Thursday, November 26, 2009

Initial Letter Gambits

Masked Capitalization

The very first letter of a crossword clue is in uppercase by default. This provides some nifty wordplay opportunities to the setter.

In the previous article False Capitalization, we saw how the initial capital can create the illusion that the clue's opening word is a proper noun. Let's now see in action the reverse sort of ruse – one that conceals the fact that the opening word is a proper noun.

Example:
Times 23464: May perhaps mother and clan get dispersed? (8,5) CALENDAR MONTH (anag. of 'mother and clan')
On the surface, "May" reads like the auxiliary verb. In reality, it is the name of the month.

For this clue to work, "May" must be the opening word of the clue so that the capital letter of the month's name can be camouflaged.

Cues to look for masked proper nouns

When a word to suggest definition-by-example (such as 'say', 'perhaps', 'could be') appears near the start of the clue, then it's likely that the first word is a proper noun in disguise (and is part of the definition).

Be mindful of names that could have alternate meanings as verbs/adjectives/common nouns. People's names like Bush, Hardy, Potter and Twist are a few common examples. The Spice Girls are popular with the Guardian/FT setters for the masked capital trick. When you find a clue starting with "Posh", think SPICE before CLASSY.

You will also find names of places with multiple meanings used for this device, like Reading, Bucks, Jersey. Remember the "Nice" indicator for French? That's another classic use of the initial capital trick.

Solve These

Times Jumbo 808: Attic's keeping out rain only to begin with — anorak's needed here (4)
Times 24372 [clever one!]: Burns bridges, for example (but extra capital is needed) (5)

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5 comments

Chaturvasi said...

In this post you talk about the clue-writer's trick of concealing the fact that the opening word is a proper name.

The converse may also be true: that is the trick where a proper name is not a proper name. And if the proper name is at the start of the clue sentence taking a capital letter in its own right and in the additional right as the beginning of a sentence, the concealment takes a few more moments to unravel itself.

Here is a clue in a Hindu Crossword by Gridman:

24 Ram to break into conversation (4,2) (THC 8275)

Shuchi said...

24 Ram to break into conversation (4,2) BUTT IN
That's a nice clue! One of those cases where a DD has overlapping meanings, but the clue is still pleasing.

I touch upon this trick of making the opening word look like a proper noun, in the previous post False Capitalization.

Kryptonologist said...

TJ808: G[r]EEK
Though I'd've preferred something like "Attic perhaps" to clue "Greek". Definitely a British clue, since in the US we only use "anorak" to refer to the jacket.

maddy said...

Burns bridges, for example (but extra capital is needed) - Poets??(Robert Burns and Robert Bridges)
Extra capital implies 'b' in briges to be capitalised.

Clever clue, Could get it because I knew Burns had to be a proper noun and Robert Burns was the first name that came to my mind. Auld Lang Syne being one of my Fav tunes. I remember it used to be the ring tone of my first mobile ( the vintage Nokia 3310 )many many yrs ago.
Would have been much more difficult in a regular grid

Shuchi said...

@Tony: Bingo. Nowadays UK crosswords are slightly relaxed about the definition-by-example rule, when there's a fair chance of the answer being obtainable without indication.

@maddy: POETS it is. You're right, it's not easy if one doesn't know that Burns is a proper noun. I was solving this with the grid a few days ago, this clue was one of the last to fall.

Nokia 3310 was also my phone of choice for years, till it became a joke of sorts to be carrying this model.