How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords (2023)

How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords (1)
From Martin Woods, who has compiled over 500 crosswords for The Big Issue in the North.

Download the PDF guide How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords.

Solving cryptic crosswords can give you hours of entertainment and is richly rewarding, either by yourself, or with someone else. It combines problem solving, general knowledge and thinking out of the box. Once you've read the guide below, I recommend starting with theCryptic Crossword with Clue Type Indicators, at thistells you which type of clue is used for each question, and will help you practice your new solving skills.

In most crosswordsthe clue is composed of two parts, a hint to the answer (a bit like a quick clue only normally not so easy) and a cryptic component that also tells you the answer. There are several types of clue, as follows.

  • Anagrams

    An anagram clue is comprised of 3 parts:

    • A clue to the answer
    • An anagram indicator
    • The anagram itself

    For example:

    Drawn-out, rambling and rude (8)

    Here the anagram isdrawn-out, the anagram indicator isramblingand the clue isrude.
    The answer isuntoward.

    Fail to log red letter? (6)

    The anagram islog red, the indicator isfail toand the clue isletter
    This clue ends with ? which means that there's something in the clue that's a trick question.

    The answer islodger, a type ofletter, as in someone who lets.

    Examples of anagram indicators include abstract, absurd, active, addled, adjusted, afresh, after a fashion, alloy, all at sea, alien, altered, alternative, amazing, anyway, askew, awkward, awry, etc.

    The following mini-crossword only contains anagrams in a classic cryptic format, with aclue, ananagram indicatorand theanagramitself. These may appear in any order.

    Anagram Puzzle

    How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords (2)


    1. Escaped from despair and had hope (7)
    5. Goes into a stupor from dross we rewrote (7)
    6. Concert that’s not confined or composed in opera (4,3)
    7. Shred it into a jumble of flaps (7)


    1. Iron dad perhaps gave to robotic help (7)
    2. Complain about Potter’s spellcasting (7)
    3. Summarize wrong directions to a street (7)
    4. Sets red herring and leaves (7)

    See answers and a short explanation to the elements of each clue.

  • "Sounds Like" Clues

    Like anagrams, these consist of 3 parts:

    • A clue to the answer
    • A ‘sounds like’ indicator
    • Something that sounds like the answer

    For example:

    Make money talking crock (3)
    Here the clue iscrock, the sound like indicator istalkingand the something that sounds like ismake money. The answer is urn (a type of crock, which sounds like earn).

    An alternative variant of these is where the sounds like indicates letters, for example:

    Listen, I see easier each a.m. with this cone (3,5)
    Here the clue iscone,the sounds like indicator islistenand the letters are made up as follows:

    I I
    See C
    Easier E-C-R
    Each E (Words are sometimes abbreviated in crossword clues)
    a.m A-M

    The answer isice cream.

    Words that indicate sounds like include: say, we hear, listen, speak, utter, pronounce, declare, report, etc.

    "Sounds Like" Crossword

    How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords (3)


    4. Speaking aloud is permitted(7)
    5. Hear the woman’s clothing is covered in hair (7)
    6. Noisybugs band (7)


    1. Interlaced hair said to be like armour (7)
    2. Supports core groupsloudly (7)
    3. Listen for whether there'srain, for example (7)


  • Pure Cryptic Clues

    A pure cryptic is an obscure way of reaching the answer. It has no concrete rules that are easy to identity. Instead, it takes the form of aminiature riddle, for example:

    I leave silver behind me whenever I travel (5)

    You can catch me, but not throw me (4)

    When formal, goes over her head (5)

    As you'll see, many cryptic clues have an apparently obvious meaning that must be ignored!

