Even the simplest of homophones are open to question due to accent differences. Things get more contentious with clues that split the answer into fragments and serve only one of those fragments as a homophone.
FT 13788 (Redshank): Russian boss doesn’t start split, say, using scorn (7) SARCASM
[t]SAR (Russian boss, without start) CASM ~chasm (split)
The second part of the answer [CASM] has been clued as a homophone, but that part is not a dictionary word by itself.
Are non-word homophone clues fair?
They're certainly accepted by the major UK crosswords, including the Times.
Solvers' reactions are mixed, though. Such clues can be tricky to solve as the intended spelling/pronunciation of a non-word is not fixed.
Further complexity is added when the pronunciation of the homophonic fragment is different from its pronunciation in the full answer.
FT 13638 (Loroso): West Indian batsman said, of life, that playing the game leads to natural selection (8,2,3,7) SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
SURVIV (sounds like Sir Viv – West Indian batsman) (OF LIFE THAT)* TEST (game). Here, SURVIV is a homophone of 'Sir Viv', but SURVIV in SURVIVAL does not sound like 'Sir Viv'.
In general, clue-writing contests appear to be critical of clues using non-word homophones.
An interesting comment by Roger Phillips while judging a Times clue-writing contest for the word BERSERK:
Some clue used the partial homophones “bursar” and “burrs” for the BERSER and BERS parts of the answer respectively. Since these are not words themselves, they have no established pronunciation, so I compared the alleged homophones with the relevant part of BERSERK (in either of its two pronunciations). In both cases, the first vowel sound isn’t a perfect match, being a stressed “eu” (as in French “deux”) in the two candidates but an unstressed schwa in “berserk”.
What do you think of partial non-word homophone clues?
FT 14029 (Loroso): Bill reportedly sick during party, a minor faux pas (10) P_______L_
Times 24964: Test some articulated with hesitation for several years (9) T__E_____
Times 24023: Child left men with lover reportedly (6) O_____
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.