Tips for doing Crosaire, The Irish Times cryptic crossword

Helpful hints

Each crossword setter has their own style and so a guide to cryptic solving cannot be exhaustive. Nor is this short guide intended to be exhaustive, of course. The first thing to emphasise is that the definition is always either at the start or the end of the clue. If a clue starts with a fairly obvious anagram indicator, for example, a savvy user should go straight to the end to look for the definition. Also, if there’s a proper name used in the clue, it’s not likely to be part of the definition either! But then again, not always - a key phrase to remember when doing a cryptic crossword! Also look out for words like “perhaps” or “maybe” or a question mark, which can indicate the setter is being a little bit playful or indirect. For example, they might indicate a synonym is being used.

Here are some of the clue types you will commonly find in cryptic crosswords, including those on The Irish Times. The examples are typical of clues used in our Crosaire puzzles.

Acrostic First/Last/Centre letters make up the word

Example: Birds will resist eating nuts initially Initial letters of Will Resist Eating Nuts = Wren = bird


Addition* Add / insert something into a word

Example: Conservative policy in document is rejected C (conservative) + line (policy) inside deed (document) = declined = rejected

* Also Container, Envelope, Sandwich

All in one! The definition and answer are literally true. The wordplay and definition are one. The exclamation mark gives a hint of this.

Example: I’m one involved with cost Anagram (involved) of “I’m one” and “cost” = economist; the clue is also a definition of what an economist does”

Anagram Mix up letters

Example: Small pellets thrown at gophers Anagram (thrown) of “at gophers” = grapeshot = small pellets

Charade Word One + Word two = Word three

Example: Pick up hot dog In (hot) + cur (dog) = incur = pick up

Cryptic Definition Disguised description

Example: It was commonly read during troubled times The Riot Act used to be read to crowds during troubled times

Hidden Word (or reverse) hidden in another word/sentence

Example: In parts of Ottawa, shops are inundated Inside ottAWA SHops you find awash= inundated

Homophone Words that sound the same (puns)

Example: Friend declares a position Ally (friend) sounds like a lie (a position)

Letter sequences Odd / Even letters make up word

Example: “With skill, you can take odd bits off fat belly” Remove odd letters from fAt BeLlY = ably = with skill

Letters – Move Move a letter/letters in a word to make another word

Example: Switch edges on dresses? That’s sensible Robes (dresses) with the R and S changing places = sober = sensible

Letters - Remove Remove a letter/letters to make another word

Example: “Without hesitation, the smallest note” Minimum (smallest) without um (hesitation) = minim = note

Letters – Switch Swap a letter to make another word

Example: Desires to have apprentice replace new young horse Yearnings (desires) when L (apprentice = learner) replaces N (new) becomes yearlings = young horses

Multiple Definition Two or more words/phrases with same meaning

Example: Rescind brief authority All three words are synonyms of Remit

Novelty No other category

Example: Genius poet linked with someone who’s mad Brainiac (genius) rhymes with (poet links with) maniac = someone who’s mad

Opposition Answer = opposite of clue

Example: Stressed from being off centre? Au contraire The opposite meanings of OFF CENTRE =On edge = stressed

Reversal Word/s reversed = another word

Example: Dealer made to return revolutionary painting Red (revolutionary) + art (painting) reversed = trader = dealer

Spoonerism Switch first and last sounds

Example: Family bank Spooner dismissed as stupid and silly The bank of Mum and Dad would be pronounced Dumb and Mad (stupid and silly) by Spooner

Substitution Replace part of a word with something else

Example: Find fault with shot when the temperature changes SHOT becomes SCOLD when hot is replaced by cold (the temperature changes)

The two most common queries that new solvers of cryptic crosswords have are probably:

- how to identify an anagram indicator;

- where to get the list of single letters standing for words and common abbreviations or acronyms

Neither have a succinct answer; for anagrams there are hundreds - the general advice is to look out for words indicating change, breaking up etc.

The single letters/common abbreviations and acronyms are more difficult. There is an entire Chambers book devoted to abbreviations.

The sources include:

  • the NATO alphabet, Chess pieces and notation, Bridge and its notation, Science (e.g. the periodic table), Cricket (bowled, caught, run etc.)
  • Mathematics (x, y and z as unknown, x for times i.e. multiplication sign), Countries’ designations, Compass directions, Roman numerals (i, x, c, l, m etc.)
  • Music (the various keys, notations such as p and f), clothing sizes (S. M and L) street signs (p for parking, i for information).

And there are many more. The only way to get familiar with them is – again – practice.