From a New Setter

I am trying to start compiling crosswords and the rules for what constitutes a fair definition are not so easy to come by – especially inasmuch as they might cover every eventuality. So, if possible, I’d like to post a few here to see whether the form of a particular definition is acceptable. So, for example:

Old age is for clubbing! IRONS

Def = For clubbing – ie, irons are things used ‘for clubbing’ golf balls. Wordplay = IRON (old age) = S (is)

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16 Responses

  1. Doctor Clue says:

    Hi DeeKay

    I will start by noting that almost all of my setting and solving relates to barred puzzles, where a strict line is generally taken in relation to the technical soundness of clues, and it’s fair to say that some things which I would consider inacceptable may not even cause a raised eyebrow for many solvers of back page blocked puzzles. However, I do firmly believe that one should start by understanding the rules, and then one can choose to break them when or if appropriate.

    As Rudolf says, ‘for clubbing’ doesn’t define IRONS, and while irons are clubs, they aren’t used for ‘clubbing’ in any sense given by dictionaries (unless they were being used to batter someone). It is important to make sure that your definition indicates the correct part of speech – so a noun like IRONS has to be defined in a way that leads the solver to a noun. ‘Clubs’ is the obvious choice, but of course if it’s obvious to the setter it will probably be obvious to the solver as well. If we stick with the golf theme, then ‘They’re used for chips’ would work, as would “They’ve metal heels”, ‘What pitchers hold’ or ‘Strikers on course’. A couple of these would give scope to run the definition and wordplay together to add an extra element of deception. You could also define IRONS by using an example of particular iron-headed clubs, such as ‘wedges’, but because not all irons are wedges, one should say ‘wedges, perhaps’ or ‘wedges?’ (if it comes at the end of the clue) in order to indicate this.

    I hope that helps – please do follow up on IRONS or come back with any other definitions/clues that you’d like opinions on.

    • DeeKay says:

      So, eg: Old age is for hitting clubs! would work with the hitting being a definition misdirection – to hit/attend a club – but still suggests a plural noun when read straight.

      • Doctor Clue says:

        Yes, that’s exactly the sort of thing – I think that ‘hitting clubs’ would be considered acceptable for IRONS by solvers, as there are other sorts of club not used for hitting, such as the sort implied by the surface reading.

    • DeeKay says:

      One thing that is confusing me slightly is this idea of suggesting a noun. My point would be that when the definition is misread as only “clubbing” that most certainly doesn’t straightforwardly suggest a noun – the misdirection here coming from the use of “for” which is often a link word but which in this case is part of the definition “for clubbing”. Hence, once/if the definition is understood to be “for clubbing” that would suggest a (list of) noun(s) that were used for or while clubbing. Is that still to much of a stretch to be fair?

      • Doctor Clue says:

        While a noun doesn’t necessarily have to be indicated by another noun (or pronoun), it’s too much of a stretch to ask the solver to infer ‘something used for clubbing’ from ‘for clubbing’. It is, though, generally accepted that the pronoun can be implied, so ‘used for clubbing’ would be ok. ‘For clubbing’ should indicate an adjective meaning ‘in favour of visiting clubs’, if there were one (‘discophilic’?)

        • DeeKay says:

          That suggests that this would be unfair. Yes/No?

          Starts to write a new dictionary for casting spells. WAND

          • Rudolf says:

            I have just made a comment that crossed with this, so I shall answer the specific question about WAND here.

            I fear that “for casting spells” does not define the answer. If you were to say “For casting spells” to someone, could they have any justification for answering “Wand”? You would need to say something such as “It may cast spells”. A possible rewrite of your clue that would work is “Starts to write a new dictionary that may be used for casting spells”

            • DeeKay says:

              I get the point. And while I’m not arguing about the existence of the rule you are operating from here, nor the requirement to abide by it should I continue setting crosswords, I would point out that if you really did say to someone, like really did say it, “For casting spells – 4 letters”, then, Family Fortunes style, WAND would be the number one answer by a country mile. It’s hard to imagine any other answer in fact.

              • Rudolf says:

                You may well be right, but there can be a world of difference between verbal communication and the written word. A quiz question posed in grammatically unsound speech may be deemed fair in its context, but we are dealing here with the written word and that needs to expressed in a form which is grammatically correct if it is to say what it means to say.

                • DeeKay says:

                  There’s nothing grammatically incorrect here. What there is is a crossword rule that is being broken, not a grammatical one. Consider, for example: a wand IS for casting spells in exactly the same way that a wand IS a thi8ng for casting spells, and a wand IS used for casting spells. Hence, one might – if one was interested – make a normative case that that formulation (answer IS definition) could serve as a sufficient condition for fair definitions.

              • Doctor Clue says:

                Just as there needs to be a shared understanding between those transmitting messages in code and those intended to receive them, so there needs to be an understanding between those writing cryptic clues and those who will be solving them. Since there is no direct equivalent of the code book in crosswordland (and it would be a pretty dull place if there were), we have to work with a shared set of general principles, some of which will vary from one puzzle series to another. Sometimes these principles appear arbitrary, and often they appear to bear no relation to the real world. Why should ‘drunken chap ‘ mean that the letters of the word CHAP should be rearranged? Because the solver will accept that interpretation of it. The converse also applies, even to a construction which may be objectively justifiable – if the solver doesn’t understand it, they won’t like it. Always bear in mind that the role of the setter is to do battle with the solver and lose gracefully.

        • Rudolf says:

          I don’t have much to add to what Doctor Clue has said, except to say that, in my capacity as a setter of cryptic puzzles for a national daily I take pains to ensure that the definitional part of the clue leads to the answer in a grammatically correct way. I am well aware that compilers influenced by Araucaria (who, in my opinion, was not a consistently good setter of clues) may take a very much laxer approach and justify themselves by saying that a mere indication is enough. In my view that is just sloppy and inexcusable.

  2. Rudolf says:

    Although, as you say, irons are used for clubbing, the words “for clubbing” do not provide not definition of the word “irons” but a description of what they can be used for.

    • DeeKay says:

      Thanks for your response. How about:

      (Old age is) for hitting golf balls.

      (Old age is) for playing golf.

      Are these specific enough descriptions to count as definitions?

      • Andy says:

        The difference here (compared to hitting clubs) is that the definition can’t really be seen as a noun. Hitting clubs can be read as ‘clubs that are used for hitting things’ so that is fine. The hitting is acting as an adjective describing the noun, but the definition is still nounal. Here ‘hitting golf balls’ can only be defining a verb, (unless there are golf balls that are used to hit things’) so can’t be used to define irons.

        (In ‘for casting spells’, yes, someone might guess the answer, but you have missed half the question out and the solver has to put the words in that clearly indicate you are looking for a noun. You want the solver to enjoy your misdirection, but missing out key words is just likely to annoy them. )

        So although nouns must define nouns and verbs must define verbs, adjectives can be disguised as verbs etc. There are also gerunds, where pretty much any -ing word form of a verb can be a noun. eg taming in The Taming of the Shrew. It has The in front of it, so it has to be a noun.

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