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The Loroso Report - Paraph to Spurtle

25 February, 2011

Only seven clues go under the Loroso loupe, but these seven generate a 1000 words of cryptic lore: one part essay, one part assay. Some controversies too, including the inspired cheek of SK’s ‘mint cream’ clue. Plenty of debate can be enjoyed on the comments page below. While tomorrow, the Loroso Report concludes with the tail-enders, and the overall winners announced.

PARAPH: Father, Lauren, Noel, finish with a flourish (JD)

Oh, how naughty is this? In the UK we have a setter who uses the pseudonyms Enigmatist, Nimrod and Elgar. He’s a personal friend and someone who has a wicked sense of humour that frequently peppers his clues. Everyone knows he takes risks and they love him for it – this clue is just the sort of thing he’ll throw at us; NEOL to suggest the removal of L? Yeah, why not? Well, maybe there is a reason (I emphasise ‘maybe’); my instinct here is to think that the spelt-out version of the letter L is ELL not EL which, sadly, would consign this sterling effort to the ‘nice try but not quite’ file. In any case, regardless of the correct spelling this sort of device can only work if the solver is given sufficient warning that something unusual is going on, so you might have this section of the clue written as ‘Noel(!)’ – the lack of such a warning tends to throw the solver off the scent unfairly.

PARAPH: Signature flourish beyond base measure? (Sam)

For those unfamiliar with what a paraph is, it’s a flourish added to the bottom of a signature, usually to make forgery difficult. For a clue-writer it’s always tempting to seek out a cryptic definition because this can, in the right circumstances, lead to something memorable. But those circumstances have to be right. They are wrong when the answer is an obscure word because, no matter how well observed the cryptic definition may be, the solver has to be familiar with the full meaning of a word to understand it. This clue starts with something which serves as a fair definition in its own right, but the solver would need to know – in advance – quite a bit more about what a paraph is to understand what the rest of the clue refers to. It’s a very nice idea, but far too difficult for a solver to grasp (and in any case – to be honest – I’m not entirely sure what the role of ‘measure’ is).

SEIGNIORAGE: For ages, I ignore peppermint cream (SK)

There have been several clues in this little bunch where component parts have been strung together to form single words; a big no-no to Ximeneans, a big smile to Libertarians of the darkest hue. The reading of this clue looks highly promising with a smooth surface marred only very slightly by a not entirely plausible story but, while the anagram fodder leaps out in a friendly fashion, the indicator doesn’t really cut the mustard. Even once we’ve separated ‘pepper’ from ‘mint’ we’re left with the question of whether or not ‘pepper’ can be fairly expected to suggest a mixing up of letters. As a verb it can mean ‘to scatter’ so, at first, it’s tempting to think all is well – but not so fast, amigo. If ‘pepper’ is operating as a verb it has to do so as an imperative, which means it has to go in front of the anagram fodder (it must be imperative – an instruction telling the solver what to do with the letters AGES I IGNORE). It’s a pity because the idea here is lovely and ‘mint cream’ is an imaginative definition; perhaps a touch ‘out there’ but solvers would enjoy the realisation.

SKIRL: Drunken risk near learner driver causes a shriek (JT)

Hmm. OK, my problem here is the first two words (the rest is superb); for me, ‘drunken risk’ doesn’t come across as in any way convincing. However, there is an easy, very quick fix. Just replace ‘near’ with ‘by’ and you have a belter of a clue. And it might be even better if the anagram indicator ‘drunken’ is replaced with the (perhaps more likely?) ‘careless’.

SKIRL: Scream downhill on both hands! (SimonL)

Excellent effort, this, with a beautiful surface reading and a great verb usage of ‘downhill’. There is one teensy problem, one with which many UK solvers have grudgingly come to agree with but which some setters and setters aren’t worried about. In an across clue (so maybe this intended as a down clue?) if you have ‘on’ to indicate a charade it is now commonly agreed that the ‘on’ part appears after the first bit – so here we’d be saying SKI appears after R/L. The rule was introduced because ‘on’ was being used to indicate either position of the appropriate components, which in many cases put unfair demands on solvers. Since it’s far easier to show A before B it was mutually agreed between many editors that ‘on’ should be used to give setters an easy and unmistakable way to place B after A.

SPURTLE: Finally (2-Across) help you stir hot oatmeal porridge (Mr X)

Annoyingly I didn’t see the ‘final letters’ trick until very late, so full credit to the writer for hiding it so well, but I’m not at all sure about the piece in brackets. Why ‘2-Across’? I’m tempted to suspect this is a device to suggest the word ‘to’, in other words, ‘Finally (to the following words)…’ but if that’s the case I have to regard it as wholly unfair. Some crossword editors have grudgingly accepted textspeak examples such as R (are) and U (you) because with these you do at least have some claim that they are just abbreviated forms, but we can’t sanction a move into the false numbers-for-words world of Phones4u or similar. These examples are just marketing tricks using puns and they will never be sanctioned by dictionaries because there’s no way we can claim that ‘2’ actually means ‘to’.

SPURTLE: Stirrer confined to porridge when smothering swimmer’s head in condiments (DA)

A nightmare to work this one out! I got there in the end but it was real test; sadly an unfair one. For those who haven’t noticed what’s going on here, the wordplay asks us to remove the T of TURTLE and replace it with S(alt) and P(epper). OK, the definition part of the clue stands up very well and its misleading wording is rather good. After that, however, we have ‘when’, a link word which just doesn’t belong – at a stretch we could extend it to ‘when presented as…’ but that’s asking a lot of the solver. The real problem, though, is the rest of the wordplay, which almost impossible to fathom. The idea of SP ‘smothering’ T doesn’t work for me as a replacement device; to smother something is to cover it up rather than put something else in its place. Next is the concept of S and P being acceptable as valid definitions for ‘salt and pepper’. Yes, you often see those letters on condiment containers, but they are identifying marks – you can’t really say that they are the condiments themselves. A popular device used similarly is CH referring to hot and cold taps, and in crosswords you might see an indication such as ‘taps letters’ or just ‘taps’ – the clue won’t define CH (or either of those two) as ‘water’ or something similar.

Tomorrow, the last instalment: Usufruct to Loroso’s three laureates.

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