Cryptic Standards

Cryptics can be a controversial beast. After busting one’s brain for a solution, every cryptic solver is quick to cry bloody murder should the fine line between what is considered fair and what is considered disgustingly immoral be crossed.

At the Puzzle Section, we want to be clear, so here we lay out the editorial principles we follow in the construction of our cryptics:

The Basics

  • At a minimum, every second letter in a crossword’s grid must have a cross clue.
  • Unless otherwise marked, we use Australian (which is essentially British) spelling.
  • Unless otherwise marked, aural clues are constructed for the urban east-coast Australian accent, i.e. the general accent spoken through Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
  • All indirect anagrams are out, which means anagram fodder must be from words in the clue and can’t be based on, for instance, a synonym. So talk poor pay for YAP is fine, but talk poor salary is not.
  • Although indirect anagrams are out, we accept bleedingly obvious abbreviations in anagrams, i.e. keen five aid poorly for AVID is fine by us.
  • Although it’s not an exhaustive list, these are the abbreviations and cryptic shorthands we accept.
  • We accept cryptic definitions — those clues where there is no wordplay, just a single cryptic joke. But we accept only good ones, and only sparingly.
  • The general can refer to the specific, but not vice versa without some kind of indication. So mountain to mean ETNA is fine, but Etna alone to mean MOUNTAIN is not. Etna, say or Etna, for example to mean MOUNTAIN is, however, acceptable.
  • We allow individual words to be broken down into components, but sparingly, and only if the clue’s phrasing gains greatly from such devices. So you might find candy to mean C and Y or bank to mean remove K or backstab to mean BATS, but not in all crosswords, and certainly not more than once or twice in the same crossword, and absolutely not if the clue’s phrasing is underwhelming.
  • We lean towards the libertarian rather than the Ximenean.

Clue-Length Marking – The Finer Points

  • We distinguish between initialisms and acronyms when we mark clue length. If an abbreviation is pronounced as individual letters, it’s considered an initialism that will have its letters marked out individually with full stops, which means FBI is (1.1.1.) in length and RSVP (1.1.1.1). If, on the other hand, an abbreviation is pronounced as a word, it’s an acronym and only the full length of the acronym will get marked out, which means NATO is (4) in length and NASA (4).
  • The apostrophe shall always be marked in the clue length, except if it’s a possessive apostrophe. So WHAT’S UP is marked (3’1,2) while NEW YEAR’S DAY is (3,5,3).

Our Predilections

  • We have a thing for foreign languages, so a wider array of foreign words pass muster in our crosswords. French, Italian, Spanish and German with can be AVEC, CON, CON and MIT without a problem.
  • We’re Melbournians, so that means we’re more likely to accept clues related to AFL, cricket, netball and tennis; references to any form of rugby, soccer, gridiron, ice hockey and baseball will be more basic; and, we seek to rectify the unfairly poor representation basketball has in the cryptic.
  • We love a good Spoonerism, but never more than one or two in a single crossword.