The proper use of "on" in cryptic clues has been a matter of long-standing debate/confusion in crossword circles. Is "A on B" equal to AB (A before B), or is it BA (A after B)? Can it mean either, or only one of the two?
The dictionary definition of "on" provides several possible interpretations. Since "on" means "next to", it can be reasoned that "A on B" implies adjacent in any direction. The issue then is of fairness to the solver. Does allowing any possible interpretation of "on" make the clue too tough? Or, as with "about", can solvers handle the word's many meanings?
The last I heard, the Times crossword allowed "A on B" to mean only one thing – BA in Across clues, AB in Down clues [check out this discussion on UKPuzzle]. As the examples below show, not all publications adhere to this convention.
ACROSS: A on B = AB
In the Times crossword, you will not see "A on B" = AB in in Across clues. Others seem open to this interpretation.
Independent 7887 (Crosophile): Not prepared to be sent over to remote place on earth for conflict (7) WARFARE
RAW (not prepared) reversed, FAR (remote place) on i.e. adjacent to E (Earth)
FT 13448 (Jason) Wager on group providing storage space? (8) BACKPACK
BACK (wager) on i.e. adjacent to PACK (group)
THC 10383 (Textrous): Practical joke on a loony (4) GAGA
GAG (practical joke) on i.e. adjacent to A
ACROSS: A on B = BA
The most common way of treating "A on B" in Across clues – A attached to the end of B.
FT13866 (Falcon): A very bad argument on singular Mayfair street (6,3) SAVILE ROW
A VILE (very bad) ROW (argument) on i.e. after S (singular)
Times 24691: Prepare to leave hotel agent with a thousand on account (6) REPACK
REP (agent), K (a thousand) on i.e. after AC (account)
DOWN: A on B = AB
A on top of B is the usual reading for "A on B" in Down clues, the opposite of its widely accepted meaning in Across clues.
FT 13587 (Dante): Upset, go on about a terrible person (4) OGRE
GO upset i.e. reversed, on i.e. on top of RE (about)
DOWN: A on B = BA
"A on B" = BA is rare in Down clues but by no means non-existent. The Across clue logic "A attached to the end of B" can hold equally good for Down clues.
FT 13587 (Dante): Arrives, riding on a posh car (5,2) ROLLS UP
UP (riding) on i.e. after ROLLS (posh car)
Interestingly, the Down clues for OGRE and ROLLS UP, with their different ways of treating "A on B", appeared consecutively in the same crossword.
What do you think?
As a solver, are you OK with "A on B" meaning either AB or BA, or would you prefer a single meaning only? If you're open to either interpretation, do you expect an internal consistency within the same crossword?
If you are a setter, how do you want "A on B" to work? Do you find the restriction to a single meaning limiting/illogical?
[Across] Indy 7897 (Punk): Holy woman on business having something of a tattoo - that's a problem (9) C_______M
[Across] Times 24790: See what’s in store with hard work on operating system (6-4) W_____-___P
[Down] Times 25034: Drug, one injected during surgery on tummy at regular intervals (5) O____
- Elision, and questions of fairness
- Unusual positions for clue definition
- How to Interpret Punctuation in Cryptic Clues
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