EJ's  good clues / questionable clues
Cryptic crossword clues analysed, from the Guardian, Times and other crossword sites. Want to order, commission buy or purchase puzzles?This page used to be called this .


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Some clues I like              
These clues aren't necessarily brilliant: they just took my fancy and are chosen as much for the pleasure of solving them as for cleverness in their construction.
  

     [highlight blank space beneath each clue to see answer/explanation]


Recent additions
Tramp dares to tramp on Cyclops territory!
Balls trapped in underwear ó they split hairs (7)
PEDANTS  [ED(Balls, politician) inside PANTS]   by Tramp (Guardian 25798)

Possibly arm one with a club (6)
MEMBER  [double def]   by Paul (Guardian 25770)
Providing enough for everybody to be buried (5,5)
GOING ROUND  [GO IN GROUND = be buried + nice unusual def. of 'going round']  by Orlando (Guardian 25758
Much older ones
Tramp won't hurry up! (4,5)
LOOK SMART  [double def]   by Pasquale (Guardian 24013)
Scrap . - . . ? (6)
MORSEL  [MORSE (code for)L]   by Paul (Guardian 24018)
Uplift spiritually (8)
LEVITATE  [cyptic definition]   by Rufus (Guardian 23844)
Government enterprise stifles political understanding (7)
ENTENTE [governmENT ENTErprise]  by Cyclops Private Eye 1017
Given large drink and a spliff, journalist can twist your arm (6-7)
 DOUBLE-JOINTED  [DOUBLE + JOINT + ED]   by Paul (Guardian 23835)
Crease up foreign article? That's disgusting! (5) 
LAUGH (LA + UGH!)  by Peebles (Chambers online July '06)
Tail of largest howler monkey (6)  
TERROR  [(larges)T + ERROR]   by Paul (Guardian 23817)
Play 'The Frog' da capo (9)
 GODFATHER   [anag of THE FROG DA] - but is 'capo' = 'godfather' correct?
  Winning clue (by Dave Williams) in June '06 competition set for Crossword Centre
Experimental biology sheds by arctic quarters (5)  
IGLOO   [anag of (b)IOLOG(y)]    by Taupi (Guardian 23767)
Hairline fracture? (7) 
PARTING  [cryptic def.]    by Auster (Guardian 23758)
Look round very fast (6) 
STARVE  [V(ery) inside STARE]   by Chifonie (Guardian 23750)
Cruise, a belligerent sort of missile (8) 
TOMAHAWK   [TOM (Cruise) + A + HAWK]   by Shed (Guardian 23749)
Gathering storm (7) 
FLOUNCE[2 defs: gathering of material/storm (off)]  by Pasquale (Guardian 23745)
Two clues to "CROSS" in the Short-clue Competition at Guardian Talk (April '06)
(i) Caught the Supreme Diana in a bad mood? (5) [C(aught) + (Diana) ROSS]
(ii) Angry ex (5) [double def. 'ex' = letter X]
  (i) was by iamadoughnut  (ii) was by BackWurdz
Married and put in order? Rubbish! (6)
MALIGN [M(arried) + ALIGN] by Cyclops Private Eye 1154
Rock venue? Good place for orchestra to entertain composer (6,3)
GRAVEL PIT (RAVEL inside G(ood) (orchestra) PIT)    by Pasquale (Guardian 23720)
Recently built a cracking shop for ceramics (9) 
STONEWARE [NEW inside (i.e. 'cracking') STORE]  by Taupi (Guardian 23727)
Indulgent, despite a piece of cake vanishing (4-5) 
EASY-GOING (EASY=a piece of cake/GOING)  by Logodaedalus (Guardian 23721)
With difficulty, a nurse gets him to swallow (5,6) 
HOUSEMARTIN [A NURSE HIM TO anag - 'I forgive the surplus 'gets', as the clue reads well and has nice 'swallow' misdirection]  by  Enigmatist (Guardian 23101) .
Goldfish in silent tomb (9) 
MAUSOLEUM (AU +SOLE in MUM)   by  Taupi (Guardian 23134)
Saw dog wearing lead (7) 
PROVERB [ROVER in PB]  by  Chifonie (Guardian 23099)
Time to press for return of former Central American politician (7)
NORIEGA [AGE IRON rev.]   by  Gordius (Guardian 23109)
Fall perhaps for American violin concerto - one of four (6) 
SEASON [2 defs / ref. to Vivaldi]   by   (Alberich Free Crosswords Online #18)
Sculptor trying Job's patience (5, 7) 
JACOB EPSTEIN [anag]  by  Orlando (Guardian 23050)
The Artist Formerly Known As Princess (5) 
RANEE [RA/NEE]    by  Shed (Guardian 23019)
Bats need ears for evening air (8)
SERENADE [NEED EARS anag]    by  Orlando (Guardian 22995)
Not published abroad, as New York Tribune is (10)
UNHERALDED [New York (HERALD) Tribune]   by  Brummie (Guardian 22989)
Self-catering jazz fan eats ready-cooked chicken (7,3)) 
SCAREDY CAT [READY anag. in SC CAT]   by  Smithers (Enigmatist.com site)
Neckline that's naughty located with glee? (11)
DECOLLETAGE LOCATED GLEE anag]  by Columba (Independent Mar 5th)
Bar selling other sandwiches (5)
INGOT (sellING OTher]   by   spurius (Independent Feb 2003)
A bleak prospect : its the middle of Christmas with presents to wrap (9) 
SNOWSCAPE [S/NOWS/CAPE] by Ian Harper, runner-up, Crossword Centre comp.
www.bowler.con (3,5)
HAT TRICK [def= 'www' in cricket scoring] by Trinculo (www.crossword.org)
Saw property that could make a baby cry (7,5)
CUTTING TEETH [2 defs] by  Rover (Guardian 22637)
Senior citizen job centre left to fade away (5)
OLDIE [O/L/DIE](Times No. 21529)
Silent film starís scene at Little Bighorn, as delivered by Spooner (6,6)
BUSTER KEATON ["(K) CUSTER BEATEN"] by  Paul of the Guardian
Nabokovís refusal to restrict rate of progress for Lolita? (7)
NYMPHET [MPH in NYET (Russian 'no'] (by Guardianís Fawley)
Finally, one of my early clues, written (as will become obvious) in the early 1970s!
End of manned space flight? It doesnít bear consideration! (1,4,2,3,5)
A DROP IN THE OCEAN [2 defs]

