Crossword blog: does it matter when words share roots?

I’ve just intentionally written a bad clue. Here it is:

Dig with German construction equipment (6)
[ wordplay: DIG (‘dig’) + abbrev. for ‘German’ ]
[ DIG + GER ]
[ definition: construction equipment ]

It’s poor because, well, “dig” in a clue to indicate DIG as part of the answer offers none of the pleasures promised by cryptic crosswords. You could replace “dig” with “excavate”, but it would be still be a joyless affair.

Here’s another bad clue, also freshly written and this time a down:

First third of bibliography covers eastern holy book (5)
[ wordplay: first four of BIBLIOGRAPHY’s twelve letters (‘first third’), then (‘covers’ in a down clue) abbrev. for ‘eastern’ ]
[ BIBL + E ]
[ definition: holy book ]

This time, the “bibliography” in the clue is not tied essentially to the BIBLE in the answer, but since both words come from an old Greek word for paper, it would still be deflating to encounter this in a real puzzle.

One reason is that the solver hopes to be misled, to have the surface reading of the clue conjure up something quite different to the answer. Like with a joke, the leap from one to the other can be pleasant.

We expect our setters to provide something not unlike magic. When Orlando kicks off a quiptic – the Guardian’s weekly puzzle “for beginners and those in a hurry” – with this …

Callas recollected a famous opera venue (2,5)
[ wordplay: anagram (‘recollected’) of CALLAS + A (‘a’) ]
[ LASCAL + A ]
[ definition: famous opera venue ]

… the joy comes because, while Maria Callas and La Scala inhabit the same world, there was no reason that the letters of their names should be capable of performing this trick – until Orlando came along. We’re having this conversation, in fact, because last week’s Clue of the Fortnight, from Myrtilus in the Times Literary Supplement, is similarly wonderful:

Some lingo freshly made (9)
[wordplay: anagram (“freshly made”) of SOMELINGO]
[definition: “some lingo freshly made”]

I asked whether it would matter if “lingo” and the answer, NEOLOGISM, shared a root. Smylers replied that when he saw the clue, he looked up the origins of both words, adding: “It isn’t very surprising that two words from the same root would have both letters in common and related meanings, so a clue based on that wouldn’t be as special as Myrtilus’s is. That’s a fantastic clue!”

So there’s the factor of surprise, and of admiration for ingenuity. What about the flip side? Is there also, perhaps, a feeling that a setter should have suffered or at least striven? Many of the conventions of cryptic crosswords make life more difficult for the setter in order to make things easier for the solver. But, as we noted when we discussed symmetry in grids, not all of them do both.

If you dislike clues that dip into the same etymological well twice, is that because you have been denied magic, or because you tut at the feckless setter and tell them they have to work harder?

And I have other questions. What if the first clue above had been rendered like this?

Appreciate German construction equipment (6)
[ wordplay: slang term for ‘appreciate’ + abbrev. for ‘German’ ]
[ DIG + GER ]
[ definition: construction equipment ]

The slang sense of “dig” comes from the literal, so there’s no magic trick. But perhaps some solvers (beginners, say, or those in a hurry) prefer to have some meat-and-potatoes like this in between the clues where the definition appears to be a different part of speech, with a completely different meaning and a different etymological root to the answer?

Finally, switching from “dig” to “dog”, how about this?

Hound’s tooth (6)
[ double definition ]

CANINE the tooth gets its name from CANINE the hound, so is this clue a cop-out? And if not, why not?


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