A complete guide on how to successfully solve cryptic crosswords

by Carol Lee
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Are you an online crossword puzzle enthusiast who feels solving cryptic crosswords is a challenging task?

Once you master the tricks, cryptic puzzles become easier than standard crosswords.

Wordplay is everywhere-in advertisements, newspaper headlines, memes and even in lame jokes. Smart cryptic crossword makers take help of all these familiar lingual tricks to construct a puzzle (this makes the puzzle more interesting). And the solver has to identify which wordplay it is.

Don’t get tense, it’s easy.

A standard cryptic clue involves wordplay and definition. If you cleverly find what the definition is, which either appears in the beginning or at the end of the clue, then solving is like a breeze for you.

So, let’s have a clear picture of how to successfully solve cryptic crosswords:

1. Know the clue type

Cryptic crossword is always tricky. There is a smart logic in the way every clue is crafted. You have to learn how to read it right. Start by learning the cryptic clue structure and types.

The clue in the daily crossword puzzle can be anagrams, homophones, hidden words, charades, containers, reversals, double definitions, cryptic definitions, substitutions, acrostics, letter shifting, letter exchange, and letter sequences.

2. Look for the hidden words & anagrams

An anagram is the most common type of cryptic clue. Anyone who has ever drawn letters out of the scrabbling bag can easily understand this.

Cracking the answers of the anagrams and telescopic clues are the easiest. Guessing how?

You have to skim through the clues thoroughly to identify them first, fill them and spot crossing words if any.

Shall I tell you one important solving tip? Here it is. Ignore the surface reading.  Apart from a few clue types, this one is going to lead you astray. Read every clue, word by word and find the hidden meaning. Check if the words look like anagram fodder. Count the letters and cross-check if the number is the same as required in the answer.

There is always a hint that explains what type of wordplay is being used. This hint is called ‘indicator.’

Basically, Definition + Indicator + Fodder = Answer

a) Anagrams

Anagrams are not east to camouflage for any crossword constructor. So, these are the first that is easily solved by a crossword solver. They are one word formed from the same set of letters.

Understand this better with the help of an example, CIDER is an anagram of CRIED.

So, this way words have to jumble and rearrange to find the answers.

Here are some signs that give a hint that the clue is indeed an anagram clue.

  • See through indicators

A word or a confusing phrase is generally an anagram indicator. Anagram indicator can be anything that gives a sense of things that is broken, jumbled, confused or insane.

  • Thorough surface reading

As you play free online puzzle, read carefully to know if the sentence is constructed awkwardly.

For example: ‘Toy breeds trained to find out a place for pearls’.

The answer is ‘Oyster Bed.’

In the above example, the phrases ‘toy breeds’ is the anagram fodder. The indicators trained confirmed this further.

Well, that was easy, but you have to take notice of the inappropriate word

  • Look for proper nouns

If the clue contains proper noun without a reason, there is a chance it is an anagram fodder.

For example, ‘He has constructive ideas for the Arctic, perhaps’. The answer is ‘Architect’

This one has ‘Arctic’ without a reason and out of context. Sometimes, the words are so smooth that the solver doesn’t notice anagrams maybe because the indicators are fit in well into the clue.

Do you know there are plenty of them? It is good to learn how to spot them.

Note: Firstly, either they will be at the start or the end of the clue. They will never be in the middle. Secondly, you have to figure which part is the definition and once you find out, the remainder has to be the wordplay

(b) Hidden word

Clues with hidden words are termed as ‘telescopic clues’ that have the solution embed right in the text of the clue. The answer may contain a single word or more than one word

For example: ‘Stop getting letters from friends’.

The answer is ‘end’.

‘End’ was hidden within the single word friend.

Here are a few more clue types:

  • Double definitions

In this type, the clue gives two exact definitions for the same word although the meaning is pronounced differently.

Example: POLE

  • Charades

The clue adds the words or letters together in the given order. Sometimes, single letters indicated common words that shorten like D clued by ‘Democrat’ or ‘down’ or ‘bad grade’.


  • Reversals

The clue reverses one or more words, telling you to turn the letters around.

Example: Clue is ‘Be-sinful in reflection’

Reversal: LIVE

3. Find huge words

Are you spotting huge words in the puzzle game online?

If there is a very long word in between the clue having the word like ‘in/some/has’, the subset is the right answer of the clue.

Example: ‘Not one to hold back from tergiversation’. The answer is ‘giver’

  • Hidden answer over wrapped text

A normal crossword has a multi-column format. The clue text gets wrapped in another sentence if it is long.

So, have a close look at the hidden words that span across the wrapped text.

Example: ‘Plant part that biologist emphasized here’.

The answer is ‘stem’

  • General knowledge-based answers

Telescopic clues are heavily used in the clue of the general knowledge based words.

People’s names, places/ rivers, stars/galaxies, god and more.

Clues having arcane knowledge (words that are unheard by you) can be very annoying. This is not the case with the telescopic clues. The answers are derived if you are ignorant of the subject.

Example: ‘African of Cuban-Turkish extraction’

You might have already figured out that it is a telescopic clue. Now, are you having an idea that the correct answer has to be a word that describes the African origin?

Let’s suppose you know a little about the natives of Africa, will it be possible to solve this clue?

You may have already figured out that:

  • ‘Cuban-Turkish’ has the right answer within it.
  • ‘Cuban’ and ‘Turkish’ both have some part of the right answer. This is the only reason these words are part of the sentence.

Have you formed any words?


As soon as you type the crossing letter, you have the answer.

‘BANTU’ is the right answer.

Bravo, you’ve done it right.

4. Crack long answers

Seems complicated?

Try finding the long ones on sight. Do you know that sometimes the really long words are the easiest to solve? Yeah, and if you manage to crack them in the first go, you will get help in solving the rest of the puzzles as there are crossing letters.

  • Guess the correct word

Try solving most of the crossing letters. If the grid has V??? for a word, there are very few words that are going to fit in there.

Relax and think about the word and try matching against the clue. Violent? Violate? Violets?   And more.

  • Recognize the definition

This is one is a daunting task in a smart online puzzle game.

Don’t worry, we will be making it easy for you.

Until you become an experienced online word game solver, follow this rule. See that the definition is either the first word/group of words or the last word/words. Try this one by one and see which solution perfectly fits with the rest of the clue.

5. Fill in word parts

The right answer should match with the part of the speech so does the tense. If you have figured the definition but are still unaware of the answer, you will know in which tense is the answer.

Solve it your way

You don’t have to be an online crossword pro to solve cryptic crosswords as it doesn’t require an extraordinary solving ability.

If you have a decent vocabulary and fair knowledge, all you have to master is the cryptic pattern. Don’t despair if you are unable to get the hang in the initial attempts.

Once you have all the answers with you, carefully read the clues and then the correct answers to understand how they work. Fill a few words in the grid. Try the remaining once again with the help of crossings.

Take a note: Bear in your mind that you have to find out which part of the clue has straight definitions and which ones are wordplay. Don’t be silly. Read the entire clue as a single phrase. This will never give you the right answer.

Be passionate, patient and persistent. Doing Practice for crossword puzzles is the only key, and there is no shortcut.

Master the basic rules and make cryptic crosswords fun to solve. We hope the above tips will help you solve cryptic crosswords successfully. Don’t forget to share your experiences with us.

Good Luck!

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