Cryptic crosswords are crossword puzzles of a special type: one in which each clue is a word puzzle in and of itself. Cryptic crosswords are particularly popular in the United Kingdom, as well as in several other Commonwealth nations, including, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and India. In the United States, cryptics are sometimes known as "British-style" crosswords. For the most part, they are an English-language phenomenon, although similar puzzles are popular in a Hebrew form in Israel (where they are called tashbetsey higayon "Logic crosswords") and (as Cryptogrammen) in Dutch. In Poland similar crosswords are called "Hetman crosswords". 'Hetman' in their name emphasises their importance over other crosswords.
Cryptic crossword puzzles come in two main types: the basic cryptic in which each clue answer is entered into the diagram normally, and the advanced or "variety" cryptic, in which some or all of the answers must be altered before entering, usually in accordance with a hidden pattern or rule which must be discovered by the solver.
Cryptic crosswords do not commonly appear in U.S. publications, although they can be found in magazines such as The Nation and Harper's, occasionally in the New York Times, and in The Atlantic Monthly. Other sources of cryptic crosswords in the U.S. (at all difficulty levels) are puzzle books and GAMES Magazine, as well as UK and Canadian newspapers distributed in the U.S. Enigma, the magazine of the National Puzzlers' League, also features cryptics.
In essence, a cryptic clue leads to its answer as long as you read it in the right way. What the clue appears to say when read normally (the surface reading) is a distraction and usually has nothing to do with the clue answer. The challenge is to find the way of reading the clue that leads to the solution.
A typical clue gives you two ways of getting to the answer, either of which can come first. One part of the clue is a definition, which must exactly match the part of speech and tense of the answer. The second half (the subsidiary indication, or wordplay) gives you an alternative route to the answer in terms of wordplay. (The subsidiary indication can be a second definition in the case of double definition clues.) One of the tasks of the solver is to find the boundary between definition and wordplay and insert a mental pause there when reading the clue cryptically. (Sometimes the two parts are joined with a link word or phrase such as "from" or "could be".)
Because a typical cryptic clue describes its answer in detail and often more than once, the solver can usually have a great deal of confidence in the answer once it has been determined. This is in contrast to non-cryptic crossword clues which often have several possible answers and force the solver to use the crossing letters to distinguish which was intended.
Here is an example (taken from The Guardian crossword of Aug 6 2002, set by "Shed").
is a clue for TRAGICAL. This breaks down as follows.
There are many "code words" or "indicators" that have a special meaning in the cryptic crossword context. (In the example above, "about", "unfinished" and "rising" all fall into this category). Learning these, or being able to spot them, is a useful and necessary part of becoming a skilled cryptic crossword solver.
A typical cryptic crossword grid is generally 15x15, with half-turn rotational symmetry. Unlike typical American crosswords, the grid entries are not "fully checked"; instead, roughly half the letters in each entry are checked. Checked squares are those in at least two clues; squares used in only one word are sometimes called "unches". In most daily newspaper cryptic crosswords, grid designs are restricted to a set of stock grids. In the past this was mainly because 'hot-metal' printing meant that new grids were expensive, but nowadays, it seems to be used as a way of making sure that grids conform to the preferences of a paper's crossword editor. Some papers have additional grid rules - at The Times, for example, all words have at least half the letters checked, and although words can have two unches in succession, they cannot be the first two or last two letters of a word. The grid shown here breaks one Times grid rule - the 15-letter words at 9 and 24 across each have 8 letters unchecked out of 15. The Independent allows setters to use their own grid designs.
Variety (UK: "advanced") cryptic crosswords typically use a "barred grid" with no black squares and a slightly smaller size - 12x12 is typical. Word boundaries are denoted by thick lines called "bars". In these variety puzzles, one or more clues may require modification to fit into the grid, such as dropping or adding a letter, or being anagrammed to fit other, unmodified clues; unclued spaces may spell out a secret message appropriate for the puzzle theme once the puzzle is fully solved. The solver also may need to determine where answers fit into the grid.
A July 2006 "Puzzlecraft" section in Games Magazine on cryptic crossword construction noted that for cryptic crosswords to be readily solvable, no fewer than half the letters for every word should be checked by another word for a standard cryptic crossword, while nearly every letter should be checked for a variety cryptic crossword. In most UK "advanced cryptics" (= 'variety cryptic'), at least three-quarters of the letters in each word are checked.
Compilers or setters (or cruciverbalists as many term themselves) often use slang terms and abbreviations, generally without indication, so familiarity with these can be useful. Also words that can mean more than one thing are common: often the meaning the solver must use is completely different from the one it appears to have in the clue. Some examples are:
would give the answer ALLELUIA, a word used by Christians to praise God, but not what first springs to mind on reading the clue. Notice the question mark - this is often (though by no means always) used by compilers to indicate this sort of clue is one where you need to interpret the words in a different fashion. The way that a clue reads as an ordinary sentence is called its surface reading and is often used to disguise the need for a different interpretation of the clue's component words.
