Cranium-Cracking Cryptic Crosswords, Volume 2
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link words
Combination cluesWordplay devicesConnectors

Wordplay devices

Link words

Link words may be used to bridge the gap between the definition and wordplay, in cases where the two may not blend together seamlessly. A link “equates” one side of the clue to the other, by implying:

  • Equality: is, being, and, or, ’s (apostrophe s)
  • Creation: for, from, of, by, with, makes, becomes, gets, to, into, leads to, gives
  • Composition: has, in, with, where

Note that some of these may also be used as containers or connectors depending on context.

Several clue examples in this how-to guide use link words:

Rather heartless deputy gives fine (5)   [hidden capitalization]
Three premiere characters in Japanese city going back to capital (5)   [letter shift]
Bounty for insurgent captured in battle? Quite the opposite (6)   [inversion]

For cryptic setters, ’s (apostrophe s) is a particularly useful link – in the surface, it can read as either a possessive marker or a contraction of the auxiliary verb has.

Beware! Crossword constructors know that solvers are used to glossing over link words when reading clues. Sometimes what appears to be a link is actually part of the definition or wordplay:

Protection for lock (8)

In this case, FOR is part of the charade for FOR+TRESS.

Acceptance of link words

What constitutes a proper link word can be hotly debated. Famed solver Peter Biddlecombe, for instance, despises with. Others argue that links such as for and from are “one-way”; for example, it’s legal to have wordplay for answer but not answer for wordplay. Neil Shepherd defends the validity of the latter structure, saying it’s perfectly OK to say “answer makes wordplay.” After all, if an answer couldn’t create wordplay, words couldn’t be made into cryptic crosswords (and Jeopardy! would be in serious trouble).

The overarching rule, that should cover nearly all the link words you’ll encounter, is that a link word equates, creates or composes – and whether wordplay is said to embody a solution or vice versa is simply a choice of which side you approach the semantic coin from.