Clued In (Blogs)

Clued In #185 | Clean surface, dirty linen

Mihir Balantrapu  |  25 November 2020

Hey there, and welcome back to Clued In!

Have you ever failed an exam only to later discover that you totally knew the answer but the question was not framed correctly?

For example, if the question was ‘What is your name?’, you would have no trouble whatsoever in decoding the question. But what if the question read: ‘Is your name what?’ Well, you would be tickled by the zany word order and, because the question is a basic one and you are smart enough, you might even understand what the questioner was asking of you and put your name down correctly as the answer. But you would still say that question has been framed wrongly and perhaps even unfairly to those who trust the questioner to “say what they mean even if they don’t mean what they say”!

Well, cryptic setters constantly frame questions in a zany way, and we all love them for it. That is their job. But sometimes, it’s easy for the best of us to let our zest for zaniness get the better of us and forget to properly say what we mean.


The Hindu Cryptic #13101 | Arden | 1 Across

CLUE: In the middle of flat strip, she washes (9)

Clue types: allusive definition, letter-pick

Definition: she washes [she who washes]


Clue explained:

We need a 9-letter word here that actually means ‘she’. This is common usage and very few solvers, even seasoned ones, would demur with this. But truth be told, Arden the setter has played a little fast and loose with the part of speech of the definition here. He means to refer to a woman who washes. Whereas, ‘she washes’ is just a subject-predicate phrase without any specific object. You have to allow setters some leeway when they commit innocent grammar violations like this. They’re only trying to entertain us. And if you shackle the setter with rules, we would have so many fewer cryptic crossword puzzles to snack on. Just goes to show that life goes on only because we break rules. Do with that insight what you will.

‘The middle of flat’ is LA. How?

Well, think of a BLT (bacon-lettuce-tomato) sandwich. In the middle of a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich is lettuce, so L is the middle of BLT. That’s how.

Another word for ‘strip’ is UNDRESS.

So, LA + UNDRESS = LAUNDRESS, which is our 9-letter word meaning ‘she’ who ‘washes’.

Remember how we worked out that ‘the middle of flat’ = LA? Well, the clue actually says, ‘In the middle of flat’, which is not quite right. This is just one of those things. There is actually no need for the word ‘in’ in the clue. It in fact spoils the cryptic reading and is apt to mislead any solver trying to parse the clue methodically. But Arden feels he must include it because without word ‘in’ he would not be able to produce a clue that makes sense as an independent sentence/phrase, even though he’s not entirely right in believing that. ‘The middle of flat strip she washes’ is as sensible a surface as ever.

The awesomeness of a cryptic clue is in how the setter is able to produce a sensible surface while simultaneously keeping the cryptic reading intact. It is like competing in a spoon-lemon race. You win the race only if you both prevent the lemon from falling AND reach the finish line. Failing in any or either one of those challenges means you have not completed the race.

You are allowed to compromise on the surface. You are not allowed to compromise on the cryptic. Your popularity as a setter may come from how much sense your surface makes. Your success as a setter lies in how well you meet the cryptic requirements. If you choose to sacrifice the cryptic reading just because you want a good surface, you may win the popularity contest, so to speak.


Was that fun to solve? Did you get a kick out of understanding how to work out the answer to a cryptic crossword clue? Did you enjoy being given a random sentence that ultimately leads to a completely unexpected but totally decipherable answer? Do you feel like you could use some help to guide you towards the answer for each of the 20-30 clues that usually bamboozle you in each puzzle? Well, look no further!

Ok, look just a little further. Because, every Sunday, The Hindu Crossword Plus will be posting a new The Hindu Cryptic puzzle with annotations for each clue! Go ahead and bookmark that link and play the latest puzzle.

Each annotation will give you helping hints and hold your hand as we work out the answer together. If you liked the long-winded explanation to the above clue, then you will surely enjoy the crisper versions we give you in The Hindu Cryptic on Sunday puzzles, when you click the button ‘Reveal’ and then ‘Show a hint’.

And guess what, The Hindu Cryptic on Sunday is absolutely free! All you have to do is sign up to play.

Click right here to subscribe to the interactive THCrosswordPlus, so you can solve on your mobile phone, get hints, and even check your answers on the go!