The grammar of cryptic clues requires that the definition should match the part of speech of the answer. So an adjective as definition must lead to an adjective as the solution, and not something like a verb or noun.
Such a clue will not do:
THC 10223 (M Manna): In disturbed state turn towards perceptive person (6) ASTUTE U (turn) in (STATE)*
The definition "perceptive person" suggests a noun, but the answer ASTUTE is an adjective.
The definition may appear to be in a different part of speech so as to lead the solver astray, as in the next clue:
THC 10223 (M Manna): Making bad move, lose when winning (8) LOVESOME (MOVE LOSE)*
"winning" passes off as a verb on the clue's surface but is actually an adjective, and so it matches the answer LOVESOME.
It is part of the setter's game to disguise the definition but ultimately, when read the right way, the definition and the solution must tally in meaning and part of speech.
That is the rule. This is the exception.
A special allowance is made when a verb phrase defines a noun that could be its subject. Here's such a clue by Don Manley:
Guardian 24590 (Pasquale): Politician caught in trick covers head (6) WIMPLE
MP (politician) in WILE (trick)
WIMPLE, a noun, is not a synonym for "covers head" but the clue is considered valid since the two fit into the sentence "WIMPLE covers head".
This style of definition is probably not Ximenean but even very fair crosswords like the Azed allow it. On the topic of cryptic clue grammar, setter Azed (Jonathan Crowther) says in his book A-Z of Crosswords:
I make an exception in the case of verb phrases as clues to nouns that could stand as their subjects: 'wags its tail and is man’s best friend' is therefore acceptable in defining DOG, whereas 'furry and four-legged' on its own is not.
This clue from The Hindu of 1st Aug 2011, which led to a lot of debate among solvers, falls into the same bracket:
THC 10221 (M Manna): Bird dogs get drunk (9) COCKTAILS
COCK (bird) TAILS (dogs, verb)
COCKTAILS get drunk (i.e. consumed). So the answer fits as a subject of the verb-phrase definition.
Incidentally, Roger Squires wrote the same clue in the early 1990s and used it in three of the British main papers, including the Times. Their crossword editors found it proper for publishing.
Such clues follow the usual English rules of subject-verb agreement. Since COCKTAILS is a plural noun, the definition can only be a plural verb form; a definition like "gets drunk" would not have worked with COCKTAILS.
- What is wrong with this clue?
- Unindicated definition by example
- Clues with no definition: okay or not?
If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox, or follow me on twitter to get notified of new links.