Cryptic Crosswords – The Rules by Anax


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There is a myth that some crossword editors set limits on the number of full/part anagrams in a puzzle on the basis that having too many makes a puzzle too easy. This assertion isn’t completely wrong but it tells only part of the story. The truth is that, for whatever reason, an abundance of anagrams seems to be more noticeable to the solver than an abundance of other clue types, and if you have too many the crossword tends to feel a bit samey. Editors like plenty of variety from their setters, and limiting anagrams is a way of encouraging more adventurous wordplay.

The essential components of an anagram clue are a definition of the answer, the letters in the anagram (known as fodder), and some form of wording to indicate that an anagram is being used (an anagram indicator, often shortened to anagrind).

As for construction, it’s wise to look at either the beginning or end of the clue to see if it offers a likely definition of the answer, but for indicated wordplay* clues this isn’t always the case. To explain, let’s see an anagram clue as an equation using:

A = definition of the answer

B = the anagram fodder

C = the anagrind

A = B C is perhaps the simplest format, as in:

The importance of eating mud pie? (9)

By inserting some vertical lines we can see the clue components:

The importance of | eating mud | pie? (9)

Our answer is defined as “The importance of” and to find it we take the fodder EATING MUD and jumble it as suggested by the anagrind “pie?” to end up with MAGNITUDE.

*Indicated wordplay is that where some kind of indicator has to be given. In an anagram clue, the setter must show that the letters have to be jumbled. The same applies to reversals, containers, initial/last/middle letters, juxtapositions and others, which we’ll explore in future articles. For clues whose wordplay is based on double meanings, charades etc (in other words where there is no manipulation of letters) no indicators need to be used.

Using the same answer MAGNITUDE, the clue could be written using a different equation:

A = C B

Significance of chewing gum in date (9)

Let’s break the clue down again:

Significance of | chewing | gum in date (9)

This time the anagrind and fodder have switched places but the clue still makes sense. However, the setter can get things wrong when messing about with the word order. Have a look at this:

Note modification in e.g. datum (9)


Note | modification | in e.g. datum (9)

Have you spotted the error? We have a definition (A) “note”, the anagrind (C) “modification” and the fodder (B) IN EG DATUM, so on the surface all looks good. It’s wrong, though, because the anagrind has to apply grammatically to the fodder, and you can’t read “modification in e.g. datum” as a correct instruction – it would have to be something like “modification of/to in e.g. datum” to make grammatical sense. In this example, the setter would need to revert to the original A = B C formula to give:

Note in e.g. datum modification (9)

This is OK, because “in e.g. datum modification” can be sensibly interpreted as “modification of/to in e.g. datum”.

By placing A (definition) at the end of the clue we can have either B C = A or C B = A provided, of course, we avoid errors such as with the “modification” example above, but is it possible to have the definition in the middle of the clue instead, separating either B and C or C and B? Indeed we can:

Emu dating could lead to fame in broadcasting (9)

This time the equation has an extra component:

Emu dating | could lead to | fame | in broadcasting (9)

The setter has to be very specific in showing how the wordplay is constructed. Although the reading of this version (where the second part of the clue has been removed) makes little sense, the important thing is that the clue just doesn’t work:

Emu dating fame in broadcasting (9)

There is nothing here to say how the fodder EMU DATING relates to the anagrind “broadcasting” – the placement of the definition breaks up the logical link.

As an aside, my experience of clue-writing is that placing the anagrind before the fodder is easier than after it.

Augmented Anagrams

Sometimes the setter will notice what could be a good anagram if only there were some more letters available in the fodder, and this can result in what is called an augmented anagram:

Greatness is an unmitigated disaster without it (9)

Again, breaking the clue down:

Greatness | is | an | unmitigated | disaster | without | it (9)

The first thing to notice is that the entire clue divides into seven single-word components, each one of them doing a specific job.

Greatness is the definition.

Is simply points to what the wordplay consists of.

An is actually a “partner” of disaster, describing what the fodder can be if we jumble its letters.

Unmitigated is the untreated anagram fodder.

Disaster is the anagrind.

Without is a subtraction indicator.

It is the bit that needs to be subtracted.