Clues I don't like

This spin-off feature from my 'clues I like' section began because, sadly, I see as many clues I dislike as ones I admire. It struck me that though it's good to celebrate enjoyable clues, there are probably more lessons to be learned from unsatisfactory examples, especially if they're analysed objectively (and it does present me with an opportunity to let off a bit of steam!).

All clues chosen will come from puzzles published in broadsheets or on main cryptic crosswords sites. Neither the setter nor the newspaper/site will be named. I'm after the unsatisfactory clue, not the author. Also, I'll be criticizing as a solver, not as a setter. I'll do my best not to let my personal prejudices intrude and won't use subjective descriptions like 'bad', 'poor' or 'unsound' - that's for you to decide.


The anonymity rule will be broken for the first example - one of my clues!
Projected style company, Northern Petroleum, swapping right and left (4,4)
 Ans. FILM NOIR   Explanation ofwordplay: FIRM + N + OIL with 'R' and 'L' swapping places.
I think there's nothing wrong with my clue, technically - and if the surface reading is not wonderful, that doesn't really affect the solving. However, my main concern is the combination of an unhelpful definition ('projected style') with rather tricky wordplay. It wouldn't have been so bad had this not been the puzzle's key solution. Several major clues, whose answers were examples of film noir, made reference to this one. Why didn't I see this problem before submission? Probably because I was preoccupied with not making it too easy - I think you'll agree it's hard to define the solution in an unobvious way. At the time, I thought I'd come up with a rather clever definition; now it seems almost impossible to solve 'cold'. I'm afraid this may well have turned what should have been an entertaining themed puzzle into a hard unrewarding slog for many. An example of how one unsatisfactory clue could spoil a whole crossword?

