.

In our little corner of the puzzle world, that of cryptic crosswords, the gender imbalance is even more pronounced. The only woman publishing cryptics on a regular basis in North America is Emily Cox, one half of the pre-eminent constructing team known as Hex. In the UK, the predominance of male voices is no less striking.

There are a number of possible explanations for this situation, all of them unsatisfactory to varying degrees. Steinberg, in a talk at the most recent American Crossword Puzzle Tournament that prompted Schechtman’s article, evidently proposed that the growing use of computer software to construct crosswords may have tipped the field further toward the male-heavy gender breakdown seen in the world of tech.

Schechtman retails a suggestion by the crossword editor and blogger Amy Reynaldo that crossword construction was once a pursuit for stay-at-home moms who have long since entered the workforce. And Schechtman puts the spotlight directly and uncomfortably on the editors—the Times’s Will Shortz chief among them—who act as gatekeepers to the nation’s puzzle pages.

The cause of the imbalance is probably some combination of these factors, and others yet undetermined. But one way or another, it’s past time to see it corrected.

This week’s clueing challenge: GENDER GAP. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Try It, You'll Like It

A couple of issues back, the Nation puzzle temporarily took on an unfamiliar look. In place of the standard grids that have been the norm for nearly all of our puzzles and those of our predecessor, Frank Lewis—a 15-by-15 diagram with alternating black and white squares—we did something different.

Just for the sake of variety, we ran a puzzle with a bar diagram, in which heavy lines rather than black squares separate the grid entries. And as is traditional with such grids, we included a little extra gimmick in the puzzle—seven of the entries were clued using wordplay only, with the definitions indicated elsewhere in the puzzle. (If that description sounds a little vague, it’s because we’re trying to avoid spoiling the puzzle for anyone who hasn’t solved it yet.)

This wasn’t the first time we’ve varied the shape of things in this way. We used a bar diagram for a puzzle thematically linked to the release of the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, another one to celebrate our 100th contribution to the magazine, and one or two others for no timely reason at all. And each time we do it, we hear a few complaints from solvers who seem put out that the puzzle doesn’t look just like all the others.

Look, we get it. For crossword lovers, solving the puzzle is one of the most comforting routines there is. And it can be disconcerting to encounter something in a different shape or format than what you’ve come to expect.

But the truth is that these variety puzzles using bar diagrams aren’t all that far afield from the usual Nation fare. The clueing techniques are identical, or nearly so (the no-definition gimmick in the most recent puzzle is really only a minor wrinkle in the traditional formula). And although a bar diagram may look daunting at first glance, the mechanics of solving turn out not to be hugely different from a black-square diagram—you’re still writing letters into squares one at a time.

So consider this a plea to solvers who may have been put off by the new format—which, fair warning, is going to keep popping up here from time to time—to give bar diagrams a shot. You might be surprised at how easily they work.

This week’s clueing challenge: NOVELTY. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

In Brief

In our last post, we discussed different ways to reference single letters, but we did not address what may be the most common way to refer to a single letter: as an abbreviation.

There are many ultra-standard abbreviations in cryptic clues, such as “club” for Y, “time” for T, “love” for O (zero in tennis,) “quietly” and “loud” for P and F (in music), “university” for U. We try to minimize our use of those clichés, but we often break down:
   BYLAW  Bawl uncontrollably about club’s rule (5)
   HOT SPOT  Photos distorted by time in radioactive location (3,4)
   IDIOM  I’d love to go inside—I’m getting a foot in the door, for instance (5)
   PAVERS  Quietly maintains street crews (6)
   STUFFY  Filthy locale outside university, very loud and poorly ventilated (6)

Many cryptic constructors use name for N, but we don’t think we’ve seen this outside of cryptics. Another abbreviation that seems to be common, but only within cryptic puzzles, is “new” for N. One could conceivably justify that because it is common in state abbreviations, but in that case why not use J for Jersey or M for Mexico?

