Explanation of Clue Types

Welcome, whether you’re new to cryptic crosswords, or just needing a refresher.

Cryptic crosswords are made up of a variety of clue types and each is listed below and then explained a little further below.

1        Anagrams
2        Hidden Words  (and reversed hidden word clues)
3        Letter clues  (Initial letters, End letters and Alternate letters)
4        Double definitions
5        Homophones
6        Charades
7        Same Word, Different Adverbs
8        Containers
9        Deletions
10      Puns and common sayings with a twist
11      Reversals
12      Repetitions
13      Spoonerisms
14      Substitutions
15      Mobile letters

1            ANAGRAM CLUES
I’ve started with anagrams as they’re  one of the easier and more common clue types.  An anagram is a word (or words) that, when rearranged, forms a different word or phrase.  For example swore is an anagram of worse.

 The clue includes a pointer suggesting some sort of movement to tell you it’s an anagram.   Common pointers include:  about, upset, another way, moving, troubled.  There are many pointers and you’ll never learn them all.

In the examples below, the meaning of the answers are highlighted (ie, the solver should be looking for a synonym of the words in bold).

 EXAMPLE A:        Ms Reagan is upset by the executives (8)           Managers
The answer, managers, is an anagram of Ms Reagan, the anagram pointer being ‘upset’.  ‘Executives’ is the meaning of the answer.

EXAMPLE B:        Cook a chop another way (8)          Poach
Poach is an anagram of ‘a chop’, the anagram pointer being ‘another way’.

Tip:  the meaning of the answer is usually found at either the beginning or the end of the clue.    In example A above, the meaning is at the end of the clue and in example B, the meaning is found at the beginning of the clue.


Examples to try
(the meaning of the answer is highlighted and answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

1.1          Posed awkwardly as fools (5)

1.2          Hankered for the deanery to be repaired (7)

1.3          Never upset a Sci Fi writer (5)

2            HIDDEN CLUES
With hidden clues, the answer is found in the clue itself, amongst other words.  Hidden clues include a pointer indicating a hidden word, such as:  in, some, within, holds, contains.

EXAMPLE A:     Confront them in the tobacco store (6)          Accost
POINTER:          in

EXAMPLE B:     Some Hastings wine (4)          Asti
POINTER:          Some

Reversed hidden words
Another form of the hidden word clue is the reversed hidden word where the word (the answer) is hidden in the clue, but in reverse order. 

EXAMPLE A:     The dog is held back in the big Rockies (5)        Corgi
POINTER:          Held back in

Examples to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

 2.1     A hammer featured in the small etching (6)

2.2     The publican adamantly revealed the country (6)

2.3     Piece of news that’s back in prime time (4)

 

3     LETTERS CLUES

 Initial Letters Clue
Just like hidden word clues, the answer (the word) is found in the clue, but the letters are the first letters of successive words.

Pointers include:  firstly, to begin with, starts to, initially, at first

EXAMPLE:   Bitter initially, but extremely enjoyable refreshment  (4)          Beer
The meaning of the answer is ‘bitter’ and the pointer is ‘initially’.

 Tip:  ignore punctuation marks such as commas.  They’re usually put there simply to make the clue easier to read or to mislead, rarely if ever to help.

End letters clue
The answer (the word) is again found in the clue, but the letters are the last letters of successive words in the clue.
Pointers include:  endings, ending with, ultimately, lastly, etc

EXAMPLE:  Ultimately found the time for the animal (4)          Deer
       The meaning of the answer is ‘animal’ and the pointer is ‘ultimately’.

Alternate Letter Clues
Like hidden words, the answer is in the clue itself, but found in every second letter.
Pointers include: alternately, every other, evenly (found among the even letters) and oddly (found among the odd letters).

EXAMPLE:  Every other character in the Middle East has a theory (4)        Idea
The meaning of the answer is ‘theory’ and the pointer is ‘every other character’.

Examples to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

3.1          Pricey capitals of Denmark, Egypt, Argentina, Russia (4)

3.2          The tell-tale finally tells on the extra cook (5)

3.3          Ignoring the odds in the rail cars, sad to say (4)

4            Double Definition Clues
These clues contain two meanings of the same word.  The words may be pronounced differently, but must be spelt the same.

