Tuesday 19 March 2013

Talking pointlessly

points-of-compass A cryptic clue can use 'pointless' or 'pointlessly' to indicate the removal of compass points N E W or S from the fodder.

Independent 7316 (Morph): Pointless to get up, at the end of the day, if so (5) TIRED
STIR (get up) with point S removed + [th]E + D (day), semi-&lit.

The above is a straightforward case of fodder [STIR] with only one point S, which gets deleted unambiguously.

What happens when the fodder has more than one compass point?

In this case I take 'pointless' to mean 'without any point' – that is, all occurrences of N E W S should get removed from the fodder. As in these clues:

THC 9863 (Sankalak): Courage in pain is a strong point, accepting reversal of duties pointlessly (9) FORTITUDE
FORTE (a strong point) around DUTIES reversed, with points E S removed.

Times 25331: Crazy man's wed pointlessly (3) MAD
MANS WED with points N S W E removed.

FT 13862 (Crux): Many pointless clues need editing – that's insulting! (7) CALUMNY
Anagram of (MANY + (CLUES with points E S removed))

All setters don't seem to agree on this. Some use 'pointless' or 'pointlessly' to indicate the removal of any compass point.

THC 10626 (Lightning): Pointlessly long for a tale (4) YARN
YEARN (long) with point E removed, point N not removed.

Telegraph (Kolkata): Way with pointlessly shrewd law (7) STATUTE
ST (way) + ASTUTE (shrewd) with point S removed, point E not removed.

Guardian 25775 (Gordius): Rule where to abdicate is pointless (5) REIGN
RESIGN (abdicate) with point S removed, points E N not removed.

Which point gets removed and which remains in the answer seems to be at the setter's discretion in such clues, and no indication is given to the solver about it.

Solve These

More clues that use 'pointless' or 'pointlessly', either to remove one point or to remove all points.

Guardian 24174 (Araucaria): Rejected or retained, Adelaide is displaying pointlessly (4,5) L___ ____E
Sunday Telegraph 4509: Curved structure was nice but pointless and obsolete (7) A_____C
FT 13249 (Satori): Pointlessly safe attack's timid (6) __R__D
Daily Telegraph 26034: They're useless, pointless (7) N______

[Edited: I realised soon after hitting Publish that in the fourth clue, 'pointless' can indicate the removal of an end-point rather than a compass point. In which case, I have no issue with it and think it's brilliant! Clues used as examples updated accordingly.]

What do you think?

When a clue uses 'pointless' or 'pointlessly' on fodder with more than one compass point, should it remove a single compass point from the fodder, any number of compass points, or all compass points?

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Anonymous said...

Easily the easiest of clues ever posted on CU:

ARCHAIC (ARCH nICe) was unable to figure out where the other A came from. May be I am missing something

Anonymous said...

As a solver, I personally feel pointlessly points to removal of one point. However, as there is no word like "pointsless" which the setter can resort to, the setters would not be able to use this device and would have to resort to other things... Maybe that's "beside the point/s". Even allowing multiple deletions, arbitrary deletion of some and retention of some others would be fraught with vagueness and may not be liked by many. But I think that since there is a definition already in place, even this can be tolerated. So, that way, to sum up, I am fine with all three usages.

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

Guardian 24174 (Araucaria): Rejected or retained, Adelaide is displaying pointlessly (4,5) L___ ____E
Ans: LAID ASIDE {Adelaid(e) is}
Sunday Telegraph 4509: Curved structure was nice but pointless and obsolete (7) A_____C
Ans: ARCHAIC (I am working on the anno)
FT 13249 (Satori): Pointlessly safe attack's timid (6) __R__D
Daily Telegraph 26034: They're useless, pointless (7) N______
Ans: NEEDLES {NEEDLES(S)}. (They are useless when they are pointless.Nice clue).

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

As far as the clue is simple and easy to crack(of course for me :-)), it's ok using pointless/ly to indicate the removal of 1 or all points.

Michod said...

You can argue that the setter assigns wordplay to different letters in the word, so the N, E, W, and S aren't points until he/she says they are - the N may be a note, the E could be a drug.
Having said that, I feel uncomfortable with "pointless" not removing all of the points - it seems like saying "I'm penniless" when you mean "I just dropped a penny, but luckily I have several million in the bank".
(Relieved to see the Morph clue above backs me up here!)

anax said...

