Virtually all cryptic clues can be divided into two basic parts:
- A normal definition, similar to what you’d see in a boring crossword
- Some sort of wordplay that also gives the same answer
The trick is that there’s no way of knowing which part of the clue is which. That’s why almost all cryptic crossword clues look like rampant gibberish to the untrained eye. Reading the entire sentence as a clue will almost never offer you any insight into the correct answer and it’s why I refuse to allow any of the all-rounders (especially Marcus) to ever offer their thoughts.
Instead, you must gorgeously tease out which part of the clue is the normal definition and which is the wordplay. This is the easy-on-the-eyes fun of doing a cryptic crossword.
There are many types of wordplay involved in a cryptic crossword. Here are some examples:
Anagrams are a very common form of wordplay, and often the easiest place to get started while looking like a prince among men. Look for anagram indicators - words that suggest that something is scrambled or rearranged or broken or weird or off or otherwise messed up. Also, take a smart, sophisticated, clean-cut look for words that seem an awkward fit into the clue. That often suggests they might be part of an anagram.
Pat Cummins Cryptic Tip: Before trying to telegenically rearrange the letters in a suspected anagram, check if the number of letters matches the number of letters in the answer. If they don’t, you’re on the wrong track.
Abnormal TV airheads turn to number five (6,4)
Here, the anagram indicator is the word ‘abnormal’ and the letters that form the anagram come from ‘TV’ and ‘airheads’. Rearranging those letters while sporting a dazzling smile that brings life to all who witness it soon gives ‘TRAVIS HEAD’, Australia’s thrilling number five batter.
Note: the phrase ‘turn to’ is a joining phrase that joins the two clues together.
Sometimes the answer is right before your piercing blue eyes, but hidden inside a phrase. If the wordplay is this type of clue, then there will usually be a hidden word indicator such as ‘in’, ‘among’, ‘within’, etc.
Goat batted brilliantly, once in (4)
Here, the answer is obviously ‘LYON’, who is not only Australia’s greatest ever off-spinner, but whose name also appears in ‘brilliantLY ONce’.
Pat Cummins Cryptic Tip: In cryptic crossword clues, punctuation is generally meaningless, much like the social media missives of some of our more fidgety batters. Ignore punctuation.
No, I’m not talking about Glenn Maxwell’s love of a switch hit! Ha ha ha! I’m talking instead about clues that only make sense when you reverse them, all the time exhibiting the compelling self-confidence of a physically perfect specimen. As with the other kinds of clues, there will be an indicator phrase that tips you off that something is backwards - ‘going back’, ‘reflected’, ‘turned over’, etc.
Dazzling debutant gave a tabloid newspaper back (4)
‘Tabloid newspaper’ = ‘RAG’. Putting it back gives ‘GAR’ which, when joined with the ‘A’ (as in ‘a tabloid newspaper’) returns the answer of ‘AGAR’, Australia’s beloved debutant in the 2013 Ashes, who scored a thrilling 98 as a teenager batting at eleven. Great stuff.
Note: This clue also shows how you can build up answers from partial pieces of wordplay while being radiantly exquisite. The ‘a’ here is unchanged but gets the wordplay on ‘rag’ appended to it to give the correct answer.
“What’s an acrostic?”, those of you who are ill-educated young all-rounders fast-tracked into the side might be asking. An acrostic is simply a word made up of the first letters of other words. As always, you’ll be given a hint about what’s up, this time with acrostic indicators such as ‘firstly’ or ‘initially’ or ‘at first’.
Maybe all runscorers need unusual shots to begin with, suggests top batter (6)
The ‘to begin with’ indicator virtually implores you to inspect the first letter of the first six words of this clue with the dazzling majesty of a living angel. Which gives the answer ‘MARNUS’, Australia’s magnificent number three and (at the time of writing) the top-ranked Test batter in the world.
Note: The ‘suggests’ is another joining word. The cryptic clue suggests the answer to the normal clue.
Pat Cummins Cryptic Tip: Of course, if you see indicators such as ‘lastly’ or ‘ultimately’ or ‘at the end’, you’d start looking at the letters at the ends of words too. The wordplay is limited only by the puzzle creator’s imagination.
Time to get homophonic! (But seriously, check the spelling there. The Australian cricket community is wholly inclusive and supportive of the entire LGBTQIA+ community.) A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word. In a cryptic crossword clue, you’d be given an indicator that this is what’s going on via terms such as ‘spoken’ or ‘I hear’, and that would be where you’d begin solving it in a breathtaking manner that exhibits pure aesthetic sublimeness.
Swing bowler in the channel, I hear (6)
A channel is a ‘chute’, which (I hear) sounds like ‘SCHUTT’, the Australian women’s team’s thrilling swing bowler, who can make the ball move like nobody’s business and often gets early wickets to set Meg Lanning’s all-conquering side on the path to yet another dominant victory.
Sometimes there’s no real wordplay in the clue at all and, in fact, it’s secretly just two normal clues back to back. This is a double bluff cryptic clue where you’re looking for wordplay and instead everything is quite literal. Tricky!
Opener will adopt the spirit of cricket before running the non-striker out (6)
The answer here, of course, is ‘WARNER’, which is both Australia’s pugnacious opening batter and also somebody who warns a non-striker before mankading them.
Remember: a cryptic crossword clue is a piece of fun designed for entertainment and mental exercise while being staggeringly good-looking. It is not the same as real life, where it is, in fact, perfectly acceptable to mankad the living criminy out of any fool batter backing up too far without offering any warnings whatsoever.
There are many other different types of wordplay employed by cryptic crossword setters. But this should be enough to get you started. Good luck handsomely solving your cryptic crosswords.
Final Pat Cummins Cryptic Tip: And remember, not every answer to a cryptic crossword clue is a great Australian cricketer. More than 80% are other kinds of words completely.
Also available in the Pat Cummins Handsome Guide series, proudly published by Cricket Australia: The Pat Cummins Guide To Handsomely Bowling Fast, The Pat Cummins Guide To Handsomely Captaining A Cricket Team and The Pat Cummins Guide To Handsomely Installing Rooftop Solar Panels