Monday, November 23, 2009

False Capitalization

False Capitalization False capitalization is the setter's trick of making a word in the clue look like a proper noun, by changing the case of its initial letter.

FT 13209 (Alberich): Chap at university's given introduction to Thomas Hardy (6) ROB U'S T

In this clue, the definition "hardy" (adjective) is written with a majuscule to blend with "Thomas" and misdirect the solver into thinking of the author.

Is This Fair?

False capitalization is acceptable, though there may be objections from a purist point of view. The Times crossword (which must be the fairest daily crossword of the present times) allows it, too.

The less controversial way is to place the word with the masked capital at the start of the clue. Since any clue starts with a capital letter, the setter can play on this ambiguity to make the first word seem like a proper noun.

Times Championship '09 1st Prelim Puzzle No. 1: Bill may have this extra career backing church activity (7,6)

The surface leads us to think of "Bill" as a person's name, but is actually not. It is part of the definition. (What's the answer?)

It's a One-Way Street

The setter can tweak the initial from lowercase to uppercase in any word to dress it up as a proper noun, but can't do the reverse (i.e. change uppercase to lowercase) to disguise a proper noun.

A clue like:

He wrote the joke (7)

for KUNDERA is not fair, because it alters the necessary capitalization of "The Joke". 

Solve These

THC 9692 (Gridman): Confused O'Neill met Salve? (9)
Independent 6781 (Monk): Animal found in Paraguay and China? (7)
Times Championship '09 Grand Final - Puzzle No. 2: Finally sails boat via Calf of Man (5)


raghunath said...

Hi Shuchi,
THC 9692 (Gridman): Confused O'Neill met Salve? (7) Should be EMOLLIENT* and not 7 lettered.

Times Championship '09 Grand Final - Puzzle No. 2: Finally sails boat via Calf of Man (5) S T A F F = Man [Verb]

Shuchi said...

Thanks raghunath. Fixed.

Correct answers. I'll give hints for the other two if unsolved till tomorrow.

Kryptonologist said...

Animal found in Paraguay and China? (7)


Bill may have this extra career backing church activity (7,6)


"Career" is used in its verbal sense of "dash" or "hurry".

Shuchi said...

Good cracks, Tony.

raghunath said...

4 Top cover provided by Iron Lady (6)
This clue from the ET 4436 is representative of this topic. Iron Lady would probably lead us into thinking that the answer is probably connected to the Margaret Thatcher.

Shuchi said...

Thanks raghunath. Reminds me of a similar one for FEMALE, which referred to the superhero Iron Man.

Ramki Krishnan said...

Hi Shuchi,

On the issue of unfair false capitalization (i.e. the word actually needs to be capitalized but is not) - is the following clue fair or unfair?

Open a play (7) with the answer being CANDIDA.

Candida itself a proper name. However "play" has been used as a common noun in the surface, but to indicate the actual name of a play. Should "play" be capitalized? Comments?


Shuchi said...

Hi Ramki,

The word 'play' need not be capitalized, since it is not by itself a proper noun.

This is one of those cases where the answer is an example of the definition, instead of a synonym. The bigger concern in such clues is the specificity of the definition. For example, 'city' to define any city in the world would generally be weak definition, while 'capital city in South India' might be giving away too much. The equation can change with other factors, some subjective - e.g. is it a themed crossword? how clear is the SI? how many answer options does the definition lead to? etc.

Coming back to the Candida clue - I think it's fine and fair.

Ramki Krishnan said...

Thank you!