Hello! If you're new to cryptics, this is the scoop.
Basic cryptic format: Each cryptic clue consists more or less of two halves: a literal definition of the answer, and an indication of the answer through wordplay. Either half may come first, but there is usually a point where the clue can be divided into the two parts, although a word or phrase will occcasionally do double duty, in both the definition and indication segments. This point may be difficult to find, with ambiguities and multiple interpretations possible, especially as the puzzle setter will often rely on unusual associations.
The following are the different wordplay elements most often found in cryptic puzzles, and hints for finding them in a clue. Any clue can of course contain several of these elements.
Anagrams: In an anagram clue, the wordplay gives all the letters of the answer in mixed order. Look for words that suggest mixing: "confused," "terrible," "upset," etc.
The answer is played out in pieces, as in the game, charades. The answer is broken into several pieces, each clued independently. Single letters will often be clued in this way, such as "beginner" for "L,"
or "egghead" for "E."
Related to Charades, but with one word contained within another. Look for words suggesting containment, such as "in," "held by," "captive," etc.
Some words form new words when one or more letters are removed. Look for hints such as "beheaded," "tailless," and "heartless." A variety of this is Initials, where all but the first letters are deleted.
In this type of clue, the wordplay is literally another definition of the answer. The clue is almost always short, usually two or three words.
These clues contain the entire answer, intact, hidden in another word or phrase. As with Containers, look for words suggesting containment.
These are words that sound like other words, such as "corps" and "core." Look for phrases such as "we hear," "sounds like," and "audience."
This is where the answer forms another word when written backwards. Hints are words such as "returned," "back," "west" or "north," etc.
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