Cryptic crossword clues often follow one of seven common formulas. (ABC Radio Melbourne: Simon Leo Brown)
Have you tried your hand at the cryptic crossword, only to find it too cryptic?
Writer and broadcaster David Astle creates crosswords for Fairfax newspapers under the initials DA, which fans say stand for “Don’t Attempt”.
But Astle said anyone could attempt cryptic crosswords with a little knowledge of how they worked.
Here he gives seven clues, each one an example of a common cryptic crossword recipe.
Sweet stall (5)
The best way to get started on a cryptic crossword, Astle said, was to look for the shortest clue.
If a clue only has two words it is most likely using the double-definition recipe, in which you are given two synonyms of the answer.
“Stall can be a noun, a booth that you see at a school fair, or it can be a verb when you tarry or lag,” Astle said.
The clue also calls for a synonym for “sweet”, so we can deduce that the five-letter solution to this clue is “fudge”.
Terrain ruined coach (7)
“When you see a word that means devastation or rearrangement, just like ‘ruined’, it’s possibly an anagram,” Astle said.
Rearranging the letters of “terrain” into a word that means “coach” gives you the answer “trainer”.
Apply some simple mentoring (9)
The word “some” indicates that this clue follows the hidden formula, where the answer is hidden in the clue.
“When you take out some of ‘simple mentoring’ you will find the word ‘implement’ … a word that means ‘apply’,” Astle said.
Shopkeeper sounds ruder (6)
The appearance of the word “sounds” gives away that this clue is asking for a homophone — a word that sounds like another word.
“Any signpost suggesting hearing, you know it’s a homophone clue,” Astle said.
This clue is asking for a synonym of ‘shopkeeper’ that sounds like a synonym for ‘ruder’.
“Grocer sounds like ‘grosser’,” Astle said, so our answer is “grocer”.
Wave cereal bowl (8)
“There’s no signpost here, no indicator, and when a clue has no indicator it usually is the charade recipe,” Astle said.
“This is where a word is broken down into little pieces, like a train made up of small carriages.”
By combining “bran” (cereal) and “dish” (bowl) we can construct a word meaning “wave” — “brandish”.
Damp fog hides nothing (5)
“It sounds like a weather forecast, but don’t be fooled,” Astle said.
“Cryptic crossword clues try to tell you a story — ignore the story and look at the words.”
The word “hides” is a possible signpost that this is a container clue, where one word is put inside another to create the answer.
“What’s a short word for fog? Mist,” Astle said.
“What symbol means nothing? 0 (zero).
“When mist ‘hides’ 0, you get ‘moist’, meaning damp.”
Boat in waters going west (5)
The phrase “going west” indicates that this is a reversal clue.
A synonym of waters is “pools”, which you can reverse to get “sloop”, a type of boat.
The signpost for reversal clues change depending on the direction of the answer in the grid.
An across clue might say “going west” or “left”, while a down clue could say “going up” or “rising”.
Words of wisdom (not a clue)
- The definition is almost always going to be the first or last word of the clue.
- Two minds are better than one — find someone to do the crossword with.
- Cheat — look at the answer of the clue you can’t solve to work out how it was written.