‘How to recognise and solve anagrams …’

LESSON 8 in ‘How to solve cryptic crosswords’

Anagrams are used frequently in cryptic crosswords because they offer almost endless possibilities for the compiler.

They are words formed by re-arranging the letters of words or phrases. For example TALE can become LATE, HOSTAGE can be re-ordered into SHE-GOAT, OUTSIDE can be turned into TEDIOUS, and NICE LOVE can be re-arranged into VIOLENCE.

Cryptic crossword compilers will point you to anagrams by using words like amiss, around, chaos, cocktail, jumble, modify, organize, scrambled, stewed, transformed, upset, violated.

In fact, any words that suggest mixed up or changed should have your thoughts turning to the re-arranging of letters.

Two commonly-used indicators are perhaps, and possibly. Although these words in themselves don't indicate change, they suggest it.

Sometimes the clue will be more subtle but a word or two seem out of place. If so, count the number of letters in the answer and the word or words in question. If there's a match, think about re-arranging the clue letters to find the solution.

A good example of a ‘straight forward' anagram is Though fairly quiet, iron mangle is not as good (8,7). This is particularly challenging because the comma throws you off; there is a tendency to translate iron into its symbol FE; and mangle seems to be the direct clue. The answer is INFERIOR QUALITY which is a re-ordering of fairly quiet iron which you have been asked to mangle!

If a clue word has a letter missing (e.g. 'e for he), the answer may be an anagram of the word as written and surrounding word(s). There's no guarantee of course, but that's what makes cryptic crosswords so much fun!

Often an anagram will be combined with other cryptic devices.

You may be asked to add or subtract letters, or first translate part of the clue. Sometimes you will need to include some cryptic shorthand or form the word within an abbreviation.

An example which requires ‘translation’ is Ape wandering about at one time (7). The answer is IMITATE which is another word for ape. To arrive at the answer it is necessary to translate one into I (1) and then re-arrange AT I TIME. The words wandering about are the pointers or indicators.

Sometimes you will be asked to use part of one word and all of others, for example Tasmania's top retailer distributed by overseas mail (3,6). The inclusion of distributed in this clue should have you instantly re-ordering letters. The answer is AIR LETTER and in this case, the direct clue is overseas mail and the anagram is a re-arrangement of retailer plus T (the ‘top’ letter of Tasmania).

Only one thing is certain (well, almost certain), the initial meaning of the clue can be ignored and you should be looking instead at each word within the clue and gauging its significance to the solution.

If you suspect that you are searching for an anagram, first try to assess what form the answer will take - is it likely to end in ED, ING, IVE, LY, MENT or S?

Could it start with PRE or RE? Does it include a single word (A or I)? If it is several words long, could one of the words be THE? This analysis will help you discover which clues words are to be incorporated into the anagram.

If you think you have isolated the words to be included but they don't fit your letter count, think about translating one of the words, or see if the anagram is to be made from part of a word.

When you have the letters needed for the anagram, write them down.

Some people like to write them on separate pieces of paper and shuffle them around, others use Scrabble(TM) tiles. Some people write the letters in a circle or reverse their order so that for example, TALE is written as ELAT.

Yet another method is to separate the letters into two lines of consonants and vowels, switching the letters around as you write them down. Instantly you can tell what sort of word you are looking for ... more vowels than consonants means vowels will most likely be bunched together and vice versa.

Next, write a series of dashes to correspond with the number of letters and words you are looking for.

Fill in any letters you know from having solved interlocking clues. See if you can fill in the ending or if it makes sense to add the words A, I or THE. Look for groups of consonants that go naturally together, such as CH, SH, TH, THR, STR, GH, GHT.

Cross off the letters you have used and then look at what's left. Recognise that answers rarely start with the same letter as the clue word you are using to form the anagram.

If the anagram is of two or more words think about well-known sayings or phrases.

Look again at the clue. Now that you have identified the letters or words to be used in the anagram, is the direct clue obvious?

If you are practiced at word games such as Scrabble(TM) or Hangman you'll find that anagrams within cryptic crosswords are a natural extension of the skills you have already acquired.

If you're new to anagrams, you'll be intrigued by the predictable patterns of the English language and how logic will help you find the answer.

Let's find out some more ...

Lesson 9: Hidden words …