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Word Salad

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

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On Beauty

In Nicholson Baker’s 2009 novel The Anthologist, the narrator and title character—a poet struggling to write the introduction to a collection he’s assembling—compares the pleasures of rhyming verse to those of a crossword puzzle. Rhyme, he posits, is “a powerful form of self-medication…the avoidance of mental pain by addicting yourself to what will happen next…You are solving a puzzle.”

This parallelism seems to strike Baker’s poet as fruitful, and he goes on:

It’s not a crossword puzzle—it’s better than a crossword puzzle, because you’re actually trying to do something beautiful. But it’s not unrelated. The addicts of crossword puzzles are also distracting themselves. They also don’t want to face the world’s grief head-on. They want that transient pleasure, endlessly repeated, of solving the Rubik’s Cube of verbal intersection. But has anyone ever wept at the beauty of a crossword puzzle? Maybe, maybe. I have not.

Baker is hardly the first to have drawn this comparison, and of course there are famous overlappers between the worlds of literature and puzzledom. Baker cites W. H. Auden; others include Georges Perec and Stephen Sondheim. But as crossword aficionados (OK, addicts) we couldn’t help but bristle a little on coming across this passage.

Sure, with a gun to our heads we would probably concede that a poem is “better” than a crossword puzzle, whatever “better” might happen to mean in that context. For one thing, a poem has multiple layers, and can be appreciated repeatedly. But the idea that a crossword isn’t, potentially at least, a thing of beauty is simply absurd.

What is beauty, after all? Depending on your esthetic framework, it could be symmetry, elegance, proportion—well, a crossword puzzle has all those. If you prefer the untamed wildness of the sublime, a puzzle can provide that as well. Keatsians will find that a crossword puzzle is full of truth, which is all we need to know.

Out of all these possibilities, Baker’s narrator chooses a very strange one indeed: the ability to induce weeping. Why should that be the criterion? (And yes, we have encountered crosswords that made us want to weep, though not at their beauty.) Surely the best crossword puzzles are those that offer their solvers a burst of pure pleasure—the surprising delight of wit, the excitement of human imagination and ingenuity at play. That’s where the joy and the beauty of puzzles are to be found.

This week’s cluing challenge: can you to come up with a cryptic clue for ANTHOLOGIST? Please share here. 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.

Sam Who?

In a recent post we discussed using names in clues. Of course, names may also appear in the diagram, which raises more delicate concerns. Solver Alwyn Eades writes:

I concede that setting a cryptic crossword is very hard, especially when it is for a weekly, rather than one which is to be solved in a day. So I am in admiration of Kosman and Picciotto. Nonetheless, I feel that they have got steadily further off track. Too many of their clues now are not verbal games but tests of general knowledge. That is not what I want from a puzzle; I could play Trivial Pursuit for that. I am particularly concerned that the knowledge required (I would imagine, not being young myself) is unlikely to be within the memories of young people (Sam Spade, Satchmo—to give examples from the last two weeks). Surely the last thing the Nation needs is to discourage young readers.

In theory, we certainly agree with Mr. Eades that the point of cryptic crosswords is wordplay, and not tests of general knowledge. What makes this difficult to carry out in practice is that words have meanings, and not all solvers share the same cultural lexicon.

As solvers, we encountered this all the time in Frank Lewis’s puzzles. Here is one example: h expected his solvers to know that “ties pay the dealer” is a coherent phrase. We were able to solve the corresponding clue because the wordplay told us to anagram “leader.” We would have been completely in the dark about why that was correct, if it weren’t for a friend who is a Gilbert and Sullivan expert. (The phrase appears in Iolanthe.) A subsequent Web search revealed that this is the standard phrasing of a blackjack rule. Certainly gamblers would know this, but how many Nation solvers are gamblers? Still, we were not bitter about it: we appreciated the opportunity to learn something new.

Satchmo and Sam Spade are easy to confirm by asking a friend or a search engine. The key for us as constructors of the Nation puzzle is that if an entry may be unfamiliar to many, the wordplay for it should be straightforward. We can’t guarantee we’ll always get that balance right, of course, but we try. And we hope that a youngster who has never heard of Louis Armstrong but has to enter an anagram of STOMACH in a diagram given S_T_H_O will be able to sort it out by trying to get the A, C, and M into the word in a way that makes it pronounceable.

Mr. Eades is not the first to complain about our choice of cultural references. People have objected to mentions of pop music, sports and mathematics, to name three areas of human knowledge we have drawn from. All we can do is vary the references, so that we expand everyone’s horizons equally. (Or offend everyone equally!) What we cannot do is limit ourselves to a lowest-common-denominator vocabulary, as that would make the puzzle boring for The Nation’s highly literate readership.

