Anagrams are probably the best known form of cryptic clue as they crop up in ‘straight’ crosswords, quizzes and even newspaper headlines! Simply put, the solution to an anagram clue is a rearrangement of a selection of letters to form a new word. In easier crosswords or quizzes, the anagram is usually the entire clue and often indicated as being one, e.g. (anag). However anagrams in the dailies tend to be more subtle and it’s not always (or even often!) obvious that the clue is an anagram!
Fortunately, usually there are ‘hints’ within the clue that identify an anagram is on the cards. These hints are typically simple words like ‘perhaps’, ‘strange’, ‘about’, ‘oddly’ and so on but you should be suspicious of virtually any word or phrase that means ‘change’ in some way.
Here’s a straightforward one:
Unusually gifted person showing restlessness (6)
Here it’s the word unusually that is the hint we’re looking for an anagram. Once you identify the ‘straight’ part of the clue (see the basics) as ‘person showing restlessness’, the answer is soon to follow. It’s ‘fidget’.
Of course, they’re rarely that easy and most puzzles will ‘spice up’ an anagram by using more than one word and/or including one or more single letters in the mix. Take this for example:
Dish left in hacienda to be cooked (9)
This is a little more devious as firstly the hint for an anagram isn’t as obvious. If you spot that it’s ‘to be cooked’ then you might think ‘hacienda’ is the anagram, but hacienda is only 8 letters and we need 9. The actual answer is ‘enchilada’ because you need to use the ‘l’ from the beginning of ‘left’ to complete the anagram with hacienda. It’s quite common to find whole words being used to indicate just their initial letter without any obvious hint. Experience will help you spot these ‘add-ins’.
Unfortunately, puzzle setters rarely play fair and it’s easy to become misled if you seize too hard upon the idea that a clue contains an anagram. Consider the following:
What helps to make elitist hated? Most certainly! (2,2,4)
You might think that this is an anagram of ‘elitist’, which is 7 letters, using an extra letter from somewhere. Either ‘make’ or ‘hated’ are reasonable hints to an anagram. Once you have ‘I’ as the first letter and ‘I’ as the third, and ‘T’ as the last letter (as I did), it seems a dead cert that we’re jumbling the letters of elitist. The trouble was, nothing seemed to fit. After much head banging we realised that this wasn’t an anagram at all but in fact a hidden word and the answer had been staring us in the face all the time. It’s ‘It is that’ (el it is that ed).
Apart from adding letters to an anagram, sometimes you need to take them out.
Growth in resistance, perhaps, way out (8)
This clue is a tricky little beast because it looks initially simple. There’s the word ‘perhaps’ to tell us there’s an anagram and ‘way out’ looks like a good candidate for the ‘straight’ clue, with the provided letters a possible I, C, E and E, the anagram seems obvious. It all starts to fall apart though once you see that ‘resistance’ is 10 letters, not 8. In fact, it’s ‘growth’ that’s the straight clue, and ‘way out’ is actually telling you to remove the letters ‘st’ from resistance. Once you’ve done this it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to ‘increase’, the solution.
‘st’ (the commmon abbreviation of ‘street’) as mentioned above it one of The Telegraph’s favourite ‘keywords’. Any time you see ‘way’ mentioned in a clue, you can usually expect to use ‘st’ or possibly ‘rd’ (for ‘road’) in the solution somewhere.
Anagrams also crop up as smaller portions of a larger solution but that’s enough on them. Let’s move on to their close cousins, hidden words.