QC

Times Quick Cryptic 1939 by Felix Theme Notes






Today's theme is from the Three Witches scene in Macbeth (Act IV, Scene I).

The references I found, all in the Acrosses were:
1 & 5 EYE (of) NEWT
8 & 9 TOE (of) FROG
10 NOSE (of Turk)
11 has EAR, and I’d have sworn that ‘ear’ was in the mix somewhere but unless I’m going blind it isn’t, at least in my edition.
Nothing at all in 12 unless you count (blinded) C{h}A{s}T{e} !
14 ADDER(‘s fork)
16 (howlet’s} WING
18 {blind-)WORM(‘s sting)
20 (lizard’s) LEG
21 (wool of) BAT
23 & 24 TONGUE (of) DOG
There’s no ‘skin of panther’ in the recipe but it’s quite neat that the clue at 1ac gives a nod to what’s to come.

Have I missed anything?
15x15

INDICATORS FOR ANAGRAM CLUES

Extracted from From How to Master The Times Crossword by Tim Moorey (available from Amazon and all usual sources)


The essential point of indicators of anagram clues is that they show a rearrangement, a disturbance to the natural order or a change to be made.

There are very many ways of doing this, some reasonably straightforward but others requiring a stretch of the imagination. For example words related to drunkenness and madness have to be taken as involving disturbance so that ‘stoned’, ‘pickled’, ‘tight’ ‘bananas’, ‘nuts’, ‘crackers and ‘out to lunch’ could all be misleading ways to indicate anagrams. This table is designed to expand on the various categories of rearrangement by giving a few examples of each:

ARRANGEMENT sorted / somehow/ anyhow

REARRANGEMENT revised / reassembled / resort

CHANGE     bursting /out of place / shift

DEVELOPMENT improved / worked / treat

WRONGNESS amiss / in error / messed up

STRANGENESS odd / fantastic / eccentric

DRUNKENNESS smashed / hammered / lit up

MADNESS crazy / outraged / up the wall

MOVEMENT mobile / runs / hit

DISTURBANCE broken / muddled  / upset
OF ORDER

INVOLVEMENT complicated  / tangled / implicated

Copyright to Tim Moorey is acknoweldged

QC League Table of difficulty by Setter (at June 2020)

Nobody has asked for it this time round, but undeterred I bring you an update of my analysis of QC difficulty levels by Setter. It's based entirely on my own solving times and whether or not I achieved my target of 10 minutes on any particular day. It's intended as a bit of fun and I am not suggesting for a moment that it would stand up to an objective statistical examination other than of my own failure rate, but when I published previously it proved to be of some interest.

Setters are once again rated 1 - 10 (easiest to hardest) despite a previous protest that it would make more sense the other way round. I have excluded a handful of setters who gave us fewer than 4 puzzles in the current period (1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020).






QC League Table of difficulty by Setter (at June 2019)

Back by popular demand  (i.e. one person asked for it yesterday) I bring you an update of my analysis of QC difficulty levels by Setter. It's based entirely on my own solving times and whether or not I achieved my target 10 minutes on any particular day. It's intended as a bit of fun and I am not suggesting for a moment that it would stand up to an objective statistical examination other than of my own failure rate, but when I published previously (in July 2016 and September 2017) it proved to be of some interest.

Setters are once again rated 1 - 10 (easiest to hardest) despite a protest last time that it would make more sense the other way round. I have excluded a handful of setters who gave us fewer than 4 puzzles in the current period (1 September 2017 to 30 June 2019).

Positional indicator protocol

posted by Nila Palin 6/1/2018
Further to a brief discussion at Times for the Times, I'm hoping that someone in the know will be able to clarify whether the old Times tradition of A on B = BA in an across clue is still in use. It's a minor point, but probably one of interest to cryptic crossword enthusiasts.
The convention seems to apply uniquely to the Times (as cited in former Times crossword editor Brian Greer's book 'How To Do The Times Crossword' [2001], but I see the setter David McLean (aka Hoskins) also advocates it on his website.
The trigger for the discussion is the clue "Cappuccino maker is putting chocolate on it — cheers!" for BARISTA in yesterday's paper.
I'd be interested to know whether the other traditions peculiar to The Times that Mr Greer mentions (pp 50-51) still apply too.
____________________________________________
Richard Rogan 5 hours ago
Yes the convention still applies
RR Crossword editor
__________________________________________________________
jackkt 4 hours ago
@Richard Rogan Thanks for responding, Richard, but if the rule still applies then how do you account for the clue quoted by Nila (17ac in #26954)? Is it an error that slipped through the net , or have we misunderstood the parsing?
Richard Rogan 3 hours ago
Having now double checked the clue you refer to (for BARISTA) it does indeed infringe the rule. Not sure I'd call it an "error" as such as it is only "wrong" by our convention, but I would normally change the wording to reflect the normal way we do things!

