For EnigMarch this year, I’m writing a cryptic clue for the prompt of the day, and running the entire clue thru the AI art rendering system Midjourney. I'm posting these on my Instagram, Twitter, and Mastodon. Then, the next day, I'm walking through how the clue works.
The intent is to expose folks to cryptic clues slowly, and hopefully demystify them. Cryptics are a beautiful art, but they can be a perplexing one. It used to break my brain. Eventually I did enough of them that it didn't feel scary, and then soon after that, I was hooked.
The main thing you have to know is that every cryptic clue has two parts, and both parts clue the same thing. One part is the definition, which is just like a normal clue you'd seen in a normal crossword. Like "barrier" for
DAM. The other part is the wordplay, which is a trickier way to clue the exact same word, like "Angry, backwards", which is a cryptic way of cluing
MAD, then flipping it, to get
DAM. The final clue will have both parts, smashed together, sometimes joined by a throw-away connector word, to help with the surface reading of the clue. So in the case of
DAM you might see this clue:
Backwards, angry barrier (3)
The art of cryptics comes from one's ability to merge the two halves together into a coherent-sounding sentence. This is call the "surface", and it's what I find the most satisfying about writing, and solving, cryptics.
That's enough to get you started on understanding what's going on below. Once you're ready to move on to full grids (which can be easier than solving them out of context, since you often have one or more letters to work with on each entry), visit this list of cryptic crosswords on my Resources page:
1. Kentucky accepts extreme lacrosse as a major, for example (3)
2. Spies retreat, concealed by hurricane storm (4)
3. Primary weather in Njörðr's domain! (4)
4. Airy wingless flights (5)
Clue 1 explanation
- "a major, for example" (3 letters)
- Kentucky = KY
- extreme = last letter of what comes next (the E from lacrosse)
- X accepts Y = Put Y inside of X
Put it all together, and the answer to both parts is
Clue 2 explanation
"spies' retreat". In crpytic clues, punctuation may be added or withheld.
"Concealed by" means look for the answer hidden in the word or words that comes next. Look inside "hurricanestorm" for a 4-letter word.
Clue 3 explanation
"Primary" means "take the first letter(s) of adjacent word(s)".
Njörðr is the Norse god of the wind, and the whole clue is a florid way of expressing that.
Clue 4 explanation
"wingless" means remove the first and last letters of the adjacent word(s), "flights"
5. Oddly gleamy masterpiece (3)
6. Thy claim madness be legendary (8)
7. Affenpinscher's gutless before clash with pointer (5)
8. Clown cruise is missing, I swear (5)
Clue 5 explanation
"oddly" means use only the odd letters of what comes next, which is "gleamy"
Put it together, you get
Clue 6 explanation
"madness" is an anagram indicator for the word(s) next to it. Basically any word that implies confusion, mixing, or unpleasantness indicates anagram. Here it is paired with "thy claim".
CONNECTOR: "be" is a connector word, and can be ignored
Clue 7 explanation
- "gutless" means remove the insides of a word, in this case "Affenpinscher", to get AR
- One synonym of "clash" is "row"
DEFINITION: "a pointer"
Clue 8 explanation
"clown" is an anagram indicator for the next word, "cruise".
"is missing I" tells you to remove the I from CRUISE. Remember that punctuation is just flair, and can (and should) be ignored.
9. Boo-boo is secretly effing lit, champ (6)
10. Danger! Difficult-to-contain pie (6)
11. "Bee Movie, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is outstanding." (4)
12. Mix two eggs at first, add a bit of rutabaga, then soar (5)
Clue 9 explanation
Wordplay: "secretly" indicates a hidden word in what comes after (or came before). In this case, you're looking for a six-letter word within "effinglitchamp".
Clue 10 explanation
- "Difficult" = HARD
- "Pie" = ZA (sorry)
- "X to contain Y" = put Y inside X
Clue 11 explanation
- "Bee" = B
- "Movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan" = OLD (ignore that punctuation!)
