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Out of Left Field

Cryptic Crosswords
by Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

This is a glossary of the terms of art used by cryptic crossword constructors. Or, at any rate, the terms we use.

For a comprehensive e-book guide to cryptics, see Word Salad.

For cryptic crosswords basics, see this chapter from Word Salad, and this animated slide show.

Cryptic Crosswords Constructors' Glossary


This is short for anagram indicator, the part of an anagram clue that tells you that it is an anagram clue. The word is widely used by cryptic aficionados in the UK. We think it is pronounced to rhyme with "blind," in spite of its etymology. We like Mark Halpin's anniecator, an alternate portmanteau, but unfortunately we suspect he is the only person to use that word. Likewise, we've been using anafodder to refer to the letters being anagrammed, but we don't think it's catching on.


A phrase or sentence that should lead the solver to the solution. A clue consists of at least two paths to the answer: a def, and some wordplay.


A creator of cryptic crosswords. See: Setter.


For many years, we've been arguing that there are no rules to this game, only conventions. This was mostly in reaction to an overly dogmatic US cryptic scene. As the dogma melts away with the arrival on the scene of a new generation of constructors, it is time we acknowledge the few actual rules we think deserve to be observed. See: Rules.


This is a widely used informal shortening of definition, a part of a cryptic clue. As in: "Is the def legit?" or "I think this entry lends itself to a double def."


The grid into which the entries are placed, first by the constructor, then by the solver. In a block diagram, or black-square diagram, the entries are separated by, well, blocks (black squares). In a bar diagram, the entries are separated by a bar in between the last square of one entry and the first square of the next. In US tradition, it used to be that block-diagram puzzles were themeless (or plain), and bar diagrams featured an additional gimmick, beyond the cryptic clues, making them variety cryptics. This is no longer the case. British setters have long created plain bar-diagram puzzles, and some Out of Left Field black-square puzzles include a variety-like gimmick.


We use this word when evaluating clues. A clue is double if there are at least two completely independent paths to the answer. One way to assess that is by checking the etymology of the words used in the wordplay. However, we are not dogmatic about this, and we allow clues to violate the etymological taboo if the result is sufficiently entertaining.


This is what you enter in the diagram once you've solved the clue. See Light.

Etymological Taboo

US cryptic convention frowns on clues in which the two paths to the answer are etymologically related. See Hexian.


The entries that fill the diagram once theme entries or seed entries have been placed.


To us and to some of our test solvers, a Frankish clue is one that flouts some of the Hexian strictures in exchange for a pun or some other entertaining idea that yields some insight into the language. Those clues are inspired by the style of the late Frank Lewis, our predecessor at The Nation, and the creator of the longest-running cryptic crossword in the US.


A feature of variety cryptics that adds an additional layer of trickery in addition to cryptic clueing. This may involve tampering with the clues, or making some sort of modification to answers before entering them in the diagram, or finding a hidden message lurking in the diagram or the clues, etc.


The diagram. We are tempted to arbitrarily declare that the grid refers to the filled diagram. Alas, this is not likely to catch on, so we won't.


This is the first public appearance of this word. It refers to the widely implemented US cryptic guidelines which were introduced and promoted by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, starting decades ago. Hexian guidelines combine the Ximenean dictates of square dealing and adequate checking with the etymological taboo and a preference for concise clues. Cox and Rathvon are the geniuses of the Hexian clue, having crafted thousands and thousands of brilliant ones within those guidelines. Their well-deserved position at the pinnacle of US crypticdom has misled many constructors into thinking that Hexian parameters are the only way to go. (Alas, not all their disciples are as good as Cox and Rathvon when clueing in that style. We encourage constructors to find their own voice.)


This is an old-fashioned British word for entry.


A puzzle with no gimmick beyond cryptic clueing.


We acknowledge these rules for cryptic crosswords:
- Unchecked squares should be strictly regulated. See: Unches.
- There should be no indirect anagrams.
Beyond that, each constructor should set their own guidelines.

Seed Entries

The ones the constructor places in the diagram first, because they have a good idea for how to clue them.


A Briticism for constructor. Some solvers like to use Briticisms such as this one in order to signal that they're in the know.

Square Dealing

Square-dealing clues require:
- accurate definitions, in the right part of speech
- wordplay that correctly, grammatically, and explicitly leads to the answer, including the needed indicators, and excluding any words that sabotage the cryptic reading.
That's it.

Subsidiary Indication

This is an old-fashioned Briticism for wordplay.


Some cryptics have a theme. Themed cryptics may or may not be similar to variety cryptics. There's an enormous range of possibilities for themes, but here is a partial list: some entries are related; some clues are related; there is a gimmick; there is a final answer lurking in the diagram, explicitly or otherwise; and so on.


An unch is an unchecked square, in other words a square that belongs to just one entry, rather than two crossing entries. Per Ximenean standards, fairness requires that there should be no contiguous unches, and that the number of unches in each word should not exceed one half in a block diagram, or one third in a bar diagram.

Variety Cryptic

A cryptic crossword with a gimmick, often featuring a bar diagram and an introduction explaining the gimmick more or less transparently.


The part of the clue that is not the definition. The main types of wordplay are discussed briefly in all introductions to cryptics, and at great length in Word Salad, our comprehensive e-book guide.


A cryptic is Ximenean if it adheres to the guidelines developed by British setter Ximenes (the pseudonym of Derrick Somerset Macnutt). Ximenean diagrams observe his rules on unches, and Ximenean clues are square-dealing.

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