If you saw the clue “poultry sum,” would you deduce the answer was “CHICKEN FEED?” What about the clue “Spanish root word?” Would you write “OLE” in the grid?
Clever cluing is the lifeblood of great crosswords. No matter how crafty a given puzzle’s theme, no matter how challenging or playful the entry words, crosswords live and die on their clues. And there’s a real art to creating a great clue.
I have a few clues in my personal files that I’m pretty proud of, ones that employ wordplay or pop culture references in an interesting way.
In the past, I’ve used “Locksmith?” for “HAIRDRESSER,” and I’ve previously clued the entry “TELL-ALL” as “Book of revelations?” Both of them employ just enough wordplay to appease my inner pun-loving wordnerd.
With that spirit in mind, I reached out to a few of my fellow puzzlers and asked them to contribute some of their favorite clues, either that they’ve created or that they’ve seen in other puzzles.
Los Angeles Times Crossword contributor Patti Varol wrote one of my all-time favorite clues — “Baa nana?” for “EWE” — so I was eager to see which clues she was most proud of.
She offered “In a glass by itself” for “NEAT,” which is great, as well as the playful “‘Egads,’ like, way updated” for “OMG.”
Patti also recommended a clue for “SPELLS” from the August edition of the Crosswords Club: “Breaks down in English class?”
New York Times Crossword contributor Ian Livengood also suggested a fellow puzzler’s work, stating that Jeremy Horwitz delivered “Bum rap?” as a dynamite clue for “BABY GOT BACK” in a Times puzzle.
LA Times Daily Crossword editor Rich Norris provided a cagey clue for “MOMENT”: “Second cousin?”
Several puzzlers from Penny Press were happy to lend some of their favorite clues as well.
Crossword guru Eileen Saunders plucked a few choice ones from her Rolodex for us, including “Mouse sound?” for “CLICK,” “Fir coat” for “BARK,” “Support system?” for “BRA,” and “Flip one’s lid” for “BLINK.”
(Patti also recommended one of Eileen’s clues, citing “Spot remover” for “DOGCATCHER,” echoing Eileen’s inclusion of “Labrador retriever?” for “DOGWARDEN” as one of her favorites.)
Puzzle editor Keith Yarbrough offered up some nimble wordplay as well, including “Feat of Klee” for “ART,” “Bean dip” for “NOD,” “Bach’s lunch” for “WURST,” “Kid, napped” for “SUEDE,” and “Thyme and thyme again” for “HERBS”.
All of these clues show the ingenuity, intelligence, and whimsy that are inherent to truly fun and engaging puzzlemaking, and I’d like to thank my fellow puzzlers for sharing some of their best with us today. Keep up the great work!