Clue 12 explanation
- "Mix two" = Anagram TWO
- "Eggs at first" = Take first letter of EGGS
- "a bit of rutabaga" = Take first letter of RUTABAGA
Definition: "soar" (as in soar over something)
13. Time to break a computer with hot stick on fire (5)
14. Codes (rot-n) added in backup (6)
15. 8th century invader heads west for more space (4)
16. Disguise using the tops and bottoms of Medusa & Shrek (4)
Clue 13 explanation
- "Time" = T
- "X to break Y" = put X in Y, in this case
- "a computer" = MAC, in this case
- "with" = append
- "hot" = H
- "stick on fire"
Clue 14 explanation
As always, you must ignore the punctuation.
- "rot" is an anagram indicator, in this case for CODES
- "N added in" means to put the letter N int the mix somewhere
- "backup" as in a duel, or as a copy of one's hard drive.
Clue 15 explanation
- "8th century invader" = MOOR
- "heads west" means write it backwards (right to left, in a westward direction)
- more space
Clue 16 explanation
- "tops and bottoms" = first and last letters of what follows, i.e. MEDUSA & SHREK
17. The lady will unhusk a pea (5)
18. TV’s Logan, Al, Charles, or Harry, for example (5)
19. What’s found nine times in this clue about English hats? (5)
20. worm_eater.gif is hilarious in parts (4)
Clue 17 explanation
This is a double definition: the two sides of the clue are definitions for the same word, but with different meanings (and in this case, different punctuation).
- "The lady will" = SHE'LL
- "unhusk a pea" = SHELL
Clue 18 explanation
- TV's Logan = ROY (he of Succession)
- Al = AL
- "Charles or Harry, for example" are members of the British royal family
Clue 19 explanation
- "about" means reverse what follows (or precedes)
- "English" is an abbreviation for E
- "hats" are CAPS
- "What's found nine times in this clue". There are 10 words in the clue, but only nine spaces between them.
Clue 20 explanation
- "in parts" means to look for a string inside what's before or after, in this case, "gif is hilarious"
Definition:- "worm eater"
21. Possess around 50%! (5)
22. Prediction: I appear between Venus's poles, Jupiter's moon, and the far side of Saturn (6)
23. Bones from 501 A.D. (4)
24. Sob near middle part of triptych in church cellar (5)
Clue 21 explanation
- "Possess" = HAVE
- "X around Y" = Put Y in X
- "50" = L
- "Possess around 50%" is to HALVE
Clue 22 explanation
- "I appear between…" = Put I inside what comes next
- "Venus's poles" = V & S, the first and last letters of VENUS
- "Jupiter's moon" =a IO
– "the far side of Saturn" = N
Clue 23 explanation
- "501" in Roman numerals is DI
- Another way to represent A.D. is C.E.
- "Bones" is a slang term for dice
Clue 24 explanation
- "Sob" = CRY
- "middle part of triptych" = the middlest letter(s) = PT
Definition:- "church cellar" is a crypt
25. “Twist and Shout”? Just kidding! (4)
26. Go right inside the entrance to Wonderland to get larger (4)
27. Ref goes ballistic over final point of Miami Heat (4)
28. It goes from corner to corner in LA, doing a dance (8)
Clue 25 explanation
- "Shout" is a homophone indicator
- "Just kidding!" is another way to say "not!"
Clue 26 explanation
- "Go" = GO
- "Right" = R
- "X inside" = put X inside what comes before or after
- "the entrance to Wonderland" = W
- get larger
Clue 27 explanation
- "Ref goes ballistic" = anagram the letters in REF
- "X over Y" = X surrounds Y
- "final point of Miami" = I
Clue 28 explanation
- "dance" is an anagram indicator for the preceding 8 words, "LA doing a"
- "It goes from corner to corner"
29. Something that’s said in Pamplona: "What possessed gutless torero to run backwards?" (5)
30. Pick up some healthy starters for a Labor Day activity? (4)
31. Some never, ever seriously go back (7)
Clue 29 explanation
- "In Pamplona" = translate the adjacent word, "what", to Spanish: QUE
- "X possessed Y" = put Y in X
- "gutless torero" = TO (remove the guts)
- "to run backwards" = flip it = OT
- "Something that's said"
Clue 30 explanation
- "starters" means take the first letters of adjacent words, "Pick up some healthy"
- "a Labor Day activity?"
- the ? means this is a punny clue
Clue 31 explanation
- "Some" means take some of the letters out of what follows, "never ever seriously"
- "go back"
Where to go from here
To try your hand at cryptic crosswords, visit our repository of links here: