The solver's Vade Mecum

(If you don’t know what that means, look it up. Your dictionary is your best friend. And that’s the first tip.)

Oramancer says:

Keep an eye on this page – it will be updated and expanded occasionally, and will grow into a useful collection of bits and pieces that don’t really fit into any of the other Useful Lists.

Tools of the Trade:

Of course, you may need nothing but your genius. But you may find some or all of the following useful:

A good dictionary  to check meanings, or just to confirm that a word actually exists.
A thesaurus  to find synonyms, related words, antonyms (opposites).
A crossword dictionary  these come in different formats. Words may be presented in subject-lists, or in word-length, or a combination of both. Some use the format “h-r-e = horse” but even those that don’t can be used in the same way. You know you are looking for a five-letter word starting with h, third letter r, fifth letter e, and you may have worked out from the clue that it’s an animal. Crossword dictionaries do not give definitions (except in so far as a word may be in a subject list). They will include things you’re not likely to find in a standard dictionary, such as names of people and places.
Electronic thesaurus/
spell checker
 You cheat, you!
Scrap paper   You’d be surprised how often you want to jot - newspaper crosswords often give you a “doodling space” beside the crossword. You can buy your reference books on CD-Rom -  but there’s probably no electronic substitute for a piece of paper for this task!

Suitable dictionaries etc., are listed in the suggested reading page,  and several other suitable books are described in the Lists and Resources section of this site.

Start at the beginning:

Run through the clues and fill in the easy ones. Then try any words that will use letters you have filled in – just a little assistance will often trigger a train of thought (yes, Oramancer can mix metaphors with the best of them!).

All mixed up:

If you’re trying to solve an anagram, write the letters in random order in a circle on a piece of scrap paper. It breaks up the original word or phrase (which can be distracting) and lays out the letters in a way the eye and brain seem to find easier to manipulate.

A short word about abbreviations:

Most dictionaries have a list of abbreviations at the back, or include abbreviations in the text. If yours doesn’t, there is a Useful List of abbreviations on these pages.

Where an abbreviation is called for, an indicator may appear in the clue, such as “briefly” or “compact”, but not always; you have to be alert to words which may call for an abbreviation. The compiler won’t want to make it too easy for you; so if he’s looking for a clue for ‘BA’, which is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Arts, he’s more likely to say ‘graduate’ or even ‘scholar’. Learn to take one step back from what the clue says and look at what it actually means. The clue says ‘Gunners’; they are the Royal Artillery; is it ‘RA’ you’re looking for?

The indicator “initially” calls for the initials of a word or phrase and may therefore in many cases be interchangeable with the standard abbreviation, but some compilers will use the indicator “initially” to call for the initials of a non-standard word or phrase.

Compound words:

In this sense, a compound word is one made up of two other words – and it may be the two other words you need. A few examples should give you an idea of what you may encounter:

drawback          draw back         ward (reversal of draw)
backward          back ward         draw (reversal of ward)
inside                in side               si-----de (or s---de or sid---e)
layabout            lay about           l------ay (or la---y)
breakdown        break down       anagram of DOWN
heartbroken       heart broken      anagram of HEART
interchange       inter change      anagram of INTER
outright             out right            delete an R
overbearing       over bearing      over N, S, E or W (in a down clue)


Be aware of words indicating anagrams, burials, bridges and so on (the Tutorial gives details if you’re not sure of them). But remember these can also be just words – “in” doesn’t always mean a burial, and “confused” is not necessarily an anagram indicator.


And remember the Golden Rule –

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