There was once when I hunted in Michael Pang's hunt quite a while ago, and there was a cryptic question containing the words "delivery day" in it. If I'm not mistaken, I was hunting together with my friends, Johan Salul and Dr Ben Lau. Both of them are ranked as masters in the Time Out Solutions' Hall of Fame.
In the cryptic sense, "delivery day" is an indirect reference to May 1, because that date is Labour Day. It is acceptable that prior to delivery, the expectant mother will go into labour first. I can still remember that we solved Mike's question.
Yesterday, in my KK Challenge 5, I had the opportunity to borrow Mike's idea, but with a bit of modification:
Q23) Its beginning is delivery day?
A23) May Unisex Beauty Saloon
The clue is a little bit more complicated than Mike's version, but not impossibly so. I think anyone with some cryptic knowledge would have had a good shot at the correct answer. But our cryptic clueing standard here in KK is not comparable to that in the west. And when I set this question, I knew that it would be very tough for the local hunters. And true enough, this question was not solved in the end.
I had expected at least Team Main Tembak to be successful with this riddle. But perhaps by the time they arrived at this sector, they were already under time pressure, having invested a lot of time on some earlier questions. Although they were just about the halfway point of the hunt (23 out of 40 questions), they were already taking steps to regain some lost time. Consequently, they ended up choosing a signboard containing IDD. According to Alvin, a team member of Main Tembak, IDD fits. But during the hunt, he said he was not fully convinced that this was the intended answer. He said it's just not my style!
While marking the answer sheets, I paused for a short moment to consider the acceptability of IDD. I debated this answer with myself and then decided to reject it in the end. However, I noticed that a few other teams have also given IDD as the answer for this question.
After the hunt, I had a brief discussion with Alvin who insisted that IDD could also fit. Then later on, we continued our discussion over exchanges of emails. I think the points raised by both parties are interesting and warrant a space in this blog for the benefit of the other hunters.
Alvin's approach is based on the basic cryptic clueing theme, i.e. using "beginning", a word found in the clue, as the initial indicator. When viewed this way, "beginning is delivery day" can mean to take the first letters of the words adjacent to the indicator. In this case, the first letters of "is delivery day." One can see that when dealt this way, we can derive IDD.
While marking the answers, I saw this line of thought too. But I still rejected IDD because of the word "Its" in the clue. "It" refers to the intended answer which is found on the signboard. In the present case, notice that there is no apostrophe between "t" and "s". There is a difference in meanings between "Its" (without apostrophe) and "It's" (with apostrophe).
"Its" means "belonging to It". For example, "Its tail" means the tail of "It".
"It's", on the other hand, means "It is", which has been simplified and widely used in informal writing.
In other words, if the intended answer had been IDD, then the clue would have been simplified from:
Its beginning is delivery day?
Beginning of IDD is delivery day?
But we can quickly see that the beginning of IDD is just the letter "I". And "I" does not equal to "delivery day."
If, however, the question had started with "It's", then we would have had a different scenario:
It's beginning is delivery day?
It is beginning is delivery day?
And if the intended answer is IDD, would lead to:
IDD is beginning is delivery day?
that is to say,
IDD = beginning IS DELIVERY DAY
But since there's no apostrophe in the clue, then IDD can't fit, because for the simple reason the meaning of the clue is completely different. However, Alvin is of the opinion that the apostrophe doesn't really matterhe said sometimes they're there, sometimes they're not there in cryptic clues. But I must beg to differ!
So let us now discuss a bit about punctuations in cryptic clues.
We're frequently told to ignore punctuations in cryptic clues, because most of the time they're there for the sole purpose of deception! Consider this clue from one of my past KK Challenge hunts:
Q) I would shortly go behind to be hard.
A) SOL Department Store
Notice that "I would", when written "shortly" is "I'D". There's that apostrophe between those 2 letters. Yet when we utilise that ID to derive the answer, we would omit the apostrophe:
SOL + ID = SOLID => HARD
Q) When Fred's in trouble, he'd look for them.
On account of the anagram indicator, trouble, the letters in FRED'S IN are rearranged to become FRIENDS. And again we have omitted the apostrophe from the final solution.
So it seems quite commonand widely acceptableto ignore punctuations in cryptic clues when arriving at the solutions.
But the question we must ask ourselves here is whether we can import punctuations into cryptic clues on our whim and fancy, so much so that we change the meanings of the original intentions of the setter? If we are allowed to do this, then we can simply insert the apostrophe into Q23 of KK Challenge 5, so that we can then "force" the setter to accept IDD.
My view is that the setting of the clues should be left in the hands of the setter. The solver's role is only to solve, not to modify (the meanings of) those clues with punctuations. If the solver is allowed to change the meanings of the clues, we are bound to have endless disputes after every hunt!