Explanations, with examples, of the methods and conventions commonly used in deciphering cryptic clues.



How clues work in cryptic crosswords and how the cryptic clues in the quizzes compare.


How words that have the same meaning are used.


How words which sound the same are used.


The use of punctuation and how it should be interpreted.

Word Structure

The composition of words and how elements within their structure can be interpreted.

Building Words

The construction of words from smaller words and abbreviations.

Hidden in Plain Sight

How answers are hidden in plain sight within other words and phrases.

Inside and Outside

How instructions are given to place one word or element within another or to surround one word or element with another.

Beginning and End

How instructions are given to alter the beginning or end of a word or word element.


Reversing the letter order of a word or group of words.


Anagram is the term used for breaking up a word, or other combination of letters, and reforming it into a new word or number of words.

Double Layers

This refers to using two or more cryptic strategies, in sequence, to convert the contents of the clue into the answer.


Many abbreviations are used in Cryptic clues as building blocks for the answer. A list of common abbreviations is included.


The traditional cryptic crossword clue is written so that there are two ways of finding the answer. A word or phrase, at the start or end of the clue, will provide an alternative word for (synonym), or definition of the answer. The rest of the clue will provide another method for finding the answer. This may be a second synonym or definition connected to a different meaning, or the answer may be constructed from smaller words and abbreviations. Anagrams may be used or the answer may be hidden in plain sight within the words of the clue. Homophones, words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings, are often used.

Cryptic crossword: Puzzle resulted in reprimand (9).

First definition: Puzzle: Crossword

Second definition: reprimand: cross word


The tough part about a cryptic crossword clue is trying to identify the word or phrase that leads to answer. In practice, different options have to be tried out. A synonym/definition is selected and the other part of the clue is worked on to try and obtain an answer that fits. There are usually two and sometimes more synonym/definition options. So, for a cryptic crossword, the subject of the eventual answer is unknown but this is overcome because a unique answer can be found that is given by both a synonym/definition and a second method.

The Cryptic Quizzes provide a range of possible answers determined by the title of each quiz. For example, a Quiz titled “Book Titles for the Original Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling”, there would be seven possible answers. “Countries of the World” would have more than two hundred options, including those countries with disputed sovereignty. “Animals” would provide many, many more. The range of possible answers to a Cryptic Quiz is known before looking at the clues, removing the total, initial uncertainty that belongs to any cryptic crossword clue.

A Cryptic Quiz clue only needs to provide one route to the answer because the synonym/definition is given by the title of the quiz. These clues are in a sense easier than cryptic crossword clues, in that they can be treated straight away as an attempt to decode the second route to the answer. However, they can also be harder, when the range of options provided by the title is much larger than it would have been in the much more specific synonym/definition provided by the first part of the cryptic crossword clue.

Cryptic Quiz: “Puzzles”: Question: Giant birds were destroyed when they met this deadly weapon.

Giant birds: “Rocs”

“Rocs” were destroyed:

anagram of “Rocs”: “cRos”

deadly weapon: “sword”

“cRos” met “sword”:


Where Cryptic Quiz clues are significantly harder, is the lack of information on the number of words in the answer or the lengths of those words. In order to combat this, should it be too demoralising, each Cryptic Question has a Hints display, which gives the first letter of the answer, the number of words in it and their length. A third display, Answer, gives a complete explanation of the solution to the clue.

Cryptic Quizzes test cryptic clue solving ability and general knowledge. The latter allows an additional strategy for solving the clues. Making a list of possible answers that might fit within the title subject of the quiz, can be extremely helpful when attempting the clues. This can remove the feeling of helplessness that many have when looking at a cryptic clue and having no idea where to start.


Different words that can have the same meaning. For each word or word-equivalent element within a single word, all definitions and appropriate synonyms are available for use in interpreting the clue.


Words that sound the same but have different meanings.

Whenever a clue contains phrases like: it sounds as though… , I hear that… , to my ear…, it seems as if…, …-sounding, the chances are that the word element required in the answer is pronounced in the same way as, but is spelt differently to the word element provided by the clue.

Cryptic crossword: Great, big, Monday sound-mix.

Cryptic Quiz “Horror”: Question: Monday sound-mix.