EXAMPLE A:                 Footwear for pack animals (5)           Mules
Mules are both ‘footwear’ and ‘pack animals’.

EXAMPLE B:                 A hairstyle for NZ parliament (7)           Beehive
The beehive is both a hairstyle and where the NZ parliament is situated.

Examples to try (some letters are given to help and the answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

4.1          In which you’d place the photo of the NZ author (5)            _  r  _  _  e

4.2          Less inclined to sweet-talk (7)                                                 _  l  a  _  _  _  _

4.3          Complained it was sent by train (6)                                       _  _  i  _  e  _

 

5            Homophone Clues (sound alikes)
A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another but spelt differently, eg flew and flu; or right and rite.

Pointers include such terms as: I hear, announced, so to speak, by the sound of it, they say, apparently, reportedly, in conversation, pronounced, etc.

  EXAMPLE A               Expensive animal I hear (4)          Dear

  • Dear (expensive) sounds like deer (animal)
  • Homophone pointer is ‘I hear’

 Tip:  the homophone pointer is next to the word it sounds like.   The meaning is therefore at the other end of the clue, so look for a synonym of the word/s there.

EXAMPLE B         Takes a look at the English diary keeper reportedly (5)          Peeps

  • Peeps (takes a look) sounds like Pepys (English diary keeper)
  • Homophone pointer is ‘reportedly’


Examples to try
(the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters have been given to help you solve the clue.  Answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

5.1          Curse the mother animal by the sound of it (4)                        _  a  _  _

5.2          Sounds like a couple to scale down (4)                                   _  _  _  e

5.3          Peddle goods for an Australian Prime Minister I hear (4)          _  _  w  _

 

6            Charades
As in the party game charades, the answer is broken up into smaller parts and each syllable or part is given a separate clue.  These separate clues are then put together into one clue.

     EXAMPLE A:  Brash gets a Prime Minister employment, but it’s drudgery (6,4)  

  The answer, Donkey work [drudgery], is broken down into –
      Don   =  Brash
      key     =  a Prime Minister
      work  =  employment

Linking words are used in charades to make the clue easier to read (and to write!).  The linking word in the above example is ‘gets’.

     EXAMPLE B:        Ruin the Christmas meat at the army base (7)

  The answer, Burnham [army base], is broken down into —
      Burn   =   ruin
      ham   =   Christmas meat

Abbreviations are frequently used in cryptic clues and particularly in charades.  They prove to be the biggest frustration for people new to cryptic crosswords, so it pays to spend time getting to know them.  The abbreviations I use frequently are shown on my Abbreviations blog page.


Examples to try
(the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters have been given to help you solve the clue.  Answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

6.1          Coped with the guy as he got older (7)                                                   _ a _ a _ e _

6.2          Insignificant attempt is beneath a friend (6)  THIS IS A DOWN CLUE          p _ _ _ r _

6.3          British prime minister approaches the quarrel at the airport (8)            _ e _ _ _ r _ w

6.4          Mislay the mug and be humiliated (4,4)                                         L _ s _     _ a _ _


7        Same Word, Different Adverb
Some words when given a different adverb have a totally new meaning.

            EXAMPLE 1:        It’s off to lose effectiveness and it’s out to tire (4)      Wear

            “Wear off” = lose effectiveness  &  “wear out” = to tire


            EXAMPLE 2:        It’s in to interrupt and it’s out to omit (3)        Cut

            “Cut in” = interrupt  &  “cut out” = omit

Examples to try (some letters are given to help and the answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

7.1          It’s out to quarrel and it’s through to come to nothing (4)          _  a  _  _

7.2          It’s in to retire and it’s up to arrive (4)                                          _  _  r  _

7.3          It’s up to invent and it’s off to scarper (4)                                    _  a  _  _


8            Container clues
With container clues one word is placed inside another (or outside another) to get the answer.  Pointers for container clues are often the same as those for hidden word clues and include such words as: about, around, held in, in, enclosing, inside and within.

