Clinical Data – July 2023 Update

When I come across cryptic indicators that I have not seen before, I make a note of them and once I’ve got a few on my list I check them first in Chambers and then, if they appear to have strong credentials, in the OED. This latter step results in quite a few being rejected on the basis that the ‘bald’ meaning given by Chambers simply doesn’t hold up in a cryptic context. For instance, Chambers gives ‘outset’ as ‘a beginning or start’, but I don’t consider it valid as a first letter selection indicator because OED makes it clear that the word only ever describes the beginning or start of a journey or other undertaking. Although the Listener editors accept ‘during’ as an insertion indicator, with the possible supporting definition in Chambers being ‘in the course of’, OED shows clearly that it is only ever used in a temporal sense, so that word is not included.

The indicators that pass the test are then added to the relevant table. I do occasionally remove indicators from the lists, normally when I am about to use them in puzzles and have cause to question their validity, but this is now a rare occurrence.

When it comes to certain types of indicator, in particular anagram indicators (of which there are a great many), I generally exclude those which, although valid, I cannot imagine ever using in a puzzle. Something like ‘bladdered’ is perfectly serviceable to indicate an anagram, but I think there would always be a better alternative so I do not include it. That particular list is already long enough!

I know that the lists are not comprehensive, given that I find myself regularly adding new entries, and I would ask readers to suggest any indicators that they feel should be considered for inclusion, or any that they feel should be removed. Not to mention any corrections to errors that may have crept in. I am also open to suggestions for new lists.

Most of the latest additions fall into the ‘Advanced’ category (suitable primarily for barred puzzles), including ‘spongy’, ‘frippery’, ‘full’, ‘huddled’ and ‘littered’ as anagram indicators. Among the new ‘Standard’ entries are ‘inverse’ for reversal (across or down) and ‘spanning’/’spans’ for containment. Plus ‘crowding/crowds’ as an insertion indicator, at the recent suggestion of Monk.

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4 Responses

  1. Monk says:

    Hello Doctor Clue. In a recent exchange based around editorial feedback on one of my submissions, I (ahem) ‘corrected’ the editor’s use of ‘taking on’ as a containment indicator after a quick trip to your esteemed site to confirm ‘taking in’. But indeed, “take on = to receive aboard” is right there in pole position in Chambers, so it was a case of MONK-FACE-EGG (across) or MONK-EGG-FACE (down) . So perhaps your containment list might take on take on. Keep up the excellent work!

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi Monk

      I’m in two minds about this one. OED strongly suggests that the subject of the verb is not the vessel but the person or persons doing the receiving, the example given being “He took on the passengers who stood clustered on the wharf”, and the choice of the verb ‘receive’ would chime with this usage. It could be cryptically similar to ‘imprison’, where Elizabeth in ‘Elizabeth imprisoning Mary’ isn’t the container. I think that the Chambers definition, which surely owes its position to seniority rather than popularity, can (as so often) be read in different ways, and perhaps a ship, as well as its captain, can ‘take on’ passengers or provisions. I’m not convinced that the yolk is on you, but I’m going to include it with an ‘Advanced’ rating.

      PS I’ve fixed the typo in your first post and deleted your correction. I’ve also added a five minute ‘window’ for the modification or deletion of comments.

      • Monk says:

        Hi Dr Clue

        Thanks for this interesting take on take on. I’d forgotten the example (egg sample?) of departure from the expected norm reflected in ‘imprisoning’, a fine illustration of the subtlety underlying cryptic readings that are air-tight to grammatical analysis.

        PS Thanks for the very welcome ‘countdown’ comment-editing feature: I’d spotted earlier that you’d conflated my two previous posts.

        • Doctor Clue says:

          I think that when verbs such as ‘imprison’ are used in a figurative sense the containing agent can in practice be the subject (or in a passive form can precede ‘by’), eg “Mary’s faith imprisons her”, so I am inclined to take a lenient view. The likely acceptance of an indicator or construction by a solver does not in itself render it acceptable, but it certainly sways my judgment of borderline instances – I’d be surprised if ‘imprisoning’ caused any eyebrow-raising at all, and I don’t think ‘taking on’ would be an issue, at least in any puzzle where solvers were expecting to refer to a dictionary. Collins gives the example “This is a brief stop to take on passengers and water”, which although unclear about exactly who or what is doing the ‘taking on’ certainly suggests something being subsumed by something else.

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