A cryptic clue generally consists of two parts:
Definition – this is synonymous with the answer and is usually positioned at the beginning or end of the clue.
Wordplay – this involves one or more of the cryptic devices listed below and makes up the rest of the clue. The wordplay could be another synonym of the answer or it might require manipulation of individual letters or groups of letters of the answer. Most of the cryptic devices make use of an indicator, which alerts the solver to the type of device employed.
Setters make much use of abbreviations in the wordplay. These normally consist of one or two letters. When the solver encounters words such as company or firm, for example, they should consider the possibility that the letters CO should be substituted. See the Further Details download for more information on abbreviations.
Notes on Cryptic Devices follow:
Anagram – This is the best-known cryptic clue type. In an anagram, the letters of one or more words are rearranged to form another word or phrase. The solver can spot this type of clue by identifying the anagram indicator, a word that implies change, disarray, uncertainty or failure. Examples include doctor, model, organised, resort, wild and shattered.
Cancel my order for plant (8)
In this clue, the anagram indicator is order, indicating that the letters CANCEL MY should be rearranged to form a plant, giving CYCLAMEN.
Charade – In a charade, the answer is formed by joining two or more words together.
Come back to harvest fruit (8)
A word meaning 'to harvest' (REAP) followed by a fruit (PEAR) gives the answer, REAPPEAR (come back).
Container – The presence of container indicators such as embraced or within can signify that one or more words should be placed inside another.
Everything in the broadcast is superficial (7)
Here, the container indicator is in, and indicates that a word meaning 'everything' (ALL) should be put inside a word meaning 'broadcast' (SHOW), giving SHALLOW.
Double Definition – This type of clue has no indicator. Instead, the wordplay consists of another definition of the answer. The two definitions must give words with the same spelling, but not necessarily the same pronunciation.
Refinement of language (6)
In this example, both 'refinement' and 'language' are definitions of the answer, POLISH.
Hidden – With this type of clue, the letters of the answer are hidden consecutively within the clue itself. Indicators such as some or partly introduce the section of letters in which the answer can be found.
Boy, some like it hot (5)
The word some indicates that the letters following it contain the answer. The definition is boy and the letters KEITH appear in like it hot.
Homophone – In this type of clue, the wordplay provides a word that sounds the same as the definition, but has a different meaning. A homophone indicator such as heard, reportedly or pronounced will be present.
Fog avoided, we hear (4)
Here, the homophone indicator is we hear and its position implies that the answer (MIST) sounds like a synonym for 'avoided' (MISSED).
Reversal – Words such as returned, backing, and the wrong way often indicate that one or more words should be turned around to give the answer.
Short letter college sent back (4)
In the clue above, the words sent back indicate that a word meaning 'college' (ETON) should be reversed, giving NOTE (a short letter).
A special case of a reversal clue gives a palindrome as an answer.
Either way, it's a small craft (5)
The answer, KAYAK, reads the same in either direction.
Subtraction – Examples of subtraction indicators are dropped, endless, and cut short. They frequently suggest that the first or last letter should be removed from a synonym of one or more words in the clue, giving the answer. Single-letter indicators are commonly employed. An example would be 'the penny dropped', which might indicate that the letter P should be removed from a word.
Sign of venomous creature losing tail (7)
In this example, venomous creature (SCORPION) loses its tail N, giving SCORPIO, a star sign.
Cryptic Definition – This type of clue is designed to mislead the solver, appearing to say one thing, but meaning something quite different. This type of clue frequently, but not always, ends in a question mark.
Hands up for an early lunch? (4)
The clue appears to ask for a show of hands from those willing to have an early lunch. But the real meaning of the clue is that at twelve o'clock, the hands on a clock point upwards. The answer is therefore NOON.
& Lit – In full, this rare clue type means 'and literally so'. The entire clue acts as both the definition and the wordplay.
I'm one involved with cost (9)
In the clue above, involved indicates that an anagram should be made of the letters IM, ONE and COST. The answer, ECONOMIST, is also one involved with cost.