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Cryptic Crosswords: Know Your Setter

When you solve cryptic crosswords, one of the best things to do is to follow those in a particular newspaper or major publication. That's because this will enable you to see who sets each puzzle, and over time you will get used to the style of each solver. In most major publications, the author of each puzzle is stated above that puzzle, and they usually have slightly strange names: rarely just a name!

Although that might sound odd, with something as personal and hand-written as a cryptic crossword, unlike a quick crossword, you will definitely find certain themes, topics and styles that are popular with certain setters, and over time you can use this knowledge to help solve the puzzles.

For instance, some setters have particular anagram indicators that they use a lot more frequently than they occur in general (perhaps they tend to use the word 'broadcast' a lot to indicate an anagram, for instance), and others tend to have a particular phraseology to their clues that you will pick up on over time. It's hard to explain that in words, but you'll know it once you've solved enough puzzles by a given setter. It is not uncommon when people solve puzzles for them to say that this "sounds like an X sort of answer" or "I've seen Y clue an answer like this before".

Indeed, most cryptic crossword solvers have their favourite setters, and particularly enjoy and look forward to those puzzles. Some setters are a lot fairer in following the strict rules in writing a cryptic crossword than others (eg they follow Ximenean clueing) whilst others don't do this.

A good cryptic crossword setter, familiar to you or otherwise, will set you a challenging puzzle but one that you will ultimately be able to solve. When you become an experienced solver, therefore, you should have a good chance of solving any puzzle even if by an author that you've not heard of before, but you do have an even better chance if you know their style well: even simple things like knowing how often a setter tends to use obscure words that you probably haven't come across before can be useful, or what their favourite subjects are.

Other authors often have a hidden theme in their puzzles, so again if you know an author tends to do this then you can look out for it (for instance they might hide five answers that also happen to be the names of famous opera characters or similar).

Do you have a favourite cryptic setter - and if so, why? Is is the style you like, the humour of their clues, or something else? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
Date written: 18 Apr 2015



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