Cryptic Crossword mystery solved !

  • Cryptic Crossword

Are crossword puzzles in which each clue is a word puzzle in and of itself. They are mostly popular in the British Isles where they were invented. In the United States, cryptic are sometimes known as "British-style" crosswords.


Cryptic puzzles can be enigmatic because a clue will lead to its answer as long as you read it in the correct manner.

On the surface , when read normally a clue is a clever distraction and has very little to do with the exact answer.

The challenge is to find the way of reading the clue that leads to the solution.

Lets dissect the clue: A typical clue has two parts which can reveal the answer and their order can be completely arbitrary.

One part of the clue is a definition, which usually is straightforward and matches the tone of the answer.

The other part ( wordplay ) provides another path to the answer.

Sometimes the two parts are joined with a link word or phrase such as "from" or "could be".

Because a typical cryptic clue describes its answer in detail and often more than once, the solver can

usually have a great deal of confidence in the answer once it has been determined.

This is in contrast to non-cryptic crossword clues which often have several possible answers and force the solver

to use the crossing letters to distinguish which was intended.


The below Hints show some of the tools used by cryptic compilers( authors ).

At the end of this section there are also some useful resources including an abbreviation

reference, a reverse abbreviation reference (which is a very useful tool) and a condensed

( PDF printable version ) of the Crossword Hints section presented here.

  • Philosophy (of cluing)

Torquemada's successor at The Observer was Ximenes (Derrick Somerset Macnutt, 1902–1971), and in his influential work, Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword Puzzle (1966), he set out more detailed guidelines for setting fair cryptic clues, now known as "Ximenean principles" and sometimes described by the word "square-dealing". The most important of them are tersely summed up by Ximenes' successor Azed(Jonathan Crowther, born 1942):

A good cryptic clue contains three elements:

  1. a precise definition
  2. a fair subsidiary indication
  3. nothing else

The Ximenean principles are adhered to most strictly in the subgenre of "advanced cryptics" — difficult puzzles using barred grids and a large vocabulary. Easier puzzles often have more relaxed standards, permitting a wider array of clue types, and allowing a little flexibility


Clues given to the solver are based on various forms of wordplay. Nearly every clue has two non-overlapping parts to it: one part that provides an unmodified but often indirect definition for the word or phrase, and a second part that includes the wordplay involved. In a few cases, the two definitions are one and the same, as often in the case of "& lit." clues. Most cryptic crosswords provide the number of letters in the answer, or in the case of phrases, a series of numbers to denote the letters in each word: "cryptic crossword" would be clued with "(7,9)" following the clue. More advanced puzzles may drop this portion of the clue.



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Abbreviations are popular with crossword compilers for cluing individual letters or short sections of the answer.

Consider the following clue example: About to come between little Desmond and worker for discourse (7).

There are two abbreviations used here:

  • (i) "About" ( which is abbreviated 'c' - for circa )

  • (ii) "Little Desmond" ( which indicates the smaller of Desmond ) ,meaning 'DES' is used here.

The "c" is "to come between" DES and ANT (a worker; note that compilers also use "worker" to stand for BEE or HAND ),

Which yields the Solution : DESCANT, which means 'DISCOURSE'.


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In Charade clues two (2) clues are used to form separate parts of the answer.

Consider the following clue example: Musicians Assistant / Cut Remedy(7).

There are two CHARADES used here:

  • (i) 1st clue : Musicians = Band

  • (ii) 2nd clue : Assistant = Aid .

With the straight definition clue being "Cut Remedy", therefore confirms our solution Band - Aid.

**NOTE** Though the clues appear in order, there is no requirement for them to do so. However, the order of the parts is sometimes indicated with words such as "against", "after", "on", "with" or (in a down clue) "above".


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A CONTAINER clue puts one set of letters inside another.

Consider the following clue example : Apostle's friend outside of university (4).

The answer is PAUL.

[Because by placing "pal" ("friend"),( outside of ), "U" ("university"). makes PAUL ( "apostle")].

**NOTE ** Other container indicators are "inside", "over", "around", "clutching", "enters", and the like.


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Deletions consist of be-headments, curtailments, and internal deletions.

  • In be-headments , a word loses its first letter.
    Other indicator words of beheadment include "beheaded" ,"don't start", "topless", and "after the first".

