Tuesday 9 April 2013

Clueing really long solutions in a crossword

In his guest post on 2 November 2012, Gordon Holt discussed the technique of using anagrams to clue long words or phrases in a cryptic crossword. Here, he looks at how other clueing devices may come into play with long solutions that span 15 letters or more.

Gordon Holt aka Otterden is a crossword setter for the British weekly New Statesman.

long crossword solutions The construction of a clue for a lengthy solution is often problematic for a compiler because clueing for several letters together can tend to be awkward and tortuous. In the absence of an overall anagram that works, an amalgam of various other devices may be necessary, and it is not often possible to string these together fluently in a strict item-by-item charade format. However, if a charade is possible, it gives the clue some sort of structure giving a solver a reasonable chance to unravel it.

A simple example:

Excitable reviewer friend acted over censoriously (15)
The answer is HYPERCRITICALLY: HYPER (excitable) CRITIC (reviewer) ALLY (friend)

A more complex example containing five different elements:

Bad temper display after a party member on phone goes on and on  (9,6) 
This leads to PERPETUUM MOBILE: PER (a) PET (bad temper display) UU (party: Ulster Unionists) M (member) MOBILE (phone)

Multi-word long answers also give the compiler a chance to devise wordplay in which the building blocks of the charade cross the word-breaks in the solution.

Clues for long entries which use a mixture of other clueing devices are quite possible of course, but require considerable ingenuity to set, especially if a smooth face reading is striven for. A splendid recent example, using three insertions and a deletion, by the great Araucaria of The Guardian:

School friends' payment kept by head female in a church garment shortened, one with a tin with nothing in it (6-7,11)
The answer is PARENT-TEACHER ASSOCIATION: RENT (payment) in i.e. kept by PATE (head) + HER (female) in A CASSOC[k] (church garment shortened) I (one) A TIN round O (nothing).

Dealing with of a long quotation is another problem area for setters, but sometimes the task of breaking one down into separately clued bits and pieces can be avoided. For instance, the famous Shakespearean 30-letter line from Hamlet TO BE OR NOT TO BE, THAT IS THE QUESTION could be dealt with in a fun way by saying:

Familiar quote might have been heard when casting for Spiderman
Here the homophonic reference is to Tobey (Maguire), the actor selected for the role in the Spiderman films.

Another example is the 51-letter solution string from Shakespeare's As You Like It: ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE AND ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN MERELY PLAYERS. This could be clued as:

'Global' declaration heard in London this summer providing planetary overview
This clue may need some explanation for non-UK solvers: in 2009 when the puzzle was published in UK's New Statesman, the seasonal presentation at the famous Globe theatre was As You Like It.

As I mentioned in my previous post, one problem with solutions which run into multiple words, particularly where some are of one, two or three letter length, is that with a bit of thought and only a few checking letters it may be possible for a solver to get to the answer without needing help from the actual clue wordplay...and all of a compiler's hard work is sidestepped!

It may be possible to clue a long solution word by double definition and a fun example which readers might like to solve is:

Sensible quality of Frankenstein's monster (5-10)

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Deepak Gopinath said...


SandhyaP said...

Sensible quality of Frankenstein's monster (5-10)


Venkatesh said...


Venkatesh said...

Here are some interesting clues from a vintage Cryptic of 1960s:

For example, you are the first successor (3,6,6)

Needs more staff at a cat dispensary really (2,1,6,2,4)

Thanks the information people in turn (15)

Where there was a fall in fruit consumption (3,6,2,4)

Thulasy said...

Interesting article, thank you for posting. No >15 letter entries in The Hindu Crossword, why?

For example, you are the first successor (3,6,6) THE SECOND PERSON

Needs more staff at a cat dispensary really (2,1,6,2,4) AS A MATTER OF FACT

Where there was a fall in fruit consumption (3,6,2,4) THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Shuchi said...

@Deepak, @SandhyaP, @Venkatesh: You got it.

@Thulasy: No >15 letter entries in The Hindu Crossword, why?

Maybe due to the downsides mentioned in the article? Not sure if there is a guideline about maximum answer length in THC. I do know that Gridman does not favour very short (3-letter) answers.

I see really long solutions often in the Guardian. Can't recall coming across them in the Times crossword either.

Venkatesh said...

Thanks // the information people in turn (15) AC(KNOWLEDGE)(MEN)T
the information KNOWLEDGE
people MEN
turn ACT