Saturday, January 23, 2010

Answers to Quiz: What's unXimenean about it?

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spot-non-ximenean-elements Three days ago, we had a "quiz" in which six unXimenean clues were put before us for scrutiny.

Thanks to all who wrote about them, it was enlightening to hear different well-thought out perspectives.

This post announces the answers. Well not exactly answers (there may not be a single correct way of looking at it) - a summary of the responses, my understanding of the Ximenean stance on the subject and my own views.

(To read the readers' responses in full, visit the comments section on Quiz: What's unXimenean about it?)

The Clues & Feedback/Analysis

1. Guardian 24902 (Bronxie): One who thinks about fluid (5) MUSER
    Anagram of SERUM (fluid), with "about" as anagrind.

There were comments from you about the indirect anagram, and the validity and placement of 'about' as anagrind.

My take: I have no quarrel with 'about' as anagrind. 'about' also means 'in motion' (e.g. She was up and about at six), which is a good enough indication for anagrams in my book. I agree that 'about' works better after the fodder.

Maddy does not mind the indirect anagram (as he has said in the past too) and Ramna makes a suggestion for indicating SERUM more strongly in the clue.

I think indirect anagrams should be considered only when the clue is very easy and there is some very persuasive reason for using it. I don't think this clue has such a clever idea going that it absolutely could not do without the indirect anagram.

I'm not sure if Ximenes made any mention of the de/merits of 'about' as anagrind, but he did strongly censure indirect anagrams. The example he quoted - Tough form of monster (5) HARDY (anagram of HYDRA) – is often cited in discussions about the unfairness of this device.

2. Independent 7215 (Radian): Derringer's exploits? (6) PISTOL 
    Anagram of PLOITS. PISTOL is ex-PLOITS.

There were objections to equating exploits with ex-ploits. Most of you aren't keen on 'ex-' as anagrind either.

When this clue appeared in the paper, it had strongly polarized opinions. One commenter "admired his [Radian's] courage", Quixote (Don Manley) called the clue "absolute completely unjustifiable rubbish". The Indy editor Eimi himself stepped in and said:

I didn’t particularly like the clue to PISTOL and advised Radian that it would upset the Ximeneans, as, indeed, it has, but he was happy to stand by it and, as I have explained previously, I’m an enlightened despot.

You can read all the comments here.

My take: If I listen to the logical side of my brain, I will have to say the clue is not good at all. Usages like figurehead=F, pigtail=G, indeed = in DE{..}ED are not grammatically correct, which is what Ximeneans object to. Many Libertarian setters don't follow this rule strictly though, and Alberich who sets for FT and is largely Ximenean seems relaxed about this as well (link).

I really like the idea of using ex- as anagrind. 'ex-' can mean 'used to be', which is a novel way of indicating an anagram. It seems convincing enough to me.

If I were crossword editor, would I have let this clue be published? I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but the answer is Yes.

financial-times-13290-gozo

On a related note, look at the adjacent clue #20 from FT 13290 (Gozo), which cleverly works around the grammatical problem of using 'rainstorm' to indicate (RAIN)*.

The clue splits over two lines. The hyphen in 'rainstorm' makes you think it's because the word is too long, when actually it serves the purpose of deliberately spelling it as 'rain-storm'.


3. Guardian 24070 (Rufus): Madly devouring without end, showing gusto (6) VIGOUR
     Anagram of (DEVOURING – END), with "madly" as anagrind.

As rightly pointed out in the comments, the Ximenean rule is that the letters to be deleted from the anagram fodder must be in the same order as in the anagram fodder. That's not the case with this clue.

My take: I learnt of this rule about anagrams only a few months on Anax's clue-writing forum. Many publications don't follow this; Times does. To me, it seems not such a necessary condition. If I read the anagram fodder and deletion segment as set and not a sequence of letters, then the clue works well enough.

4. Sunday Times 4356: Secured, however noted error (8) BUTTONED
    BUT (however) + (NOTED)*, with "error" as anagrind.

Nounal anagrinds are not OK by Ximenean rules, unless they occur in the form 'error in noted = (NOTED)*'. I like how dram says "‘incorrectly’ would work, and does not deteriorate the surface much because it is pretty poor already."

My take: I am with Ximenes at least on this particular clue, although "[fodder] organization" seems all right to me. Note that this clue is from the Sunday Times which has different setters/editors from the weekday Times; the clueing in Sunday Times is looser than in the weekday Times.

