This puzzle was originally published Monday, November 23, 2009 in The Daily Telegraph
The National Post has skipped DT 26092 which was published on Saturday, November 21, 2009 in The Daily Telegraph
Most of today's puzzle fell into place quite readily, leaving a handful of clues that required a fair bit of effort to crack.
An &lit Or Not An &lit
Rishi declares that "Clues 1a and 31a, in symmetrical positions in the grid, belong to a type known as &lit, which I think is short for ‘and literally so’ ...". An &lit clue, which Big Dave prefers to call an all-in-one clue, is one in which the entire clue is a single element which can be read either as a definition (usually, if not universally, cryptic) or as wordplay. This is in contrast to most other types of cryptic clues which contain two distinct elements, one of which is a definition with the other being some sort of wordplay. Several examples of &lit clues may be found in the Wikipedia article on the subject Cryptic crossword as well as in an article entitled Crossword: What is an &lit clue?. Based on my reading, I would have to say that while 1a may possibly be a true &lit clue, 31a probably does not satisfy all the requirements to be considered one. Rather it likely falls into a category of near &lit clues often referred to as partial &lit clues.
Let's examine the clues in question:
1a They upset some scholars about beginning of term (13)
My initial feeling was that this clue might also fall short of meeting the criteria (but only by the narrowest of margins). The entire clue can be seen to be a cryptic definition of a SCHOOLMASTER. For the wordplay, we have an anagram (upset) of SOME SCHOLARS containing (about) T (the beginning of term; i.e., the first letter of the word "term"). According to this analysis, the word "they" would seem to be superfluous to the wordplay, thus giving rise to my initial reluctance to grant this clue full &lit status.
However, in the second article referenced above, the clue "I arrange reductions" is given as an example of a true &lit clue, where the wordplay is an anagram (presumably indicated by "I arrange") of REDUCTIONS to produce the solution DISCOUNTER. Therefore, if that clue is a valid true &lit (which contains the pronoun "I"), then I see little reason for withholding similar status for the clue in today's puzzle (which contains the pronoun "they"). Presumably, we just need to consider the anagram indicator to be "they upset" rather than "upset".
31a Changing to steam trains? He should know (7-6)
In this clue, the entire clue can be read as a cryptic definition of STATIONMASTER. However, the wordplay would appear to be merely "changing to steam trains" which is an anagram (changing) of TO STEAM TRAINS. According to this view, the remainder of the clue plays no part in the wordplay. I therefore must conclude that this is not a true &lit clue but rather would be considered a partial &lit clue.
Of course, I realize that the references that I have cited are not necessarily the most authoritative of sources and furthermore that this piece will undoubtedly be read by those who have far more knowledge and experience in this area than I do. So I stand ready to be corrected if my analysis proves to be mistaken.
In the end, it matters little whether a clue fits neatly into one pigeon-hole or another (or even if it matches none at all). After all, I see the classification system for cryptic crossword clues as being similar to the system for classifying plant and animal life - a tool developed to help understand what exists in the world rather than a specification for the creator to work to. Sometimes a clue may not be a pure this or a pure that, but rather a mix that is close to one type but also exhibits certain characteristics of another type. Like a mutt from the Humane Society, it may not be a pure-bred, but that does not mean it is not lovable, just the same.
Some possibly unfamiliar abbreviations, people, places, words and expressions used in today's puzzle
Cowes - a town in S England, on the Isle of Wight: famous for its annual regatta
The Isis - the name given to a part of the River Thames which flows through Oxford, England
M1 motorway - a major road in England connecting London and Leeds
supremo - noun Brit. informal 1 a person in overall charge. 2 a person with great authority or skill in a certain area.
Rishi's review of today's puzzle may be found at Big Dave's Telegraph Crossword Blog [DT 26093].
Commentary on Today's Puzzle
8d Be in a fine state of suspense (4,2,1,6)
Like several visitors to Big Dave's site my initial choice of preposition (ON) proved to be incorrect. As Big Dave points out, there are several possible variants of this expression, namely, "Hang on by a thread", "Hang by a thread", or "Hang on a thread". I would have to say that the one I initially selected would definitely seem to be the poorest choice of the lot.
Rishi comments "Straightforward definition, unless you see some cryptic element ...". My interpretation is that the clue is a cryptic definition with "fine" being used in the sense of "precarious" ("being in a fine state" expressing a similar notion to "being in a pickle"). "Fine" also has the connotation of thin, which would obviously describe a thread.
23d Hastened up with speed to tell the tale (7)
Rishi asks "In the surface reading of the clue, isn’t “with speed” redundant when we say “hastened up”?" Perhaps the clue is telling us that it was the use of an illicit drug (speed) that caused our protagonist to be so forthcoming!
Signing off for today - Falcon
Salt potatoes (Sunday brunch: May 26, 2013)
17 hours ago