So we have an anagram of UNMITIGATED but first we have to remove IT; which brings us neatly to a subject over which there is much divided opinion. When it comes to this sort of device, what is/isn’t fair?

Personal preference time; I prefer the subtracted fodder element to be an uninterrupted unit and, equally, I prefer to just state what it is rather than disguise it with a definition. In UNMITIGATED there is a reversal of TAG and if I could find a suitable word to replace the “backwards” in “tag backwards” I might use that.

We do, however, frequently see clues where the subtraction fodder consists of letters which are spread throughout the original anagram fodder; in UNMITIGATED, for example, we can see UNITED. If the setter simply refers to this component as “united” in the clue there is some justification for using it – indeed the majority of solvers are probably happy with it. But to use a phrase such as “not joined” to indicate the removal of UNITED from UNMITIGATED is a step too far for me.

Perfectly acceptable (certainly in the Times, which is a pretty good yardstick) is the removal of a jumble of letters from the original fodder:

Boredom unmitigated without giant frilly pants (6)

Again, this breaks down into single words:

Boredom | unmitigated | without | giant | frilly | pants

This construction is interesting because the anagrind “pants” doesn’t appear next to the fodder to which it relates, namely UNMITIGATED, but this is because it is being used to affect the end result of what you first have to do to UNMITIGATED to create the fodder used to find the answer.

So we take UNMITIGATED and that is “without” (i.e. we remove) the letters of GIANT, which have been jumbled as indicated by the anagrind “frilly”. That leaves UMTIED, which is rearranged using the anagrind “pants” to give TEDIUM.

With a very slight change, the “Greatness is…” clue at the top of this page could be a different type of anagram clue even though, at first, it appears to work in the same way.

Compound Anagrams

Let’s see that clue again:

Greatness is an unmitigated disaster without it (9)

And now let’s make a couple of small changes:

Greatness could be an unmitigated disaster with it (9)

This time we have almost reversed what the clue tells us, but we have also incorporated a different wordplay device. Instead of saying the answer is an anagram of UNMITIGATED but without IT, the clue describes the answer as being an anagram of UNMITIGATED but only if we add IT. This treatment is called a compound anagram.

The difference is subtle and it’s easy to see why solvers and setters alike often get augmented and compound anagrams mixed up.

Splitting Things Up

It’s by no means uncommon for the setter to insert link words between separate pieces of anagram fodder to improve the surface reading (the “story” it presents) of a clue:

Perfect rough guide – also in matt (11)

For those who don’t like sunlight glaring back at them from the glossy pages of a tourist guide this looks like an attractive proposition, but what do we have here beyond the surface reading? Time for a tip.

As mentioned above, looking at the beginning or end of a clue for the definition is a good place to start. In this case, both “perfect” and “matt” (or even “in matt”) look feasible, so is there any way to eliminate one of them?

There certainly can be, and one way to do it is to look for any words which shout out “I’m a wordplay indicator!” – and in this clue one can’t help but notice “rough”. An anagrind, surely? OK, what if it is? It would then relate to either “perfect” or, as it happens, the 11 letters of GUIDE ALSO IN. But hang on. If that was true, “matt” at the end would be redundant, since “perfect” would have to be the definition. An anagram of PERFECT then? Well, it seems very unlikely. That would account for 7 letters of 11, leaving only 4 letters to satisfy both “guide” and “also”.

So let’s go with instinct and assume, for now, that “perfect” is the definition. If “rough” is indeed an anagrind, then the fodder which follows has 15 letters rather than the 11 we need, so what’s going on? Let’s look at the potential fodder – GUIDE, ALSO, IN, and MATT. If we need to lose 4 letters what would they be? And at this point it sort of jumps out at you; the anagram fodder we want consists of GUIDE, and also IN and MATT, and we can arrange this trio to form UNMITIGATED.

Of course, identifying the definition isn’t always straightforward and it’s only easier here because we already know we’re dealing with the subject of anagrams.

Indirect Anagrams

An indirect anagram doesn’t actually give you all of the fodder; some (or all of it) is given by definition. It’s a cardinal sin – if you see it, protest!


Charades (Word Sums)

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