Tips for Cryptic Crosswords:

  • The longest words in a cryptic crossword often use anagrams in their clues.
  • The definition of the answer is in the clue, either at the start or end of the clue. Locating the definition is an important step! Also keep in mind that the definition itself may be a little obscure, and not an obvious dictionary definition or exact synonym.
  • If you think you know what the answer may be (just from the definition), see if you can work backwards from it to figure out whether the wordplay section of the clue fits your answer.
  • Ignore the obvious ‘surface’ reading of the clue and instead look for the hidden meaning.
  • Look at each word in the clue one by one, rather than together as a sentence. Don’t ignore a single word!
  • Ignore most punctuation, and all capital and accented letters in clues. Keep in mind that one or two words in the clue may lead to an abbreviation.
  • The definition has to match the part of speech and tense of the answer. So if the clue seems to be indicating a past tense verb, the answer should be a past tense verb as well. The same goes for plurals and so on.
  • Use a thesaurus to look for synonyms for words near the start or end of a clue — you can often stumble upon the answer this way and then figure out what the cryptic wordplay means after the fact. This is a perfectly acceptable strategy!
  • When you’re first learning about cryptics, stick with one setter or series. Every setter writes clues slightly differently, and you’re likely to be more successful if you get to know one setter’s style and idiosyncrasies well, rather than trying a wide range of puzzles from lots of different newspapers and setters.
  • Practice and practice and practice. No book (no, not even this one) can enable you to instantly master this difficult puzzle genre. Solving cryptics takes practice. Practice daily if you really want to master them completely, and practice weekly if you’re keen to be able to solve them well. As much as I’d love to have you grasp everything in this book rapidly, the reality is, if you’re new to cryptic crosswords, there is a great deal to learn. With practice, and with the help of this book, you can improve — just don’t expect it to be immediate.

After you have known the basics, you can start by trying “Crossword Daily: Word Puzzle” on your smart phone.

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