In a crossword, some clues have a question mark at the end. Is there any way to tell what these question marks mean based on the puzzle? I.E. rhetorical, compound word, etc.?

  • $\begingroup$ There are several schools of crossword puzzles. Are these cryptic crosswords or not? British, US or other? $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2014 at 23:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In the US crosswords I am familiar with, the question mark indicates that the answer will be a stretch, pun, or generally "questionable". I usually refer to it as a "smart-ass mark" in that context. $\endgroup$
    – RBerteig
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 23:28

1 Answer 1


There's only one canonical example I can find of a crossword using question marks to mean anything special.

Many American crossword puzzles (for instance, the New York Times) rely on a convention that, if a clue ends in a question mark, it's a play on words.

Mental Block?


It can also be used to indicate something only loosely related to the topic:

Cause for a head slap?


In essence, the clue shouldn't be taken too literally. The British use an exclamation mark for a similar purpose.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yep, this. The key distinction for these is that the most common reading of the term or phrase in the clue is never the one the answer is linked to. $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 0:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It took me a while to remember the other (intended) meaning of "boner," and was really having some trouble figuring that one out. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 21:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KSmarts On the other hand, if you interpret "head" and "slap" the right way, it could still make sense the first way... $\endgroup$
    – user88
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 22:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.