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CLUING - discussion on CRUCIVERB-L

Mel Rosen wrote:

When a puzzle writer asks, "Anybody have a clue for ___?" the full question is "Is there a clue for ___ that the general solving audience can work with?"

In that light, to me Danny NOONAN was not a very useful suggestion. Unless a character has achieved legendary status (e.g., Scarlett O'Hara), a role name in an 20-year-old film is just too trivial except for a very specialized movie-buff audience.

In the same curmudgeonly regard, I note that forced clues of the form [xxxx's lead-in] -- with or without a trailing question mark -- do not sell when the answer is an otherwise random letter sequence. [Lunk's intro?] for KERP is a loser. So, while it may be fun to imagine such antics, they really don't help puzzle writers seeking legitimate clues.

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Nancy Salomon responded:

AMEN! Or at least that's the question that the constructor *should* be asking. I wouldn't touch roughly 75% of the cluing suggestions that I see coming through this forum. I get the feeling that some Crullers have decided that if info is out there on the Web somewhere, it's fair game for cluing/entries. Not so. It's one thing to amuse oneself by digging around the web for esoteric bits of information. It's quite another to use the results for fills or cluing.

A good question to ask oneself is whether that "general solving audience" that Mel mentions has a fighting chance of understanding a clue or entry without duplicating the research that came up with it in the first place. If the answer is "no," fer-get it,--certainly for easy puzzles, and, often, for hard ones, imo. Many solvers, such as commuters, don't even have a dictionary handy much less the full resources of the internet. There are also lots of solvers who feel they're "cheating" if they have to resort to resources. I'm one of them.

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Nancy Shuster repsonded:

Dear Cru,

Amen to Nancy Salomon's and Mel's remarks re clues. And just as a postscript to them I'd like to add that the very entry word that's harder and a bit more obscure than the rest of the fill is the very one that needs the *most* straightforward clue.

Sure, have fun playing around cluing CAT, HAT or SPOT. There's always room for some nice new creative idea in the case where the answer's a gimme. But leave the tough words with clues that are exactly on target; no tricky stuff allowed.

One other thing I might suggest: Check back over your published puzzle and look for the places where the editor has rewritten your clues; you may learn a lot that way. Frequently I notice that puzzlers try out something a bit farfetched in a clue. Well, go back and see if it made it into print. The editor may have tossed it out and replaced it with a simpler one. It's a good way to learn what works.

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Rich Norris Responded:

All,

Let me add my Amen to Nancy Schuster's regarding the observations on cluing recently offered by Mel Rosen and Nancy Salomon.

Here's another observation from the editing side: A good deal of my clue editing stems from the constructor's clue being either too hard or too easy for the puzzle. When I accept a puzzle, I judge its difficulty largely from the complexity of the theme, and to some extent from my impression of the difficulty of the rest of the fill. For example, a rhyming theme, or repeated-word theme, is usually quite easy for the solver to grasp, and I'm likely to schedule such a puzzle on a Monday or Tuesday. Those clues need to be quite easy. If the constructor has written a lot of Friday-level clues, they wind up being changed. On the other extreme, I rarely run a word-alteration or pun theme before Thursday or Friday. If those clues are too easy, they need to be made harder. And so it goes.

Something to think about, perhaps, the next time you're cluing--especially if you work hard at it and then wind up cursing my heavy hand after you've seen the published product.

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