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

Posted by Andy Brown on 26 May 2020

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&Lit clues

If you've never heard of the word &Lit before, don't worry - as far as I know it's exclusive to cryptic crosswords. 

A normal clue consists of a definition and the wordplay to define it.  So for example you could (and someone did) clue POMPADOUR as:

Mop up road spills in High Barnet (9)

A barnet is Cockney rhyming slang for a hairstyle, a pompadour involves wearing one's hair up, and if you spill the letters of MOP UP ROAD you get POMPADOUR.

The crucial thing about this sort of clue is that it contains a definition and wordplay, but the two things are separate.  In an &Lit clue, the clue provides not only the wordplay but also the definition.

Some examples of &Lit clues follow (as always taken from the last two and a half years of Times crossword clues).


The clue here is:

Stop heading for takeaways? (4)

If you stop heading for takeaways, you're certainly dieting.  But equally:

  • To stop is to DIE; and
  • The first letter (or heading) of TAKEAWAYS is the letter T.

Space cadet

This clue was:

One who is accepted as crazy? (5,5)

A space cadet is slang for someone who's a bit strange, but it's also - conveniently - an anagram of ACCEPTED AS (that is, the letters when a bit crazy).


Very nearly my winner for this category was this clue:

Six pound fifty in change? (9)

The Roman numeral for fifty is L.  If you change the letters SIX POUNDS L you get SPONDULIX, but this slang word for money could easily describe £6.50 in loose change.

The Winner: Cognitive dissonance

I've chosen as the winner for this category the following clue:

Cannot give decisions suffering this? (9,10)

If you are suffering from cognitive dissonance, you may be unable to give decisions; but CANNOT GIVE DECISIONS is also, unbelievably, an anagram of COGNITIVE DISSONANCE!

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