Apologies if this is the wrong place to ask this question, but I'm not sure where else I might be able to get an answer.

I've recently gotten into cryptic crosswords. However, one thing keeps annoying me. Even once I see answers, it's not always clear to me why they are the answers/how they were clued. I'll get clues like:

Do away with silo, back inside (7)


She might have a part in current Hair production (7)

and even once crossing letters and guesswork have let me solve the first as ABOLISH and the second as ACTRESS, I'm not sure how the wordplay parts fit together. I can see that OLIS is clued by 'silo, back', but I have no idea where the surrounding 'ABH' is coming from. Similarly I can see that TRESS is clued by 'Hair', but I have no idea where the 'AC' is coming from.

Sometimes I can solve things like this by Googling: when I search 'cryptic AC current', say, it tells me that 'current' can clue 'AC' as in 'Alternating Current'. But this is not always reliable -- I have no idea what to search for to answer my questions about ABOLISH.

What would be really helpful to me is some source of cryptic crosswords where the solutions come with some kind of explanation of how the clue should be interpreted. I've searched a bit online but haven't been able to find anything like this. Is anyone on here familiar with such a thing?

Thanks in advance!

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Not an answer to your overall question, but both clues seem to break the usual conventions a bit. In the first one, "back" is doing double duty (and arguably "with" too, since I feel like it should be part of the def), cluing a reversal, but also being used in an extraction. Def: "Do away (with)", clued by the inside of "(wit)H SILO BA(ck)" reversed. The second one is sort of an &lit clue, but again not really. The whole thing is the def, but the only part working for the cryptic is "current Hair", with current = AC (as in alternating current electricity) and Hair = TRESS (as you note). $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Feb 18, 2019 at 0:00

1 Answer 1


I have a few suggestions.

  1. The fifteensquared blog posts solutions, with explanations, to crosswords in various British papers. They don't post the puzzles but you can get those (1) by buying the papers and (2) in many cases from the papers' websites. (This is certainly true for e.g. the Guardian and the Independent, though the UI for the latter's crosswords is rather horrible.)

  2. There are some books about how to solve cryptic crosswords, and at least some of these include sample crosswords with explanations. The ones I have on my shelves are Ximenes on the art of the crossword, the Chambers crossword manual, How to do the Times crossword, and Improve your game: 50 crossword puzzles; of these, only the second (Chambers) has explanations for the answers to its sample crosswords. (Of course, anything that helps you get better at solving cryptics will go some way towards solving your problem, by making you need explanations less often...)

  3. In individual cases, you could ask in The Sphinx's Lair, the PSE chat room. I can't guarantee instant answers (or indeed any) but there are several regular denizens there who are pretty good with cryptics.

  4. There's a piece of software I've never used called Crossword Genius by a guy called William Tunstall-Pedoe, which attempts to solve cryptic clues and, when it succeeds, can explain how they work. There's an old Windows app, which I think is no longer available (it might be possible to find copies by more or less shady means; I haven't checked; in any case you might have various sorts of misgivings about that), but he's also got an iPhone version in or near beta test. I don't know how well this actually works, though.

As for your specific examples:

  • ABOLISH is hidden backwards inside the clue: "with silo, back". But the clue's unsound: "back" is doing double duty, both indicating that you need to read sdrawkcab and being part of what you need to do that to.

  • It sounds like you already figured this out, but ACTRESS works like this: "She might have a part" is the definition, "in" links definition and wordplay (note: sticklers for accuracy often don't much like "in" being used that way, but it's common), "current" is AC (alternating current), and "hair production" is TRESS (I don't much like "production" here but I guess the idea is either that a tress is a thing you produce from hair by separating out one part of it, or else that a tress is a production of hair: that is, your head produces tresses, which are made of hair).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see, thank you for the suggestions! (And I do not like that ABOLISH clue at all, yuck.) $\endgroup$
    – aphyer
    Feb 18, 2019 at 0:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Tress relates to hair yes, but the clue is Hair production, capital H, meaning the musical and an actress might have a part in that. $\endgroup$
    – chx
    Feb 18, 2019 at 5:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You could take the entire clue to be the definition, making it an &lit clue, except that then "she might have a part" plays no role in the wordplay so it's not a sound &lit clue. It works OK as an ordinary clue, with the capital H being mere misdirection. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Feb 18, 2019 at 10:55

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