In a couple of recent posts we discussed how single letters can be clued. Today we address two-letter strings—not including state abbreviations, which were addressed (heh) in our July 4 post. Just like single letters, letter pairs (also known as bigrams) can be clued as words, as part of words, or as abbreviations.

Two-letter words can be part of a charade, or a container clue, as in the following examples:
  INDIANA  Gary’s place is at home with a goddess (7)
  TANGO  Dance beat with energy (5)
  EVOKE  Call forth the First Lady, securing permission (5)

By convention, when they refer to a word fragment, expressions such as “two of” always refer to the beginning of the word…
  SCENIC  Pretty nice mess after pair of screwups (6)
  MILES DAVIS  Trumpeter deceptively misleads (takes in) a couple of virtuosos (5,5)

…unless, of course, the clue specifies otherwise:
  SNEAKERS  Behaves scornfully about last pair of Slovak shoes (8)

Likewise, tradition dictates that when referring to inside letters, the clue refers to the exact center of the word. Of course, the exact middle bigram only exists in the case of words with an even number of letters:
  SWAHILI  Regressive laws about heart of this island’s first language (7)
  HOTEL  Where to stay very warm? The middle of hell (5)
  JOSHUA  Puzzle constructor to joke over center of square (6)

One useful clueing option that distinguishes bigrams from single letters is the possibility of referring to the beginning and end of a word. For example:
  ENGAGE  Do battle with rioting gang, within the limits of endurance (6)
  GLOSSY  Shrinkage seen between the edges of grimy photo (6)
  DETESTABLE  Abominable drive on the shoulders, with defective seat belt (10)

Roman numerals offer some options, though we no longer use “ninety-nine” for IC, as solvers quite legitimately complained that this is not correct.
  FIVE  One-fourth of four, plus four, on its face, equals …! (4)
  IN VITRO Outside the body’s opening, swallowing six (2,5)

Other ways to clue letter pairs include chemical symbols…
  AGLITTER  Sparkling with silver trash (8)
  CUSHION  Something soft and quiet found in copper atom (7)

…”ten” for IO…
  ETIOLATED  Feeble guess about a takeoff: “Around ten, behind schedule” (9)
  AXIOM  Basic principle: cut ten meters (5)

… and “in the morning” for AM.
  DREAM  Imagine rapping doctor in the morning (5)
  EMMA  Lazarus returned in the morning with me (4)

The following clue combined three bigrams, involving sports and days of the week:
  BATHTUB  A Thursday/Tuesday walk outside, naked? I could get into that (7)

BB is a baseball abbreviation for a walk. Admittedly, not everyone knows that, but we thought it made for a fun clue. Apologies to the non-fans of sports.

This week’s cluing challenge: DEUCE. 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.