Monday: “Mon.”

mix: “stir”

Sound- “stir”: “ster”


The “sounds like” principle can also be applied in other circumstances, by convention.

Letters of the alphabet:

B: be, bee

C: sea, see

D: Dee

G: Gee

I: ay, aye, eye

J: Jay

L: el

O: Oh :0

P: pea, pee

R: are

T: tea, te, tee

U: you

X: ex

Y: Why


Cryptic clues are punctuated to imply a particular meaning. The clue paints a picture; Gives a story. In solving a clue, the punctuation should be ignored. Words either side of an item of punctuation can be used together to give a definition or element required in solving the clue.

Eg. Snow, white and soft…

Snow, white… may mean Snow White and the answer may be Princess. Never trust the punctuation.

Word Structure

Words may be interpreted by breaking them up.

Eg. Read within the note.

Interpretation One: “Read” within “the note”

Note: “D”

“Read” inside “the D”

“th read e D”


Interpretation Two: “Read” with “in” “the note”

The note: “G”

“Read” with “in” and “G”


Within can be interpreted as inside or with “in”.

Remain open to interpreting the clue in as many ways as possible, until you have settled on the answer.

Building Words

A fundamental part of cryptic clues is the building up of words out of smaller words and abbreviations.

Eg. Cryptic Quiz “Knowledge”: Question: Put in shape, at 1:1. Remove note.

Put: Use


shape: “form”


1: “I”

1: “one”

Note: “E”

Use “in” “form” “at” “I” “one”. Remove “E”.


Cryptic Quiz “Gymnastics”: Question: Give support.

Give : “Hand”

Support: “stand”


Hidden in Plain Sight

In this case, the answer is visible with the letters in the correct order within the words of the clue.

Cryptic Quiz “European Countries”

Question: Grasp or tug all the straws in the box to find out what’s in there.

find out what’s in there: look inside

look inside “Gras p or tug al l the straws in the box to”


The key words for this are: in, inside, included in, within, part of, hiding in, came out of, etc.

Cryptic Quiz “Pond Life”: Question: Into a deep hole.

In “to a deep hole”


Above is an example of the need not to fall for the perceived sound of the clue or to follow the restrictions in grammar on how words should be read. “Into” can be broken apart and read as “in to”.

Inside and Outside

Placing a word within or around another.

Words to look out for: in, within, inside, contains, including, around, surrounding, swallows, engulfs, absorb, outside.

Eg. He was in that set.

“He” in “set”

“S he et”


Eg. The con included art.

“con” with “art” inside

“c art on”


Clues can get more cryptic.

Eg. The trick included Arthur.

Trick: “con”

Arthur: “Art.”

“con” with “art” inside

“c art on”


Notice that “within” has now been used in three different ways.

With “in”.

Within: one word within another.

Within: look for the answer in plain sight within a set of words.

Beginning and End

Words can be manipulated in many ways by adding or removing letters from the start or end of a word. Similarly, the letters being removed may themselves become part of the answer, while the remainder is discarded.

Words and phrases to look out for: beheaded, topped and tailed, shortened, lost, added to, lengthened, grow, front, back, top, bottom, end, left, right, take away, remove. These are often combined to give: removed from the end, added to the top.

Eg. Texan ended without an initial loss, and had the first half of action.

“Texan” ended without “an”: “Tex”

“Texan” initial: “T”

“T” loss from “Tex”: “ex”

First half of “action”: “act”

“ex” had “act”


Eg. Texan was headed off from the north and caught.

“Texan” was headed off: “exan”

North: “N”

Take “N” from “exan”: “exa”

caught: “ct.”

“exa” and “ct”


Eg. Texan, who lost his tan, had to act

“Texan” lost “tan”: “ex”

“ex” had “act”



Reversing the letter order of a word or group of words.

Phrases such as: go back, returning, turned around, spin, 180 degrees, reflected, all suggest that something in the clue should have its letter order reversed.

Eg. Turning to… could mean: use “ot”

Eg. On reflection, … might be: “no”

Eg. …sad about… can be interpreted as: “das”


An anagram involves breaking up a word, group of words and/or letters and reorganising them to make another word or group of words. There are many words and phrases that may suggest that an anagram is present. Mixer is an anagram of remix and both qualify as anagram indicators. Here are some more: disturb, agitate, crush, confuse, explode, disaggregate, blow-up, smash, tear apart, re-order, take to pieces.