The Times weekday crossword, too, sometimes allows nounal anagrinds.

5. THC 9566 (Gridman): Engine parts from crate burst or fell apart (12) CARBURETTORS
   (CRATE BURST OR)*, with "fell apart" as anagrind.

This clue seemed to raise the least objections. Commenters are generally happy with the indicator, definition and the rest.

My take: I think that for the grammar to work correctly, the anagrind in this clue needs the participle form and not the simple past form. "Engine parts from crate burst or fallen apart (12)" [Past participle] or, as Vinod suggests, "Engine parts from crate burst or falling apart (12)" [Present participle] are the better variants grammatically. As it stands, the connector "from" does not blend with the wordplay, which it must by Ximenean standards.

(If the words are moved around, then "Crate burst or fell apart to give engine parts (12)" also looks all right to me in wordplay though the surface gets spoilt.)

For further reading: An article on Crossword Unclued which talks of the grammar of anagram indicators, by US-based crossword setter Tony Le.

6. THC 9546 (Neyartha): Half-witted doctor declines aid from the vocal bishop’s neighbour (7,5) TWELFTH NIGHT
    Anagram of (HALFWITTED – AID) with "doctor" as anagrind.
    NIGHT is a homophone of KNIGHT, which is bishop's neighbour in chess. 
   (Ignore the missing definition – this clue was part of a themed puzzle, in which answers were Shakespeare's plays.)

…and this clue raised the most objections!

To quote Vinod's detailed comment:

Whoa! This would certainly have made Ximenes turn in his grave. In this case, it's not even a nounal anagrind. It's a verbal anagrind that occurs after the anagram-fodder! If "doctor" is intended as an imperative verb, i.e. as an advice to the solver, then it should precede the fodder. If it's to follow the fodder, it should be "doctored". The subtraction is Ximenean, since the letters are in order.

"from" is inappropriate as a concatenation connector. Because of "from", it's unclear whether "aid" is to be removed from "the vocal bishop’s neighbour" or from "Half-witted doctor". "vocal bishop" only just manages to convey the homophone, but "the vocal" completely obscures even that.

Yes, there are too many things going on in the clue - first the solver has to come up with "bishop's neighbour=knight", then get the homophone of "knight", then somehow magically ignore "from" (how would the solver know when to ignore/include it?)

My take: Agree with the above mostly, but I'm with maddy in liking bishop's neighbour = KNIGHT.

Closing Thoughts

With Ximenean standards, as with religious texts, it is possible that followers sometimes take a narrow or rigid interpretation of the teachings that might not have been the original intent of the text. Who knows, some of the clues we tear apart for being unXimenean might have been accepted more leniently by Ximenes himself.

I work closely with quality control in the IT industry, and I find that no matter how robust our body of standards are, they will never cater to every possible scenario, and there will be some cases where it makes better sense to bypass the standard. I think that's true not just in IT but anywhere.

Your thoughts? How closely aligned are your own crossword sensibilities with those of Ximenes/Ximeneans?

Related Posts:

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2 comments

Chaturvasi said...

Shuchi,

In the event, I did not post my Comments here. I wrote an analysis independently before reading the views expressed by you and your readers.

Please permit the link:

http://cgrishikesh.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/analysis-of-some-clues/

Thanks.

Kryptonologist said...

Sorry I'm a little late to the party. I generally agree with all the points made. Regarding the "least objectionable" clue #5:

Engine parts from crate burst or fell apart (12) CARBURETTORS

UK spelling notwithstanding, I have my own objections to this clue, and it's fitting that Shuchi mentions my article on cryptic grammar. When using verbal anagrinds with this definition/wordplay order, the following combinations work grammatically:

* [Definition] / [fodder] [present or past tense, intransitive verb]
* [Definition] / [fodder] [participle]
* [Definition] from [fodder] [participle]

In the first case, the clue cleanly splits without a connector, with the wordplay forming a complete sentence. In the last case, the grammar of the connector comes into play. Since "from" is a preposition, it cannot be followed by a complete sentence: it must be followed by a noun phrase, which is why a participle is required.

So "fell" does not work for me in this clue because the indicator is not a participle. It would be better to use an anagrind that works as both past tense (surface) and past participle (cryptic), e.g.:

Engine parts from crate burst or disintegrated (12)