Some wintery wordplay!

A themed cryptic crossword: all answers relate to Umbraco, web development or technology.

Last year I published a crossword on 24 Days and people said they enjoyed the challenge, so here's another one! But this time all the clues are cryptic.

I learnt how to do cryptic crosswords from my parents on long car journeys: there were no iPads to keep us amused back then! That gave me years of domain knowledge that I take for granted when solving crosswords. I am mindful that this is also true when setting them, so below the puzzle I explain the different types of clues that I've used, with examples and explanations. Hopefully this will enable less experienced crossword solvers to navigate their way to success!

When you've completed the grid, submit your answers to see if they are all correct. There might just be a surprise waiting for you if they are...!

Thanks to Dylan Beattie for releasing iPuzzler: the client-side framework used for rendering the crossword. It is also the first non-Umbraco open source project that I have contributed to! Answers are saved in local storage so if you need to break and return later your answers should still be here!

And if you didn't need any help in solving the crossword please read the 'And Finally' section at the end of the article as maybe you could play a part in setting future ones!

The Secret to Solving Cryptic Crosswords

Ok so 'secret' might be a strong word... but my aim is to give you some techniques to use when you look at a clue above and just don't know where to start.

I have used several types of cryptic clue, each of which I explain below. But how do you know which type it is? Well that comes with practice. But I suggest you read the explanation of the types, understand the examples given, and then see if you can spot any types in the grid.

Cryptic clues can usually be broken into two parts. One part is a definition of the answer, the other part is wordplay that you can use to deduce your way to the same answer.

The definition can be one or more words. It might be an example of the solution (e.g. 'computer' can be defined as 'apple, perhaps'), or a synonym of the solution (e.g. 'computer' can be defined as 'machine'). The definition is almost always at the beginning or the end of the clue, i.e. not in the middle. This is a key fact to remember!

Wordplay is how to work your way to the same solution by manipulating letters or perhaps interpreting words in a special way. You should keep an eye out for indicator words. These are signposts to the type of clue. Not all types have them, but looking for these indicators is a good place to start.

Hopefully this will all become a bit clearer with the example clues I've provided... Unlike the grid above where all the clues are Umbraco and tech related, all these example clues have a Christmassy theme: seemed appropriate for the time of year!


Anagram clues are solved by rearranging some of the letters in the clue to form the solution. There will be an indicator word (or words) signalling which part of the clue is to be anagrammed; the remaining words in the clue will be a definition of the solution.

There are many indicator words for anagram clues, for example mixed, broken, changed, drunk, about, new and in error. That's not to say the presence of such a word/phrase means there has to be an anagram. But if there is a word (or words) next to it that has the same number of letters as the answer it's worth seeing if there's an anagram that means the rest of the clue.

Example ANAGRAM clue:
Epic! Mine changed into a Christmas food! (5,3)

My thought process:
'Changed into' could be an anagram indicator.
There are 8 letters in the answer (5 + 3).
To the left of the indicator the words 'Epic! Mine' total 8 letters.
Is there an anagram of 'epic mine' that means the rest of the clue? Why, yes!

Definition: 'a Christmas food'
Wordplay: 'Epic! Mine changed into' with 'changed into' being the anagram indicator.

You'll notice I completely ignored the exclamation marks. Usually punctuation is meaningless: it's just been added to make the clues more readable.


In its simplest form, hidden clues are the easiest to solve as the answer is literally inside the clue.

Indicators for hidden clues include in, inside, hidden in and some.

Example HIDDEN clue:
Wintery weather in no clothes? No way! (4)

My thought process:
'in' could be a hidden indicator.
To the left of 'in' is 'wintery weather', to the right is 'no clothes? No way!'. 'no clothes no way' doesn't really mean anything, so I reckon 'wintery weather' is going to be the definition of the solution.
Is there a 4 letter word for 'wintery weather' hidden in 'no clothes no way'? Yes! no clothe[S NO W]ay.

Answer: SNOW
Definition: 'Wintery weather'
Wordplay: 'in no clothes? No way!' with 'in' being the hidden indicator.

Sometimes a positional indicator is used, for example 'in the middle of' would tell you to look at the letters in the centre of the following word.

A variant of hidden clues is where the letters of the answer are hidden in intervals in the wordplay: often the odd or even letters of a word, but sometimes the initial (starting) letter of each word.

Indicators for odd/even letters include odd, even, regularly and alternately.

Indicators for initial letters of each word include at first, initially, primarily and start.

Example HIDDEN INTERVAL clue 1:
Regularly cookable lumps given to bad kids (4)

My thought process:
'Regularly' could be a hidden interval indicator.
The word following 'regularly' is 8 letters, so taking alternate letters would result in a 4 letter word which is what we want.
Do either the odd or even letters of 'cookable' mean 'lumps given to bad kids'? Why yes letters 1, 3, 5 and 7 (the odd) do: those lumps that Santa allegedly gives to misbehaving children!

Answer: COAL
Definition: 'lumps given to bad kids'
Wordplay: 'Regularly cookable' with 'regularly' being the hidden interval indicator.

Example HIDDEN INTERVAL clue 2:
Christmas over and looked primarily for fuel (4)

My thought process:
'primarily for' could be a hidden interval indicator.
There are 4 words to the left of 'primarily for' and we need 4 letters in the answer.
Do the initials of the 4 first words spell out a word that means 'fuel'? Yes, it's the same answer as the previous example!

Answer: COAL
Definition: 'fuel'
Wordplay: 'Christmas over and looked primarily for' with 'primarily for' being the hidden interval indicator.


The solution to sandwich clues can be built by putting one part inside another.

Indicators for sandwich clues include inside, contains and houses.

