Cryptic crosswords for beginners: end points from Land’s End to verbal bottoms

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. 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.

This time, the setter is asking you to notice the letter at the end of some word, and to do something with it. Here’s a recent example from Pan:

1a Crafty animal getting last of food (6)
[ wordplay: name of an animal + last letter of FOOD ]
[ SHREW + D ]
[ definition: crafty ]

You’re more likely to consider SHREWD from the definition or the crossing letters than you are to imagine immediately that the animal Pan has in mind is that particular snouty insectivore: sometimes you get the answer from the wordplay and other times you use the wordplay to confirm your hunch.

Of course, the setter may hide the instruction to take the last letter, so that your gratification, being delayed, is greater. Here’s Philistine:

19a Provide resources for entertainment at Land’s End (4)
[ wordplay: synonym for ‘entertainment’ + last letter of LAND ]
[ FUN + D ]
[ definition: provide resources for ]

Once we stop seeing “Land’s End” as a name, we add to the FUN for FUND. That’s from a Saturday prize puzzle, a reminder that the weekends are not full of nasty unsolvable clues; their answers are also accompanied with annotated solutions in case something needs clarifying.

And the device might be combined with one of the others we’ve looked at here, like an anagram, or putting one thing inside another. Here’s Paul in another prize

19a Concern parent’s shown about infant, finally (6)
[ wordplay: synonym for ‘parent’, containing (‘about’) last letter of INFANT ]
[ MATER containing T ]
[ definition: concern ]

… cluing MATTER. Equally, you might be asked to both make an anagram and put something inside it. Here’s Matilda in the quiptic, the Guardian’s puzzle “for beginners and those in a hurry”:

25a Well or poorly, it’s ridiculously brave to go round Land’s End (6)
[ wordplay: anagram of (‘ridiculously’) BRAVE, containing (‘to go round’) last letter of LAND ]
[ AVERB containing D ]
[ definition: what ‘well’ and ‘poorly’ are examples of ]

So that’s ADVERB, a reminder that it’s not always obvious where the definition is and another welcome appearance of Land’s End. Finally for now, it’s worth checking that you’re not supposed to be taking the last letter of more than one word. That’s what Nutmeg’s looking for in her clue …

25d Last of pickers still to grade fruit (4)
[ wordplay: last letters of PICKERS STILL TO and GRADE ]
[ definition: fruit ]

… for SLOE. In all these examples, other words could have given the final letter. The crafty animal could have got the last of the plywood; the picker might have ignored the fruit – but then the surface readings of the clues would have lacked their sense and charm.

Any questions? And seasoned solvers, do you have any favourite ways of indicating the last letter? I enjoy the anatomical ones: heels and tails and, in down clues, bottoms. By the way, similar but different processes that we’ve examined here include taking the first and last letters, taking just the first letter and taking alternate letters.

Oh, and removing the last letter from a word. Happy solving!

Here’s a collection of all our explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs.


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