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Cryptic Crosswords – Part Three

Author: Ernie Esstell


In two previous articles, readers have learned that the basic rule of cryptic crossword solving is that each clue has two parts: some wordplay and a definition (not always in the same order).

  Types of wordplay introduced so far have been anagrams, reversals, containers, homographs, homophones, deletions and charades. In this article, four more types will be introduced before readers face a puzzle with clues utilizing wordplay types from all three articles.

  First, straight or dictionary definitions. Here, the crossword compiler will use two dictionary definitions for the solution in the clue. For example “perceives the bishop’s offices (4)” indicates that the solver must find a 4 letter word which means perceives but can also mean bishop’s offices. Some trial and error, rejecting synonyms such as observes, spots and discovers should lead to sees – which is the plural of a bishop’s seat.

  Next – puns. Some devious crossword compilers will include a question mark to indicate that there is a pun or joke and solvers have to perceive the joke or understand the pun to find the solution. The clue “featured like Goldilock’s character? (9)”, could produce some thinking along these lines – characters in this story were girl, woodcutter, wolf, grandmother and bear. What 9 letter word is a synonym for featured? Knowing there is a pun involved (and using other letters already in the puzzle as a guide) might lead to barefaced or bearfaced as possible solutions.

  Another example of puns is found in “doth thith drink make the heart grow fonder? (8)”. Here the clue writer is asking the solver to remember the adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and lisping absence (hinted at by doth thith and ?), arrive at the solution as absinthe – a drink.

  Thirdly, abbreviations of all sorts are used in cryptic clues. Common ones are fifty for L, ten for X, hundred for C, eye or one for I, ring or love for O, time for T, hour for H or HR, gold for AU or OR, compass point or quarter for N,S,E,W – and many others will appear from time to time. An example – “joins, marries around fifty (5)” – uses L for fifty, and weds for marries. When combined (around suggests a container from article one), the solution becomes welds – a synonym for joins.

  The fourth and last type for this article is literary references. Here the clue has wordplay suggesting something from literature which can be worked into a form which fits the definition. “Shakespearean hero wanted to borrow these (4)” provides a hint to remember the phrase “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” – so the solution is ears.

  Time to practise again! The puzzle below is larger than the previous two and includes wordplay types which were introduced in any of the three articles to date. The final article will add several other types of wordplay and provide a regular-sized puzzle to practise all of the types from the four articles. 


The solution to this puzzle is at this link:

New readers who wish to catch up can find the first two articles in this series by going to the Synergy website at and searching for “crossword”.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009 at 4:50 am and is filed under PONDERING. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Synergy Magazine: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada