I suspect some readers won't want to be reminded of this clue from Thursday's Times crossword (No. 25,590):
One’s holding a party for people one reveres (5) [ICONS] (select between the square brackets for the answer, or read on)
I'm not absolutely sure what checked letters I had in place when I reached this clue, but I'm almost certain it was just the initial I. However, although I immediately thought of IDOLS as a possible answer, I'm so familiar with the fact that ICONS also fits I‑O‑S that it only took me a second or two to discard the former in favour of the latter.
This is just one of a number of similar pairs I've encountered over the years, and which I'm on constantly on the look out for. Usually, as here, the wordplay will be enough to determine the required answer, but if you're not aware of the possible alternative(s), and you're solving at speed, and the checked letters confirm your first thoughts, then it's all too easy to make a mistake. I've confessed in previous blog entries to one or two similar blunders I've made myself, and although I don't think I've mentioned ICONS/IDOLS before, I've almost certainly chosen the wrong one at some point in the past. It's just that it's so long ago that I've forgotten the details. On the other hand, I can think of one awkward pair that's caught me out at least twice. (But I don't think I'll say what it is in case it pops up again in the forthcoming Championship. If only they'd saved Thursday's puzzle until then ;-)
It would be interesting to consider the extent to which experience helps with crossword completion. My impression is that there is a vast cruciverbal argot, which we deploy mainly without noticing it - pausing perhaps to call it a cliche - but which the man (person?) in the street would not cotton on to at all. runner/banker = river, eli/fr/rev = priest, etc etc.. not to mention acres of vocabulary met nowhere except in the crossword grid. Perhaps this experiential learning is the main reason why solvers improve, once they have the basics grasped.
The problem I have is that the argot and the vocabulary have changed somewhat since I first started doing the Times crossword, but my long experience (more than 60 years doing cryptic crosswords, with more than 50 of them doing the Times) still gives me an advantage over most other solvers.
Had I been solving this puzzle online I'd have deleted IDOLS after initially carelessly putting it in. It's one of those, surely, where the wordplay construction is so obvious that I can't believe it was intended as a deliberate trap. There's IS and DO - but what about the L? (Interestingly, "swindle" also fits both CON and DO). Unfortunately as I was solving the paper version I had to leave the squared inked in, and consequently forgot to come back to it.
I don't think it was a deliberate trap, but I fell into it just the same (as did Magoo, which was some consolation). Of course I couldn't parse the clue with that answer, but I was racing the clock and just assumed it must be right anyway. I quite often submit without parsing all the clues properly, going back and working them out afterwards. But when you do that you need to be confident there's a low probability that there are alternatives you haven't thought of, and it's particularly risky with short answers like this one. Jason
I don't think it was a deliberate trap either, but it clearly caught a lot of people.
I suspect that more often than not I finish a puzzle (i.e. click on Submit, stop my stopwatch, stick my hand up in the Championship, or whatever) without having fully parsed every clue, but I always go back and work through the clues carefully afterwards to make sure I've understood their finer points. Most of the time this works very well, but perhaps two or three times a year I get caught out - as I did with "Saw how motorists travel without getting to centre (6)" in Monday's puzzle. I think I had ‑Y‑O‑‑ in place when I reached it, and could see that BYROAD would satisfy "how motorists travel" and (at a fairly hefty push) "without getting to the centre", and I suppose I just ignored "Saw" at the time and didn't go back and read the clue again once MEDITATE had confirmed the final D. You just have to pray that you avoid things like that in the Championship.
(Note to self: must add BYROAD and BYWORD to my list of awkward pairs.)
I'm still at that stage where my solving speed can be charitably described as pedestrian at best, but I think it helped me w/r/t the icons/idols clue.
Much like most others my initial thought was 'idols! The answer is idols', but the wordplay didn't match the definition (very rarely do I put in an answer based on definition alone) so idols had to be wrong. It was then a matter of scrolling through my mental checklist for 'party' (do, con, lab, lib, &c...) until both wordplay and definition married.
I don't think I'll ever trouble the top of the hit parade with my solving times; to regularly clock in under the hour mark would be a relief!
I'm sure you're right about your steadier speed being a help, as it means you're less likely than Jason (see above) and me to make mistakes through failing to parse comparatively straightforward clues properly. The thing is that once you improve your times so that you're solving in around 10 minutes pretty regularly, then it's difficult to resist the lure of speed.