Cryptic class — Anagrams

Anagrams are a very popular cryptic device, and every cryptic crossword has at least several of them, if not many. Easier cryptic crosswords tend to have a higher number of them, too. Anagrams are often seen in the clues for the longest words in the crossword. They are also used in combination with other devices, but don't worry about that now, we'll deal with those later.

So, what is an anagram anyway, and how are they used in cryptic clues?

Well, an anagram is one word formed from the same set of letters in another word. CIDER is an anagram of CRIED, for example. You'll see anagrams in all sorts of other word puzzles throughout the ages, but they are a very nifty device when used in cryptic clues.

Anagram Indicators

As I showed you in the Introduction, anagram clues include an anagram indicator. This is a word, or sometimes a brief phrase, that tells you that some of the letters of words in the clue need to be jumbled up and rearranged, to find the answer.

So, an anagram indicator can be pretty much any word that gives a sense of things being broken, muddled, jumbled, built, confused, insane, cooked, mixed, damaged, upset, or even drunk! There are hundreds of them—so clearly, it's best to learn to spot them from the context of the clue, rather than trying to memorise the list! There is a much longer list on my website if you want to check it out.

Here's just a few anagram indicators, to give you an idea. But basically, if you see a word in a clue that gives some sense of things being wrong, or mixed up, or confused, then it might be an anagram indicator (or it could be serving a different function, but more on that later!).

  • abandoned
  • abnormal
  • absurd
  • accident
  • active
  • affected
  • all over the place
  • agitated
  • amazing
  • anarchic
  • animated
  • arrangement
  • askew
  • assembled
  • assorted
  • astray
  • atrocious
  • at sea
  • awful
  • awkward
  • awry

... and that's just a few of the ones starting with A!

The letters to be jumbled up to get to the answer actually appear in clear view in the clue. They may be contained in more than one word, and sometimes an abbreviation may be included (more on abbreviations later!). These letters are called the fodder.

So, the anatomy of an anagram clue is:

Definition + Indicator + Fodder = Answer

These elements may come in a different order, of course, so it might be:

Fodder + Indicator + Definition = Answer


Indicator + Fodder + Definition = Answer

or even

Definition + Fodder + Indicator + Some More Fodder = Answer

Now, how about some real cryptic examples that use anagrams? Remember the surface meaning is there to be ignored, the definition is contained in a word or two at the start or end of the clue, and the rest of the clue is the wordplay. You can do it!

  1. Insane damn yeti is explosive (8)
  2. Badly pare the fruit (4)
  3. I train tipsy bee, and get drunk (9)
  4. Flustered, I forget rarer chilly compartment (12)
  5. Perilous sea dog? Run all over the place! (9)

You'll find those little letter count numbers at the ends of the clues especially handy with anagram clues ... as the fodder has to have the same number of letters as the answer. So in the first clue, for example, the answer has 8 letters ... and, look, "#2AA067" adds up to 8 letters too! Coincidence? I think not!

See if you can get these clues out first, but there are explanations, if you need a few hints, and further down, the answers.


  1. Insane damn yeti is explosive (8)
    Insane is the anagram indicator here. Damn yeti is the fodder, and explosive is the definition (and it means a noun, not an adjective!).
  2. Badly pare the fruit (4)
    Did you spot the anagram indicator here? Yes, it's badly. What's written badly? Pare. And what's the definition? Fruit.
  3. I train tipsy bee, and get drunk (9)
    In this clue the anagram indicator (tipsy) is in the middle of the fodder, not at one end. Get drunk is the definition.
  4. Flustered, I forget rarer chilly compartment (12)
    As the definition has to be at the start or end of the clue, that means it's probably flustered or chilly compartment, or just compartment. However, that flustered does look a bit like an anagram indicator, so let's see if some of the other words in the clue add up to 12 letters. How about I forget rarer?
  5. Perilous sea dog? Run all over the place! (9)
    When first looking at the this clue, see if you can spot the anagram indicator ... it's all over the place. Now, the answer is 9 letters long. Which collection of words in the clue add up to 9 letters? Sea dog run works. Now make them go all over the place! Perilous is the definition. This clue highlights another point about cryptics—in general, you should ignore the punctuation!


  2. PEAR