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Clue: Small Mummy Blanket. Ans: Smother

What makes cryptic puzzles different from regular crosswords?

Regular crossword puzzles test your vocabulary and general knowledge, and some of the answers are pretty obscure. If you don’t know: 

  • the name of a Mesopotamian tree sloth, or 

  • who sang the lead role in the 1925 Metropolitan production of Rigoletto, 


you may be out of luck. Each clue gives you only one definition of the answer and if you don’t happen to know the word, you can’t finish the puzzle. 

Most cryptic puzzles use only words most of you would recognize. You will see the occasional obscure word, but thankfully they’re rare. 

What makes a cryptic puzzle challenging is that each clue is a complete puzzle in itself. You don’t have to know a lot of exotic words to solve a cryptic puzzle, but you do have to think.

And when you solve a clue, you know you have it.

You can’t be sure in a conventional crossword, because there might be several possible answers with the same number of letters. Only one of them will fit the words that cross this one, but you don’t know which one until you find the cross-words. You’ve heard about the foolish man who does his crosswords in ink. That’s because at some point you have to guess, fill in a word, and see if the cross-words fit. Or don’t fit.

But a cryptic crossword is different. When you solve a cryptic clue, you know you’re right because each clue has to work two ways.

That’s right. Every cryptic clue contains 2 definitions of the answer, not just one.

Somewhere in the clue is a straight definition of the word you’re looking for. It might be one word, a descriptive phrase or an indirect meaning such as "between the sheets" for "in bed," but it’s there.

The rest of the clue is a cryptic definition. It may or may not have a direct connection to the meaning of the answer. Usually there will be one or more operating instructions that tell you to mix certain letters to get a new word, to move one short word into another, to use only half of a word, etc. The cryptic definition is like a map you have to follow to find the answer.

Ideally, the two definitions are physically separate — one at one end of the clue and one at the other. You should be able to draw a line between them so that the straight definition falls on one side and the cryptic definition on the other.

Puzzle-makers (like me!) will try all sorts of tricks to confuse you about which part of the clue is the straight definition and which is cryptic, but we should never mix them. The straight definition might be at the beginning or the end of the clue, but it should never be in the middle.

I keep saying “should” and “might” because cryptic puzzle makers are like cooks. 99.9% of the time we'll follow a recipe because recipes work, but once in a blue moon a bad cook will goof up and a master chef will do something really wild just for the fun of it. ;-)



Here's something else that is helpful to know: The number/numbers and punctuation in the brackets at the end of each clue tells you how many letters and words you are looking for. For instance, 

if the answer is “Once upon a time” you will see: (4,4,1,4) 

  • U.S.S.R would be ( 

  • Rat would be (3) and 

  • Old-timer would be (3-5). 


Here's some examples of how it works:

CLUE: Avoid invoices for poultry parts (4,5)
ANSWER: Duck Bills (=poultry parts)
EXPLANATION: duck (=avoid) + bills (=invoices)

CLUE: Rich source of water listed (4-6)
ANSWER: Well-Heeled (=rich)
EXPLANATION: well (=source of water) + heeled (=listed)

CLUE: Make too many demands on public chopper (7)
ANSWER: Overtax (=make too many demands on)
EXPLANATION: overt (=public) + ax (=chopper)

CLUE: It’s easy, like sleeping (1,4)
ANSWER: A Snap (=it’s easy)
EXPLANATION: as (=like) + nap (=sleeping)


So you see, cryptic puzzles are fun once you know how to solve them. 

In addition to this brief explanation, our book covers, in seven chapters, how to solve each type of clue. 

  • Anagrams

  • Charades

  • Abbreviations & Short Words

  • Selections & Hidden Words

  • Containers, Reversals, & Position Instructions

  • Double Meanings, Homophones, & Puns

  • Others — Foreign Words, Dialect, Slang, & Lit, Names Etc.


There are two volumes of Caroline's Cryptics, Puzzles with a Smile. Although the books are out of stock, there are pdfs of the books available,. In Volume 1, each chapter has 2 sample puzzles, designed to highlight that chapter's topic, and does not include clue-types not yet covered!

Then, there are 52 of Caroline's Cryptics for you to practice on, with detailed explanations of how the clue works.

Or you can order Introduction to Cryptics which includes 24 9x9 mini puzzles to practice on. Or read the blog for a new logical approach to solving cryptics.

Answers and Explanations
Sample Puzzle No. 1


1. Claim portion of clients (4) 

3. Bloody springtime activity! (8) 

8. Thought about minute and second hand (5) 

10. Go, dude! Tear up last of cotton pique! (7) 

11. Man at home about mid-day (3) 

12. Herb makes Chinese "boiled liver" (7) 

15. Latitude of, I hear, meadow with by-product of cheese-making (6) 

16. Spare place to stay in wild blue yonder (6) 

19. Light love operating in satire (7) 

20. One way to film Greek god (3) 

22. Report stormy recital (7) 

24. Spotted dips scattered around end table (5) 

25. Sorry beginning of central Ontario service (8) 

26. Sue's new exercises (4) 


1. Clearly without strength, confined, unconscious (8) 

2. Fundamental character of Hebrew ascetic around first century (7) 

4. Heartless young Scottish men and women (6) 


5. Not even 2 degrees below zero (3) 

6. Highly desirable to get one contract (5) 

7. Comfortable retired hit men (4) 

9. Talk loudly about December mail mess (7) 

13. Six sovereigns for northern raiders (7) 

14. "100 yen," said stranger, "for poisons" (8) 

17. Table linens in overturned pot beside untidy sink (7) 

18. Disturb in dark spot on street (6) 

19. Mexican, perhaps, rested around final act (5) 

21. Soft rock from "Quartet, Alcazar" (4) 

23. Incomplete maintenance for vehicle (3)


1. Lien - (c)lien(ts) 

3. Blooming - double meaning 

8. Mused - m (=minute in time) + used 

10. Dudgeon - dudgeo (anagram) + (cotto)n 

11. Ian - in around (d)a(y) 

12. Chervil - Ch. (=Chinese) + ervil (anagram) 

15. Leeway - sounds like lea + whey 

16. Skinny - inn in sky 

19. Lampoon - lamp + O (=zero =love in tennis) + on 

20. Pan - double meaning 

22. Article - anagram 

24. Spied - spid (anagram) around (tabl)e 

25. Contrite - c(entral) + Ont. (=Ontario) + rite 

26. Uses - anagram 


1. Limpidly - limply around id 

2. Essence - Essene around c(entury) 

4. Ladies - lad(d)ies 

5. Odd - d. (=degree) + d. (=degree) after O (=zero) 

6. Ideal - I (=one) + deal 

7. Guns - reversal of snug 

9. Declaim - Dec. (=December) + laim (anagram) 

13. Vikings - VI (=6) + kings 

14. Cyanides - C (=100) + yanides (anagram) 

17. Napkins - nap (reversal of pan) + kins (anagram) 

18. Molest - mole + .St (St. =street) 

19. Latin - lain around (ac)t 

21. Talc - (Quarte)t Alc(azar) 

23. Car - car(e) 

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