Wednesday 2 November 2011

Elision, and questions of fairness

elision Consider this clue from a recent Hindu crossword:

THC 10279 (Gridman): Streamline New York's backward borough? (8)

The answer is BROOKLYN (defn: borough);
the wordplay is BROOK (stream) L (line), NY (New York) reversed.

Gridman's clue uses what is known as elision – the practice of omitting spaces between the cryptic components of a clue. "Streamline" is a single word but needs to be read separately STREAM + LINE to give BROOK + L.

In contrast to the wordplay device of omitting the space between indicator and fodder (e.g. INDEED - see tricky indicators), elision with charades has grammatical validity. In the answer BROOKLYN, there is no space between BROOK and L – it can be argued that this maps perfectly to STREAM and LINE, without a space in between.

But then, grammatical validity does not immediately equal fairness.

This clue from Anax's debut puzzle in the Independent used a similar clue with a helpful indicator, "apparently".

Indy 7088 (Anax): Withstand, apparently, one who's treacherous (6) WEASEL
W (with) STAND (easel)

The blogger on fifteensquared wrote:

Misled by the elision of the wordplay elements into “withstand” which some would complain about.

As it happened, nobody complained on that thread, one commenter wrote in support of the clue.

What do you say?

1. Is the use of elision in cryptic clues fair? If yes, would you expect a hint in the clue that something unusual is going on?

2. How far can this be taken? Should there be a cap on the number of components, position of the join? If you say STREAMLINE = STREAM+LINE is justified, will you say the same for STREAMLINE = ST + REAM + LINE?

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Anonymous said...

Speaking for myself, I am comfortable with that clue since one, I think a cryptic clue can be cryptic (in fact, I expect it to be cryptic) either in the accepted modes of wordplay or suitably indicated, when going beyond the accepted modes. We have come across usages like midnight for g and the like, where again the word is split into components and then the middle of the night is interpolated.

In the instant case, I feel the question mark at the end gives enough hint that all is not usual. As a rider, if multiple components can arise, I would welcome usage of words like 'broken into', 'pieces of', etc, to indicate such possibilities.

Blasphemous as it may sound, I feel that newer categories of word play, can be admitted (with certain rules of usage, of course) into the club.

anax said...

Hi Shuchi
Thanks for reminding me of my Indy debut – crikey, it feels so long ago!
As for elision, I find there is a line of acceptability that can be drawn. Provided there is some sort of notice (a QM will do) it seems perfectly fair to incorporate elision within wordplay components; after all, the W/EASEL example appears in the grid without any division, so there is a logic to ignoring division in the wordplay.
It’s a different matter for wordplay indicators such as ‘indeed’ (DE*ED), ‘midnight’ (G), ‘hammerhead’ (H) because these are not supported by any sense of grammatical correctness – we would never type ‘Pure in thought and in deed’ as ‘Pure in thought and indeed’. In fact we might as well type sentences such as ‘Next weekend I will be inLondon’.

Shyam said...

I am strongly opposed to needlessly cheeky innovation. I think there is a reason we call our puzzles 'crosswords' and not 'cross-letters'.

Cryptic instructions should be conveyed in proper words. The real fear is such freedom could eventually be exploited badly and before we realise, we would end up playing a different game. For example, there was a clue equating T=ATTENDING sometime back!

The case of MIDNIGHT is a bit different. One could almost always substitute 'middle of night' in place of 'midnight' in the clue and the clue will read the same. The usage only prunes extra words in the clue.

Bhavan said...

Should setters invent new cryptic devices? Yes. If a setter uses alien or foreigner for ET we'll probably say it is cliched. At least a variation like ... long necked creature ... (G 25469, Paul) gives you a chuckle.

Is elision fair? Maybe, with the rider Anax suggested. Unless a setter fills an entire crossword with such non runofthemill clues, I won't have a problem. At times for clues with "regular" word play I have to work back from the answer to see how the cryptic parts fit in. Why not extend it to clues with elision.

I don't have a problem with setters who resort to neologisms either. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this:

Isolated place, El Asmada? (9)

St Michael's Moderator said...

I was advised that elision, to be fair, must use words with distinctly pronounced syllables and that the wordplay must respect the boundaries of those syllables. Therefore "stream/line" can fairly be used to denote "brook" + L but not st/ream/line.

Do elision clues have to be restricted to creating charades? Would "Beer in Maidenhead displays a macho quality? (8)" be a fair clue for M{ALE}NESS?

Shuchi said...

Very interesting to read well-reasoned views, especially when they diverge.

My own taste matches closely with St Michael's Moderator's. I like the STREAM+LINE and WITH+STAND examples but if a clue had ST+REAM+LINE, I'd say that's going too far. At the same time one can't be too rigid about these things. Sometimes a clue is so good for other reasons, such as a witty surface, that one might be willing to stretch the rules a bit.

