Definition by example – what do you think?

A poll not about choosing the best clue for a change.

Definition by example is where a clue gives an example of a type (or the name of a sub-type), and the solver responds with the name of the type. Examples ‘bay’ or ‘Black Beauty’ as clues for HORSE. The rule among strict Ximenean setters and in Times puzzles edited by Brian Greer (1995-2000) and Mike Laws (2000-2002) was that the clue had to indicate this – it might say “bay, perhaps”, or “Black Beauty, say”.

Some time fairly early in the editorship of Richard Browne, clues started to appear with no indication like “perhaps”. At first I felt this was wrong, but gradually got used to it and now hardly notice. You could certainly argue that getting from “alsatian” to DOG is easier than getting from DOG to the right 8-letter breed name. So for me, this practice feels OK.

But what do you think? (Comments are OK on this if a simple vote is not enough.)

Poll #1123431

Def by example without indication

Definition by example without indication is

Perfectly OK and a good way to avoid sore-thumb material in surface readings

An interesting innovation but still bothers me a bit

Tolerable, but only just

Never acceptable

17 comments on “Definition by example – what do you think?”

  1. You can vote on this as much as you like, but you are in danger of trying to enforce bad laws by mob rule ( a common danger with blogs, I fear). This new practice is linguistically inaccurate and should not be encouraged. Perhaps your bloggers need to read Manley’s Chmabers Crossword Manual? Don Manley may be a bit of a Ximenean pedant, but in this matter he is spot on.
  2. I can’t vote, not having an account, but count me as a ‘Tolerable, but only just’. I’m not at all keen on these.
  3. I don’t like this practice because I think it is symptomatic of a slackness that the current editor has allowed. The fact that one becomes accustomed to it does not make it acceptable. The definition of gutta percha last week was poor as was the handbag clued as shoulder bag and we could go on. The adoption of Ximenean rules greatly improved this puzzle. I’m not a pedant for sticking religiously to them but bay = horse and so on seems to me to be a move too far. Jimbo.
  4. As a Times setter myself I nearly always use “say”, “for example” etc, but that is through personal choice. Peter’s point about “dog” and “alsatian” is a good one. I don’t think it helps to be too pedantic about these matters. Every clue should be judged on its merits. Sometimes as a solver I feel that an omitted indication of an example might have been helpful, other times I hardly notice.
  5. On the influence of voting here: I’m not daft enough to believe that the result will have any effect on what Richard Browne does, or on what the strict Ximeneans say the rules are. The point is just to find out what a few people think.

    My take on rules in xwds is that the point of any rules should be to make sure that the solver has a fair chance and can understand how a clue leads to the answer. I honestly think that if solvers can get used to the notion that this kind of definition may be used, it does not cause them serious problems in solving puzzles.

    I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to apply different rules to daily paper puzzles with mostly familiar vocabulary and advanced puzzles with difficult vocabulary. When you have to check many answers in Chambers, strict rules feel much more appropriate to me.

  6. A few fairly recent Times puzzles have exploited “conference” as a type of pear – in particular an excellent clue for GO PEAR SHAPED used something along the lines of “fill conference form?” and I regarded it as very cleverly deceptive and in no way unfair.
    If the end result of a definition by example clue is the solver donning the self-kickers and acknowledging the setter’s ingenuity I think the device should be applauded.
    In end it’s about degrees of fairness. Some examples would be too obscure without an indication of their example nature; others are so familiar we’d probably complain about the addition of “for example”, “say”, “for one” etc., almost regarding them as an insult to the intelligence.
  7. The ? at the end of that phrase would do the business of exemplification (for me). That said, I am sorry to see a bunch of solvers trying to encourage sloppiness in definitions. No idea whether the Times Crossword Editor looks at all this stuff, but this anonymous professional would ask him to observe the normal conventions for exemplification and to ignore a bunch of amateurs who don’t know what they are talking about!
    1. The degree to which amateurs “don’t know what they’re talking about” does of course depend on their level of experience.
      I’m a published setter (not pro – actually making a living from it is something of a rarity) but solvers on this blog have frequently spotted rule-breaking which I, for one, have overlooked during the solving process.
      That aside, though, on the subject of who influences setting conventions I always keep in mind that it’s the solvers. It isn’t the job of setters (or indeed editors) to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable. Ultimately the solvers – customers, if you will – should, quite rightly, determine that.
    2. I think “trying to enourage sloppiness in definitions” is pretty unfair as a description of this poll and discussion. I’ve given an honest assessment of how I feel about this convention now, making it clear that my mind has changed, and asking what others think. Times xwd eds are more ‘interfering’ than most others, in order to achieve their conception of the ‘Times xwd style’. It does occur to me that if no Times crossword editor had the nerve to vary from any of the ‘normal conventions’ (even assuming that we can agree what they are), none of these conventions could ever be changed in this puzzle. The conventions widely used today are far preferable to the bad old days of the 1950s, but I don’t think that means we have a perfect set which should all remain fixed for ever.

