Saturday, 5 November 2011

What are Cryptic Crosswords?

In wandering through the world of crosswords you may have come across puzzles called cryptic crosswords. And they certainly are just that — completely cryptic and incomprehensible! Instead of a regular 'synonym' clue that you'd find in any self-respecting normal crossword  (such as: Nocturnal mammal (6) - the answer to which is BADGER), you are presented with totally ridiculous clues like Dogs going up in big rocket (5) or Writer's enclosure (3)!

Cryptic crosswords are a variation on 'regular' crosswords, where each clue is a mini wordplay puzzle. Once you've 'cracked the code' on how to read them, they are wonderful fun to solve, and a great mental workout. They're my favourite puzzle to solve, and to write (so much more interesting than just writing definition/synonym clues!).

Crosswords were invented by Arthur Wynne in 1913 — a Brit living in America. His invention rapidly grew in popularity, and leap across the oceans to the UK. In Britain, various literary types started playing around with how the clues were written, and over time, the cryptic crossword was born. As a result of this lineage, they tend to be more popular in Commonwealth countries, and are not widely known in the United States.

I'm going to write a series of blog posts here, with examples for you to try out, on the different sorts of cryptic clues, so you can have a way in to these perplexing enigmas.

Oh? And the answer to those two cryptic clues above?

Dogs going up in big rocket (5) = CORGI
The letters of CORGI are actually right there for all to see, backwards ('going up') in the clue. I've highlighted them in red.


Writer's enclosure (3) = PEN
This is a double definition clue, a writer is a PEN (a pen writes, so it's a writer, I know, it's a bit of a stretch ...), and an enclosure can also be called a PEN.

Clear as mud, hey?


  1. Delightfully devious! Like, "Hannibal's favorite son" would be Mark Twain because he was born in Hannibal, Missouri.

  2. Hmmm, that's more of a quasi-cryptic American style clue. Cryptic clues have their own internal logic, which allows you to verify the answer, and they are generally based on word play rather than general knowledge.

  3. I tend to either love or hate cryptic clues, depending on whether I can understand them or not :-) when I come across a cryptic crossword that is reasonably hard, with a variety of clue types, and I can get all or most of them, they're the best!


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