In our introduction to cryptic crosswords and again in our blog post “Breaching the Firewall,” we discussed the concept of the &lit. clue. “&lit.” is short for “and literally so,” and it describes cryptic clues in which the definition and the wordplay are coterminous (is this a great word, or what?). The whole clue is the wordplay, and the whole clue is the definition.
To quote ourselves: “These are the triple toe loops of the cryptic world: difficult to execute, flashy and impressive when done right. By convention, they’re generally flagged with a final exclamation point.” In fact, that is not a universal convention. Many, perhaps most, British constructors do not use the exclamation point, leaving the discovery that a clue is an &lit. to the solver—and what a lovely discovery it is when you come across one!
Here in the United States, the exclamation point is well established, but the undisputed royal couple of US cryptics (Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon) have not been using it for a few years now. They think it makes the constructor look vain. With characteristic humility, they have replaced it with a question mark. We have stuck with the US majority on this—at least so far—and still use the exclamation point to crow about our &lits. (Of course, in our puzzles and elsewhere, there are times where an exclamation point is just an exclamation point.)
Consider the rest of this post an extended boasting session: we’ll share a few of our favorite &lits from Year 1 of our tenure as The Nation’s puzzle purveyors.
ABSENTEES A contest’s mailed-in participants!? (9)
AU PAIRS Aides originating at university near Paris, perhaps! (2,5)
CURBED A dog should be, near part of a garden! (6)
DETOURS Initially different, roundabout routes! (7)
FIVE One-fourth of four, plus four, on its face, equals …! (4)
HALO Non-human character circle! (4)
HYENA Laughter urge fills it! (5)
LOLL Primarily, lay (or lie) lazily! (4)
LUDICROUS Ridiculous, absurd, lacking one bit of intelligence! (9)
PAST Father’s time! (4)
SEDER In which prophet takes a bit of drink! (5)
STRIVED Tried, vs. challenging and treacherous core of adversity!! (7)
Do you have favorite &lits? Please share, along with comments, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle.