This page is a beginner's guide to cryptic crosswords for those who want to learn or explore this exciting form of puzzle.
Cryptic crosswords are widely considered the ultimate challenge for word game lovers. They are very entertaining and addictive!
OurGenius Crossword Appwas designed for people to enjoy cryptic crosswords on their phone. The scan feature allows you to point your phone's camera at a printed crossword and advanced image processing techniques will read the grid and clues so you can solve the crossword on your device. Also included in the app is our helpful helper Ross, an artificial intelligence that can explain and solve clues to users on request. Ross is the ultimate guide to cryptic crossword puzzles.
This guide serves as a quick tour of some of the types of cryptic clues that the app can solve. The information applies to cryptic crosswords found around the world, although there are some slight differences. For example, the publishers of American Cryptics tend to be much stricter about what's acceptable and what's not, and the puzzles often lack cryptic definitions (see below).
Chambers defines the cryptic word as "hidden"; Secret; invisible; mysteriously dark." The clues in cryptic riddles are like that. To understand them, you have to read them in a very sneaky way. What the clue seems to define on the surface is meant to be distracting and is almost never what it really means. But to be fair enough, the clue will always tell you what the answer is (usually more than once), even if you have to rack your brains to read the clue the way it tells you!
All cryptic clues have a definition. Usually, this is a word or phrase that could otherwise be used to find the solution in an ordinary, non-cryptic crossword puzzle. This definition is almost always at one end of the key or the other. Finding where it starts and ends is part of the challenge.
A cryptic clue also usually has a second part called a secondary clue. This also brings you to the word, but with a sneaky pun. In the clue, words can mean their component letters, other words mean the same thing, or they can refer to an operation you perform on the other words to spell the answer.
That may sound intimidating, but one way to think of cryptic crossword clues is that they consist of a non-cryptic clue, such as "animal (6)," plus an additional set of clues that lead you to the answer more precisely. In a way, a cryptic crossword is more generous to solvers than a non-cryptic one!
To illustrate, let's look at some specific types:
1. Anagram Clues
In an anagram clue, the clue includes the letters of the answer and an indication that the letters need to be rearranged or are out of order. A correct rearrangement gives the solution. e.g.
Remote control for celestial objects (6)
If you're reading this directly, you might think the answer is a drone or some other flying object that requires "remote control." However, this is a cryptic clue, so it's not that obvious. The reading is: The letters R,E,M,O,T,E redrawn (or) an "object in the sky". You need to insert a mental pause after the word "remote". Sometimes imagining invisible punctuation marks can help make cryptic reading clearer:
"REMOTE" designed = object in the sky (6)
The answer is METEOR. The clue definition part is "object in the sky", the anagram indicator (as it is called) is "designed", and the letters in the anagram are from the word "distant".
There are literally thousands of possible anagram indicators. Any word or phrase that suggests confusion, arrangement, strangeness, movement, or any number of other related concepts may serve. More importantly, the anagram indicator suggests a process of change that the letters must go through, so surprisingly both "order" and "spoil" are possible indicators! You may also need to sniff out culinary terms that ask you to "cook," "stew," or "cook" the letters in a new shape. The letters of the anagram can be taken from any number of words.
Anagram clues are usually the easiest for a beginner to spot, as you can often see one or more words that have the same number of letters as the answer and an anagram indicator next to it.
Ross can solve anagram clues very easily and with a high level of confidence. In fact, he can usually solve them even if he doesn't recognize the anagram indicator.
2. Sham Suggestions
In sham clues, two or more words converge to form the solution.
To torment the left is a plant (6)
Another way to say tease is TEASE, and a common abbreviation for left is L. When these two are next to each other (as in the clue), they spell the word "TEASEL," which is a type of plant. Sometimes the union of the words is established explicitly with words and phrases such as "after", "run to", etc. Words like "down", "up", etc. can be used to aim down.
Abbreviations such as "links" instead of "L" are a very common feature of cryptic clues, as the setter often has to find a way to display one- and two-letter combinations. With experience, you will recognize many of the common abbreviations.
3. Container Notices
These clues insert a single letter or the letters of one word into another.
The widest and best form in (8)
The answer is WIDER. "Wider" is the definition and "better way in" is the subordinate specification, which is to be read cryptically as "the letters BEST with the letters ROAD inside". A path is a kind of "path" in the sense of a path.
This notice contains a link, the word "and", which separates the definition from the secondary statement. Container hints are very common, and the indicator can appear between the two words, at one end or the other. Depending on which one it is, it can also indicate that one of the words is inserted into the other.
Container indicators are outside, near, none, crossing, shelter, being eaten by, and hundreds of others.
4. Suggestions for duplicate definitions
Here the auxiliary specification is replaced by a second definition. Often these clues are short, perhaps two or three words. An example:
Clear as a document (8)
The answer to that is an eight-letter word that can mean "clear" or "document." The answer is MANIFEST. To read this note cryptically, imagine it asking for a synonym for "clear", which is the same as "like" a word for "a document". Arguably, this means that a double definition is twice as useful as a typical non-cryptic hint where the solver only has to work with a single, potentially ambiguous definition.
