I was doing a cryptic crossword this morning and I came across the following clue:

Circus equipment has chimpanzee, say at the centre

The answer is "TRAPEZE" (confirmed by "check answers"). The APE is easy to see (chimpanzee), but I can't figure out where the TR___ZE comes into the clue. From my understanding, it should be implied by the clue. Is there something I'm missing or is it just an omission we're supposed to be able to guess?

The cross letters are T_A_E_E so the R and Z would have to be guessed entirely, based on TRAPEZE being the only word fitting the rest of the clues.

From Cryptic Crossword iPhone app, Pack 6, Puzzle 3, Clue 3d

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    $\begingroup$ My experience in USA cryptics is that the wordplay has to account for the whole answer. I would not accept this as a proper clue unless somebody comes up with a better explanation. $\endgroup$ Commented May 27, 2014 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @RossMillikan, this is not a US cryptic. (Note the spelling of centre.) $\endgroup$
    – msh210
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ Out of random interest, chimpanzee contains 5 out of the 7 letters in trapeze - a, p, e, z and e. $\endgroup$
    – Pharap
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 6:53

5 Answers 5


It appears to be two clues in one:

  1. "Chimpanzee, say" (answer: APE)

  2. "Circus equipment has APE at the centre." (The letters "APE" are at the exact centre of the word "TRAPEZE".)

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    $\begingroup$ And the important detail is that a trapeze is a piece of circus equipment, which apparently escaped to OP's notice at first. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 23:27

This is still an incomplete answer, but I'm getting closer. First, it's helpful to know that a cryptic clue has two components:

  1. A traditional "definition" of the solution, much like a "normal" crossword clue.
  2. Another way to create the same answer, which can be another simple definition, or more complex ways to build the answer, like word rebuses, "sounds like" clues, etc.

The two clues are not mixed - either can come first, but one ends and then the other starts, so they're not mixed together.

Back to Trapeze:

  1. Obviously, the simple definition is "circus equipment".
  2. So, the second clue that can be "punnier" is "has chimpanzee, say at the centre", and for the most part, every word there should be relevant to the solution (or possibly a connector word, if the puzzle is from the UK).

"APEZ" almost surely comes from the phrase, "chimpanzee, say". "Say" is an indicator of a homophone here - it's a phrase, or manipulation of a phrase that sounds like "Chimpanzee" - In this case, "chimp AND zee", which gets us to "APE Z".

What's still unclear is how we get "TR_E".

It would work if "has" meant "tre," because "at the centre" would just be the indicator to stick the first part inside the "tre".

It would also work if "at the" meant "the end of", because taking the beginning or end of a word is typical, and you could (weakly) argue that "has" indicates the "holding" idea that gets part one stuck in the middle of TRE, and the tee could be coming from the end of "centre".

But neither of those is the case.

  • $\begingroup$ “at the” would need to mean “inside the end of”, not “the end of”. Unless this is a superb piece of misdirection, I'm leaning like others towards the explanation that this is a bad clue, where “has” indicates that only part of the word is clued cryptically. $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2014 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ I can't see any puzzle that uses "centre" spelled like that using Zee for the last letter of the alphabet. In centre-land, that letter is Zed. So Chimp-and-zee is not part of this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:30

"Chimpanzee" is actually two clues in one – the trick is that it's only the "chimp" part by itself that refers to APE, not the whole word. The "zee" refers to a Z that appears right afterwards.

So the string that you get is actually "APEZ". And of course, there's only one piece of circus equipment that has this "chimp and Z" at its centre.

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    $\begingroup$ Of course, for those of us who pronounce Z as "zed" (Canada, the UK, Australia, etc.), it's not as easy to see. $\endgroup$
    – user88
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'm still thrown here by two things: 1) The "an" still seems superfluous - it's not part of either clue. But I gather that in UK-style cryptics, that's sometimes allowed (unlike in US ones). 2) I still don't see where the "TRE" comes from, given the remaining clue parts: "has," and possibly "say"? $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ "an" could be "chimp AND zee" $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ 1) The "an" is supposed to be a corrupted "and". If you sound the word "chimpanzee" out, it sounds like "chimp and Z". 2) The "TR____E" part doesn't have any clue specifically representing that portion. You're supposed to deduce that from the "circus equipment" part, which is a clue about the whole word at once. $\endgroup$
    – user88
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeZ. Yes, but usually the entire solution is specified in the clue. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 18:13

I think the "chimp-and-zee" idea posited in the other answers if possible. But it could also just be a coincidence, and all that's intended is that "chimpanzee, say" is indicating APE. This has the advantage that APE really is exactly at the centre of TRAPEZE. Certainly a 'good' British cryptic wouldn't use 'centre' to mean anything other than the exact middle.

There's certainly no rule that the 'wordplay' constituent of a clue must indicate every letter of the answer. It would be a matter of judgement for the setter whether the indication given is enough for the clue to be fair, taking into account the obscureness of the answer, the number of possible alternatives for the definition given, the helpfulness of the letters provided by crossing clues, etc. For what it's worth I'd say this clue is borderline but fair. It would be better reading "...that has..." to more clearly indicate that what follows is a description of the answer rather than a full instruction for arriving at it.

  • $\begingroup$ I tend to agree with this. I think the "zee" explanation is iffy, and "centre" seems to always be exact. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ For the record, I was probably a bit overzealous saying there's "certainly no rule" that the wordplay should indicate every letter. I was thinking of clues where the wordplay is in effect "take a word meaning X and change the first letter", where the new first letter isn't directly clued. But on reflection I'd say they're the exception and there is a strong convention in British newspaper cryptics that the wordplay covers every letter, so this one (assuming we've parsed it correctly) would be very unusual. $\endgroup$
    – aPaulT
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 20:44

Going to throw this out there. I like the "APE" explanation much better, but maybe someone can do something with this.

"Trap" can be used as a synonym for equipment (though not a common one). If "Circus" is the general clue, leading to "Trapeze", then the rest of it might be "Equipment" = trap and "has chimpanzee, say at the centre" would be "eze".

Like the other clues I've read, though, I can't figure out quite how the second part would work, unless maybe "chimp" = "ee"?

In a real stretch, wiktionary.org says that "chimp" can mean:

(informal, often pejorative) To get very excited when showing images on a digital camera.

So maybe "ee" is the sound someone makes when chimping and "zee" goes in the centre? I know, it's a real stretch. I much prefer the "APE" explanation, but can't figure out what leads to the "TRE".

Another thought (again, that I don't think is right, but maybe it'll poke someone in the right direction): What if "say at the centre" means "rap"? "Rap" is a way of saying things. That would leave "has chimpanzee" or "equipment has chimpanzee" to be "teze". I haven't been able to make that work yet, but it's another thought.


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