- There are many meanings and contexts of words
- The format of the clue is often as important as its content
- Expect ambiguity and humor
- Be prepared to think both literally and metaphorically -- and outside the box(es)
- Clues for cryptic (British-style) puzzles follow a different format: a definition, plus a 2nd-part: acronym, charades, deletions, reversals, etc.
- [Refs]: "HSW 5: Carefully Consider Clues with Question Marks (?) (and other punctuation)"
- [Refs]: "Anatomy of a Crossword Clue: Abbrev.; Partials; Capitalization; Agreement; Wordplay"
Some Interesting Clues I've Collected
- reference to letters/sounds. RV Center= ; Head of cattle?= ; Carriage part?= ; Workweek sequence: Abbr.= ; Alphabetic pentad= ; Queue after Q= ; Tic-tac-toe win=
- music. keys: 'A-G' [MAJOR | MINOR]; Like Bach's second violin concerto= ; A flat equivalent= ; It's probably played first= ; Score keeper?=
- people. Happy cohort?= ; Bird, e.g., once=
- directions: U-turn from WNW= ; Needle point?=
- Lion's home=
- Last picture in an alphabet book=
- Response to a general question?=
- Stirring time?=
- Something played out in a theater=
- Departure info?=
- Stayed out?=
- Gambler's opening=
- Polar opposites?=
- Cold capital=
- Pique condition?=
- literal references to patterns in grid, direction of clue (ACROSS | DOWN), ...
- Time before the present day?=
- #10 on a table=
- Flat sign=
- Where cells are of little use=
- Something you can bank on=
- 'Stop! You've got it all wrong!'=
- It may have you in an awkward position=
- Definitely not a company man?=
- Rolling stone?=
- Secretive group?=
- Army heads=
- Can of Newcastle=
- John, to Paul, George or Ringo=
- M.A seeker's test=
- Crossword quitter's cry?=
- Geometric suffix=
- French, e.g., Three, in Tours= ; Part of l'été= ; Stop on the Métro?= ; Like many squares in a French crossword= ; Security Council veto= ; Feu fighter=
- Spanish: New Mexican= ; Enero begins it= ; Mayo is in it= ; "Keep them coming, Juan!"= ; Spanish she-bear= ; Bit of change in Cuba=
- Latin/Roman: Uncommon in ancient Rome= ; One quarter of M= ; Nvmber of bones in the human body= ; When Othello kills himself= ; ans: CBVIIINGNEWS=
An Annotated Example
- NYT 1/23/2011 puzzle(blank): [.pdf]; solution: [.pdf] neat, [.pdf] handwritten
- FITB (Fill In The Blank): 32-A, 36-A, 79-A, 85-A (!), 97-A, 128-A, 2-D, 9-D, 11-D, 41-D, 87-D, 95-D*, 121-D
- first name: 1-A, 39-A, 65-A, 67-A, 96-A, 101-A, 118-A, 8-D, 66-D ('familiarly'), 116-D
- last name: 24-A, 89-A, 5-D, 9-D, 58-D
- *-prefix (theme answers): 6-A, 12-A, 17-A, ...
- plurals: 22-A, 47-D ('they'); 42-A&45-A (repetition); 61-A ('and the like'); 8-D ('and others'); 37-D ('array');
28-D, 81-D, 86-D ('?'); 31-A, 46-A, 59-A, 71-A, 124-A, 1-D, 3-D, 16-D, 27-D, 33-D, 46-D, 60-D ('-s')
- abbrev./acronym: 28-A ('briefly'), 100-A ('Vette); 105-A, 70-D, 85-D ('org.'); 10-D ('sch.'); 23-D ('Trig'); 33-D ('R.N.s'); 81-D ('letters'); 96-D ('acronym'); 112-D ('abbr.'); 82-A, 94-D (?)
