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Word Salad

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

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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.

Going South

Henri and I are sometimes asked about our history before we became The Nation’s puzzle constructors. We used to live in Northern California, and we were having trouble making ends meet. In Siskiyou County, Henri should have been doing a booming business in bread and pastry. But in spite of his original ideas about marketing, such as the “two for one offer on the synonym buns” and the “Finish a Sweetish Danish” special, his Yreka bakery was failing. As for me, I wasn’t doing much better as a poet in Mendocino County. My last commission for a civic ode, a subtle poem entitled “Ukiah Haiku,” was greeted with hoots of derision:

Five-year drainage scheme
Brings succor to oppressed serfs.
Maoism still lives!

We decided to relocate to San Francisco, and when we met at the Greyhound station, I was pleased to see that we’d both come prepared. Even though neither of us has a lot of hair left these days, we both remembered what you’re supposed to wear in it if you go to San Francisco. I complimented him: “Nice nasturtiums!” He replied: “Your foxgloves are fetching!” “What a humongous hibiscus!” “Not as gargantuan as your goldenrod. They don’t come much bigger than that.” “Don’t they?” I asked. “I wonder what the world’s largest flower is…”

Our curiosity was piqued, so during the bus ride, we did some research. Our first observation was that some flowers could be created out of the letters of other words or phrases. “Lit up?” “Tulip!” “Louts?” “Lotus!” Flower anagrams are everywhere! We even found one in each line of my much maligned civic haiku.

By the time we got to San Francisco, we had amassed a large pile of flower-related data to assist our search. There were flocks of homophones amid the rows of seats on the bus; on our iPhones, Siri found us some reversals; our zeal for consonantcies (in which two words use the same consonants in the same order) began to blossom; and Henri wields a letter bank like no one else.

As for the largest flower in the world? We found it on Wikipedia. It is, of course, the Nile.

Got some flower-based wordplay we missed? 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.

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.

A Conversation with Fraser Simpson

Toronto wordsmith Fraser Simpson has been creating the weekly cryptic crossword for The Globe and Mail for twenty years, making him the longest-running Canadian constructor whose work appears nationwide. He has published several books of puzzles (both cryptic crosswords and other types) and has had several cryptics published in The New York Times. Simpson was also the editor for The New Yorker’s all-too-brief two-year experiment with cryptics. For this blog post, he answered some of our questions about his career and about cryptic crosswords in general.

How did you first get interested in cryptics? Was it a separate step from discovering puzzles in general?

I had always been interested in solving and creating puzzles as a child. I went to boarding school as a teenager, and before one three-hour train ride home for a holiday, I purchased at the train station bookshop a volume by Barry O. Higgs titled The New York Times Guide to Solving Cryptics, Crosswords & Anagrams. I was mesmerized as I worked through the book on the train ride, and the next day started a routine of solving the daily syndicated cryptic in The Globe and Mail. It didn’t take long before I was creating my own puzzles for family and friends. Many years later, in 1994, I became the new Saturday cryptic author for The Globe and Mail.

When we talk about the cultural differences in cryptic crosswords and in the world of crosswords generally, we mostly wind up talking about the US versus the UK. Where does Canada fit into that division? Is it closely aligned with one side or the other, or does Canada have its own hybrid puzzle culture?

I solve a lot of British crosswords, so I think that my style has been somewhat influenced by that side of the Atlantic, especially in the puzzles I create for my Canadian audience. But the great constructors of the United States have influenced me a lot more, especially when I was in my 20s and early 30s, and that is apparent in my clue-writing style.

You were at the helm of one of the more visible outbreaks of cryptic puzzling in the US, when The New Yorker began running a small cryptic every week in 1997—and then abruptly shut it down after a short run. How did that come about?

The project started out as an idea thought up in the early 1990s by Will Shortz, and he asked me to team up with him to co-edit. It was originally supposed to be a weekly full-on variety cryptic (imagine that!), but because of space limitations, The New Yorker suggested a single column. Unsure that this would even work, Will phoned me and said that perhaps the project was dead, but I told him that I would try to make a smaller puzzle that would fit that space. I created the 8 x 10 grid after measuring the magazine’s columns, and sent a sample puzzle to Will. He liked it and agreed we could go forward with this size, as unusual as it was.

When the puzzle finally started running, the unusual size turned out to be a gem, and the puzzles I got from my regular stable of constructors were delightful. In 1998, The New Yorker changed editors from Tina Brown to the current editor David Remnick, and The New Yorker underwent some changes, one of which was the discontinuation of the little cryptic crossword. We were all sad to see it go, and I still sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had been allotted two columns instead of one!

Can you describe your philosophy or approach to cryptics? What do you consider most important, as a constructor and/or a solver?