Frank Lewis, our predecessor at The Nation, was fond of using “point” for “cardinal point”: N, E, W or S. However, we usually specify which one we are talking about:
   SMIDGEN  Between south and north, fly a little bit (7)
   EERIE  Spooky Eastern lake (5)

He also frequently used “number” to refer to Roman numerals. Again, we try to be more specific:
   BLACK LUNG  Fifty in rear, fifty in front of retreating antelope with disease (5,4)

As a policy, we prefer everyday abbreviations such as these:
   • cold for C, hot for H (on faucets)
   • salt for S, pepper for P (on shakers)
   • left for L, right for R (on earphones)
   • ace for A, king for K, queen for Q, jack for J (on playing cards)

However, for variety, we sometimes resort to more specialized and less well-known abbreviations:
   • bishop for B, knight for N (chess)
   • losses for L, error for E (sports)
   • variable for x or y, irrational for e (math)

Alas, while the latter bring some variety to the puzzle, they are guaranteed to irritate some solvers who are not familiar with them. Our apologies: one person’s familiar is another person’s obscure. There’s nothing we can do about that.

Finally, somewhere in between familiar and specialized are many abbreviations we feel ambivalent about, such as the ROY G BIV abbreviations for the colors of the rainbow. And sometimes we disagree between ourselves: one of us looks askance at Y or N for “yes” or “no,” while the other thinks they’re perfectly fine.

As a solver, what abbreviations do you feel are acceptable?

This week’s cluing challenge: INITIALS. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Writing a Letter

When writing clues, we often need to refer to a single letter as part of the wordplay. Unfortunately, English only has two one-letter words.

Cluing “I” is awkward for a two-person team, so we sometimes use the word right there in the clue:
   IAGO I back the man who plays Othello (4)

The other one-letter word, “a,” can conceivably be clued as “article”, but “an article” would be weird. So we sometimes use it as is:
   ACROSS  A hybrid alternative to down (6)

However, this in turn raises its own issues, bnecause there is a certain amount of looseness around the question of whether clues need articles for smooth surface or can use “headlinese.” So a solver can often be uncertain about whether “a” is contributing to the wordplay or merely the surface.

Another way to get single letters into a clue is by referring to their position in a word. “Fourth of July” is a classic way to indicate Y, and “fifth of whiskey” can be K.
   BEETHOVEN’S THIRD  E is for “Eroica” (10,5)

Since there are only so many natural-sounding phrases in that format, the references are usually to first or last letters of words:
   SPINAL  Originally, Sarah Palin edited a certain column (6)
   BERET  Hat wearer finally cuts into vegetable (5)

That trick can be pretty transparent when it uses standbys like “originally” or “finally.” So we often strive to find indicators for first or last letters that sound more natural in context:
   PRESIDIO  Fort Pulaski’s chief dies, or I fail (8)
   IMAX  I can take in premiere of Moonraker in huge movie format (4)

Goofiness can also put solvers off the scent:
   UNEARTHED  Vishnu’s foot—where the E might be dug up? (9)

One last technique for this post: a well-established cryptic convention is to refer to a letter by its shape. Here are a couple of examples using O:
   AVOCADO  Fruit and eggs returned by rotter along with bagel (7)
   GORILLA  Having eaten a donut, interrogate a thug (7)

In our next post, we’ll discuss abbreviations.

This week’s cluing challenge: HORSESHOE. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

States of Play

Around Independence Day, an American cryptic puzzler’s fancy naturally turns to thoughts of the US. It isn’t always easy: the crossword puzzle is a home-grown American invention, but the cryptic—or, ahem, “British-style” puzzle—is an import from across the Atlantic.

But one slice of Americana that does recur throughout cryptic puzzledom—both in The Nation and elsewhere—is the roster of the fifty state names. With its wide range of etymological flavors (English, Spanish, Native American and more) and variety of lengths and letter patterns, these constitute a little gold mine of cryptic resources for puzzlers.

We’ve made good use of them, too. A quick survey of our files shows that only twelve states have yet to put in an appearance (and one or two are waiting in the wings, in puzzles that are written but haven’t appeared yet).

