Free Lunch

Free Lunch


A recurrent criticism of our cryptic cluing style has surfaced among some of our test solvers. They don’t like part of the answer to appear as is in the clue. For example:
IMPETUS I’m American, having internalized animal energy (7)

The answer’s IM is there, in plain sight, at the beginning of the clue.

The objection may stem from a feeling that this makes the clue too easy. Of course, by and large, our test solvers are sophisticated cryptic crossword solvers, and their “too easy” may be someone else’s “finally a clue I can solve!” We don’t mind having some “too easy” clues in every puzzle, as we know our solvers’ experience with cryptics ranges all over the map. And in fact, even an experienced solver may need some easy clues to provide an in to an otherwise tough puzzle.

Another reason to object is the lack of consistency between different parts of the clue. In the example above, the beginning is given in plain text, as it were, but the remaining two parts of the charade require the solver to start by taking the extra step of finding synonyms or near-synonyms to “American” and “animal.” We admire consistency as much as anyone, but we don’t think it trumps all other considerations. For example, a better surface reading for a clue is reason enough to do this, to produce something that’s either less awkward or more entertaining. We’d rather be consistent with our overall priority (entertainment) than with abstract principles.

It’s not that there are no alternatives. For example, we could have used “Yours truly is” instead of “I’m,” but that seems silly. Or perhaps “Instant message American, …” but is using an abbreviation (especially one that may not be familiar to everyone) an improvement? Those are the sorts of conversations we have with each other, and with our test solvers.

Once in a while, we do end up giving away part of the answer. Here are some more examples:
IONIC One-on-one chat to begin with ancient Greek dialect (5)
ITALICIZE Emphasize it with unnatural zeal around here (in Marseilles) (9)
LAMASERY Scurrilous smear lay outside Buddhist cloister (8)
LINGONBERRY Alien warrior loses head by swallowing stray fruit (11)

You will note the giveaway is usually very short, no more than three letters. That’s rather mild in the scheme of things—especially if you compare it to a famous crossword puzzle created by Mark Gottlieb for the 1997 MIT Mystery Hunt. His goal was to make his puzzle harder by breaking a rule all solvers take for granted: that no form of an answer word can appear in its own clue. So Gottlieb used “Mosaic tile” to clue TILE, “Muenster or gouda” to clue MUENSTER, and so on through literally every clue in the puzzle, hiding each answer in plain sight.

Now, that’s a free lunch.

Today’s clueing challenge: FREEBIE. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

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