There are a number of conventions you can count on fairly consistently in the New York Times crossword.

One is that abbreviated answers are "signaled" somehow - an answer that is an acronym/initialism, or a shortened form of a longer word, has something to indicate it in the clue.

To my understanding, any abbreviated answer would always have one of the following in the clue:

  • An explicit indicator that it's shortened "Abbreviated" "...for short", "Casually" etc.
  • Abbreviations in the clue itself: "Low ranking GI" for "pvt"

But consider the following:

crossword with "Capital of France's Manche department" cluing "STLO"

The town the answer references is "Saint-Lô;" using "St." is simply an abbreviation for "Saint". So why doesn't convention require that the abbreviation is telegraphed, in the same way it is in 9 Across? ("Philatelists's abbr.")

Is the convention more complex than what I've described above?

Note: I know that there aren't Crossword Courts, and that Will Shortz may do whatever he pleases, but crosswords are built on traditional expectations, so I'm trying to draw on the community's experience with why the indicator is expected on some clues and not others.


1 Answer 1


The conventions for abbreviations in crosswords, particularly the New York Times crossword, are essentially what you described. If there is any abbreviation in the clue itself, that dictates that the answer must be an abbreviation. An indicator in the clue such as "Abbreviated" is also an obvious sign of an abbreviation.

In regards to the clue that you used as an example, the proper convention concerning abbreviations is not necessary because Saint can be shortened to St. without being considered a specific abbreviation. The same applies to mountains. For example, the clue "Sicilian volcano" might garner the answer "MTETNA". The Mt. is not considered a formal abbreviation just like the St. in the example you provided. I hope this clears things up.

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    $\begingroup$ I"m still struggling with the difference - it doesn't seem to be the case that any frequently used abbreviation doesn't need signaling: this page has an example where "PSI" is signaled, despite being much more common than "pounds per square inch". And this one has a signal for MST (for the time zone) - how do those differ from "ST" or "DR"? $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    May 28, 2014 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Jaydles “Saint” is often abbreviated to “St” in French town names, even in contexts where names are normally spelled out. For example, the municipality website uses “St-Lô” rather than “Saint-Lô” in some places such as the page title. “St” is one of the few abbreviations used in place names in train schedules. It's almost a different spelling of the word, though it isn't included in dictionaries. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2014 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I would not expect a crossword to explicitly call out St, Dr, Mr, Mrs and similar conventional forms of address as abbreviations, in place names or elsewhere. $\endgroup$ May 30, 2014 at 2:05

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