Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Definition By Example

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The definition in a cryptic clue is not always a synonym of the answer; it may be an example or sub-type of the answer. So, NOVELIST may be defined as "Dickens, perhaps", DOG as "setter, maybe".

Some clues that use definition by example:

FT 13385 (Orense): Try to protect badly aged bowler, for example (8) HEADGEAR
HEAR (try, as in a court) around (AGED)*
"bowler" is an example of HEADGEAR

Guardian 25015 (Brendan): Come and go, say, in workplaces around river (9) OPPOSITES 
OP SITES (workplaces) around PO (river)
"come and go" is an example of OPPOSITES

One that helpfully gives us multiple examples for the answer:

Guardian 24384: In sort of steel, workers put in iron, carbon and manganese, say (8) ELEMENTS
MEN (workers) in (STEEL)*; and three examples that lead you to ELEMENTS

The next clue uses this device in the wordplay - the container word is defined by example.

Times 24375: Bone from a fish found in tin? (10) MET(A CARP)AL  
A CARP (fish) in METAL (tin, an example of metal)

The Indicated vs Unindicated D-By-E Debate

The Ximenean requirement is that a definition by example must be qualified: word(s) like "for example", "perhaps" must accompany the example. There is a shift away from too rigidly following this rule nowadays, notably in the Times crossword.

So we might come across clues like:
Times 24440: What biology student must do makes moral sense (10) CONSCIENCE
That "biology" is an example of SCIENCE is unindicated. The acceptability of such clues generates a lot of debate on the Times solving blog.

Alberich, a setter with the Financial Times crossword, makes an interesting case in this article with different clues for the word CARPET, each using three definitions by example. One clue is Ximenean, the other not entirely so. The result seems better if the Ximenean rule is relaxed.

I used to be firmly in the Ximenean camp on unindicated definitions by example until an email exchange last year with Peter Biddlecombe made me reconsider. I had sought his feedback on Neyartha's clue in which "farmer" was defined as "tractor operator" - I thought that was not OK. Peter wrote back:

I don't agree about that. Sure, farmers do other things and other people could operate the tractor, but driving a tractor seems a likely activity for a farmer, and a farmer seems one of the likeliest people to be a tractor operator.

With something like "tractor operator", if there's a fair chance that the solver would think of "farmer", that's good enough for me. So "Old MacDonald" would do me as a def for farmer, even though many xwd folk would insist on something like "Old MacDonald, for instance".

The insistence that "definition by example" must be indicated is, as far as I know, just a crossword convention. I can't see external logic to support it in the same way as the grammatical points.

That sounded reasonable. I haven't found myself objecting to unindicated definitions by example since then.

How strong is the example?definition-by-example

I would say that the closeness of the example with the answer matters far more than whether the example is indicated or not.

"Tamil, perhaps" is a duly indicated and is a correct definition for ASIAN, but is unfair – Tamil is not a representative subset of ASIAN. 

"Batman" may not be indicated, yet one can easily get SUPERHERO from it.

Solve These

Times 24384: A grant secured by the gymnast, maybe (7) A _ H _ _ _ E
Times 24438: Perhaps Jamaican runner on vehicle touring US state? (9) C _ _ _ B _ _ N
Times 24569: Game made in one diamond? (9) S _ _ _ T _ _ _ E

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xwd_fiend said...

My other point on unindicated D by E:

What do you think of when you see the word 'cricket' in a clue? You might think of insects, or you might think of sport. So converting 'cricket' to SPORT or INSECT is easy. On the other hand, converting 'insect' or 'sport' to CRICKET is quite tricky even if you know you're looking for a 7-letter word, because there are other possibilities - my crossword dictionary has about 35 7-letter insects and 12 7-letter sports.
It seems odd that the case where some people insist on "for example" or similar to make things clear is the easy one!

Aks said...

Times 24384: A grant secured by the gymnast, maybe (7) A TH(LET)E

Very interesting post. Thanks.

veer said...

Extending the argument to beyond D-by-E, on the whole, would it then be acceptable to leave out indicators in obvious enough circumstances to make the cryptic clue, well, cryptic enough?

On a related question where the solver is expected to be able to parse the clue appropriately (on the usage of the article "a"), PB had weighed in the RPC usenet with the comment below:

If the unnecessary "a" in "a dais" is a crime, it's a crime committed every day by cryptic crossword setters the world over. There are two consecutive clues in today's Times crossword (the first puzzle to hand) - one uses {a, } to indicate (A,{interpretation of noun phrase}), the next uses {a, } to indicate {interpretation of noun}. Making the right choice is part of the solver's task. A pretty trivial part, as the wrong option of the two usually leads to a non-word which doesn't fit the required answer length.

Steve Ball said...

Game made in one diamond? (9) is SOLITAIRE. It's a double definition and, while a solitaire can use another stone, it's most often a diamond, so an example indicator isn't really necessary. I think the "?" is to excuse the "made in" which doesn't really indicate equivalence.

Shuchi said...

@Veer: This is how I see it - When the definition is "painter" and the answer MONET, we accept it without indicator even though MONET is an example, not a synonym, of "painter". Then, why is it mandatory to have an indicator the other way round, when as Peter points out in comment#1, it may be easier to go from example to definition than from definition to example?

There may be cases where an omitted indicator is unfair, but I think that is more because the example is weak than because the indicator is missing. I haven't come across any unindicated D by E in the Times crossword at least where I thought the clue wasn't all right.

Can't extend the same logic to another clue type like the anagram - MONET is a painter, but MONET isn't "NOT ME", it is "NOT ME, jumbled".

@Aks, @Steve: Right answers. I agree that the SOLITAIRE clue is fine without something like "one diamond, say".

Hint for the remaining clue: US state = RI

xwd_fiend said...

Veer's question about indicators: It's certainly true that in the distant past, techniques like anagrams were sometimes used with no indication, and people apparently managed to solve those puzzles. But in those days setters could write clues without definitions too! Then Afrit & Ximenes came along and told people that clues had to make logical sense, so that a solver lucky enough to get the right answer could see why it was the right answer.

My own yardstick for what's reasonable is to imagine explaining a clue to someone who has not done cryptic crosswords before and thinks cryptic clues make no sense. I would be happy to say to them that if they see 'insect' in a clue, it might mean ANT, BEE or CRICKET as the answer or part of the answer, and that if they see 'cricket' in the clue, it might mean INSECT or SPORT. If I had to say something "you make an anagram of these letters, because you have to do so to get the answer", rather than "you make an anagram because this word in the clue tells you to", I would expect them to say "Ah, these cryptic crosswords of yours are just black magic after all - the clues make no sense and I'll stick to SuDoku thanks".

veer said...

@Shuchi, xwd_fiend: Thanks for the comments on follow-up.

Times 24438: Perhaps Jamaican runner on vehicle touring US state? (9) CAR RI BEAN

Big Dave said...


I think this should be CA RI B BEAN where the vehicle is a CAB!