Some Obsevations on Cryptics
[an excerpt from his article “Cryptic Thoughts”]
The appeal of a good cryptic crossword stems from the rich, multidimensional web of word relationships and connections. This web has three components: the clues, the diagram, and the puzzle’s gimmick (or theme). There is a lot of redundancy here: the clues provide two ways to get the answer, the diagram offers one-half or more checked letters, and the gimmick often provides additional information about some answers.
Cryptics could be too easy, given this wealth of overlapping information. A good puzzle should seem nearly impossible at first, but provide ways to progress that make the solution possible. At first, only some of the web is visible. As the solver advances, each additional part revealed adds to the total available information. The art of construction is to find ways to hinder the solver’s progress without making it impossible. There are three parts to this art:
Fairness requires balance. Square-dealing principles and diagram standards help provide a framework for construction. If some information is taken away by the gimmick, more information has to be provided elsewhere. For example, if some words are unclued, information is taken away; but if those words are all related by a common theme, information is given back. If some clues are eccentric, others should be familiar; if an answer is obscure, its clue should not be.
I would like to suggest that the following clueing rule is the only one we need: the clue must read grammatically and correctly, at both surface and cryptic levels. This is the essence of “square dealing.”