Is Azed Always Right?

What constitutes acceptable clueing in barred puzzles, both plain and thematic, is a highly subjective topic. In his early days, Azed discussed in the competition slips many dissenting comments from correspondents, although in recent years it is much rarer for him to analyse specific criticisms. I have to say that there is very little about Azed’s clueing, or his views on sound clueing, with which I disagree. Of course now and then there will be the odd anagram indicator or abbreviation which causes a slight elevation of the eyebrow, but these are trivial differences of opinion. There are, though, just a few areas where our views diverge, in particular:

String of words in a clue governing a plural verb

This is something on which we certainly don’t agree. Quoting from Azed’s comments in the slip for 2,036:

An interesting point was raised by a very experienced campaigner. In my clue to PLIANCY (‘Being flexible I can swim in strand’) should not ‘swim’ be ‘swims’ for the anagram to work cryptically? This took me back to a similar question I put many years ago to Ximenes when the late Eric Chalkley won first prize with this clue to PANTOPHAGIST: ‘What pig has to become when gripped by hunger? (anag. in pant, & lit.). Surely, I asked, it should be ‘becomes’, unless he accepted that as a singular string of words or a plural set of words, in this case three of them, it could govern a singular or a plural verb. He replied (I still have his pencilled note) that yes, he did think either a singular or a plural verb was OK, ever since when I’ve followed his dictum, both in my own clues and in my judgement on those of others.

I can see no justification for an uninterrupted string of words being treated any differently from an uninterrupted string of letters; neither Azed nor I would consider “they go off” an acceptable way of indicating an anagram of ‘they’, so why should ‘they all go off’ be valid for an anagram of ‘they all’? A number of prize-winning clues have taken advantage of Azed’s latitude in this area, none better than Dr Eddie Young’s clue for ROUGH-AND-READY (AZ 1,775), “A hard tussle with Dr E. Young plainly winning”.

Reversal indicators for down entries

Azed makes no secret of the fact that he does not accept indicators such as ‘back’ and ‘backward’ to indicate reversal in a down entry. In the slip for 2,417 he notes:

I might as well repeat (since it came up quite often this time) that as a devout Ximenean I am implacably averse to the use of ‘back’ to indicate reversal in down clues. You may disagree, but I shall not be moved on this.

Well I do disagree, on two counts. Firstly, the words in the clue appear in a horizontal plane, so it is perfectly reasonably to assume that the solution is assembled from the clue prior to entry in the grid. Not convinced by that? Well then, Chambers gives a meaning of backward as “in a direction opposite to the normal”. It would be perfectly reasonable for a parachutist (who has already jumped out of a horizontal plane) to say that he was plummeting towards the ground until he felt a sudden tug pulling him back. QED.

Use of radio code words

Azed has regularly rejected clues which have used radio code words (alpha, bravo etc) to indicate single letters. In August 2004 he wrote:

Interestingly, a number of clues submitted used w = whisk(e)y, I assume from the NATO phonetic alphabet. This alphabet is not given in Chambers and I can’t find it in other dictionaries of comparable size, so I’m not too happy about allowing it (as distinct from, say, the IVR abbreviations, which are all in C).

In truth, I think the issue relates more to the fact that the individual code words appear under discrete headings in Chambers, eg

Mike or mike
n (in international radio communication) a code word for the letter m.

rather than under the single letter which they represent. Azed did acknowledge this in the slip for 1,685, adding:

It still seems odd to me that the lexicographers chose to deal with them in this way without at the same time including them as abbreviations at the single-letter entries. But I must clearly overcome my reluctance to use them myself and allow you to use them likewise.

That first sentence doesn’t seem right to me – H is not abbreviation of Hotel, rather Hotel is the word used in oral communication to indicate H; the entry in Chambers for H does not show ‘aitch’, which again has its own entry. However, I believe that Azed frequently still rejects clues which make use of these words, and a number of seasoned competitors are therefore careful to avoid them.

Use of an adjective or participle to define a noun

In a 2006 slip, Azed writes:

One other clue of mine deserves comment, In ‘Name on box may give information to the police’ for NARK the last six words form the definition, i.e. a verb clause indicating the noun that could be its subject. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I regard this device as acceptable (and have awarded prizes to clues that use it); what I don’t accept is that nouns can be defined by adjectival phrases, such as past participles and the like.

If it’s reasonable to assume a pronoun preceding the verb, so here ‘[he] may give information to the police’, I can’t see why an adjectival phrase shouldn’t be used in he same way, with [pronoun is] being assumed. Personally, I don’t consider any of these constructions acceptable, as the solver is asked to separate the wordplay from something which cannot as it stands be a definition, except perhaps in &lit clues (where no separation is required), such as JPH Hirst’s 1972 classic for VINEGAR:

Unconventionally given for Jack’s head [GIVEN* replacing T of TAR, &lit]

Since Azed accepted this clue, he clearly changed his mind during the intervening years.

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