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.
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
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
Wordplay: TOUCH (reach) [journe]Y
THC 9387: Not right river to prevent a crossing (5) DETER
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.
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)
[Thanks to Siva for suggesting this article.]
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