Cryptic crossword: The broken-down car was rescued by them.

Cryptic Quiz “Company Names”: Question: Broken-down car.

Broken-down: anagram of

Anagram of car:


Double Layers

The Cryptic Quiz clues often require more than one layer of manipulation of the elements of the clue.

A synonym followed by an anagram

The removal of the starting letter followed by the insertion of a small word.

Abbreviation and combination with other elements to be used in an anagram.

A shortening followed by a reversal

The extent of these and the number of possible answers available in the topic are the key factors in determining the difficulty of a Cryptic Quiz.


Chemical elements: All possible, Carbon: C, Copper: Cu, Gold: Au, Hydrogen: H, Iron: Fe, Nitrogen: N, Oxygen: O, Silver: Ag, Sulphur: S

Chess: King: K, Queen: Q, Bishop:B, Knight: N, Rook: R

Countries: Australia: Aus, England: Eng, France: Fr, Germany: Ger, Great Britain: GB, Northern Ireland: NI, New Zealand: NZ, Russia: Rus, Scotland: Sco, South Africa: SA, Spain: Esp, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: UK, United States of America: USA/US

Cricket Score Card: bowled: b, caught: c or ct, stumped: st.

Direction: east: E, left: L, north: N, right: R, south: S, west: W

Jobs: Salesperson/man/woman: Rep

Military: Royal Artillary: RA, Royal Engineers: RE

Miscellaneous: Hospital: H

Money: penny: d/p, pound: l, shilling: s

Music notation: loud: f, notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, quiet: p, very loud: ff, very quiet: pp

Musical notes: doh, ray, me, fa/fah, so, la/lah, te

Names: First/Christian Names can be abbreviated to the first letter. Common alternatives are also used: Catherine/Katherine: Cath, Cathy, Kat, Kate, Katy, … Charles: Charlie, Chaz, Chuck, … Elizabeth: Liz, Lizzy, Beth, Betty, Eliza, … Henry: Harry, Hal, …

Numbers: billion/thousand-million: giga/G, billionth: nano/n, hundredth: centi/c, million: mega/M, tenth: deci/d, thousand: kilo/k, thousandth: milli/m, trillion/million-million: tera/T

Police: Detective Inspector: DI, Detective Sargent: DS, Policeman/Copper/Plod: PC

Popular Culture: Compact Disk: CD, Extended Play record: EP, fashionable: U, laugh out loud: lol, Long Play record: LP, unfashionable: non-U

Position/Grade: First/1st/I/A, Second/2nd/II/B, Third/3rd/III/C, Fourth/4th/IV/D, Fifth/5th/V/E, Sixth/6th/VI/F/Fail

Road Names: Avenue: Av, Close: Cl, Court: Ct, Crescent: Cr, Drive: Dr, Road: Rd, Street: St

Roman Numerals: one: I, five: V, ten: X, fifty: L, one hundred: C, five hundred: D, one thousand: M,

Scientific: acceleration: a, Amps: A, Centigrade: C, electricity: AC (Alternating Current), DC (Direct Current), Energy: E, Fahrenheit: F, hour: h/hr, mass: m, minute: m/min, Newtons (Force): N, Speed of Light: c, second: s/sec, speed/velocity: v, time/temperature: t, Tesla: T, Volts: V, Watts: W

Ships: Steam Ship: SS, Her/His Majesty’s Ship: HMS

Sport: Professional: Pro

Subjects: Art/s: A, Biology: Bio, Chemistry: Chem, Engineering: Eng, Philosophy: Phil, Science: Sc

Text: circa : c, editor: ed, information: i/info, in charge: ic, plural: pl, reference/referee: ref, refers to/with reference to: re, slang: sl, spelling: sp, very: v,

Titles: Bachelor: B, Doctor: Dr/DPhil/PhD, Knight: Sir, Master: M, Missis/Missus/Mistress: Mrs, Mister: Mr, Professor: Prof, Saint: St

Vehicle Licence Plate Country Codes: France: F, Germany: D, Italy: I, Switzerland: Ch, UK: GB

Weights and Measures: gram: g, metre: m, pound: lb, stone: st, ton/tonne: t