I am much more strict as a constructor than I am as a solver. I prefer not to have any extra words, including connector words, in clues I write, and based on the feedback from my regular solvers, they really like this feature of my work. Strangely, though, I do not feel the same way as a solver. I find that when I solve some British cryptics, their slightly looser style makes the solving more challenging, which I enjoy. I am more easily fooled by their extra words, as these extra words increase the number of possibilities of what might actually be going on.

We have the impression that you used to be very strict adherent to the principles outlined by the British constructor Ximenes (no connectors, etc.) but that your position has softened over the years. Is that true, and if so why and how?

I don’t think I’ve softened at all on this! But I do think my clueing style has changed over the years, and that I write much harder clues than I used to. I try to keep the number of anagrams in my puzzles to six or fewer, if I can. Sometimes I have so few anagrams that I have to go back and change clues to introduce more of them!

Like Henri, you’re a math teacher by profession. Do you feel a connection between your interests in math and in puzzles?

I feel that my whole life revolves around puzzles. A lot of mathematics feels puzzle-based to me, with some of the same payoffs provided by a good puzzle. I taught my tenth graders today how to prove trig identities, and one young woman exclaimed while doing some of the assigned exercises, “It’s so satisfying when it all works out!” She could have been talking about a cryptic clue instead of a math problem.

Do you solve the cryptics in The Globe and Mail? Please share your thoughts 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.

Response to a Solver

Solver BentFranklin writes:

Happy new year and thanks for the many hours of mental exercises!

You are very welcome. This job also provides us with many hours of mental exercises!

Referring to your attachment, I think there are two types of clues that need a little more help for the solver in the form of an indication.

The attachment, as you refer to it, is the document (PDF) in which we explain how to solve our puzzles. We encourage all solvers to read it. It also includes links to Word Salad posts where we give more information on the various clue types. Most of it is a basic introduction to standard American-style cryptic crosswords, but you zero in on the part about some ways that our puzzles may differ from what many US solvers have seen before.

The rebus, where the wordplay is in the answer, is probably unsolvable going forward. No one is going to get BROKEN HEART from EARTH except after solving it from the definition and the cross letters, which makes that clue basically a concise crossword clue with a witty aftertaste. The same goes when the answer is the letter bank, such as your example NURSEMAID. There needs to be some indicator that the sense is reversed. Without it, the implied contract between setter and solver is somewhat strained. I like difficulty, but there still needs to be some route from the clue to the answer. Perhaps something like
   BROKEN HEART  Earth is the answer to despair (6,5)

About letter banks: One reason this type of clue is not common outside of our puzzles is probably that it is hard to indicate. We certainly agree that “there needs to be some indicator” about which direction the clue goes (from bank to longer word, or vice versa). In fact, we always provide such indicators, including in the example you’re referring to. Or at least we try—it could be that the indicators are not as transparent as we think to people who are not accustomed to the letter bank concept. We’ll do our best to be clearer, at least until those are seen as a standard part of the constructor’s arsenal.

About rebuses: You have a point when you say that it’s difficult to solve a rebus clue through the wordplay alone, and your suggestion to indicate the clue is “backwards” makes sense. However, it is not one we are likely to adopt. When we describe the clue as backwards, it’s to explain it to someone who is new to rebuses, but familiar with cryptics. In reality, E is indeed “Beethoven’s Third”, and O is indeed “second in command”—there is nothing backwards about it.

EARTH as “broken heart” does indeed take things one step further, but it is not different enough, in our opinion, to warrant different treatment. That type of clue long predates our puzzles in The Nation, and in fact predates most US cryptics, as it was used by Frank Lewis periodically over his sixty-year career. You can accuse us of innovation for bringing the letter bank to cryptic crosswords, but in the case of the rebus clue, we are hard-core traditionalists!

One reason we like rebus clues is that in some cases (e.g., “Earth despair (6,5)”) we can write a short clue for a long entry. Without the rebus, a two-word clue would almost certainly be a double definition. With it, there is a little more mystery.

In any case, we don’t use letter banks or rebus clues all that much, since not many entries lend themselves to that sort of treatment. We hope that they provide a welcome bit of variety—a witty aftertaste, as you put it. That is certainly what our test solvers report. They consistently rate these clues as among their favorites. As with any other clue type, one gets better at solving them as one gets more experience.

On the other hand, anagrams are so common, perhaps we don’t need anagram indicators anymore? That might cause an insurrection, but I think it’s worth considering. Maybe that could be a theme for one puzzle, with one of the clues letting us know somehow not to expect anagram indicators for this one.

