Crossword Glossary

Here are the meanings of some of the crossword terms used on this site:

Acrostic
A poem or list of words in which the first letters spell out a message. An "acrostic puzzle" is a popular form in which the message spelt out is usually the author of the quotation on which the puzzle is based.
Afrit
The Pseudonym of Prebendary A F Ritchie, a pioneer in the art of cryptic clue writing. His ideas on cluing were set out in his 1949 book Armchair Crosswords. Afrit was also an innovator in the field of Thematic Cryptic Crosswords, inventing the Printer's Devilry and Playfair gimmicks.
Afrit's Injunction
Afrit's summary of the art of Cryptic Clue writing: "You need not mean what you say, but you must say what you mean". In other words, the Surface Reading of a clue may mislead the solver through ambiguity; but there must be a Cryptic Reading in which normal meanings of the words lead to the Answer.
Alphabetical Jigsaw
A crossword with exactly 26 answers, each one starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Clues are typically presented in alphabetical order and labeled with the first letter of the answer. Such puzzles are usually based on a Blocked Grid as in this example alphabetical jigsaw.
Anagram
A rearrangement of the letters of a word or phrase. For example, orchestra is an anagram of cart-horse and Old England is an anagram of golden land. Anagrams are a common type of Wordplay in Cryptic Clues.
& Lit.
A Cryptic Clue which is simultaneously a Definition of the Answer and Wordplay leading to the answer (normally these would be two separate parts of the clue). It is a shorthand for "and literally". This clue to filibuster is a particularly memorable example: I rifle tubs at sea.
Alveary
An early dictionary of English, French, Greek and Latin. TEA stands for The Electronic Alveary.
Answer
The word or phrase that is the solution to a Clue. In some puzzles the answer is thematically modified before entry into the Grid, which is why the distinct term Light is used by compilers when referring to the entry in the Grid.
Bar
A thick line that separates the Lights in a Barred Grid.
Barred Grid
A Grid in which the Lights are separated by Bars, all Cells typically being used. The most common size is 12x12, as in this example barred grid.
Block
A Cell in a Grid which is not part of any Lights. It is usually colored black or gray. In Italian Style Grids, the black color is inset by small margin.
Blocked Grid
A Grid in which Lights in the same direction are separated by Blocks, which are typically colored black. The most common size is 15x15 as in this example blocked grid.
Carte Blanche
The British equivalent of a Diagramless puzzle. The form is more varied in Britain, with clues often being presented without numbering or even in a random order.
Cell
A single square in a Grid. A cell that is part of a Light is usually colored white. Other cells are usually Blocks, though they can be Holes in some unconventional puzzle grids.
Chambers
Shorthand for The Chambers Dictionary.
Charade
A type of Wordplay used in Cryptic Clues in which the Answer is split into two or more parts indicated separately. For example, molestation could be split into mole and station, as in the clue Interference from spy base.
Cheater
An extra Block added to a Fully Checked Grid to shorten Answers without increasing the word count. Cheaters may be used to reduce long entries to suit a theme, or just to make filling easier.
Checked
A square that is included in both an across and a down answer is checked, ie the letter in it can be confirmed from two different answers.
Clue
A question or hint that the solver uses to work out the Answer. It usually consists of the number of the Light, followed by the text of the clue, then the Enumeration. Clues commonly consist of just a Definition or are Cryptic.
Compiler
A creator of a crossword puzzle.
Container and Contents
A type of Wordplay used in Cryptic Clues in which the Answer is formed from one word (or a word reversed) inside another. For example, monitor can be made by putting nit in moor or tin reversed in moor, as in the clue Keep an eye on container being reversed in dock.
Crosswordease
A facetious alternative to crosswordese.
Crosswordese
Obscure short words that frequently occur in crossword grids due to their helpful letter patterns. For example, sere, olio, Omoo and Ulee.
Cruciverbal
A facetious coinage meaning pertaining to crosswords.
Cruciverbalism
A facetious term for the world of crosswords. A crossword addict is a cruciverbalist.
Cryptic Clue
A Clue consisting of a Definition of the Answer and additional instructions that give the answer using some form of Wordplay. For example, the answer lance could have this cryptic clue based on an Anagram: Weapon that's peculiarly clean.
