Printer's Devilry defined

Printer's Devilry (or PD) clues are a popular type of non-standard crossword clue. They will never appear in an ordinary cryptic crossword. Usually, a crossword in which some or all the clues are PD will have some rubric which tells you to expect them; usually it will also give an example. A few extreme crosswords, such as the Listener puzzle, are liable to inflict PD on you without warning - but if you're doing the Listener you are an experienced enthusiast who deserves all (s)he gets, and you don't need to read this introduction anyway.  

Uniquely among clue types, the PD clue does not contain a definition of the answer.

The conceit behind the name Printer's Devilry is this: We are invited to suppose that, after a sentence had been type-set, a mischievous spirit appeared and removed one word from it. In an attempt to cover up what he had done, he slid the remaining letters back and forth - without changing their order - to make a different sentence (or sentences), as plausible as he could manage. He may have removed punctuation marks, and/or thrown in some new ones of his own. He may even have transformed upper case letters to lower case, or vice versa; this is within his power, but changing the order of the letters most definitely is not.

All the solver has to do is find out what word the little devil removed in the first place. In the absence of a definition, this can be quite hard.

Let's try some examples.

        There's no-one in the plantation as I pass the security guard.

This has the solution PRESENTIMENT. It works like this:

        There's no-one in the plant at present, I mention as I pass the security guard.

Here's a slightly easier one - particularly if you're from New Zealand:

        Please don't phone me at midnight - that's nod time.

The answer is OTAGO (which the Devil was thinking of visiting on his forthcoming tour of the Antipodes, until he realised it was a province rather than a town). The revised clue is:

        Please don't phone me at midnight - that's not a good time.

Now one to put you in the mood for your first PD challenge - Devilled Fruit:

          If he ventures outside Datchet, a cheese merchant will have a warm reunion with his family.

The solution is:

          If he ventures outside, dat cheap ricotta cheese merchant will have a warm reunion with his family.

Don't worry, I won't play around with non-standard spellings like that any more. I used that one as an example because I didn't dare ask you to solve it. I believe all the clues in the puzzles on this site are fair, though it must be admitted that some of them do display a degree of chutzpah. (That's a Hebrew/Yiddish word meaning "bare-faced cheek".)

The "break" in the clue where you insert the answer will always come in the middle of a word, and the Printer's Devil should always have done a little further re-organisation of the clue somewhere. So here's another thing I would hate to do to you:

        Tonight the ghost of the harvest is reaping.

        Tonight the ghost of the harvest is reappearing.

Now that's sound, as far as it goes, but it's just not interesting enough for the likes of you and me. I confess I've done it here once or twice, but I shouldn't have. Sometimes it's a devil of a job to come up with anything better, though.

That's all you need to know, I think. So now go; be fruitful. Or you could try a devilish tour of the UK.

Or go back to the main PD page.

This page last updated 27/05/2006