The surface meaning (often shortened to surface) of a cryptic clue is its apparent or literal meaning.
The surface meaning should alway be coherent. In the best cryptic clues the surface meaning conjures up an amusing or intriguing mental image, although this is totally irrelevant to the true import of the clue.What this means is that, if we forget for the moment that this is a crossword clue and just read it as a phrase or sentence we might encounter in a passage of prose, it should be coherent.
If you allow yourself to be led astray by the surface meaning, you may be racking your brains for the names of 19th century politicians, whereas in fact it is a simple hidden word clue.
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