You are right—removing the indicators would indeed start an insurrection. Besides, there is already a whole genre of crosswords that involves anagrams with no indicators. It’s called “Puns and Anagrams”, and The New York Times publishes one on Sunday every few weeks. We won’t stop indicating anagrams, but we won’t rule out that possibility for a themed puzzle along the lines you suggest. Other than that, we do push the envelope a little by the occasional use of compound anagrams. Maybe we should do more of that!

Again, thank you for your thoughts—this is what we think Word Salad comments are for, even if we don’t always agree with you.

How do the rest of you feel about unorthodox 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, where you can 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.

Happy New Year!

With 2014 now well under way and the effects of Tuesday night’s Champagne wearing off at last, this is the traditional time to talk about resolutions. As we do every year, we re-solve to do better. Even though most of the crosswords we tackled this year have been filled in accurately, there are always a few grids left incomplete—and searching one more time for the answers can often yield improvement.

Oh, sorry—did you think we were talking about losing weight?

At this or any time of year, resolving a puzzle—re-solving it, if you prefer—is a good way to wring a few more drops of pleasure out of what may seem like an expended resource. If you’re like us, there may well be clues that eluded you on the first pass, but that will give up their answers on reacquaintance. There may be clues that you solved without quite noticing some witticism or touch of ingenuity in their construction. And failing that, there is often satisfaction to be had merely from revisiting a completed puzzle. Some solvers, in fact, make a clean copy of a puzzle before tackling it, just in case it turns out to be keeper. For some of us, the rewards of returning to an old puzzle are almost as great as those of rereading a favorite novel.

Additionally, of course, we do have a few resolutions to make as constructors.

• We resolve to strive harder for basic accuracy. Just last week, one of the clues from Puzzle 3307 (CHADORS: Leader of caliphate slyly hoards head coverings worn by women in Iraq) was revealed to be suffering from not one but two inaccuracies: As correspondent Bart Laws of Scotland, Connecticut, pointed out, chadors are Iranian, not Iraqi, and they cover the full body, not just the head. Nostra culpa; we’re going to make an extra push to be sure that doesn’t happen again.

• We resolve to renew our efforts to avoid the overused tropes of cryptic clueing—the tired anagram indicators, the standard reversals, the familiar homophones. Or at least, not to use them too often.

• We resolve that no part of human knowledge or English vocabulary should be assumed to be off-limits and excluded from our puzzles.

• We resolve to keep trying to bring you the freshest, most challenging and most varied puzzles we can create.

Here’s wishing an enigmatic and rewarding 2014 to all our solvers!

What are your puzzle resolutions for the new year? 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 three links:
• The current puzzle
* Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• 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.

Explaining Ourselves

At one point early in our tenure at The Nation we received a letter from a dissatisfied solver comparing our efforts unfavorably to those of our predecessor, Frank Lewis. Lewis’s puzzles, he wrote, had been so clear that the solutions were self-explanatory, whereas ours required full documentation about how each clue worked.

Well, gee. Let’s leave aside the vexing question of whether our puzzles are harder or easier than Frank’s (hint: complaints that puzzles are “too hard” or “too easy” tend to be pretty evenly distributed no matter who the constructor is), because the change in the format of the solutions didn’t have anything to do with that. We just thought that explaining each clue would be a helpful addition to the solver’s experience.

Why? Because even an easy cryptic clue—or a cryptic clue the constructor thought was easy—will always be a stumper for someone. In fact, that’s true of any kind of puzzle. Every solver has had the experience at some point of looking at a solution and thinking, “OK, but why?” (In the National Puzzlers’ League, this has acquired the acronym IGIBIDGI, which is pronounced “idgy-bidgy” and stands for “I got it, but I don’t get it.”) That’s no fun, and so we wanted to be sure that the solution we published for each puzzle dispelled any lingering mysteries—and perhaps, in the process, even helped beginners learn the ropes.

That turned out to be a little trickier than it sounds. For one thing, there’s no commonly used system of abbreviations to indicate anagrams, reversals and all the other common tools of cryptic clue-writing. The blogger Braze, who dissects every clue in the Nation puzzle on his blog, uses one set of indicators; we used a different one for our published collection of cryptics from The Enigma; and we introduced yet a third one here. The goal in each case is to make the explanations terse (space is always at a premium) and yet clear.

Also, some of the more fanciful clues we occasionally run resist a crisp explanation. The designation “2 defs.,” for example, encompasses a broad range of possibilities, from simple double definitions to whimsical wordplay that takes in the entire clue. These clues aren’t exactly double definitions:
   AUTOSUGGESTION  “I should buy a hybrid, I should buy a hybrid”, for example? (14)
   CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION  Notable characteristic of Camille’s opulent lifestyle? (11,11)
   PORT AUTHORITY  Where you might find a bus—or a sommelier? (4,9)
   YAMMERS  Talks incessantly with people harvesting sweet potatoes? (7)

And parsing this one efficiently taxed our ingenuity:
   THREE BLIND MICE  Nursery rhyme about Mckey, Mnne and Mortmer? (5,5,4)

Yet the clues that are the hardest to explain in a standard format are often the ones we like the best.

