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? $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 14 '14 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ 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 May 14 '14 at 23:28

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.

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    $\begingroup$ 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 May 15 '14 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ 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 Apr 24 '15 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @KSmarts On the other hand, if you interpret "head" and "slap" the right way, it could still make sense the first way... $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Apr 24 '15 at 22:18

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