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Word Salad

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

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Setting an Example

In a previous post, we discussed the views of (London’s) Sunday Times cryptic crossword editor Peter Biddlecombe on the possibility of cryptic clues in which the definition is neither at the beginning nor at the end. Today, we respond to his ideas about “defining by example.” He writes:

Many setters and editors insist that you must indicate “definition by example‚” when you use it. They would never use “Alsatian‚” alone for DOG, but would use something like “Alsatian?‚”“Alsatian, perhaps‚” or “I may be Alsatian.” Keeping a long story short, although lots of people work this way, I can see no compelling logical reason for doing so.

We take a middle position on this issue. Some years ago, in our roles as cryptic editors for The Enigma, we were convinced that defining by example was no more useful in a cryptic clue than it is in a dictionary. If you look up “dog” in Webster’s, the definition is not “Alsatian” or “setter”—it defines “dog” as “a domesticated mammal,” a broader group of which “dog” is a member. So a clue that uses an example from a larger group should indicate that it’s going in the other direction; in addition to the indicators suggested by Biddlecombe, one might use “Alsatian, for one,” “Alsatian, say,” or just “Alsatian, for example.”

In general we’re still reluctant to define by example, but we have become more flexible in some situations. Continuing in the realm of zoology, for example, we would probably accept “ai” as a definition for SLOTH, simply because we don’t know any other sloths (and suspect that solvers don’t either). In fact, we were encouraged in loosening up our practice in this arena when we saw that Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, the unofficial king and queen of US crypticdom, had used “snail” to define GASTROPOD.

A related issue is the use of first names to define last names, and vice versa. We wouldn’t use “John” to define DEERE, EDWARDS or WAYNE, because there are just too many Johns in the world, and the “no defining by example” guideline kicks in. But we might feel justified in using “John” to define LENNON, since this particular John is so often referred to by just his first name. And an unusual first name (such as “Zbigniew”) can surely be used to define the corresponding last name (BRZEZINSKI in this case) and likewise in the other direction (“Scowcroft” for BRENT, say).

In short, as with so much else, we see this as a judgment call. Our apologies to those solvers who prefer ironclad rules to flexible guidelines!

How do you feel about definitions in 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 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.

Finally, a note about Puzzle #3278. There was a nearly invisible theme, which was noticed by Braze, the blogger we mention above, but was missed by every single one of our test solvers. About half the clues included a family member: daughter, aunt, nephew, son, etc. It was a somewhat gratuitous theme that did not affect solving, which explains why it was missed by so many. Kudos to Braze!

To Be Continued...

Earlier this week, a solver posted this question in a public forum: “I haven’t been doing the Nation puzzle for that long. What is the significance of the ellipsis at the end and beginning of consecutive clues?” It’s a great question, and an example of the kind of thing that can become so transparent to experienced solvers and constructors that we lose sight of the possibility for confusion.

The short answer is that the ellipsis is there purely to help the surface of the clues read in a natural way. The premise is that two clues joined by an ellipsis can be construed as a single sentence or phrase, reading right across the clue boundary. But that’s only on the surface, mind you—when it comes to solving, each clue stands alone and yields its own answer.

As constructors, we find that we resort to ellipses under two conditions: opportunity and necessity. Sometimes we join two clues together simply because we can—when the workings of random chance lead to consecutive clues that either share a subject matter or have syntax that goes well in combination.

Here’s an example of two consecutive clues sharing a subject, probably (if memory serves) placed together by design rather than chance:
   ESTONIANS Northern Europeans’ surprising sensation… (9)
   CROATIANS …tattered raincoats for Southern Europeans (9)

And another:
   PENALTIES Palestine suffering punishments… (9)
   TRESTLE …from violent settler frame (7)

More often, it’s the possibility of smooth syntax that prompts us to use the ellipsis, as in this example:
   BYPASS Go around near spas, running amok… (6)
   ODDLY …in a peculiar fashion—or did I lay this way? (5)

But by far the most common thing that prompts us to use ellipses is sheer necessity—when a clue simply can’t make good surface sense on its own. Often that’s because the definition is a preposition or a conjunction, which are awkward at either the beginning or end of a clue. So we do things like this:
   PETROLEUM Favorite part? Er… It yields gas…(9)
   NEATH …under unmixed hydrogen (5)

Or this:
   AGAMEMNON Mythical king is willing, with Minoan leader coming in soon… (9)
   TOP HAT …to cool stovepipe (3,3)

All of these examples fall under the general rule that punctuation can be safely ignored while solving. But don’t forget that no rule is completely inviolable. Solvers, for instance, ignored punctuation here at their peril:
   SEMICOLON Wise lawmaker eats stewed mice;…(9)
   SHERBET …for example, oregano stuffing prescribed for dessert (7)

One of these days, ELLIPSIS is sure to show up in a grid, and then all bets will be off.

