‘How to use Roman numerals cryptically…’
LESSON 7 in ‘How to solve cryptic crosswords’
Roman numerals are popular with cryptic crossword setters.
They make very useful abbreviations for words like great, large number, many, or multitude which are often distilled to C (hundred), or M (thousand).
Sometimes a clue will contain a number, in which case (as a general rule), you should think about how the number may be rendered in Roman numerals to form a word.
Keep your mind open to other possibilities too and be aware that cryptic crossword compilers, don't always use these numerals the way the Romans did!
For example, 6,350 has been used to clue VITRIOL-i.e. VI (six), TRIO (three) and L (50) and 100110015001 has been clued to represent CICADA-i.e. 100 (C), 1 (I), 100 (C), 1 (A), 500 (D), and 1 (A)!
A full listing of Roman numerals is included in the soon-to-be-released Chandler Cryptic Clue Solver.
You'll notice that some of the cryptic translations are not strictly interpreted. There are few words in the English language (none at all I would suspect!) which include CMXCIX but lots have IM-hence the cryptic corruption of 999. The numbers 49 and 99 follow a similar pattern and have become part of cryptic lore as IL and IC.
Lesson 8: Anagrams are a cryptic favourite …