This week’s cluing challenge: Can you to come up with a cryptic clue for HORIZONS? Please share here. 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.

Parsimony

A solver recently wrote to express confusion over this clue from Puzzle #3316:

   CHEER  Coming back, get to loud ovation (5)

He understood, he said, that the clue was intended as a phonetic reversal: "reach" ("get to") read backwards ("coming back") to yield "cheer." But what was there in the clue to indicate that the reversal was phonetic?

A quick glance at the clue with fresh eyes was enough to reveal the source of his perplexity. Our solver was taking "loud ovation," quite plausibly, as the definition part of the clue; our intention was that "ovation" alone would suffice, leaving "loud" as the phonetic indicator. This was a misstep on our part. A more carefully crafted clue would have—and should have—eliminated that ambiguity.

But as it happens, this minor glitch did throw some light on an often-overlooked aspect of cryptic clues: Namely, the need for a certain amount of parsimony in the definitions. Even though a definition can be long-winded—and heaven knows we've written some wordy ones over the years—it should never risk spilling over into the wordplay part of the clue. It's bad form, in other words, to leave any doubt on the solver's part about where the definition ends and the wordplay begins (or vice versa).

Note that we're talking here about a clue that's already been solved, because up to that point, the constructor's goal is to keep the solver bamboozled. But although the location of the break can be hidden, it should never be ambiguous.

What that means in practice is that a definition generally shouldn't include words that aren't strictly necessary (and thus might plausibly be part of the wordplay) and moreover, that the wordplay shouldn't place words next to the definition that might plausibly be part of it. That was the weakness in our CHEER clue.

However, we retain the right to try to mislead solvers, as long as we do it on the up-and-up. This clue, for example, drew criticism from some unwary solvers:

   SMETANA  Inside, Brahms met an Austrian composer (7)

More than one person wrote to object that Smetana was Bohemian, not Austrian. But in this case, "composer" was the sum total of the definition, and "Austrian" part of the wordplay. So the clue, though tricky, was legitimate and unambiguous—because the wordplay requires the A from Austrian, and especially because the definition cannot include "Austrian" and still be correct.

This week's cluing challenge: can you to come up with a cryptic clue for PARSIMONY? Please share here. 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.

More is More

In a recent post we discussed the question of consistency in puzzle themes. This is closely related to two other issues that arise in connection with crossword themes: symmetry, and what might be termed economy. There is a de facto convention in US cryptics that theme entries should be placed symmetrically in the diagram, and moreover that carefully choosing a limited number of theme entries is preferable to piling more of them indiscriminately into the diagram.

For solvers who pay attention to that sort of thing, symmetry is of course a help in solving. Moreover, symmetrically placed theme entries mesh nicely with the symmetry of the black squares to create an aesthetically pleasing whole. In fact, even putting aside aesthetics, there is another good argument for symmetry of theme entries. Theme entries reduce the constructor's choices, and they may drastically reduce the options for crossing words. The choices are even fewer if the theme entries are close together, so you can end up with less satisfying entries running in the perpendicular direction. Symmetry prevents those potential jams from congregating in one area of the grid. In short, symmetry helps spread out both the good and the bad of a themed puzzle.

As for the economy in the number of theme entries, it is similarly justified. Too many theme entries means less flexibility for the constructor, and thus a risk of too many undesirable entries. Putting together symmetry, economy, and consistency in themed puzzles results in a certain elegance. In a standard black square cryptic, four symmetrically placed long theme entries, for example, makes for a streamlined and satisfying puzzle, with a decent set of non-thematic entries. We have often done just that for our themes.

And yet!

And yet, there are other ways to have fun with themes. Instead of heeding the symmetry-economy-consistency triad, one can rely on the anarchic fun of packing as many thematic elements as possible into the diagram and/or the clues, and let elegance be damned. For example, Puzzle #3292 had a "notes" theme, where many entries had musical notes in them (SOLar flaRE, mulTILAne, and so on). In order to support our violation of the economy standard, we had to let go of symmetry as well, so as to stuff more theme words into the diagram. Throwing caution to the wind, we also violated the consistency standard, and included STONE (an anagram of "notes") and TRANSCRIPT (a synonym of "notes"). In all, this added up to 14 theme entries—a challenge for us to construct, and (we hope) more fun for our solvers. More recently, Puzzle #3316 included the word "number" in the clues 15 times, and again, we favored sheer quantity over supposed elegance.