As a PS, I wonder if 'black picture' would have been a better definition? In fact, that might make for a more readable clue on the lines of
 "Mistiness about to drop away from P.A. who painted a black picture (4,4)"
 [FILM + (Pierre Auguste RE) NOIR]  No? Well, never mind.


It makes me boil inside when one is used at the pub (6,5)
 Ans. MOBILE PHONE (arrived at - I think - by: anag. of ME BOIL + PH (= pub) + ONE)
This clue is presumably trying to be an & lit type (i.e. where the whole of the clue is a definition and the whole of the clue forms the wordplay/subsidiary indication). Now I'll admit I don't like & lits much. I prefer a clue that's an entertaining challenge - which & lits usually aren't (more an opportunity for the setter to show off, it seems to me). However, I recognise that many solvers regard & lits very highly and I bow to popular opinion. Even their greatest admirer, though, must surely admit there are too many half-baked & lits around. And, if I've understood the above clue correctly, this falls into the 'half-baked category.

The clue as a definition is fine; the trouble comes when one tries to analyse the wordplay. It seems pretty clear it's made up of three elements: ME BOIL (anag) / PH / ONE. But this raises a few questions:
1) where's the anag. indicator? It can't be 'it makes' because that phrase is used here to mean "mobile phone [it] is made up of [makes] ... the following elements".
2) what's the 'inside' doing there? (Perhaps to indicate that an anag. of BOIL goes inside ME? If so, where's the anag. indicator for 'boil'?)
3) Does 'one is used at the pub' really indicate 'ONE goes after PH'? I don't think so (as Seinfeld used to say).

It seems to me the wordplay fails on several counts - I can only assume this element was made to fit the &lit idea, with no real regard for proper syntax. Surely the point of an &lit is that it combines a good definition with impeccable wordplay? This clue could be partially righted by re-wording the start as:
 'It makes me boil horribly inside ...'
 However, how to finish it (with correct wordplay syntax) without losing the &lit quality? I can't - can you?


Breaks said to be for a drink (8)
 Ans. SCHNAPPS (sounds like 'snaps')
A homonym? Does anyone say 'schnapps' without sounding the 'h'? The wordplay is presumably supposed to be:
 (sounds like) 'breaks' = SCHNAPPS - so what is 'to be' doing in the clue?
With just a bit more thought I'm sure this clue could be greatly improved. How about this?
   'Drink breaks announced by drunk? (8)' - i.e. 'snaps' becomes 'shnapps' in slurred speech.
Occupier of post kept in the dark, which is bad for the eye (4)
 Ans. STYE - this is arrived at, apparently, by removing LIT from STYLITE ('kept in dark' indicating not lit).
A Stylite is a follower of St. Stylites who spent much of his life atop a high pillar/post from which he preached. (I'm grateful to 'lagopus' at Guardian Talk Crosswords for making this connection, which I'd never have made myself in a million years.)

Excellent surface reading and on the face of it a neat clueing idea - but it made me see red. First of all, let me say that I got the answer immediately - from the main definition, "which is bad for the eye" ('stye' being an old crossword chestnut). However, I then spent more time trying to understand this clue than I did on solving the rest of the puzzle. When I did see the explanation, via 'lagopus', far from being delighted by its cleverness, I felt disappointed and cheated.

Firstly, the definition used in the wordplay element: if the solution had been STYLITE then "occupier of post" would have been a fair and rather neat bit of misdirection (though something like "preacher occupying post" would be fairer, given that this is hardly a well-known word). I might then have arrived at STYLITE via the wordplay and dredged up the pole-occupying connection from the back of my mind (or checked in a reference book). However, as a definition of a word from which a subtraction must be made to arrive at the right solution, it is far too vague.
Then there's the wordplay, "kept in the dark" = "not lit" - i.e. remove LIT. Well, to me, this is taking indirectness one step too far! I think this bit could have been worded something like "not benefiting from light" - though even this is still too hard in my book. Much better would have been "not lit".