    Pure Cryptic Crossword

    How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords (4)


    4. Gets hot providing your bread and butter (7)
    5. Card dealer (7)
    8. He made others waltz (7)


    1. What have I got in my pocket?It lets all precious things pass (4)
    2. Dot that joins other dots to make a fish, ram, etc. (4)
    3. I get a new ring every year (4)
    5. Hour when you want this, but can’t do it (4)
    6. Not what you want to be under (4)
    7. A crossword, but not this one (4)


  • Double Meaning

    Here there are 2 (or more) clues to the answer, perhaps with an = indicator in between. For example:

    Socialist rose (3)

    Furious, mark voted wrong (5)
    Iscross, with each of the 4 words meaning ‘cross’

    Show you are cross, yet approve (5)
    Isstamp(stamp a foot or stamp a document)

    Late but great (11)

    Words that could indicate = include with, and, also, meets, equals, etc. (though they can also be used to mean other things).

    Hidden words

    A hidden word clue again has 3 parts of the clue:

    • A clue to the answer
    • A hidden word indicator
    • A word or words containing the answer

    For example:

    City in Czechoslovakia (4)
    Here, the clue is City, in indicates a hidden word and Czechoslovakia, if you look carefully contains the wordOslo, which is the answer.

    Words that indicate a hidden word include: A little of, a portion of, apparent, appears, carried by, content, emerges from, out of, gripped by, herein, holding, in, nursing, portion of, showing, etc.

    Crossword Equations

    Equations are the most varied of crossword clues and can include various ways of forming a word, for example:

    A = B + C

    Reason the wood is icy, say (5)
    Here the A is the clue (Reason),woodindicates log andicy, sayis a sounds like clue forI C.
    The answer is log + ic = logic.

    Fury over a painting with eggs (7)
    Furyis temper, over indicates above (used in a down clue) the lettera, and the clue ispainting with eggs.
    The answer is temper + a = tempera

    A = B + C + D

    Chance for pawn to steal talent (11)
    Chance is the clue, pawn is the letter p, steal is rob, talent is ability:
    P + rob + ability = probability

    B inside C = A

    I’m stuck in glue, but it’s a pleasant diversion (7)
    Here the clue is ‘a pleasant diversion’,andI’mis inside a word meaning glue (paste), so
    The answers is pastime: past (im) e

    A = B backwards

    Beat up for sport (4)
    Beat is flog, if you write this ‘up’, you have golf.

    B - C = A

    Leave the South East to look for entrance (4)
    To look for is search, if you removeSE (an abbreviation of South East), you get arch, the answer.

Crossword language

As well as the components of crossword language mentioned above, there are also things that are used to indicate individual letters, for example:

Almost any standard abbreviation can be used, sometimes not directly (so accident and emergency might be used to indicate ER (for emergency room)

Roman numerals, one = I, five = V, ten = X, etc.

King = k or r (rex)

Queen often means ER (Elizabeth Regina)

Note = any of the letters A,B,C,D,E,F or G

Ring, love, egg, zero, circle can all indicate the letter O.

About = c (or can indicate one word inside another)

First, initial, starter = The first letter of a word

Final, ultimate, last, end = The last letter of a word

Anyway, mirrored = A word like 'noon' that is the same forwards and backwards (though anyway can also be an anagram indicator)

Question mark - If a clue ends with a question mark, then it means part of the clue can't be taken literally. For example:
Glass slipper? (7)
Is "Tumbler", a type of glass and someone who slips (and is therefore a 'slipper').

Many crosswords have a combination of several of the above (e.g. part equation, part anagram or part sounds like).


More than 90% of cryptic crossword clues are written in one of the ways described above, however it obviously takes practice to identify what kind of clue a cryptic clue is and work out how to solve it! Crossword compilers can also use other methods of coding a clue, which might be unique to that particular author.

If you've enjoyed learning about how to solve cryptics, you can also download some of Martin's crossword puzzles here (in PDF format):

Crossword Puzzle 2Crossword Puzzle 3

I hope this gives you enough information to get started and you enjoy solving crosswords.


How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords? ›

The keys to solving Cryptic Crosswords are recognizing where the two parts separate and which is standard definition and which is wordplay. Types of wordplay common in Cryptic Crosswords are anagrams, reversal, charades, concealment, container, homograph, homophone, deletion, lettering, and literal.

