Crosaire TikToker Aifric Gallagher: ‘It’s like learning a new language’

The teacher and linguist creates TikToks that solve clues from The Irish Times cryptic puzzle

Simplex or Crosaire? if you are a reader who likes to do one (or both) of The Irish Times’s two daily crosswords, then you’re inevitably asked which one you do most often. The Crosaire, or cryptic crossword, is generally regarded (by this reader anyway) as being the “hard” crossword.

“I love it,” Dubliner Aifric Gallagher (30) says. Gallagher started doing a TikTok some time ago – @crypticaf is her username – solving clues from The Irish Times cryptic puzzle. (She now has 29,000 followers, and recently entered into a commercial arrangement with The Irish Times, which promotes her TikToks and Instagram posts.) Some of her TikToks have more than half a million views, an indicator of how motivated people are to solve especially tricky clues.

“I’ve always really been interested in puzzles and crosswords,” she says. It’s an interest that has been in her family a long time: Gallagher’s grandfather, Jack Gallagher, won enough prize money by doing a puzzle completion in the 1960s to buy a Ford Anglia car. Her brother made her a cryptic crossword for her 30th birthday, with clues based on events in her life, which has to be a pretty excellent gift.

If you ever wanted to try The Irish Times cryptic crossword, or to hone your existing skills, Gallagher’s TikTok is a good place to start. She breaks down one clue per post.


Being an amateur, I ask her for a definition of a cryptic crossword clue.

“Each clue is split in two,” she says. “One part is the word play, and the other half is the more literal definition of the clue – like a Simplex clue – and they are stuck together. Figuring out which part is which is the challenge. It’s like having two shots at the goal.”

A favourite clue of hers is “Old partner writes single review that will vindicate them”. To me, it reads like a line from James Joyce’s Ulysses, but to Gallagher it’s a code to be broken down, as she has done on her TikTok.

“There are different codes in the clue,” she says. “‘Old partner’ is an ex. ‘Single’ is one; the word one. ‘Review’ is rate. ‘Vindicate them’ is like the Simplex definition for the literal part of the clue. Put them all together, and you get ’exonerate’.”

Gallagher is a linguist, which must help with getting one’s head around language. She went to a Gaelscoil, and now teaches in one herself. “I studied French and German in school, and French and Italian in college. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of Spanish and Arabic. Learning how to do crosswords is really like learning a new language: crosswords are translations of cryptic clues.”

She posts a solution to a clue every few days, recording herself from above, so what you see is her hand making notes, and filling out the clue, as she talks her way through solving the clue.

“In each video I focus on one clue from one puzzle, and solve it using video, text and audio. I learned from my teaching Masters that people learn in different ways, so felt that TikTok was the best medium to present information to a variety of learners, catering to different learning styles.”

The Irish Times cryptic crossword is set by two different people. Does she notice a difference in style? “I don’t know if I’m an expert enough to comment. Every setter is definitely different,” she says. Gallagher can usually solve the cryptic crossword in 20 minutes.

Puzzles of all kinds are becoming increasingly popular; in the case of the New York Times, paid subscriptions to their puzzles are now an additional income stream. Why does Gallagher think we are so fond of puzzles?

“As adults we have very few opportunities to be beginners again and learn new things, but with a crossword like Crosaire we have a chance to learn again.”

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland is Senior Features Writer with The Irish Times. She was named NewsBrands Ireland Journalist of the Year for 2018