Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Substitutions Simplified

In a substitution clue, a part of a word is exchanged with something else to get the solution. For example, the word CAST can be clued as CART - R + S.

substitutionSubstitution Clue Structure: The clue has the following components:

  1. Source Definition – Definition of the "input" word in which the substitution has to take place
  2. Hint for letters to be removed
  3. Hint for letters to be added
  4. Substitution Indicator – e.g. 'instead of', 'in place of'
  5. Solution Definition – Definition of the "output" word obtained after substitution

A good clue camouflages the substitution indicator well so that the solver misses spotting it – but once you’ve identified the clue as a substitution clue type, it gets much easier from there. Since the clue contains pointers for the source word and also the letters to be added/removed, you have a lot of fodder to build the solution upon.

Example I (from Times 24104):
Unexciting story gets mark for length (4)
story = source definition = TALE
mark for length => put in M in place of L
unexciting = solution definition = TA{-L}{+M}E = TAME

Example II (from Guardian 24522):
Too satisfied by praise when account is taken for one million (10)
praise = source definition = COMPLIMENT
account is taken for one million => put in AC in place of IM
too satisfied = solution definition = COMPL{-IM}{+AC}ENT = COMPLACENT

Solving Tips

  • The portion to be substituted is usually 1-2 characters long only, which means that we need to think of two words – the source and the solution - that share almost similar spelling. This can be quite helpful as both words have their own definitions.

  • The letters to be added/removed are mostly clued using standard abbreviations. With these letters identified, you have a good start point to find the source word/solution.

Try solving this one from the Guardian archives:
Poles in place of Royal Society in place of plants in place of sisters (7)

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Anonymous said...

What is the answer to the puzzle?

Shuchi said...

The answer is NUNNERY.
place of plants = NURSERY
poles in place of Royal Society = NN in place of RS

(defn) place of sisters

Meredith said...

I've just discovered these puzzles and find them alternatively super fun and super frustrating - that later coming along when I look at an answer and *still* don't get it (!!!) In that spirit, may I ask why NN is a replacement for Royal Society?

Shuchi said...

Hi Meredith,

More fun than frustrating, I hope :-)

Let's break this down:
Poles in place of Royal Society in place of plants in place of sisters (7)

Poles = NN (Pole could be N for North, S for South)
Royal Society = RS
place of plants = NURSERY

The wordplay asks for 'Poles in place of Royal Society in place of plants', which translates to '(NN in place of RS) in NURSERY' = NU(-RS +NN)ERY = NUNNERY: this matches the definition 'place of sisters'.