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Do you have thoughts or concerns about the use of ellipses in 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 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.

Hidden Meanings

You may recall that there are “British rules” and “American rules” for cryptic crosswords, which we discussed in a previous post. This is the first in a series of posts in which we will get more specific, using quotations from Peter Biddlecombe, the cryptic crossword editor at The Sunday Times (in London). The quotes are from his series on cryptic clues, which you can find on his clueing contest page. (Scroll to the bottom for the links.)

In a definition and wordplay clue, there may be more than one wordplay or definition. Putting a definition between two alternative wordplays is one way of breaking the apparent rule that “the definition must be at the beginning or end of the clue.” This happens in the vast majority of clues, and all the clues in many puzzles, but it is not always true.

In principle, as we mentioned before, we see no reason to forbid three-part clues. Our predecessor at The Nation used them, and the break with the routine is entertaining. The fact that we have not done this very often does not mean we will not do it in the future.

But Biddlecombe goes further: He suggests inserting the definition between two pieces of wordplay! What a strange and wonderful idea. Here is our first attempt at something along those lines:
   BANDANA BA’s headgear with down inside—something you might slip on? (7)
In this clue, the definition (“headgear”) is safely nestled between two completely independent pieces of wordplay, both pointing to the same answer: “BA” (rebus wordplay: B AND AN A) and D (“down”) inside BANANA (“something you might slip on”).

The reverse is also possible—one could have definitions at either end, with wordplay in the middle. For example:
   GANDER Goose ranged freely for a look (6)
Here we have anagrammatic wordplay (“ranged freely”) separating two distinct definitions (“goose” and “look”).

There are other ways besides tripartite clues to violate (or let’s say vary) the usual rule about the definition always coming at the beginning or end of a clue. Biddlecombe continues:

Artfully-worded phrases at the beginning or end of the clue can act as linkwords, and provide another way of writing clues with the definition in the middle.

Again we see no reason not to do that, as long as the cryptic reading is solid. For example:
   INSANE One can get mad when mixing sienna (6)
Note that the definition here (“mad”) is in the middle of the clue—yet the process of deriving the answer is described perfectly clearly.

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Can you, dear reader, write clues along these lines? 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.

Be sure to check out last week’s Word Salad post, “What’s So Great About Two?

What's So Great About Two?

One of the best-known and wittiest precepts about cryptic crosswords was the British constructor Ximenes’s description of a cryptic clue as containing three things: (1) a definition, (2) wordplay and (3) nothing else. (See “Fair and Square.”)

Yet in practice, the wide and eclectic world of cryptic crosswording admits of other possibilities. Some British constructors allow for clues that consist only of straight definitions, if they’re done in a punny or unorthodox way. They call these “cryptic definitions.” Here are some examples taken from Don Manley’s Chambers Crossword Manual:
   CANDLE A wicked thing (6)
   SWINDLER Keen observer of gulls? (8)
   LAST TRAIN Presumably one doesn’t run after it? (4,5)

Some constructors and editors also approve of clues that point to the answer in three different ways—with three definitions in place of the usual two, for instance, or with one standard wordplay and two definitions.

These are never going to be used more than occasionally, but they do show up in cryptics. Or at least, they do elsewhere. In The Nation, not so much.

Nation reader Tom Atkins recently wrote, “I miss Frank Lewis! His cavalier ways with the rules of constructing cryptic crosswords put me off for a long time, but I eventually came to appreciate the ambiguity of his random mixture of one-, two- and three-part clues. Some of Kosman and Picciotto’s clues are fiendishly clever, but…they seldom bend the rules.”

Guilty as charged! It’s true that we have consistently stuck with the idea that a cryptic clue has two parts, definition and wordplay. Usually the parts are disjointed, sometimes they are coterminous (see “Lit Parade”). On this front, our biggest deviation from US orthodoxy is the occasional clue in which we allow the definition to leak into the wordplay (see “Breaching the Firewall”).

Yet, as solvers, we do enjoy “cryptic definition” clues when they are used in non-cryptic crosswords, and feel the same about the not-as-frequent Frank Lewis three-part cryptic clues. Why do we not use such clues ourselves?

