The views expressed in this puzzle…   3 comments

Here’s another invitation to you to partake in friendly debate – all of your comments are welcome. I’ve chosen it because of comments made about a Guardian puzzle in which many clues appeared to be making political comment.

The question is this: Should setters be allowed to word clues in such a way that what comes across is personal opinion?

For the record, here’s my take on it. They don’t.

This is me talking from the personal experience of writing clues. In front of me is an answer, and my task is to find a workable definition which fits in with whatever wordplay components I can find, the end product being something which I hope will read smoothly and will create a convincing story. And that is precisely the point; I’m writing a story. As I begin to uncover the pieces which will eventually fit together, the story begins to write itself and, beyond a certain stage of writing, I am merely seeking to adhere to it as it unfolds. 

There’s a huge difference between creating a clue which seems to present an opinion and one which is simply offensive. In the UK at least we live in a democracy to which freedom of speech is central; are cryptic crossword setters somehow excluded from this? If so, on whose say-so is that? And if it is the case, it’s particularly surprising because cryptic clues are as much invention as the much longer stories we call novels. However extreme the views of characters in novels, we don’t turn round and accuse their authors of using the medium as some sort of soapbox do we? We accept that we’re reading the views of fictitious characters. 

For the setter it’s a case of an unexpected answer definition here, a neatly apposite wordplay element there, and a few further tweaks to create something designed solely to cause the solver to do some head-scratching. The whole point of a cryptic clue is to mislead, not to present the truth.


Posted October 15, 2010 by Anax in Newsification

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3 responses to “The views expressed in this puzzle…

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  1. You choose great topics for your debates, Anax.

    Here’s what I think: A clue that reflects the setter’s personal opinion (say an unflattering one about a celebrity or a political party) is a double-edged sword – if it agrees with the solver’s own opinion, it becomes a huge hit. If not, it can put the solver off.

    In general I enjoy clues that express opinions, I find that such clues are better remembered, more quotable. Still, it is hard to say what may or may not be offensive to some solvers. A solver with a strong political ideology might find a clue’s opposing philosophy distasteful. The setter has to just be prepared for that reaction, I guess.

    Of course, cryptic clues and novels differ in one important way: cryptic clues must eventually lead to one answer unambiguously. If the setter’s personal opinion gets into definitions, that can become problematic. ‘Best president ever’ would be a questionable definition for any president, though it is fine on the surface.

  2. Nice topic. If you want an honest answer, I believe any crossword setter can set any clue he or she wishes, political or not. The solver’s recourse if he/she doesn’t like them is to go elsewhere. The only major crime a setter can commit imho is that of technical incorrectness, though there are also misdemeanours such as over use of cliches etc.

    Having said that, the moment I read your entry my mind immediately flew to the important case of the Bishop of Bowl, General Glue and others vs Haddock, in which Mr Albert Haddock is accused of defamation via the setting of crossword clues (“Bibulous bishop (4),” “That clever young drama critic with the toupee (11)” etc). This is one of the wonderful Misleading Cases of the late AP Herbert. Looking on the internet for a reference to cite, in case some ignorant readers were unfamiliar with Mr Haddock, I found this: .. from which we see that in fact a crossword setter was REALLY convicted (unlike mr Haddock, who got the jury to agree that whover filled in the grid was committing the libel) of defamation in 2005.. funny old world, eh?

  3. Overtly political clues would only really be an issue if the setter kept doing it, fun anagrams ala virginia bottomley=I’m an evil tory bigot or Norman Lamont=Not a normal man are just fine cluing otherwise as you say Anax, you’re just telling a story albeit concise as possible. Having an agenda however would probably stop most crossword editors from publishing I suspect to prevent being summoned by The Editor…

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