Monday, February 13, 2012

The notorious A on B device

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a-on-b-cryptic-clues 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?

Solve These

[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] Guardian 25555 (Boatman): Star puts curse on a music industry award: Boatman's lost (8) H______M
[Down] Times 25034: Drug, one injected during surgery on tummy at regular intervals (5) O____

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8 comments

Bhavan said...

Interesting topic. I have experienced the same confusion.

Personally I'm happy to accept either AB or BA as long as the setter sticks to only one interpretation for the whole puzzle.

ACROSS: A on B = BA

The most common way of treating "A on B" in Across clues – B attached to the end of A.

Did you mean to say "A attached to the end of B" here?

Shuchi said...

Hi Bhavan

That's what I meant. Fixed now. Thank you!

பூங்கோதை(Poongothai) said...

CO NUN DRUM
WINDOWS H OP
HEX A GRAM
OP I UM

பூங்கோதை(Poongothai) said...

well , I have not tried solving yet, but just going by the examples given here..

I do like BA for Across, and AB for Down
but I wouldn't mind otherwise- with so much obscurities around - I guess, one more will not hurt much. :-)

Bhavan said...

Both across clues seem to mean BA

[Across] Indy 7897 (Punk): Holy woman on business having something of a tattoo - that's a problem (9) CO + NUN + DRUM
[Across] Times 24790: See what’s in store with hard work on operating system (6-4) WINDOW,S + H + OP

[Down] Guardian 25555 (Boatman): Star puts curse on a music industry award: Boatman's lost (8) HEX + A + GRAM(-my)
[Down] Times 25034: Drug, one injected during surgery on tummy at regular intervals (5) OP (I) .U.M.

Siva said...

For me the across clue A on B naturally means A "tagged onto B", i.e. BA.
For the down clue A on B reads A "on top of" B, i.e. AB.



[Across] Indy 7897 (Punk): Holy woman on business having something of a tattoo - that's a problem (9) C_______M
[CO][NUN][DRUM]

[Across] Times 24790: See what’s in store with hard work on operating system (6-4) W_____-___P
[WINDOW S][HOP]

[Down] Guardian 25555 (Boatman): Star puts curse on a music industry award: Boatman's lost (8) H______M
[HEX][A][GRAM]-MY (a Thesaurus helps!)

[Down] Times 25034: Drug, one injected during surgery on tummy at regular intervals (5) O____
[OP]I[UM] (UM regularly taken from tUmMy

Best Regards,

Siva

Kishore said...

I am ok, you are ok. I think most of us have factored in this grey area, so I try putting the horse before the cart; if it does not run (as they say in Hindi-Nahi chalega), I put the cart before the horse.

Clues on hand:
CO NUN DRUM
WINDOW-S H OP
HEX A GRAM-my
OP I UM

Nadathur Rajan said...

CO NUN DRUM B on A in Ac clue
WINDOW S/ (H)(OP) B on A in Ac clue
HEX / (A) (GRAM[-my]) A on b in Dn clue
OP I/ U M A on B in Dn clue