Sunday Times clue writing contest 2017: Hobnob (2024)

Results: Clue writing contest 2017: Hobnob


Steve Randall, Reading
Hard for a baboon when displaced to interact with others

Hard for a baboon = instruction to replace A with H=hard, in “baboon”
when displaced = anagram indicator
to interact with others = definition

One definition of “hobnob” is “socialise informally (especially with those of higher status)”, and the definition here includes that while allowing a slightly wider field, maybe including activities like hunting in groups as well as socialising, in the surface story. I’m sometimes reluctant about language in the cryptic reading like “A for B C” rather than “A for B in C”, but here this terseness contributes to a lively surface reading, as does “when displaced” rather than a single word anagram indicator.


Good clues

Eli Persky, Holloway, London
Hard sweet nearly twisted jaw

The key to this concise clue is the definition using of “jaw” in its “talk at length” sense, to which the Oxford Dictionary of English adds “chatter”. The wordplay is H=hard, followed by a reversal of BONBO(n). “Twisted” isn’t in one list of reversal indicators, but its dictionary definitions include “rotate”, which is on that list. In the same source of cryptic clue indicator lists, “twisted” is an anagram indicator, but “rotated” isn’t. I can understand having one of those is/isn’t pairs from the possibility one of the two words having more or wider relevant meanings, but not having both of them. In case Eli has another go and does a bit better, it’s his turn for the occasional reminder to provide a full postal address in each emailed entry.

Piers Ruff, Eastleigh, Hampshire
Best part of sweet served up, topped with hard biscuit

This is a clue for a down answer, with the same wordplay, and a surface story in which “best part” seems to mean “tastiest part” rather than “most”. The definition here is “biscuit” as Hobnobs is a very well-known brand. Some people seem to think that well-known brands shouldn’t be used in cryptic crosswords, but they have been for a mighty long time – “paper” indicating Mail, Sun, Mirror or others and “airline” or maybe “carrier” indicating BA or El Al most often are both stock fare.

Lynne Davis, London NW7
Biscuit that’s part of range connected to Duke of Cornwall?

The surface reading for this clue is entirely about biscuits, but suggests those made by Duchy Originals, a brand set up by the then Duke of Cornwall in 1990 and now rebranded as Waitrose Duchy Organic, which I’m pretty sure cost a fair bit more than Hobnobs, so there is deception in the clue. In the cryptic reading of the clue, “part of range” means HOB, and “Duke of Cornwall?” indicates NOB in its “person of wealth or high position” meaning.

Elizabeth Manning, Malvern, Worcestershire
Associate kitchen appliance with posh type of person

This clue uses the same wordplay. For me, the story doesn’t quite work without indicating a particular kind of kitchen appliance, and in a real-life puzzle scenario, I think I’d be suggesting something like “Associate Aga in part with posh type of person” and wondering if the setter could think of a better alternative to “Aga in part”.


Richard Warren, Coventry
Ferret and fat cat meet and rub shoulders

Here’s the same wordplay with an animal story – a hob is a male ferret, a nob is a “fat cat”, and “rub shoulders” is an apposite version of “socialise”.

St John Daly, Harborne, Birmingham
Biscuit to mix with the cream

This is a double definition, combining the biscuit and the “elite” meaning of “cream”, which strictly needs us to believe that the people of high status are the best people, or that “cream” has a slightly wider meaning than the one in our main reference dictionaries, so a final question mark might be added.

Paul Stevenson, Wimbledon, London
Man squeezing closer to woman after a little laugh and chat

The man in this clue is Bob, and “closer to woman” is woman’s final N, which he “squeezes” after HO, which makes sense as a smaller laugh than ho-ho. “closer to woman” isn’t quite as good as “closer of woman” or probably more usefully “woman’s closer”, but the surface story is worth it.

David Jarvis, Brokenborough, Wiltshire
Mix up?

I have a hazy memory of reading somewhere about elements in a perfect football match, from a spectator’s point of view. I’m pretty certain that a saved penalty was one of them, and a debatable sending-off may have been another. In a cryptic crossword equivalent, the list might include a clue with fewer letters than the answer. This one is a cryptic definition, based on the “especially with those of higher status” part of the “chat” meaning, and although this clue is very short, it includes a question mark which could be seen as an indication of “especially” rather than “always”. It’s the kind of cryptic definition for which the checking letters should really come from clues that are fairly easy and not other cryptic definitions, but if it did, I think it would be appreciated.

