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Cryptic Crossword Anagram Indicators

When solving a cryptic crossword one thing you can be sure of is that there will be some anagram clues, or partial anagram clues, in the solving mix.

Some cryptic crosswords have over 50% of the clues containing anagrams in some form, whilst even the most parsimonious puzzle will still have some anagram clues in - partly because they are just expected and also because they are so useful and flexible when writing a clue that parses well! Plus setters often use software now that will tell them in seconds whether there is a full anagram for a word or an amusing little phrase that can be made from the letters of the answer word, so they are often the quickest to write, too.

When solving anagram clues, there are a couple of tricky things for the solver: one is identifying which letters form the anagram, and secondly, finding out what the indicator is. In the parlance so beloved of cryptic crossword solvers and setters, these are referred to as the anagram fodder and, as mentioned, the anagram indicator respectively.

One of the key skills that you'll need to tackle a cryptic is the ability to weed out the anagram indicator. The bad news is that there are a huge number of them - far more than you could reasonably commit to memory. The good news is that some of them are a lot more common than others. Often an indicator is chosen because it makes the reading of the clue better and fits naturally - for instance a clue that is on the surface to do with the weather might use the anagram indicator 'stormy' to fit in nicely and not stick out. Common anagram indicators include 'novel', 'at sea', 'bizarre', 'shuffled', 'rocky','rough','peculiar', 'tangled','twisted' and 'upset'.

As mentioned there are a huge number, so any word that could reasonably indicate that something has been shuffled or moved about or re-ordered could be fair game, and there are a huge number of those. You will just get a feel for it over time as much as anything - don't try to learn a list of words as there will always be more to learn, although there are websites with huge lists if you want a heads-up of some options. Also it is important to remember that just because a word can be used as an anagram indicator, doesn't mean that it actually is in the clue you are reading.

If you are convinced that you've found an anagram clue, then the next step is to work out which letters compose the anagram itself. Once you've taken out the anagram indicator, this is usually quite easy to do. Remember that the best way is to look at word lengths, as often if the answer is, say, 13 letters long, a set of words in the clue will add up to that length, and that's probably your anagram, although not always of course. Good luck!
Date written: 16 Apr 2015

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