Not surprisingly, the main use for state names is as the shortest path to their two-letter postal abbreviations; in fact, practiced solvers have learned to try those first on seeing the name of a US state. For instance:
   SCYLLA  South Carolina partner brought back a terrifying monster (6)
   FLOUNCE  Ribbon in Florida with little weight (7)
   CLOSET  Secrecy concerning sexual orientation to face defeat in Connecticut (6)
   MARTIAN  Alien in Massachusetts train wreck (7)

Sometimes, though, a state name can appear in a clue just as itself, since it’s the easiest way to specify an American city or town, either in the definition:
   CHICO  Marx in a California city (5)
   SAGINAW  Detected a trap inside Michigan city (7)
…or the wordplay:
   ANTIPODES  Hiking mineshaft in Arizona town leads to the other side of the world (9)
   BILLINGSGATE  Abusive language in Montana scandal? (12)

And once in a while, the postal abbreviation can combine with a direct reference, as in this &lit. clue:
   NASHUA  It’s, like, in New Hampshire, near the edges of USA! (6)

Here’s another combination strategy:
   A LA MODE  Fashionable mission in Texas and Delaware (1,2,4)

State names also make good grid entries:
   INDIANA  Gary’s place is at home with a goddess (7)
   UTAH  Hesitation to bear thanks where Mormons are plentiful (4)

And so do their derivative forms:
   CONNECTICUTER  Associate with one better-looking New England resident (13)
   IOWAN One that hurts an American from the Midwest (5)
   OKLAHOMAN  Sooner or later, boy chases after perverse LA hook (9)

Probably the apotheosis of state-naming in our puzzles so far was this pair of entries from Puzzle #3308, based on a bit of wordplay we borrowed the puzzler Mark Oshin (a k a Mr. E):
   VIRGINIA SLIMS  State: “Video-game family getting last of menthol cigarettes” (8,5)
   MINNESOTA FATS  State: “Workers mostly returning for pool hustler” (9,4)

Happy Y to all our friends and solvers! (That’s Fourth of July, of course.)

This week’s clueing challenge: WYOMING

To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

The Spice of Life

Some time ago we discussed a style of cryptic crosswords in which the words are separated by bars between the squares, instead of black squares. About once or twice a year, we use this format in The Nation. As we mentioned back then, bar-diagram puzzles offer more intersections between across and down entries, and are usually accompanied by a title and some written instructions. Thus they provide a good environment for trickery beyond mere cryptic cluing. Such puzzles are often called variety cryptic crosswords.

We occasionally engage in variety cryptic trickery in some of our themed puzzles. When we do, we reveal the nature of the gimmick in one of the clues. Because of the greater number of unchecked letters in a block diagram, we must keep the complexity of the gimmick manageable. If you thirst for greater challenges along these lines, here are some sources of variety cryptics:

• The Enigma, the monthly publication of the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL), includes one or two cryptics in each issue, most of them variety cryptics. They are edited by Guy Jacobson (Xemu), who took over from us when we got the Nation job. For a selection of the best cryptics from our fifteen years as Enigma cryptic editors, download this book.

The Wall Street Journal features a monthly variety cryptic of unparalleled wit and creativity by the royal couple of US cryptics, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.

Harper’s includes a monthly variety cryptic by veteran constructor Richard Maltby.

If you like the idea of always having cryptics to solve, wherever and whenever, and if you also own an iOS device, you would enjoy the Puzzazz app. In a past post, we discussed the ways in which it is an ideal platform for electronic cryptic solving, as it provides extraordinary hints to beginner solvers, and it allows hand-written input. Since then, the app has improved dramatically from an already impressive start. Puzzazz supports all kinds of variety cryptic quirks, including bar diagrams, solver-entered bars, a wide geometric range (concentric circles, hexagons, multiple grids, etc.), pictures in clues, numbers instead of letters, drawings on the completed puzzle, and much, much more.

This flexibility is demonstrated dramatically in the new e-book Cryptic All-Stars, a collection of forty-five variety cryptics by thirteen constructors (including Roger Wolff, Mark Halpin, and nine other members of the NPL, including, ahem, Joshua Kosman). In addition, the third e-book of 20 Nation cryptics just came out on Puzzazz—another reason to get the app!

This week’s clueing challenge: DEVICE

To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Meta Physician

Solvers with a taste for traditional American crossword puzzles have no shortage of opportunities to slake their thirst, beginning with the puzzles that appear daily in the newspaper. But if you also like an extra helping of gamesmanship along with your crossword, you should know about Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest.

Gaffney is a professional crossword constructor, one of the best and most prolific in the nation. Every Friday afternoon he puts up a weekly contest on his website, offering not just a crossword but a puzzle on top of that puzzle—a meta-puzzle, or “meta” for short. To successfully complete the challenge, you have to solve the crossword, then figure out the meta and solve that as well.

