I've created a cryptic crossword clue for a short story I'm writing. It starts with the protagonist pondering the clue, the solution for which is "time". This is thematic, as is the fact that he can't work it out.

The clue I came up with is this:

The days were given out in reverse order (4)

"Given out" => "emit", and then you put it "in reverse order" to get "time" (defined by "the days").

I'm not very good at solving cryptic clues, and this is my first time trying to come up with one myself, so I'm turning to the experts.

Does this clue conform to the standard rules of cryptic clues? What can I do to improve it?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have enough knowledge on cryptics to give a full contribution but I'm not sure the definition really gives 'time', but I'll leave that for Deus to say :P $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2020 at 18:54
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ "Given out" is the same tense as "emitted", which becomes "dettime". To "give out" is to "emit". Make sure your tenses match! $\endgroup$
    – Avi
    Aug 18, 2020 at 19:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Aside: just thought of Jumbled unit of measure (4) $\endgroup$
    – Paul Evans
    Aug 19, 2020 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Mite be crazy on this occasion $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2022 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Do we fly backwards, giving out? $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2022 at 14:44

3 Answers 3


As Avi says in comments, there's a tense mismatch, and that's an important error.

There are three other things here that you might get nervous about.

  • You're applying a letter-level operation (reversal) to something defined in terms of meaning ("emit"). When the letter-level operation is anagramming this is strongly disapproved of because it makes the clue unfairly difficult. In this case, I don't think there's a problem, because reversal isn't an "open-ended" operation in the way anagramming is.

  • "the days" as a definition for "time" is just a little iffy. You'd never see anything like "the days" as an actual dictionary definition, nor could you substitute one for the other. To my mind "days" would be much better than "the days".

  • The "were" connective is a bit uncomfortable. "Is" is generally OK since the idea is that the clue says thing1 IS thing2 where thing1 is specified by the definition and thing2 by the wordplay. But "were" is, specifically, past-tense and plural. You could say "time is time" but not "time were time". I don't like it.

  • $\begingroup$ +1; a better answer than mine, and you also point out the "were" that I was slightly nervous about but didn't bring up. (I wouldn't have bothered with the first bullet point though: reversals are a perfectly normal clue type, and bringing in the concept of indirect anagrams may be more confusing than helpful in this case?) $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Aug 18, 2020 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I did wonder about the tense thing; glad to know my instincts were correct about it. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 18, 2020 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Deusovi You may be right about the first bullet point. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Aug 18, 2020 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps "duration" instead of "days"? (e.g. "duration, give out in reverse order") $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2020 at 11:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't think there's anything wrong with "the days" as a definition-part, actually I think it's rather good. A person might say "the days go by so fast" in order to communicate that they perceive time passing quickly; this IMO gives you a licence to use "the days" in that way. The tense mismatch is more critical, and I am inclined to agree regarding "were". "Were" could be replaced with just a comma. $\endgroup$
    – Hammerite
    Aug 19, 2020 at 14:01

No, it does not:

  • "the days" as a definition for TIME is... a bit strained, both in grammar and meaning. I'm not sure of a reasonable sentence where "the days" and "time" could be substituted for each other: even if you found a context where the plurality and article mismatch wouldn't matter, the meaning still seems off to me.
  • "given out" is EMITTED, not EMIT. All synonyms should match in inflection (conjugation, plurality, etc), just like the definition should.

Following on from the two given answers, I would also add that there is a more strict adherence to the rules if you remove anything that is not relevant or unnecessary to the answer. The connector isn't a required pointer and it grates with the rest of the clue, so I would ditch it and avoid tense altogether: i.e. DAYS GIVE OUT IN REVERSE ORDER

It also makes it slightly more puzzling (which seems to fit your purpose) because the boundaries of the clue are somewhat disguised.


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