There are a number of things involved in setting cryptic crosswords that only setters have to think about. As a solver, you don’t see what’s been changed: clues I’ve tinkered with; answers that were too hard (or slow) to clue; clue lengths that cause overrun on a newspaper page and lots more. If a crossword is written all in one hit, there’s a good chance most clues and the crossword as a whole will hang together fairly well as everything is fresh in my mind – that is, I know what I’ve done and how it fits with all the other clues. Even so, there are a number of things I check specifically before letting it loose on solvers. If there are some unusual words, how many are there and do they intersect? How many anagrams are there, full and partial? How many of each of the major devices are there, and are adjustments needed? Are any indicators duplicated or similiar, and do I need to change them? Are there any clues that I’m not 100% happy with and do I need to fix them up? For a large cryptic like the holiday specials I do for the Australian Financial Review, I write down a list of all indicators and abbreviations used when I’ve finished writing the clues (which can take a few days) so I can check for duplication. With 70 clues it’s easy to forget exactly what’s been used, especially as I tend to use what works with the wording in the clues.
There are no real rules about percentages of different clue types in a cryptic crossword, but two types, sounds-like and hidden, tend to appear much less frequently than the rest. For me, in a regular 15×15 cryptic crossword, it’s a maximum of two of each, but sometimes it’s three hiddens and no sounds-like, just depends on how good I think the clues are. One thing I need to check is repeated wordplay devices, like abbreviations, or using a similiar synonym swap in two different clues. It often happens that the same letter sequence or (small) word crops up in the one crossword, so a decision has to be made on whether to repeat or find another way. In most cases the clue dictates as the wordplay will work only one way. There’s only one word-for-letter substitution that I’m happy to repeat and that’s ONE = I, for everything else I look elsewhere. In The Stickler Weekly 202 these three clues have something in common: (can you see what it is?)
8ac Succeed with little effort when in bed (5)
28ac Guys like breaking golf gear (6)
2dn Gradually introduce phone, for instance, one used by the Germans (5,2)
They all use a synonym for AS in the wordplay (WHEN, LIKE and FOR INSTANCE)
When writing the crossword I knew I’d used AS more than once and had to ensure I didn’t repeat myself. In such circumstances I’m likely to change one or more completely, but in the absence of better replacements, a change in substitution is good enough.