8 powerful ways to solve cryptic crossword puzzles

June 2021

If you are a fan of cryptic crosswords but wonder if those who create them live in an alternative dimension at times, then the chances are you’re not alone.

What may come as a surprise though, is a recent BBC article in which Matt Ginsberg admitted he was pretty useless at them too. So, who is Matt Ginsberg, and why should you care?

Well, apart from being an author, playwright, Artificial Intelligence (AI) scientist, musician, and stunt plane pilot – where does he find the time?! – he also writes cryptic crosswords for the New York Times.

It turns out one of the men who creates these brain teasers can’t actually solve his own when he goes back to them. In fact, he admits to being so bad at them he created an AI programme to help him, which recently won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the US’s leading competition.

The AI uses a mass of data and a giant database of crosswords and answers pulled from the internet to crack the puzzles. As Matt’s AI programme is unlikely to be in a shop near you anytime soon, we decided to provide eight tips on decoding some of the more commonly used formulas used by crossword writers.

1. Look for “anagram” clues

Typically, you may have up to five or six anagram clues in cryptic crosswords, highlighted by anagram clue indicators. These are words or phrases that suggest change or that something is wrong, such as “broken”, “amended” or “out of order”.

2. Consider whether a word needs to be reversed

Here, the definition or the description of a word reveals the answer when spelt backwards. In the example: “statement by filmed divorcee, retracted”, the answer is “remark”. This is gained by reversing the name Kramer, the movie character famous for getting divorced.

3. Find the hidden answer indicator

Other indicators such as “some”, “partly”, “amid” or “in” could suggest the answer is hidden within the clue.

The example “Member into popular music (3)” suggests that a “member”, or ARM, may be found inside the phrase popular music. Look closely and you will see “populAR Music”, giving the answer “arm”.

4. Double definition

With these clues, two very different meanings could be the answer. So for example “press down” would be “decrease”, playing on the double meaning of reducing or decreasing, and ironing clothes. Beware, these clues can make use of rather obscure word meanings.

5. Soudalike

Here the clue provides the definition as well as a hint that you should see what another word sounds like, maybe by “saying” it aloud. So “Two girls, one on each knee” would be “Patella”– the kneecap but also, of course, the name of two girls, Pat and Ella.

6. Don't take clues literally

Sometimes the trick is to ask yourself what else the clue could mean. For example, if it was “Black suit passed to tailor (6)” you may think of a jacket and trousers being handed over to a tailor. However, the expression “to tailor” indicates that we must tailor the letters of “passed” using an anagram, which produces the word “spades”.

7. Use previous crosswords to improve

The Telegraph suggests you check the answers in the following day’s newspaper and consider how the clues arrived at them. In addition to this it also suggests you also ask an experienced solver or to consult any of the many online blogs that discuss cryptic crosswords.

8. Acrostic clues

With these clues, the answer will be found by taking the initial letters of several other words. In the example: “Does he lead a prayer for openers?” together with “Is Mohammed a Muslim?”, the solution is “Imam”. This can be found by taking the first letters of “Is Mohammed a Muslim”.

Sources for article: the Telegraph and Crossword Clue Solver

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We hope these suggestions help you get more from your cryptic crosswords. While we cannot promise to solve your crosswords, we can help you get the most from your wealth, so always feel free to contact us if there is anything we can help you with.

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