Cryptic clues explained

First, understand the conventional rules that govern cryptic crossword clues. Every clue must contain a true definition or equivalent of the word or phrase in the puzzle grid, and that must be either at the beginning or the end, not the middle. However, that definition may be obscure and will usually be given in a misleading way by the rest of the clue. The remaining parts of the clue also provide a valid definition of or clue to the word, but in a non-standard way, such as by an anagram, by breaking the word into parts, etc. With some exceptions for readability, every word in the clue should be pointing to something to help you solve the grid word. See the examples below to understand how this works. These are the answers and explanations to the puzzle in the previous post. The format is Answer (i.e. word in grid); Clue given; explanation of the clue.


9. ADELPHI; Hip deal unraveled private New York University. Adelphi University is a private school in New York, so the last four words are the real definition. Hip deal is an anagram of adelphi. Unraveled is what is known as an indicator or anagrind. It signifies that what comes before or after is an anagram. Any word that suggests a mixing or incorrect spelling, such as wacky, strained, etc.,  can indicate an anagram.

10. LULLABY; Bull lay carelessly, heard soothing music. Bull lay is the anagram, carelessly the indicator, soothing music is the real definition. Heard is an extra word this time to pull the rest together.

11. IFOLLOW; Got it! Oil flow is interrupted. Got it! is the definition, i.e. a synonymous phrase. Oil flow is another anagram with the last two words the anagrind. Note that the word lengths (1,6) are shown in the clue when it’s more than one word. I’ve followed that rule in this puzzle, but it’s not always followed by others. Some publishers show it even if it’s one word, others, never.

12. NATASHA; Russian woman has a tan, unexpectedly. Russian woman is the definition, has a tan the anagram, unexpectedly is the anagrind. Now let’s move on to different clue types.

13. COPYRIGHT; Replicate just to get form of protection. Replicate = copy; just = right. Put them together to get a form of protection, the definition of copyright. Defining the individual parts in this way is very common in cryptics, often splitting a word into smaller groups, not at natural breakpoints like here.

15. ECOLI; Severe colic: it could make one very sick. The last six words provide the true definition. The word itself appears hidden in the phrase severe colic. This is another common cluing technique, and using lots of irrelevant words as camouflage is considered legitimate. I chose to treat ecoli as one word since that has become common usage.

16. FRIABLE; Crumbly snack can be cooked in oil, it sounds like. Crumbly is the definition. The phrase “it sounds like” is another type of indicator. It means the adjoining word or phrase is a homonym of the real word, or in this case sounds like it should mean capable of being fried – i.e. fryable, although there may not be such a word. Look for indicators like “they say” or “I heard”. The word snack is irrelevant, there to connect the parts sensibly.

19. NAIVETE; Savvy Kenai veteran eschewed credulity. Credulity is the definition. The word appears in Kenai veteran.

20. ADDLE; Sidesaddle designed to confuse. Addle appears in the word sidesaddle and to confuse is the definition.

21. ALONGSIDE; Beside the hypotenuse. Beside is the definition while the hypotenuse is a legitimate definition of “a long side,” an alternate reading of the letters.

25. TRUNNEL; Passage through mountain takes right, Peg. A trunnel is a wooden dowel or peg used in construction, so Peg is the definition. Passage through mountain defines tunnel, “takes” is an indicator that one thing is contained in another. Here the word right represents the letter R, which often signifies right as opposed to left. Using one word to stand for a single letter in this way is also quite common in cryptics. Look for other indicators of containment like swallows, protecting, surrounds, enters, etc.

26. TAFFETA; Heavy returned cheesecloth; Heavy = fat. Returned is an indicator to read in reverse, i.e. TAF. Other indicators of this type are words like back, reversal, or in the case of vertical words, up, skyward, etc. Feta is a cheese. Here the legitimate definition, cloth, is connected to part of the alternate definition for additional misdirection, but it is there at the end, so it is fair.

28. POLECAT; Staff kitty is a real stinker. Since a polecat is another word for skunk, real stinker is the definition. Staff = pole; kitty=cat.

29. PIEBALD; Multi-colored pizza with no topping. Multi-colored is the definition. Pizza=pie; with no topping = bald.


1. MANIAC; A crazy man I accept. A crazy man is the definition. Maniac appears in the clue. Note that the word man appears both in the real definition and in the alternate one.

2. RECOUP; Obscure couple regain what was lost. Recoup appears. Final four words define.

3. OPAL; I hear German car is a real gem. I hear is a homonym indicator (of Opel, a German car), the rest defines opal.

4. BIGWIG; Dolly Parton? This type of clue is called a double definition. Dolly is indeed a bigwig in music/show business. A big wig is also one of her defining characteristics. Reportedly, when asked how long it takes to do her hair, she replies “I don’t know. I’m not there when it happens.”

5. PLANKTON; Exercise heavyweight protozoa. Plank = an exercise; ton = a heavy weight; protozoa is the definition.

6. BLITHERING; Carefree call to be kind of idiot. Blithe = carefree; ring = call. A blithering idiot is one kind we’ve all heard of. This is probably my favorite clue in this puzzle.

7. GASSTOVE; Vast egos cooked only on a kitchen appliance. Vast egos is the anagram; cooked is the anagrind. The rest defines. Note the two word lengths are indicated with the clue.

8. DYNAMITE; Boomer made tiny composite. Boomer = definition (it does go boom, you know). Made tiny = anagram; composite = anagrind.

14. RUBBERNECK; Observe masseuse kiss and cuddle. Observe = definition; masseuse = rubber (one who rubs); kiss and cuddle = neck.

16. FLATTOPS; Haircuts popular in 50’s aircraft carriers. Double definition. Flattops were a popular style for boys in the 50’s and aircraft carriers are also called flattops.

17. INDOUBLE; Adjust one; build twice as much. Adjust = anagrind. One build = anagram. Twice as much = definition.

18. EPAULETS; Driving sleet overwhelming most of apostle wearing ornamental shoulder pieces. Driving is the anagram of sleet which “overwhelms” Pau_, most of apostle Paul. Shoulder pieces = definition. This clue has two indicators: one for the anagram and one to indicate a word inside another. Using the L in both sleet and Paul is generally considered unfair. Each letter or group of letters in the alternate definition should be separately treated.

22. OCTOPI; I coopt spineless creatures. I coopt = anagram. Spineless creatures = definition. The word spineless may double as an anagrind, or perhaps the clue doesn’t have one. They are usually, but not always, provided. Some puzzle makers don’t use them at all.

23. IPECAC; Ripe cactus can be used as a purgative. Ipecac is contained in clue. Purgative = definition.

24. ELANDS; Horny Africans slander recklessly without initial regret. Elands are African antelope with large horns, so the first two words are the definition. Slander is the anagram (with an extra R); recklessly = anagrind. Without initial regret is the indicator to remove the initial letter of the word regret from the anagram. You will also see indicators like “last of” or “center of”.

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