Wednesday 19 January 2011

Clues with no definition : okay or not?

I'd like to know what you think about clues of this kind:

cryptic-clue-no-definitionGuardian 24914 (Araucaria): Oo! (8,7) CIRCULAR LETTERS

THC 9786 (Gridman): XX (6-8) DOUBLE-CROSSING


The examples above have a wordplay component only, they do not contain a definition for the answer. On solving forums, such clues get bracketed as CD but they are actually different from a cryptic definition like:

FT 13578 (Dante): Delivery men? (7) BOWLERS

However misleading, "delivery men" works as a complete definition for bowlers in cricket. But there is nothing in "Oo" to stand for written documents or in "XX" to suggest treachery.

Not exactly definition-less, but still…

Another variant is a blank placeholder for the definition.

THC 7812: A weapon to use in the dark? Not exactly! (5,4) NIGHT CLUB

THC 9784 (Gridman): Without having had a girl friend? Not exactly! (7) UNDATED

These clues only tell us that the answer is different from the literal interpretation of its wordplay. There is no real definition in them.

Do you think such clues are fine, or do they seem not quite perfect?

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Bhavan said...

Two more instances.

ET 4841 : Hey, look at this! (11,4)

HT 22823 : Dispute score? (8,4)

I would consider the HT clue to be complete/fair while still being cryptic.

I personally find that clues like Oo or XX or ! give me a brief 'aha' moment. I don't per se have a problem with them. They different and different doesn't mean bad.

Shuchi said...

Hi Bhavan

Your examples do contain a definition - "!" in the first case, "?" in the second. I agree that both are fair. The definition is easy to miss, but it's there and it's complete.

The clues in my post don't have any definition. XX is the wordplay for DOUBLE-CROSSING, not its idiomatic meaning.

Anonymous said...

Vaguely remember reading about shortest cryptic clue somewhere:


Shyam said...

Hi Shuchi

The clue Oo reminded me of a recent incident in the DIY COW forum when a member came up with this clue for 'Goggles'.

I do not think it is fair at all. An '8' may as well look as a segment of the double helix of DNA. But 8? (3) can't be a cryptic clue.

Having said that, I do opine that there should be leeway for occasional unfairness in crossowrds!

Shuchi said...

@Kishore: No clue can be shorter can that!

@Shyam: "there should be leeway for occasional unfairness in crossowrds". Things look very different, don't they, when we cross over from solving to setting :)

Shuchi said...

I recall this clue with "not exactly", which I enjoyed very much:

Independent (Phi): Man involved with dunes? Not exactly! (8) AMUNDSEN (MAN DUNES)* &lit

Amundsen was an Antarctic explorer, so he wasn't at all involved with sand dunes. I like how "not exactly" suggests a complete opposite.

anax said...

Essentially, clues of this type are Rebus clues, and they hark back to a time when cryptic crosswords were in their infancy. Setters were discovering unusual ways in which answers could be interpreted but there was little or no concept of Ximenean and Libertarian clue-writing. Remember the classic:


It contains no definition – what’s more, H2O is not the same as H to O, yet it was hailed as a piece of remarkable ingenuity when it first appeared.

To be blunt, it’s actually an awful clue, but it’s funny how these things work. The majority of modern setters are keen to retain fairness and accuracy in their offerings, but how can one resist a remarkable discovery which falls into the Rebus category? It may offend the purist, but at the same time it’s likely to make a lot of people laugh out loud – and laughter is a good thing!

The more vocal of solvers are generally split into two camps; those at the Azed end of the spectrum take Ximenean perfection to extremes and often engage in (frankly needless) debate over the minutiae of answer definitions and wordplay indicators. At the other end we have solvers of e.g. The Guardian / Telegraph who, by and large, are far more receptive to the simple idea of ‘fun with words’ and, as a result, tend to be more forgiving when setters take a few risks.

Neither of these factions is inherently wrong or misguided in their preferences, but I do know which of the two groups I’d prefer to converse with at a Sloggers & Betters gathering!

dram said...

I think all these clues take liberties, but the elegance of the first three (Oo, XX and GEGS) would in my mind justify these and make the clues extremely satisfying to solve. Clearly, the effect would be spoiled by including a definition.

In contrast, the clues for NIGHT CLUB and UNDATED are simply weak. The wordplay is clever but there is no good reason for not working it into a full clue alongside a definition. Good ideas wasted. Frankly they just look smug.

veer said...

For some reason, I like GEGS but not Oo! or XX. GEGS is one more step from a reverse anagram - the only difference is that the clue and the solution both are not English words found in a dictionary. GEGS means nothing in particular I think and is troubling from that angle - the clue could be GGES or GSEG or some meaningless combination. But if solvers enjoy it, why not? Though I think it is harder for a setter (though likely not for someone as skilled as Araucaria) to come up with one word clues that have a proper meaning both in clue and solution.

Bhavan said...

Shuchi you are right, I brought them up to show the progressive fairness (if I may call that) with no definition, partial and full.

I knew of X representing a cross, but in this example X is crossing as in a railway gate ?

Anonymous said...

@ Shuchi: Agree no clue can be shorter than that. But I brought it up since it may also fall in the category under discussion since there is no clue, no def, nothing. Only enu.

Shyam said...


We have faced an absence of clue at times as a hint for words like 'unclued' or 'clueless'. So yours is not the shortest supposedly :P