Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ximenean Scale for Single Letter Indicators

single-letter-indicators Single letters picked from words in clues must be indicated grammatically, Ximeneans say.

India's capital = I, the fourth of July = Y, Romania's leader = R, dog's tail = G all pass the Ximenean test. The wordplay and surface grammar are in perfect harmony.

Opinions begin to get divided with constructs like East End = T. "East End" isn't the grammatical equivalent of "East's End", but many don't object to it. As Alberich says in this excellent article, a sort of justification can be found in that "we talk about the "Jones house" to mean the house of the Joneses or the "Federer serve" to mean Federer's serve".

We step into murkier waters with clues that don't just skip the apostrophe but also the space between words: redhead = R, midnight = G etc. Redhead is not the same as to "red's head", midnight is not equal to "mid of night". The device isn't grammatical, it won't win you the CCCWC, but many fair, reputed setters use it:

Guardian 24916 (Brendan): Poet, novelist and critic providing wild parties after midnight (6) GRAVES
[ni]G[ht] RAVES (wild parties)

THC 9471 (Gridman): Luxury stuff gathered around redhead (5) FRILL
FILL (stuff) around R[ed]

What do you think of this?

This clue appeared in the Guardian yesterday, with a single letter indicator I was unprepared for:

Guardian 25190 (Boatman): Vessel attending in the Mediterranean, perhaps French marine zone (7) STEAMER

SEA is "Mediterranean, perhaps", MER is "French marine zone", and "vessel" the definition. Where did T come from? It turned out that T = attending, since attending = ATT ending.

Is this going too far? Or does it make you say yay, bring on those "R=trending and L=startle"s?

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Chaturvasi said...

My view is that there must be rules - whether set by Ximenes or anyone else - for clue-writing but at the same time you should not expect clue-writers to follow them scrupulously without allowing them some leeway to implement an idea that hits upon them as they break up a word and tackle the components in their endeavour.
Of course, this leeway is generally granted to setters who are overall good at their work and who usually and in most of their clues follow the accepted conventions.
Re: the clues of the kind that you cite. We may not solve these on our first pass but at a subsequent stage of the solving process when we have got some crossings and when we have determined what the definition of the word required is. Having got the solution, we analyse the answer with known or humdrum components and then wonder about the elusive component. After some moments of thinking, we may discover the trick - novel though it is and for the nonce though it may be - that the clue-writer released from up his sleeve. Why shouldn't we let our lips curl in a knowing, conspiratorial smile instead of raising a hue and cry of having encountered an unwritten law?

VJ said...

I thought attending = T is really cute. It makes you think.

Tilsit said...

Don't like it in the slightest - it is extremely unfair. Why not run each clue into one long word and let solvers sort them out?

Shuchi said...

@CV Sir: You say something very interesting here:

"this leeway is generally granted to setters who are overall good at their work"

I see my own reactions follow that pattern - what I'd call flagrant unfairness in one case might seem like innovation in another. It depends a lot on context: How was the rest of the puzzle? Did the deviation make the clue too hard for me to solve?

Shuchi said...

Hi Tilsit, Welcome to my blog.

anax said...

I'm very much with tilsit on this. Sometimes the Guardian and Telegraph puzzles take Libertarian looseness a little too far, and into the realms of unfairness.

It's OK to say "Ah, but you'll laugh when you spot it" but the setter should always be thinking about how likely it is a device will be spotted. The less likely, the less fair the clue.

For off-the-wall wordplay components like the 'attending' example, it used to be standard form to flag the unusual treatment by way of (at least) a question mark or - better - an exclamation mark in parentheses if that helps to mainting the clue structure.

Boatman's clue could have started:
Vessel attending(!) in the...

Tony Sebastian said...

It's sometimes also a function of familiarity isn't it? Redhead definitely seems more acceptable than attending though both are "technically" unfair.

I haven't seen anyone complaining about "the French" = La or Le, shouldn't it be "the in French" for it to be fair?

Shyam said...

Great find, Tony. I had suppressed this question from the time I began solving! Apart from your suggestion, I deem 'French the' should lead to LE as well, wherever the clue is framed appropriately.s

KISHORE said...

Impending rentals causes to be happy (6)

I don't like it much myself. It probably does not qualify to be a solver's clue without crossings.

KISHORE said...

Beginning a hurt sound at present (3)

This one is probably even worse ! Illustration given just to show why solvers may not like it.

Shuchi said...

@Tony: I think redhead/Gateshead/midnight are fairer than "attending". The first category at least has a natural 'split line'.

I have seen mild complaints about things like "Nice one" for UN, but nothing too strong :) You're right, familiarity matters. I never have a problem with INDEED = DE(...)ED as I am prepared for it.

@Kishore: Isn't your first clue 7 not 6 in length?

KISHORE said...

Shuchi, my mistake. Yes, it is 7.

Makes it even more misleading. :-) Not kosher at all, irrespective of admissibility by X or L standards.

KISHORE said...

Tony,Shuchi: Finally a case where familiarity does not breed contempt. On the contrary, acceptance.

gnomethang said...

I cant remember the clue, anax, but...

Underpants! ;-)

Chaturvasi said...


Don't know what you're alluding to but here's my clue:

Briefs anaesthetised pothead and social workers (10)

I started with a clean slate and wrote the above clue after some dictionary lookups (rejecting 'pighead', which I knew is not a word at all) but if this clue resembles any that you have in mind, it's purely accidental.

Shuchi said...

@Gnomethang: That made me laugh.

@CV: Gnomethang is talking about a clue by Anax in which "underpants" meant "UNDER pants" i.e. anagram of UNDER.

As far as I remember there was an exclamation mark after the word.

dtw42 said...

FWIW, I second Tilsit's opinion. But then I don't like "indeed = DE...ED", either, despite being used to it now: it still makes me go "Bah, humbug" when I see it!