It’s certainly not because we play strictly by the rules. After all, we have pushed the envelope with new types of clues (see “The Rebus Clue,” <“a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/172274/i-hear-you">I Hear You” and “Going to the Bank”). We have followed in Frank Lewis’s footsteps by splitting entries into different locations in the diagram, and having clues cross-reference each other, as well as in other respects (see “The Etymological Taboo” and “What’s a Three-Letter Word For?”).

So it’s not that we’re beholden to any particular dogma. The truth is much more mundane: We probably stick to two-part clues mostly from force of habit. But stay tuned: this may change.

Do you miss one- and three-part clues? 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.
• 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.

Roasting Chestnuts

Every once in a while, as we’re filling a puzzle grid or writing clues, one of us will put in an entry that makes the other one look askance. “Well, that’s kind of a chestnut,” he’ll say about a particular piece of wordplay.

And it’s true: For all the incalculable wealth and versatility of the English language, it’s just not possible to make every piece of wordplay be something brand-new and original. Certain puns, certain anagrams and certain pieces of word manipulation tend to call out to the constructor and beg for inclusion. And when they do, we generally pay heed to their cries.

Note that we’re not talking here about clichés—the overused, tired clueing strategies that get recycled from one puzzle to the next because they fit the needs of a constructor. Rather, what we’re talking about are pieces of enjoyable or clever wordplay that are no longer fresh discoveries.

At least, they’re not discoveries for everyone. But the reason we are generally not fazed by the charge of chestnuttery is always the same: For any given chestnut, there’s always a solver who’s encountering it for the first time. Or even a constructor.

The entry at 1-Across in this week’s puzzle is a case in point. It’s a joke that been used now and again in various puzzling contexts over the years, but it retains the power to amuse. One of us (never mind which) put it into this week’s grid with a slightly apologetic note: “I know it’s an oldie, but it’ll be new to someone.” The other replied: “It was new to me.”

Here are a few examples of wordplay chestnuts that have managed to find their way into the Nation puzzle:
   ASTRONOMER  Moon starer, possibly! (10)
   BRITNEY SPEARS  Presbyterians converted pop star (7,6)
   DECIMAL POINT  Remarkably, I’m a pencil dot! (7,5)
   MOUNT ST. HELENS  Prepares the telescope to find a volcano (5,2,6)
   OSLO  City in Czechoslovakia (4)
   PULITZER PRIZE  Talking chicken gets unexpected recognition (8,5)

Do you have any examples of chestnuts that made you sigh with exasperation? For that matter, do you know why a familiar old joke or story is called a chestnut? Please weigh in 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.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

One basic type of cryptic clue is the reversal, which relies on the fact that some words turn into other words when spelled backwards. In down clues, a reversal is typically indicated with a reference to the fact that the diagram entry is to be read upwards for the sake of the wordplay.

An example is DESSERTS and STRESSED. We have yet to put one (or both!) of these words in a diagram, but it is practically inevitable that they will show up sooner or later since they are composed of very common letters. In fact, they are letters that are so often at the end of words that it would be convenient to place them at the far right or the very bottom of the diagram. Watch for it!

DESSERTS/STRESSED is a classic whole-word reversal, and there are many others—though they are usually made of shorter words. Here are some example clues from our first year at The Nation.
      SLAP   Strike friends on the way back (4)
      SNUG   Comfortable, with arms up (4)
      SUMAC   Poisonous plant French writer raised (5)

Some clues involve a partial reversal:
      SNIPPET   Upon reflection, attaches favorite excerpt (7)
      SODA   Pop’s trouble returning after Schuylkill initiation (4)
      TIDEMARK   Revise text starting at the end, identify high point (8)
      TOPNOTCH   Lift heavyweight container over cloth wrapper—that’s best (8)
      TOSSPOT   Drunkard comes back to see drunkard (7)

Some clues involve some other form of wordplay, followed by a reversal:
      SNARE DRUM   Execute one curve in reverse, as part of the marching band (5,4) [charade]
      SPEED UP   Accelerate return of young dogs to captivate Sandra (5,2) [sandwich clue]
      STAMINA   Brings to life, rising without energy or endurance (7) [letter deletion]
      STEWED   Drunk dries up? (6) [pun]
      CENOTAPH   Running back through Utah, pat one celebratory monument (8) [hidden word]

Unfortunately, there are only so many ways to indicate reversals. We faced complaints when we used “exalted” as a reversal indicator in a down clue:
      ISRAEL   The Nation is covering exalted legendary monarch (6)

Our defense is the fact that a dictionary definition of “exalted” includes “raised to a higher rank.” Even though finding decent indicators is challenging, opportunities for using reversals come up so frequently that you will keep seeing them in our puzzles.

Do you have favorite reversals? 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.

