You probably think that, as solvers, your job is to understand my thought processes so you can unravel the 30-odd puzzles I give you in each crossword. Did you know much of what I present to you is actually shaped by you? That’s right, I’m trying to get a handle on how my solvers collectively think so I can create better croswords. My crosswords have changed quite a bit from when I started: some changes have come from solving other crosswords and observing feedback (of solvers generally – what they like and don’t like), but most have come directly as a result of comments made by solvers of my crosswords. After 20 years of driving up this two-way street, I like to think that I have changed to make solving less stressful, more homely, and you have learnt enough to grasp my cryptic philosophy.
Sometimes, however, it’s hard for me to understand, with all that’s been before, and the experience most of you have, how you end up where you do. Let’s look at 6-across in The Stickler Weekly 218: A part of Australia – one loyal to the Queen (3) – A + NT (Northern Territory). A straightforward two-part cryptic clue with a punny definition. At no time did I consider the offered alternative answer of ACT, because it doesn’t fit at all with my style. Let me explain: if ACT is the answer, what is the definition? If the whole thing is the definition, that would make it a pretty rotten cryptic definition, wouldn’t it? Have you ever seen a Stickler clue with no cryptic element? The cryptic definitions I do write (about 1 in 300 clues) have to have disguise somewhere in there, a good play on words, but this clue (if ACT is the answer) had nothing. Thankfully the answer didn’t sit right with some, and the correct answer was found. I’m sure “if it doesn’t seem right, then it probably isn’t” is familiar to you – I’ve said it multiple times in this blog – and it’s nearly always true.
Some time back I challenged you to try and create an &lit from a clue that I toyed with but decided it was too hard to get right. The Stickler Weekly 218 also has a clue, 3-down: A defensive attitude – people inside get it easily mixed up (6,8), that I looked at long and hard, but couldn’t quite crack as an &lit. The structure of the wordplay gives a sense of the answer (especially if you think of someone locked up inside jail), but can you remove the definition, and rejig the wordplay to make it an &lit clue?