Cryptic Definitions by Sanket Shrivastava


One of my favorite pastimes is the writing and solving of cryptic clues and puzzles. On Facebook I am an admin of the Cryptic Crossword Society. When I first joined the group it had about 400 members. Today it has over 10,000. The volume of cryptic clues is huge and has led to the creation of several breakaway groups. One of these, Cryptic Crossword Learners, is specifically for cryptic newbies who wish to learn the ins and outs of cryptics.

A friend and long time member of CCS, Sanket Shrivastava, today posted this short article in the newbie group, explaining one of the most entertaining forms of cryptic clue, the cryptic definition. This kind of clue usually relies on some kind of pun or lateral thinking and in the US this type of clue is usually indicated by a question mark. There are often seen in regular (non-cryptic) US puzzles too.

Here is what Sanket said:

One of the most beautiful aspects of cryptic crosswords are Cryptic Definitions, or CDs. A CD is a clue type where the whole surface is punny. It says something and means something quite different. Look at the picture,once you stare at it for a while, you will see two visions. This is how to approach the CD. Let us study further with some popular examples.

1. A paid informer (7)
2. Nice friend (3)
3. Capital of USA (7)
4. He needs a staff for spring (4-7)
5. Wicked thing (6)
6. The rest of the afternoon (6)
7. Breathtaking passage (7)

1. The surface suggests a type of mole, but it really means one who gets paid to educate, ergo TEACHER
2. The surface suggests a good buddy, but because this is a cryptic clue, it is definitely not that; rather it is a word for friend, as spoken in Nice, a place in France, ergo AMI
3. In a quick crossword, the answer would be DC, but here, it is the money (capital) of America, ergo DOLLARS.
4. Here, we are not talking about recruitment, but someone who needs a pole (staff) for jumping (spring), ergo POLE VAULTER
5. This oldest chestnut in the basket, is a CANDLE, not something evil, but a bringer of light
6. Here the surface suggests remaining time, but it really means the quiet enjoyed in some cultures after the noon meals (like in Spain or in Bengal), called the SIESTA
7. This is not a wonderful piece of literature, but the NOSTRIL

Cryptic definitions are the very soul of the crossword, and identifying them and solving them is tricky and satisfying. They are difficult to construct but once you get the hang of it, they can be fun to set and solve. CDs are standalone, with the whole surface providing a definition as well as the pun. They are different from &lits (All in one clues) in the sense that in &lits there is a clear wordplay involved, usually a charade or an anagram. For instance,
It is done in rebellion! (8)
This is an &lit, with SEDITION as the solution, where “it is done”, is the anagram fodder, in rebellion is the anagram indicator, and the whole surface defines SEDITION. However, &lit will require a separate post of their own. This example was made to show difference between construction of a CD and an &lit. &lit are the hardest to make, and they are the most prized form of art in the cryptic crossword, just as CDs are the subtlest form of art in crosswords.

There you have it folks! Seasoned solvers come and join us at the Cryptic Crossword Society and newbies come join the new Cryptic Crossword Learners. There’s a whole new world waiting for you!


About paws4puzzles

I'm a writer and puzzle maker. I am the author of a YA fantasy series, P.A.W.S. and my puzzles have been published in many magazines from Dell and Penny Press and on the walls of the Eltana cafe in Seattle. My most recent release is a book of logic problems, Paws4Logic which I wrote together with my son, Joey.
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