Part of my morning routine is tackling the Guardian crossword: not the quick one but the cryptic. Since I started these a few years back I’ve got quite good at them, so I thought I’d post some tips about how to crack the cryptic without breaking your brain.
First, the composition of the clue. Every clue consists of two parts: the definition (this is the part that’s like a quick crossword) and the composition of the word (bits which are put together to make the word.) So, if you can’t get the answer from one bit of the clue, you can get it from the other. Here’s an example from today’s cryptic:
Filthy place ultimately became eyesore (4)
The definition is at the beginning or at the end: therefore it’s either filthy (or filthy place) or eyesore. Let’s start with filthy place; one possibility would be sty. The word ultimately generally denotes the last letter of a word; the last letter of became is e; put together they make stye which is a sore on the eye, or eyesore. Part of the skill of the setter is to channel your thoughts in a certain direction; so that you think of eyesore in terms of something ugly, rather than focussing on the literal meaning, a sore in the eye.
Another feature is anagrams. Let’s consider this one:
Maiden, with tact, ordered entree (10). Now, words like ordered often indicate that the letters are scrambled (scrambled is another anagram indicator, as is mixed, confused, jumbled etc). So having decided that, we have to figure out which words are in the anagram and which constitute the definition. From the wording of the question it seems that maiden and tact make up the ten letters of the answer, so the definition is entree. I was on the wrong tack with this for a long while, thinking in terms of food and restaurants; however the answer turned out to be admittance – as in, gaining an entree into a place.
Another common feature is a pun. Here’s a nice example:
Consummate marriage? Not so (9). In order to get this, you have to understand that a question mark denotes a pun and to think of consummate as a noun, meaning highly skilled, rather than the verb which it appears to be. The answer is matchless, being a pun on match as in marriage and matchless meaning peerless or consummate (as in a consummate liar.)
The word regularly or oddly often an instruction to pick alternate letters from a word or phrase, like in this one:
sluggish ferrets regularly found beneath home (5)
The definition could be either sluggish or home. Let’s start with sluggish and concentrate on regularly. If the instruction to pick regular letters refers to ferrets then that could be either f-r-t or e-r-t. The latter is more promising. Now to the last bit: beneath home. The word home often translates as in, which would fit the number of letters. So supposing we put them together – this gives ertin. Not a word. Ah, but we’ve missed the word beneath. If we think of a word from top to bottom, the end of the word would be beneath the beginning, thus giving us inert. Check the definition – sluggish – and you’re there.
OK here’s a couple for you to try. Answers are below.
drug finally injected into bare elbow (5)
a supporter of mine (3-4)
decent sandwiches start to entice relative (5)
Seeing how much I enjoy these puzzles, you’d think I’d be more excited about the fact that ‘Round Britain Quiz’ – which is basically a cryptic crossword on the radio – is celebrating being the longest-running quiz show with 70 years on the air. But the sad fact is that I find it unbelievably tedious: OH and I used to joke that the most exciting thing about it was when the signature tune changed from a minor to a major key at the end. But they’ve even changed the signature tune now, so all that’s left is one giant yawn-fest:
And here, just in case this post has left you too excited, is an edition with the old theme tune:
Here’s today’s cryptic, whence I got all these clues:
and if you want an easier one, here’s the quiptic (a cross between quick and cryptic)
Answers to crossword clues:
nudge (drug finally = d; bare = nude; elbow as a verb = nudge)
pit-prop (a pun on mine)
niece (decent = nice; sandwiches = wraps around; start to entire = e; relative = niece)