  • In curtailments , it loses its last letter.

    An example of curtailment: Shout, "Read!" endlessly (3) The answer is BOO.
    [Because if you ignore the punctuation, a book is a "read", and book "endlessly" is boo, a "shout".]
    Besides "endlessly" other indicators include "nearly" and "unfinished".

  • Internal deletions remove an inner letter, such as the middle one.

    Embedded Words

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    Occurs when the answer appears within the clue, but is contained within one or more words, or hidden.

    Possible indicators of a hidden clue are "in part", "partially", "in", "within", "hides", "conceals", "some", and "held by".

    As an example consider : Introduction to do-gooder canine (3).
    The answer is simply dog
    [Because the introduction "do-gooder" and the definition canine points to it.]


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      In an initialism clue, the first letters of part of the clue are put together to give the answer.

      As an example consider : Initially amiable person eats primate (3)
      The answer is APE , the initial letters of each of the words following 'Initially'.

      [It is possible to have initialisms just for certain parts of the clue, and the ends of words also.]


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        A word that gets turned around to form another.

        As an example consider : Returned King Ale Drink(5)
        The answer is LAGER ,
        Because King = REGAL, and REGAL 'returned' is LAGER, an Ale Drink.

        [Other indicator words include "receding", "in the mirror", "going the wrong way","returns", "reverses" "to the left" or "left" (for across clues), and "rising","overturned" or "mounted" or "comes up" (for down clues).]

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An anagram is a rearrangement of a certain section of the clue to form the answer.

This will normally consist of three parts:

(i) A definition;

(ii) the letters or words to be rearranged , and

(iii) an indicator word such as 'strange', 'bizarre','muddled', 'wild', 'drunk', or any other term indicating change.

It is common for the setter to use a juxtaposition of anagram indicator and anagram that form a common phrase to make the clue appear as much like a 'normal' sentence or phrase as possible. In an American cryptic, only the words given in the clue may be anagrammed


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In Combination clues there may be more than one method of wordplay.

Consider the following clue example : Illustrious baron returns in pit (9).

The answer is HONORABLE.

[Because Baron "returns",( or is reversed ), forming NORAB and put inside "pit" or HO - LE , to make HONORABLE , or "illustrious".]

    In Summary this example, utilized the combination of

  • (i) Reversal : ... baron returns ...

  • (ii) Hidden : in pit .


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Here the clue appears to say one thing, but with a slight shift of viewpoint it says another.

As an example consider The flower of London? (6).

which gives THAMES, a ,flow-er of London.
Here, the surface reading suggests a blossom, which disguises the fact that the name of a river is required.

This type of clue rarely appears in American cryptics but is common in British and Canadian cryptics.


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    DOUBLE DEFINITION Most often seen as 2 or 3 word clues( does not follow the typical definition-wordplay format ).

    As an example consider Clergy Moves diagonally(6).

    Note both definitions are of different roots

    • In the first one CLERGY , or [BISHOP].

    • In the second part Moves diagonally ,which reveals [CHESS - BISHOP], which re-affirms the first part.

    In Summary we have the following chain : Clergy = Bishop = moves diagonally (chess).


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      Words that sound the same but have different meanings ( such as 'Knight' and 'night' ).

      Homophone clues always have an indicator word or phrase that has to do with phonetics,such as "reportedly", "they say", "vocal", "to the audience", "by the sound of it", "is heard" and "on the radio".


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        An odd/even clue is one in which the odd or even letters of certain parts of the clue give the answer.

        As an example consider : Odd stuff of Mr. Waugh is set for someone wanting women to vote (10)
        The answer is SUFFRAGIST ,
        Because St UfF oF MR. WAuGh Is SeT = SUFFRAGIST

        [It is possible to have initialisms just for certain parts of the clue, and the ends of words also.]

          & lit.

          & lit.
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          A rare clue type is the "& lit." clue, standing for "and literally so"

          As an example consider : e.g., Origin of goose (3)
          The answer is EGG ,
          Because Geese find their origins in eggs, so the whole clue gives "egg", but the clue can also be broken down: e.g., loses its full stops to give eg, followed by the first letter (i.e., the "origin") of the word goose—g—to make egg..

          [In this case, the entire clue is both a definition and a cryptic clue. In some publications this is always indicated by an exclamation mark at the end of the clue.]



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