There are many types of cryptic clues. Some require indicators, some don’t, and for some—well, it depends.
As you probably know, a cryptic clue has two parts, definition and wordplay. In some cases, one or the other part is sufficient to lead to the solution, and the other serves as confirmation. In other cases, solvers will need to use both parts synergistically to get there. This post focuses on an element of the wordplay, called the indicator, which helps the solver to identify the clue type and thus unravel the wordplay.
One of the most accessible clue types, the anagram, absolutely requires an indicator to suggest the scrambling of the letters. (Previous posts on anagram clues are here, here and here.) This is such a fundamental feature of cryptic crosswords that British constructors coined the portmanteau word “anagrind” for the anagram indicator. Mark Halpin calls them “anniecators,” a coinage derived from “annie,” which is National Puzzlers’ League slang for an anagram.
It is traditional to explain this to beginners by saying the anagram indicator should suggest disorder or chaos. For example:
INSULAR Inaccessible and out-of-order urinals (7)
RETRIEVER River tree confused dog (9)
However, this is an oversimplification, as anagrinds might suggest just a different, perhaps better, order:
ALGEBRA Organize lab gear for high school class (7)
In fact, because anagrams are so common in cryptic crosswords, and because they are reasonably easy to spot, the range of acceptable anniecators is enormous, and encompasses synonyms for “drunk,” “unexpected,” “managed” and so on. Moreover, the indicator need not be an adjective. It can be an adverb:
ANTI Ain’t—more correctly, “is not”—pro (4)
Or a verb, instructing the solver:
CAVITIES Doctor is active, getting signs of decay (8)
The range of indicators for other clue types is considerably narrower, and this is one of the most challenging aspects of clue writing. How does one indicate containers, reversals, homophones, deletions, and hidden words without being totally obvious about what’s going on? Here are some more or less successful attempts at avoiding the most blatant indicators:
CORKER Kitchen utensil to keep kosher is a remarkable thing (6) (container)
LAGER Beer fit for a queen from the Orient (5) (reversal)
CHUTES Slides and photographs as part of a lecture (6) (homophone)
ENTER Key football player starts late (5) (deletion)
CREDO Sacred oath requires belief (5) (hidden)
One particular challenge facing us is in finding indicators for letter bank clues, because there are no established traditions for this clue type—at least not so far. And moreover, because solvers are not accustomed to letter banks, we can’t be as allusive as we can with an anagram. Here is one perhaps effective stab at it:
FIDDLEDEDEE Filed letters multiple times… as if I care! (12)
More complex clues, where multiple techniques are combined, can require more than one indicator in a single clue, as in this example:
UNDERVALUE Misjudge Ravel composition in inappropriate setting (10)
Such clues make one long for the simplicity of clue types that require no indicator! We will discuss those in a future post.
Until then, in response to a reader request, we offer an open challenge to our readers. Can you to come up with a cryptic clue for STREAM? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.