'Starting to solve a cryptic puzzle ...'

LESSON 3 in ‘How to solve cryptic crosswords’

You've assembled your tools, now you're starting a cryptic crossword ...

Probably the easiest approach is to read each clue quickly and fill in any answers which spring easily to mind. Each across answer you fill in should provide an interlocking letter for one or two down answers.

Remember that answers will always be grammatically consistent with clues so that, if a clue is cast in the plural, the answer will very likely end in S.

Similarly, if a clue is cast in the past tense, the answer will probably end in ED. Also, be on the look out for answers which may end in ING. When these word endings are likely parts of answers, pencil them in. Although you may not solve the particular clue at the time, the extra letters may help you solve other clues.

After this first run-through, concentrate on a particular part of the grid and gradually work your way through the puzzle. Focus on those answers that provide the most starting letters to other answers because the initial letter is an important trigger when you are trying to find a word to fit the clue.

As you read each clue ignore the punctuation; think about how many different meanings you know for each word.

Sometimes, answers will be more obvious if you take a break and let your subconscious work on the problem.

Sometimes, the answer will completely elude you. If so, check the published solution and take the time to work out how it was derived. If it doesn't seem to make sense, work through the clue again.

If you have friends who are cryptic crossword solvers, ask for their help in explaining how answers are derived.

Initially, you may find that clues and answers seem complex or convoluted. You may even wonder why anyone would "want to think like that".

Once you have mastered several clues, you'll know why and you'll be delighted to continue. You may even get 'hooked'.

As with any skill worth having, the ability to solve cryptic crosswords will take time to develop. If you persevere you will find cryptic crosswords are intellectually rewarding and a most delightful pastime. And, like millions of others, you'll find you will be looking forward to regular cryptic exercise.

But before you become an expert, there's still plenty you need to know, so let's move on to Lesson 4 ...

Lesson 4: What do those numbers mean ...?

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