Sunday, 30 January 2011

Crossword Time: Anagrams

For the benefit of Mr. 5000, there will be a show tonight on crossword theory. Though the gentleman (and others) insist that they understand how the game works, I like messing about with crosswords and pretending that I know more that people about things, so it's time for a lecture on cryptics.

Returning to our grid from last week, let's start with the basic explanation that I'm sure none of you need. A cryptic crossword clue is a little puzzle, and each little puzzle fits with the others to form the grid. Each puzzle is one of only a few different types of puzzle, the idea behing each is easily learned even by mere humans like you and me, and once we work out what kind of puzzle it is, the answer is just a short jump away. In (almost) all these types of puzzles, the clue has two parts, a 'straight' section that is the word's definition just as in a regular crossword, and a wordplay section where things get a little bit crazy. The best way to understand this is to jump right in, so what are you waiting for?

First up is 20 down, the clue that Alethea says that she's solved (and indeed those of us familiar with her formidable intellect and puzzling bent have no reason to doubt her). Which reads:

"Resets Doom's infamous city... (5)"

Being the computer game fan that you are, you naturally are aware that Doom takes place on the moons of Mars rather than in any particular city, infamous or not, so instantly your spider-demon senses are tingling. This crossword can't possibly be asking for a city that's not named, so what is it asking for? Which part of this clue is the 'straight' part, and which is the wordplay? This clue is looking for a synonym of 'resets', or for a city that may or not be infamous (we know that the 'straight' part of this clue has to be at the beginning or end, because them's the rules, and no self-respecting cruciverbalist would break the rules, right?), though it's hard to say which.

But...the word 'resets' is enough to have any cryptic crossword fan swinging from building to building, as it is an anagram indicator, a word which transmits enough muddling, transforming morphic energy to power a teleport gate to hell itself. After all, at wouldn't be fair of the setter to just throw in a clue like:

Dog deity (3)

...and expect you to realise that you need to shuffle some letters around, so we drop little hints that someone needs to re-deal the letters. A more reasonable clue for the same might be:

Rabid dog deity (3)

...where 'rabid', with its connotations of madness and befuddlement, is the anagram indicator which, when applied to a canine, leads us naturally to a devine conclusion. In the same vein, 'resets' is an anagram indicator, probably re-setting the letters of "Doom's" to give us an infamous city. There are plenty of different words that could be anagram indicators, shaken, stirred, fried... anything that gives a feeling of disorder, but since "Doom's" has 5 letters and so does the infamous city we're looking for, we're beginning to see the light at the end of this particularly mad little tunnel.

A quick dip into the back-end of Genesis (actually it disappears in chapter 18, but why let biblical accuracy ruin a terrible pun?), reveals SODOM, a city that along with her sister Gomorrah, according to Biblical tradition, pretty much set the mould for infamy (and happens to share the same letter as the pluralised form of a popular first-person shooter).

Whoolah! We've done it, cracked the first part of the puzzle and all it took was a little re-arranging of some letters and a bit of general knowledge. Inspired by our early success, we knuckle down again, looking for some more of those tell-tale anagram indicators...but which clue do we tackle next?


Michael5000 said...

With all that coaching, I manage to get "Sodom" before you out and said it. I guess that's progress after a fashion.

Alethea said...

I love anagram based clues, they are my favourites because they just settle in to place. And yay I did indeed get this one right!