Friday 13 November 2009

Verbal Anagrammar

tony lePart 2 of guest author Tony Chesterley’s articles about anagrams in cryptic clues.

Part 1 (Camouflaging Anagrams) talked about how to write creative anagrams, with techniques like “balancing” in the clue and using well-disguised verbal anagrinds.

When writing devious clues, it is especially important for the clue-writer to keep an eye on the wordplay grammar. In this article, Tony discusses the finer points of grammar with respect to verbal anagrinds.

In my last article, I talked about my thought process in writing anagram clues. Although a good setter will bring a knack for misdirection to bear in his or her clue-writing, the first and foremost rule is always to be fair to the solver. To this end, I will discuss some of the finer points of wordplay grammar in regards to verbal anagrinds. Opinions on some of these points are mixed within the cruciverbal world, so I'll briefly discuss my own philosophy and touch upon how it differs from other viewpoints.

I revisit a couple of clues from my previous article as well three new ones:

Fit tool in metal (7)

Rinse tanks in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

Men attest to corrupt bill (9)

Wealth deep until collapse (9)

Jockey ran hurt a lot to conquer morning race (13)

Verb Conjugation

Here's a quick review of the two verbal anagrind structures:

  • <transitive verbal anagrind> <fodder>
  • <fodder> <intransitive verbal anagrind>

There are different schools of thought on how verbal anagrinds may be conjugated.

Transitive Verbs

In general, a (transitive) anagrind before the fodder is conjugated as an imperative (the same as the bare infinitive) so that it reads as an instruction to the solver:

Fit tool in metal (7)

One exception is when the anagram phrase comes immediately after the definition. In this case, many setters (including myself) also accept the third-person singular (-s form) or present participle (-ing form), as in:

Fit tools in metal (7)

The rationale here is that the answer "creates" or "is creating" itself by performing the action described in the wordplay. Even Henry Hook, the father of U.S. cryptics, uses this "definition manipulates fodder" structure on occasion – but its acceptance is far from universal.

Intransitive Verbs

In the case of an (intransitive) anagrind that follows the fodder, the third-person singular is universally accepted, as in:

Rinse tanks in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

An infinitive is also generally allowed, as in:

Men attest to corrupt bill (9)

However, cruciverbalists are divided on the usability of the third-person plural (the unsuffixed form). The three general philosophies are:

  1. Only the third-person singular is acceptable. The fodder is always treated as a single unit regardless of whether it is one word or multiple words.

  2. The third-person singular is always acceptable, while the third-person plural is acceptable after fodder consisting of multiple words. A multi-word fodder can be treated as a single unit or multiple units:

    Wealth deep until collapse (9)

  3. The third-person singular and plural are both acceptable in all cases. A single word may be treated as either a lone unit or multiple letters. Under this train of thought, the following would be acceptable wordplay:

    Rinse tank in air conditioning for poisonous substance (9)

In the widest sense, I fall into camp #2, though I try as much as possible to follow maxim #1. Your thoughts may vary.

Partial Anagrammar 

In partial anagrams with verbal indicators (or any such mixed-device clue, for the matter) the entire wordplay should logically congeal grammatically. This was easy in the ARSENIC example, since the container "in" is not a verb. Now consider a verbal container:

Jockey ran hurt a lot to conquer morning race (13)

The verbal anagrind "jockey" is an imperative, while the container "to conquer" reads as a secondary wordplay action, allowing it to have a different conjugation. In that vein, this would also be acceptable:

Jockey ran hurt a lot, conquering morning race (13)

On the other hand, consider:

Jockey ran hurt a lot and conquered morning race (13)

This structure would not be grammatically correct because "conquered" is now a primary action, elevated to the same level as "jockey" but without the same tense or mood. (Following this logic, "and conquer" would work in the wordplay though it would also render the surface nonsensical.)

Final Words

In your quest for creative anagram authoring, it's always important to stay fair to the solver. Regardless of whether you're strict, stricter or strictest about your wordplay grammar, remembering to give it due attention goes a long way in achieving this goal.

I invite you again to visit my website at to see all my puzzles and discover more of my anagrams in action. Good luck with your setting!

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Awad said...

Thanks Tony and Shuchi. Very interesting indeed.

Will you be giving out the answers to the clues? I have solved a couple of them, I believe.

Kryptonologist said...

It's customary to post answers in the comments, so go ahead and type them here.

Awad said...

I read the earlier post now and found some of the solutions there.

Of the new ones:
Men attest to corrupt bill (9) Statement (men attest)*

Sriram said...

Wealth deep until collapse (9) PLENITUDE (Anagram of deep+until)

Kryptonologist said...

For the final one, morning = AM. I will probably write it this way to be more fair when the crossword it's in gets posted.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for being dense, but what exactly is ungrammatical in

[b]Jockey ran hurt a lot and conquered morning race (13)[/b]

The answer would be ULTR{AM}ARATHON*. It has a good anagram indicator and anagram letters. Container indicator is indirect but it is so in the other options also.

[b]Jockey ran hurt a lot to conquer morning race (13)[/b]
[b]Jockey ran hurt a lot, conquering morning race (13)[/b]

All three clues look the same to me.

Kryptonologist said...

The surface grammar is OK in all three cases, but the wordplay grammar is incorrect in the clue that uses "conquered". It's hard to see why in this case because the verb in the fodder obscures the wordplay structure. I'll make a few substitutions so that it's more apparent:

jockey = scramble
ran hurt a lot = [fodder]
conquer = take
morning = [charade]

As I plug these into the three examples, I conjugate "take" in the same manner as "conquer":

Scramble [fodder] to take [charade]
Scramble [fodder], taking [charade]
Scramble [fodder] and took [charade]

Notice in the last example how "took" does not fit the sentence structure established by "scramble".

Does that clear things up?

Anonymous said...

I see it now. Thank you Tony. I have to confess, in my years of solving I never realized wordplay structure had to be grammatical. We live and learn.

Thanks Tony and Shuchi.

Wordmantra said...

Your breakdown of anagram authoring and the complexities of wordplay grammar is enlightening for both seasoned and budding cruciverbalists. I particularly appreciated the examples you provided, as they elucidated the abstract principles you discussed