Thank you for bringing up the case of elision with other clue types. It gets complicated doesn't it?

I remember a discussion on a crossword forum from a year or so ago, where someone had posted great examples of taking elision to unreasonable extremes. I can't recall more details or find the link. Does anyone know?

Shuchi said...

@Bhavan: Some hint for the clue?

anax said...

Got it! Won't spoil it for others, but a hint or two: - A - - - A - - -
As for whether it's completely fair... well, it's not wholly unfair. It does work logically, doesn't it? Solvers might question the 'format' of El Asmada, but I'm sure most would applaud the way the setter has spotted the wordplay idea.

Bhavan said...

Shuchi, Anax's hint should help. The A _ _ _ _ A _ _ pattern is that of the cryptic part of the clue. The solution is of the pattern B _ _ _ _ _ _ _ R

Bhavan said...

Anax, as soon as I got the answer, my first instinct was to say unfair. But then I thought about it a little and realized it is no different to how letters/words are split in a cryptic clue- i.e., not always at logical seams.

Chaturvasi said...


Got it!

Shuchi said...

Got it now, thanks for the hints.

I agree it is fair. I like the clue very much in fact, it has that nice "penny dropping" effect.

Shyam said...

Thanks fo sharing the clue, Bhavan. Loved it!

This clue takes the idea of reverse anagrams a step further, I think. Looks fair and also has a fun value.

IMO it's very different from Shuchi's examples where the solver is supposed to assume a space in the middle of a word contributing to the subsidiary indication.

Chaturvasi said...


I believe there's a similarity to the clues discussed in the main post and the example that Bhavan gave.

If elision forms part of the clues in the main post while interpreting the wordplay, a 'closing in' is required in the case of the clue that he cites.

Shyam said...

CV Sir

The closing-in in this example is different, I reckon. We are always accustomed to ignoring spaces in telescopic or reverse telescopic clues. Ignoring the space in the fodder is fine, but for that the instruction has to be untampered.

In Shuchi's examples, the clues are charades which do not have a separate instruction and fodder.

Hope I have made myself clear, which does not always happen with me :D

Bhavan said...

Shyam, I thought this example was apposite because you have to imagine a space (and also ignore one) in the cryptic fodder much like how it was in withstand or streamline. Otherwise, the instruction will not work to yield the requested definition.

Chaturvasi said...

Exactly, Bhavan.

In my earlier message, I had forgotten to mention the "imagining a space" aspect of the clue, while I noticed the "closing a gap" aspect.

I realised it too late; thanks for putting it right.

Shyam said...

Oh yeah, I agree. The assumption of space in the answer is a feature of most reverse clues, I guess. Phrasal verbs with two words are an exception when the second word is OUT or OFF or AWAY etc.

The thing to be noted here is that not many words are amenable to the reverse cluing technique. The same is not true of the usual elision which can be brutally exploited by a clever/fiendish setter.

SandhyaP said...

@Bhavan: Thanks for sharing the clue. Got it thanks to the hints.

Shuchi said...

Spotted another good example of the use of elision:
FT 14778 (Redshank): Frank's workspace (4)

Ramki Krishnan said...

Went through this thread again today, thanks to a reference in today's THCC blog.

Answer to Redshank's clue is OPEN? (OP EN)

Shuchi said...

Correct, Ramki.

Ramki Krishnan said...

Question: The examples given all involve elision in the wordplay. Today's Guardian had a different example where the definition is hidden through elision.
Intend to keep right before end of motorway (6)

Nice clue, but is it fair? Any more such examples?

Shuchi said...

Ramki, thanks for sharing that clue. it fair?

As with elision in wordplay, my take is: it depends. Elision in clues requires cautious use as it can potentially make the clue too hard for the solver.

The Guardian clue's wordplay is simple and with the grid to help, I guess solvers would have got the answer and then chuckled at discovering the disguise. I like the clue.

Also (a matter of taste, perhaps) this device is entertaining only in small doses. If the crossword is a meal, charades and containers are chawal and dal, anagrams are curries, elision is pickle. We don't want as much pickle as dal, though we may love its flavour. Some of us don't want pickle at all.

Adrian said...

I'd say all the clues featured on this page are fair except the "Intend..." one - because it hides the definition.

Vasant said...

Hi,have read this post a number of times and still get fascinated on re-reading it.
Would appreciate if the answers are spelt out.
For a long time couldnt get Bhavan's clue.
But could get Ramki's this was posted by Arden in THC and I answered it and Ramki corrected the anno.

Shuchi said...

Hi Vasant,

Here you go...let me know if any other clue is left unanswered.

Isolated place, El Asmada? (9) BACKWATER
"El Asmada" is "Adam's Ale" (jokey definition of water) reversed

Intend to keep right before end of motorway (6) TRENDY
The definition is "in"; TEND contains R, before Y.

FT 14778 (Redshank): Frank's workspace (4) OPEN
OP (work) EN (space)