Could've maybe been MATZOH or CHALLAH, though each is too long to fit. But even after he had the right answer, GELT, it still didn't register. He got the head-desk moment when I pointed out that "bread" means "money" in this clue. It pains me that I rarely get to see footage of these head-desk moments, but I imagine they are epic.
Was that kosher? It would have been more polite for me to put a question mark at the end of that clue, making it [Hanukkah bread?]. The question mark is a crossword convention that tips solvers off that wordplay is afoot, so this solver might've been more on his guard and figured it out with that nudge.
How does a crossword writer decide whether to tip their hand with a question mark at the end of a clue? It's a judgment call, based on factors like how tricky the wordplay is and how difficult that particular puzzle is supposed to be. Here I figured that it's Thursday, the second-toughest puzzle of the week, so that's one vote against using the question mark. Plus, I thought that all the crossings were easy enough so that once GELT appeared on the page, the penny would drop. But it was still pretty tricky, as it turned out, even with both clue and answer! And I can empathize; even after seeing it 100 times, a clue like [Russian bread] can still throw me for RUBLE.
In general, I'm reluctant to use the question mark on clues. Think of it as a comedian deciding whether to deadpan a joke or telegraph it with a big grin and wacky, raised voice. There's a place for both, but it seems to me that the question mark ruins more "aha!" moments than it enables. Sometimes solvers will need a nudge even after, as here, but usually I like to let solvers wonder where the wordplay is lurking instead of presenting that information on a silver platter.
Do you like wordplay warnings, or prefer to pick the tricks up on your own? Tweet your thoughts on the matter to #beastxword (with or without a question mark).
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