Cryptic class — Cryptic definitions and &lit

There are a bunch of other sorts of cryptic clues, which don't really adhere to any of the standard cryptic rules.

These are the cryptic definition and &lit clues.

Cryptic definition clues

These clues are sort of puns, or cryptic definitions for a word. They are sometimes called 'single definition' clues. They don't really have any wordplay, and as such can be quite hard to solve. These will often be the last clues you figure out in a crossword, after you've got quite a few hints from the crossing over letters. These sorts of clues are often indicated with an exclamation mark.

Some examples:

  1. A wicked thing! = CANDLE (it has a wick)
  2. HIJKLMNO = WATER (H to O, or H2O)
  3. The ringmaster = JEWELLER (he's the master of rings, clearly)<
  4. Sleep soundly = SNORE (sleep while making a sound)

So, you can see that these clues don't have the classic definition + wordplay form, but are more funny plays on words, tricky interpretations of the answers, that you have to 'read the right way' to get. Coined words are often used, like a BUTTER = RAM (a thing that butts).

Here are a few cryptic definition clues to try for yourself:

  1. An Italian flower (5)
  2. Playtime! (5)
  3. A stiff examination? (4-6)

&lit clues

These are a much rarer type of cryptic clue. The words that can be clued this way are limited, and they are extremely hard to write well, so you won't come across them often. But it's good to know what they are!

&lit means "and literally". They are sometimes called 'double duty' clues, because every word in the clue does 'double duty', being read and interpreted twice.

As DS Macnutt (Ximenes) says in Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword:

"The term "&lit" is short for "This clue both indicates the letters or parts of the required word, in one of the ways already explained in this book, and can also be read, in toto, literally, as an indication of the meaning of the whole word, whether as a straight or as a veiled definition." (pg 73)

These are clues where the surface reading of the clue actually means something (for a change!). You need to read and analyse the clue twice — first you read the whole clue as a piece of wordplay, and then you read the clue a second time literally — the surface meaning of the clue provides the definition for the answer. Both readings — wordplay and definition — give the same answer. These clues are sometimes (but not always) indicated with an exclamation point.

Here's an example:

Terribly angered! (7) = ENRAGED

So, the wordplay here is terribly angeredterribly is an anagram indicator, and angered is the anagram fodder. ENRAGED is an anagram of ANGERED. But wait - this is just the wordplay, without a definition, isn't it? No! The whole clue reads as the definition ... terribly angered is a perfectly reasonable definition for ENRAGED.

This is when models that have lost their shape are employed (6) = SELDOM

The wordplay is an anagram (lost their shape) of models. The whole clue reads as an oblique definition for SELDOM too.

Other sorts of wordplay can be used, of course, not just anagrams.

See if you can get these examples out (but don't feel badly if they defeat you!):

4. All you'll get out of a misbegotten nuisance (5)

5. No fellow for mixing (4,4)


  1. A flower can be a thing that flows, like a river.
  2. Play some music, at what sort of a time, or beat?
  3. A stiff can be a dead body ...
  4. This is a hidden word &lit clue. The answer is actually there to see 'in the clear' within the words of the clue. Seek and ye shall find!
  5. Mixing is an anagram indicator, no fellow is the fodder. Remember, the whole clue, read literally, is the definition here!


  1. TIBER
  2. TEMPO
  4. ENNUI