Cryptic class — Charades

What on earth are charade clues, you ask, and with good cause! Well, you know the parlour game of charades (not that we actually play them any more!)? People guess the name of a book, or a movie, or whatever, and you act out the name in pieces, possibly syllable by syllable, or word by word? Well, these cryptic clues are sort of the same, in that you string together the components of the clue, one after the other, in order.

So, for example, the word WHEEL could be clued as W + HEEL. That's a charade, one bit after the other, in order. A few more examples: SLIGHT = S + LIGHT, MANDRAKE = MAN + DRAKE, and GOSLING = GO + SLING.

This is a very common cryptic device, and you will come across charade clues in every cryptic crossword. As you can see, it's quite common to need to clue a single letter (such as the W in W+HEEL), so abbreviations are widely used in charade clues. Charades can also be used in conjunction with other devices (like anagrams or reversals).

These clues don't need indicator words, it's just assumed that as one part follows the next, you don't need any further instructions. Occasionally a linking word could be used, such as with, and, before, next to, on, over, takes, or with.

So, what does an actual charade clue look like? I'll write you one for the SLIGHT example above.

Petite soprano gets a lamp (6)

Petite is the definition. Soprano leads to the abbreviation S, and it gets, or is added to, another word for a lamp (LIGHT). S + LIGHT = SLIGHT. That wasn't too bad, was it?

Here's another example:

Little river's carbon stink (5)

Carbon leads to the abbreviation C (remember your periodic table!). Add on a synonym for stink (REEK) = C + REEK, which is another word for little river! As you can see, this clue doesn't have any indicator words, or linking words, it's just a definition, then one piece after the other.

The apostrophe s on river isn't showing possession (something belonging to the river), but in fact is a contraction of is, in effect saying: another word for river is carbon + stink. This usage is very common in cryptics!

Now it's your turn to have a go. Here are 5 charade clues to practise on:

  1. Daughter gets liquor tap (4)
  2. Mass is point one after seven (6)
  3. Composer's cut off at home
  4. Strong dislike to a variation (8)
  5. South-easten remedy is stable (6)


1. Daughter gets liquor tap (4)
Daughter often leads to the abbreviation D (as used in family trees and suchlike). So D gets liquor ... we know the answer is 4 letters long, so we're looking for a 3 letter name of some sort of liquor. How about RUM? Tap is the definition, and is defining a verb, not a noun.

2. Mass is point one after seven (6)
Mass is the definition in this clue. That means that point one after seven is the wordplay. Is is a linking word. Point is often used to mean the compass points, so N, S, E or W are our options here. One after seven is a rather wordy way of defining a number, EIGHT, wouldn't you say? I'm sure you can figure it out from here!

3. Composer's cut off at home (6)
Composer is the definition. To cut off is to CHOP, and if you're at home, you're IN ...

4. Strong dislike to a variation (8)
The definition of this clue is at the start again, it's strong dislike. The wordplay is a report. To is a linking word, just joining the two parts of the clue. Now, in a little cryptic twist, the word a is simply that, in clear view: A. So we have A + a synonym for variation (VERSION).

5. South-easten remedy is stable (6)
South-eastern leads us to the abbreviation SE, from the compass direction. Another word for remedy is CURE. And stable is the definition. How did you get on?


  1. DRUM