 EXAMPLE A:        Curse about the Maori jumper (7)          Sweater   (ie, a jumper)

The clue will be easier to solve if you pause in the correct place when reading the clue.  In this case it should be read as “Curse about the Maori — jumper”.

  • ‘swear’ [curse] around ‘te’ [‘the’ in Maori]
  • container pointer =   about

 

EXAMPLE B:        Latest into the sack is severely reprimanded (7)         Blasted

  • ‘Last’ [latest] inside ‘bed’ [the sack]
  • container pointer = into

 

Examples to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters have been given to help you solve the clue.  Answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

8.1          The family member put us in the money (6)                        _ o _ s _ _

8.2          Complacent about a Tolkien creature (5)                           _  _  _  u  _

8.3          Weep about Eisenhower.  Strewth  (6)                                 _ r _ _ e _


9            Deletion clues
With this type of clue a letter, or group of letters, is deleted from a word to give the solution.  There are always pointers to tell you that letters should be removed, for example: almost, first off, last off, endlessly, nearly, heartlessly, beheaded, cut short, missing etc.

      EXAMPLE A:       Almost obstruct the alliance (4)           Bloc

  • deletion pointer = almost
  • what to delete – the last letter ‘k’ from block [obstruct]

 

    EXAMPLE B:        Applause left out of graduation ceremony (7)          Capping

  • deletion pointer = out
  • what to delete – ‘left’ [L] from ‘clapping’ [applause]

 

Examples to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters have been given to help you solve the clue.  Answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

9.1          The Caribbean island missed a rookie reporter (3)                                           _ _ _

9.2          The blemish was almost frightening (4)                                                      _  _  a  _

9.3          The song that caused the Sound of Music character to lose her head (4)     _ _ i _

10          Puns, common sayings with a twist and very cryptic definitions
These are all a play on words of some kind or another.  Exclamation marks or question marks are often used as pointers to indicate a twist is included.

  EXAMPLE:     Poor quality cattle? (3,5)          Bum steer


Examples to try (some letters are given to help you solve the clue and answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

 10.1        Plant the sheep farmer puts his money into? (9,5)   S  _  e  _  _  _  _  _ s       _ u _  _  e

10.2        An angry nation? (5,6)                                              _  r  o  _  _        _  _  u  n  _  r  _


11          Reversals
With this type of clue, the answer appears backward in some form.  With some reversals, the whole word is reversed, but with others the clue is a charade or a container and only part of the word is reversed.

There will be a pointer indicating that something should be reversed, for example: back, backwards, returned, turned about, sent back, and turned up [for down clues].

REVERSAL EXAMPLE:

  Agree with the backward academic fellow (3)         Nod

  • word to be reversed – don [academic fellow]
  • pointer to the reversal – backward

 

EXAMPLE OF CHARADE CLUE WITH A REVERASAL (a down clue with an abbreviation):

     Fruit the sailor served up for grandma (6)            Banana

  • word to be reversed – ab [sailor] becomes ‘ba’
  • pointer to the reversal – “served up”
  • Ba [‘ab’ reversed] before nana [grandma] Ba nana

Ab’ is a common abbreviation for sailor (able-bodied seaman)


Examples to try
(the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters have been given to help you solve the clue.  Answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

11.1        To look lecherously at the dance on the way back (4)                _ e  _  _

11.2        Declare on the way back in the coach, they’re shots (7)             _  u  _  l  _  _  _

11.3        A dope returned but is unapproachable (5)                                a  _  o  _  _


12          Repetition clues
The answer has some letters that are repeated (eg, yoyo, mama).  There is always a pointer such as again, double, repeat, twice, etc.

            EXAMPLE:      Do repeat a past flier (4)           Dodo

  • pointer for repeat clue repeat
  • word to repeat do

 

Examples to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters have been given to help you solve the clue.  Answers are found at the bottom of this blog page).

12.1        Two foot fruit (6)                                                                          _  a  _  _  _  _

12.2        The repeated jeer is an embarrassing mistake (6)                      _  _  _  _  _  o

 

13          Spoonerisms
A spoonerism is where the first letters of successive words are transposed.  There is a simple version of the clue, so simple it’s rarely used, and a more difficult version.