A New Frontier in Artificial Intelligence

Do you have an interest in cryptic crosswords and a facility with the more intricate realms of computerized artificial intelligence? If so, there’s a project out there with your name on it.

One of the more fascinating recent developments in the word of cruciverbalism has been the birth of Dr. Fill, the wittily named—and frighteningly proficient—crossword-solving program developed by puzzle constructor and software engineer Matt Ginsberg. Operating on brute speed to compensate for his lack of common sense, Dr. Fill has penetrated the lower ranks of good solvers. He (it’s hard to avoid following Ginsberg’s example by personifying the good doctor) is not yet in the upper echelons of solvers yet—but don’t look back, because he’s gaining on us.

Dr. Fill made his debut a year ago at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn, solving the puzzles alongside a field of nearly 600 contestants and finishing in 141st place. Last weekend he returned, and improved his standing to ninety-second. (In the human division, meanwhile, solving wizard Dan Feyer sailed to a fourth consecutive victory.)

Ginsberg regaled the assembled contestants with a fine and highly educational presentation about just how Dr. Fill operates. He doesn’t try to find a short path to the smartest solution; rather, he makes lots of not-too-stupid guesses and then uses his processing power to sort through the possibilities and find the ones that cross each other.

But there’s one thing Dr. Fill doesn’t know, and isn’t about to learn—namely, how to solve cryptic crosswords. And the reason is simple: Ginsberg isn’t interested enough to teach him. Much of his development time is spent training Dr. Fill to recognize things like puns, rebuses, added-letter themes and other tricks that are common in standard crosswords.

Dr. Fill could easily be trained to spot comparable principles in the world of cryptics. All he needs now is a trainer—and Ginsberg told the Brooklyn crowd that he’d be happy to let someone else take a crack at it. Unlike Watson, the computerized Jeopardy! champion developed by IBM, Dr. Fill isn’t a commercial undertaking (although some of the databases he relies on are proprietary). So all he’s waiting for is a software and cryptics guru willing to show him the ropes.

Do you have the interest and expertise to adapt Dr. Fill to the world of cryptic crosswords? Please weigh in 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.

'E-book'? That's a Word?

For decades, crossword solvers had to be content with the humble tools of paper and pencil (or pen, for the more confident). But in recent years, crossword puzzles, like so many other cultural artifacts, have been migrating slowly and unmistakably to more high-tech platforms.

A number of programs for desktop and laptop computers have been around for several years, growing steadily in popularity. And more recently still, crosswords have begun making their way into mobile devices.

We know this because our first twenty Nation puzzles are now available in an e-book from Puzzazz, titled Out of Left Field: Cryptic Crosswords from The Nation. The free app for solving these is available for iPhone and iPad, and an Android version is coming, we hear. Sequels should appear every six months, so if you like to solve cryptic crosswords on a screen, this is for you.

Joshua: I still do a lot of my crossword solving on paper, but I also find myself doing plenty of crosswords at my computer (when I should be working). The most popular platform is a free program called Across Lite, which is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of puzzles. I do find it hard to take in an entire grid at a glance, but for speed and ease of use it’s pretty hard to beat.

Henri: I have been solving crosswords on a mobile device for a long time: I started on Palm, and have now moved on to an iPhone. What is great about this is that the puzzles are always in my pocket. (Of course, that’s also what is problematic about it.) However, on a small touchscreen keyboard, it can be tricky to hit the keys you want. Puzzazz has an answer for this—the app allows you to hand-write your answers on the screen. Another nice feature is that you can set the software to indicate word boundaries in multiword entries. This can be quite helpful when solving a tough clue for a phrase.

But the killer feature of the app is the many ways to ask for hints, which almost replicate getting help from a live human being. If a clue is stumping you, you can ask the app what type of clue it is (anagram, reversal, etc.), and it will tell you. You can also ask to be shown where the break is between wordplay and definition. And you can ask the program to delete any errors you might have entered into the diagram. Those approaches to hinting seem more legitimate to us than having the program fill in a letter or word for you, but that too is available as an option.

In addition to the Nation puzzle, Puzzazz offers books of American cryptics by Todd Rew and Mike Selinker, British cryptics by Brian Greer and many other types of puzzles as well.

How do you feel about solving on an electronic platform? 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.

Crowds and Power

Earlier this month, one of the country’s finest puzzle constructors wrote these poignant words on the Internet: “Unfortunately there are hardly any venues in America that accept cryptic puzzles for publication, so I rarely have any reason to make them.”

