Beginner’s Guide to Cryptic Crosswords

We have never known where to start with solving these fiendish mind-twisters, so we were delighted when a friend (who has recently won a Daily Telegraph crossword competition) gave us some tips, and shared some of his favourites from a lifetime of cryptic-crossword solving.

Rules and Tips for Solving Cryptic Crosswords

For cryptic crosswords, there are no set rules and each crossword setter has their own style which you have to get used to. However, sometimes the clue itself can give you a hint on how to arrange the letters.

1. Out, jumble, shake, unsteady etc – usually means throw the letters about.
eg As set out = STE (jumbled up ‘set’).

2. Less than – can mean drop a letter.

3. Half cake – can mean CA or KE.

4. Some food – might mean a few letters of food, say FO

5. Beginning – might mean the first letter eg Beginning to relax = R

6. On reflection – often means spell backwards.

7. Common Abbreviations 
        Sailor Able Seaman = AB
        Lieutenant =LT
        Navy = RN
        Foreign Office = FO
        Old Boy = OB

8. At home – can mean IN

9. ? A clue that ends in a question mark means beware – there is a trick involved for instance a pun. eg Arrest devil? (4)  NICK.

10. Needs no more – remove ‘more’ from another word

11. Popular – can mean IN

12. Zero = O

13. You and I = WE

14. Back – can mean STERN


Here are some examples…

  • US city needs no more curry (5)  US city = BALTIMORE; needs no ‘more’. Curry = BALTI.
  • Beginning to relax, old boy at home may be seen in the garden (5) Beginning to relax = R; old boy = OB; at home = IN. Seen in the garden = ROBIN.
  • Broken Sculpture (4) = Bust
  • Sailor without companions gets something to eat from the sea (7)  Sailor = AB without companions = ALONE. Solution = ABALONE 
  • Cut fuel for heating hospital (4)  Fuel = GAS, hospital = H. Cut = GASH.
  • Bird of prey heading off hunting dog (5)  Hunting dog = BEAGLE, head off/dog = EAGLE.
  • Get rid of outbuilding? (4) = SHED.
  • The only fish? (4) = SOLE.
  • Study poetry or the opposite (8)  Study = CON, poetry = VERSE. Opposite = CONVERSE.
  • Monkey proves a benefit to graduate (6)  Graduate = BA, a benefit = BOON. Monkey = BABOON.
  • Minute particle to be seen in morning (4)  Morning = AM, TO inside. Minute particle = ATOM.
  • Abandons what some plants shed (5) = LEAVES.

And as for the title, Angry Group of Letters (9), Angry = cross, group of letters = word = CROSSWORD.


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