Thursday, August 4, 2011

Unusual Positions for Clue Definition

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definition-in-the-middle A typical cryptic clue has two parts: a definition and a subsidiary indication (wordplay). The clue does not tell us which is which, it is the solver's challenge to work that out.

We soon learn this thumb rule by instinct - the definition is either at the start of the clue or at the end of the clue. For beginners to cryptics, here are simple examples of both:

Definition at the start:
Times 23500: Erudite King Edward (7) LEARNED

Definition at the end:
FT 13707 (Jason): Tragic King Edward is widely read (7) LEARNED

The clues above use the same wordplay: charade of LEAR (King in Shakespeare's tragedy) and NED (diminutive of the name Edward). The difference is on the surface - one places the definition at the start, the other at the end.

Nearly all cryptic clues follow this pattern of definition position – but like every rule, this one too has its exception.

It is rare, but possible, for the definition to sit in the middle of the clue.

Definition in the middle:
Guardian 24870 (Auster): Kelly becomes well-informed by following one who wrote nonsense (7) LEARNED

Here, NED (Ned Kelly, Australian bushranger) follows LEAR (Edward Lear, the writer of nonsense verse) to become LEARNED. The definition "well-informed" is sandwiched between the wordplay.

Is this fair?

A clue with the definition in the middle can be tricky to solve (more so since we aren't used to it), but it is considered fair as long as the wording tells the solver unambiguously how to decipher it.

Auster's clue for LEARNED points precisely to "well-informed" as the definition, with link words ("becomes", "by following") clearly indicating the wordplay. So it is all right.

The most likely clue types to have the definition in the middle are semi-&lits, composite anagrams and those with wordplay inversion. Some clues of this kind:

Azed 1997: Seen this Indian tourist destination? For 'indus a rupee, that's fantastic (7) UDAIPUR
Definition: this Indian tourist destination
Wordplay: SEEN + [a word for "this Indian tourist destination"] = (INDUS A RUPEE)*

FT 13517 (Viking): I will need this to work to achieve brilliance (5,4) BRAIN CELL
Definition: this
Wordplay: (I + [a word for "this"])* = BRILLIANCE

Times 24125: Translating from this language? Just the opposite (5) LATIN
Definition: this language
Wordplay: Just the opposite of "translating from this language" = "this language from translating" i.e. LATIN (hidden in transLATINg)

Not always fair

Sometimes the definition lies in the middle simply due to sloppy clue-writing.

DT 26289: Despite being oversensitive reach journey's end (6) TOUCHY
Definition: oversensitive
Wordplay: TOUCH (reach) [journe]Y

THC 9387: Not right river to prevent a crossing (5) DETER
Definition: prevent
Wordplay: DEE (river) R (right), around T (crossing)

The first clue pushes its definition in the middle because it is trying to build a meaningful surface with intrusive padding -  the leading words "despite being" have no role in the wordplay.

The second clue does a mindless mix up of wordplay and definition. It gives no reason why "prevent" should be taken as the definition, and not "crossing" or "not right".

It is an exceptional clue that can place its definition in the middle and pull it off successfully.

Solve These

Each of the clues below has its definition in the middle. What do you think of them? Do they work?

Times 24508: Stink as this gun is brought to church (4)

DT 26326 (Rufus): Aphrodite's emaciated form (9)

From UKPuzzle: The relationships of actors really content (4,5)

Guardian 24152 (Puck): Some licks from a Gibson? On the contrary (3)

From DIYCOW by Vinod Raman: Flying pigs off cue here? On the contrary (6,2,6)

Related Posts:

[Thanks to Siva for suggesting this article.]

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12 comments

Venkatesh said...

Stink as this gun is brought to church (4) STEN[-ch]

Aphrodite's emaciated form (9) ATROPHIED*

Some licks from a Gibson? On the contrary (3) MEL (T)

Flying pigs off cue here? On the contrary (6,2,6) FIGURE OF SPEECH* (&Lit)

Venkatesh said...

Stink as this gun is brought to church (4) STEN[-ch]
Aphrodite's emaciated form (9) ATROPHIED*
The relationships of actors really content (4,5) IPSO FACTO
Some licks from a Gibson? On the contrary (3) MEL (T)
Flying pigs off cue here? On the contrary (6,2,6) FIGURE OF SPEECH* (&Lit)

VJ said...

Nice selection of clues.

Times 24508: Stink as this gun is brought to church (4)

*** STENCH (Stink) when STEN (gun) is brought to CH (church). Instruction's pretty clear.

DT 26326 (Rufus): Aphrodite's emaciated form (9)

*** This one's my favorite. Form of "Aphrodite" that's emaciated = ATROPHIED. Clear instruction again

From UKPuzzle: The relationships of actors really content (4,5)

*** IPSO FACTO (The relationships of actors' "really" content). Instruction here is not too clear 'cause we need to add/ imagine an apostrophe after "actors" to make sense of it.

Guardian 24152 (Puck): Some licks from a Gibson? On the contrary (3)

Some licks from a Gibson? No, A Gibson i.e. MEL from SoME Licks. Nice!!

From DIYCOW by Vinod Raman: Flying pigs off cue here? On the contrary (6,2,6)
No clue. Don't know the answer.

Crucifer said...

Stink as this gun is brought to church (4) STEN (OK but a bit telegraphed)

Aphrodite's emaciated form (9) ATROPHIED (don't think this works)

The relationships of actors really content (4,5) IPSO FACTO (fine, I'd say - "content" works nicely as a retrospective indicator.)

Some licks from a Gibson? On the contrary (3) MEL = Gibson/soMELicks (fine - clear direction)

Flying pigs off cue here? On the contrary (6,2,6) FIGURE OF SPEECH = "pigs off cue here" anag (don't think this works. Not sure where the definition is, really.)

Prithwiraj said...

Very strange. I have a Times compilation (no. 14) whose editor's note clearly states that definition is either in beginning or end

Shuchi said...

Great answers everyone. Those clues are quite tricky if we aren't already looking for the definition in the middle.

For me, all of those clues work. I'd have to re-read #3 slowly to be convinced it's trying to say - the "really" content of "the relationships of actors" is IPSO FACTO. No complaints about the others.

#4 MEL - this wasn't universally liked, check out the comments on its blog.

#5 FIGURE OF SPEECH - this was a winner on the DIY COW clue-writing contest.

Shuchi said...

@Prithwiraj: You sure there's no "usually" lurking in that note? That's a good thumb rule to follow most of the time but there can be valid special cases deviating from the rule. With cryptic clues, it's wisest to stick to the maxim - always is never true, never is always false.

Kishore said...

You are perfectly correct regarding 'always and never'.

Every rule has an exception.
Including this one.

The CW at this link (kindly shared by Chaturvasi) has lots of explicitly 'abnormal' clues:

http://www.crossword.org.uk/RR5.html

I have managed to solve over 25 of them definitively, and each one has been a pleasure.

So, I think it is fine, as long as one is upfront about it.

anax said...

Just remembered this one which I think I used somewhere:

Is it a nice view if one's never there? (6) - - - - - E

Shyam said...

Random guess: STANCE? (got by removing the I's in IS IT A NICE)

Shuchi said...

Brilliant clue, brilliant crack.

Shuchi said...

This one's in the FT today:

FT 13770 (Bradman): Female wearing this hat would be widow-like (5)