The writer was Patrick Berry, whose creations range from innovative and beautiful new puzzle types (Rows Garden, Some Assembly Required, Snake Charmer and more) to traditional crosswords of unparalleled virtuosity. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Games and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Yet as Berry rightly laments, his opportunities to publish cryptic crosswords are few and far between. There are only a handful of outlets that regularly run cryptics—among them The Nation, Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal and Games—and each of them tends to be the province of a particular constructor. The result is that solvers are deprived of the fruit of his efforts in this field.

Happily, the new Internet-based economy is coming to the rescue where the old market economy has failed. The sentence above is quoted from Berry’s new Kickstarter project, a collection of twelve new cryptics (both black-square and variety puzzles) that is already fully funded but still taking backers.

And Berry isn’t the only top constructor turning to the wisdom of crowds to make large puzzle projects possible. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen these undertakings:

Unique Puzzles for a Yankee Echo Alfa Romeo, a year-long puzzle hunt by constructor Roy Leban and the puzzlers at Puzzazz
The Maze of Games, an “interactive puzzle novel” by the endlessly inventive Mike Selinker
Triple Play Puzzles Extravaganza, Trip Payne’s second suite of interconnected word puzzles

All of these are projects that are too complex, and perhaps too specialized, to be fully supportable through the usual economic means. So it’s fortunate that the Internet now provides the means for a willing pool of buyers—solvers and puzzle aficionados of all stripes—to help bring these creations into being. And in most cases, these are self-published, which means that most of the money generated by these campaigns and by later sales ends up in the pocket of the constructor.

That’s the upside. The downside, as with any sort of highly targeted undertaking, is the difficulty of expanding your audience. The crossword puzzle (like the sudoku after it) became popular because people came across it in their daily newspaper, on their way to read other things. But the projects listed above, and others like them, rely heavily on word circulating through the already existing circles of puzzle buffs.

That’s why we’re doing our bit to publicize these efforts. If you like puzzles, please look into them—and if you like what you see, help us spread the word.

Do you know of other crowd-sourced puzzle projects? 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.

Going to the Bank

Anagrams are among the main tools in the hands of the cryptic crossword constructor (see our previous post), but there are other ways of mixing and recombining letters than the strict one-to-one style of the anagram. One form of wordplay that’s proved both popular and fruitful in the National Puzzlers’ League—but has been used rarely if at all in cryptic crosswords—is the letter bank.

A letter bank consists of at least two words or phrases. The shortest one, called the bank, contains no repeated letters (an “isogram,” in wordplay terminology), and any longer words or phrases are built by using each of those letters at least once, but repeating them as many times as necessary. So for instance, the four letters in the bank LENS can be repeated and recombined to form the longer word SENSELESSNESS. Other examples are CONQUEST and SONNET SEQUENCE, or the tripartite NASTIER/ARTSINESS/EASTERN RITES. In line with NPL guidelines, we require the longer word to be at least three letters longer than the bank (otherwise the result feels more like a failed anagram).

We have used only a handful of letter bank clues in the Nation puzzle. When we started drafting this post, we thought that the reason was because letter bank pairs are not all that common: The longer word needs to have enough repeating letters, and once the repeats are eliminated the distinct letters need to anagram to something useful.

Looking back through past Nation puzzles, however, we found that there were plenty of candidates for letter banks, including some great ones, that for better or for worse we clued in more standard ways (charades, anagrams, etc.). Perhaps it’s the weight of tradition—after decades of solving and constructing cryptics with no letter banks, that clue type did not readily come to mind.

In any case, here are some letter bank clues from past puzzles:
      CATCH-AS-CATCH-CAN  Snatch, using every element as needed in whatever way possible (5-2-5-3)
      DALAI LAMA  Draw as needed on the resources of a mild religious leader (5,4)
      TO BE OR NOT TO BE  Existential question latent in Brontë’s letters (2,2,2,3,2,2)
      UKULELE  Luke provides everything you need for a musical instrument (7)
      VENISONIVOROUS  Use and reuse pieces of souvenir, eating deer perhaps? (14)

By the way, we were accused of making up VENISONIVOROUS. True, it doesn’t seem like a real word, but we cannot take credit for inventing it. We found it in Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2nd Edition (unabridged), and it won our hearts instantly.

So far, we’ve only used the longer word as the entry and the bank in the clue, but there’s no reason not to go the other way. In either direction, of course, the challenge is to come up with decent indicators. Solvers accept a fairly wide range of options to indicate anagrams, but since this is a new clue type, and a more complicated one, our choices are fewer. Still, we intend to continue pushing this particular envelope! Like them or not, letter banks are here to stay, so be on the lookout for them.

Do you love letter banks? Do you hate them? 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.

Finally, 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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