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Cracking Cryptic Crosswords
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VINE VOICEon 21 December 2009
I can't be 100% sure, but the rather glowing 5-star review from "jackie", which was the only other review here when I wrote this, looks suspiciously like a review from the publisher. The note from the publisher at the end of the book is signed "Jackie Gray".

I'm sorry to be negative about a book by someone who has produced many sparkling clues in the Azed clue-writing contest, but this book is not what it might have been. Its main big idea is that if you know what kinds of cryptic clue there are, recognising them will help you to solve cryptic crosswords better. It certainly helps, but I'm not convinced that it's the "essential pre-requisite to success" as the back cover states. And like some other "how-to-solve" books from small publishing companies, this one demonstrates that unless the author is really strict with himself or gets expert friends to read the text, the lack of strong editing means that significant flaws are not spotted.

The book is short, and there's no harm in that, if the content is good. But the presentation of clue types is somewhat confusing, and some sample clues are questionable or seem inappropriate. We start off with anagrams - handled well except for the set of sample clues which has no anagrams of more than 6 letters. I guess this is to keep them easy, but in real puzzles, anagrams are quite often used for long answers, and not getting any practice at these seems a mistake. Hidden words come next - mostly fine but we get a final misleading clue using an obscure plural for which you need Chambers dictionary - fair game in a barred-grid difficult cryptic but not in a book which later recommends Daily Telegraph puzzles as a good starting point. At Chapter 3 it all starts to go a bit wrong. This chapter is about abbreviations. As Dexter says, "abbreviation" is not a clue type but abbreviations abound in cryptic clues. Fair enough, but most of the sample clues in the text are charade clues. Given the "big idea" already mentioned, it would surely make more sense to deal with this clue-type first. The next chapter is about double definition clues, and describes them well enough but then Dexter warns us that the sample clues are not his best bunch. He's not kidding - of the twelve, I reckon four rely on incorrect definitions and are therefore dud clues, and there are also obscure defs used. Example: "Brass elephant" as a clue for TRUMPETER. As any dictionary will confirm, "brass" decribes a group of orchestral players, not an individual, except in the phrase "brass player". Skipping on to the final clue type covered, the impression is given that &lit clues only exist as anagram-based clues. This chapter has the only mention of &lits in the book - even though there are other &lits or near-&lits in many of the other examples. (And the standard structure for many clue types - definition and separate "wordplay" - never gets properly explained. This (along with the times when it doesn't apply) is surely as important for beginners to understand as the range of types.

At the end we get a crossword by Dexter, based on Morse and Lewis. I can understand his desire to include his own characters, but the effect is that the book's only complete puzzle is one with a theme. The fact that this is quite unusual in some newspapers goes unstated. As the puzzle relies on knowledge of Morse, including book titles, and contains clues which Dexter freely admits are poor, it's a pretty hopeless choice as a single sample puzzle. And some clues are explained in an unhelpful way - such as the subtle anagram clue for an author's name, whose "anagram fodder" appears with no information about where it came from.

Finally, of the 104pp in the book, about 21 are blank or unnecessary - whole page chapter headings or blank pages for notes, at the ends of chapters that happen to have an odd number of pages.

Conclusion: unless there's something about Colin Dexter's treatment that the rivals can't provide (and that seems to boil down to the Morse connection), the books by Don Manley and Tim Moorey still lead the field, and this ranks with the also-rans.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 December 2015
I bought the Kindle version of this book after having a browse. Some reviewers have criticised the short length of the book and the lack of explanations for solving the cryptic clues. But in my opinion, this book is ideal for someone, like me, who just needs to know the basics. If you are interested in crosswords then I think that the best way to learn how to do them is to have a go! If you have company, then even better if you can get everyone to join in. But no book is going to make you a dab hand at completing a crossword. Practising and doing crosswords regularly is the best way.

I have enjoyed reading the book, and probably wouldn't have finished it if it had been more encyclopaedic.
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on 17 March 2015
If you are new to cryptic crosswords this book is not for you. It reminds me of the maths lesson where the teacher says 'a + 5 = 7' - oh yes, then
'a = 2'. Next thing you know the teacher has put some massive simultaneous equation on the board and says I've given you the explanation and method now solve it!

The explanations are not always clear, very few examples and how to dissect them to reach the answer followed by a list of clues. I resorted to Google where I found way more help!

A complete waste of money for the absolute beginner.
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on 14 July 2015
I enjoyed Colin Dexter's programmes on Crosswords on Radio 4 some time back, and his book very much has the same tone. Though he explains some of the mysteries well, I think I have to conclude that cryptic crosswords will never be my forte; will be sticking with the Guardian Quick one for now.
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on 9 March 2015
Really difficult, I feel that I have a lot to learn, a bit disheartening as I was ok with cryptic, but now I realise I have a long way to go, this book has shown up my limitations but I am still happy that I bought it.
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on 20 May 2017
A good book for the person with no other similar reference books bit I was expecting something more
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on 12 September 2017
I am still trying to study this book and the first chapter is very helpful.
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on 21 December 2015
Always wanted to be able to do cryptic crosswords. This book has really helped me start to think the right way so that I can at least tackle some of the clues now!
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on 1 April 2017
A great book by a great man
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on 22 January 2010
If you like crosswords involving, say, a three-letter clue beginning with D and going woof, then this little book is not for you, yet. If on the other hand you've wondered what on earth Morse got out of doing a difficult crossword, or more probably if you tried a cryptic yourself and pulled away in irritable confusion, then 'Cracking Cryptic Crosswords' is worth a close look.

Colin Dexter provides the keys, one by one, for getting into the mind of the crossword setter so that you can get the pleasure of actually being able to understand, and then hopefully solve, the various types of clue and start to fill in the grid. A good crossword will tax your knowledge of just about everything in life and fantasy, and test your command of English to limits you didn't realise you were capable of. This little book is the entrance ticket to a world of such surprise and delight, and is to be recommended.
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