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.
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.
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)
- False Capitalization: Common nouns disguised as proper nouns
- French Words In Crosswords: The French indicator "Nice", with a camouflaged capital