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.