Cranium-Cracking Cryptic Crosswords, Volume 2
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link words
Homonyms and homographsGotchas!Hidden capitalization


Syntactic ambiguity

The essence of syntactic ambiguity is embodied in the saying Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana,” where the phrase “flies like” conveys two completely different meanings in the same sentence. Compared to other languages, English has a relatively simple system of word formation (or morphology). In addition, the word-formation particles it does have are often multipurpose. Cryptic setters exploit these qualities to the highest degree in their attempts to throw solvers for a loop.

Perhaps the cluer’s favorite exploitable facet of English is the -s suffix, which may appear at the end of both nouns and verbs. Consider this clue, which leverages not only syntactic ambiguity but also a homograph:

Causes teenager’s tears (9)

The surface tells of something that prompts an adolescent to cry, but remember that tear can mean either “salty drop produced by the eye” or (with a different pronunciation) “to rip.” If we interpret the latter part of the clue as “teenager’s rips,” we see that this is a cleverly disguised anagram. Unscrambling the letters in TEENAGER’S reveals the clue’s answer, GENERATES.