In the lingo of the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL), a heteronym is a word or phrase that is spelled the same as another word or phrase, except perhaps for spaces. One example would be “to get her” and “together.” The original meaning of the word (which is still also in use) refers to words that are spelled exactly the same, but pronounced differently, such as “refuse” (verb) and “refuse” (noun).
This is of course quite relevant to cryptic crosswords. “Heteronym” could be a category of clues that are often classified differently. For example, here’s a normal double definition (from Puzzle 3198):
MOPED Vehicle was low (5)
This is definitely a heteronym, given the different pronunciations.
A less standard double definition (from Puzzle 3199):
LEGIT Acceptable run (5)
This is less standard, because LEG IT is not the same word as LEGIT. Some might consider it a “whole thing” charade.
The clues below are also charades of sorts, or you might think of them as jokey double definitions (respectively from Puzzles 3215, 3225, 3232, 3233, 3236, 3243):
MOCKING Monarch of comfy shoes? (That’s sarcastic) (7)
LACERATIONS Shoestring budgets resulting in tears (11)
GAS PEDAL “It makes the car go,” Unser said with difficulty (3,5)
AMPHITHEATER Band’s equipment collided with radiator in auditorium (12)
PREEN Groom ’em? (5)
BANJOIST Prohibit support for Pete Seeger, e.g. (8)
We use clues of this type quite often.
This one (from Puzzle 3215) was based on a classic heteronym discovered by NPL member Newrow (Edward Wolpow):
MOUNT ST. HELENS Prepares the telescope to find a volcano (5,2,6)
Heteronyms can be used in clues, but this is controversial among our fellow constructors. For example, one can use compound words in clues misleadingly: “redhead” could represent the letter R; “tailspin” could clue ALIT. We have no objection to this sort of wordplay—in fact, we have gone further, as in this example from Puzzle 3241:
PERSPIRE React to the heat with steeplechasing agent in retreat (8)
To understand the wordplay, you need to insert a space between “steeple” and “chasing.”
Our most unorthodox use of heteronymy was in this reversal clue for a Down word (from Puzzle 3237), where we suppressed the space between definition and wordplay:
ENID Eat uptown in Oklahoma? (4)
(The question mark was an attempt at warning the solver that something unusual was going on.) We only do this once in a blue moon, of course, but we enjoy it when we do!
How do you feel about heteronyms? Any favorites? We’d love to hear from you. Please share below, along with comments, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle.