Understand the anatomy of a cryptic clue. Good cryptic clues are said to consist of three parts: an accurate definition, a fair subsidiary indicator, and nothing else. The definition portion is the same as you would find in a straight crossword. The cryptic portion can take any of several forms covered in more detail later.
Ignore the surface reading, how you would read the clue if you weren't doing a crossword. It is irrelevant to the clue, and may even be deliberately misleading.
Parse the clue into the definition and the cryptic subsidiary indication. The definition will always come at the beginning or ending of the clue. Sometimes a linking verb will separate the definition from the SI, but usually nothing will. The cryptic portion is more likely to contain "instructional" words indicating the cryptic transformations to be performed.
- Double definition. These clues are often very short, making them easy to identify and parse. A double definition gives two definitions for the same word.Example: Club of Cincinnati communists (4) = REDS. Club of Cincinnati refers to their baseball team, the Reds. Reds is also a slang term for communists.
- Anagrams. An anagram clue consists of an anagram indicator (telling you to expect an anagram clue) and an anagram fodder (letters to be anagrammed). Anagram indicators suggest mixing, arrangement, illness, insanity, damage, or repair. These are generally the easiest type of clue to start with. Be on the lookout for words in the clue indicating an anagram. The obvious ones like "scrambled" or "ordered" are easy to spot, but watch out for common others like "play" or "new". With luck, this first pass will give you a couple of words to fill in.
- Hidden words. This is a very simple type of clue. The letters of the answer are hidden inside words, sometimes across multiple words. Example: In Fargo, rig amidst paper craft (7) = ORIGAMI. Origami are paper craft and are contained within Fargo rig amidst.
- Most clues will be of the so-called "charade" type; i.e. the solution is made up by amalgamating parts indicated by various words in the clue. Charade clues are usually longer than most other types.
- Removal. Removal clues are formed by removing something from a longer word to form the answer. Example: Kept up, free of blemish, and took action against (4) = SUED. "Took action against" is the definition. "Kept up" = SUSTAINED, "blemish" = STAIN, "free of" means to remove "stain" from "sustained".
- Homophone. A homophone clue depends on words that sound alike, when the cryptic clue wouldn't work if applied to spelling. Homophone clues are indicated by a word referring to hearing or speech. Example: Dying noises of a cowboy or rancher (8) = WITHERED. Dying is the definition, and a cowboy or rancher might be found "with herd." Noises indicates that the clue doesn't work as written, only as spoken.
- Acrostic. The answer is spelled out by the initial letters of words in the cryptic portion of the clue. Example: Try harder if new German leaders object (5) = THING. Leaders refers to the first letters of the preceding five words, and object is a synonym of thing.
- Reversal. The answer is spelled out by reading some letters of words backwards. Example: Sketcher went up to get reward (6) = DRAWER. “Reward” went up (reversed) gives DRAWER.
- Palindrome. The answer is spelled the same both forwards and backwards. Example: Advance in either direction (3, 2) = PUT UP.
- Odd/even clue. Take the odd or even letters to form the solution. Example: Observe odd characters in scene (3) = SEE. Odd letters of SCENE.
- Spooner. For this clue, you switch the first sounds of two words around to find the answer. Example: Stooge for Spooner's staffing lock (8, 5) = LAUGHINGSTOCK.
The first thing to remember is that cryptic clues never include information that is irrelevant to the answer, beyond enough grammar to make the clue readable. If you see a name, for example, you can be sure that it is in some way relevant to the answer - often names are used for anagrams, since they can provide letters that are hard to get otherwise.
Use the number-of-letters indicators to help you in spotting likely clues to tackle. These are appended to the clue in parentheses. The grid will show the total number of letters, but the enumeration tells you if it is a single word, several words, or contains hyphenated or contracted words. Multi-word clues, or very long or short words are generally the easier ones. However, the bulk of the puzzle will be words in the 6-8 letter range.
Pay absolutely no attention to the so-called "surface" meaning of a clue, i.e. what it seems to suggest at first sight. Remember that the setter is trying to throw you off the scent.
- A question mark indicates that rather than a straight definition, it is a pun of some kind. Non-cryptic crosswords use the same notation.
- An exclamation point indicates that the whole clue is itself both the "straight" meaning and the cryptic puzzle. This is an exception to the usual convention that the definition doesn't overlap the cryptic portion. Such clues are also called &lit or "and literally."
Find the "real" meaning of the clue - i.e. the part of the clue which could stand alone in a "straight" crossword. This will generally be either the first or last word or two. Then try to break down the rest of the clue into its component parts which can be assembled to produce a word with that meaning.
Study each word in a clue individually and think of all the different possible things it could mean. This will often alert you to some way that the word could lead to part of the solution.
- Chemical Symbols (AL for Aluminum)
- Country Codes or States (AK for Alaska)
- Greek Letters or Latin Terms (CHI, ETA, or CA, VS, IE)
- Roman Numerals (V, IV, LI)
- Words from other languages such as French, Spanish, Italian etc. (OR for Gold, CID for Hero, etc.)
Click here to view all of our plans
Subscription Features include:
- All Ads removed from the entire website
- More options available for customizing puzzles!
- More stock images to choose from!
- More images allowed per puzzle!
- Many more available fonts! (over 125 fonts!)
- Use ANY font installed on your computer
- 10 word list save slots - and access your saved lists from anywhere!
- More word/clues for crosswords (up to 50)
- More word/clues for match-ups (up to 100)
- More word/clues for fill-in-the-blank (up to 100)
- More word/clues for word scrambles (up to 100)
- More options for Sudoku puzzles
- No wait delays imposed for saving puzzles to an image or PDF
- 'Fake Bank' on our Fill-in-the-Blank worksheets
- More features coming soon
- More Daily Writing Prompts!
Over 30 extra prompts for our premium members for each month! (excludes July)
- All subscriptions support The Teacher's Corner!
- Go here to view our plans and discounts
NOTE:ALL Packages contain the same features, longer subscriptions get better price breaks
SAFE: All subscriptions can be paid via Paypal or Stripe, so your sensitive banking information is never seen nor stored by our website.
Click on Facebook and LIKE US to get up-to-date information about the release of our subscriptions and get valuable coupon codes!