Do you find the explanations a useful part of the puzzle solutions? Or just a waste of space? Please share your thoughts 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 three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• 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.

Monkey Puzzle Tree

Araucaria (John Graham)

John Graham, who died on November 26, at age 92, was perhaps the most popular cryptic crossword constructor in the world. He created puzzles for The Guardian as Araucaria, which is the Latin name of the monkey puzzle tree. In the Financial Times, he was Cinephile, an anagram of Chile Pine, which is another name for the same tree. He announced he had cancer in a cryptic crossword a year ago, and his last puzzle included the phrase TIME TO GO.

He was a minister in the Church of England, and a man of the left who would not contribute puzzles to Murdoch-owned newspapers. Henri solved a few of his puzzles over many years when visiting relatives in the UK, and remembers one puzzle whose theme was the leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa—not something one would find in most US cryptics.

Cryptic crosswords, of course, are much, much more popular in the UK, where five different newspapers offer cryptic crosswords daily. Perhaps because of this broad audience, there are different styles among British constructors. (Or perhaps the causation goes the other way?) Araucaria was a leading exponent of a relatively easy-going style, perhaps best summarized in this quote: “Any clue is legitimate which leads, by whatever route, to an answer which, 80 per cent of the time, can be known to be correct as soon as it appears to the mind” (quoted in his obituary in the Financial Times).

His editor at The Guardian wrote:

Araucaria once articulated his difference with extreme Ximeneans thus. To clue the word CAIN (who killed Abel) his device might be to insert an “I” into “CAN,” which has the slang meaning of “prison”. His clue might be: “Having committed a murder, I am in prison.” A Ximenean would object that the “definition” in the clue for Cain is unfair, because “Cain” is a noun and “Having committed a murder” is not; and, because here “I” is a letter of the alphabet and not a personal pronoun, it should be followed grammatically by “is” not “am.” So a strict Ximenean would require some clue like: “Being guilty of murder, I must be put in prison.” In Araucaria’s view, Guardian solvers would find that his clue was fair—and better. Most of them were on his side.

Ximeneans describe their cluing principles as “square dealing.” In the United States, Frank Lewis was the main constructor who did not subscribe to square-dealing orthodoxy, although Richard Maltby arguably also falls in that category (which did not prevent either of them from having a loyal following). As far as we know, everyone else on this side of the pond writes puzzles from a Ximenean perspective—as do we. For the most part, we share with the British Ximeneans and with our US colleagues a concern for grammatical correctness and an insistence that cryptic readings should work exactly as written. But this does not prevent us as solvers from enjoying a wide range of styles, or as constructors from loosening the reins once in a while. We realize that solving every clue with an eye to 100 percent correctness is part of the fun for many solvers, but Araucaria’s prodigious output and popularity are evidence that there are other ways to enjoy cryptic crosswords.

How about you? Do you enjoy dissecting every clue, or are you just hoping to fill the diagram? 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 three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• 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.

Sending a Letter Off

The idea behind the deletion clue is simple: the solution is obtained from another word by the removal of a letter. For example:
   EXIT Be without stamina, initially, and leave (4)
   (EXIST minus S)

In this post, we will take a quick tour of the many ways deletions are used in cryptic clues.

The letter can be taken from the front:
   ADDLE Puzzle: how a duck can walk without a head (5)
   (from WADDLE)

Or it can be taken from the back:
   INDIC Almost accuse in connection with the subcontinent (5)
   (from INDICT)

A letter can be removed simultaneously from the front and back:
   LIMB Branch rises, naked (4)
   (from CLIMBS)

Deletions can also be combined with almost any sort of cryptic clue. Here are some more intricate examples.

With a reversal:
   STAMINA  Brings to life, rising without energy or endurance (7)
   CARDIGAN  Horse I’d almost race backwards in a sweater (8)

With an anagram:
   LUDICROUS  Ridiculous, absurd, lacking one bit of intelligence! (9)
   EXECS  Excess nearly rumpled suits (5)

With a charade:
   INCENTIVE  Van Gogh, a little late: “I have a carrot” (9)
   IMPRUDENT  Careless urchin, unrefined and not without love (9)

With a container:
   MEETS  Runs across Mississippi, keeping feet uncovered (5)
   BIPED  Devil losing heart in bed with woman, perhaps (5)

And finally, here is an example of an unusual deletion clue:
   WHERE  A question that might be answered by decapitation (5)

Do you know any good deletions? 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 three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• 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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