Tuesday, August 12, 2008

&lit, Literally So

and-lit-clue-type Regular cryptic clues have two discrete components - the definition and the wordplay. &lit is an unusual clue type in which the definition and the wordplay are the same.

&lit stands for "and literally so". The wordplay is of any regular type in an &lit clue - say, container or anagram; the specialty is that the entire clue is its definition.

Take for example: Cop in male form (9) POLICEMAN

The entire clue is the definition – a POLICEMAN is a "Cop in male form". The entire clue is also its wordplay – the answer is an anagram of (COP IN MALE) with "form" as the anagram indicator.

More examples of &lit clues using other wordplay techniques.

&lit with Charade:
Guardian 23892 (Rufus): I'm a leader of Muslims (4) IMAM
I'M A M[uslims]

&lit with (Anagram + Container):
Times 23986: This means getting excited about start of undertaking (10) ENTHUSIASM
(THIS MEANS)* around U[ndertaking]

&lit with (Charade + Reversal):
Guardian 23911 (Orlando): One's cold to walk over (6) ICECAP
I (one) has C (cold), PACE (walk) reversed

&lit clues are also called all-in-one clues, since the wordplay is the same as the definition.

&Lit Clue Characteristics

Some traits of &lit clues to help you identify them:

  • &lit clues are typically "short and snappy"
  • An exclamation mark at the end is a good sign that the clue in question is of &lit type
  • Such clues most often use the hidden word or anagram wordplay styles

&lit clues can be tricky to spot. The traits above do not apply all the time - a long clue with no trailing punctuation can as well be &lit. A rule of thumb: if you can "see" the answer based on the crossing letters or the wordplay, but you can't see the definition, check if it is an &lit type. You would need to read an &lit clue twice – once for its wordplay and another time for its definition.

In some &lit clues, the wordplay is only part of the clue – this variant is called the semi-&lit.

&lit clues are rare; it takes great skill to craft a good &lit. When you do come across them, relish the experience.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Want Help Deconstructing Clues?

If you have the clue text and its solution, but can't figure out how the clue leads to the solution - you can post both in the comments section. I'll try to help with analyzing the clue.

Note: Please post cryptic crossword clues only, and mention the source/setter of the clue.

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Digging Out Hidden Words

Clues that contain hidden words - also called 'telescopic clues' - have the solution embedded straight into the text of the clue. The solution might be wholly contained in a single word, or span over a continuous set of words.

Stop getting letters from friends (3) END (Hidden word within a single word)
Choose from among the top ten (3) OPT     (Hidden word spanning a set of words)

Telescopic Clue Structure: The clue contains 3 parts -
1. Definition
2. Hidden word indicator - Word or phrase indicating a hidden word e.g. 'from', 'partly', 'within', 'has'
3. Word/phrase containing the hidden word

Here are some tips to help you identify telescopic clues.

Examine huge words
If you find a really long word sitting in the clue with a word like 'in'/'some'/'has' next to it, a subset of this word is probably the answer to the clue.

Metal concealed by environmentalist (4) IRON
Not one to hold back from tergiversation (5) GIVER

Check for clunky surface reading, proper nouns
The clue most likely contains an anagram if it is constructed awkwardly or has proper nouns. If, however, it turns out not to be an anagram - no anagram indicator, but something like a hidden word indicator adjacent to it - then telescopic clue is your next bet.

Mountain range in central Taiwan (5) ALTAI
Pole coming from Sweden or The States (5) NORTH

Lookout for hidden solution over wrapped text
A regular crossword puzzle carries clues in multi-column format; the clue text wraps to the next line when it is too long. Watch out for hidden words that span across wrapped text!

Plant part that the biologist
phasised here (4)

GK-based solutions
Telescopic clues are heavily used to clue general knowledge based words. Names of places/rivers, stars/galaxies, gods and goddesses and so on.

Clues based on arcane knowledge (that is, knowledge that you do not have!) can be very frustrating. Not so with telescopic clues. The answer can be derived even if you are ignorant of the subject.

Consider the clue: African of Cuban-Turkish extraction (5)

You figure that this is a telescopic clue (proper nouns, hidden word indicator "extraction"), you also figure that the definition is "African". So, the answer must be a word that describes someone of African origin.

Now, suppose you have no knowledge about natives of Africa. How will you solve this clue?
Here's how. You know enough to deduce that:
- The answer is hidden within 'Cuban-Turkish'.
- The answer uses at least one letter from each of the words 'Cuban' and 'Turkish'. If it did not, the word would not have been there in the clue.
- The answer can therefore only be one of these - UBANT, BANTU, ANTUR, NTURK.

Now, the moment you fill in a crossing letter in the grid - say, ?A??? - voila! You have the answer - BANTU.

