I can’t remember how many times CROSSWORD or CROSSWORDS has appeared as an answer word choice during my history of completing the grid-filling process. It’s a lot. You’d think setters would leap at the chance to include such recursive terms as it’s what the whole business is about. It turns out that, for me, these words are normally an automatic miss, as they fall into the “too-hard-to-clue-again” basket. “For me” because my preference for clueing without using building blocks of answer words means there are very limited options. If you aren’t me or an American setter, then it could be just a matter of finding synonyms for “CROSS” and “WORD/S” and joining them together. When I look back over my clues for CROSSWORD/S, I find I’ve written four, three of which were pretty average cryptic definitions (obviously last resort options) and the other one going against my philosophy by sticking synonyms for CROSS and WORDS together (again, a last resort for me). The last time any of these clues appeared in a Stickler or AFR crossword was 2004! Since then I’ve simply avoided these words. Why? Take CROSSWORDS, for example. Ten letters with just two vowels which are the same. How can you clue this word without using CROSS and WORDS?
That was my dilemma when CROSSWORDS appeared during the grid-filling process of Stickler Weekly 227. I almost dismissed it out of hand (again), but something told me to take another look. CROS(S) SWORDS has been done to death and there’s nothing else obvious to work with. Even if a could find something, what are the odds I can join it seamlessly with a definition? I looked in and out and spotted CORDS lurking, but ROSSW on the inside seemed a lost cause. How many ROSS Ws were there that international audiences might know? I couldn’t think of any. Then I spotted ROW outside SS which linked in some way with CORDS. Now it’s getting complicated, with a double containment clue needed at the very least – is this too much for solvers? I still had a problem though – SS – how to clue that so it works inside ROW and CORDS.
The Chambers Dictionary has a number of abbreviations listed that aren’t commonly used in the real world but seem acceptable in crosswords. I no longer use these (they have to be relatively common for me to use), but they still pop into my mind when I’m clueing. In this case S made me think of square, and from there “empty squares” was born. All of a sudden I could see the description of a crossword appearing in my clue and I got momentarily excited – a &lit for CROSSWORD or CROSSWORDS must surely be some kind of holy grail? I tinkered with the wordplay and ended up with what a believe is a loose description of the answer, certainly not strong enough to leave the definition off – there’s nothing to indicate that a plural answer is needed. Indeed, as it stood (the wordplay, without the definition) it could describe a crossword, but of course “lines” is necessary to make it work and that comes from the plural CORDS.
So there you go, a word I didn’t want to clue at all almost turned into something special – or did it? There’s really no “almost” in cryptic clueing: it either says what it means, or it doesn’t.
Example: A indeed (?) could mean to insert A inside deed.