The complexity of a cryptic crossword is no match for Dr Ros Davis of Sailors Bay Dentistry in Northbridge, NSW.
“Before trying to solve a cryptic crossword, you really need to do a bit of research on how to understand the formula. You will never solve a cryptic if you just come to it cold. There are a lot of different rules that the clues follow and you have to recognise which rule is being used in order to find the answer.
“The most essential thing to understand is that the clue defines the answer twice—once by a synonym (which will always be at the start or at the end of the clue) and once by wordplay (which makes up the rest of the clue). The most basic kind of cryptic crossword clue is an anagram and the clue will use terms like ‘ruining’, ‘breaking down’ or ‘mixing up’ to point you in the right direction.
“While on my first maternity leave a few years ago, I set myself a goal of learning how to solve cryptic crosswords. I learned the rules and turned to the local papers for puzzles. I usually do The Sydney Morning Herald crossword and, if I really want to test myself, then The Australian on the weekend. They use the cryptic crossword from The Times in Britain and they’re very challenging—I’ve never fully completed one.
“A typical clue in a cryptic crossword might be, ‘Shopkeeper sounds ruder (6)’. We know the answer has six letters and whenever the word ‘sounds’ is used then you’re usually looking for a homophone. So, we need another word that means ‘shopkeeper’ consisting of six letters. The answer is grocer—a homophone of grosser which is a synonym of ‘ruder’.
“‘Terrain ruined coach (7)’. The word ‘ruined’ lets us know it’s an anagram. So, an anagram of ‘terrain’ that means coach – trainer. Solving cryptic crosswords is the opposite of literal thinking; you need to think around the problem. I’ve read that solving crosswords is also a good way to ward off Alzheimer’s. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s probably doing something useful for my brain.
“I’m a person who really likes to complete tasks so cryptic crosswords appeal to me. There is a sense of satisfaction when you solve a crossword. It’s also a great hobby while I have young kids as I can just pick it up and put it down.
“The main reason I like crosswords is that I love learning new words. Even when doing a simple one, I’ll almost always learn a new word. I’ll then look it up and find out its etymology. I guess I’m just a bit of a word nerd.”