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.