CROSSWORDS: Decode Clues


  • embrace ambiguityThere 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

An Annotated Example

  • NYT 1/23/2011 puzzle(blank): [.pdf]; solution: [.pdf] neat, [.pdf] handwritten
  • FITBFITB (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, ...
  • abbrev. BLTplurals: 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 (?)
  • cupsingular: ('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 numeralsRoman 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
  • runpuns: 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')