The surface-friendly modal verb 'can' can helpfully mutate to other meanings in the cryptic reading of a clue. 'Can' is also a slang term for various other words in common usage, and its constituent letters fit neatly into wordplay or in the answer - all of which makes 'can' an important tool in clue-crafting.
A look at some ways in which the word 'can' gets used in cryptic crosswords.
A can is a tin (container), a useful synonym for the frequently-found pattern '…TIN…' in grid fills – for example, words ending in –TING.
FT 14710 (Armonie): Bill can get girl for performance (6) ACTING
AC (bill) TIN (can) G (girl)
Times 25026: Female and I can be compatible (3,2) FIT IN
F (female) I TIN (can)
'Can' is slang for toilet and matches other terms that mean the same - loo, gents, John, lav, to name a few popular ones.
FT 13279 (Mudd): Can terrifying goddess keep eradicating half - or double (9)? LOOKALIKE
LOO (can) KALI (terrifying goddess) KE[ep]
Guardian 25475 (Enigmatist): Can he? (4) JOHN dd
Like bathroom, jail too has many euphemistic synonyms - 'can' is one among them.
Guardian 26319 (Qaos): Murderer, one in jail (4) CAIN
I in CAN (jail)
Indy 8142 (Anax): A prison full of charming and extremely close contact (12) ACQUAINTANCE
A CAN (prison) around QUAINT (charming), C[los]E
4. Preserve, Record
To 'can' is to preserve by sealing in a can, as in the canning of pickles and jams. It is also to record, as on film or tape.
Guardian 24584 (Brendan): One way to preserve so long a piece of music (7) CANTATA
CAN (one way to preserve) TA-TA (so long)
Times 23687: Preserve what American and Canadian share in different places (3) CAN
AmeriCAN and CANadian contain, in different places, the word CAN (preserve)
5. Stop, Abandon
To 'can' is to put a stop to or to abandon (something). A related American idiom: can it!
Indy 8589 (Phi): Abandon a lake – here's narrower artificial waterway (5) CANAL
CAN (abandon) A L (lake)
FT 14142 (Alberich): John put an end to dance (6) CANCAN
CAN (John, slang for toilet) CAN (put an end to)
In North American slang, to 'can' is to dismiss/sack/fire.
Indy 7818 (Anarche): Uproarious dances as prisons catch fire in America (7) CANCANS
CANS (prisons) around CAN (fire i.e. sack or dismiss in America)
FT 13737 (Jason): Wine can destroy 50s dress (4) SACK
Multiple definitions: wine, can, destroy, 50s dress.
'Can' is short for Canada or Canadian.
Times Jumbo 1101: Canadian accent's associated with oriental language (9) CANTONESE
CAN (Canadian) TONE'S (accent's) E (oriental)
Guardian 24885 (Chifonie): Boat in a river in Canada (9) CATAMARAN
A TAMAR (river), in CAN (Canada)
'Can' is an informal word for headphone, usually used in the plural form.
Indy 8039 (Phi): Collection of rubbish filled with 500 mostly genuine cans (10) HEADPHONES
HEAP (collection of rubbish) around D (Roman numeral for 500) HONES[t] (genuine, mostly)
Sun Times 4504 (Tim Moorey): Do shed tea cans (7) HEADSET
'Can' is North American slang for the buttocks, a meaning that makes rare appearances in daily cryptics, more to be seen in barred grid crosswords.
Indy 8261 (Klingsor): Can German money support Britain? (6) BOTTOM
OTTO (Germa) M (Money), below B (Britain)
10. Verb of Possibility / Permission / Ability
The sense of the word most used in non-crossword language, to denote possibility ('it can happen'), permission ('you can go'), ability ('i can solve').
FT 14746 (Gurney): Is able to operate empty boat (5) CANOE
CAN (is able to) O[perat]E
Note for new crossword setters: can != able, can = is/are able to.
Indy 8638 (Tyrus): One day may come together like Mandela and de Klerk (7) AFRICAN
Charade of A FRI (day) CAN (may); D-by-E
Can you solve these?
FT 14379 (Monk): Essentially, designer can supply a basic dwelling (5) ___O_
Times 25972: Medicine can relieve symptoms over time (8) __N____E
Times 24963: On rising is able to try cold drink (6) _O___C
Times 25735: Can revolvers upset poet and mischief-makers? (6,5) T_____ R____
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