Cryptic crosswords

Let’s crack the code!

Cryptic crosswords are not for the lazy-minded. However, when you consider the brain uses 20% of the body’s energy, it is certainly something that requires a workout. People go to the gym to exercise their body and try to stay fit. Not a bad idea then to give your brain some exercise too and keep the neurons and the rest of the grey matter in good shape.Introduction to Cryptic

So, on the basis of use it or lose it, you can do a lot worse than tackle a cryptic crossword. Thing is, many people find the questions obscure, even bizarre and simply too much effort to enjoy.

Solvers of cryptic crosswords need to be codebreakers and lateral thinkers. My notes will hopefully help you with a few keywords so that the task becomes more of an enjoyable learning experience. After all, it is quite an achievement to complete a crossword by working out the answers yourself, rather than crib them from the internet. I hope I explain these ideas clearly enough.

The majority of clues in a cryptic crossword have two components:

  • the definition word, and
  • the cryptic clue

A typical crossword has about 30 clues. The definition word is almost always at the beginning or at the end of each of the clues. If you can identify which end you are almost halfway there. You could even treat the crossword as a normal “quick” crossword if you are able to pick out all the definition words.

Here are some examples. The definition word is underlined:

1] Delightful stupor with music playing (11). The answer is “scrumptious”.

2] Reportedly smell lubricant and shy away (6). The answer is “recoil”.

3] Separate in Croatian resort (5). The answer is “split”.

So in a quick crossword the format would simply be:

1] Delightful (11).

2] Shy away (6).

3] Separate (5).

Crossword setter

The crossword setter is the person who devises the crossword and its cryptic clues. Look out for “compiler”, “setter”, or “the writer”, for example, which might mean you take ME for me, or IM for I’m to add to your anagram.

1] In conclusion this writer is correct (5). Correct is the definition word. We want the verb for this. Use ME for this writer. For conclusion use END. “In” is the insert word. So insert ME in END. The answer is “emend”.

Of course, as always with cryptic crosswords, the clue can blindside you, as in the next example, where “setter” is not the compiler of a crossword!

2] Upset by setter’s first clues (4). For upset, use TIP. First is letter manipulation, so take the first letter of Setter. The answer is “tips”.

These and more tricks are investigated in the following sections:

  • Definition words
  • Anagram flags
  • Letter manipulation
  • Insertion flags
  • Abbreviations
  • Synonyms
  • Homonyms
  • Lurkers
  • Word play
  • Tricky customers
  • Double definitions and final notes

And a final word. The best way to grasp the principles is to read right through line by line. I know it might seem a bit of a bother. But if you do this you will create some instinctive habits that will serve you well. This especially refers to the long lists under: Anagram flags, Letter manipulation and Abbreviations.

Happy puzzling!

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By Nigel Benetton

Last updated: Monday, 21st March 2022