Why cryptics are better. Blogjune. 29/24



An almost completed cryptic crossword. There is a lot of writing around the page where clues were worked out.

You get a clue like a regular crossword. THEN you get a big other clue that narrows the answer right down.

Here’s some examples from today’s Saturday Paper:

1. Portmanteu words

11 ACROSS: Attractive person in metal neckware (5)

Let’s go from the very end – Neckware = TIE, Metal = CU (Copper). Put them together and you get a five letter word for an attractive person, a CUTIE. This defined word was “in” the second part of the clue.

The hardest bit is working out which is the definition and which is the extra honking big hint. For most clues, it is either the first or last word. Here it could have been “attractive” or “attractive person” or “neckware”.

Like regular crosswords, the number of letters, plus any other letters filled in by other clues on the grid, narrows it down further.

2. Anagrams

After a while you get used to trigger words, like “metal” probably means a couple of letters from the periodic table. A hidden anagram is often signaled by words indicating the next part of the clue is scrambled, like “In disarray” or “ruined” or “distressed” or “about” or “perhaps”.

Try another, librarian themed:

6 DOWN: Source of information in cat brain, perhaps (10)

Here “perhaps” tells us to look for an anagram, so we start counting letters in phrases to find some that together match the length of the target word. “In cat brain” has 10 letters. The meaning, then, will likely be either “Source” or “Source of Information”. So, we put the letters in alphabetical order, aabciinnrt and stare hopelessly at it. Go on to another clue, until letters of the clues crossing it are filled in:


Giving us, after too long of staring,: BRITTANICA

3. Homonyms

Portmanteaus and anagrams make up about 75% of clues. Sometimes the clue will just list a homonym. In these, there seems to be no trigger words to point to which part is the hint (like “distressed” for an anagram or “contained in” for portmanteau words). It looks like just two possible meanings. So, with this one:

18 DOWN: Three months of flavour (6)

Three months could be a “quarter”, but that has nothing to do with flavour. What about SEASON ?

4. Hidden words

If the hint is not an anagram or a portmanteu, it is often letters of a word spelled out somewhere directly in the clue text:

2 DOWN: Nasty experience surrounding opthamologist’s diagnosis (4)

Well, obviously “opthamologist’s diagnosis” is such an odd phrase that is where we could try to find a hidden word, but nothing jumps out. Look again at the first part. The word “surrounding” could be read as “the letters in the bit before are around the target word”.

NaSTY Experience = STYE

5. Bits of words, or words stuffed into others, common abbreviations and…

There are many, many other types of clues that occasionally appear.

Cockney” often tells you to drop an “H” at the start of a word. Unless is it rhyming slang (like “apples” for “apples and pears” = STAIRS).

Spooner Says” tells you to look for a Spoonerism (where the first sound at the start of one word is swapped with the sound at the start of another. So “Oil my Bicycle” becomes “Boil my Icicle”)

Common abbreviations signal two or three letter sequences which will be combined with something else. So, if “example” features in a hint, the definition word will probably have “EG” or “EX” in it. We saw that at the start with “CU” (abbreviation for copper) for “metal“.

Let’s go for one that combines lots of techniques:

5 DOWN: Tweeting to Guevara with example about grenade part

The definition part here is “Tweeting to“, with “Guevara with example about grenade part” forming the hint. There is no easy way to tell which is definition and which is hint, you just try both.

Guevara = CHE

With = add CHE to the next bit

Example = EG

About = “put the letters “E” and “G” around the next word. (This is a bit tricksy because sometimes “about” means “the letters before will go about, so the letters in the words before make up an anagram”)

Grenade Part = PIN

So we have CHE , then the letter E (first bit of “EG“, that goes about the next word), then PIN, then G (The last bit of EG around the word PIN)

Giving us …. CHEEPING

6. My ulterior motive

I have been training you up in this because I want you to help me.

I am stuck on one last clue.

Usually I have one or two undone on Saturday, then come back to them during the week and manage to nut them out before the next weekend.

12 ACROSS: Detect music number and cheer (7)

The other words across it fill in some letters:


Definition word: It could be detect as in find out, or something to do with what investigators do. Or maybe “detect music”? But I cannot think of a word for that. So, maybe the definition word is Cheer … which could be an excited utterance, or happiness, or even a code word for alcohol?

Possible directions

  • The T_N could be the number TEN
  • Maybe it is a music number? Before I had the extra letters, I tried “HIT” or “ACT”. ACT still fits
  • I’ve tried saying the word out loud, trying every letter of the alphabet after “G” to see if I could sound out a plausible word that I could then reverse engineer.

7. Best places to learn

The clues to the Saturday Paper crossword are hoovered up by a yukky site that will tell you the answer on the day the crossword is published. Just Googling the clue above will give you the answer. I’m not going to do that… so if you do, please don’t tell me. If you work it out for yourself, let me know and I will marvel at your genius.

Have a look at the clues I have completed in the image above and see if you can work out how they were obtained. Feel free to ask me if you are still scratching your head.

I could only do five or six clues each week, painstakingly and taking ages… until I read David Astle’s excellent “Rewording the Brain: how cryptic crosswords can improve your memory and boost the power and agility of your brain. Lots of clue types broken down, easy worked examples, and witty, witty enjoyable word play.

The Guardian has run a number of columns of over several years in its Cryptic Crosswords for Beginners series.

Many daily newspapers have crosswords that have two sets of clues. One is the standard, the other set is cryptic. This is also a great way to learn.

3 thoughts on “Why cryptics are better. Blogjune. 29/24

  1. Got it! 1 Down should be “Banish” – Northern Ireland (NI) in BASH (a party), which together make a word that means outlaw ….. SO….

    My mystery word now starts with an H. “Detect music” ..Yes, there is a word… “HEAR”. Added to number TEN .. it becomes a word meaning to cheer up HEARTEN

  2. Cryptics drive me mad! My husband loves them, though I haven’t seen him do any in a while. May not have access anymore to whatever uk paper he was getting them from. Definitely are brain teasers. Great tutorial!!

  3. Oh you are very very clever. Thanks for this lovely tutorial. I wonder if I’ll be brave enough to start on these. I got one clue once about twenty five years ago.

What do you think? Let us know.