A few weeks ago I introduced a series on Crosswords – how they work and how to solve them. This next post in the series explains the basic nature of cyptic crossword clues and deals with the most basic type of clue in the process. In future posts I’ll look at other types of clue, including ideas how to spot them and of course solve them!
The idea of a cryptic crossword is that each clue guides you to the answer in two different ways. Where those two paths meet, you’ll find the answer. There are occasional exceptions to this, most often marked by a ? or ! at the end of the clue, but we’ll look at those another time. For now, assume that each clue is made up of two parts. These two parts might not be equal in length, but think of them as two halves to the clue.
The simplest type of cryptic clue is two synonyms for the word placed side by side. For example if the clue is…
Shut nearby (5)
… the answer would be close since it means both shut and nearby. Note the clues pick up on two different meanings of the answer word in this instance, whereas in the title of this piece, both halves of the clue and the answer all have the same meaning.
Two-word clues are almost always this type of clue, but they can be longer and still fit this pattern. The trick is then to decide where the division falls between the two ‘halves’ of the clue.
What the bride wore to practise (5)
Here, the division comes before the word to, and the answer is train, meaning both something a bride might wear, and the verb to practise.
In a well-written clue, the two halves aren’t obviously separate and the clue looks like a sentence in its own right.
Line of argument (3)
for example, looks like a single simple clue meaning an element of an argument, but in fact the two halves are line and argument leading you to the answer row. The word of is technically extraneous, which will upset the purists, but happens occasionally.
Spotting synonym clues
The vast majority of clues will have at least one half that is a simple synonym, so spotting these clues is more a question of ruling out other types than of ruling in this type. However, shorter clues are the most likely candidates, so start with those if you are looking for this type of clue.