A quick run-down on how cryptic crossword clues work.
Consider the following:
Angered NPC initially lost two, and contracted contemporary miHoYo game’s opening city (9)
Every cryptic crossword clue consists of 2 parts; Definition and Wordplay. There’s always a definition, a synonym or description of the actual solution – and it’s always at the start or end of each clue. For our example, the solution could therefore be a nine letter word for angered, or angered NPC, or perhaps city, or opening city.
The rest of the clue is wordplay. The words themselves often have nothing to do with the actual solution! You have to think of them as small cryptic definitions in themselves. They are little puzzles that will give you a part of the overall answer, sometimes no more than a few letters. Always try to break up the full sentence into smaller, individual phrases. See which word points to another, and how it can influence that word.
|| Angered NPC |<- initially lost two | and contracted | contemporary | miHoYo game |<- ‘s opening | city || might be a way to separate the clue into constituent parts. Two of these seem to influence other phrases and in this case it would seem that the word city would classify as the definition-part of the clue.
Some of these phrases or words are direct referals – miHoYo game might refer to Genshin Impact, for example. Other words might have popular abbreviations, or could indicate a synonym; if something is contemporary, it can be said to be fashionable, or in. An angered NPC could refer to Far Cry 3’s Vaas, for example, or it could refer to angering an NPC in-game, i.e. aggro.
Other words act as modifiers that alter other parts of the sentence; the word ‘opening’ has nothing to do with ‘city’ but refers to the first letter or letters of the aforementioned miHoYo game. Similarly, initially lost two means that our definition of angry NPC loses its initial two letters.
Always be careful when reading words that could be used to indicate wordplay! They’re sneaky buggers; for example ‘and contracted’ doesn’t mean the angry NPC signed a contract, but that you should contract, i.e. make smol, the word ‘and’ (you know, like in Rock’n’roll).
Beware of any word that might indicate some measure of wordplay; sounds like might indicate homophones (‘two’ -> ‘to’), possessing might mean a subset of a word (‘lamb’ -> ’am’), words like conclusion, start, or heart might tell you to select certain letters from a word, et cetera.
|Initially lost two
|drop first two letters; -ag
|Synonym; fashionable, or in
|Only first letter(s); Gen
|The definition of this clue
Absolute madness. Distrust every single word. Is is ambiguous? Can it mean something else in a different context? Does it impact, or is it impacted by, another word in the sentence? Clues are not what they seem – when you think they’re pointing one way, they’re actually fooling you. You might learn to love the cryptic crossword with all its trickery. Or you might hate them with a fiery passion. Either way, go out there and have some fun!