Further discussion on the ON ‘rule’  re this clue in ST 4799 by Jeff Pearce blogged 27/5/2018:
14ac: Trainee carer working on bottom (10) TENDERFOOT
jackkt
May. 27th, 2018 01:10 am
…Also puzzled by TENDERFOOT. I suppose 'carer working' could cover TENDER, leaving 'bottom' for FOOT, but that breaks the rule about 'on' in an Across clue that A on B = BA.
kevingregg
May. 27th, 2018 04:06 am
…I certainly wasn't slowed down by TENDERFOOT, as I never bothered to parse it. (Does the 'ON' rule obtain in the Sunday puzzles too
jackkt
May. 27th, 2018 06:19 am
ON 'rule'
Having checked back on previous discussions about this it was confirmed in Februrary by Richard Rogan (Crossword Editor, The Times) that the convention still exists for the daily puzzles but if there's a clue where it's not applied it's not "an 'error' as such as it is only 'wrong' by our convention".
Back in 2008 Peter B (now Crossword Editor, The Sunday Times, but then in charge of TftT which was his baby) stated that he was unaware of such a convention but it was then pointed out that the 'rule' was in the published guide to the Times Clue Setting competition and other sources - a book by Brian Greer, for example. Reverting again to the discussions in February, an anonymous contributor stated "I know Peter Biddlecombe allows it either way in Sunday Times puzzles".
Clearly it's a convention that can't be relied on even where it is agreed that it's supposed to be in force, which takes us back to 14ac where 'carer working' = TENDER now seems to be the most likely parsing, but it's awkward to say the least and might suggest that the clue should have been rethought and amended.
kevingregg
May. 27th, 2018 06:51 am
Re: ON 'rule'
Thanks for this, Jack. I suppose that where a carer is not necessarily doing it for a job, a tender more likely is, hence 'carer working'. Or it may just be filler to give grammatical structure to the clue. I'd be curious to hear from Peter on this. In any case, I'm glad that I didn't stop to notice the oddity of the phrasing here.
peterbiddlecombe
May. 27th, 2018 12:51 pm
Re: ON 'rule'
The rule, if there is one, that A on B has to mean B,A is not one I ever noticed as a Times solver, until people told me about it. In an across clue, "on" has to mean "next to" as in Southend-on-Sea. But in a down answer divided into two parts, the first part is "on" the second in the much more obvious way that the screen I'm watching as I type this is on my desk.
I'm pleased to see that my copy of the guide for Times setters (not supplied in that expectation that I would enforce all the rules therein) confirms that the "B,A" idea only applies to across clues, and in down clues, "A on B" can only mean "A,B". It also says "This is a Times convention". (The) Times conventions do not apply in current Sunday Times crosswords, and as far as I know, any past ones. And although I guess I have to take a bit of blame as I have in the past stated what various Times rules are (or were), I very strongly believe that solvers should not learn them all and expect them to be followed all the time. One reason is that an editor could forget to apply their own rule. In one long-ago Times championship puzzle there were two pure hidden words, breaking the Times rule that there is no more than one. As far as I know, none of the contestants delayed entering the second of the two obviously correct answers in the belief that there couldn't possibly be another hidden word clue. Another reason is that rules like this may change, and if they are, there will not be an announcement in the paper to tell you. The biggest reason is that crossword solving should be an exercise in using your wits, not remembering arcane rules. As usual, the people who just buy the paper and happen to do the crossword, without discussing it on public forums, have said nothing about this clue in puzzle feedback.
"carer working" is for me quite simply a possible alternative to "carer" as the indication for "tender".
jackkt
May. 27th, 2018 01:48 pm
Re: ON 'rule'
Thanks for your input, Peter. It's vary rare that any of the 'rules' or 'conventions' make any difference to arriving at the correct answer, only to discussions about parsing which surely don't matter much, if at all, to the vast majority of solvers. It's mildly ironic that the forum you created is the principle source of such discussions, but I'm sure we are all forever grateful to you for creating it.

