Understanding Cryptic Clue Anatomy - dummies

By Denise Sutherland

Part of Solving Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies Cheat Sheet (Australian Edition)

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.