The Stickler Weekly Insights 195 – It’s Not That Simple

I think it’s just about impossible to set well-written cryptic crosswords that are easy to solve. The very nature of good cryptic crossword clues thwarts any attempt to circumvent the basic premise of disguise. That is, if a clue is well-written, it will have elements that make it impossible to breeze through it. Seamless joining of definition and wordplay will make the solver think twice every time; a definition that fits in with tone of the wordplay will make it hard to pin down, and clever use of word forms (adjectives, nouns, verbs etc) will throw a solver off the scent. Using these techniques when writing clues over the last 20 years has set my mind in such a way that toning it down or simplifying things is almost impossible for me. In fact, any efforts to do so usually end up with poor clues: ones that are so obviously not my style and ones that I would generally criticise if done by other people. Recently I had a go at doing some sample two-speed cryptics, you know the ones: two sets of clues, one cryptic, one straight, both with the same answers. The grids are smaller than usual and the words simpler as a two-speed crossword is generally seen as a training crossword, preparing solvers for the bigtime 15x15s. I failed miserably as even my clues for short words had enough twists to make them non-trivial. Any effort to simplify these clues resulted in clues I wasn’t able to bring myself to submit.
There are, of course, simple cryptic clue types, notably hiddens and possibly full anagrams. You’ll find a predominance of these in some cryptics often written in such a way that there’s no doubt what’s going on. Definitions are obvious; differentiation between definition and wordplay clear and wordplay that resolves first time every time. Simple, but not well-written, as no good cryptic clue, by definition, should be simple.

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2 Responses to The Stickler Weekly Insights 195 – It’s Not That Simple

  1. Richard Sternes says:

    Can confirm I found those two-way X-Words handy as a beginner, way back when David.
    Didn’t take long to outgrow them though & to be seeking something more challenging.
    Along came “The Boxer” – YAY!!!
    Major irritant I used to find with ‘straight’ X-Words, was setters so bereft of ideas that they had to resort to what I called Girl’s Name/Boy’s Name syndrome. Why bother.

  2. Arthur Maynard says:

    Me too. Towards the end, I finalised the daily news two way over my morning cup of tea – two passes each way.

    That said, I find my beginners and novices can manage them with a degree of success. Once they overcome their fear of the challenges of the “big ones” the vocabulary improves, and they have a greater sense of achievement.

    This week I took 3 consecutive guardians with me Shed, Philistine and Chifone. Now that was a challenge which I am still trying to overcome. The principles are the same, but they have individual approaches, vocabularies and word skills.