Tips for Solving Cryptic Crossword Puzzles
Inside Secrets from a Crossword Veteran
This article has been authored by my father-in-law, Krishnamurthy
Srinivasa. He has been gracious enough to let me host it on his
behalf while he surveys options for hosting his own web site.
Hello! I have been solving crosswords for over 40 years. Specifically, I
enjoyed solving cryptic crosswords that used to appear in The Times of India,
one of the most respected news publications in India. Although The Times of
India no longer publishes cryptic crosswords daily, Indian enthusiasts can
find similar crosswords in The Economic Times and The Hindu. These
crosswords are also
published in the London Times.
-- Anand Natrajan, anand@anandnatrajan•com
Over the years I have taught my techniques for solving crosswords to
several enthusiasts, for example, my daughter.
I hope to be able to teach my grand-children as well. I would
like to share some of these techniques with you as well. Hopefully these
techniques will help you enjoy solving cryptic crosswords and give a
much-needed fillip to this dying art. After you read the techniques below,
try your hand at some of the example clues at the
bottom of the page.
Tips & Tricks
Solving cryptic crosswords is an art, but it is an art that can be learnt.
Studying the answers from previous crosswords can provide insights into the
mind of the creator of the crossword. Each puzzle-setter has his/her own
style, and it may take a while getting used to them. Of course, acquiring a
good vocabulary is always useful.
Synonyms: Most cryptic clues involve knowing the synonyms of
some word that is part of the clue. Often the synonym is on the
secondary or tertiary meaning of the word in the clue, not the
primary meaning. For example, a clue may contain the word
"contract". The wording of the clue may suggest a synonym for the
meaning of "contract" as in "reduce in size". However, the real
answer may require a synonym for "contract" that means "acquire,
catch or get". Solving such clues may require taking into account
multiple meanings of words and then thinking of synonyms. Another
technique involving synonyms involves using Roman numerals for
numbers mentioned in the clue. For example, if the number "six" is
mentioned in the clue, it could be that the answer has the letters
"VI" in it. Non-specific numbers, such as "many" or "large number"
could hint to the Roman numerals "C", "D" or "M".
Abbreviations: Cryptic clues sometimes involve knowing about
well-known abbreviations. Typically, if a clue contains certain
words, you must understand the oblique reference to certain
institutions or organisations, and use abbreviations for those
institutions. The letters in that abbreviation may be part of the
answer to the clue.
||Words that suggest this abbreviation
||sailor, seaman, tar
Letter Manipulations: One particularly tricky technique in
solving cryptic crosswords in inserting letters within the answer
to part of the clue. For example, suppose the answer to some clue
is "contract". The clue may be worded such that most of the clue
suggests the answer is "contact", but the rest of the clue suggests
inserting the letter 'r' somewhere in the middle. This technique is
tricky because the answer is more than one step removed from the
clue. First, you have to speculate that this technique may be
involved. Look for giveaway words like "around" or "dance"; they
suggest that some letters must be inserted. Giveaways like
"without" or "loses" suggest that some letters must be removed.
Next, you have to identify the part of the clue for which the
"sub-answer" is a word. Next, you must find synonyms for that part
to get the "sub-answer". Next, you must take the rest of the clue
and find out the letters to insert/remove. Finally, you must
insert/remove the letters in/from the correct place in the
"sub-answer" to get the final answer. Phew. Good luck.
Anagrams: Anagrams are a relatively easy technique, provided
you can find the words that constitute the anagram. Look for helper
phrases in the clue that suggest you must use this technique. For
example, if the clue has giveaways like "mix", "break", "new",
"mad", "arrange" or "around", you could try making anagrams of the
words near them. Words like "back" and "returning" are even more
specific giveaways; try reading the letters of a nearby word
Homophones: Homophones are another fairly easy technique, once
you recognise them. Here, the puzzle-setter wants you to guess a word
or part of the word that sounds like the final answer. For example, the
puzzle-setter may clue you to "sail" and then hint that you must find a
homophone, e.g., "sale", that could be the final answer. Helper phrases
like "sounds like" and "we hear" in the clue suggest trying this
Hidden Answers: This technique is really easy... provided
you can spot it. Here, the puzzle-setter gives you the answer to
the clue within the clue itself. The letters that constitute the
answer will appear, in exact order, but split across two or more
words within the clue. Look for such clues when the answer has few
characters; obviously, it is harder to embed answers that have many
letters. Another hint to use this technique is when some of the words
in the clue seem to have no particular obvious use or relation to
what you suspect is the final answer.
Literary References: The Bible is a favourite hunting ground
for puzzle-setters wishing to include literary references in their
clues. Other popular authors are Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and
||Words that suggest this reference
||twin, Jacob's twin
||Alice in Wonderland
Composite Clues: Sometimes, multiple techniques may have to
be invoked in order to arrive at the final answer. For example,
letter manipulations often require using abbreviations for the
letters to be inserted or removed. Rarely, in extraordinarily
difficult crosswords, two tough techniques will be used together,
e.g., anagram of a synonym.
Technological Help: You can also try sites like
if you have a sense of the letters involved but need a bit of help.
What's that? That's "cheating"? Who cares! Just have fun!
All right, now that you are armed with all of these techniques, try your
skill with the examples below. Each of these examples is from a real
crossword that I have solved. Select one clue from the drop-down list and
try to solve the answer in the last box. If you need help, click on
"Hint 1" or "Hint 2" or "Give up?".
Copyright © Krishnamurthy Srinivasa, ksrini2@yahoo•com.