Crossword clues that are fit for young and old by Rose Wild

Ian Baird from Framlingham, Suffolk, is worried that some seismic shift may be occurring in our cryptic crossword traditions. “Some years ago,” he writes, “I pointed out to you the difficulties young people would have solving The Times crosswords, owing to the fact that the setters were stuck in a time warp of about 70 years ago.” As evidence, Mr Baird referred to the setters’ convention of using slang from the 1940s, or earlier — like “SA” or “it” to mean sex appeal.

Now he’s got a different problem. “Old folks like me are used to the style, and so when I saw a clue about sexual appeal last week, I tried ‘SA’ and ‘it’. In fact the answer required us to know that to say someone is ‘fit’ means he or she has sex appeal, which as far as I am aware is a coinage from about three years ago.” What was more, he wrote, “In the same crossword, the word ‘moon’ was used to mean expose one’s bottom. If the crossword setters are going to use 21st-century slang, how are old buffers like me expected to finish them?”

Oh dear, what a worry. I asked Richard Rogan, The Times crossword editor, if the crosswords were having a midlife crisis. “It” and “SA”, he concedes, may well have outstayed their welcome. “The excuse offered is that they are so useful to the setter and in any case are part of ‘crossword convention’. Indeed the meaning of ‘moon’ (another useful one for us) goes back further than imagined, and ‘fit’ has meant more than just ‘highly trained’ for longer than one might think.”

To find out just how long, I went to Jonathon Green, whose majestic three-volume Green’s Dictionary of Slang must surely have the answer among its 100,000 or so entries. Under “fit” for good-looking, Green gives recent citations including Victor Headley’s 1992 novel, Yardie — “Dat girl yah fit, you know” — along with an example from San Francisco University High School from 2005. Further back, though, is a citation from 1884, in a novel by Henry Hawley Smart, From Post to Finish, A Racing Romance.

Smart was a military sort who, having served in the Crimean War and during the Indian Mutiny, lost all his money on the horses and made a second career writing “popular” fiction, largely drawing on his knowledge of racing, hunting and the Army. The particular citation for “fit” — “Blame me, I do know whether they’re turned out all right when I see ’em, and mean my girl to look as fit as any of ’em” — sounds to me as if it could equally apply to a horse as a woman, but if Green says it’s a human filly I’ll believe him.

Either way, I think “fit” passes muster as both ancient and modern slang for crossword purposes. “The dictionaries are our guide,” Richard Rogan says. “When they decide that a term is either archaic, or to be dispensed with, then we would probably reflect that. Similarly once a newer meaning has made it into the latest edition, then it is probably a signal that we can adopt it. Having said that, both ‘bling’ and ‘selfie’ have made it into our crossword in recent times before their debut in the ‘paper’ dictionaries.”

PB on Times Crossword House style

This is a list of points about the Times puzzle that differ from at least some other cryptic xwds. (Posts with information like this that should be good advice for ever will be stored under the new "tips&tricks" tag.) Occasionally setters seem to take rules like this as a challenge and try to get rule-breaking clues accepted, and mistakes can be made, so you should ultimately rely on common sense and general principles of cryptic cluemanship, rather than strict application of this list of house rules derived partly from observation.

Some of these points are taken from a list on pp. 50-52 of Brian Greer's "How to solve the Times Crossword" - if setters know of changes to these since Brian's spell as editor (1995-2000), they are welcome to tell me by comment or e-mail. I'll update this posting with any points that I realise I've omitted as a result of future discussions.

Rules about clues

Hidden words
No more than one 'pure' hidden word clue per puzzle. (Reversed hidden words aren't 'pure' in this context.) (Limits like this are for 15x15 puzzles - if there are limits for jumbos, I don't know what the numbers are.)

