Tap the Sign: Anagrams (Part 2)

In which we quote from not-that-Bible, but another one.

We started talking about anagrams and then spent a good long time wringing all the joy out of cryptic clue construction by making it all about grammar and where nouns should go. That sets us up for taking down what should be a fairly easy target: the canard that "everything is an anagram indicator."

(We're not calling out Will's tweet — we're highlighting it because he's in on the joke.)

There's no shortage of reasons for us to shout out Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, but we're doing it today because their book The Random House Guide to Cryptic Crosswords includes some classification work we consider the final word on this subject.

The RHGCC is regrettably out of print, but is reliably available on the used market in various conditions. (You buy a used crossword book and you're likely also buying some partly completed puzzles.) The book walks novice solvers through solving, but also novice constructors through constructing, concluding with an appendix of indicators.

Lists of indicators abound on the web today at different levels of rigor, but there's an extra level of scholarship in Cox and Rathvon's look at anagram indicators: They break them down by the keywords under which basically all anagram indicators fall. That list of keywords is so good we will reprint it here (though we won't be reprinting the tons of examples that follow each keyword), and then you should call up Random House and get them to reprint the dang book.


If you cannot find a way from your indicator to one of those 13 words, we suggest you find another another indicator.

For example, among some prepositions that we see when solving, we can get from the sylphlike out to WRONG without breaking too much of a sweat, but we have never fallen head-over-heels for up, because while up can mean excited and excited can mean MOVING, that daisy chain falls apart — up doesn't mean MOVING. (Transitivity — which is to say, if A =B and B = C, then A = C — is where a lot of wrongheaded thinking in cryptics arises. For example, glimpse can be defined as look, as can stare … but stare and glimpse are not interchangeable. The use of journalist to clue ED as in editor, for instance, warrants a dele.)

Meanwhile, we draw a hard line against the Wayne Robert Williams favorite not, which implies wrongness, but could also imply rightness or any other concept since it has to bounce off something else to have any meaning at all (except, perhaps, when used in the Wayne's World sense — and, who knows, maybe Wayne Robert Williams was the model for the Mike Myers character, but I doubt it).

With 13 words and oh so many synonyms and near-synonyms, it is truly amazing how many anagram indicators we get, especially when the adjective, verb, adverb and, yes, occasional noun forms are available.

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