Monday, September 27, 2010

Unriddle The Self-Referencing Setter

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me-myself-i-crossword-setter Psychologists say that the tendency to refer to oneself in the third person is a sign of narcissism. As a cryptic crossword solver, you are advised not to reach such a conclusion about the setter who does this in a clue. By making a self-reference, the setter usually just wants to tell you that the corresponding first person pronoun (I, ME, etc.) occurs in the answer.

Here are a few examples:

Guardian 24805 (Boatman): Boatman's got involved in fighting for release (6) WAIVER
I'VE (Boatman has) in WAR (fighting)

THC 9876 (Gridman): Old record is used in Gridman's article to develop stories (11) MYTHOLOGISE
O (old) LOG (record), in MY (Gridman's) THE (article)

FT 13260 (Neo): Neo has no clue for this one! (2,5,2) IT BEATS ME
Cryptic definition, where Neo means ME.

Sometimes the setter will not put in his/her name in the clue but only call oneself "setter", "this writer" or "this person". In anonymously-set puzzles like the Times, this is of course the only way to make a self-reference.

Times 24314: Demure Italian this writer's seen as simple (9) PRIMITIVE
PRIM (demure) IT (Italian) I'VE (this writer's)

Guardian 25067 (Araucaria):  Female crossword setter's language (5) HINDI
HIND (female of the red deer) + I (Araucaria, crossword setter)

FT 13493 (Bradman): Prized English horse enthrals this writer (8) ESTEEMED
E (English) STEED (horse) around ME (this writer)

Once we know this trick, we are tempted to quickly replace the setter's name in the clue with I, ME or similar words. This is when the resourceful setter plays the double bluff.

Look at the next two clues, in which the setter's name is not a self-reference.

Guardian 25051 (Boatman): Sun in shock report! Boatman follows it (7) DAYSTAR
DAYS homophone of 'daze' (shock) TAR (boatman). 'Boatman' is not the setter but one who rides a boat.

Guardian (Paul): Paul's stage opening — there's my cue! (5) SIMON
S[tage] + I'M ON (as an actor might say when hearing his cue). 'Paul' is not the setter but Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel.

Setters occasionally extend the referencing to other setters, especially on the Guardian.

Guardian 24205 (Gordius): Setter or weaver 18down can hear (7) ARACHNE
18down was MODIFY, anagram indicator for (CAN HEAR). ARACHNE is another setter on the Guardian.

Guardian 24805 (Boatman): Another setter holding first in Classics (you'll say that's the plan) (8) SCHEDULE
SHED (another setter on the Guardian) around C[lassics], ULE (sounds like you’ll)

Solving Tips

  • When you see the setter mentioning his/her own self in a clue, check if the corresponding first person pronoun (I, ME, MY, etc.) fits into the answer.
  • How the setter's handle gets used in the clue depends a lot on what the handle is. If it is something like Phssthopk (a setter on FT!), you can be fairly certain it will lead to the first person pronoun. Pseudonyms like Shed or Neo give the setter more opportunities to trip you up; keep yourself open to other possibilities in such cases.
  • The word "setter" in a clue might not be about the crossword compiler, it might instead lead to DOG or a word for "something that sets", like GEL.
  • If you're a Guardian crossword solver, you'll find Boatman and Paul making self-references quite frequently in unusual ways. It is Boatman's signature style to put "Boatman" in every puzzle at least once.

Solve These

THC (Gridman): The setter is back in act: There's something for you to try! (4)
Guardian 25121 (Boatman): Home in north Italy? Sad if Boatman's after it (5)
Guardian 24508 (Boatman): Boatman's craft is tip-top! A groan-up joke first! (4) P___
Guardian 25109 (Puck): Crude, Puck? Not at first, with well-connected people (6) O____N

(Update) Answers here.

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6 comments

VJ said...

Truce!! it was just a joke.


D EM<- O

I GLOO (-my) nice one!!

PUN T (funny!)

OIL ME N (not sure)

Karthik said...

THC (Gridman): The setter is back in act: There's something for you to try! (4) D{EM}O
Guardian 25121 (Boatman): Home in north Italy? Sad if Boatman's after it (5) I GLOO{MY}

Shuchi said...

Good solving, VJ and Karthik!

Full explanations follow.

Shuchi said...

THC (Gridman): The setter is back in act: There's something for you to try! (4) DEMO
ME (the setter) in DO (act)

Guardian 25121 (Boatman): Home in north Italy? Sad if Boatman's after it (5) IGLOO
I (Italy) GLOOMY (sad) - MY (Boatman's)

Guardian 24508 (Boatman): Boatman's craft is tip-top! A groan-up joke first! (4) PUNT
T (top of 'tip') after PUN (a groan-up joke)

Guardian 25109 (Puck): Crude, Puck? Not at first, with well-connected people (6) OILMEN
OIL (crude, as in crude oil) ME (Puck, the setter) N[ot]. Oilmen work in oil wells, therefore 'well-connected people'.

Anonymous said...

What does 'Truce' mean in the first comment?

Shuchi said...

@Anonymous: It's about a conversation that happened elsewhere. Nothing to do with this article or the clues.