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Cryptic Crossword Course

By Brian Jaques

The Cryptic Crossword Course is designed for complete beginners. The only qualification required is a desire to learn about this peculiar use of the English Language – and a continuing interest and desire to see it through to the end!

Admittedly one does have to have a reasonable vocabulary and an agile mind. Agile in the sense that one has to be able to think laterally and not be fooled by the apparent innocence of cryptic clues masquerading as English sentences. The course will alert you to the ploys used and insist that you refuse to be directed down the wrong track.

If you really are a beginner (and even ‘improvers’ may find things of value in the course – it is a sort of fun after all) then you will be aware that, as in many other things in life, experience counts for a great deal. Initially you may have little experience and find that often you will say, possibly to yourself, ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘Good gracious – that’s weird’ and of course you will be gaining experience as the point is resolved or appreciated.

The course is divided into phases and for weekly dissemination some phases are subdivided into sections. There are ten course sections in all and these will be posted in sequence for you to download at your convenience.

One aspect of cryptic clues and their answers is that they can make use of abbreviations, words and word fragments that may not be in your current normal usage. Again, experience will rectify the problem.

A non-exhaustive list of ‘symbols’ (abbreviations or representations of words) used to supply convenient letter sequences, and a few resource areas such as music, atomic symbols, Greek letters, Roman numerals etc, and some archaic 3 and 4 letter words useful to compilers is available in an ancillary course file.

The use of anagrams is common in clues and it is a fact that you may have a light (the cell sequence of an answer) with scattered letters present crossing from other answers and be bewildered as to what the complete word (as an answer) could be. If you are correct in your choice of the anagram base (the whole word(s) of the clue to be anagrammed then it is of value to have a means of producing a list of words that incorporates the partial values. I use ForeWord which is a free computer application ( for Windows. You would have to select the word that is relevant to the clue for you must prove that you have the correct answer. There are similar applications for Mac Computer, Smartphones and tablets.

In the absence of a personal tutor you may find that you need to ask a question. If you have exhausted all other possibilities of getting an answer then consider emailing me at and I will endeavour to help. If the questions seems to be of general significance it may be posted, as anonymous, with my response in a complementary file on this site.

I hope that you find the course of interest!

Phase 1 : Section 1 Introduction and cryptic examples

Phase 1 : Section 2 Analysing answer/clue pairs

Phase 2 : Section 1 Deduce answers with assistance 1

Phase 2 : Section 2 Deduce answers with assistance 2


Phase 3 : Section 1 Recognise cryptic clue ploys 1

Phase 3 : Section 2 Recognise cryptic clue ploys 2

Phase 4 : Section 1 Analyse answer/clue pairs

Phase 5 : Section 1 Puzzles Introduction and 7×7 grids (x3)

Phase 5 : Section 2 Puzzles 9×9 grids (x3)

Phase 5 : Section 3 Puzzles 11×11 grids (x3)