The codes used in cryptic crosswords Abbreviations and Indicators

At the Clinic we have put together a number of lists to assist crossword solvers, containing such things as abbreviations, anagram indicators, deletion indicators etc. For each form of ‘code’, those indicators which solvers are likely to encounter in any type of crossword are marked as ‘Standard’ and those likely to be found only in barred crosswords are flagged as ‘Advanced’. Because of the number of abbreviations, there is a separate list (Common Abbreviations) containing only the ‘Standard’ ones. All the lists can be searched and sorted, and you can select how many items you wish to see on each page.

The lists are:

Common Abbreviations

All Abbreviations

Anagram Indicators

Letter Selection Indicators

Deletion Indicators

Container and Contents Indicators

Reversal Indicators

Hidden Indicators

Homophone Indicators

Juxtaposition Indicators

Single Letter Indicators

Drag and Drop Indicators

The page below presents some advice aimed at those who are relatively new to writing clues for the monthly Azed competitions:

Writing Clues for Azed Competitions

Each of these links will open in a new tab.

If you spot any errors in the lists or have suggestions for inclusions, please contact us using the details on the Contact page.

5 Responses

  1. Dr Daniel Price (Saint Vincent) says:

    I was not truly disagreeing with your initial premise: that “piece of’, “bit of”, and such could refer to any part of the word and are not in themselves suggestive of a word’s first letter. With that said, setters and solvers together determine the meaning of indicators, and allowing “piece of” etc. to refer to any part of a word renders the solver’s task essentially impossible. We therefore decide that those indicators refer specifically to the first letter of the word, and use other indicators such as “second of” and “end of” to identify letters elsewhere in the word. The alternative is to use only “beginning”, “start”. and a limited few additional indicators that strictly refer to the word’s first letter. Such would make setting and solving cryptics unacceptably dull.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Agreed. There are many instances in cryptic wordplay where custom and practice either qualify or override a strict literal interpretation. I felt that ruling out ‘piece’ was contrary to this precept, for the reasons which we have both mentioned. I list ‘end’ as a last letter selection indicator, but it is surely only custom and practice which determine that it is not equally valid as a first letter selector.

      That doesn’t mean that popularity trumps all other considerations. I won’t accept ‘touring’ as a containment indicator or ‘jolly’ for RM no matter how many times I see them.

  2. Dr Daniel Price (Saint Vincent) says:

    Letter Selection Indicators

    Whereas “piece of” to indicate selection of the word’s first letter has been discontinued, why are “bit of”, “hint of”, and the like acceptable? [I would wish to expand the universe of indicators as much as is possible.]

    • Doctor Clue says:

      A very fair question!

      Fundamentally, I think it’s impossible to rule definitively on how familiar words can be applied in a cryptic context to a string of letters. For instance, when we talk about ‘a bit of’ something, that something is invariably an abstract (non-countable) noun – ‘a bit of wood’ is not a small part of a larger wood.

      ‘A bit of that [specific] cake’ and ‘a piece of that [specific] cake’ come to pretty much the same thing, and I’m not sure that either implies that the bit/piece comes from any particular part of the cake under consideration. But whilst I might like to think that ‘glimpse’, ‘suggestion’ and ‘hint’ carry some idea of the part being peripheral, I’m not sure that I can adduce any evidence to support that. Only indicators like ‘start’ and ‘initial’

      I conclude that the removal of ‘piece’ was arbitrary and based on personal preference. Azed is happy to accept it in clues, and therefore I have reinstated it in the list of first letter selection indicators. I also noticed that ‘suspicion’ and ‘dash’, which seem every bit as good to me as the ones mentioned above, were not in the list, so I have added them. I’m more than happy to consider including others on request.

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