Homophones
The exact rules are hard to determine by observation, but it seems to be that if the pronunciations in the reference dictionaries match, that's good enough. This allows post-vocalic R's to be ignored, as in RP - in an example from 17/1/2008, gutta-percha = "gutter percher".

Anagrams
No more than 5 pure anagrams.

One-way link words
"Link words" are ones between def. and wordplay - e.g. "in" or "as". These two can be used regardless of the order of def. and wordplay. The following two must be used with one order only:
{wordplay} for {def}
{def} from {wordplay}

Capital letters
Words that require capital letters in the cryptic reading must have them. However, 'deceptive capitalisation' is permitted. In other words, a word with a capital letter in the clue doesn't necessarily have a wordplay meaning requiring a capital letter - so Joanna Strong's instrument (10) could be PIANO,FORTE. This example shows why I'm not a Times setter and probably never will be - Times setters avoid cheesy fictional names which are usually a dead giveaway, and even more so, clashes of word-meanings between the def. and wordplay.

One
"one" in a clue can indicate I in an answer, but not A.

Update: posted on 4 August 2019:
From petebiddlecombe
Aug. 4th, 2019 10:19 am (local)
The word from a fairly recent copy of the Times notes for setters is that “A” in a clue can’t indicate I in the answer, and “one” in a clue can't indicate A in the answer, except in a phrase like “One cup” for “A TROPHY”. As you implied, the ST version doesn’t worry about this.
Definition by example
To use "bay" in a clue to mean "horse" in an answer used to require a word like "perhaps" to indicate definition by example. Under Richard Browne, this is not always required.

Infinitives
'to' in the infinitive in a clue can be ignored in the answer - e.g. It's trendy to like old colour for IN,DIG,O

Numbers in digits
In clues, these point to answers to other clues. But only in print - for reasons I don't understand, the web-site version of the puzzle often uses (e.g.) "three" for "3".

Reference dictionaries
The vast majority of answers other than proper nouns are in Collins English Dictionary and/or the Concise Oxford. My estimate is that 'vast majority' here means at least 95%. Occasionally, words or meanings outside these are used. A recent example is 'homer' = biased referee/umpire. The weird stuff found in Chambers - taghairm, kilfud-yoking, wagger-pagger-bagger, etc. etc. ad infinitum - is never used. (Exception: the 'Club Monthly Special' on the Times Crossword Club site). [Note, Sept. 2008: "99.5%" above replaced by "95" after a few recent words that seem to be in Chambers only.]

Abbreviations
The Times puzzle does not let setters use all the abbreviations in any dictionary. For one-letter abbrev's in particular, there is believed to be a fairly short list of acceptable ones.


Rules about answers

Living people
Names of individual living people are not used as answers (or clue content), unless they mean something else, like 'John Dory'. But names of (well-known) pop groups (e.g. ABBA in the 4/1/2008 puzzle) are apparently allowed. Sole exception: the reigning monarch can be referred to, usually as a way of indicating ER in the answer.

Drawing room conversation
Things like serious illnesses or derogatory terms are not used as answers. All answers and clue content used to be suitable for "polite drawing room conversation" but some risqué references are permitted now that would not have been allowed in the past. (No. 23652 has an example, for those with access to archived puzzles).

Brand names
As far as I know these are not allowed.

Endings and beginnings
Few -S plurals (limit of three?), minimal repetition of common prefixes and suffixes - you're unlikely to get two UN- words in the same puzzle for instance. This includes derived word-forms like -ING and -LY.

Rules about grids

Setters choose grids from a set managed by the xwd editor. Since about 1965, all grids in this set have followed three significant rules:

  • No more than half the letters in any answer are unchecked

  • There are never more than two unchecked letters in succession in any answer

  • Double unches are never the first or last two letters of an answer



Added based on comments on 23691: no two plural nouns or third person singular verb forms should intersect at their final S - e.g. CROSSWORDS and SOLVES. Setters are also advised to avoid filling the east vertical or south horizontal with "easy" letters as in e.g. SETTERS.

