Guide to Solving Cryptic Crosswords
Go Straight to Cryptic Puzzles


A cryptic crossword is a special sort of puzzle.  Each clue in a cryptic crossword is actually a little puzzle of its own.   Cryptics were invented in Britain, and continue to be extremely popular there.  So popular that a cryptic crossword appears in every major British newspaper on a daily basis.  In Canada, cryptics are just starting to catch on.  They now appear each weekend in the major Toronto and National newspapers.  With time, perhaps we'll be so lucky as to see them in every newspaper across the country.  As you'll appreciate when you learn to solve them, they are very addictive!

The charm of a cryptic clue is that it's deceptive at first, yet ultimately unambiguous.  Deceptive, since no clue means what it first appears to on the surface.  Yet unambiguous, since each clue gives you two ways to confirm its answer.  The basic premise of cryptic clue writers is summed up in Afrit's Injunction:  "You need not mean what you say, but you must say what you mean".  (Afrit is the pseudonym of a famous British cryptician.)

While a standard crossword clue is usually a simple definition of its answer, a cryptic clue will be trickier.  For example, let's look at clues for the answer THERESA CUNNINGHAM.

In a regular crossword, the clue might be:
        Cryptic crossword writer

In a cryptic crossword, the clue might be:
        Nicer man then hugs a wildly beautiful Canadian woman (7,10)

See how it works?  The whole cryptic clue is a set of instructions for solving the answer.  The letters in Nicer man then hugs a, when rearranged (written wildly), will spell Theresa Cunningham (a beautiful Canadian woman).  Okay, you might argue that there is a liberty taken with the definition, but Mom thought I was a cute baby!

Notice that there are two routes to solving a cryptic clue.  One part of the clue is a straight definition; the other part is wordplay.  The definition can come either at the beginning or end of a clue.  It is up to the solver to decode just where the definition and the wordplay are separated.  But once you discover the answer, you'll see that every word in the clue plays some role.  There should be no totally extraneous words in a cryptic clue; each word is there for a reason.  Let's look at the various types of wordplay that can take place in a cryptic clue.
 
1)  Anagrams 5)  Double Definitions Other Clue Types
2)  Hidden Words 6)  Reversals Combinations
3)  Charades 7)  Homophones Bits and Pieces
4)  Containers 8)  Deletions &Lit (And Literally So)

You should now be ready to try your hand at a small practice puzzle.  Good luck, and have fun!

Practice Makes Perfect

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