As most of you would know, the series of white squares in the crossword grid, into which answers are entered, are called "lights".
Do you also know why they are called "lights"?
No, it isn't because white squares are light in colour. (This is what I thought once upon a time)
Val Gilbert's book A Display Of Lights (9) uses the word in its title. The accompanying description on Amazon carries an explanation, which further complicates the subject:
Answer: Crossword (a 'light' is a word for 'clue' in crossword parlance, so: a display of lights/display of clues/crossword)
This definition tallies with the dictionaries – Chambers has "hint, clue or help towards understanding" as a meaning of light.
If light means clue, why are we using it to refer to the answer to a clue?
The key to this question lies in the grid's property of checking.
D. St P Barnard's book Anatomy Of The Crossword clears up the mystery [Chapter 2: Patterns and Lights]:
Surely, one may well exclaim, to obtain a solution and then to call it by a word which means a clue, savours mightily of Looking-Glass Land. The objection would be a valid one if a puzzle were to require the insertion of only one word, but an essential feature of the crossword is that each horizontal word shares two or more letters with certain vertical words and vice versa. The result of this arrangement is that each word in the pattern not only represents the answer to some verbal clue, but serves also as a literal clue to those other words that it crosses.
- Useful Tools for Crossword Setters
- The Daily Telegraph: 80 Years of Cryptic Crosswords
- ABC of the Crossword Grid
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