The cryptic crossword originated in the United Kingdom and their popularity has spread throughout North America, Europe, Africa and beyond. They are sometimes also called British-style crosswords, and those who compile them are referred to as setters.
What sets them apart from other puzzles?
Each clue is its own word puzzle. There are two types, though, the basic type involves the clue answer being entered as normal. However, the advanced cryptic crossword has answers that require altering before they can be entered. There is a hidden rule, or pattern, that the solver has to discover before they can write their answer in.
The original crossword puzzle itself made its first appearance in around 1923, however they advanced quickly and by the mid 20’s clues became more cryptic. Not in the modern sense of the cryptic crossword as we know it, just references, wordplay, anagrams, etc. Edward Mathers was The Saturday Westminster’s setter and it was he who first used only cryptic clues, he is credited as the cryptic crossword inventor. The first truly cryptic crossword didn’t make its appearance in a newspaper until 1960, though it had been appearing in a weekly magazine since 1930.
Mather’s puzzles were difficult, and complete with extremely obscure references. Because of this, setters would develop a standard for clues that would allow for a process of deduction. This was first laid out by Alistair Ritchie in his 1946 book Armchair Crosswords.
So, how do cryptic clues work?
The intention is that the clue leads to the answer, provided you read it correctly. However, reading it normally will likely distract you from the clue, the challenge is discovering the right way to read it. The clue generally has two parts: the wordplay and the definition. So you are presented with two different ways to get to the answer. The definition is the same as any normal crossword clue, it will match the tense, or part of speech. The definition will either be at the start, or at the end, of a clue.
The wordplay part of the clue offers another route to the answer. There is a need to discover the boundary between the wordplay and the definition, this is where you find your instructions to get the answer.
While there are a variety of types of wordplay, they all conform to the same rules. Setters stick to the rules when they write the clues, thus solvers can use the same rules to aid in their solutions.
While cryptic crosswords are more difficult, once you have the answer you can self-check with the clues. Whereas there are generally several possible answers in non-cryptic crosswords.
There are differences between cryptic crosswords in North America and the UK. The US setters hold more rigid rules, as such in the UK a triple definition clue would be a clever inclusion, but not so in the US.
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