What is the key to solving cryptic crosswords? ›

The keys to solving Cryptic Crosswords are recognizing where the two parts separate and which is standard definition and which is wordplay. Types of wordplay common in Cryptic Crosswords are anagrams, reversal, charades, concealment, container, homograph, homophone, deletion, lettering, and literal.

What is the secret to cryptic crosswords? ›

WHAT MAKES A CROSSWORD CRYPTIC? For those new to the game, we reveal the secret in a nutshell: The clues each have two parts. One part is a normal definition of the answer; the other is an additional hint using wordplay. Having two hints in each clue might seem a big giveaway to solvers.

How do you solve cryptic crosswords examples? ›

8 powerful ways to solve cryptic crossword puzzles
  1. Look for “anagram” clues. ...
  2. Consider whether a word needs to be reversed. ...
  3. Find the hidden answer indicator. ...
  4. Double definition. ...
  5. Soudalike. ...
  6. Don't take clues literally. ...
  7. Use previous crosswords to improve. ...
  8. Acrostic clues.

What are the rules for cryptic crossword clues? ›

Insert words inside of other words to solve container clues.

Look for indicator words such as “within,” “around,” “in,” “inside,” and “retain” to identify a container clue. Container clues require inserting either letters or words inside of another to form a new word, which will hint at your answer.

How do you master cryptic crosswords? ›

Tackling Cryptic Crosswords: 7-Step Guide For Beginners
  1. Know The Clue Types. Cryptic clues may be tricky to interpret, but they are not vague. ...
  2. Spot The Anagrams and Hidden Words. ...
  3. Crack The Long Ones. ...
  4. Guess Words. ...
  5. Identify The Definition. ...
  6. Fill In Word Parts. ...
  7. Keep At It.
Aug 8, 2008

Why are cryptic crosswords so hard? ›

Unlike regular crosswords, which typically ask the solver to find a synonym for a word or phrase, cryptic crosswords use clues that are deliberately misleading. Solvers have to ignore this reading and look instead for a grammatical set of coded instructions to lead them to the correct answer.

Are cryptic crosswords good for your brain? ›

And there's no question that solving cryptic crosswords gives your brain a good work-out. In our paper on crossword expertise, we suggested that cryptic crossword solving exercises a wide range of cognitive faculties, such as: The general capacity to analyze, reason, problem-solve and think 'on one's feet'

What is the explanation of cryptic crosswords? ›

A cryptic crossword is a crossword puzzle in which each clue is a word puzzle. Cryptic crosswords are particularly popular in the United Kingdom, where they originated, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, and in several Commonwealth nations, including Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, Malta, New Zealand, and South Africa.

What do brackets mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

You already know that the number in brackets at the end of the clue shows the number of letters in the answer. Sometimes this may be written (3,4) meaning the answer consists of two words, the first of three letters and the second of four letters.

How do you solve a cryptic crossword for beginners? ›

How to solve a cryptic crossword: 10 essential tips for beginners
  1. Don't panic! ...
  2. Get committed to solving one clue. ...
  3. Look for 'anagram' clues. ...
  4. Write down letters to be unscrambled. ...
  5. Look for 'hidden answer' indicators. ...
  6. Look for short clues. ...
  7. Don't take things literally. ...
  8. Check out our How To Solve video and other solving tools.
Nov 26, 2018

What does girl mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

Happily, “girl” is rarely nowadays used in a clue to indicate the letters BIRD or BIT in an answer.

What do ellipses mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

Some crosswords use the ellipsis (...). If one clue finishes with an ellipsis and the next clue starts with one, the inference is that the two clues are connected. Sometimes they are and you will have to solve one in order to solve the other but in many cases the two clues can be read independently.

What does an exclamation mark mean in a cryptic crossword? ›

Literal Clues: In a special type of clue called an &lit the clue's definition and cryptic halves are the same (“and literally so”). You may also see the term all-in-one for these types of clues. This is usually indicated by an exclamation point at the end of the clue.

What is King in cryptic crosswords? ›

KING. May be a bits-and-pieces indicator indicating the letter K or R or the letters CR, ER, GR or REX.

