How to get your bearings in cryptic crosswords – points of the compass for beginners, part 2

In the example clues below, I explain the two parts of each. There is a definition of the answer and there is some wordplay – a recipe for assembling its letters. In a genuine puzzle environment, of course, you also have the crossing letters, which hugely alleviate your solving load. Also, here, the setters’ names tend to link to profiles of the individuals behind the pseudonyms.

Hello again. We’ve talked about how setters put placenames in their clues to indicate that certain letters are in the answer: “Newcastle” for NE, “Westminster” for SW1, and so on.

In the case of Westminster, that postcode was assigned because Westminster is south-west of the middle of London, but a solver needs to know that there are times when a point of the compass just is a point of the compass – even if it’s not at first clear which point of the compass we’re dealing with.

Here’s an example, from Rufus:

2d Point to unusual Roman invader of Britain (6)
[ wordplay: a compass point (“point”) + anagram of (“unusual”) ROMAN ]
[ N + ORMAN ]
[ definition: invader of Britain ]

Once we see NORMAN, we see that the point was north. The solver doesn’t initially know which point to choose – but there are only four options, and the hint is the word “point”, right? Yes, exactly. However, compass points and their cluing are a little more complicated …

First, the word “point”. There are various other ways of suggesting that we need to pick one of N, S, E and W. Here’s Hectence:

6d Craze on One Direction’s in decline (4)
[ wordplay: synonym for “craze” next to (“on”) a compass point (“One Direction”) ]
[ FAD next to E ]
[ definition: decline ]

So, east and FADE. And, indeed, here’s Moley

24a Best to surround quarter and attack on all sides (5)
[ wordplay: BEST containing (“to surround”) a “quarter” in its relatively obscure sense of compass point ]
[ BEST containing E ]
[ definition: attack on all sides ]

… and it’s east again, and BESET. Some solvers bristle a little at the number of options still left open once we see that we’re looking for a point, or direction, or “quarter” – though not as much, we discovered when asking for your gripes, as “note” to mean any of the seven from A to G, not to mention DO, RE, MI and so on as well as N, NB, IOU etc.

Ultimately, though, if the clue is as pleasing as the examples above, having four options isn’t arduous. Likewise when it’s more than four. “Quarter”, the dictionaries tell us, can refer to the compass points in between the compass points, if you see what I mean. Hence this clue, again from Rufus

23a Male relative gets a quarter – what a relief! (6)
[ wordplay: a compass point (“a quarter”) + expression expressing relief ]
[ NE + PHEW ]
[ definition: male relative ]

… for NEPHEW.

Since we’re talking about pairing up the directions, it only remains to recall that the four players in a game of bridge are named north, south, and so on. And so when Qaos gives us this clue …

16a Partners suppress anger with alarm (5)
[ wordplay: pair of bridge positions (“partners”) that contain (“suppress”) synonym for “anger” ]
[ S and N containing IRE ]
[ definition: alarm ]

… we change the partners for south and north en route to SIREN.

Newcomers might enjoy putting some of these tricks to work in this recent puzzle from Brendan. Seasoned solvers: any favourite examples? I’ve been remembering this pair in the Guardian’s tricky Genius series from Soup

25a Perhaps sees points set out for novelty (7)
[ wordplay: various compass points set in a row ]
[ definition: novelty ]

26a Perhaps sees points set out for novelty (6)
[ wordplay: various compass points jumbled up ]
[ definition: perhaps sees ]

… where the same words make up two different clues, for NEWNESS and SENSES.

More guidance

Cryptic devices: hidden answers; double definitions; cryptic definitions; soundalikes; initial letters; spoonerisms; containers; reversals; alternate letters; cycling; stammering; taking most of a word; naked words; first and last letters; middle letters; defining by example.

Bits and bobs: Roman numerals; Nato alphabet; Greek letters; chemistry; abbreviations for countries; points of the compass; playing cards; capital letters; boys and girls; apostrophes; cricket; alcohol; the church; Latin; royals; newspapers; doctors; drugs; music; animals; cars; cities; rivers; boats; when the setter’s name appears; when the solver appears; “cheating”.

Individual letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M.

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be obtained from the Guardian Bookshop.


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