Last week I sang the praises of the Crossword Tournament From Your Couch event, and rightfully so. The entire enterprise was delightful, and the puzzles were tricky and engaging in equal measure.
But I neglected to give the cluing their proper due, as many of the clever themes in CTFYC were bolstered by great cluing (and, occasionally, truly diabolical cluing).
What do I mean by that? Well, let’s look at a clue from the third tournament puzzle, Patrick Blindauer’s “Look Up.” This puzzle featured a clue that had numerous solvers asking for help upon returning to the livestream chat after solving.
The clue? “Response to teens, perhaps?”
The answer? BRR.
I confess, this one had me flummoxed as well. My initial answer was BRO, but that just didn’t seem to work with the crossings in that lower-left corner. Trusting the down entries more than this one, I left BRR in without getting the clue.
Of course, once I no longer had a timer lurking in my forebrain and a few seconds to think, I got the wordplay for “teens” — think temperature and not age — and the clue made total sense.
But given the response of some of the other solvers, I suspect this was the slipperiest clue of the entire tournament.
Which should come as no surprise given Blindauer’s pedigree as a constructor. That puzzle alone had a few more clever clues, including “Caught stealing, e.g.” for OUT and the much saltier “Smothers brother who isn’t a dick” for TOM.
As you can tell, I love a clue with some misdirection to it.
Robyn Weintraub’s warm-up puzzle “Get the Pillows Ready” had some notable examples. If you saw “Took the wrong way?” would you come up with STOLE? She clued TEETH with “Location of some crowns” and spruced up a classic crossword entry, NTH, with the clue “Advanced degree for a mathematician?”
Great stuff all around.
But it’s not just tricky clues that pique my interest. The other warm-up puzzle, “Put Your Feet Up,” constructed by Rachel Fabi, had a few different styles of clue that caught my eye.
For instance, you can offer multiple clues or multiple examples for the same clue, which can lead to enjoyable wordplay. The clue “Hot thing to drink or spill” for TEA mixes a classic clue with a more updated, slangy use, making for a more interesting clue overall.
I’m also a sucker for a really wordy clue with personality, and Rachel didn’t disappoint. “Joke type that becomes a cellist if you repeat its first two letters instead of its last two” is an incredibly wordy (and very funny) way to clue the unusual entry YO MAMA.
The clues for OUT, NTH, and TEA are particularly great because those words appear in crosswords ALL THE TIME, and so at some point, you inevitably feel like you’ve seen every possible clue a dozen times over. So when somebody can find a new wrinkle or breathe new life into a tired entry, you rejoice.
Joel Fagliano’s clue “Thing that nobody ever wins” for TIE and “Manual’s intended reader” for USER from Laura Braunstein and Jesse Lansner’s tournament puzzle also fit the bill. I don’t think I’ve encountered either clue before.
[Wait, not that sort of clue…]
And here’s one more before I wrap this post up. Naturally, I’m returning to my favorite cluing style, misdirection, this time courtesy of Byron Walden from the CTFYC finals.
The clue: “Wanders around LAX?”
The answer: TSA
I read the clue three times before I got it, the perfect a-ha moment sort of clue.
What are some of your favorite clues, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
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