Our featured writer today is Dr. Daniel Price! Let’s give him a warm welcome. If you would like your talent featured in the Artists in Our Midst series, send me an email message. Don’t be shy! This is the final Artists post in the queue, so please get in touch if you would like to be featured.
Cryptic crosswords are common in the UK, appearing daily in multiple newspapers and regularly in other periodicals. Publications in Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand feature daily or weekly cryptics, with a few US newspapers (The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times) occasionally printing cryptic crosswords.
Acceptable clues are written in the form of sentences or headlines; most often, the clue’s ‘surface’ (apparent meaning) is unrelated to the word to be entered, adding another layer of misdirecting challenge. The human brain’s attempts to create meaning allows the solver to be fooled by the clue’s surface and requires them to ignore what is plainly visible in order to identify the word that is meant. “Detainee repatriated, hangs around every bash (6)” calls to mind a former captive being observed at all of the best parties. The six-letter word—its length indicated by the numeral in parentheses—thus described is ‘WALLOP’, a synonym of ‘bash’; the rest of the clue is the wordplay that forms ‘WALLOP’, namely “Detainee” (POW) “repatriated” (sent back, or reversed), “hangs around” (surrounds) “every” (= ALL).
In shorter terms, the reversed letters of POW, a sort of detainee, surround ALL, a synonym of ‘every’, and the result is ‘WALLOP’, synonymous with ‘bash’. [“Hangs around” may be considered to be an unsound indicator of ‘surrounding’ but it can be argued that the reversed letters of ‘POW’ are indeed suspended about the letters of ‘ALL.’] The goal of the ‘setter’—the cryptic crossword’s constructor—is to create clues that are fair but challenging: Dr. Friedlander states that “[s]olvers experience a powerful insight moment when they [realize] how the clue should actually be interpreted. It’s a highly pleasurable kick which rewards the solver.”
Musical composer Stephen Sondheim attempted to popularize cryptic crosswords in the United States (you can determine whether his efforts have been successful), writing in a 1968 New York magazine article that “[a] good clue can give you all the pleasures of being duped that a mystery story can. It has surface innocence, surprise, the revelation of a concealed meaning, and the catharsis of solution.” Famed British setter Jonathan Crowther, under the pen name of Azed, summarizes the rules succinctly:
- a precise definition
- a fair subsidiary indication
- nothing else