      As a point of information, the comments headed ‘Failings of democracy’ and ‘Fill conference’ come from the same IP address and therefore presumably the same person. Don Manley, referred to in the first comment, does recognise in his book that “grammar can never be a fixed prescription in any language and ideas will change”.

    3. I’ve deliberately waited a while before responding to your comments because I didn’t want to knee jerk into being as rude about you as you have been about my fellow solvers. I am against the clue sloppiness as you can see from my earlier entry. However, I’m also not in favour of arrogant ill informed comment and I think you detract from your case by speaking in the way that you have. Jimbo.
    4. You can comment on this as much as you like, but you are in danger of trying to enforce your laws by fiat (a common danger with grammarians [not to mention Italian drivers], I fear).
  8. I don’t think I’ve ever previously come across a professional referring to some of his/her customers as ‘a bunch of amateurs who don’t know what they’re talking about’. ‘Mob rule’ is another remarkable phrase from the same contributor. It is a shame that these remarks have been made behind a cloak of anonymity; I, for one, am clearly unworthy to tackle this setter’s masterpieces and would be only too happy to forego the privilege of doing so.
  9. I have only just come across this thread, and what a remarkable one it is. All this, over a particular way of forming definitions?

    Peter must be quite surprised by the way his perfectly reasonable question has degenerated into a shambles, not least through the boorishness and juvenility of someone who claims to be a setter.

    I cordially dislike the practice of treating a subset (cox) as being the same as the superset (apple) but concede that sometimes it certainly does work in a clue.

    What I really dislike is the increasing lack of discipline and accuracy in the Times Cryptic, so fully reflecting what has previously happened to the newspaper itself – and apparently, to its IT infrastructure. It used to delight in its high standards, with good reason. Now it regards them as an inconvenience, to be discarded frequently at will. And let us not speak of the Sunday Times cryptic..

  10. A question mark as an exemplification indicator is fine by me. What I don’t like is when a question mark refers to something other than the last word(s) in the clue, as seems to be an increasingly common practice in some newspapers (less so The Times). So something like:

    One who knows everything, flipping setter? (3)

    would be fine for DOG, but

    Flower from Siamese family? (6)

    wouldn’t work for CATKIN, because the question mark applies to ‘Siamese’.

    But of course, I’m an amateur who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    1. Just to be different ….I’m happy with the CATKIN type of clue, counting the ? as an indicator of whimsical language somewhere in the clue. And I also think these are as old as the hills, rather than some new tendency. How about Neatly conclude a postposed club game? (5,3) for ROUND OFF. That’s pinched from a Telegraph puzzle of 1972.

      Edited at 2008-01-24 10:59 pm (UTC)

      1. That clue for CATKIN was a very bad example, as ‘cat kin’ could be read in toto as meaning ‘Siamese family’, so this one’s actually fine with me too! But I’ve seen a few examples recently where this isn’t the case; can’t think of any now but I’ll flag it up next time I see one.
        1. This is a bit late but I said I’d flag an example when I saw it, so here’s one from yesterday’s Guardian (6th Feb):

          Ward’s disadvantage? (8) (DRAWBACK)

          Occasionally someone asks me what a question mark at the end of a clue signifies. Answering this question is hard enough anyway, but it’s especially so when they are used incorrectly, as this one is (for me), as it refers only to ‘Ward’.

Comments are closed.