Are there instructions? Don’t be silly. Figuring out what the puzzle is constitutes part of the puzzle (and how meta is that?). All you’re told is the general category of the answer you’re looking for: an American college, a unit of measurement, perhaps even just “a six-letter word.” How to derive it—that’s up to you, and it’s where Gaffney’s devious inventiveness comes into full flower.

Like the New York Times daily puzzle, which gets increasingly difficult as the week progresses, Gaffney’s weekly challenges grow steeper over the course of the month. The first Friday of each month is a comparative pushover. For instance, a Week One puzzle last year had the theme entries TICKLED PINK, CLEAR AS MUD, SIR FRANCIS BACON, DIGITAL PEN and I GOT YOU BABE, and a record number of solvers deduced that the answer to the meta—given as a “farm animal”—was PIG.

But as the month goes on, the puzzles get harder (and the months with five Fridays in them give Gaffney extra scope for trickery). Often the first question to tackle is where the theme entries are, or even if there are any. Is there a hidden connection among them? Does the trail to the meta even start with the completed grid, or is it hidden within the clues? And although the constructions are scrupulously fair, Gaffney, like any good puzzler, is not above placing a deliberate red herring in hopes of tricking an unwary solver.

One recent killer meta asked for the name of a well-known American corporation; the key was noticing that if you shaded in every N, I, K, and E in the completed grid, you got a picture of Nike’s famous “swoosh” logo. Another, titled “Livin’ Large,” had long theme entries that were famously composed only of lower-case letters (“craigslist,” “thirtysomething” and “e.e. cummings”), but the answer was derived from the only capital letters in the grid, including the P in iPhone and the last two letters of “on TV.”

The site keeps track of successful solvers, and Gaffney offers prizes and public recognition to those who have been tireless in their pursuit of a solution. But for most visitors, the joy of the chase is reward enough. A new puzzle—by happy coincidence, a newbie-friendly Week One—will be posted on Friday; if you haven’t been solving Gaffney’s puzzles, this is a fine time to start.

Have you solved Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword before? Please share here, along with contributions to this week’s cluing challenge: DEVIOUS. 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle.

Critical Theory

In our last post, we argued that crossword critics can be inspired by love and respect for the object of their critiques. This generated some discussion in the comments, which you can check out, but also among our Facebook friends. While we still agree with everything we said then, in this post, we will express agreement with some objections that were raised to our basic point. Do we contradict ourselves? Very well, then, we contradict ourselves: we are large, we contain multi-dudes. Or a couple of dudes, anyway.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, puzzle creators were among the ones who argued that crossword criticism is pointless, too negative or just uninteresting. For example, Puzzability constructor Amy Goldstein writes:

Even as a puzzle writer, I’m not really interested in reading about or discussing the details of the daily puzzle. I’m interested in solving them, and then moving on.

Our guess is that a majority of puzzle solvers feel pretty much the same way—perhaps even a large majority. It’s impossible to know for sure, since those solvers are by definition not the ones who frequent the blogs. Editors need to keep those solvers in mind, and if their numbers are indeed greater, this would have some implications: offending a few critics by breaking a convention may be for the greater good if it results in a more entertaining puzzle for the many.

Game and puzzle designer Mike Selinker writes:

I choose not to read reviews of anything I do, because I’m a much harsher critic of my work than anyone else will ever be.

We can relate! Between us, we have who knows how many decades of experience as solvers, constructors and editors of cryptic crosswords. While we don’t adhere to them 100 percent, we know US cryptic conventions backward and forward. For every single puzzle, we spend much time critiquing each other’s clues, then responding to feedback from at least half a dozen sophisticated test solvers. So frankly, if a critic tells us we are violating one of their cherished expectations, that is hardly news to us.

But then, slavish enforcement of supposed rules is not really what criticism should be about, is it? As we see it:

• Not all constructors need to adhere to the same aesthetic.

• Clear standards can be good, but there is a place for unpredictability and surprises.

• Conventions are not rules, and moreover conventions for a puzzle need not and should not be as rigid as rules for a game.

We welcome thoughtful comments from open-minded cryptic critics, but please tell us something we do not know.

