# When a cryptic has a double meaning for its clue, how can I tell which answer it wants

Let me preface this by saying this is not a puzzle, it's a genuine question

I'm trying to solve a cryptic puzzle (Lovatt's Cryptic Crosswords Issue 75), and one of the questions is

School bosses talk of standards (10)

The answer is principals / principles (because school bosses = principals and standards = principles), but how can I tell which one? The last 3 letters intersect another word, so if I could get that word it would help, but unfortunately I don't know the answer to that.

Is there anything in the clue that would indicate which word it's looking for, or must I be able to answer the other clue before I know which exact answer it is.

I understand the talk part refers to a phonetic clue, but couldn't it refer to either of them (i.e. school bosses talk vs talk of standards)?

I checked the answers in the back and the correct answer is actually principles.

• Maybe this should go on Puzzling Meta? Oct 30, 2018 at 22:53
• I believe meta is only about discussion regarding the main site, whereas this is a question about a puzzle. I think questions about puzzles are on-topic here (i.e. not every question has to be a puzzle itself, questions about how to solve puzzles or designing puzzles are on topic, I think)
– Tas
Oct 31, 2018 at 2:53
• You're wasting your time trying to fit Lovatt's clues into any proper framework. They are usually massively flawed by most cryptic standards, and often require crossing clues to distinguish between multiple possibilities. They also vary dramatically in quality day to day. Oct 31, 2018 at 7:25

Unfortunately, there's no way to tell except through crossing entries. These types of ambiguous clues are generally considered bad form, and it's for exactly the reason you describe. (Those where enumeration disambiguates aren't as bad -- for instance, "Medieval warrior pronounced "darkness" (5)" would be NIGHT rather than KNIGHT; the clue itself could be solved either way, but the enumeration rules out one option.)

If forced, I would generally attempt to resolve it as Eric Tressler's answer does, but if that doesn't work, you're essentially helpless.

The word "talk" is not actually ambiguous here; "[talk of] standards" being a homophone of "principles" makes sense, and then we have a clear division "School bosses / [talk of] standards". This makes "principals" the clear solution.

If instead we had "school bosses talk", not only is that extremely awkward and probably an invalid way to signify a homophone of "school bosses", but "of" is left as a filler word that does nothing.

Taking "principles" as the answer would imply a very bad clue with a filler word, versus no issues if "principals" is the solution.

• I had a similar line of thinking, I thought "talk of standards" made far more sense than "school bosses talk", which led me to think the correct answer would be principals; however, I checked the answer (the book provides answers) and it's in fact principles, so there goes this theory.
– Tas
Oct 31, 2018 at 4:03

Hopefully, the clue is related to both

Principals (leaders of an education institution)

and

Principals (Matters or things of primary importance: such as a capital sum earning interest, due as a debt, or used as a fund)

in which case the spelling is the same.

• I disagree that the second half of the clue might refer directly to "principals". "Matters of primary importance" are not the same as "standards", whereas principles are -- and there is a homophone indicator, which we would have to toss out the window if "standards" were to give us "principals" directly. Oct 30, 2018 at 23:27