According to new research, training the brain with puzzles and crosswords may well delay the onset of cognitive decline in old age, keeping the mind of an 80-year-old as sharp as someone 10 years younger.
Cryptic crosswords traditionally offer the best mental workout but are difficult to grasp. Here we offer some essential handy tips to help you in your crossword puzzling (and your cerebral rejuvenation).
Split the clue in two
Cryptic crossword clues typically have two parts, usually a definition of the answer and an indication of that answer derived through wordplay. The straightforward definition may be at the beginning or the end of the clue, but never in the middle.
The two halves of the clue may often be joined in ways that obscure the separation. Both parts may contain words which appear to mean something contrary to what they actually indicate. For example, “putter” may appear to refer to a golf club but could be intended to mean “dawdle”.
Clues are followed by a number or set of numbers in brackets, which indicates the number of letters/words in the solution.
One word hidden inside others.
For example: Consumes a portion of meat stew (4).
Solution: EATS. Or more obviously: Consumes a portion of mEAT Stew.
The answer “eats” (synonym of “consumes…”) is “… a portion…” that is actually contained inside the rest of the words of the clue, “…meat stew”.
In clues of this type you will always get a word or phrase such as “some”, “part of”, “found in”, etc, indicating that the solution can be found inside the remaining words of the clue. Sometimes the hidden word may be written in reverse inside the clue — but the solver will be warned.
For example: Returning from Acre, talked afterwards (5).
Solution: LATER. The solution has a straightforward definition in the clue “…afterwards”. The words “Returning from” indicate that this is a reverse hidden words clue, with a synonym for “afterwards” to be found in reverse order among the letters of the remaining words. So in “Returning from AcRE, TALked afterwards”, you extract RETAL which when reversed is a synonym for “afterwards”, i.e. LATER.
You can often identify these clues by the inclusion of “return some”, “return from” or “return in” in their wording. Other indicators are “coming back from”, “retreating inside”; or in a Down clue you may get an indicator of the direction such as “climbing in”, “throwing up”, or “going up”.
The part of the clue that involves wordplay will contain all the letters of the answer but in a mixed order. Rearranged letters are preceded or followed by what is known as an “anagram indicator” – a word or phrase that suggests mixing such as “wild”, “drunk”, “needs repair”, “organised” or “muddled”.
For example: Rewrite article for narration (7).
Solution: RECITAL.“Rewrite…” the letters in the word “… article…” giving another word “… for…” the word “…narration” that is RECITAL.
A shortcut to solving a likely anagram is to write the letters in a circle, removing all connection with the original clue word(s), which may make the solution easier to spot.
In the parlour game Charades, the answers are acted out in subsections; likewise, some words can be broken into smaller words that are clued individually in a clue’s wordplay.
For example: Check for concrete strengthening (13).
Solution: REINFORCEMENT. The answer REINFORCEMENT (straight definition: “strengthening”) comes from CHECK… meaning “rein”, the actual word FOR which is in the clue, and CONCRETE for which a synonym is “cement”. Giving you REIN-FOR-CEMENT.
While pieces of a charade are usually indicated by synonyms, they can also be given explicitly (like in the previous example).
In more complex charades, the clues may be out of order, with instructions for putting them together.
For example: Friend follows child completely (7).
Solution: TOTALLY. The clue says FRIEND (a synonym for ally) FOLLOWS — or is placed after — CHILD (a synonym for tot) to make the solution word which has the straight definition: COMPLETELY. TOT and ALLY give TOT-ALLY or TOTALLY, meaning “completely”.
If you can’t work it out from the hints in the wordplay, the best bet is to solve some of the crossing clues first, and try to work out the answer from the supplied letters.