07 January 2010

Clues for building words in cryptic crosswords

Crypic crossword puzzles are way different (and more challenging) than conventional ones.  In addition to having a definition of the word, the cryptic clue also has some other method of ascertaining what the answer is.  It may be hidden in the clue, presented as an anagram, redefined in a second way, presented as a homonym or reversed word or initial letters of words, etc.

Sometimes it's necessary to "build" the word using clues that refer to the individual letters (or pairs of letters) in the word.  I started doing cryptics about 40 years ago, and began keeping a list of words that signalled individual letters.  Here is a certainly-incomplete-but-better-than-nothing compilation of clues I've encountered over the years.  Cryptic puzzlers are welcome to make use of it; others will find this curiously inexplicable and should just pass on to other items in the blog.

A = article, one, high grade, adult, answer, ace, number one, high mark, area, an, acre, argon, American

B = bee, British, bachelor, black, brown, second grade/second rate, born, Bible, boy, bishop, low budget, blue, book, bass, number 2

C = 100, around, cold, Canadian, Catholic, Conservative, catcher, century, about, $100, college, contralto, heroin, penny, average, carbon, Celsius, chapter, 4/4 time, copyright, major key, speed of light, note, city

D = 500, democrat, died, down, dead, heavy hydrogen/deuterium, penny/copper, Dutch, Germany, date, day, below average, daughter

E = east, direction, English, Easter, error, energy, excellent, failing, low mark/sign of failure, earl, empty, electronic

F = loud, full, French, female, fluid, Fahrenheit, fluorine, folio, Friday, fine, bass clef, federal, father, forte

G = German, gravity, grand, great, $1000, good, gee, gulf, for general audience, George, girl, Greek, treble clef, gender, general, game

H = hot, hit, hydrogen, gas, height, hospital, hard, husband, hour, heroin/horse, hotel, hundred, aspiration, goal posts

I = me, myself/self, first person, one, ego, island, ioidine, intelligence, Italy, interest, Interstate, electric current

J = Jack, judge, joule, fish hook

K = king, 1000/grand, kilo, king, potassium, killed, 3280.8 feet

L = long, left, latitude, line, Latin, liquid, fifty, lake, length, liberal, lira, lady, little, Lutheran, pound, fifty, lira

M = 1000, million, master, meter, mark, married, French man, mass, male/masculine, meridian/noon, million, Monday, grand, Bond character, medium, mile

N = north, direction, new, name, Norse, pole, northern, Navy, nitrogen, number, neutron, Newton, normal, noun

O = love, nothing, zero/zilch, ring, globe/ball, hoop/wheel, disc, old, egg, oxygen, oriental, doughnut/bagel, goose egg, no, cipher, ocean, gasket, overhead, orange, out, round

P = page, soft, quiet, penny/copper/pence, pale, piano, peso, power, pint, parking sign, petite, pressure, pawn, first person, passing, past, pepper

Q = queen, question

R = republican, red, right, river, king, ruble, royal/rex, retired, Roman, range, resistance, rare, rose, radius, restricted, radical, rod, not for children

S = south, direction, southern, short, pole, shilling, small, second, sulfur, Sabbath, satisfactory, skinhead, shilling, Saturday, Sunday, son, soprano, sibilant, turn, school, wavy line, salt

T = time, kind of square, tenor, testament, true, tritium, teaspoon, tense, car, ton, Tuesday, cross, shirt, tackle

U = university, hairpin turn, uranium, up, turn, bent, college, horseshoe, turnabout, uncle

V = five, flying geese, sign of victory, vice, verb, voltage, velocity, volume, victory, against, verse, vanadium, violet, fifth of vodka, style of neckline

W = west, direction, woman, with, white, wife, water, wide, watt, Wednesday, wulfram/tungsten

X = ten, cross, unknown, times/by, adult rating, kiss, wrong, chromosome, variable, spot/treasure site, illiterate signature, chi

Y = club, yard, slingshot, yttrium, year, men’s club, fork, fourth of July, yen, chromosome, twenty-fifth

Z = French movie/Montand movie, atomic number, last letter/character, zip, twenty-sixth, zone, zigzag


  1. Thank you! I love cryptics - but some I struggle with...so this will be a great help in untangling those clues!

  2. I used to love crypto-quotes. At one time, I was nearly able to solve them without a pencil. Now, my mind has turned to mashed sweet potato so I doubt if I could ever solve one. Here is a blog post I wrote about a crypto-quote puzzle.


  3. Nomad, what you're talking about are cryptograms/cryptic quotes. The clues I blogged about above are for cryptic crosswords, such as these from the Atlantic -


    Click on one of them to see what I'm referring to.


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