Cryptic class — Containers

Containers are a common device which you will come across all the time in cryptic crosswords. You will also see them called Containers and Contents clues.

I bet you can guess what happens with this cryptic device, given the name ... yes, letters or words are put inside other letters or words to get to the answer. These clues can be written as A being put inside B, or A going around, or containing, B.

For example,  SARONG can be clued as RON put inside SAG – SA(RON)G. And PRY around an ANT to get a  PANTRY – P(ANT)RY.

Abbreviations are often used in container clues, especially as it's rather rare for words to break up exactly into "One word put inside another word". So you may find DENVER clued as NV (an abbreviation for Nevada) put in DEER – DE(NV)ER.

Containers may also be combined with other clue devices such as reversals (LAVENDER is VEND in REAL reversed –LA(VEND)ER), and anagrams (SCALLION is an anagram of LILAC put inside SON – S(CALLI)ON), and so on.

Container Indicators

Container clues definitely need indicator words. These indicators are one or a few words in the clue which will tell you to put one thing inside another, or put one thing around another.

Here are some examples of indicator words that give a sense of one word containing, or around, another:

  • about
  • acquiring
  • breaking
  • clutching
  • devouring
  • enfolding
  • getting around
  • grasping
  • hugging
  • imprisoning
  • outside
  • pocketing
  • receiving
  • sheltering
  • taking in
  • wrapping

And now some indicator words that give a sense of one word being put into another:

  • aboard
  • amidst
  • between
  • contained by
  • entering
  • filling
  • held in
  • inside
  • interrupting
  • puncturing
  • trapped in
  • wearing
  • within

OK, so let's see how these elements all go together in a real cryptic clue:

Scrap of cloth consumed by Don's mythical beast (6)

A scrap of cloth is also a RAG. It is consumed by, or put inside, the letters of Don. The apostrophe S is just telling you that one part of the clue (Scrap of cloth is consumed by Don) is equivalent to the second part (mythical beast). Mythical beast is the definition. How did you get on? Yes, the answer is DRAGON — D(RAG)ON.

Here's another one:

Tour de France activity? Hold on tightly, welcoming an unknown Charlie (7)

Tour de France activity is the definition. This clue uses some abbreviations. An unknown = Y (think of a simple maths equation; X and Y are often used as terms for unknowns). Charlie is from the phonetic alphabet code, and stands for the letter C. So you've got the letters Y + C. What to do now? What about that hold on tightly bit? Another word for hold on tightly is CLING. CLING is welcoming Y + C, so put those letters inside the word CLING, and you will quickly discover the only sensible arrangement is C(YC)LING.

Here are some to try for yourself, with explanations and answers below.

  1. Sink, as in rubbish container (5)
  2. Contented and very quiet, cutting hay (5)
  3. Quick! Sieve, including tungsten! (5)
  4. Find a doctor getting to grips with garbled voices (8)
  5. Shave back in south eastern Mexican shawl (6)


1. Sink, as in rubbish container (5)
Sink is the definition. This clue has a word 'in the clear' - as = AS. The container indicator is in. Put AS in another word for a rubbish container (BIN).

2. Contented and very quiet, cutting hay (5)
Cutting is the container indicator (some letters are cutting into another word). Very quiet is a popular cryptic abbreviation for PP, from the musical term pianissimo (meaning very quiet or soft). Hay is in the clear, so PP is put into HAY. Contented is the definition.

3. Quick! Sieve, including tungsten! (5)
Whenever you see the name of a chemical element in a cryptic clue, think of the periodic table! Tungsten = W. Another word for sieve is SIFT. Including is the container indicator, and quick is the definition. Ignore the punctuation!

4. Find a doctor getting to grips with garbled voices (7)
This is a container clue that includes an anagram. Did you spot the anagram indicator? Yes, it's garbled. Voices are what to jumble up. A doctor = DR, and getting to grips with is the container indicator. All this means that the jumbled letters of VOICES should be put inside DR. The letters DR are gripping, or holding, the anagram of VOICES. Find is the definition.

5. Shave back in south eastern Mexican shawl (6)
This container clue includes a reversal, which is indicated by the word back. So, a synonym for shave is PARE (as in peeling fruit). Put PARE reversed (ERAP) in an abbreviation for south eastern = SE. Mexican shawl  is the definition.


  1. BASIN – B(AS)IN
  2. HAPPY – HA(PP)Y
  3. SWIFT – S(W)IFT