And by cryptic, you mean f**king impossible, right?

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So my two work BFFs recently suggested I start doing cryptic crosswords. And no, this is not because I’ve got nothing better to do with my time, but because, and I quote, “you’re supremely intelligent, you’d be really good at them and we think you’d enjoy the word play.” Ok, I might have made that first part up, but you get where I’m going here, right?

And they are right about one thing, I do like word play. I like to write and I also love stuff that’s outside the box, that doesn’t follow a formula and that makes you think. However, as I pointed out to them, every time I’ve attempted to do a cryptic crossword, the only thing that crosses my mind is, what the fuck are they talking about?

My BFFs weren’t to be deterred however, and before I can say don’t worry about it, out comes the cryptic crossword from today’s paper, which is 99% done, and they try to encourage me to help them finish it. As I sit there staring at it, all I can see is a bunch of weird ass clues that make about as much sense to me as Chinese and all I can hear is an endless dialogue of idea swapping that makes as much sense to me as high school physics. Evidently the WTF expression on my face was obvious because my BFFs then attempt to explain to me how they crack these cryptic clues. At first I was like WTF? And then as they kept going I was like, WTF… oh ok, now I get it…sort of. And by the time they were through…I was still, yeah ok, I see it but really WTF. Again, not to be deterred, they encouraged me to try one for myself, assuring me I would soon get the hang of it.

Now being the nerd that I am, I went back to my desk and googled cryptic crosswords, thinking I’d surprise them by solving that final clue they hadn’t managed to crack. Unsurprisingly I didn’t solve it, and instead, I get sidetracked by an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to cryptic crosswords.

Well, fuck me.

Not only are there variations and levels on these things, but there are apparently endless types of both clues and rules that “show” you how to solve the puzzle. Here’s a completely straightforward and logical example of what I’m talking about:

15D Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke (8)

is a clue for TRAGICAL. This breaks down as follows.

– 15D indicates the location and direction (down) of the solution in the grid

– “Very sad” is the definition

– “unfinished story” gives “tal” (“tale” with one letter missing; i.e., unfinished)

– “rising smoke” gives “ragic” (a “cigar” is a smoke and this is a down clue so “rising” indicates that “cigar” should be written up the page; i.e., backwards)

– “about” means that the letters of “tal” should be put either side of “ragic”, giving “tragical”

– “(8)” says that the answer is a single word of eight letters.

There are many “code words” or “indicators” that have a special meaning in the cryptic crossword context. (In the example above, “about”, “unfinished” and “rising” all fall into this category). Learning these, or being able to spot them, is a useful and necessary part of becoming a skilled cryptic crossword solver.

Crystal clear right?

Wanting to prove a point, I email the above example to my friends, pointing out not only how impossible these things are, but also asking how I’m ever expected to remember all these rules and variations. As I wait for their response, I continue googling and stumble across a website that offers a “daily cryptic crossword that you can do in your coffee break.”

Oh, I’m pretty sure I can prove that wrong.

As I sit there staring at the clues, the only thing that crosses my mind is this; I still have no fucking idea what any of these clues mean. I mean I can’t remember a single rule and I literally cannot think of a single possible answer. Ten minutes later, I finally take a guess at one of them and because this is all online, I can cheat and find out if I’m right…holy shit…I am! I don’t exactly know how I worked it out, or where the answer came from, but who gives a shit, I got it right! Of course being the impatient person that I am, which let’s be honest, is the real reason I’ll never be any good at these things, I then checked all the other answers. It’s at this point that I discover me solving one clue was a complete and utter fluke, because even with the answers, I can barely understand the rest of them.

I finally concede defeat and admit to my BFFs that not only am I too impatient to ever do these puzzles, but that it just took me 10 minutes to work out one clue.

Their response? Oh, apparently 10 minutes is normal.

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