Sometimes, as is our wont, we split the difference. At the time of the Arab spring, we created a puzzle in which the name of every one of the 24 members of the Arab League appeared in one clue or another. We ditched parsimony and symmetry, but preserved consistency. In a puzzle for a Nation issue about Amazon, every single clue had a river in it—a victory for consistency and symmetry, but definitely a defeat for economy.

In fact, we often aim for symmetry, even when at first it seems unattainable given our greedy penchant for more of a good thing. In one recent puzzle, we managed to squeeze the names of 11 magazines, plus the word MAGAZINES in a symmetrical arrangement. Of course, that was facilitated by the fact we had many magazines to choose among. In contrast, when we tried to include JANE AUSTEN, PERSUASION, MANSFIELD, PARK, PRIDE, PREJUDICE, SENSE, SENSIBILITY and EMMA in a single diagram, there was little in the way of flexibility, but we still aimed for symmetry.

In other words, we like to mix it up, and we do not stick to a single aesthetic when it comes to themes. 

Today's cluing challenge: how would you clue AESTHETICS? 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.

Name-Dropping

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.

Chez Henri

In a recent post, Joshua told of our move from Upstate California to San Francisco. As newcomers to this metropolis, we needed jobs, and perhaps more importantly, we needed to fit in. Joshua decided to follow his muse, and join the poetry scene in North Beach (he will share his experiences in a future post). As for me, I decided to stay in the food business. I moved across the Bay to Berkeley to become a restaurateur, as I know how to spell that word and, moreover, I have a French accent.

Check out the menu I designed for my future restaurant!


 

CHEZ HENRI

We use no-cigar produce whenever possible.
Glutton-free and native-gear items available upon request.

Fast Break
LOX TALK AND BERYL bagel special
L’EMOTE eggs, theater style
BUILD-YOUR-OWN SCRAMBLE you choose the letters, we do the rest

Munch
I-GREC club sandwich
AUNT EM tuna melt with a dash

Word Salads
KALAMATA JANE olives
OLD MAN’S almonds
GENRES mixed greens
YOU CAN’T BEET this
SOUPE DU JOUR soup of the day
SOUPE DE JAVU soup of the day before

Pizza
PLANE
PEPPERONI kind of spray on individual’s face
RENT MONEY flatbread

Pasta
B

Entrees
OXYMORON jumbo shrimp
KITCHEN BASTER chicken breast
KEATS meat or fish, depending
BLEW PLAIT special

Taking Sides
FRANÇAIS FIRES
POOR LAWS cabbage

Beverages
EPISCOPAL soft drink
OH, LOCAL! hard drink
MACHO strong coffee
HENRI Rhine wine

Desserts
TSARINA cheese plate


 

In addition to this remarkable menu, I’d offer GUACK-A-MOLE, an avocado video game to keep the children entertained while the adults solve a puzzle or two while waiting for their food. At Chez Henri the “writing in the air” gesture, which in other restaurants means “the bill, please,” would mean “may I have a pencil?” To ask for the bill, customers would operate an air calculator, which makes a lot more sense, no?

What do you think of my business plan? 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 you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail

Tourney Time

This weekend marks the thirty-seventh annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament at the Brooklyn Marriott, where hundreds of the nation’s speediest and most competitive solvers gather to test their mettle. In past years, we’ve been able to bring back reports from the world of cruciverbalism, but unfortunately we’re both sitting it out this year.

Still, for those with an interest in vanilla (i.e., non-cryptic) crossword puzzles, the ACPT is one of the highlights of the calendar. Run by Will Shortz, it features puzzles by some of the most ingenious and challenging constructors around, and allows ordinary solvers a chance to see how they fare under tournament conditions.

Those conditions are simple but stringent. The competition consists of seven crossword puzzles, ranging in difficulty from a fairly simple Monday or Tuesday level 15x15 (which the top solvers can generally knock out in three minutes) to mind-crunching inventions with gimmicks that can stop even hardened competitors in their tracks. The scoring is based on a combination of speed and accuracy; most of the top finishers get through all seven puzzles without a mistake, but some of the most lightning-fast solvers have been known to make up for an error by getting through subsequent puzzles even more swiftly.

For everyday solvers, ACPT is an opportunity not only to observe the champions in action (the final playoff round of the tournament takes place in full view of an audience, on oversized whiteboards) but to set and meet individual personal goals—breaking into the top 100, for example, or outpacing last year’s performance. For crossword fans, it’s also an occasion for stargazing (within admittedly nerdy parameters). If there is a constructor whose work you’ve admired over the years, or even just once, it’s a pretty safe bet that he or she will be in attendance, and be happy to talk puzzles with you.

Have you attended ACPT? What was your experience? 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.

