Someone recently asked me about my favorite crossword clue, and after mentioning four or five off the top of my head, I cut myself off and tried to explain that it’s impossible for me to pick one.
So many clues are out there that surprised me, or outwitted me, or made me laugh, or made me think in an unexpected way. I could never narrow it down..
Regular readers who have seen my reviews of various crossword tournament puzzles will recall I like to highlight favorite clues.
I actually keep track of clues from constructors as I solve various crosswords. Not only are they often witty, hilarious, and/or impressive, but they inspire me as a puzzler to always try to find entertaining, engaging new angles for these crucial crossword elements.
So today, I’d like to pull some favorites from my personal clue vault and give them some time in the spotlight.
(I’m crediting the constructor listed on the byline for each clue. These clues may have been created elsewhere and reused, created by the constructor, or changed by an editor, I have no way of knowing. So I’m just doing my best to give credit where credit is due.)
One of the most engaging aspects of crossword cluing is how constructors can accomplish so much with just a few words.
I love a good misdirection clue, because it not only has a straightforward meaning that sends you one way, but it has a true secondary meaning that usually only emerges once you’ve considered the clue for a bit.
The word ANTE lends itself to this sort of cluing — particularly given the meaning of “house” with regards to casinos and cards — and I think Janie Smulyan’s “House payments” clue was the best one I’ve seen in a while.
Similarly, Peter Gordon is a whiz at making a few words speak volumes, and his clue “Foot in ‘the door'” made my mind go in a few directions before you finally land on IAMB.
Of course, it’s not just concise phrasing that lends itself to wordplay. Patti Varol led solvers down a delightful garden path with the clue “They may be called on account of rain,” which cleverly clues the answer CABS.
You can also use multiple examples to mislead solvers. Neville Fogarty accomplished this with the clue “Org. with Magic and Wizards,” which no doubt has people pondering Hogwarts or the Ministry of Magic before realizing the answer is NBA.
Patrick Berry offered another terrific example with the clue “Time or Money,” where the capitalization is the only hint to the true answer, MAG.
Another genre of cluing that doesn’t get enough love is trivia cluing. I love learning new things, and crosswords don’t just teach you peculiarities of language like variant spellings. They also teach you the names of European rivers, organizational abbreviations, and even silent film stars.
And when a clue offers some trivia I didn’t know, that’s just a solving bonus.
Aimee Lucido is very good at keeping her trivia clues topical, and she’s previously used “127 congresspeople, as of last month” for WOMEN. In a similar vein, she taught a little bit of gender history with the clue “All the students at Dartmouth, until 1972” for MEN.
Evan Birnholz offered some musical information with the clue “1986 #1 hit ‘On My Own,’ e.g., ironically,” slyly cluing the answer word DUET.
Paolo Pasco snuck this very peculiar nugget of information into one of his crosswords, explaining that “Coconut oil has one of 4.” This clue is almost impenetrable until you realize the answer is SPF. (Was this covered in an episode of Gilligan’s Island or Survivor or something?)
[Image courtesy of Collider.]
Howard Jones managed to incorporate both trivia and an act of misdirection with the clue “This might begin with E,” deftly making it hard to see the answer EYETEST.
Craig Mazan and Jeff Chan presented some movie trivia with the clue “Word cried 15 times in a row by Meg Ryan in ‘When Harry Met Sally...'” Anyone who has seen the film instantly recognizes the answer here: YES. But the thought of the constructors actually counting for this clue tickles me greatly.
As we pointed out above, multiple examples can really enhance a clue, and that counts in trivia clues as well. Peter Gordon played with capitalization with the clue “Santa Fe and Tucson, e.g.” for the answer SUV. Terrific misdirect here.
Bryan Betancur, meanwhile, drew a nice character parallel with the clue “Pixar hero or Verne antihero” for the answer NEMO.
[Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar.]
I know some crossword outlets aren’t fans of using clues that specifically reference each other — “With 21-Across, name of Charlie Chaplin film,” for instance — but other publishers are completely fine with this style of cluing.
And naturally, that allows constructors to have some fun making connections and using clues to reference each other.
Matt Gaffney had two clues that offered information on each other with the pairing “33-Across, in a lab” and “30-Across, on the kitchen table,” which clued NACL and SALT respectively.
Peter Gordon had a doozy of a clue in a themeless puzzle with HARRY ANGSTROM as an answer, where he tied that entry into a clue with a mathematical twist.
The clue “Film character whose last name is roughly 95 septillion times longer than 23-Across’s?” for BUZZ LIGHTYEAR is a stroke of genius. Having two characters with units of size/distance for names really works here, and the science/math nerd in me thoroughly enjoyed.
Finally, a trick I don’t see too often — but very much appreciate — is a clue that references ITSELF in order to play with the solver’s expectations.
Rebecca Falcon nailed this idea with her clue for 46-Across: “With 46-Across, comforting words.” The answer? THERE.
Gotta love it.
What are some of your favorite crossword clues, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
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