EXAMPLE OF THE SIMPLE VERSION:

         A mid-day meal Spooner said lacked punch (6,5)           Packed Lunch

          As Spooner said it ‘lacked punch’, you transpose the first two initials to get ‘packed lunch’.


EXAMPLE OF THE MORE DIFFICULT VERSION:

An energetic dance for Spooner’s resentful pitcher (9)           Jitterbug

This more difficult version can be quite a challenge as it includes synonyms.   You first need to identify the words requiring synonyms.  In the above clue, it’s resentful pitcher as the clue tells you that Spooner says these words.

            Resentful = bitter       Pitcher  =  jug
If you transpose the first letters of ‘bitter jug’ you end up with ‘jitterbug’, an energetic dance.

 

Example to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters are given to help.  The answer is found at the bottom of this blog page).

13.1      Delay getting a green label says Spooner (4,3)          _  _  m  _        _  a  _

 

14           Substitution Clues
A substitution clue is not a common one.  One letter (or sometimes more than one letter) is substituted with another to give a totally different word.  Pointers include such words as substitute, replace, swap and give/gave way to.

       EXAMPLE:    The faithful were once regal, but the right gave way to the left (5)    Loyal

              Royal [regal] becomes Loyal [faithful]

              The clue tells us that when “R’ [the first letter in ‘royal’] is replaced with “L”, then Royal becomes Loyal.

 

Example to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters are given to help.  The answer is found at the bottom of this blog page).

14.1        Colourful, but when fifty replace five, becomes very angry (5)      _  i  _  _  d

 

15           Mobile Letters Clue
A mobile, or moving, letters clue is another clue that is only occasionally used.  It is a form of anagram but it is presented in a different manner.  One letter in a word moves to another place in the same word to give it a new meaning.  The usual pointers for such clues are moves, shifts, travels, strays, towards, from start to finish, from first to last.

            EXAMPLE — this would be a down clue:

One who chooses to move old Bob down to get the voters (8)     Electors

One who chooses = Selector

        Move the first letter, ‘s’, [old Bob, a shilling] from the front of the word to the end to get ‘Electors’.

Example to try (the meaning of the answer is highlighted and some letters are given to help.  The answer is found at the bottom of this blog page).

15.1        It was back to front when the reporters ended up with a hut (5)    _  _  _  c  _

 

 

ANSWERS TO ALL CLUES:
1.1         Dopes                      (anagram of posed)

1.2         Yearned                  (anagram of deanery)

1.3         Verne                       (anagram of never)

 

2.1          Mallet                     (small etching)

2.2          Canada                   (publican adamantly)

2.3          Items                       (prime time)

 

3.1          Dear                         (Denmark, Egypt, Argentina, Russia)

3.2          Sneak                       (tells on the extra cook)

3.3          Alas                          (rail cars)

 

4.1          Frame

4.2          Flatter

4.3          Railed

 

5.1          Damn                       (sounds like dam)

5.2          Pare                          (sounds like pair)

5.3          Hawk                        (Hawke)

 

6.1          Managed                  (man = guy, aged = got older)

6.2          Paltry                        (pal = friend, try = attempt [attempt is beneath a friend])

6.3          Heathrow                 (Heath = British Prime Minister, row = quarrel)

6.4          Lose face                  (lose = mislay, face = mug)

 

7.1          Fall                            (fall out, fall through)

7.2          Turn                          (turn in, turn up)

7.3          Make                        (make up, make off)

 

8.1          Cousin                      (cousin)

8.2          Smaug                      (smaug)

8.3          Crikey                       (crikey)

 

9.1          Cub                          (Cuba)

9.2          Scar                          (scary)

9.3          Aria                           (Maria)

 

10.1        Shepherd’s purse

10.2        Cross Country

 

11.1        Leer                           (reel backwards)

11.2        Bullets                      (bullets,    ‘tell’ backwards inside ‘bus’)

11.3        Aloof                        (a ‘fool’ backwards)

 

12.1        Pawpaw

12.2        Booboo

 

13.1        Time lag                    (Lime tag, green label)

 

14.1        Livid                          (vivid [colourful] becomes livid [very angry])

 

15.1      Shack                          (hacks [reporters] becomes shack [hut])