Whimsical Indicators

Whimsical indicators tell the solver to perform a manipulation which cannot be justified simply by reference to the dictionary. So in the clue “Suppress detailed report (3)” the last letter in BANG must be removed, producing BAN. While the verb ‘tail’ can mean ‘to provide with a tail’, there is no such word as ‘detail’ in the sense of ‘to remove the tail from’. However, this construction is frequently seen, at least in blocked crosswords.

Some of these indicators strike me as more appealing than others, and I have graded the entries in the list from category 1 (I would consider using these myself) to category 3 (very questionable indeed). The inclusion of a question mark (or something along the lines of ‘perhaps’) in a clue can help to point the solver in the right direction.

Note that there is also scope for similar whimsy in definitions, eg ‘unlocked’ or ‘distressed’ for BALD. It’s probably fair to say that whimsical definitions are generally viewed more favourably than their counterparts in wordplay.

I have not included words which need to be arbitrarily split in order to provide the instruction, eg ‘cleaving’ to indicate the removal of C or ‘lout’ for the omission of L; these fall into a separate category and their use in cryptic crosswords has no linguistic basis.

The list below can be sorted alphabetically on Indicator, in either ascending (default) or descending sequence. The Search box allows full and partial searching of the first column in the list.

Date last modified: 27/11/23
Nature of change: Baseline date established

childlessRemoval of CH'without children'1
debasedRemoval of E2
decentRemoval of C3
defacedRemoval of first letter1
definedRemoval of F2
degaussedRemoval of G2
denotedRemoval of N2
departedRemoval of PT2
detailedRemoval of last letter'tail' = 'to provide with a tail'1
disclosedRemoval of CLO2
disclosedRemoval of last letter2
discontentedFirst and last letter selection2
discoveredRemoval of first and last lettersobsolete meaning = 'uncovered'1
discreditedRemoval of CR2
disfiguredRemoval of FIG2
disjointedRemoval of J2
extra-specialContaining S (or SP)2
extraordinaryContaining O2
footlooseRemoval of F3
listlessRemoval of first and last letters2
powerlessRemoval of P'deprived of power'1
soft-heartedInsertion of P in middle1
stonelessRemoval of ST1
sunlessRemoval of S1
timelessRemoval of T'independent of time'1
unansweredRemoval of A (or ANS)2
uncrownedRemoval of first letter1
undatedRemoval of D2
unearthedRemoval of E2
unfathomedRemoval of F2
unfocusedRemoval of middle letter2
unleadedRemoval of first letter3
unlinedRemoval of L2
unlistedRemoval of first and last letters3
unmarkedRemoval of M2
unnamedRemoval of N2
unnumberedRemoval of N2
unshippedRemoval of SS2
untrainedRemoval of last letter2
upendedReversal of last two letters (down clue)2
weightlessRemoval of W1

4 Responses

  1. Tim Coates says:

    If discontented can be a selection of the first and last letters, can contented mean a selection of the contents of a word?

    • Doctor Clue says:

      That question is between you and your conscience! With ‘discontented’, I think one could argue that there are analogous participles which do indeed carry the sense of something concrete having been removed, eg ‘disgowned’ and ‘dishoused’. I can’t come up with anything analogous to ‘contented’ that would have a parallel meaning to the one required; I suspect if one were to accept ‘contented’ to mean ‘having had some of the contents extracted’, one would also have to accept, say, ‘parted’ (fancifully, ‘having had a part extracted’).

      Incidentally, I have seen ‘content’ used as a selection indicator in clues. I think this is an error – ‘contents’ is the term for something contained in entirety, whereas ‘content’ refers to a component – the contents of a book are quite different from the content of a book (“Lady Chatterley’s Lover has adult content”).

      Your question has also prompted me to reconsider ‘disheartened’, which appears in the list of first/last letter selection indicators, but is a negative of ‘hearten’ and could only be used to describe the figurative removal of ‘heart’ (not ‘a heart’). It could easily find itself relegated to the whimsical list. At the same time, I think ‘downhearted’ should be added to the whimsical list as an instruction to move the central letter of a ‘down’ solution downwards.

  2. Monk says:

    Would ‘replaced’, cryptically read as re-placed(=repositioned), merit inclusion in this list; probably as a ‘2’? I look forward to a de-tailed response 😉

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Thank you for that.

      Yes, absolutely. I think ‘reposed’ and ‘reserved’ also should be there. An interesting one is ‘represented’, which currently is in the main anagram indicator list, but should (I feel) appear there with a hyphen and here without – even OED admits that its examples without the hyphen are ‘somewhat doubtful’.

      As I was browsing through possible ‘re-‘ words, I also wondered about ‘repaired’ – would ‘Lena repaired section of motorway’ work for LANE? It might require a new ‘4’ category of its own!

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