Saturday, 3 September 2011

because picking jokes apart makes them funnier

I wrote a crossword clue today that i'm proud of:
In which one might have weed or hemp - batch almost baked (7,3)
the answer is
CHAMBER POT.  Have you finished laughing yet?  ok

so i thought that maybe i would spend absolutely ages explaining why i like it so much.  Just because i occasionally feel that some people don't really get the whole crossword thing, and think that writing them is a weird hobby - and so maybe picking apart what is actually a fairly average clue and talking about why i like it might help to provide some explanation of how i can possibly be as obsessed with these things as i am.  In other words, maybe this post will make people think i am less insane/wrong than they currently do.  It's a maybe.


By cryptic standards anyway.  It's an anagram of OR HEMP BATC, indicated by "baked".  The "almost" refers to "batch", and means that the word is only almost complete - we don't want the last letter. Some clues are harder, anyway.


The definition is "In which one might have weed", and when read thus "weed" is the past participle of "to wee".  So "one might have weed" uses the perfect aspect.  A chamber pot is something in which one might have weed, at some point in the past.

When the sentence is read as a whole, though, it's easier to read "weed" as a noun and the whole thing as something to do with drugs.  "Have" here is used as a proper non-auxiliary verb in the present simple, so the two readings of the sentence (surface and cryptic) rely on different interpretations of both "have" and "weed": it's a pun on both words.


I basically wrote this clue because i thought the above-discussed pun on "weed" would be quite funny.  It was then just luck that within the letters making up CHAMBER POT were the also-drug-themed words "hemp" and (almost) "batch".  Then i went for "baked" as the anagram indicator because a) sometimes people bake drugs right? and b) "baked" is also a slang term for "stoned" (right?) so it seemed like a pretty solidly druggy word to use.  [oh and also c) it's an acceptable anagram indicator because it sort of suggests stuff being messed up and changed somehow, yes in an oven but still]

All of this makes the surface reading very compellingly drug-focused, which is good for consistency.


[i am of the belief that "WHIMSY", along with "SUBTLETY" and "PIXIE DUST", should be capitalised as often and as conspicuously as possible.]

Principally i like the WHIMSY of the definition, "In which one might have weed". I think it's a decent enough definition - it's a slightly weird use of "in which", which means that the whole clue isn't really a sentence but a relative clause, or something, but it isn't unhelpfully ambiguous and so i don't really think this is something to complain about.  What the WHIMSY is, though, is the awkwardness of the definition which is a result of the required pun on "weed".

A more conventional wee-based definition would have been something like "In which one might wee" - but i had to have "weed" the past participle in the definition because the pun on this word was the whole point of the clue, and so i basically had no choice but to have a perfect-aspect construction, referring to some weeing which had already taken place.  What was then left was a logically acceptable description of a chamber pot - just not one that anyone would ever actually come up with out of choice.  Is the best WHIMSY always born of necessity?  I don't bloody know.


The definition is, i think, quite hard to actually locate within the clue.  "Weed" leads pretty smoothly on to "or hemp" and so it's not the most obvious breaking point.  This makes the whole thing more entertaining, to me anyway.  My guess is that an experienced cryptic solver would immediately twig that the answer had nothing to do with cannabis, but i think that even given that it would still take a bit of mental effort to pick out "weed" as the end of the definition.  And even when that's done, it's easier to think of "weed" as in unwanted plant than "weed" as in past participle of "to wee".  In conclusion, the definition is pretty deeply buried within the clue, which is always satisfying to a setter.


That the second word of the solution is POT is just fantastic.  It is obviously a very on-topic word, but its relevance to drugs is not at all exploited in the actual clue.  It's just there, as this weirly misplaced congruence that doesn't really make any sense.


I wrote this clue in the middle of solving Thursday's Guardian crossword by Tramp, which i sort of mostly enjoyed but felt could have been a bit more polished.  This clue in particular struck me as just a bit boring:
Set to grow weed in this? (5,3)
for PLANT POT.  This got me thinking of the huge network of puns that could be extracted from both "weed" and "pot" and i decided that Tramp probably hadn't trawled the depths of this as much as he might have done here.  So i thought that he could have done a better job by using a more outlandish pun on "weed", ie. using it as the past participle of "to wee".  And while having that thought, i was also thinking about two-word phrases ending in POT, and that was why i thought of CHAMBER POT, and so that was basically it.  I am confident that my clue does indeed use a more interesting pun than Tramp's.  On the other hand, my clue is also markedly more bloody stupid, but never mind.

And my favourite thing is that most crossword clues that work are pretty much this cool - not just ones by me or ones that reference drugs or urination.  In a good crossword clue it will be difficult to count just how many puns there are.  Don't even get me started on my favourite one, which is Paul from the Guardian's
Guitar piece with avant-garde middle section entertaining funky penguin (6,3)

No comments:

Post a comment