Hobgoblins

This week witnessed a minor contretemps in the world of crossword puzzles. The details are not especially important, nor are they easy to discuss without the risk of spoiling a prominent puzzle for those who may not have solved it yet (the original blog posts are here and here). But the underlying issue had to do with the importance of consistency in a puzzle’s theme.

If you construct a puzzle based on theme entries in which one letter changes to another, must every occurrence of that letter change? Are little words such as “of” and “the” exempt? Does it make a difference if the changing letter is a rarity like Q or Z, or a workhorse like E or T? And what about puzzle themes that involve entire words? Do the thematic words have to occur at particular locations in the theme entries—the beginning or the end, say—or can they be placed freely?

As you might expect, those taking part in the discussion (which soon spilled off of the blogs and onto Facebook) wound up arrayed along a continuum, from advocates for maximum consistency to those maintaining a more laissez-faire attitude. There was general agreement that some degree of consistency is required in order to make a puzzle theme both comprehensible and pleasurable; the question is how to make that judgment.

These questions arise for us as well when we construct puzzles with themes. In recent months, for example, we’ve run some themes with comparatively loose constraints. For Puzzle #3313, we used whatever long entries we could find that included the part words we were trying to use; Puzzle #3289, by contrast, put the names of the three most recent popes in the same spot in each of three theme entries.

And sometimes, we split the difference. We built Puzzle #3307 around the countries with four-letter names. There are 10 of them, of which we could only get seven into the grid. So to placate our consciences—and the nagging cry of consistency—we put the other three into the clues.

How important do you find consistency in a crossword theme? 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.

Contraindication

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

In the Indicative Mood

There are many types of cryptic clues. Some require indicators, some don’t, and for some—well, it depends.

As you probably know, a cryptic clue has two parts, definition and wordplay. In some cases, one or the other part is sufficient to lead to the solution, and the other serves as confirmation. In other cases, solvers will need to use both parts synergistically to get there. This post focuses on an element of the wordplay, called the indicator, which helps the solver to identify the clue type and thus unravel the wordplay.

One of the most accessible clue types, the anagram, absolutely requires an indicator to suggest the scrambling of the letters. (Previous posts on anagram clues are here, here and here.) This is such a fundamental feature of cryptic crosswords that British constructors coined the portmanteau word “anagrind” for the anagram indicator. Mark Halpin calls them “anniecators,” a coinage derived from “annie,” which is National Puzzlers’ League slang for an anagram.

It is traditional to explain this to beginners by saying the anagram indicator should suggest disorder or chaos. For example:
   INSULAR  Inaccessible and out-of-order urinals (7)
   RETRIEVER  River tree confused dog (9)

However, this is an oversimplification, as anagrinds might suggest just a different, perhaps better, order:
   ALGEBRA  Organize lab gear for high school class (7)

In fact, because anagrams are so common in cryptic crosswords, and because they are reasonably easy to spot, the range of acceptable anniecators is enormous, and encompasses synonyms for “drunk,” “unexpected,” “managed” and so on. Moreover, the indicator need not be an adjective. It can be an adverb:
   ANTI  Ain’t—more correctly, “is not”—pro (4)

Or a verb, instructing the solver:
   CAVITIES  Doctor is active, getting signs of decay (8)

The range of indicators for other clue types is considerably narrower, and this is one of the most challenging aspects of clue writing. How does one indicate containers, reversals, homophones, deletions, and hidden words without being totally obvious about what’s going on? Here are some more or less successful attempts at avoiding the most blatant indicators:
   CORKER  Kitchen utensil to keep kosher is a remarkable thing (6) (container)
   LAGER  Beer fit for a queen from the Orient (5) (reversal)
   CHUTES  Slides and photographs as part of a lecture (6) (homophone)
   ENTER  Key football player starts late (5) (deletion)
   CREDO  Sacred oath requires belief (5) (hidden)

One particular challenge facing us is in finding indicators for letter bank clues, because there are no established traditions for this clue type—at least not so far. And moreover, because solvers are not accustomed to letter banks, we can’t be as allusive as we can with an anagram. Here is one perhaps effective stab at it:
   FIDDLEDEDEE  Filed letters multiple times… as if I care! (12)

More complex clues, where multiple techniques are combined, can require more than one indicator in a single clue, as in this example:
   UNDERVALUE  Misjudge Ravel composition in inappropriate setting (10)

Such clues make one long for the simplicity of clue types that require no indicator! We will discuss those in a future post.

Until then, in response to a reader request, we offer an open challenge to our readers. Can you to come up with a cryptic clue for STREAM? 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 you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.

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