Ross Harrison, Dechmont, West Lothian
Associate of Russian banker appears after his detention ends

The wordplay in this clue makes double use of a river that’s generally underused in cryptic clues — Russia’s Ob, one of the three major rivers flowing through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean, along with the Yenisei and the Lena (from which Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov got his pseudonym). “Banker” is an alternative to “flower” as a teasing alternative to “river” as a river has banks, just as a double-decker has a double deck. The rest of the wordplay is the H and N which are the two ends of “his detention”.


Neil Mondal, Harrow, London
Reformed, nabob who wants a wife and consort

This clue uses an anagram of “nabob who” which lacks or “wants” A and W=wife. I think the surface reading works better without the comma. The surface story is good, but an alert solver might think that if the nabob is reformed, the wife and consort should be the same person, and wonder why both are mentioned. Finding something that contributes to the wordplay and links well with the adjacent definition is something clue writers are bound to look for, but ideally you want something that doesn’t create something like apparent tautology.

Some comments on other clues

Biscuit mix
This is a double definition, and there’s nothing wrong with it as a cryptic clue. But eight people chose it, and although they included some who have won, most of our really regular winners didn’t, and I’m guessing that they might well have thought of it and realised that others probably would.

From burner phone dial associate
The wordplay this clue is intended to convey is HOB = burner, plus NOB = a hom*ophone of “knob”. Strictly speaking, the hob of a cooker is the part with the burners, rather than a burner, but you could argue that it’s still a thing that burns. My bigger problem is with equating dial and knob. They’re both things that can be used to make selections, but I can’t see that they are ever the same thing. We allow a category name like “vehicle” to define anything that is a vehicle, but we don’t allow a word to define another word simply because it’s in that category.

Knock about with maiden hundred, two overs with no ball returned, then bowled!
This clue starts with “knock about” as the definition. The entrant said that “knock about with” was the definition, but “knock about with” matches “hobnob with” rather than “hobnob”, and as “with” can mean “consisting of”, it’s still fine as the next word. The wordplay starts with “maiden hundred”, which is supposed to indicate H. But logically speaking it’s as wrong as “first hundred” meaning H. Repeating something I’ve said many times, “first” followed by a noun in English always means the first instance of the whole of the thing. Your first birthday was a whole birthday, for example. Although some crossword setters get away with this use of “first”, Sunday Times ones don’t. In the next part of the wordplay, “with” meaning “containing” for NB inside OO is logically OK as with can mean “including”, though I don’t think it’s used very often, maybe because “with” can mean quite a few things.


Clue writing contest 2020 Lepanto

You are invited to write an original cryptic clue for the word above, in our cryptic crossword style. Email your entry to The contest closes on Monday, May 20 and the best entry wins a £25 Waterstones voucher.

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Sunday Times clue writing contest 2017: Hobnob (2024)


What is the cryptic clue competition? ›

CCCWC is the monthly cryptic crossword clue-writing competition open to all members of The Crossword Centre ( mailing list. It's free to enter, and there's a prize, donated by Chambers, for the clue voted best each month (UK addresses only).

How do you answer cryptic clues? ›

8 powerful ways to solve cryptic crossword puzzles
  1. Look for “anagram” clues. ...
  2. Consider whether a word needs to be reversed. ...
  3. Find the hidden answer indicator. ...
  4. Double definition. ...
  5. Soudalike. ...
  6. Don't take clues literally. ...
  7. Use previous crosswords to improve. ...
  8. Acrostic clues.

How do you work out a cryptic clue? ›

Most cryptic clues run along the lines of this formula: Definition + Wordplay = Answer, or Wordplay + Definition = Answer. The definition may be a straight synonym, or a more oblique reference to the answer.

What is an example of a cryptic crossword clue? ›

Look for signals such as "caught in," "buried in," "part of," and "housed by." For example, CAT could be clued as: "Lover of birds imprisoned in Alcatraz (3)." Here's another example: "Karen always displays an engagement ring? (5)" (As in standard crosswords, a question mark at the end of a clue typically signals a ...

What is a cryptic clue in crossword? ›

WHAT MAKES A CROSSWORD CRYPTIC? For those new to the game, we reveal the secret in a nutshell: The clues each have two parts. One part is a normal definition of the answer; the other is an additional hint using wordplay. Having two hints in each clue might seem a big giveaway to solvers.

What is a 4 letter word for competition? ›

The shortest crossword solution for Type of competition is 4 letters long and is called RACE.

What is the difference between cryptic clues and quick clues? ›

It can be called an extension of a quick clue : A cryptic clue has both the definition/description, just like a quick clue, but also an additional 'cryptic' way to arrive at the answer. So, essentially, a cryptic clue has two parts : a straightforward definition and an additional 'cryptic' way to get the answer.

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