Cranium-Cracking Cryptic Crosswords, Volume 2
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Wordplay devicesHidden words

Wordplay devices


In an anagram clue, the solution is scrambled in a word or phrase. Full anagrams are among the easiest clues to solve, since such a clue provides all the letters in its solution. Anagram wordplay consists of fodder (the word or phrase to unscramble) and an anagram indicator (also known as an anagrind), which may precede or follow the fodder.

Anagram indicators are words that suggest motion, strangeness or modification; for example:

  • Change: developing, rewritten, curing
  • Oddity: odd, weird, strange
  • Falsehood: false, unnatural, criminal
  • Novelty: exceptional, special, novel
  • Worsening: worse, sick, lousy
  • Destruction: split, broken, blasted
  • Disorder: messy, dirty, scattered
  • Delirium: mad, wild, crazy
  • Movement: vagrant, running, dancing
  • Adaptation: version of, manifestation of, rendition of
  • Correctness: straight, correct, perfect

There are many, many, many anagram indicators out there; an extensive list of them can be found here though there are still a lot of other possibilities. Two simple examples:

Star annoyed Russian ruler (4)
Remote tumbling space rock (6)

The answers are TSAR (“Russian ruler”), an anagram of STAR; and METEOR (“space rock”), an anagram of REMOTE.

Anagram indicators are commonly adjectives, participles or adverbs. They can often be prepositional phrases as well (with motion, in operation). In a few cases, they may even be verbs if they’re given proper grammatical treatment:

Marble rocks drift (6)

Note the deception in this clue: “rocks” reads as a noun in the surface, but in the wordplay it’s a verb telling you that the letters in MARBLE are moving. (In other words, the wordplay is really saying “marble is rocking.”) Cryptic setters are keen to exploit ambiguities in English grammar like this one, in an attempt to foil crossword solvers. The answer in this case is RAMBLE (a decidedly anemic anagram that no self-respecting setter would use in an actual crossword!).

In a few cases, nouns may be used as anagrinds although their validity is not universally accepted. I myself avoid them, but here’s an example for illustration’s sake:

Roman organization’s living space (5)

Answer: MANOR, an anagram of ROMAN.

Note: This last clue uses what’s known as a link word, often used to “equate” the definition with the wordplay. Read more about link words here.