Let’s Play Charades… Cryptic Style!

by Denise Sutherland

Way back a while, I introduced anagram cryptic clues to you. Anagrams are just one of quite a few types of wordplay that you’ll discover in cryptic crossword clues.

Charades are another common wordplay device used in cryptics. You remember the parlour game of charades? People guess the name of a book, or a movie, or whatever, and you act out the name in pieces, possibly syllable by syllable, or word by word? Well, these cryptic clues are sort of the same, in that you string together the components of the clue, one after the other, in order.

So, for example, the word BROTHER could be clued as BR + OTHER. That’s a charade, one bit after the other, in order.


A few more examples: SLIGHT = S + LIGHT, EPIGRAM = E + PIG + RAM, and SUNGLASSES = SUNG + LASSES.

This is a very common cryptic device, and you will come across charade clues in pretty much every cryptic crossword. As you can see, it’s quite common to need to clue one or two letters (such as the BR in BR+OTHER), so abbreviations are widely used in charade clues (I’ll tell you all about abbreviations soon!) Charades can also be used in conjunction with other devices (like anagrams or reversals).

These clues don’t need words to indicate what type of wordplay is being used — it’s just assumed that as one part follows the next, you don’t need any further instructions.

Occasionally a linking word could be used, such as with, and, before, next to, on, over, takes, or with.

So, what does an actual charade clue look like? Here’s one for the SLIGHT example above:

Petite soprano gets a lamp (6)

Petite is the definition. Soprano leads to the abbreviation S, and it gets, or is added to, another word for a lamp (LIGHT). So we end up with S + LIGHT = SLIGHT.

That wasn’t too bad, was it?

Now let’s try another one:

Crooned to girls’ shades (10)

In this clue, crooned = SUNG. And we put it to, or next to, girls’ = LASSES. To get SUNGLASSES, or shades.

Of course, out in the wild, cryptic clues can be more tricky, the abbreviations more obscure, and definitions more difficult. But when it comes down to it, these clues are still just one thing after another.

So it’s always worth looking at cryptic clues to see if they might be charades. Just put one bit after the other, to add up to the answer.

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