At first glance, our puzzle clues may appear daunting. “Truly, kismet wriggles before Adlai sifting cauliflower sand”—what, did a dictionary explode? They can be especially unnerving to puzzlers who are more used to straightforward, “American-style” (i.e., primitive) crosswords. But all of our clues fit into one or more established categories, with a simple—and, we hope, elegant—logic to each. However, if your idea of a linguistic challenge is the Daily Jumble, please TRUN EHT PGAE.
First and most importantly, our clues are not meant to be taken at face value. Rather, each has two parts: the definition, which is as straightforward as it sounds, and the subsidiary indicator, which is the subtle path to the definition. For example, in “Sled dog could lose a few pounds (5),” “Sled dog” is the definition, and the subsidiary indicator is “could lose a few pounds.” Because the parenthetical (5) tells us that the answer has five letters, we know that it’s HUSKY and not MALAMUTE WITH GLANDULAR ISSUES.
This particular type of clue is known as a Double Definition, because it consists of both meanings of the word “husky.” Here’s another: “Best drummer for the Clash? Crash! (6).” The answer is, of course, HEADON, both a type of collision and the surname of the Clash drummer Topper Headon. Granted, there are those who believe that Terry Chimes was the Clash’s best drummer, but they’re not intelligent enough to do puzzles.
Other types of clues include Initials, in which the answer can be found in the first letters of successive words. Example: “Gimmicky? For starters, America’s rubes, tourists, insecure suckers, and neurotics always lose.”
The first letter (“For starters”) of each word in the last part of the clue spell out ARTISANAL. And please don’t tell me that word doesn’t mean “gimmicky.” I mean, you can’t “hand-fashion” cream cheese. What do you do, sculpt it from a bigger blob of cream cheese?
In Hidden Words, the answer is actually hidden inside the clue. For instance: “Within the sugar agency is where Dad goes to get drunk (5).” In this case, the phrase “sugar agency” literally contains the answer, GARAGE. This clue may seem obscure if your father went somewhere else to get drunk, but I got it right away.
Alternate Letters is a variation on Initials, in which the answer is spelled out with every other letter in a phrase. Example: “Hammerin’ Hank gets even in Ma’s air town (5).” I can’t actually explain the answer to this one, because I never bothered to solve it. I’m a crossword creator—do I look like I care about sports?
Perhaps the most frequent clue type is the Anagram, in which the letters in part of the clue can be rearranged to spell the answer. For example: “Confusing a hairy prop could have made King George sick! (9).”
Mixing up (“confusing”) the letters in “hairy prop” yields PORPHYRIA, which, as you may know, was the obscure disease that some believe caused the temporary “madness” of King George III. But did you know that there are two types of porphyria, acute and cutaneous? You didn’t, did you? I did.
Another category is Homophones, in which the clue provides a word or phrase that sounds like the answer. For example: “Navigate at leisure to hear this exercise (7).”
If you identify synonyms for “navigate” (“pilot”) and “leisure” (“ease”) and then combine them, it sounds like PILATES. To those who say that “pilot ease” doesn’t, in fact, sound at all like “Pilates,” I reply that even puzzle-makers have deadlines.
In Subtractions, the answer is revealed by removing letters or whole words, and, as with all clues, this type may be combined with any other. For instance, an Anagram and two Subtractions can be found in “I (heart) D. B. Cooper. Crazy? No ego! Remove the barrel fashioner and you’ve got the pork cut (5).”
Subtract the “I” (“No ego”) and “Cooper” (“Remove the barrel fashioner”) from “I (heart) D. B. Cooper” and you’re left with HEARTDB, which, when rearranged (“Crazy”), spells “The Bard,” as in William Shakespeare. But anyone who thinks that the son of a small-town glove-maker could have written the balcony scene in “Romeo and Juliet” is kidding himself, which is why the five-letter answer is the play’s actual author, Sir Francis BACON (“pork cut”). If you got HOCKS, I can’t help you.
All in all, as long as you have a sharp wit, a lively sense of curiosity, and a graduate-level grounding in history, culture, and the sciences—and if, for some reason, you happen to know what “stochastic” means—you have all the mental equipment necessary to decipher, syllable by hard-won syllable, the answers to our puzzle.
Or you could just guess.