Cryptic crosswords for beginners: hospitals | Crosswords

In the example clues below, I explain the two parts of each: the definition of the answer and the wordplay – the recipe for assembling its letters. In a genuine puzzle environment, of course, you also have the crossing letters, which greatly alleviate your solving load. The explanations contain links to previous entries in this series on such matters as spelling one word backwards to reveal another. And setters’ names tend to link to interviews, in case you feel like getting to know these people better.

Any area of life where the same things happen again and again ends up with plenty of abbreviations. And then those abbreviations become fair game for a setter indicating which letters make up their answers. For example, health and hospitals.

‘H’ is for ‘hospital’. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

‘Hospital’ = H

The simplest of all. We’ve all seen them on the roads. Here’s Picaroon:

8a Looking after Barnet Hospital, show anxiety (8)
[ wordplay: abbrev. for ‘Hospital’ + synonyms for ‘show’ & ‘anxiety’ ]
[ H + AIR + CARE ]
[ definition: looking after barnet ]

So after a moment, we realise that the Barnet we need to be thinking about is the one used in cockney rhyming slang, so we can write in HAIRCARE.

Ear, Nose & Throat – SpecialtyCare of Minnesota
Ear, Nose & Throat

‘Department’ = ENT

“Ear, nose and throat” is an easier phrase to handle than, say, otorhinolaryngology, and ENT is more familiar still. Case in point: Brummie.

26a Place for a plainclothes detect­ive: hospital department event (8)
[ wordplay: where a plainclothes detective might work + abbrev. for a hospital department ]
[ IN CID + ENT ]
[ definition: event ]

So it’s an INCIDENT we’re after. Brummie kindly specifies that it’s a hospital department; much of the time, setters figure that the solver will have seen this before and “department” is all we get.

University College Hospital, Euston Road, London. Photograph: Jethro Bradley-Firth/The Guardian

But ‘department’ also = A&E

A very, very handy pair of letters. Too good to ignore. So here’s Anto with a snappy phrase:

21a Cut times in hospital department (3)
[ wordplay: symbol for mathematical ‘times’ inside (‘in’) abbrev. for a hospital department ]
[ X in A&E ]
[ definition: cut ]

So an X inside an A and an E gives us AXE. With this one, though, I can tell you that the more usual practice is more, not less straightforward: you’re more likely to see quite literally “A&E” itself in the clue, meaning an A and an E in the answer. They do want us to solve these things, after all.

George Clooney as Dr Doug Ross in ER. Photograph: NBCU Photo Bank/Rex Features

‘American department’ = ER

We have another name for A&E: casualty. And in America, there’s another name again, one with another pair of letters too good to ignore. Here’s Bonxie:

5a Bird loses right wing, American casualty of bigger gusts (7)
[ wordplay: name of a bird with last letter missing (‘loses right wing’) + US abbrev. for ‘casualty’ ]
[ PUFFIN – N + ER ]
[ wordplay: of bigger gusts ]

So once our puffin is cruelly maimed, we can add ER for PUFFIER. Since the mid-90s, a setter has also been able to use something like “American drama” too.

A sanatorium on Nagashima island, Japan. Photograph: Justin McCurry/The Guardian

‘Hospital’ = SAN

As we’ve noted when discussing sailors, and money, some old piece of language may pretty much die out in everyday conversation but linger in crosswords as if it’s perfectly natural. Long gone are the days when an ailing student might be sent to a school’s sanatorium, but SAN is a piece of slang worth remembering.

Here’s Qaos with the most straightforward clue type of all:

29d Without hospitals (4)
[ double definition ]

Without (in French and in As You Like It) and “hospitals” can both be indicated by SANS, so that’s our final entry. For those who are exercised by such things, “clinic” and the like should also make you wonder if the answer contains SAN.

Beginners: any questions? And seasoned solvers: any favourite references we should add? Seen any decent NHS clues?

More guidance

Cryptic devices: hidden answers; double definitions; defining by example; cryptic definitions; soundalikes; spoonerisms; stammering; containers; reversals; initial letters; alternate letters; cycling; replacing one thing with another; taking most of a word; percentages of a word; naked words; first and last letters; middle letters; removing middle letters.

Bits and bobs: Roman numerals; Nato alphabet; Greek letters; chemistry; abbreviations for countries; points of the compass; more points of the compass; playing cards; capital letters; boys and girls; clothes; apostrophes; cricket; alcohol; the church; politics; Latin; royals; newspapers; doctors; drugs; music; animals; cars; money; jobs; cities; rivers; boats; when the setter’s name appears; when the solver appears; “cheating”.

Individual letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O.

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