Cryptic Crossword
A crossword with Cryptic Clues. Cryptic Crossword by Beetlejuice is an example.
Cryptic Reading
The meanings of the words in a Cryptic Clue that lead to the Answer. These word meanings are often different to those in the Surface Reading.
Definition
In a conventional crossword, the definition forms the whole Clue. Depending on the type of crossword, it could be a definition taken from a dictionary, or a more subtle way of suggesting the answer. For example, lance could be defined as Weapon or What you need if you're tilting. In a Cryptic Crossword, the definition is the part that leads to the Answer directly.
Definition and Letter Mixture
A special clue type which consists of a definition of the Answer with a jumble of its letters hidden among the other words. Sometimes the letter mixture will be guaranteed to start at the start, or end at the end, of a word. Redundant words are more acceptable than in Cryptic Clues. An example clue to gibbon could be Ape that has big bony arms.
Diagram
An alternative term for a crossword Grid.
Diagramless
A crossword where only the dimensions of the grid are shown and the solver must work out where the Lights occur. Diagramless puzzles often have novel shapes as in this diagramless example.
DLM
See Definition and Letter Mixture.
Enumeration
The number or numbers shown at the end of a Clue to indicate the length of the Answer. For example, Mason-Dixon Line might have (5-5, 4) as its enumeration.
Fill-in-the-blank
A type of clue in American puzzles, whereby the answer is indicated by underlines in a phrase. For example, the answer on an might have the clue ____ empty stomach.
Fully Checked Grid
A grid in which there are no unchecked Cells: cells are either Blocks, or form part of both an across and a down Light. The most common size is 15x15, as in this example fully checked grid.
Gimmick
A device used in a Thematic Cryptic Crossword. Sometimes gimmicks involve unconventional clue types such as Letters Latent and Misprints. Sometimes encoding or transformation of Answers using, for example, Playfair or Substitution Ciphers.
Grid
A rectangular arrangement of squares into which the crossword Answers are entered.
Hole
An unused square in a Grid that is left empty rather than being shown as a Block. Holes are used to create spaces in the middle of grids, or create unconventional outlines such as in Diagramless puzzles.
Homophone
A word that is pronounced like another one, but is spelt differently. Homophones are commonly used in the Wordplay of Cryptic Clues as in the example Actor who created Lime and Water outlets we hear - here the answer Welles is indicated as sounding like "wells".
Isogram
A word or phrase in which each letter occurs the same number of times. Examples in English are dermatoglyphics (each letter once), unprosperousness (each letter twice) and sestettes (each letter three times). Long isograms where each letter occurs once are popular as Playfair keywords.
Italian Style Grid
A Blocked Grid in which the black area of the Blocks is inset from the square, as in this example Italian style grid.
Jumbo
A puzzle with a bigger grid and many more clues than usual, often published on special occasions such as Christmas or Easter. A common size for a jumbo blocked grid is 27x27 and this would typically have 70 to 80 clues. Here is an example Jumbo.
Letters Latent
A Gimmick in which a letter is removed from an Answer wherever it occurs. In the Cryptic Clue, the Definition refers to the answer as usual, but the Wordplay refers to the mutilated form entered into the Grid. The letter removed usually forms part of a thematic message. Scintillating by Beetlejuice is an example Letters Latent puzzle.
Light
A horizontal or vertical series of white squares in a Grid, in which the solver usually enters one Answer.
Misprints
A Gimmick that has two main forms: the misprinting of a word in the Definition part of a Cryptic Clue; the misprinting of the Answer. In either case, the correct answer letter and/or the misprint usually form part of a thematic message.
Palindrome
A word or phrase that reads the same forwards and backwards. Examples in English are repaper and Able was I ere I saw Elba (facetiously attributed to Napoleon).
Pangrammatic Grid
A Grid containing every letter of the alphabet at least once. Pangrammatic Blocked Grids are relatively easy to compile. Some dipangrammatic blocked grids - containing every letter of the alphabetic at least twice - have appeared.
Partial
An answer that's only meaningful as part of a phrase, usually clued with a fill-in-the-blank. For example, is an might be clued No man ____ island.
