How to do cryptic crosswords

“Birds that are slow to develop”

What does that refer to? The obvious answer is “owls”. If that’s not obvious to you, then read on and all will be revealed.

That’s a recent puzzle from the NZ Herald. I had to blot out the answers, which I had already completed before I took the photo.

For various reasons (mostly one reason, really) I have been spending all my time at home recently, so I have had time to do the cryptic crossword puzzle in the NZ Herald each day. When I was a lad I spent a bit of time watching my mother do these crosswords, and she explained to me how they work. Now that I am doing them, my own family and friends seem quite bemused at how I apply unwritten rules to incomprehensible clues and end up with a neatly interlocking grid of words.

Every time I tried to explain, I would always end up reaching for a pen so I could draw clarifying diagrams. So I thought I would do it properly and create diagrams to show how I did an entire crossword. (Actually I have actually only done diagrams for a handful of the clues, but I could do more if the mood takes me. For now, the rest are left as an exercise for the reader.)

And here are my notes on some of the answers, and how I got them.

11 across. This point is the cynosure for incomplete state (5)

The answer is focal.

“For incomplete” gives “Fo” and “State” is “Cal” (which is short for the US state of California). Put them together and you get “Focal”. And cynosure means “focal point”. So the answer is focal. Maybe this diagram will make it clearer.

Hopefully the picture is self-explanatory, or maybe the diagram is just another puzzle in itself. And that’s OK too. I like puzzles. Here are some more.

14 across. Likelihood of breaking bail when surrounded by honesty (11)

The answer is probability.

That’s all pretty straightforward. As is the next one:

18 across. In New York, etc, one finds degree of precision (6)

The answer is nicety.

“Nicety” is a slightly uncommon word. The same applies to the next answer, sort of:

20 across. One who admits he’s one of the ‘haves’ (5)

The answer is owner.

To own in the sense of admit is not common usage, really, but there are always a few obscure answers in any puzzle. Most of the time there is at least one word that I guess, it fits the clues, but I then have to look up the word after I have finished the puzzle. (But only after I have completed it — otherwise it would be cheating.) This sort of clue, which simply give two different senses of the answer, are fairly easy once you realise you don’t have to do any anagrams.

The next one is even easier:

3 down. Likewise it appears in several solutions (4)

The answer is also.

The word “in” in a clue often means that the answer is a sequence in the phrase after the “in”. The next clue is a bit more invoved:

19 down. Flower part formed in clay somehow before ten (5)

The answer is calyx.

“Calyx” is an uncommon word, and you have to do an anagram and use a Roman number. Fun stuff!

Those examples are pretty representative. Here’s the entire puzzle, solved. Maybe now you can figure out how to get the answers from the clues. If not, then jumbled piecarts will make you better. (Practise!)

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