Monday 11 August 2008

How To Spot Anagrams

An anagram is wordplay in which letters from a part of the clue are reordered to give the solution.


Anagram Clue Structure

The clue contains 3 parts -
1. Definition
2. Anagram Fodder - The letters to be rearranged
3. Anagram Indicator - "Signal" that letters are to be rearranged e.g. 'crazy', 'scrambled', 'out'. The anagram indicator is placed either before or after the anagram fodder, but adjacent to it.

The three parts - definition, fodder and indicator - are strung together in a phrase that forms the clue.

Example: Form of rule as yet without extravagance (9)
Here, "Form of" is the anagram indicator, "rule as yet" the fodder and "without extravagance" the definition. The answer, on anagramming "rule as yet", is AUSTERELY.

Anagram clues are not easy to camouflage for the setter, so are generally the first ones to get solved in a cryptic puzzle. Here are some tell-tale signs that give away that the clue at hand is an anagram clue.

Anagram Clue Tell-Tale Signs

See-through indicators
Word/phrase suggesting confusion or rearrangement is likely to be an anagram indicator. Check the words alongside such a word/phrase - do they look like anagram fodder? Does the count of the letters in them tally with the number of letters required in the answer?

Clunky surface reading
Look out for awkward sentence construction.

Toy breeds trained to find out a place for pearls (6,3) OYSTER BED
How a dragon may look ere I defy stirringly? (4-4)

In the clues above, the phrases 'toy breeds' and 'ere I defy' leap out to say they're anagram fodder. The indicators 'trained' and 'stirringly' confirm this further.

Proper nouns
If proper nouns appear in the clue without obvious reason, there is a good chance that they're anagram fodder.

Sends out to stop Rex wandering (7) EXPORTS
He has constructive ideas for the Arctic, perhaps (9) ARCHITECT

The hallmark of a well-constructed anagram clue is a surface reading so smooth that the solver does not notice the anagram - the fodder is inconspicuous, the indicator blends in well with the rest of the clue. [Some tricks that setters use with anagrams to trip up solvers: camouflaging anagrams, applying the whodunit principle.]

Solve These

Have a go at solving these not-so-obvious anagram clues:
Times when things look different (6)
Birds observed in slow motion (4)

Related Posts:

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xwd_fiend said...

Your two examples at the end both show another thing to look out for: unnecessary plurals or tenses. (As the solver, ask yourself "why not 'Time' or 'Bird'.

Pedantic point: 'ere I defy' is not quite an anag. of RED-EYED. It has 8 letters instead of 7, an I and F that it doesn't need, and only one D.

Shuchi said...

@xwd_fiend: Oops the answer is actually FIRE-EYED and not RED-EYED. I'll fix that; thanks for noticing!

Nice point about unnecessary plurals/tenses.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I have a question regarding the first clue. Does the answer have 6 letters or 5? I was thinking the answer is "items".

Shuchi said...

Hello Anon! Note the placement of the indicator "looks different". It is next to "things", not "times". This means that "things" needs to be anagrammed, and "times" must be the definition.

Can you see the answer now?

emi said...

the plurals are not unnecessary. the answers are "nights" and "owls"

Unknown said...

i've just started to solve cw, beginning to enjoy your blog and find it informative too.hope to do more.

Shuchi said...

@mohammed: Thank you. Enjoy solving.

Anonymous said...

Shuchi, is this a proper clue?
I smile in chaos like an angel(6)

Shuchi said...

It's a fine clue, just that most solvers would like an indication that it's a definition by example - a question mark or ', say' with the definition.

More such clues here: D-by-E.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Shuchi! Just a doubt.
I smile in chaos, like an angel, say (6) is much better, I guess.

Shuchi said...

I agree.

Dubdroid said...

Getting clues like "criminal nears trap" (5) = snare.
What is it about the word 'criminal' that suggests mixing letters up?
Slightly puzzling indicator to me?

TheBoss said...

Criminal in this context is a verb - to indicate the fodder is wrong

Wordy Alex said...

A platen is a component of a printer. That’s it. An anagram contains all the letters in a different order.
I would like to be able to tell you that a small napkin was called a naplet, that an eplant was a weed remover, that petnal applied to people who treat their children like pet animals, and a palent flower was one that faded in the sun, but as I’m not Shakespeare, no one would take my neologisms seriously.