Cryptic crossword setter's pro tips revealed

CRYPTIC clues follow specific rules, which are subject to exceptions as outlined in the previous notes. The setter will challenge you to think laterally while he has his fun.

Consider every word

While clues are constructed to make grammatical sense, very often every word in the clue is significant. Articles are very easy to overlook, but here's a few examples showing where usually not-so-important words make all the difference.

 Nothing to hold a spike (4)

Answer: NAIL

Definition: Spike.

Explanation: Nothing = NIL, to hold "a" - put A inside NIL = NAIL.

Note the importance of the article "a" even though it was grammatically required.

 I'm a leader of Muslims! (4)

Answer: IMAM

Explanation: Whole clue is a definition (indicated by "!"). "Leader of Muslims" = M (first letter of Muslims). IM + A + M = IMAM (a religious figure).

Note: This is not a blanket rule. There are plenty of cases where an extra word or two may be needed for correct grammatical structure. Just ensure the alternative is always considered.


Many cryptic crosswords use abbreviations. While the origins of many of these are readily identifiable, there are a great number of outdated abbreviations still commonly in use. Normally of British origin, these components of word-play can sometimes be quite obscure

Abbreviations are often used in "charade" clues

 Bishop turned on the gas light (6) Answer: BLITHE

Definition: Light.

Explanation: Bishop abbreviates B from chess notation, Gas abbreviates HE for helium.B + LIT (turned on) + HE = BLITHE



Hianvg the frsit and lsat lteter of ecah wrod wlil hlep slvoe agaranms ftaser!

Anagrams are the most common clue-type.

Indicated by potentially hundreds of words that loosely mean modify or change. Some examples: "transfer", "switch", "cook", "kill", "reborn", "mixed", "turned", "out", "off", "warped", "lost", "moved". Always consider potential anagram indicators when solving any clue. Fodder (the letters to be jumbled) will always appear before or after indicator. Multiple whole words can be used as fodder however the number of letters must match the solution.

 Dress suiting a saint (8) Answer: IGNATIUS.


Word play:"Dress" indicates anagram. Letters of "suiting a" provide IGNATIUS (a saint).

Note the importance of the article "a".

School run - true/false (7) Answer: NURTURE.


Word Play:"False" indicates anagram. Letters of "run true" provide NURTURE (to school).

Note that here punctuation is only intended to mislead

Topics:  crossword puzzles

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