Most of the guff I’ve written about crossword setting has mentioned that some answers force themselves into the grid because of checking letters, and that sometimes the hardest part is writing clues for these.
It usually is. For other answers, even if I haven’t fully formulated their clues I’ve had a rough idea about the approach – that first stage has been the open sesame for placing the answer in the grid.
Put it this way; generally, the clues that take the longest to write are for answers that locked themselves in without choice. So it’s fantastic when the opposite happens.
Because the puzzle in question will be a live prize crossword in a few weeks I can’t give details, but there was only one common word answer that would fit a particular slot. To be fair it didn’t worry me too much as it offered a very straightforward wordplay breakdown – it’s just that I didn’t have the luxury, on placing it in the grid, of already having an idea of how the components would be expressed.
I should just pause a moment here to say that elsewhere I had two or three “Oh yes, that’ll do nicely” clues which I hoped would carry the puzzle on the back of less spectacular stuff.
And now I was faced with this (not far from final) clue, which looked like comprising definition and two wordplay components. The result – after almost no time at all – was fits of giggles when a 3-word clue covered everything but presented a phrase that had proper stand-alone quality. Not a dictionary phrase, but… well, a name.
That’s the joy of setting – the discovery of obvious yet jaw-dropping things, all thanks to this wonderful English language and its globally imported synonyms, slang and odd etymologies.