It may sound odd to need a strategy for tackling a crossword but it’s an important element of the cryptic style. As mentioned elsewhere in these guides cryptic crosswords rely more upon concealing the true nature of clues and misleading the reader than upon simply being ‘difficult’ so a strategy will help to expose these tricks.
Everyone will have their own personal methods for starting a fresh puzzle so what follows is merely my approach, not necessarily the best or most appropriate method. If you’d like to suggest a different method, please contact us.
The clues and solutions in any particular puzzle will vary in their level of difficulty – and that apparent level will vary from day to day depending on you and your mood! – so it’s a good idea to start by simply reading all the clues quickly without really trying to solve any of them. I’d suggest you spend no more than 20 or 30 seconds on each clue; if any solutions spring into your mind then that’s great but the objective here is really to get a ‘feel’ for the crossword and to quickly identify the easier clues.
Some people like to identify clue types at this time, either by making a note near the clue or by physically underlining the portion of a clue that appears to be an anagram for example. Others like to put lines and dashes into the crossword matrix to identify word boundaries. I have to say I don’t like this approach as it tends to lead you down a particular route that may be incorrect. An anagram may not be an anagram after all, and more than once I’ve seen two word solutions made up from two words of different length. My opinion is that if you’re able to identify a clue in this way on first glance, you’ll do so each time you read it so there’s no point in hammering it home (possibly incorrectly).
I find it useful to read completely through the clues more than once during a session. It’s surprising how often you’ll find a clue that you’ve simply missed and fills a vital couple of letters.