Solving cryptic crosswords: reversed words

One way that cryptic crossword compilers hide the answer within a clue is by reversing some or all of the letters. Here’s an example from a recent Tossman crossword:

Root back to show the contention is untrue (5)


‘Show the contention is untrue’ is REBUT. Reversing this gives the answer TUBER which is a form of root.

Reversing is here signalled by the word ‘back’. Other words commonly found in cryptic clues to suggest a word should be reversed include:

  • Reverses
  • Withdraws
  • Backing
  • Back to front / East to west * but see the note below!
  • Retreats
  • Returns
  • Going / coming back
  • Turns
  • Flipped

When it’s a Down clue, other hints may also be used, including:

  • Going up
  • Rises
  • Upset / upended
  • Climbing / ascending

* Be careful with Back to front or East to west – these sometimes signal that just the last letter is to be moved to the front of the word. Eg in the clue ‘Sickens, back to front sheet (4)’, AILS becomes SAIL when the last letter moves from the end to the start of the word.

You’ll also find other hints used in cryptic clues to signal reversing – feel free to post examples here in the comments!

237px-crossword_psfHow to solve Kropotkin, Tossman and other cryptic crosswords.

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