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While they do look completely incomprehensible at first glance, cryptic clues are actually written along set guidelines. The majority of clues in a cryptic crossword adhere to these standards:

  • Every cryptic clue includes a straight definition of the answer, just like in a ‘regular’ crossword. It’s astonishing, but true!

  • The definition part of the clue will always be at the start or end of the clue, and never sandwiched in the middle.

  • Most cryptic clues run along the lines of this formula: Definition + Wordplay = Answer (or Wordplay + Definition = Answer).

  • The wordplay is the (hopefully) fun part, and can use one, or a combination of, about 8 or 9 main clue types. Wordplay devices include anagrams, reversals, deletions and so on.

  • The definition part of a cryptic clue may be a straightforward dictionary definition, or a more oblique or unusual definition.

  • Identifying the definition section of the clue is a vital part of solving a cryptic clue. Once you think you’ve pinned it down, the remainder of the clue is automatically the wordplay!

  • Many cryptic clues include ‘indicator words’, which are a word or a short phrase that tells you what sort of wordplay is being used in the clue.

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