Definitions can also be triple, quadruple, and in rare cases quintuple, sextuple, or more.
Ross will always get the double definition if he knows both definitions, and will often suggest the correct solution even if he only knows one of the two definitions.
Beginner's Tip: Duplicate definition clues are often short.
5. Start, end, change and other letter suggestions
This is where the track asks you to choose specific lyrics from the track, e.g.
Country singer performs an album that includes beautiful introductions (5)
The answer to this is SPAIN, defined by "country".
In the auxiliary, "introductions" should be read cryptically as "the letters that introduce words". If you take the first letters of the words "Singer Performs Album Incl. Bonito", is the answer!
The same can be done with the final letters (note 'tail', 'bottom', 'back', etc.) and the letters in between ('heart', 'middle', 'inner', etc.). Flags such as "regular", "odd", or "even" are also used to tell the solver to choose alternate letters.
Here, in cryptic reading, letters of a longer word are removed. e.g.
Swimmer in underwear comes out of the lake (4)
The answer is LING, a species of fish defined by "swimmers".
To resolve the subspec, you must replace "underwear" with "LINGERIE" and remove ("give up") the letters "ERIE", the name of one of the Great Lakes.
Other ways of deletion include deleting the first, last, or middle letter. Indicators include words like "short", "topless", "hollow", etc. Often a setter will use a select flag to tell you to pick a specific letter, along with a delete flag to tell you to type the deleted letter.
Mistake in throwing back schoolchildren (4-2)
The answer here is SLIP-UP. The definition is "Error". "School kids" takes you to "STUDENTS" and if you change these letters in order you will get the answer.
Please note that the cryptic reversal indicator for bearish signals can have bullish connotations, e.g. Words like "get up", "go north", "go up", etc.
8. Tips on hidden words
Sometimes the correct spelling of the answer is shown directly in the hint. e.g.
They find more lice that contain the remains (5)
The answer is RELIC (defined by "what remains"). The secondary designation says that the letters MORELICE contain the answer, which is true! Remember that hidden letters can be cleverly separated by punctuation marks. In very rare cases, the answer is hidden between the letters backwards (in such cases, a reversal indicator is used).
Many cryptic puzzles contain one or more hidden word clues to help beginners. Because these answers are out in the open, they're often easy to spot if you're looking for them. Pay attention to the very common "in" indicator.
9. "Sounds Like" Suggestions
Here, the auxiliary clue tells you something about a word that sounds the same as the answer. e.g.
From the looks of it, I'll row (5)
The answer here is GANG, "row" is the definition, and the auxiliary phrase, when read correctly, says that the answer sounds like "I will", which it is!
Other sound-like indicators are "say", "it is said", "presumed", "hear", etc., anything that suggests speech or sound.
10. Cryptic definitions
This is one of the rare track types that does not have a child track. Instead, the cunning comes from reading the definition in a peculiar way. For example:
Accommodation closed to flappers (4-4)
The expected answer is BIRD-CAGE. Here "blocked" does not mean prohibited, but having bars and "flaps" refers to things that hit, e.g. B. Birds with wings.
Revolutionary line for men (8.4)
The expected response is JUMP ROPE. "Revolutionary" here means "twisted" instead of radical, and "jumpers" aren't sweaters, they're jumping people!
By the way, the unusual use of words ending in -ER is common in cryptic crosswords. Another example is "flower", which does not mean a colorful plant, but something that flows (for example, a river). "Revolver" was even used to define TURNTABLE.
Understandably to our artificial intelligence, Ross probably has the most difficulty with these types of clues. However, it is surprising how often he can suggest the answer even without marking the letters.
11. Type combinations
Setters wouldn't do cryptic crosswords so simple that all clues match any of the above types.
Very often, more than one of the above techniques are combined to make the secondary indication even more challenging. Ross can handle that just as well. e.g.
Laughing at strangely rude company (4)
This is a combination of a sham and the removal of a middle letter. The answer is HEAVY (defined as "hard"). The laugh is replaced with "ha!", "weirdly" says to only use the letters in odd positions of "RuDe" (ie RD), and "at" says to go together to spell HARD.
It is indecent to let little Albert run inside (6)
This is a combination of an anagram and a container. The answer is AMORAL (defined as "indecent"). AL is replaced with "Little Albert" ("little" means an abbreviation instead of little boy), "around" is an anagram indicator saying that the letters of "ROAM" must move, in this case to MORA and 'inside' they say they go in AL. Placing MORA in AL explains the answer!
12. Miscellaneous notes
There are many other weird things that setters sometimes do on cryptic clues. The above types cover most of what you'll find, but a setter will occasionally use another clever way of stating the answer.
Solving cryptic clues gets easier with practice. A very good first step isDownload the Crossword Genius appIt's a great resource for people learning cryptic crossword puzzles, as Ross can solve and explain the answers if you get stuck.