Annotation of Cryptic Clues

Several UK barred puzzles use similar ‘shorthand’ notation for the explanations of solutions to individual clues, and there is no reason why the same conventions cannot be applied to any clue as they offer a consistent way of analysing clues built up using the eight basic clue types described in Clue Movie A.3. There are slight variations between publications, but this hybrid of the notation schemes used by the Magpie magazine ( and the Sunday Telegraph’s Enigmatic Variations series seems to strike a good balance between concision and clarity, so that is what we  will use on this site –  setters may also find it of value when submitting clues or puzzles.

Charades: The components of a charade are joined using plus signs (‘+‘), eg ‘Dad right to trim vegetable’ (7) PARSNIP [PA + R + SNIP]. Where the sequence of the elements is not the same in the solution as in the clue, this will be indicated using ‘before‘ or ‘after‘, eg ‘Scoff after fine achievement’ (4): FEAT [EAT after F]

Double Definition: Simply shown as ‘2 defs‘ (or ‘3 defs‘ etc), eg ‘Support investment’ (5) STAKE [2 defs]

Container and Contents: A containment is shown as ‘X around Y, eg ‘Unmarried chaps securing financial assistance’ (6): MAIDEN [MEN around AID], while an insertion is shown as ‘X in Y, eg ‘Staggering fish caught by group’ (7): REELING [EEL in RING]

Hidden: A hidden (or ‘lurker’) is shown by capitalizing the letters of the solution and bracketing the remainder of the hiding place, eg ‘Smart man eating sandwiches’ (4): NEAT [(ma)N EAT(ing)]

Reversal: A left-pointing chevron (‘<‘) is used to indicate the reversal of text, eg ‘Turning against volcano’ (4): ETNA [ANTE<]

Subtraction: Where a letter selection or reduction is involved, the text removed is enclosed in round brackets, eg ‘Most of band undress’ (5): STRIP [STRIP(e)]. Where one piece of text is to be taken from another, this is shown using a minus sign (‘‘), eg ‘Conceited scoundrel not wicked’ (4): VAIN [VILLAIN – ILL]

Anagram: The text to be rearranged is marked with an asterisk (‘*‘), eg ‘Couple tossed caber’ (5): BRACE [CABER*]; where the fodder consists of multiple elements, these are enclosed in brackets, eg ‘Girl chewed on éclair’ (8): CAROLINE  [(ON ECLAIR)*]

Homophone: The word or words which the solution sounds like are enclosed in double quotation marks (‘“”‘), eg ‘Reportedly witnessed incident’ (5): SCENE [“SEEN”]

For hybrid clues (eg hidden + reversal), the shorthand elements are combined, with round brackets (‘()‘) and braces (‘{}‘) being used to avoid ambiguity. A couple of examples:

  • ‘Class put back in barred room’ (5): ORDER [(bar)RED RO(om)<]
  • ‘Romeo trapped by twisted Tesco undergarment’ (6): CORSET [R in TESCO*]
  • ‘Sit here fidgeting, with one’s rear end becoming numb’ (8): ETHERISE [(SIT HERE)* + (on)E]
  • ‘Monarch, perhaps King Edward, abruptly imprisoning cardinal and earl’ (9): POTENTATE [{POTAT(o) around TEN} + E]

For ‘all in one’ (‘&lit’) clues, the explanation is followed by ‘&lit’, eg ‘Equipment found in gym at school’ [(gy)M AT S(chool), &lit]. For clues featuring ‘unusual’ constructions, these will be explicitly described, eg ‘Snog could be construed as blessing’ (9): ANOINTING  [SNOG = ‘an o in tin (symbol Sn) g’].

Where further clarification is deemed necessary, this comes at the end, eg ‘Guide movement in Scotland’ (5): STEER [2 defs; see steer3 in Chambers], ‘Worthing bag lady is replacing one in baby carriage’ (5): PRISM [PRAM with IS for A; ref Miss Prism/Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest].

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