15th October 2021

Whether to take your mind off work at the end of a long day, or to just take a mental break over lunch, tackling a cryptic crossword is a great way to unwind with something that is both fun and challenging!

The difference between a cryptic crossword and a regular crossword is that the route to finding solutions to a cryptic crossword is more convoluted. Whereas a regular crossword is a straightforward exercise in thinking of synonyms – words with similar meanings to those in the clues, it’s not clear initially with a cryptic crossword what part of each clue you need to find a synonym for. And when you work that out, the answer you come up with has to fit with all the other parts of the clue. But the more you do them, the easier it becomes because you get to know the setter’s style. This is why many people often have a preferred crossword in a particular newspaper or magazine.

Here’s an example from a recent Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword:

8d. Loathing endless calamity installing team’s leader (8 letters)

With this setter, as with many, the solution is usually a synonym of either the first word (or term) or the last, and the rest of the clue is to help you work this out. In the example above, I worked out from the wording that the solution is a word meaning ‘loathing’. Looking at the rest of the clue, the words ‘endless calamity’ are a cryptic way of saying that you’re looking for a word meaning ‘calamity’ minus the last letter, and into this you need to insert the letter ‘t’ – from the cryptic instruction ‘…installing team’s leader’. So, another word for calamity is ‘disaster’, and when we take off the last letter (‘disaste’) and insert a ‘t’, we get ‘distaste’, which is another word meaning ‘loathing’. So this is the solution to this clue.

If you’re not used to doing crosswords, then you might want to get used to thinking about synonyms by doing regular crosswords first, and then working your way towards the cryptic sort.

There’s also a more serious side to crosswords. Along with other cognitive activities such as learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, or playing cards, doing crosswords is one of the brain-training skills that is thought to help reduce the risk of dementia and delay its symptoms.1,2 By keeping the brain active as we get older, scientists think that we might be able to reduce the amount of brain cell damage associated with dementia and even grow new connections between brain cells.1,2

Doing crosswords, therefore, might help your brain keep working better for longer.1 So instead of turning on the tv or watching TikTok, get out a crossword and get that grey matter working!



1. Yates LA, Ziser S, Spector A, Orrell M. Cognitive leisure activities and future risk of cognitive impairment and dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis. Int Psychogeriatr 2016; 28(11): 1791-1806.

2. WebMD. Brain exercises and dementia. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/preventing-dementia-brain-exercises