About “About” – Cryptic Tips from Julie Weaver Cowe


It’s been a while since I’ve post a “how to” post for those learning the ins and outs of Cryptic Crosswords.

This is a reprint from Julie Weaver Cowe from her blog Crypticrochet. Cryptic learners should check out her blog for more solving and setting tips and also join the Cryptic Crossword Learners group on Facebook. Cryptic veterans should join FB’s Cryptic Crossword Society (the largest cryptic crossword group on Facebook).

So here’s what Julie has to say about “about”:

“When I was first learning to solve cryptics, the word “about” showed up so often that it caused me confusion. So much so that I began to hate seeing “about”. A year later, I’m better at identifying how it’s used but it was a real stumbling block for me in the beginning. It wasn’t until I started taking notes that I realised the many ways “about” is used by compilers when creating their clues. Compilers must love “about” for its versatility and ability to improve a clue’s surface.

“About” could be a reversal signpost, an anagrind, a container signpost or a charade element in a clue. Sometimes it’s just there for a smoother surface and has no other purpose – the most misleading “about” of all.

Being aware of the word “about” is good as it’s most likely an element to the solution. Once you understand how its being used it helps break up the clue so it’s easier to solve. Here are a few examples of the word “about” being used in different clue types. (various newspaper sources, not all beginner level)

As Reversal Signpost:

1) Suspend cockney with beer about girl (6) (@Lrxword)

2) A bit of advice about depression (3) (Cincinnus)

3) Boast about one’s clothes (4) (DP)

4) Jot about picture file? (3) (DA)

An Anagrind:

5) Narnia? Um, is it about Christian doctrine? (12) (Qaos)

6) Following guide, hear about carved decoration (10) (Commoner)

7) Anger about whatever Eve lost (5) (RM)

As A Container Signpost:

8) Embarrassed about battle for payoff (6) (Chifonie)

9) Passionate tale about leader of Mohicans (6) (Everyman)

10) Patrons complain about new players (14)

As A Charade Clue: (C(irca), RE(garding), CE, ON (and probably more!)

11) Extraordinary about machine-gun in swimmers (8) (@LRxword)

12) Leading gangster about and at large (5) (RM)

(I struggled to find clues where C/CE were used so please share one if you know one)

Just A Part of The Clue:

13) A lunatic, crazy about the sea (8) (Rufus)

Keep an eye out for the word “about” in your clues. Don’t brush it off as a connecting word but think of it as a red flag because it’s likely a key to the solution. The best part is, now that we know how “about” can be used it should make the clue easier to solve. I’ve come to respect “about” almost as much as the compilers, and I hope you will too.”

So, that’s about it! Thanks Julie!

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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