Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does the clue make you happy?

Undesirable post-crossword mood! Yesterday, The Hindu Crossword had the answer MENTAL ANGUISH in the grid.
Today, it has TERMINAL ILLNESS.

In the past, there have been words about various other ailments. AIDS, with its setter-friendly selection of letters, has been clued twice in Oct'09 with reference to the disease.

Sometimes, the surface is sombre even if the answer is not. Like this one by Sankalak:
THC 9579: Gas consumed a newborn child (7) NEONATE

The act of crossword solving should leave the solver satisfied or amused. Such words unfortunately might have the opposite effect, especially if they remind the solver of unpleasant/sorrowful personal experiences. No matter how technically perfect the clue, I think it falls short of greatness if it is an irredeemably "unhappy clue".

The Guardian crossword carried this clue for TERMINAL CANCER a couple of months ago.
Guardian 24375: Environmental effect of airport development? (8,6)

The blog for it, not surprisingly, received many comments expressing disapproval over the flippant treatment of the subject.

If a topic is so grim that one would not joke about it in conversation, then it is best avoided in cryptic clues. 

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4 comments

Chaturvasi said...

Specification sheets for US synonymic crosswords say that the grids must not have words/phrases relating to diseases, bodily functions and so on.
Perhaps UK crossword editors too will want their setters to avoid these terms but I, as a long-standing solver of British crosswords, can say that they are not too squeamish. And I am not thinking of Private Eye crossword!
I agree TERMINAL CANCER or TERMINAL ILLNESS is likely to cause some distress to solvers, especially if someone dear to them was in this unfortunate situation.
In any case, long phrases such as these do not go into a grid at any early stage. So, if the composer has a certain sensitivity, they may well be given a wide berth.

Shuchi said...

I wasn't talking of off-colour humour or double entendre, which can be amusing to many even if they don't find place in the regular papers. What is acceptable or not in a "family paper" is debatable, and another topic altogether.

In fact, on that scale of impropriety, The Hindu is far more staid than the UK papers like FT or Guardian; I've found only Gridman making occasional forays into suspect territory.

About serious illnesses, however, there can hardly be two ways of thinking.

Shuchi said...

To add to that: Even with a possibly negative word, a smart setter can divert attention away from its negativity by exploiting something quirky about it. There was such a clue for the word TERRORIST by Mudd in FT not so long ago, I wish I remembered the clue!

Kryptonologist said...

This article saved 23D in my latest puzzle:

Lavish masquerades left out Hindu god (5)

The previous clue leveraged the middle three letters of the answer.