Cryptic Crosswords

Americans invented the crossword puzzle, but the British brought it to new heights with their sense of humor and twisted ways of thinking. The dictionary-definition clues in vogue in the States were too straightforward for British solvers. Slowly, standard clues were replaced by strangely convoluted clues, filled with anagrams, reversals, homophones, and other types of wordplay. Soon, the standard crossword puzzle had virtually disappeared in England, replaced by the new "cryptic" crossword.

Eventually, these puzzles showed up in the United States, where they were enjoyed by a few, and misunderstood and ignored by the masses. Today, there's a large body of loyal cryptic crossword solvers in America, and cryptic crosswords appear in many popular crossword magazines.

Weep softly, twitch, and shake a bit for your favorite puzzles. (8)

Understand that? Don't worry, you will.

It's a solitary hobby, however enjoyable it might be. Explain a particularly clever clue to someone who doesn't understand cryptics, and you'll be greeted with a vacant stare. Someone who does enjoy cryptics, however, will immediately regale you with his or her favorite clues, leading to hours of mutual enjoyment. Clearly, cryptics fans need a life.

Sit around church quietly; yes, Catholic returns puzzles. (8)

I first became interested in cryptic crossword puzzles back in the early 1980s when I borrowed someone's Atlantic Monthly. In the back of the magazine, they had The Puzzler (which, sadly, they are no longer running). This was unlike anything I had ever seen before: barred grids, unchecked letters, and incomprehensible clues.

Curious, I sent for instructions on how to solve these puzzles. When they arrived, I sat down with a copy of the puzzle ... and I was still confused. But I persevered. At that time, it took me about a month to solve one cryptic puzzle. These days, I can get through one in a couple of days (so either I've gotten better, or the puzzles have gotten easier).

Puzzles' first clue: "Read your psychology thesis in class, son." (8)

Depending on where you live, though, these puzzles can be hard to find, like Halvah outside of New York or Florida. I could pick up several books a month in Honolulu and Tucson, but here in Southwest Georgia, I'm lucky to find two puzzles a month.

Recently (Nov 09), I started constructing my own cryptic puzzles. I don't know if they are any good, but you can see them here, in their natural environment.

Puzzles found in mausoleums with bits of ice inside. (8)

Well, you made it this far, so I may have piqued your interest. Take a look at my hints page for tips and solving instructions (so, really, it should be called my "solving instructions" page, but that's too long to type).