‘Forget all those punctuation rules
you learnt at school …’

LESSON 15 in ‘How to solve cryptic crosswords’

Never trust the cryptic crossword compiler's punctuation.

Commas, full stops, ellipses, capital letters and exclamation marks are often used in an attempt to mislead you.

Ellipsis marks - the three dots (...) that seem to join clues - are particularly nasty examples of deviousness on the part of the setter.

Their presence does not necessarily mean that two clues should be read as one, or that words or letters have been omitted. Individual cryptic clues are rarely connected. More often, the ellipses have been used to help the clues read sensibly. Nevertheless, the setter will do his or her best to fool you as with the following examples which appeared as consecutive clues:

To rob with a deadly weapon ... (5)
... is what stealing a novel is like - a crime (7,3,3)

The answer to the first clue is RIFLE, which is a deadly weapon and can be used to mean rob.

The answer to the second clue is AGAINST THE LAW. It is an anagram of what stealing a. The cryptic pointer to the anagram is novel (new).

Although these clues could be seen to have a connection (certainly, robbery is against the law), they are independent clues, neither of which requires the other for its solution.

However, as with all cryptic ‘rules’, there will be times when the setter ignores them and uses ellipsis marks as their inventor intended!

Sometimes an exclamation mark will be used to indicate that you should be looking for a (bad) pun and a question mark may suggest that the answer will include a 'Y' (why?).

Invariably, quotation marks are included merely to distract your eye, although there may be times when you will be expected to complete a quotation to find the answer.

In some cases an apostrophe is used to eliminate unwanted letters in the clue, for example After a breather, 'e makes a thrust (5). The answer is LUNGE, which is a thrust and is derived by adding E after LUNG (which is a pun for breather).

Generally, however, any punctuation which appears in the middle of a clue, can be safely disregarded.

Punctuation is never included within an answer.

A rose is a rose is a rose ... well, maybe. Find out more ...

Lesson 16: Personal names


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