Another one might be:
which gives THAMES, a flow-er of London. Here, the surface reading suggests a flower, which disguises the fact that the name of a river is required.
This type of clue rarely appears in American cryptics but is common in British and Canadian cryptics. It's almost certainly the oldest kind of cryptic clue: cryptic definitions appeared in the UK newspaper puzzles in the late '20s and early '30s that mixed cryptic and plain definition clues and evolved into fully cryptic crosswords.
would have the answer BLIND, because blind can mean both "not seeing" and "window covering". Note that since these definitions come from the same root word, an American magazine might not allow this clue. American double definitions tend to require both parts to come from different roots, as in this clue:
This takes advantage of the two very different meanings (and pronunciations) of POLISH, the one with the long "o" sound meaning "someone from Poland" and the one with the short "o" sound meaning "make shiny".
These clues tend to be short; in particular, two-word clues are almost always double-definition clues.
In the UK, multiple definitions are occasionally used, e.g.:
is a triple definition of BISHOP ("mulled red wine flavoured with bitter oranges" or "to burn milk in cooking" but in the US this would be considered unsound.
Some British newspapers have an affection for quirky clues of this kind where the two definitions are similar:
Note that these clues do not have clear indicator words.
gives UNDERMINED, which means (cryptically at least) "damaged" and can be found as part of "Found ermine deer". The word "hides" is used to mean "contains," but in the surface sense suggests "pelts".
Possible indicators of a hidden clue are "in part", "partially", "in", "within", "hides", "conceals", "some", and "held by".
gives DOG, which is the first part of, or "introduction to", the word "do-gooder", and means "canine".
The answer is REGAL. "Lager" (i.e., "beer") is "returned" to make regal.
Other indicator words include "receding", "in the mirror", "going the wrong way", "returns", "reverses" "to the left" or "left" (for across clues), and "rising", "overturned" or "mounted" or "comes up" (for down clues).
The answer to this clue is ROTTEN. The phrase "to turn" indicates "to reverse," and "part of" suggests a piece of "internet torrid".
The answer is BANKING formed by BAN for "outlaw" and KING for "leader". The definition is "managing money". With this example, the words go next to each other in the clue as they do in the answer--it isn't specifically indicated. However, where the parts go in relation to others is sometimes indicated with words such as "against", "after", "on", "with" or (in a down clue) "above".
gives PAUL ("apostle"), by placing "pal" ("friend") outside of "U" ("university").
Other container indicators are "inside", "over", "around", "clutching", "enters", and the like.
gives ESCORT, which means chaperone and is an anagram of corset, indicated by the word shredded.
Anagram clues are characterized by an indicator word adjacent to a phrase that has the same number of letters as the answer. The indicator tells the solver that there is an anagram they need to solve in order to work out the answer. Indicators come either before or after the letters to be anagrammed. In an American cryptic, only the words given in the clue may be anagrammed; in some older puzzles, the words to be anagrammed may be clued and then anagrammed. So in this clue:
Chew is the anagram indicator; honeydew clues melon, which is to be anagrammed; and fruit is the definition for the answer, LEMON. This kind of clue is called an indirect anagram, which in the vast majority of cryptic crosswords are not used, ever since they were criticised by 'Ximenes' in his 1966 book 'On the Art of the Crossword'. Minor exception: Simple abbreviations may be used to spice up the process, e.g., "Husband, a most eccentric fellow" (6) for THOMAS, where the anagram is made from A, MOST, and H = husband.
Anagram indicators, among the thousands possible, include: abstract, absurd, alien, alternative, at sea, awkward, bad, barmy, blend, blow, break, careless, chaotic, clumsy, contrived, convert, corrupt, develop, doctor, eccentric, engineer, fabricate, fake, fix, foolish, fudge, ground, hammer, hybrid, in a tizzy, jostle, knead, loose, maybe, messy, mix, mutant, new, novel, odd, order, out, outrageous, peculiar, poor, questionable, remodel, resort, rough, sort, strange, style, tricky, troubled, twist, unconventional, unsound, vary.
It is common for the setter to use a juxtaposition of anagram indicator and anagram that form a common phrase in order to make the clue appear as much like a 'normal' sentence or phrase as possible. For example:
uses dancing as the indicator as it fits cohesively with lap to give the solution, PAL.
An example of a homophone clue is
which is a clue for PARE, which means "shave" and is a homophone of pair, or "twins". The homophone is indicated by "we hear".
If the two words are the same length, the clue should be phrased in such a way that only one of them can be the answer. This is usually done by having the homophone indicator adjacent to the word that is not the answer; therefore, in the previous example, "we hear" was adjacent to "twins" and the answer was pare rather than pair. The indicator could come between the words if they were of different lengths and the enumeration was given, such as in the case of "right" and "rite".
An example of an initialism:
The answer would be APE, which is a type of primate. "Initially" signals that you must take the first letters of "amiable person eats"--"ape".
Another example would be:
The answer would be ANNIE, the name of the most famous orphan in musical theatre. This is obtained from the first letters of "actor needing new identity emulates".