How long does it take to get good at cryptic crosswords? ›

Answer: Cryptic Crosswords. According to academics, any novice can be taught how to solve these brainteasers in just 12 months but to be an expert takes up to nine years.

What does finally mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

FINALLY. May be a bits-and-pieces indicator indicating the last letter of a word.

Is there a strategy to crosswords? ›

Make guesses. Sometimes when you're stuck, the only way to move forward is to make an educated guess and see how that affects the puzzle. Lightly pencil in the letters you're uncertain about so that you know to confirm them later.

Is it cheating to look up words in crosswords? ›

Similarly, some people solve crosswords to learn more about a subject or to improve their English. In these cases, looking up answers helps them to achieve their goal, meaning it's not cheating.

What do crosswords do to your brain? ›

These features mean that crossword puzzles cause large areas of your cortex to be active, and stimulate new connections in your brain. The hippocampus will then remember those new connections, strengthening both your hippocampus and cortex.

What is hardest day of week for crossword? ›

Mondays have the most straightforward clues and Saturday clues are the hardest, or involve the most wordplay. Contrary to popular belief, the Sunday puzzles are midweek difficulty, not the hardest. They're just bigger. A typical Monday clue will be very straightforward and drive you almost directly to the answer.

Do Americans have cryptic crosswords? ›

The crossword puzzle was invented in the United States but cryptic ones are a British creation – and have never taken off over there.

Do crosswords stop dementia? ›

Researchers determined that, out of the participants who eventually developed dementia, those who frequently did crossword puzzles demonstrated a much slower decline in memory. On average, crossword puzzles provided about a two and a half year delay in memory decline compared to those who did not do crossword puzzles.

What does Spooner mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

If you have ever tackled a cryptic crossword you will have come across the name Spooner or the term spoonerism for a clue where initial letters are swapped e.g. 'fight the liar' for 'light the fire'.

Are crosswords good for ADHD? ›

This finding suggests that there was differences of attention between pre and post-test. It can be concluded that crossword puzzle can increase attention of the students with ADHD. Discussion: It is recommended for teachers and parents of ADHD children to give them crossword puzzle game everyday at school or at home.

What are the benefits of cryptic crosswords? ›

Research has shown that completing crossword puzzles can help to relieve stress, improve intellectual well-being, assist in learning a new (or specialized) language, and much more! Something else to note is that crossword puzzles are beneficial for children and adults alike. Take a look…

What are crosswords without clues called? ›

A clueless crossword is in many ways very similar to a regular crossword. It consists of a grid of black and white squares, and the player must enter valid words or terms into the white squares so that all words going across and down are valid. Unlike a regular crossword, there are no clues for each word.

What does non U mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

You is a homophone of U, which represents "upper-class". Non-U. If "posh" or "upper-class" is U, then its opposite is non-U.

What does an asterisk mean in front of a crossword clue? ›

The asterisks at the start of the theme clues aren't there to mark the theme clues—they stand in for the letters Star.

What does we hear mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

A typical homophone clue in a cryptic crossword is this one: Remained sober, so we hear (6) ? You should read this as: a word meaning remained which sounds the same as a word meaning sober. The fact that this is a homophone clue is signalled by the indicator so we hear.

What do circled on crossword mean? ›

Circles in a crossword highlight a theme for the puzzle. They either spell out what the theme is, words or letters related to the theme, and/or are in a pattern illustrating that theme. They provide extra clues to how each needs to be filled out.

What is the fastest way to solve a crossword puzzle? ›

Here are some basic tips you can follow to get your crossword-solving game off the ground:
  1. Fill in the blanks first. Experienced crossword solvers know that fill-in-the-blank clues are typically among the easiest to solve. ...
  2. Look to the compass for guidance. ...
  3. Cross-check your answers.
Feb 17, 2019

What is an example of an anagram in cryptic crossword? ›

In an anagram, the letters of one or more words are rearranged to form another word or phrase. The solver can spot this type of clue by identifying the anagram indicator, a word that implies change, disarray, uncertainty or failure. Examples include doctor, model, organised, resort, wild and shattered.