Example SANDWICH clue:
Gold inside clear screen gets Santa (5)

My thought process:
'inside' could be a sandwich indicator.
AU is the symbol for Gold.
CLS is the clear screen command in a command prompt (although I don't think 'The Times' newspaper would allow this abbreviation!)
If I put AU inside CLS do I get something to do with Santa? I sure do!

Answer: CLAUS
Definition: 'Santa'
Wordplay: 'Gold inside clear screen gets' with 'inside' being the sandwich indicator.

Abbreviations are often used in crossword solutions. I've put some common examples later on in this article.


In a homophone clue, the solution sounds like another word given in the wordplay.

Indicators for homophone clues include sounds like, so to speak and we hear.

Example HOMOPHONE clue:
We hear an apparition belongs under the Christmas tree (8)

My thought process:
'We hear' could be a homophone indicator.
The phrase after the indicator is 'an apparition'.
'spirit' could be a synonym for apparition and whilst some people might believe (alcoholic) spirits belong under a Christmas tree (!) that can't be the answer as there is no 'sounds like' aspect in the wordplay.
Another synonym of an apparition is 'presence', and 'presence' does indeed sound like a word that belongs under a Christmas tree!

Definition: 'belongs under the Christmas tree'
Wordplay: 'We hear an apparition' with 'We hear' being the homophone indicator.

Take away

The take away clue involves removing something from part of the wordplay.

Indicators for take away clues include shortened, topless, endless and without.

Example TAKEAWAY clue:
Tree topper kicked off without its bear (4)

My thought process:
'without' could be a take away indicator.
In which case 'tree topper' is probably the definition.
So I need a word for 'kicked off' that without a word for 'bear' means tree topper.
'started' means 'kicked off', and 'ted' is a nickname for a 'bear'. So I need to remove 'ted' from 'started' to get the answer.

Answer: STAR
Definition: 'Tree topper'
Wordplay: 'kicked off without its bear' with 'without' being the take away indicator.

The indicator topless (or similar) would suggest you need to remove the first letter, endless the last letter, and sometimes naked or uncovered means remove both the first and last letters.


In a reversal clue, you need to write letters backwards (or upwards) as part of the clue's wordplay.

Indicators for reversal clues include over, back and returned.

Example REVERSAL clue:
Vermin returned at the tree top (4)

My thought process:
'returned' could be a reversal indicator.
'mice' are a type of vermin but its reverse, 'ecim', doesn't mean anything.
'rats' are also vermin. If I write 'rats' backwards do you get something that could be at the top of a tree? Yes, if it's a Christmas tree!

Answer: STAR
Definition: 'at the tree top'
Wordplay: 'Vermin returned' with 'returned' being the reversal indicator.

Double Definition

We've reached the end of the clue types that use indicator words, so you have to look for other traits. Double definition clues are usually the shorter clues, but of course not always! Try splitting the clue into two (not necessarily equal) parts, and see if there is a word that is a valid definition for both parts.

Leg covering filling shelves (8)

My thought process:
If I put a comma in the middle of this clue, is there a word that means both resulting phrases? Yup!

Definition 1: 'Leg covering'
Definition 2: 'Filling shelves'


Perhaps the easiest way to explain additive clues is to say 'A + B = solution C' and just give an example!

Example ADDITIVE clue:
Orange roll, man perhaps (11)

My thought process:
Orange is a type of 'fruit'.
Roll is a type of 'bread'.
Is 'fruit' + 'bread' an example of a man? Nope!
Another word for orange is 'ginger'.
Is 'ginger' + 'bread' an example of a man? Yes, it sure is at Christmas!

Definition: 'man perhaps'
Wordplay: 'Orange roll'


I've also referred to this type of clue before as 'quirky'. Usually the clue will end in a '?' or '!' and will not seem to confirm to any other clue type. You'll have to think laterally, go with your gut, or perhaps just wait for enough other letters in the grid to help you out!

Example NOVELTY clue:
Cripes! Have realised initials spell the meaning: advent season! (9)

My thought process:
Well sorry, but the answer 'Christmas' just jumps out at me here (it being the first letter of all the words in the clue!)


And just to warn you ... clues are often a mixture of two (or even more) types!

Common abbreviations

Abbreviations are very common in cryptic crosswords. Often it will be an abbreviation, not a synonym, of a word that you should be using in the answer. Here are some hints to the types of abbreviations I've used in setting this crossword:

Periodic table symbols

Remember your chemistry? For example:
Iron = FE
Gold = AU

Musical notations

Loud, loudly etc = F (used in music to indicate 'forte', i.e. to play loudly)
Quiet, softly etc = P (for 'piano', i.e. to play quietly)

Standard abbreviations

There are many (many!) different abbreviations that can be used in cryptic crosswords. You can see them all on Wikipedia.

But you don't need to look there to solve this crossword. The only other hint I need to give you is to think about uk domain name extensions and what each part is an abbreviation of...

Need More Help?

You are more than welcome to message me on Umbraco's Discord server - user Lotte#6643, or on Twitter @lottepitcher, for some hints. Or I can even send you a PDF of the full solution with explanations if you email 😆

And Finally!

I hope you enjoyed the crossword and improved your solving skills in the process. If you have any good ideas for Umbraco and/or tech-related cryptic crossword clues then please send them to me any time via private message. Then hopefully your clue will appear in a future grid, assuming I do another one! All clue contributions would be credited.

Speaking of contributions ... thanks to Marc Goodson for proof-reading/solving this crossword and improving a couple of clues!

Happy holidays Umbracians, and here's to a prosperous 2023!

Lotte Pitcher
Lotte Pitcher

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