The ‘pointless’ device is valid and popular but it’s one which, if used untidily, can look like a cheap escape for the setter. It’s like seeing ‘…with hesitation’ tagged onto something for ER – it’s OK, but you think to yourself ‘Couldn’t you have made a bit more effort?’
Although the rule isn’t set in stone, editors prefer ‘pointless’ to indicate the removal of the only compass point letter in an answer/fodder, or removal of all such points. In (I think) an Independent puzzle a few years ago I used something like ‘completely pointless’ for just that reason – in retrospect, ‘completely’ could have been dropped.
But I certainly don’t like to see the device used arbitrarily as it’s not fair enough on the solver. For example:

Cleaner, pointlessly tidy (5)

It seems daft, but since NE is a valid compass point, then there is apparently no reason to stop it being used in the context of this device. Yet the fodder has two Es and the N – the solver isn’t being directed accurately enough to the components to be manipulated.

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

Sunday Telegraph 4509: Curved structure was nice but pointless and obsolete (7) A_____C
Got the anno ARCH + (W)A(S)+(N)IC(E)

David Hampton said...

Absolutely agree with Anax and Michod. You wouldn't say someone is toothless becasue they have one tooth missing, or humourless because they are only funny some of the time. In any normal use of the language ***less always means that the *** is absent

Shuchi said...

@Kishore: You're a generous solver. Has there ever been a time when I raised a question and your answer was not 'I am fine with this'? :-P

@Michod: Welcome to my blog! Loved your penniless example. [It reminded me of the 'Ashwathama is dead' story from the Mahabharata.]

@anax, @David: Glad to know I'm not the only one not OK with the arbitrary use of 'pointless'. Thank you for explaining the problem so lucidly.

@Lakshmi: I feel that it is not enough for the clue to be easy to crack. The clue should also be easy to explain. pointless => 'having fewer than all, but not zero, points' isn't very logical. Michod has suggested a compelling argument that a setter could use in such cases, but it still looks like a cop-out!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Shuchi, I plead guilty of that. ;-)

If the clue entertains, I don't mind overlooking a bit of setter's license. Vagueness is there many times. When using regularly, setters may be pointing to jumping two letters, but saying it in so many words would spoil the clue. Similarly, in insertions, I don't mine the insertion happening anywhere in the container word. Specifying details would probably make the clue unwieldy.

Also, every fresh setter has imperfections, though a few do start at the top, and we need to make them understand what they are missing rather than smother talent. That said, it does not mean that any bilge should be tolerated. You will recall that I was among the first to raise a banner of revolt against a setter who had no rhyme or reason, though I was able to solve most of the convoluted clues, almost to the extent people thought I was justifying that setter's style.

After all, solvers solve for entertainment. So if that is achieved, I don't mind a few warts. Also, though I do quite a bit of cold-solving, crosswords are essentially words crossings and hence, some words would be more obvious once other words fall in place. However, all clues cannot be un-amenable to cold solving. The first clue is always cold-solved by a solver, maybe even the next few.

Bhavan said...

Don't have anything new to add since Michod and Anax have proved the point eloquently.

Personal preference: Pointless removes all points or only one point (which should be unique in the fodder)

Although I don't like it, I get why some solvers accept the device for deleting select letters - with crossings and definition it is easy to do so - until you encounter a clue like this:

Pointless being on time to have a ball (4)

(OK, I just made that clue up, but I hope it illustrates why I have a problem)

Venkatesh said...

1) Rejected or retained, Adelaide is displaying pointlessly (4,5) LAID ASIDE* -e
2) Curved structure / was nice but pointless // and obsolete (7) (ARCH)([-w]A[-s] [-n]IC[-e])
3) Pointlessly safe / attack//'s timid (6) ([-s]AF[-e])(RAID)
4) They're useless, pointless (7) NEEDLES[-s] &lit

Shuchi said...

@Bhavan: Thanks for sharing your POV and that nice example with two possible solutions. So in effect, what you say is - 'pointless removes all points', whether the fodder has one or more points.

@Kishore: The other A came from 'was'! Someone wrote to me recently that he finds the 'Solve These' clues too tough, so I gave out more letters than usual this time :-)

@Lakshmi, @Venkatesh: Well solved.