Concise Vs Cryptic
A good way to introduce the novice solver to cryptic crosswords is to compare the type of clue they use to that of the concise or quick crossword. By doing so we will uncover a central component of cryptic clue construction.
So, how are concise crossword clues different to cryptic clues?
In a concise crossword clue the solver is usually given one plain definition of the answer word (the word you write into the grid) or general knowledge hints that will lead to the answer word. In both cases the concise crossword only gives ONE indication of the required answer.
In contrast to this, almost every cryptic crossword clue gives TWO ways to get to the answer. These are known as THE DEFINITION and the SUBSIDIARY INDICATION.
Let's take a brief look at these two components:
The definition (def) will be:
- A synonym of the answer word
- An example of the answer word
- A cryptic definition of the answer word (a definition that plays on double meanings and only defines the answer word when read in the correct way)
THE SUBSIDIARY INDICATION:
The subsidiary indication will come in the form of:
- A secondary definition (in the form of one of the above examples of definitions)
- Wordplay (whole words, parts of words, or abbreviations that need to be put together in the correct way to form the answer word)
It is this two-part format of the clue that is a hallmark of the cryptic crossword.
In a cryptic crossword clue there will almost always be a definition of the answer word and a subsidiary indication of that definition. Because of this, the solver has two-ways to get to the answer and can ensure she is writing the correct answer in the grid.
Now you know this, move on to the right hand column to see an example of the difference between a concise clue and a cryptic clue.
To illustrate the difference between a single definition concise crossword clue and a cryptic crossword clue that has a definition with subsidiary indication, let's compare an example of each type.
Here is a concise clue:
Notice that there is only one indication of the answer here (the single definition of CAPITAL) and, because of that, the answer word could be any 6 letter CAPITAL CITY or even a synonym of the word CAPITAL.
It is not until the solver gets some crossing letters (letters gained from other solved answers) like this ...
... that they will be able to write in the answer word 'ATHENS' with confidence.
However, as we have seen, almost every cryptic crossword clue will give two indications of the answer - a definition, and a subsidiary indication of that definition which may come through wordplay (making up words from letters) or, in the following example, from a second definition.
And so a clue for ATHENS in a cryptic crossword may read:
Here the two definitions are CAPITAL and CITY IN GEORGIA. Both lead to ATHENS as the answer: the former as the capital of Greece, the latter as a city in Georgia, USA.
Knowing that almost every clue clue in a cryptic crossword gives the solver two ways to get to the same answer is the first step to unravelling a cryptic clue.
New solvers should always try and find the split between definition and subsidiary indication. The following section on splits and links gives guidance on how to do just that.