Thursday, May 22, 2014

Questioning Many

Do you know why crosswords use "many" to clue "M"? I couldn't find any sound justification for it, but I'm pretty sure I've seen it done in
published grids.

- reader Martin DeMello wrote in to ask.


"many = M" is indeed a controversial abbreviation. Chambers Crossword Manual by Don Manley marks "many = M" with a †, the dagger to indicate "unsound/not liked by all Ximeneans". The equation comes from the Roman numeral M for 1000, which one could call a large number. As there are two levels of indirection going on here: "many" to "thousand", and "thousand" to "M", purists do not approve.

This is a handy shorthand for the setter though - the word "many" can fit into variety of clue surfaces. Examples of use abound in published grids.

Guardian 25036 (Rufus): Many a shipwreck could be bad luck (6) MISHAP
M (many) (A SHIP)*

Indy 8306 (Alchemi): Moves very quickly, leaving many animal homes (4) ZOOS
ZOOMS (moves very quickly) - M (many)

You may well ask, if "many" is "M" because thousand is a large number, why not any other large number such as C (hundred) or D (five hundred)? You have your answer below.

Guardian 24852 (Rufus): Many have soft features (6) DOWN
D (many) OWN (have)

FT 14298 (Cinephile): Many persist to smarten sports facility (8,4) CHANGING ROOM
C (many) HANG IN (persist) GROOM (smarten)

I can't recall the use of "many" to clue a Roman numeral in the Times crossword, though.

What do you think of this cryptic abbreviation?

Solve These

Clues in which "many" leads to a large number. Enjoy solving.

Guardian 24722 (Shed): Writer securing many books in end of administration (12)
FT 14559 (Cincinnus): China provides many a garden feature (8)
Guardian 25505 (Arachne): Many large moons oddly observed in the universe (6)
Guardian 25736 (Araucaria): Spell Shah Jahan's city with many a starry figure (8)
Guardian 25976 (Rufus): Gong brings many in to dinner, for example (5)

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Bhavan said...

By the same token, shouldn't these be controversial too given their abbreviations are once removed?

sailor = Able-bodied (seaman) = AB
sailor = ordinary seaman = OS

books = old testament = OT
books = new testament = NT

So if a clue says 'sailor' or 'books' I need to figure out which sailor or which books right? I'm happy to apply the same principle to:

many = hundred = C
many = five hundred = D
many = thousand = M

Chesterley said...

Funny, I'd thought it was some kind of abbreviation whose context I hadn't come across. Now I know to avoid it as it doesn't fit my setting style.

I think AB and OS are OK, since they're sailor classifications and the choices not so broad. I dislike "books" for OT or NT because "books" has an extremely large scope. By this reasoning, I don't care for "letter" to clue A-Z (though like most I'm cool with "Greek letter" for alpha-zeta) but I'm OK with "key" for A-G.

Kishore said...

By the same token, a thousand too stands for different things:
K -kilo
G -grand
M -Mega

while monarch can signify a slew
ER (and a host of previous monarchs)

But many is a bit vague, I agree. Two thousand three hundred forty five is also 'many'!

Kishore said...

1. Stupefied!
3. C OS MoOnS
5. ME(D)AL

Kishore said...

"Forty seven ginger headed sailors ..."

Is that too little or too many?

Too little for a large ship, too many for a small boat...

Venkatesh said...


Krishna said...

FT 14559 (Cincinnus): China provides many a garden feature (8) C + ROCKERY

Guardian 25505 (Arachne): Many large moons oddly observed in the universe (6) C OS + odd letters of "moons" = COSMOS