Playfair
A cipher that is occasionally used as a Gimmick in Thematic Cryptic Crosswords. The Playfair Cipher page includes detailed information and an enciphering/deciphering utility.
Preamble
Explanatory text preceding the clues in a Thematic Cryptic Crossword.
Printer's Devilry
A special clue type in which the pretence is that unreliable printers have omitted the answer from a piece of text, changing punctuation and word spacing as necessary to ensure the residue makes sense. For example, On the flans: "invaluable help", said Napoleon could clue kidney, the "undevilled" reading being "On the flank I'd Ney's invaluable help", said Napoleon.
Pseudonym
The fictitious name of the Compiler of a crossword. Compilers originally chose names (such as Ximenes) which would strike fear into the hearts of solvers. Pseudonyms are now much more diverse and are often punningly linked to the compiler's real name, interests etc.
Rubric
An alternative term for Preamble.
Setter
An alternative term for Compiler.
Square
An alternative term for Cell.
Subsidiary Indications
An alternative term for the Wordplay part of a Cryptic Clue.
Substitution Cipher
A class of cipher that is occasionally used as a Gimmick in Thematic Cryptic Crosswords. In a substitution cipher, each letter of the alphabet is consistently replaced by another. The replacement is usually systematic: for example, involving a constant letter shift (a Caesar shift cipher) or a keyword as in this example using the key phrase "Judgment of Paris".
Surface Reading
The superficial meanings of the words in a Cryptic Clue, when it is read as a normal sentence. These word meanings are often different to those in the Cryptic Reading.
Symmetry
Conventional crossword puzzles are usually based on a symmetrical Grid. 180 degree symmetry (the grid looks the same after a half turn) is the most common, but 90 degree symmetry (the grid looks the same after a quarter turn) also appears.
Sympathy
A program that helps compile crosswords - a faster and more effective equivalent of the traditional pencil and paper. See the Sympathy pages for further information.
Tautonym
Formally, this is a biological term meaning a species such as Rattus rattus (the black rat) which has the same generic name and specific name. Word puzzlers have adopted this term for any word or phrase whose second half repeats the first. Examples in English are beriberi and softly-softly. Triple tautonyms are common in biological nomenclature, but very rare in English, cha-cha-cha being the only example in Chambers English Dictionary.
TEA
A program that helps solve crosswords - a more flexible substitute for lists of words and anagrams in printed form. Its pattern language is also used in other crossword applications like Sympathy. TEA stands for The Electronic Alveary. See the TEA pages for further information.
Thematic Cryptic Crossword
A Cryptic Crossword with some kind of added Gimmick. The theme may involve unconventional clue types, transformation of answers, unclued answers and so on.
Theme and Variations
A simple form of Gimmick in which several Answers (often 12) are unclued. The theme answers are connected in some way, and each of these has a number of variation answers generated from them. For example, the variation answers may be anagrams or synonyms of the theme answer. Often shortened to T&V.
Unch
An unchecked letter, i.e. one in an across answer, or a down answer, but not both. Fully checked grids have no unches, but they are common in Blocked Grids and Barred Grids.
US Style Puzzle
The most popular form of crossword in North America, based on a Fully Checked Grid. The relatively few long answers are normally thematic, as in the example puzzle Flower Girls by Beetlejuice.
Variety Cryptic
An alternative term for a Thematic Cryptic Crossword.
Wordplay
The secondary means of getting the Answer in a Cryptic Clue. Common types of wordplay include Anagrams, Charades and Container and Contents.
Word Square
A square Fully checked grid containing no Blocks. Single word squares have the same words across and down; double word squares have different words across and down. It is relatively easy to create single word squares up to 8x8 and double word squares up to 7x7; larger squares have been achieved, but tend to include very obscure vocabulary. In this example eight-square, every word is an emboldened entry in The Chambers Dictionary.
Ximenes
The Pseudonym of Derrick Somerset Macnutt, who compiled for The Observer from 1939 until his death in 1971. The term Ximenean is still used today to refer to the high standards of Cryptic Clue writing and Barred Grid construction set out in his book Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword.