After coming across a chance social media post containing a cryptic crossword clue and instructions for how to solve it, I fell headlong into the addictive craze and borrowed this book from the library. I’ve now kept it for its maximum number of renewals and have to return it so I’m on the lookout for a second-hand copy that I can get for keeps.
David Astle, for those who don’t know, regularly sets cryptic crosswords for a couple of Australian newspapers and runs the ‘letters’ part of the downunder version of popular tv show ‘Letters and Numbers’.
The book is set out in two parts. First, it explores the benefits to the brain of doing puzzles of any kind. Although all puzzles are helpful, cryptics sit in their own special category for how they bend and stretch the mind in all different directions.
The second part explains the how-to of cryptic crossword solving, arguing that they are easy to solve once you know how to read the clue. The most important and helpful thing to know is that, as per regular crossword puzzles, the definition is always provided. You can be guaranteed that it’s at the beginning or the end of the clue, with the remainder being the ‘fodder’ that helps to decipher the answer.
Next, you just need to work out what type of word play the ‘fodder’ consists of. Is it an anagram? A double meaning? A hidden word? Or could it be a ‘charade’ in which you build the answer syllable by syllable? Once you learn all the various possibilities of wordplay, you’re ready to start practising. Conveniently, the end of the book provides a number of puzzles that increase in difficulty as you work your way through them.
I’m so thankful that I found this book to support me in my new hobby, and apologise to everyone who has to listen to me bang on about the latest tricky clue that I’ve conquered.