So how did I solve those crossword clues? Well my strategy is first to have a fairly quick look-through over tea in bed and see if anything leaps out at me. If I can’t do the first ‘across’ clue, I’ll look at some of its ‘crossers’; if I have some success there I’ll stick with doing the North-West corner, as we solvers call it, before I move on. Then I generally go through the rest of the ‘across’ section before tackling the ‘downs’.
How easily I get into it depends on two things: my state of mind and the compiler. Compilers can be difficult for two reasons; either because they just are hard (Paul and Araucaria come to mind) or because their mindset is just very different from yours: Puck and Arachne are two of these. So if I’m really struggling I like to check the comments and see if it’s just me or if everyone’s finding this hard. You’d think you’d get to know the style of each compiler but with the Guardian there are too many of them, and my favourites have both now departed: Araucaria:
whose clues I used to get largely by osmosis, and Rufus who made a lovely easy puzzle on a Monday morning.
Once I’ve had a quick run-through it’s usually time to get up, so I tackle the rest over breakfast. This time I think more thoroughly about the clues, interrogating the evidence (as post-modernists so pretentiously call it) to work out what type of clue it is. Does it contain an anagram? Is the answer written within the clue? Where actually IS the def? After a while you start to get a handle on the compiler; whether they use lots of anagrams, whether the clues are an agglomeration of tiny bits or just have a couple of parts, and so on. To give you a flavour I shall tell you how I solved yesterday’s clues.
The first one’s clue was BONY ITINERANT ELKS DEPARTED NORTHWARD (8)
So the def would either be ‘bony’ or ‘northward.’ Now ‘northward’ is often a hint that a word is spelled backwards, besides the word itself doesn’t have too many synonyms; so ‘bony’ would seem to be a better bet for the def. OK so we’re looking for an eight-letter word meaning ‘bony’. ‘Itinerant’ could be an anagram indicator, so let’s start with a possible anagram of ‘elks’. This might give us ‘skel’. Aha! I think I see where this is going. Skeleton? Hm. What about the ‘departed northward’ bit? What other words mean bony? Skeletal? That would give us ‘late’ backwards, ‘late’ also meaning ‘departed.’ Result!
The second one was OLD PRISON OF GREAT WEN PUT UP, THEN DEMOLISHED (7)
Here the def suggested itself straight away: ‘old prison’, which led immediately to ‘Newgate’. ‘Put up’ serves the same function as ‘Northward’, ie a backwards indicator, so ‘wen’ backwards gives ‘new’, and now I have to confess I can’t parse the rest. We obviously use all the letters of ‘great’ except the ‘r’ but I can’t see how ‘then demolished’ achieves this. But no matter; it fits.
DOMESTIC KITCHEN FULL OF JAM (5)
This was harder to solve, though it led to a ‘tea-tray’ moment when I finally got it. ‘Jam’ is the def and your mind is being led by the clue to think of jam as a noun when in fact it’s a verb (this is part of the compiler’s art, to use words in one context but mean them in another.) ‘Full of’ indicates that the answer is to be found inside the other words, and sure enough if you look you can find the solution thus: domeSTICKitchen. To jam is to stick; sorted.
And that’s how it’s done.