Cryptic Crosswords – Part Four

If you have enjoyed this series of articles and the puzzles and would like to see a cryptic crossword puzzle included in future editions of Synergy, express your opinion by sending an e-mail to If sufficient numbers of enthusiastic readers respond positively, the editor has offered space for a regular cryptic crossword in future.


In three 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, charades, dictionary definitions, puns, abbreviations and literary references. In this article, three final types will be introduced before readers face a puzzle with clues using wordplay types from all four articles.

  Not to be confused with literary references, literal references have wordplay which analyses very literally – as in “little skipper (6)”. The compiler is challenging you to determine who or what is small and is either a captain or who skips? With help from other letters in the solution, you should come to recognize truant as the answer. 

  A second example would be “sharpen flowing water mark (10).” Here it takes a while to calculate which is the clue and which is the wordplay, but working backwards, a mark could be a line, flowing water could be a river, creek or a stream – ah, streamline is (literally) to sharpen.

  Next – letter replacement. Here the wordplay tells you which letter(s) to replace – as in “make AO in state to get the idea (6).”  Another word for state is nation. Change the A to O (make AO) and it becomes notion…. an idea.

  One last type is “combinations”. Rather than a new type, it is just a complication of combining other types of wordplay. For example, “pagans strangely hate barnyard birds (8)”. Strangely is one of the cue words for an anagram, so you can re-arrange the letters of hate – barnyard birds could be geese or turkeys or hens. Putting a re-arranged hate with hens gives heathens – a synonym for pagans.

A final example is “I’m held in scorn turning bright red (7).” Held in is a cue word for a container, so I’m will be inside the solution somewhere. turning is a cue for an anagram – so we can re-arrange scorn, insert im and produce crimson – a bright red.

  Clever (or is it nasty?) crossword compilers will try to mislead or confuse the solver by disguising and combining wordplay in weird ways. The solver needs to be curious and imaginative to stay one jump ahead of the compiler.

  Time for a final practice! The puzzle below is larger than the previous three and includes wordplay types which were described in any of the four articles to date. Enjoy!

Click here for the solution to this puzzle and the previous three.

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