Themes and Ninas


Themes are rare in Times puzzles but are seen occasionally - maybe twice a year in the 15x15 cryptic. "Ninas" (messages in the grid, or subtle themes that don't have to be spotted to help solve the puzzle) appear more often - maybe twice a month

PB on single letter abbreviations (at 25 October 2015)

Abbrevs
The Mephisto rule isn't "anything goes", but "anything in Chambers goes" - as for the rest of the puzzle. All cryptic crosswords use single-letter and other abbreviations, but their rules about what's allowed vary. The Times crossword has had a fairly short list for one-letter ones (and AFAIK still does), which is mostly the ones in both Collins and the Concise Oxford. I'm currently prepared to use anything from Collins or the Oxford Dictionary of English (preferably not obscure ones from both in the same puzzle), plus a few from real life - N for no and Y for yes, and the card suit ones - I was surprised to notice that H=Hearts needs Chambers, and with a bridge column on the same page it seems daft to disallow them.

Times Crossword House Style


  • Jan. 4th, 2008 at 4:31 PM

This is a list of points about the Times puzzle that differ from at least some other cryptic xwds. (Posts with information like this that should be good advice for ever will be stored under the new "tips&tricks" tag.) Occasionally setters seem to take rules like this as a challenge and try to get rule-breaking clues accepted, and mistakes can be made, so you should ultimately rely on common sense and general principles of cryptic cluemanship, rather than strict application of this list of house rules derived partly from observation.

Some of these points are taken from a list on pp. 50-52 of Brian Greer's "How to solve the Times Crossword" - if setters know of changes to these since Brian's spell as editor (1995-2000), they are welcome to tell me by comment or e-mail. I'll update this posting with any points that I realise I've omitted as a result of future discussions.

Rules about clues

Hidden words
No more than one 'pure' hidden word clue per puzzle. (Reversed hidden words aren't 'pure' in this context.) (Limits like this are for 15x15 puzzles - if there are limits for jumbos, I don't know what the numbers are.)

Homophones
The exact rules are hard to determine by observation, but it seems to be that if the pronunciations in the reference dictionaries match, that's good enough. This allows post-vocalic R's to be ignored, as in RP - in an example from 17/1/2008, gutta-percha = "gutter percher".

Anagrams
No more than 5 pure anagrams.

One-way link words
"Link words" are ones between def. and wordplay - e.g. "in" or "as". These two can be used regardless of the order of def. and wordplay. The following two must be used with one order only:
{wordplay} for {def}
{def} from {wordplay}

Capital letters
Words that require capital letters in the cryptic reading must have them. However, 'deceptive capitalisation' is permitted. In other words, a word with a capital letter in the clue doesn't necessarily have a wordplay meaning requiring a capital letter - so Joanna Strong's instrument (10) could be PIANO,FORTE. This example shows why I'm not a Times setter and probably never will be - Times setters avoid cheesy fictional names which are usually a dead giveaway, and even more so, clashes of word-meanings between the def. and wordplay.

One
"one" in a clue can indicate I in an answer, but not A.

Definition by example
To use "bay" in a clue to mean "horse" in an answer used to require a word like "perhaps" to indicate definition by example. Under Richard Browne, this is not always required.

Infinitives
'to' in the infinitive in a clue can be ignored in the answer - e.g. It's trendy to like old colour for IN,DIG,O

Numbers in digits
In clues, these point to answers to other clues. But only in print - for reasons I don't understand, the web-site version of the puzzle often uses (e.g.) "three" for "3".

Reference dictionaries
The vast majority of answers other than proper nouns are in Collins English Dictionary and/or the Concise Oxford. My estimate is that 'vast majority' here means at least 95%. Occasionally, words or meanings outside these are used. A recent example is 'homer' = biased referee/umpire. The weird stuff found in Chambers - taghairm, kilfud-yoking, wagger-pagger-bagger, etc. etc. ad infinitum - is never used. (Exception: the 'Club Monthly Special' on the Times Crossword Club site). [Note, Sept. 2008: "99.5%" above replaced by "95" after a few recent words that seem to be in Chambers only.]

Abbreviations
The Times puzzle does not let setters use all the abbreviations in any dictionary. For one-letter abbrev's in particular, there is believed to be a fairly short list of acceptable ones.


Rules about answers

Living people
Names of individual living people are not used as answers (or clue content), unless they mean something else, like 'John Dory'. But names of (well-known) pop groups (e.g. ABBA in the 4/1/2008 puzzle) are apparently allowed. Sole exception: the reigning monarch can be referred to, usually as a way of indicating ER in the answer.

