Surface reading & cryptic reading
A cryptic clue is not only divided into two parts (the definition and subsidiary indication) as we have seen, but also into two separate readings. These are known as the surface reading and the cryptic reading.
Let's look at each in turn:
THE SURFACE READING:
This is the reading of the clue as it appears on the page as a normal sentence. If you were to read the clue out to a friend who did not know it was from a crossword, they would only ever get the surface reading.
THE CRYPTIC READING:
This is how the clue is meant to be read to get to the answer word. Words in the surface reading mean different things in the cryptic reading. They may be synonyms of the words in the surface, or indicators (words that suggest an action such as reversing another word), or be abbreviations of words in the surface reading.
Sounds complicated - but don't despair, the rest of this section should help you understand the difference between surface and cryptic readings.
- The surface reading is just the clue taken on face value as a normal sentence.
- The cryptic reading is how the clue is meant to be read to get the solver to the answer. Words and punctuation mean different things in the cryptic reading than they do in the surface reading.
Now, let's move onto the right hand side of the page for an example.
To show the difference between a clue's surface and cryptic reading, let's take the following clue as an example we can break down:
Take off in one with pal across Italy (7)
The surface reading of this clue suggests the answer is a car in which you may travel across Italy with a friend - the surface reading is designed to lead you away from the real answer and/or entertain you.
Now, let's look at the cryptic reading (the way you read the clue to get to the answer). To do this, let's break the down clue down using a diagram:
In the diagram we can see the clue in the centre, the terms for each part of the clue above, and below the clue is the cryptic reading. As we know, the cryptic reading is the reading which builds the answer word. Let's take a look at what is happening in the cryptic reading.
- TAKE OFF becomes IMITATE (take off and imitate are synonymous) - this is our definition.
- IN is a link word meaning the definition can be found 'IN' the following wordplay.
- ONE becomes I (I and one are synonymous).
- WITH is a POSITIONAL INDICATOR that shows the letter I must go WITH the following wordplay.
- PAL becomes MATE (pal and mate are synonymous).
- ACROSS is a surround indicator showing that MATE must go across (around the outside of) the following bit of wordplay
- ITALY becomes IT (internet suffix for Italy) and it is IT that must be surrounded by MATE to help form the answer word.
All of the above leads to the answer word IMITATE. First with the definition TAKE OFF. Then with the wordplay which gives all the component parts of the answer word:
I ... MATE ... IT and puts them into the correct order by giving the instruction that MATE goes ACROSS the word IT:
NOTE: can you see how the annotation directly above works? See how it shows how the parts of wordplay have been put in order? If not, don't despair - the next section will explain everything.