My father recommended the simple equation of an ounce of practice being equal to a pound of theory, and rather than a long exposé on the myriad of conventions and devices used in cryptic crossword solving, I have decided instead simply to take you for a spin! And between us we will endeavour to complete a rather special Times crossword, one of my father’s simpler ones, but no less entertaining for a’ that! with his famous E (for Edmund) Grid, which I helped ink in as his young apprentice many moons ago, for the Tanganyika Standard before he joined The Times, though later it managed to creep in to their armoury as well! This one appears as Crossword 21 from his Sixth Book of The Times Crosswords. In the course of my guiding hand, I shall alert you to the little devices I have built into my program, which hopefully will enable you to get the best out of it, such that you may learn after a little practice to take the wheel yourself and adapt the same to all my new crossword models! In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the drive! John Grant’s simple road map below may also assist!
Sincerely, David Akenhead, CEO Akenhead Crosswords
Beginners’ Guide to The Times crossword
by John Grant (adapted)
These are the staple types of clue in cryptic puzzles, in which the answer is broken down into its component parts and reassembled, sometimes in a different order. For example:
Tea left to cool in a cup (7) – CHALICE
CHA, tea + L(eft) + ICE, cool (verb).
Definition: a cup
Component parts may also be anagrams, or reversals, or otherwise disguised, and bits may be added or subtracted (sometimes referred to as “surgery”), but the clue will always contain a definition of the answer.
Many words in English have several meanings, which the compiler can exploit by using contrasting or even contradictory meanings of the same word, for example:
Tiresome speech – finish on the floor (6) – SCREED
More than one spoke lines from the heart (5) – RADII (where ‘spoke’ looks like a verb but is a noun).
The letters in the answer are jumbled to make another word or words. Anagrams are indicated by words that suggest movement, change, novelty, strangeness, deterioration, and the like. For example:
Literary lady’s luck begins to change (4,8) – BLUE STOCKING
(anag. of ‘luck begins to’).
Virtuous rogue? This must be erroneous! (9) – RIGHTEOUS
(by starting with an apparent contradiction, the artful compiler diverts attention from the anagram in “rogue this”)
The answer is hidden by being submerged in the clue, indicated by words such as “some”, “in”, “part of”, etc. For example:
Respectable type Gladys is at heart (4) – LADY
(an early example from D.S. Macnutt, otherwise known as Ximenes in crossword circles).
Many words with different spellings are pronounced the same – eg, bough and bow. They are indicated by phrases such as “we hear”, “they say”, “by the sound of it” etc. For example:
Trace crime by ploughman, say (9) SCINTILLA
(where “trace” is the definition, and “sin tiller” the homophone).
The compiler describes the answer as misleadingly as possible, for example:
Home cooking, Chinese style (5,4,4) – BIRDS NEST SOUP
Suitable performance to Water Music (3,5) – TAP DANCE
Reversals and Envelopes
Words may be spelt backwards, and contained for example:
Dress is worn by artist in retirement – SARI
(RA – Royal Academy = ‘artist’ (reversed = AR) inside (= ‘in’) IS (‘in retirement’ indicating reversal to reveal SI externally.
Reversals in across clues are indicated by words like “back”, return”, “replace” etc., and from top to bottom, and reversals in down clues are said to “climb”, “mount”, “go up” etc.