Drawing room conversation
Things like serious illnesses or derogatory terms are not used as answers. All answers and clue content used to be suitable for "polite drawing room conversation" but some risqué references are permitted now that would not have been allowed in the past. (No. 23652 has an example, for those with access to archived puzzles).

Brand names
As far as I know these are not allowed.

Endings and beginnings
Few -S plurals (limit of three?), minimal repetition of common prefixes and suffixes - you're unlikely to get two UN- words in the same puzzle for instance. This includes derived word-forms like -ING and -LY.

Rules about grids

Setters choose grids from a set managed by the xwd editor. Since about 1965, all grids in this set have followed three significant rules:

  • No more than half the letters in any answer are unchecked

  • There are never more than two unchecked letters in succession in any answer

  • Double unches are never the first or last two letters of an answer



Added based on comments on 23691: no two plural nouns or third person singular verb forms should intersect at their final S - e.g. CROSSWORDS and SOLVES. Setters are also advised to avoid filling the east vertical or south horizontal with "easy" letters as in e.g. SETTERS.

Themes and Ninas


Themes are rare in Times puzzles but are seen occasionally - maybe twice a year in the 15x15 cryptic. "Ninas" (messages in the grid, or subtle themes that don't have to be spotted to help solve the puzzle) appear more often - maybe twice a month.

Times Xword Editor on the launch of the new Quick Cryptic

Richard Rogan
Last updated at 11:17AM, March 10 2014

The Quick Cryptic aims to introduce a new audience to cryptic crosswords and offer a step to solving the main puzzle

Today marks the latest in a series of landmarks in the history of The Times crossword. It all started on February 1, 1930, with Times Cryptic Crossword Number One. For 40 years this was the only cryptic puzzle appearing in the paper. Then, on December 19 1970, a new and larger cousin to the main daily cryptic was born: a square puzzle aptly named the Jumbo.

The Jumbo quickly became popular with solvers, appearing on Bank Holidays. On September 6, 1997, while the attention of the country was focused on the funeral of the Princess of Wales, the Jumbo went weekly, and has appeared on Saturdays and most Bank Holidays ever since. The Times2 crossword, a non-cryptic “concise”, first appeared in 1993 and is still going strong.

What we are introducing today, however, is effectively the opposite of the Jumbo: the Times Quick Cryptic will be a downsized version of our famous daily cryptic (which remains unchanged).

Appearing Monday to Friday on the puzzles pages of Times2, it will be reduced in size and hopefully in difficulty too, the intention being to introduce new people to cryptic crosswords, and to encourage those solvers who’d like to have a go at the main puzzle but feel daunted by it, or who can perhaps only solve a handful of clues.

One other difference you will notice is that, while the other Times crosswords are, and will continue to be, anonymous, the Quick Cryptic will be only semi-anonymous. A pseudonym will appear above the puzzle, masking in most cases the identity of a regular Times crossword compiler.

Will people come to regard Dazzler as dazzlingly witty? Joker as having a sense of humour? Grumpy not? Is Orpheus musical? Will Teazel tease?

As with any new venture, it will be difficult to please everyone. Inevitably some may find it too Quick, but my main concern is that some will still find it too Cryptic: for Quick and Cryptic are strange bedfellows. Any cryptic crossword must necessarily carry an element of mystique and obscurity about it: the word after all comes from the Greek for hidden.

However, I bear good tidings for anyone who feels that a cryptic crossword must be impossibly difficult: namely that nearly all cryptic clues are in many ways fairer than simple Times2 crossword-style clues: they actually give you two chances to arrive at the answer.

Consider the clue: Feline animal (4). Without checking letters we don’t know if the answer is going to be “Lion”, “Puma”, “Lynx”.

However, consider the following three clues: Feline animal’s connections, we hear (4); Feline animal seen in Mali once (4); Feline animal chewed up a mat initially (4).

They are all cryptic but you should hopefully, even if you have never solved a cryptic crossword before, now be able to hazard a reasonable guess in each case as to which answer goes with which clue.

