Wow, what a weekend it was. With all that controversy, my original questions got a bit lost. I thought I’d start a new post for ongoing discussion about “!”, “?” and “…”.
I, RC, think that this should be a judiciously used indicator of &lit clues, the Grange Hermitage of the cryptic. I love cryptics because of the wild, no-rules mind games that can be played within the clues. No rules, except for the two UNBREAKABLE rules – that there is a direct and an indirect clue, and that the direct clue must in some way touch the beginning or end of the clue.
Like all good unbreakable rules these do get broken, chiefly by &lit clues. I think “!” needs to be used carefully, so that the solver knows when the usual rules will be bent. I accept RB’s comment that DA does occasionally use the “!” for less-than-pure &lit clues, but they’re usually &lit-ish.
In short, I don’t mind it being used on clues other than the Grange, but other compilers tend to throw it at the Banrock Station cask (of which I am actually quite fond).
MF brought up problems with the “?”, but I tend to agree with DA and RB that it “is often used for pun clues, or oblique definitions.” Having ranted about “!” above, I dont think you can use the “?” as an &lit indicator, and I don’t recall it being used without “!” to do so.
In a non-Age/SMH crossword I did a long time ago, I saw “?” used to indicate “Y”, I assume as in ?=why=Y. I dont remember where I saw it though.
I know this is one of AS’s pet topics. I tend to think of it as indicating where reading on to the next clue might be amusing, but I think it can get used to indicate the need for the next clue’s answer. I’m not sure about it, but I’d love to hear all your comments.