Words that indicate initialisms also include "firstly" and "to start".
It is possible to have initialisms just for certain parts of the clue. It is also possible to employ the same technique to the end of words. For example:
The answer would be DAHOMEY, which used to be a kingdom in Africa (an "old country"). Here, we take the first letters of only the words "Head Office" (ho) and we take the "end" of the word "day" (y). The letters of the word "dame", meaning "lady", are then made to go around the letters "ho" to form Dahomey.
The answer would be SUFFRAGIST, which is "someone wanting women to vote". The word "odd" indicates that we must take every other letter of the rest of the clue, starting with the first: StUfF oF mR wAuGh Is SeT.
An example of a beheadment:
The answer would be TAR, another word for "sailor", which is a "celebrity", or star, without the first letter.
Other indicator words of beheadment include "don't start", "topless", and "after the first".
An example of curtailment:
The answer is BOO. If you ignore the punctuation, a book is a "read", and book "endlessly" is boo, a "shout".
Other indicators include "nearly" and "unfinished".
An example of internal deletion:
The answer is DARING, which means "challenging", and is darling without its middle letter, or "heartlessly".
The answer is HONORABLE. "Baron" "returns", or is reversed, and put inside "pit" or hole, to make honorable, or "illustrious".
The answer is ODIN. The Norse god Odin is hidden in "god incarnate", as clued by "essentially", but the definition of Odin is also the whole clue, as Odin is essentially a God incarnate.
This satisfies the "& lit." clue definition but as read is clearly a cryptic clue. Another example:
would give the answer VETO; in the cryptic sense, spoil works as an anagram indicator for vote, while the whole clue is, with a certain amount of license allowed to crossword setters, a definition.
gives the answer EGG. Geese find their origins in eggs, so the whole clue gives "egg", but the clue can also be broken down: e.g. loses its full stops to give eg, followed by the first letter (i.e. the "origin") of the word goose--g--to make egg.
The answer would be COO, which is an "exclamation of surprise". The 'c' comes from the abbreviation of the word "circa", meaning "about", and "spectacles" is OO because these letters look like a drawing of a pair of glasses.
Abbreviations are popular with crossword compilers for clueing individual letters or short sections of the answer.
Consider the following clue:
There are two abbreviations used here. "About" is abbreviated "c" (for "circa") and "little Desmond" indicates that the diminutive of Desmond--namely, DES--is required. The "c" is "to come between" DES and ANT (a worker; note that compilers also use "worker" to stand for BEE or HAND), giving DESCANT, which means "discourse".
Compilers make use of a large number of these crossword abbreviations.
Torquemada's puzzles were extremely obscure and difficult, and later setters reacted against this tendency by developing a standard for fair clues, ones that can be solved, at least in principle, by deduction, without needing leaps of faith or insights into the setter's thought processes.
The basic principle of fairness was set out by Listener setter Afrit (Alistair Ferguson Ritchie) in his book Armchair Crosswords (1946), wherein he credits it to the fictional Book of the Crossword:
An example of a clue which cannot logically be taken the right way:
Torquemada's successor at The Observer was Ximenes (Derrick Somerset Macnutt, 1902–1971), and in his influential work, Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword Puzzle (1966), he set out more detailed guidelines for setting fair cryptic clues, now known as "Ximenean principles". The most important of them are tersely summed up by Ximenes' successor Azed (Jonathan Crowther, born 1942):
The Ximenean principles are adhered to most strictly in the subgenre of "advanced cryptics" — difficult puzzles using barred grids and a large vocabulary. Easier puzzles often have more relaxed standards, permitting a wider array of clue types, and allowing a little flexibility. The popular Guardian setter Araucaria (John Galbraith Graham, born 1921) is a noted non-Ximenean, celebrated for his witty, if occasionally unorthodox, clues.
Roger Squires, of Ironbridge, Shropshire, is recognised by Guinness World Records as "The World's Most Prolific Crossword Compiler". He appeared in the Guinness Book of Records from 1978 until all crossword records were dropped in 2002, though they were continued online until 2006. An update is expected in the 2008 print edition. Roger, 75, has now published over 66,000 crosswords in total. His crosswords have appeared in 564 outlets, including 105 publications in 32 countries outside the UK. He holds the record for the longest word used in a published puzzle: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which he clued as an anagram.
The daily Times puzzle is syndicated in the New York Post (US) and The Australian (Aus) papers. In both cases, the puzzle appears some weeks after it appeared in The Times.
In September 2008 the Telegraph started printing a 'Toughie' crossword as well as the daily puzzle, on Tues-Fri. This is described by the paper as "the toughest crossword in Fleet Street" or similar. Comments from some solvers on the first few of these puzzles didn't agree with this assessment, rating most as close to average broadsheet cryptic difficultyThe Independent
Several setters appear in more than one paper. Some of these are:
|Guardian||Times||Independent||Financial Times||Daily Telegraph|
|John Galbraith Graham||Araucaria||Cinephile|
Roger Squires and the late Ruth Crisp set at various times in their careers for all 5 of the broadsheets.