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  2. Cryptic Crosswords
  3. Introduction

The cryptic crossword has always been a primarily British diversion, although it's not as old as many might think, having only been developed since the 1920s. A cryptic crossword relies on the English language's ability to mislead (especially in written form), as well as a few other tricks, that can make a cryptic crossword's clues, without a little explanation, seem like nonsense to the uninitiated.

The vast majority of clues in cryptic crosswords will consist of two parts, at least one of which will be simply a definition of the answer, but no indication need be given as to where the two parts meet. This is what allows the setter of the cryptic crossword to lead the solver astray, and separating the clue into its two sections can be half the battle when searching for the answer. Cryptic crossword clues tell you the length of the solution in brackets after the clue, usually separated into individual word lengths if it is more than one word, as will be the case in this book.

Some clues will just contain two definitions, one after the other, and usually with no word in between, although certain words (such as “and” and “is”) may be allowable. Definitions in cryptic crosswords are not always precise quotes from the dictionary but should be fairly accurate. Some poetic license is allowed; for example, a particular river could be defined as a flower (i.e., something that flows). An example of a double-definition clue is: “Create vegetables and fruits (7).” “Create” and “vegetables and fruits” are both definitions of the answer: “produce,” the former as a verb and the latter as a collective noun.

It is worth mentioning at this point that occasionally you will come across a clue that doesn't actually contain a strict definition, but that requires a bit of lateral thinking. Usually, this type of clue will contain just one definition with no other part, but the definition will be a clever one, which although just about accurate, will certainly not be what you'd find in a dictionary! An example of this nonstandard type of clue is: “So before this is good-bye (4)” as a clue for the word “long,” because the word “so” before the word “long” gives you “so long,” which means “good-bye.” Such definitions may even crop up in a normal clue, with a second part to the clue as well to help you further.

Though some cryptic clues will fall into the categories mentioned in the two previous paragraphs, most will consist of a definition of the answer, either preceded or followed by a subsidiary indication (the cryptic part of the clue). It is these subsidiary parts that are the key to a cryptic crossword, and I will outline some of the common techniques used below. It will by no means be a complete list though, as there is no real limit to what can be done, as long as the clue explains what you should do. Note also that more than one of these techniques may be combined together in a single clue. Any punctuation in a clue can largely be ignored, although a question mark may indicate a fairly loose definition. The key thing to remember is that whatever wordplay is involved — anagrams, one word inside another, homophones (words that sound the same), or whatever it might be — the clue should always tell you what to do, using indicators.

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  2. Cryptic Crosswords
  3. Introduction
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