Cryptic crosswords for beginners: cities

In the example clues below, I explain the two parts of each: the definition of the answer, given in bold type, and the wordplay – the recipe for assembling its letters. In a genuine puzzle environment, of course, you also have the crossing letters, which will greatly alleviate your solving load if you have them. The explanations contain links to previous entries in this series on such matters as spelling one word backwards to reveal another. And setters’ names tend to link to interviews, in case you feel like getting to know these people better.


The Ziggurat of Ur.

The Ziggurat of Ur. Photograph: Andrew Craft/AP

A 2001 Guardian piece on sports writing describes Fever Pitch as the “Ur-text of British fandom”, which is more positive than an early review I recall as having the stark headline “Boring, boring Arsenal”.

The use of “Ur-” as a natty alternative to “totally original” is probably more common than references to Ur itself, which seems unfair for a city that has a good claim to having been the capital of the world. When a solver sees “city” in a clue, it’s always worth trying out UR in the answer, as with this recent one from Nutmeg

1ac Bore finished touring ancient city (7)
[ wordplay: synonym for “ended” going around (“touring”) name of “ancient city” ]
[ ENDED going around UR ]
[ definition: bore (as a verb) ]

… for ENDURED, though not every setter helpfully adds “ancient” before “city”.


Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro

Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro Photograph: Sergio Moraes/Reuters

The Tupi language may be extinct, but its speakers knew their geography, so Brazil’s Guanabara Bay is named after the Tupi description of “a bay that’s a bosom of the sea”. Because it’s a bay.

The same bay’s Portuguese “visitors” on New Year’s Day, 1502, were littorally not as smart and called it January River, which is how we ended up with Rio de Janeiro. And the word that inaccurately identifies a river is the bit solvers need to remember, like in Brummie’s clue …

25ac So long as eastern city follows cult hero (7)
[ wordplay: abbreviation for “eastern” and name of city, both after (“follows”) name of “cult hero” ]
[ E and RIO, both after CHE (Guevara) ]
[ definition: so long ]

… for CHEERIO.


The Prince of Wales in Aden November 12, 1921, to visit troops passes locals and a banner asking him to “Tell Daddy we are all happy under British rule”. Daddy was King George V.

The Prince of Wales in the Yemeni capital, Aden, in 1921

Photograph: PA

Another ancient city to know – and one so ancient that locals claim an association with Abel and the first ever person forced to hand back his “World’s #1 Brother” socks, Cain – is Aden.

Well, here we see Rufus using something a little more specific than “city” …

26ac Port some dread entering (4)
[ wordplay: hidden in (‘some’) DREADENTERING ]
[ definition: port ]

… to clue ADEN, as often part of the wordplay as it is its own answer.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, 1958. On such days, a layer of warm air - temperature inversion - acts as a cover keeping impurities near the ground. Los Angeles officials claim automobiles cause most of the smog. Automotive and gasoline industries have been asked by the city to help in the fight against smog. (AP Photo)

City of Angels … Los Angeles in 1958. Photograph: AP

The original locals called it The Place With the Poisoned Oaks, little knowing how much more polluted the area would become once the Anglos took over from the Mexicans who took over from the Spanish who had renamed it El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles.

In crosswords, though, we tend to find a shorter version of the name, as in Philistine’s clue …

16ac City’s to be conquered in the end (4,2,3)
[ wordplay: letters indicating “city”’s plus synonym for “to be conquered” ]
[ LA’S + TO FALL ]
[ definition: “in the end” ]

… for LAST OF ALL. See also: NY.

The City of London

A dragon guarding the City of London

A dragon guarding the City of London. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

London’s financial centre is a big beast in the global economy, perhaps because it’s full of geniuses, perhaps because we bagged Greenwich Mean Time and so the UK’s business day has the greatest overlap with others’. As with LA, the City’s postcode provides a handy letter pair, as deftly used in Chifonie’s clue …

12ac Inscrutable Tories assembled in the City (8)
[ wordplay: anagram (“assembled”) of TORIES, contained by abbreviation indicating “the City” ]
[ SOTERI in EC ]
[ definition: inscrutable ]

… for ESOTERIC, our final example.

Beginners: any questions? Seasoned solvers and setters: which other cities seem feature frequently in your crosswording adventures?


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