What does e.g. mean in crossword? ›

“Exempli gratia” or “e.g.” which translates to “for example,” is used to introduce examples in a list format.

What does FR mean in crosswords? ›

Identifying an Abbreviation in a Clue

Most of the time, abbreviations have a period at the end of two to three letters. Some common crossword abbreviations include: Fr. – French.

Why does P mean quiet in cryptic crossword? ›

Abbreviations such as ... P. Even if you've missed out on sheet music, as a solver, you associate the word “piano” with P. This is “piano” as in “play this bit quietly”, rather than the instrument – but setters concoct their clues so that they seem at first to be about the instrument.

What does SP mean in crossword? ›

Speaking of foreign words, if the answer is a foreign word, the clue will often include another word from the same language. If not, then you might see a specific indication such as (fr.) or (sp.). For example HOLA might be clued as Hello (sp.), Hello in Spanish, or Juan's Hello.

What does a comma mean in a crossword clue? ›

Essentially, comma say means that the entry and the clue can mean the same thing, in certain contexts, but they're not a perfect 1-to-1 definitional match.

What do the three dots mean in an ellipses? ›

An ellipsis ( ... ) consists of three evenly spaced periods and is used to indicate the omission of words or suggest an incomplete thought. In general, an ellipsis should be treated as a three-letter word, with a space, three periods and a space. (Western Michigan University is ...

What do parentheses mean in crossword? ›

Parentheses either indicate additional information to the clue or indicate that the word within the parentheses when combined with the answer completes a phrase. The use of "with" within a clue also indicates the completion of a phrase.

What does hyph mean in crosswords? ›

Matching Answer. Confidence.

What does reportedly mean in cryptic crosswords? ›

In this type of clue the answer sounds like another word, which is indicated in the clue by a sound-alike indicator, such as 'we hear', 'on the radio', 'reported', 'it's said' etc. So: 'Agree to a perfume, reportedly' (6). In this clue the definition is 'agree' and the indicator is 'reportedly'.

What are square brackets in cryptic crossword? ›

Short exclamations are sometimes clued by a phrase in square brackets, e.g., "[It's cold!]" = BRR. When the answer can only be substituted for the clue when preceding a specific other word, this other word is indicated in parentheses.

What is the most used word in crossword puzzles? ›

“ERA” is the most common word in crossword puzzles, as well as “ARE,” “AREA,” and “ORE,” according to Gaffney.

What does BK mean in crosswords? ›

Book = b, bkBooks = nt, otBoss = ceo, dg, md
Bob = sBobby = pcBritish = b, br
Brother = brBusiness = co, incBye = b
Byte = b
199 more rows

What does Anag mean in crosswords? ›

Cheap (anag.) (5) ? An anagram clue in a cryptic crossword is rather more sophisticated than this, and will normally consist of three parts: a definition; the letters to be rearranged (sometimes referred to by crossword fans as the 'anagram fodder'); and an indication that the letters are to be rearranged.

Should you do crosswords before bed? ›

Puzzles provide a much better opportunity to relax, making it easier to fall asleep and properly switch off.

How are people so good at crosswords? ›

So-called "fluid intelligence", or the ability to "make the mind jump through hoops" while solving problems, is directly linked to the ability to untangle cryptic clues, researchers found.

Do crosswords train your brain? ›

In fact, 37% of those doing crossword puzzles did show at least a two-point improvement. This means that crossword puzzles can improve thinking and memory almost as much as an FDA-approved memory-enhancing medication.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nathanial Hackett

Last Updated: 10/15/2023

Views: 5780

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nathanial Hackett

Birthday: 1997-10-09

Address: Apt. 935 264 Abshire Canyon, South Nerissachester, NM 01800

Phone: +9752624861224

Job: Forward Technology Assistant

Hobby: Listening to music, Shopping, Vacation, Baton twirling, Flower arranging, Blacksmithing, Do it yourself

Introduction: My name is Nathanial Hackett, I am a lovely, curious, smiling, lively, thoughtful, courageous, lively person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.