For me, this clue manages to combine two most unsatisfying features: it was too easy to solve in the first place, while at the same time being virtually impossible to explain. In trying to be too clever-clever, the clue fails in its duty to the solver! I offer the following as an alternative (though I don't think I'd go for the STY(LIT)E device myself, as a setter):
 Preacher from pillar, if not lit, is an annoyance to the observer (4) - not brilliant but much fairer, I suggest.


Professed to make Chubby weigh less (5)
 Ans. OVERT - arrived at, presumably by removing WEIGH from OVER(weigh)T
A nice clueing idea which reads well. However, I can't see any way in which 'weigh less' signifies to the solver that 'weigh' is to be removed from 'overweight'. For the wordplay to work, the clue needs to be "Professed to make Chubby less weigh" (or "weigh-less"), which of course ruins the surface reading.

Admittedly, this is not a very difficult clue to solve and I quickly got the answer. However, my hackles rose at the 'weigh less', not because it breaks some pedantic rule of 'Ximenes' or any other 'authority' but because the syntax of the wordplay is just plain wrong. As a solver, I feel cheated when this sort of thing happens (if there's one 'rule' I think should never be broken it's that technically sound, fair wordplay must take precedence over the surface reading). As it is, I come across this trangression more and more, even in the clues of highly-regarded setters. What's worse, it often seems to arise from mere carelessness or laziness, as many such clues need only a slight adjustment to suit both the wordplay and the surface. True, in this example there's no easy remedy and, as a setter, I'd probably abandon the 'weigh less' idea.*

Does it matter? Well, it certainly would if the solution were an uncommon/obscure word and the solver needed all the help going but I think it matters for all clues. As a solver, I don't want to be told, in effect, "well, you get the rough idea". Sloppiness in clue-setting must not be allowed to prevail! A clue's wordplay should provide precise instructions to the solver and the real art of the setter is to stick to this scrupulously while simultaneously putting up a smokescreen.

* All I can think of as an alternative is:   'Public "Chubby Weigh-off" (5)'
 but some might object to the capital 'W' and the hyphen - not to mention the quotation marks!


A fish out of water returned Pitt (4) Ans.BRAD
  PLEASE TELL ME I'M WRONG, but I think this is arrived at by:
DA(R)B reversed [R=river=water?]
If I am right, then the clue requires us to:
 1) Guess a word for fish ('DAB') and reverse it - that's perfectly OK;
 2) Work out that water = 'river' which abbreviates to 'r' (an 'indirect abbreviation', you might say!)
 3) Realise that 'out of' = 'outside of' (no doubt it can be so used - but by whom other than a crossword setter?)
 4) Realise that the clue's indefinite article is to be totally ignored. (Yes, setters often stick in a gratuitous 'a' - but it's not essential for the surface reading here.)

I think the clue would be fairer to solvers as:
  "Fish out of water finally returned Pitt (4)" [the 'r' being the end of 'water']  - however, this still has the (unsporting, I believe) "out of". My suggestion is less snappy than the original but doesn't alter the surface meaning (which, incidentally, I think is not as sound as it might first appear).
Of course, the most likely way this clue would be cracked is by guessing Pitt=BRAD and then 'reverse-solving' - the only way it could be solved in my opinion (so, poor souls unable to guess 'Brad' would have no chance). By 'reverse-solving' I mean deciding what the answer is and trying to verify it by unravelling the wordplay - I imagine in this case most solvers would spot the reversal of 'DAB' and leave it at that.

If it's agreed that 2) and 3) above are at the very least questionable clueing devices, can they nevertheless be justified? Your view might well be coloured by knowing who the setter was - but I'm not going to say. Witty audacity by a master setter designed to surprise and amuse the solver? Quite unfair liberty-taking by a lesser setter, that's just a clumsy excuse to use the "fish out of water" phrase and so appear smart? What do you think?

[I have a feeling that having written all this, I'm going to be made a fool of by someone informing me that the wordplay is actually 'DARB' reversed, a 'darb' being a rare Australian fish able to survive for long periods when its river dries up!]


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 Clues I DON'T like