This week’s cryptic challenge: WHITMAN. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Critical Condition

This week, the blogger Braze pointed us to a post from last year by the crossword blogger Jim Horne. Horne used to blog regularly about The New York Times’s daily crossword, but gave it up, he says, because (among other reasons) he was dismayed by the high level of negativity among those commenting regularly on the daily puzzle (especially on such sites as Amy Reynaldo’s Diary of a Crossword Fiend and Rex Parker’s blog).

“I enjoy New York Times crosswords,” he writes, as if confessing to a shameful secret.

Horne goes on to make some perceptive points about the shortcomings of much crossword commentary—particularly the apparently boundless conservatism of longtime solvers, and their reliance on rules to decide whether a puzzle is successful or not. We’ve encountered a little of that hidebound viewpoint in the responses to our own puzzles.

But fundamentally, Horne’s post is based on a misconception about what criticism is for—and criticism, in the broad sense, is what the sites he mentions are all about. Offering a critique of something isn’t the opposite of loving or enjoying or appreciating it, as he intimates humorously in his opening; rather, for many solvers, the two go hand in hand.

Commenters who demand the best, as they see it, from the Times crossword do so not out of spite, or a desire to belittle the efforts of the constructors or editor Will Shortz. They do it because the Times crossword is regarded, quite rightly, as the standard-bearer in American puzzledom. Holding it to the highest possible aesthetic standard is another way of saying that the quality of the puzzle is worth caring about passionately.

Of course, thoughtful people can, and should, disagree about what that standard should be, and we’ve hashed out many of these issues on this blog. How important is symmetry in the disposition of a grid layout, or theme entries? What kind of knowledge should solvers be expected to have?

Yet the notion that there are love and appreciation on one side, and criticism on the other, turns on a false dichotomy. There is plenty of room for casual enjoyment of puzzles, just as there is in the case of any creative endeavor. Even the fiercest critic sometimes likes to leave judgment behind and simply take what’s given. But when they don’t—when they subject a puzzle to a rigorous and tough-minded assessment of its virtues and flaws—that too is a sign of appreciation.

What are your thoughts on criticism? Please share here, along with contributions to this week’s cluing challenge: CARPING. 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle.

How Hard Can It Be?

As we mention at the end of every post, there is a blog dedicated to the Nation puzzle, which is maintained by Braze. He posts full solutions of the current online puzzle on the subsequent Monday or Tuesday, well in advance of the arrival of the hard-copy puzzle. His blog is also where you can ask for hints, and comment on specific clues.

On the day when the puzzle appears on TheNation.com, Braze gives it an overall difficulty rating, based on his own solving experience. As we construct the puzzles, we try to avoid having too many very easy clues, and too many very difficult clues. Of course, that still leaves a bit of a range. In comparison with the other two North American weekly black-square cryptics, Braze finds that our puzzles generally are more challenging than Cox and Rathvon’s (in The National Post), but easier than Fraser Simpson’s (in the Globe and Mail). We asked him to elaborate.

I’ll rate a puzzle easy if I can roll right along from one quadrant to another, even if a few of the clues are hard and I need the intersecting letters to solve them. I’m likely to rate the puzzle hard if I get stuck more than once or twice or if there’s a section where several tough words intersect each other.

To be more specific about what makes individual clues difficult, Braze chose these examples from puzzle 3227 (from our first year).

• Uncommon indicators (here an unusual reversal indicator for a down clue):
      NEHRU  Former Indian leader exalting primordial chicken (5)

• A less-than-obvious boundary between definition and wordplay (here, Braze first looked for a Thai island):
      HAITIAN  McKellen follows head-over-heels Thai island resident (7)

* Combining different types of wordplay in a single clue (here a single letter followed by an anagram):
      RAINDROP  Reluctantly to begin with, I pardon lousy bit of weather (8)

• Uncommon entries (usually, as here, balanced by straightforward wordplay):
      PURDAH  In Chad, Rupert reversed seclusion (6)

• Crosswordese (“obi” is probably not familiar to non-puzzlers):
      NAIROBI  Rani ruined belt in African city (7)

We enjoy the first three ways to complicate our solvers’ lives; we try to limit uncommon entries to words we like, but we realize not everyone shares our tastes along these lines; and as for the crosswordese, we apologize.

Thanks, Braze!

This week’s cluing challenge: NAIROBI. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

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