Touch wood, anyway. In all my days of solving and setting crosswords, I’ve yet to detect a summons being served, or even a cease-and-desist letter hitting the editor’s in-tray. Years ago, Sony lawyers snarled at my generic use of Walkman in a puzzle, but that’s one litigious blip in three decades.
Doubtless a precedent is an unwise homophone away. Until then, however, let us rejoice in the irreverence of backroom chicanery, with British setters in particular making a sport of the Brexit limbo. Consider Tees, a puzzler for The Independent, who crafted this neat dig: Being extorted translates to Johnson’s mantra (3,6,4).
Astonishingly, BEING EXTORTED can mutate into the latest Tory slogan: GET BREXIT DONE. Picaroon, a Guardian compiler, also plied Brexit in his wordplay: Politician Brits execrate violently online (6,9). Here the solution – a partial anagram – needs to perch “online” (RY – or railway) to make: BREXIT SECRETA-RY.
Yet the best ridicule lies in a setter’s knack to compose a scornful clue, one that lacerates serving politicians, only to deliver a po-faced answer. Knut, another Independent contributor, illustrates the ruse to a fault: Boris, leader of party, awful sneak and rat (9).
Imagine the cabinet gnashing, their lawyers seething, neither posse capable of seeking redress or retraction. Welcome to the refuge of Cryptopia, a writ-free zone of mud-pie hoicking, where any lobber can feign to seek an alternative target. Knut, say, would only mimic shock when confronted by the bailiff, explaining his Boris clue referred to PASTERNAK (jumbling P+SNEAK+RAT), and no-one else. “Why, officer, was there another Boris you had in mind?”
Why, officer, was there another Boris you had in mind?
No pollie is immune. Theresa May endured a mauling via such answers as MAYDAY and ANTIHEROES (No 1 Theresa in disguise). Back in July, Slormgorm of The Financial Times almost apologised: Insult about former PM shocks (7). The answer is DISMAYS, or May inside diss.
Labour or Conservative, home or abroad, the British compiler is intent to sneer at either side of the house – or Atlantic. Again, Knut proves the point: Mischievous Mr V. Putin – aka “The Real Power in the White House?” (6,5) Mix MRVPUTINAKA to unmask IVANKA TRUMP, and you grasp the risk-lite revelry. Cryptic face-slapping has been a hobby of solvers and setters alike, long before Facebook was a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye. Just don’t tell the Anti-Defamation League.