- singular: ('when repeated'); prefix: 74-A, 114-A; tense: 50-A ('-ed'), 35-D ('took'), 99-D ('-ing')
- adverb/adjective: 18-A, 126-A, 21-D, 51-D, 78-D, 79-D, 105-D
- literal: 22-A(año), 42-A & 45-A ('N N N'); refs to other clues: 61-A
- pop culture/music: 1-A, 24-A, 26-A, 29-A, 36-A, 39-A, 65-A, 67-A, 88-A, 96-A, 101-A, 122-A, 127-A, 8-D, 9-D, 13-D, 38-D, 40-D, 42-D, 54-D, 66-D, 73-D, 77-D, 92-D, 116-D, 117-D
- literary (2 Shakespeare!): 32-A, 2-D, 5-D, 52-D; slang/current: 38-A, 85-A, 104-A, 7-D, 92-D, 109-D
- geographical/historical/political: 12-A, 29-A, 89-A, 118-A, 9-D, 14-D, 68-D, 70-D, 87-D, 102-D
- Roman numerals: 78-A
- math/science: 12-A, 23-D, 58-D, 64-D, 87-D, 111-D
- crosswordese: 62-A ('as is'?), 96-A ('Ara'), 28-D ('A-one')
- languages: Spanish: 30-A, 63-A; French: 59-A, 103-A; Greek: 42-A; Latin: 86-D; (?): 93-A ('whence the word')
- compass heading: 48-D
- puns: 76-A ('carrying a toon')
- ambiguity: 31-A ('winds'), 34-A ('touch'), 49-A ('slant'), 68-A ('hood'), 69-A ('shocker'), 90-A ('King'), 98-A ('Numbers'), 116-A ('don't get it'), 114-A ('opening'), 124-A ('homes'), 125-A ('house'), 1-D ('heads'), 6-D ('party'), 15-D ('in a way'), 12-D & 16-D ('pointer(s)'), 28-D ('tops'), 32-D ('prone'), 43-D ('hitch'), 47-D ('keys'), 57-D ('opening'), 81-D ('letters'), 106-D ('bit'), 115-D ('revealing'), 119-D ('straight')
- Some common clue patterns and how to answer them with NYT mini and regular examples;
1. Clue/Answer Agreement. The clue and answer must agree in tense, part of speech, and even language. In addition, abbreviated clues indicate an abbreviated answer.
2. Question Mark Clues. Clues that end in question marks indicate a play on words in the clue or answer.
3. Crosswordese. There are a lot of short words that appear in crosswords much more often than in real life. Mastering these 3- and 4-letter "repeater" answers will give you a leg up in solving.
4. Themes. Every Sunday-Thursday NYT crossword has a theme, something that unites the puzzle's longest answers. Theme answers are always found in symmetrical places in the grid.
5. Rebus Answers. The occasional puzzle (usually on Thursday or Sunday) will require you to enter multiple letters into a single square, which is called a rebus.
- HSW 5: Carefully Consider Clues with Question Marks (?) (and other punctuation)
- HSW 3: Keep in Mind Multiple Meanings of Words
- about.com: 3. Clues Obey Rules; 6. Constructors Love Confusion; 7. Wordplay is Wonderful!
- Word Buff: 2. Become Familiar with Cluing Conventions
- Wonder 1. Use Grammatical Indicators; 2. Break Down the Clue's Structure
- Wikipedia: Crossword: types of clues: consistency; non-dictionary words; themes; indirect clues; cryptics; double-clue lists
- Anatomy of a Crossword Clue: Abbrev.; Partials; Capitalization; Agreement; Wordplay
- Clue discussion between Will Shortz and his assistant, Joel Fagliano: part 1 12/6/2015; part 2 12/7/2015
- Modern Crossword Humor memorable clever, humorous, upbeat and lively clues and answers from Times puzzles of the past few years; 8/16/2012
- Exploring the history and rules of crossword puzzles 11/2/2010
- Become a Crossword Super Solver by Will Johnston Rules for clues; Varieties of clues; [.pdf; p4]; 1/19/2010
- NYT: Clueless Editors do make errors; Constructors sometimes break 'the rules'; 8/19/2001
- BarelyBad: Relationships between clue and answer: Equivalence; Commonality; Set membership; Fill in the blank (FITB); Analogy
- Clever Clue of the Month
- Saturday Stumper Solving Hints Newsday; What Makes the Stumpers Tough? [.pdf]