Welcome to Decrypting the Cryptic #13! In this series, we’ll be taking apart common cluing conventions used in American cryptic crosswords to build your confidence in solving a puzzle variety that can be, as its name implies, especially challenging.
Way back in June — doesn’t that feel like years ago? — we talked about containers, in which a letter or word is put inside another word to generate all or part of the answer. Flip that on its head, and you can also take away a letter or word to get to an answer. We’ve already discussed the special cases of the first and/or last letters being removed in beheadings and curtailments, but you can take things out of the middle of a word or phrase too. Let’s dive in with an example!
Example #1: Singer Natalie drops top from hit (4)
The answer is COLE (“Singer Natalie”). If you take the word COLLIDE, which means “hit,” and remove, or “drop,” the letters LID (a synonym for “top”), you get COLE.
Example #2: Composer ace walks out of seaside area (4)
The answer is BACH, who is a “composer.” And if you take BEACH (“seaside area”) and have the letter A (which is the letter for an “ace” in a deck of cards) “walk out of” it, you are left with BACH.
Let’s talk indicators, because letter- and word-drop clues always have them! Here’s a not-at-all-comprehensive list of ways you might realize there are some letters to be dropped in your future:
- “Remove” and its synonyms; watch out for when “take-out” appears on the surface to be a noun (as in take-out food), because it might not be!
- “Out,” “away,” or other adverbs that indicate something is being removed
- “Lose” in all its forms; just to mess with your head, know that “loss” can also stand for the letter L, because on scorecards W is win and L is loss
- “Missing,” “disappeared,” and the like
- “Drop” or other verbs that indicate that something is actively being lost
Don’t forget to check out #crypticclueaday on Twitter! I post a new clue each day using that hashtag (other constructors have been adding their own as well), and every week on #explanationfriday I give the solutions and a brief explanation of how to derive them. These clues are a great way to hone your cryptic solving skills and build your confidence up to solving a full puzzle.