The first clue “we hear” suggests that the answer sounds like a word for connections (or “links”), the second actually contains the answer (“seen in”) hidden somewhere along its length, and in the third “chewed” suggests an anagram of “up”, “a” and the first letter of “mat”.

Or, imagine that you have rattled through a puzzle such as the Times2 and are faced with the following, final clue: Prickly shrub (4). And the letters _A_K. You rack your brains for ages trying to think of the answer.

An ordinary dictionary is little help, so you give up in frustration. However, here is a cryptic clue for the same word: “Prickly shrub from bank, wild (4). Knowing that cryptic crosswords feature anagrams often, and given the A and the K and the fact that there’s a word of four letters containing A and K in the clue, could the answer possibly be an anagram of BANK?

If so, the answer must be NABK. If this obscurity still does not ring a bell you can look in Chambers Dictionary and there it is. An answer you might never have arrived at from the first quick clue.

Of course, I would rarely, if ever, allow a word such as NABK to appear even in the main Times Crossword. And I cannot promise that the clues in the new crossword will all be as comparatively straightforward as the clues for LYNX , LION and PUMA above, but the principle is the same. A cryptic puzzle will usually give you two goes at arriving at an answer.

I will divulge another little secret to those who feel daunted by the main Times Crossword: those puzzles do vary in difficulty. Yes, there are days when even the experts struggle to finish it before they’ve got off the train — on the journey home — but there are also days where the puzzle may be scarcely harder than the Quick Cryptic.

To echo a point I made earlier: when you are struggling with today’s puzzle don’t forget that it is supposed to be Cryptic. And to those of you who may polish it off in a couple of minutes and say, “That was a bit disappointing: what do I do now?” I will point out the word Quick.

Because, like the cryptic clue itself, we are offering two routes to the goal of grid completion: a path which is shorter than that offered by the Times Crossword, but also one with some more interesting obstacles along the way than the much-loved T2 Crossword.

Either way, I hope it will bring some measure of satisfaction to all.


Ten tips for solving a cryptic crossword, by Paul Dunn


1. How clues work
Most consist of two parts, a definition and wordplay, so in “Such a holy person in church room (6)” the definition is “church room”; “holy person” equals Saint — ST — and “Such a” is a synonym for “very”: so insert the letters ST in VERY and you get VESTRY.


2. Playful clues?
Some clues are more jokey, such as this famous example: “HIJKLMNO? (5)”. The answer is “water” (ie H to O, or H TWO O). These are often indicated by a question mark.


3. Anagrams
Words such as “moved”, “scrambled” “let loose”, etc, mean that the letters of other words must be moved around to get the answer. For example, this elegant clue: “Mixed-up Presbyterian’s a singer (7,6)”. Mix up the letters of presbyterians and you get “Britney Spears”.


4. Starter’s order
Look out for phrases such as “initially” or “for starters”, which show that the first letters of the clue words spell the answer, eg, “Initially indolent dosser likes endless rest (5)”, which gives IDLER.


5. In hiding
Some answers lurk inside the clue. So “Some dull academic a bit of a brain (6)” conceals MEDULLA — but beware: hidden words can run backwards (look out for “climbing” or “in reverse”). Sometimes you must look at alternate letters (indicated, perhaps, by “odds” “evens” or “in turn”).


6. Learn the language
Certain words are used to indicate letters in an answer. Some are obvious, such as S for small (check the label in your pullover). Others are less so. “Books” often mean OT or NT (for Old or New Testament), “men” can mean OR (for “other ranks”, men as opposed to officers) king can be R or K and knight K or N (from the honours list or chess notation).


7. Puns
Words such as “broadcast” or “audience” can indicate a pun. So “Audience’s wrecked corner (8)”, would be RECTANGLE.


8. Brush up your Shakespeare . . .
. . . and your classical mythology, books of the Bible, kings and queens, etc. Keep abreast of slang, ancient and modern: “rhino”, “tin”, “bread” and “brass” all mean money; “jolly” is slang for Royal Marine or the letters RM; and “drug” can mean the letter E (for Ecstasy).


9. Breaking up isn’t hard
Think about how words are made up: often they break down into separate unrelated words, thus rearrange consists of “rear” and “range”.


10. Stuck?
Put the puzzle aside for a while; often the solution is blindingly obvious when you return to it.