Saturday, September 20, 2008

Acrostics

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas" acrostic-clue-type

Does the sentence above ring a bell? That used to be a popular memory aid for keeping track of planets in the solar system (in the days when Pluto was counted as one). The first letter of each word in the sentence stands for the name of a planet.

Acrostic clues in cryptic crosswords work much the same way. Acrostics, or initialisms, use the first letters of a sequence of words in the clue to form the solution.

Acrostic Clue Structure: The clue has three parts:

  1. Definition
  2. Acrostic indicator - Words like 'initially', 'in front of' indicate that leading letters are to be picked
  3. Acrostic fodder - Sequence of words from which the letters are to be picked

Examples:

Those fronting extremely vicious acts don't easily escape (5) E V A D E

Guardian 24489: Some URLs recommended for beginners to explore online (4) S U R F

Acrostics along with hidden word clues are perhaps the easiest to solve, since all the letters for the solution are right there, in the correct order – you just need to spot that it is a clue of this type. Looking for an acrostic indicator in the clue is a good start point.

Variants of acrostics could use last letters, nth letters or middle letters of the words.

Acrostics are also found in other forms of writing, such as poetry. The first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the verse, when put together gives another message. Some examples: Acrostic Verses.

On that note, a rhyme:

A clue that spells out the answer
Can hardly leave you perplexed -
Read carefully the first letter
Of each unit in the text;
Spot the indicator, then definition
That's your work near-done; 
Initials together give the solution -
Caught on, haven't you, about this one?

Solve These

FT14261 (Redshank): What chiefly hides in Jordan and Bahrain? (5)
Independent 8283 (Nestor): What’s seen at start of any road running one way? (5)
Guardian 25726 (Paul): Those biting heads off tarantulas, eating even tiny hairs (5)

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9 comments

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

FT14261 (Redshank): What chiefly hides in Jordan and Bahrain? (5) HIJAB
Independent 8283 (Nestor): What’s seen at start of any road running one way? (5) ARROW
Guardian 25726 (Paul): Those biting heads off tarantulas, eating even tiny hairs (5)TEETH
How I missed this?

Shuchi said...

Hi Lakshmi, I edited this post a few months back to add the "Solve These" section :-P

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan (LV) said...

Hi Shuchi,

My clue
Beginners made one very interesting ,entertaining film (5)

Sowmya said...

Movie @LV

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan (LV) said...

Yes @Sowmya :)

Anonymous said...

Question: Is it kosher to have a one-letter word as part of the acrostic fodder? e.g.
Beginnings of a scandal - youth leader under ministerial protection (ASYLUM)

Shuchi said...

@Anonymous: Interesting question. Technically it seems just fine to have a single-letter word in an acrostic. Even Lewis Carroll's classic acrostic from Through The Looking Glass uses it!

For cryptic clues, I can't recall any specific guideline about it, either for or against. The Guardian allows it for sure. A recent clue by Boatman, for example:

One who likes to see suffering solvers, a devilish invention scrambling their heads (6)

Sowmya said...

Sadist^^

Shuchi said...

@Sowmya: That's right. Good to see a comment on this ages-old post :-)