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How To Spot Anagrams

An anagram is wordplay in which letters from a part of the clue are reordered to give the solution.

anagram Anagram Clue Structure: The clue contains 3 parts -
1. Definition
2. Anagram Fodder - The letters to be rearranged
3. Anagram Indicator - "Signal" that letters are to be rearranged e.g. 'crazy', 'scrambled', 'out'. The anagram indicator is placed either before or after the anagram fodder, but adjacent to it.

The three parts - definition, fodder and indicator - are strung together in a phrase that forms the clue.

Example: Form of rule as yet without extravagance (9)
Here, "Form of" is the anagram indicator, "rule as yet" the fodder and "without extravagance" the definition. The answer, on anagramming "rule as yet", is AUSTERELY.

Anagram clues are not easy to camouflage for the setter, so are generally the first ones to get solved in a cryptic puzzle. Here are some tell-tale signs that give away that the clue at hand is an anagram clue.

See-through indicators
Word/phrase suggesting confusion or rearrangement is likely to be an anagram indicator. Check the words alongside such a word/phrase - do they look like anagram fodder? Does the count of the letters in them tally with the number of letters required in the answer?

Clunky surface reading
Look out for awkward sentence construction.

Toy breeds trained to find out a place for pearls (6,3) OYSTER BED
How a dragon may look ere I defy stirringly? (4-4)

In the clues above, the phrases 'toy breeds' and 'ere I defy' leap out to say they're anagram fodder. The indicators 'trained' and 'stirringly' confirm this further.

Proper nouns
If proper nouns appear in the clue without obvious reason, there is a good chance that they're anagram fodder.

Sends out to stop Rex wandering (7) EXPORTS
He has constructive ideas for the Arctic, perhaps (9) ARCHITECT

The hallmark of a well-constructed anagram clue is a surface reading so smooth that the solver does not notice the anagram - the fodder is inconspicuous, the indicator blends in well with the rest of the clue.

Have a go at solving these not-so-obvious anagram clues:
Times when things look different (6)
Birds observed in slow motion (4)

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Tackling Cryptic Crosswords: 7-Step Guide For Beginners

cryptic crossword guideFor those of you who want to solve cryptic crosswords but find them impossibly tough, here are a few tips to get you going.

1. Know The Clue Types- Cryptic clues may be tricky to interpret, but they are not vague. There is logic and method in the way each clue is crafted; you only need to know how to read it right. The first thing to do is to learn about cryptic clue structure and types. Click here to find a list of cryptic clue types and tips to solve them.

2. Spot The Anagrams and Hidden Words - Anagrams and telescopic clues are usually the easiest to crack. The posts on How To Spot Anagrams and Digging Out Hidden Words tell you more about these clue types. Skim through the clues to identify these first, fill them in and see if you can get the crossing words next.

3. Crack The Long Ones - Check if you can get the long ones on sight. Really long words or phrases are sometimes easier to solve. If you get these into the grid at first go, you get plenty of crossing letters to help with the rest of the puzzle.

4. Guess Words - Make the most of crossing letters. If the grid has V?O???? for a word, there is a narrow selection of words that fit there. Think up some and then match them against the clue. VIOLENT? VIOLETS? VIOLATE?

5. Identify The Definition - In a clever puzzle, this may be difficult to do. Till you build on instinct and experience to help, the common rule is: the definition is either the first word/group of words, or the last word/group of words. Try each of these as definitions one by one, see if the solution fits in with the rest of the clue.

6. Fill In Word Parts- The answer to the clue must match with the part of speech and tense of the definition. So, if you've identified that the definition is "exploited" but don't yet know what the exact answer is, you still know that the answer will be in past tense, and will most likely end in a "D".

7. Keep At It – Solving cryptic crosswords does not require extra-ordinary abilities. If you have decent vocabulary and a fair knowledge of trivia, all you need more to master cryptics is familiarity. If you don't get the hang of it in the first few tries, don't despair. Take the grid with its solution and go through the clues to see how they work. Fill in a few words into the grid, then try the remaining once again with the crossings. Visit solving communities – see the links under "Solving Sites" on the sidebar of this page. Be patient, be persistent. As with any other skill, to excel you must practice – there are no short-cuts!

If you've been trying to solve for some time without much success, this might be of help: More Tips For Solving Cryptic Crosswords.

Good luck!

Clue Types

Follow the links below to learn about the different types of clues you are likely to encounter, and how to solve them. Often a clue will use a combination of these types.

Cryptic crosswords use standard abbreviations to clue bits and pieces of the solution. Here's more about them: Cryptic Abbreviations.

Look up the Index page for More About Cryptic Wordplay.

If you're stuck with a clue, post it here: Want Help Deconstructing Clues? and I'll try to help.

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