It’s hard enough solving a cryptic clue, but what’s the process that goes into writing these little beasts?
The early steps in creating a cryptic crossword are similar to those for writing a regular crossword. You start with a good blank grid design, and then fill in the words until the grid is full (that’s a topic for another blog post). With cryptics I’m a little more careful about what words I use, as some words really don’t ‘break down’ well for wordplay, especially those with repeated unusual letters or lots of vowels.
Once the grid is filled, I get a list of of all the words ready for ‘clueing’. And this is where the fun begins.
I use Wordplay Wizard to discover the possible wordplays for any given word. I couldn’t do it without it (I even run Windows on my iMac just for this one piece of software).
So, let’s say I’m writing a clue for the word PRODUCE, which is the clue for 18 Across, say. This is what I see in my crossword clue list:
18. PRODUCE (7)
When I put produce into Wordplay Wizard, this is what I see:
Whole lotta options! PRODUCE is an exact anagram of CROUPED. It’s also ROD put inside PUCE. Or D in an anagram of RECOUP (the asterisk symbol indicates an anagram). Or an anagram of DROP CUE. Or CROP DUE, or RUDE COP (that one’s got potential!) Or a charade of PRO + DU + CE. And so on. As you can see, there’s a lot, and this is only the first quarter of possible wordplays for this word!
I also check the word PRODUCE in my dictionary, and discover that it’s got some good multiple meanings, so it could work well as a double definition clue. I could also create a hidden word clue, if I split it up (double definitions, homophones, and hidden words aren’t included in the Wordplay Wizard wordplay options).
So, how do you narrow down these vast number of options, and choose one thing? Well, there’s several factors at play:
- How many anagram clues are in the crossword already? It’s best to keep the number of anagrams down to about 8–10 per crossword, so in general, if there’s already quite a few, I’ll tend to opt for a non-anagram wordplay if there’s one that works well.
- What’s the definition of the answer? How best to tie in a wordplay so the surface meaning reads nicely, and ties in with the answer?
- Fewer wordplay ‘pieces’ is usually a bit better, more concise. That’s the number in the second column, so a lower number is generally a bit better, and what I’d look at first.
My next steps are these:
I write out some possible definitions for the answer. Produce can be a verb or a noun, so I make sure to include both options here:
18. Fruit & veg, food, fresh food, vegies, greens, yield, make, manufacture, create, fashion, bring about PRODUCE (7)
At this stage, we could just decide to go for a double definition clue, like:
18. Food fashion (7)
But let’s see what else we can come up with. I quite like the CROP DUE anagram, that ties in nicely with the ‘fruit and veg’ meaning of produce. And RUDE COP is pretty great. PURE COD has potential too. As you see, you have to trawl through a lot of nonsensical anagrams to finds one that read well. RED COUP, UP CODER, DOER CUP and ED CROUP don’t really work as well.
With an anagram clue, we’re going to need an anagram indicator too. TO make sure I don’t forget to add this word, I always write the wordplay along with that asterisk, like so:
18. Fruit & veg, food, fresh food, vegies, greens, yield, make, manufacture, create, fashion, bring about PRODUCE (7) CROP DUE*, RUDE COP*, PURE COD*
Hmm. So let’s try CROP DUE as an anagram, and see how it fits with possible definitions.
I often write ‘bad’ as my anagram indicator initially, and then edit it later, once I see if the clue works or not. So here’s a first attempt, with the wordplay at the start, and the definition following:
18. Bad crop due fresh food (7)
Not really reading smoothly, and the surface doesn’t make sense. I could try other definitions of course, and different anagram indicators, of course, but let’s first try flipping the wordplay and definition:
18. Fresh food bad crop due (7)
Ah, this is starting to read better. Let’s move the indicator, so we have:
18. Fresh food crop due bad (7)
I like the link between food and crop — solvers will unconsciously link the two, although they’re actually separate sections of the clue [evil laughter].
Right, the anagram indicator isn’t right yet. What would work? I have a list of anagram indicators that is seven pages long, with four columns on each page (there’s a list of some here). I scan through this, adding words to the end of my little ‘Fresh food crop due’ phrase, to see what fits. Hmm, probably needs to be an adverb. Skimming the list, I think that badly, desperately, and dreadfully might work. But I’m starting to think this wordplay might not work:
18. Fresh food crop due desperately (7)
Eh. It could pass, but I don’t think the surface reads that well. A food crop could be desperately needed, or desperately overdue, but I don’t think desperately due. I could play around with this a bit more, adjust things, to get it to work. But for the sake of this exercise, let’s try the RUDE COP option:
18. Fresh food rude cop* (7) or
18. Rude cop* fresh food (7)
Oh, that second one has potential. What does a rude cop do to fresh food, that’s also an anagram indicator? He could chop it? Or shoot it?!
18. Rude cop shot fresh food (7)
So, here the surface reading is really smooth — you can imagine a rude cop shooting piles of fruit and veg. That sounds like a pretty rude thing to do, doesn’t it?
But the clue also says what it means, in terms of wordplay:
A shot or ruined version of the letters RUDE COP provide an answer which is the same as a synonym for fresh food.
That’ll do nicely!
One clue down, 34 to go …