February 7th, 2018

Positional indicator protocol

posted by Nila Palin 6/1/2018
Further to a brief discussion at Times for the Times, I'm hoping that someone in the know will be able to clarify whether the old Times tradition of A on B = BA in an across clue is still in use. It's a minor point, but probably one of interest to cryptic crossword enthusiasts.
The convention seems to apply uniquely to the Times (as cited in former Times crossword editor Brian Greer's book 'How To Do The Times Crossword' [2001], but I see the setter David McLean (aka Hoskins) also advocates it on his website.
The trigger for the discussion is the clue "Cappuccino maker is putting chocolate on it — cheers!" for BARISTA in yesterday's paper.
I'd be interested to know whether the other traditions peculiar to The Times that Mr Greer mentions (pp 50-51) still apply too.
Richard Rogan 5 hours ago
Yes the convention still applies
RR Crossword editor
jackkt 4 hours ago
@Richard Rogan Thanks for responding, Richard, but if the rule still applies then how do you account for the clue quoted by Nila (17ac in #26954)? Is it an error that slipped through the net , or have we misunderstood the parsing?
Richard Rogan 3 hours ago
Having now double checked the clue you refer to (for BARISTA) it does indeed infringe the rule. Not sure I'd call it an "error" as such as it is only "wrong" by our convention, but I would normally change the wording to reflect the normal way we do things!

Further discussion on the ON ‘rule’  re this clue in ST 4799 by Jeff Pearce blogged 27/5/2018:
14ac: Trainee carer working on bottom (10) TENDERFOOT
May. 27th, 2018 01:10 am
…Also puzzled by TENDERFOOT. I suppose 'carer working' could cover TENDER, leaving 'bottom' for FOOT, but that breaks the rule about 'on' in an Across clue that A on B = BA.
May. 27th, 2018 04:06 am
…I certainly wasn't slowed down by TENDERFOOT, as I never bothered to parse it. (Does the 'ON' rule obtain in the Sunday puzzles too
May. 27th, 2018 06:19 am
ON 'rule'
Having checked back on previous discussions about this it was confirmed in Februrary by Richard Rogan (Crossword Editor, The Times) that the convention still exists for the daily puzzles but if there's a clue where it's not applied it's not "an 'error' as such as it is only 'wrong' by our convention".
Back in 2008 Peter B (now Crossword Editor, The Sunday Times, but then in charge of TftT which was his baby) stated that he was unaware of such a convention but it was then pointed out that the 'rule' was in the published guide to the Times Clue Setting competition and other sources - a book by Brian Greer, for example. Reverting again to the discussions in February, an anonymous contributor stated "I know Peter Biddlecombe allows it either way in Sunday Times puzzles".
Clearly it's a convention that can't be relied on even where it is agreed that it's supposed to be in force, which takes us back to 14ac where 'carer working' = TENDER now seems to be the most likely parsing, but it's awkward to say the least and might suggest that the clue should have been rethought and amended.
May. 27th, 2018 06:51 am
Re: ON 'rule'
Thanks for this, Jack. I suppose that where a carer is not necessarily doing it for a job, a tender more likely is, hence 'carer working'. Or it may just be filler to give grammatical structure to the clue. I'd be curious to hear from Peter on this. In any case, I'm glad that I didn't stop to notice the oddity of the phrasing here.
May. 27th, 2018 12:51 pm
Re: ON 'rule'
The rule, if there is one, that A on B has to mean B,A is not one I ever noticed as a Times solver, until people told me about it. In an across clue, "on" has to mean "next to" as in Southend-on-Sea. But in a down answer divided into two parts, the first part is "on" the second in the much more obvious way that the screen I'm watching as I type this is on my desk.
I'm pleased to see that my copy of the guide for Times setters (not supplied in that expectation that I would enforce all the rules therein) confirms that the "B,A" idea only applies to across clues, and in down clues, "A on B" can only mean "A,B". It also says "This is a Times convention". (The) Times conventions do not apply in current Sunday Times crosswords, and as far as I know, any past ones. And although I guess I have to take a bit of blame as I have in the past stated what various Times rules are (or were), I very strongly believe that solvers should not learn them all and expect them to be followed all the time. One reason is that an editor could forget to apply their own rule. In one long-ago Times championship puzzle there were two pure hidden words, breaking the Times rule that there is no more than one. As far as I know, none of the contestants delayed entering the second of the two obviously correct answers in the belief that there couldn't possibly be another hidden word clue. Another reason is that rules like this may change, and if they are, there will not be an announcement in the paper to tell you. The biggest reason is that crossword solving should be an exercise in using your wits, not remembering arcane rules. As usual, the people who just buy the paper and happen to do the crossword, without discussing it on public forums, have said nothing about this clue in puzzle feedback.
"carer working" is for me quite simply a possible alternative to "carer" as the indication for "tender".
May. 27th, 2018 01:48 pm
Re: ON 'rule'
Thanks for your input, Peter. It's vary rare that any of the 'rules' or 'conventions' make any difference to arriving at the correct answer, only to discussions about parsing which surely don't matter much, if at all, to the vast majority of solvers. It's mildly ironic that the forum you created is the principle source of such discussions, but I'm sure we are all forever grateful to you for creating it.