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Deconstructing Cryptic Crossword Clues

In order to solve a cryptic crossword, you need to be able to break the clue down into its separate parts. In most cases, this requires successful analysis as to which part of the clue is the straight definition, and which is the cryptic part.

Then once you have worked out which bit is which, the cryptic part will invariably need to be analysed itself: for instance split into the anagram indicator and the anagram fodder, for an anagram clue, and so forth.

Being able to parse a cryptic clue successfully is difficult, and requires practice, and lots of it!

In order to get better at deconstructing clues, the main advice is to simply practice, practice, practice. We also suggest that you read the articles in this cryptic crossword section to do with the various types of clue. Once you know the different types of clue to look out for, it is easier to spot them.

If you don't know what an & Lit is, for instance, or are confused by cryptic definitions or homophone clues, then read our pages on those.

Another huge help is to do the following:

Take a puzzle, and the following day get the solution. Then work backwards and see if you can deconstruct each clue in order to work out how the clue was put together. This forensic analysis is often of great help, particularly for beginners. Indeed perhaps the first few puzzles a person 'solves' should be back to front, working from solution to understanding of the clue, rather than vice versa.

There will invariably be some clues you don't get; this can and does happen even for experienced solvers. There are some websites out there that give an analysis of each and every clue for major British newspaper cryptic crosswords: reading these regularly can really help you develop your cryptic crossword solving prowess.

Ultimately it all comes down to experience, knowing the different types of clues, a good general knowledge, an understanding of anagram indicators and the common abbreviations used and a smattering of crosswordese. Armed with all of the above and a few years practice, you'll be a good cryptic solver who is expert at deconstructing clues in a timely manner.

Are you currently learning to solve cryptics? If so, do share what you find easy / difficult about getting to grips with this puzzle type.
Date written: 22 Apr 2015

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