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Cryptic Definition Clues In Cryptic Crosswords

One of the rarer clue types to be encountered when solving cryptic crosswords is called the "cryptic definition".

How does this vary from the other clue types, and what does it mean?

Well, it varies from them in this very important way: there is only a definition, but it is phrased in quite a cryptic way. As you will know, most clue types have two distinct parts: the straight answer and the cryptic clue. That is not the case here.

As such, these clues are often quite short, although not necessarily.

To solve these clues you need to try and think what else the clue might mean, above and beyond the obvious meaning that your brain will probably leap straight to. These often involve looking at different meanings of the words in the clue from the obvious ones, or else taking the phrase not at face value but literally, and then that leading you to the answer.

Cryptic definitions can be quite frustrating, but when you get the answer they can be one of the most satisfying cryptic clues as they often contain an 'aha' moment, and as they are often witty and a bit of a joke they can induce a smile or even a laugh out loud moment in rare cases.

Another thing to look out for in cryptic definition clues is that a word may not be used in its usual sense, not just in a cryptic or very literal sense. The most common example of this is the word 'flower' not referring to a pansy or geranium, but to a flow-er: something that flows - a river. So a 'London flower' would be 'Thames' for instance, or the word 'sticky' wouldn't have anything to do with glue, but something that is literally like a stick or on a stick.

As with everything, an example always helps, so here goes: see if you can work out the answer to the clue below before reading the explanation underneath:

Essential item for a hold-up (6)

The answer here is BRACES, since they literally hold up trousers. Were you thinking of things like weapons or a bank hold-up, perhaps?

We hope that this is a useful introduction to cryptic definition clues and how to solve them. Do you have a favourite cryptic definition clue, or perhaps you've come across one that you just don't understand? Feel free to share your thoughts below!


Date written: 12 Apr 2015



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