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Finding beauty in (and explaining) cryptic crossword clues
Part two of a nine-part series of blogs

Cryptic crossword clues can be ingenious and witty, as this blog tries to explain. The blog tries to convey this owl's passion for the genre, but also to give a mini-tutorial on how cryptic crosswords clues are constructed.

  1. Finding beauty in (and explaining) cryptic crossword clues
  2. Anagrams (this blog)
  3. Construction clues
  4. Cryptic definitions
  5. Double meaning clues
  6. Lit clues
  7. Hidden clues
  8. Soundalike clues
  9. The overall winner

Posted by Andy Brown on 26 May 2020

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An anagram clue must have the definition of the word or phrase being indicated at the beginning or end of the clue (it can't come in the middle).  Here are some of my favourites from the last couple of years.  In each case I've put the definition in blue, and the letters to be shuffled in red.


The clue for this was:

Make mummy and me lamb stew? (6)

The surface reading of a clue is what it superficially appears to be about (in this case, a meal being prepared for a child and her mother).  Notice how cleverly the setter has disguised the definition of the word embalm (what else is embalming, if not making a mummy?).

Refracting telescope

The clue here tricks you into mispronouncing the word winds in your head:

Sky watcher intercepts gale force winds (10,9)

The clue is actually using winds to rhyme with blinds, rather than describing the weather phenomenon.  Who would have thought that INTERCEPTS GALE FORCE was an exact anagram of REFRACTING TELESCOPE?


The clue here makes you think of the old joke Why did the chicken cross the road?:

What makes chicken opt for secure road crossing? (10)

A surface reading which brings a smile to the face.  The anagram is indicated by the fact that the letters of the first phrase when reassembled can make the word defined by the second.

The Winner - Punctuation mark

My winner of the best anagram clue of the last 30 months in the Times crossword is this one:

Travelling up mountain track, perhaps (11,4)

A perfect clue:

  • The anagram is fairly indicated by the word Travelling
  • The definition is perfect (a comma is an example of a punctuation mark)

Yet despite the fact that the clue (when read correctly) yields the answer, on the surface it tells a completely different story about a walk in the mountains.

If you don't find a certain beauty in the last clue, you probably won't enjoy the rest of this blog!

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