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I'm not very happy with this cryptic clue that appeared on Lovatt's Cryptic Crossword for 22 May 2023:

Spell at days to circumference globe (6)

The answer was:

EIGHTY - seems to be a reference to "Around the World in Eighty Days" by Jules Verne.

But I don't like it because the clue doesn't seem to be grammatical to me and there doesn't seem to be a good surface interpretation.

I know that...

spell can refer to a period of time, as in "eighty days", but the form "spell at days" doesn't seem to be a real thing - shouldn't it be "spell of days" or "spell in days"?

Also, ...

circumference seems to be used as a verb but that isn't supported by any of the dictionaries I checked. Did they mean circumnavigate?

Am I right to quibble about this clue or have I missed something?

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2 Answers 2

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I think the right way to decode this clue is to consider

"Spell at" as "spell AT", which, when spelled out loud, sounds like EIGHTY. The other half is the definition, a reference to Verne's novel as you rightfully said.

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    $\begingroup$ But in the other half, it should still be "circumnavigate" not "circumference", right? $\endgroup$ May 22, 2023 at 11:08
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As an addition to the existing answer:

The word "circumference" can be used as a verb according to the OED:

circumference v.
rare.
transitive. To form the circumference of, to encompass

1887 Talmage in Voice 15 Dec. 7
The earth is diametered and circumferenced with discord.

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