Cryptic Crosswords – Part One

Starting in this edition of Synergy is a series of articles on how to solve cryptic crosswords.

 There is evidence in research that the onset of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s can be delayed or avoided by engaging the mind in regular activities such as puzzle solving and game playing. So, to provide readers of Synergy with a potentially new brain activity, crossword compiler Ernie Esstell has written a series of articles for Synergy which will explain the rules of solving cryptic crosswords.  

Many newspapers and magazines regularly include crosswords with mysterious clues such as “twin led behind garden intruder into golf area (10)”, but with some knowledge of the cryptic rules, solutions can be found. Each article in the series will provide examples of the rules and a sample crossword to be used to practise the rules introduced in the article. Here is the first in the series “How to Solve the Mysteries of Cryptic Crosswords” – by Ernie Esstell. 

Part 1 – by Ernie Esstell

Cryptic crosswords originated in England and are now popular in all English speaking countries. Many newspapers and magazines regularly include a cryptic puzzle, and many books specializing in cryptic puzzles are available.

To understand the mysterious looking clues and to find solutions it is necessary to understand some basic rules and clue types. The basic “RULE” is that each clue has some wordplay and a definition – not always in that order.

Some of the most frequently used types of wordplay are anagrams, reversals and containers. This article will provide examples of each, and then a puzzle to provide an opportunity to practise the three types.

First: anagrams (a rearrangement of letters in a word or words to provide another word). The crossword compiler will telegraph an anagram with different cue words such as “wrong”, “about”, “crazy”, “drunk”, “misshapen”, “perhaps”, “changing”, “disturbed”, “awry”, “doctor”, “buggy”, “out,” etc. Once you have identified that it might be an anagram (number of letters helps too – and the clues in cryptic puzzles will assist by providing the number of letters in the solutions), then it is a matter of re-arranging the letters specified to find a synonym for the definition in the clue.

An example: – “Quoted from edict wrongly (5)”. The cue word, “wrongly” gives a hint that we should rearrange edict to find a word meaning quoted. The solution here is cited.

Another example would be “Doctor is venal, get preacher (10).”  This time doctor is another anagram cue word – we need ten letters – is venal get adds up to ten, and it is possible to arrange those to find a word meaning preacher – evangelist.

A second common type is reversal. The wordplay is reading parts of the clue backwards to find a word which fits the definition. The word play is indicated by words such as “reverse,” “returns,” “back” etc.

  An example of reversal wordplay is found in “rub the wrong way prickle (3)”. The cue words the wrong way direct us to reverse rub, to find bur, which is a prickle. 

  A second example, a little trickier, is found in “painful when god of love returns (4)”. To find the solution here, you need to remember that the god of love is Eros. The cue word returns hints that spelling backwards is required – and sore (a synonym for painful) is Eros backwards.

  Lastly – containers. The cue words for this type of clue would be “holds” or “inside” or “contains,” or something similar. This reveals that the solution is hidden inside the clue itself in one word, or across more than one.

  For example, “celestial body held in Cresta Run (4)” uses the cue words held in to signal that the solution might be contained in the clue, and looking across the other words in the clue results in finding the last three letters of Cresta and using the first letter of Run to reveal star  – a celestial body – the solution.

  A final example for this type – “forest or everglade contains return to original (7).” This time the cue word is contains which causes a search across from left to right to find a seven letter word which means “return to original.” Starting with the r in forest and running across three words is rest or e or restore, the solution.

  Time to practise! The puzzle below is purposely small and for the purpose of this exercise all clues include only wordplay which utilizes anagrams, reversals and/or containers (some of which you should recognize – a good place to start?). 

  The next article will add several other types of wordplay and provide a larger puzzle to practise all of the types from both articles. This pattern will be continued for the rest of the series.


The solution to this puzzle and others is at the following link: Cryptic Crosswords Solutions.