FAQ – Big Dave's Crossword Blog



Frequently Asked Questions

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

If you want to know:

or any other questions about the site in particular and crosswords in general, then please look below before asking.

Just click on to open the answer to each question and to close it.

If you prefer the older-style of FAQ click here.

1. What software is used by this site?

This site is hosted by Smart Hosting on WordPress software – as used worldwide by millions of blogs.

2. How do I find out about the different types of cryptic clue?

The simple answer is that you can spend years solving cryptic crosswords, and still not fully understand. I have prepared Big Dave’s Little Guide to Cryptic Crosswords to help beginners (and maybe some veterans as well) with the different types of clue and the terminology that, in general, is used on this site to describe them. The guide also contains a list of other useful sites and some recommended books.

3. Which books should I read to improve my skill?

There are many books available to help. Peter Biddlecombe, current editor of the Sunday Times Crossword and former Times Crossword Champion, has picked out some of the best in Which books should I read? All of the books in this guide are linked to the Amazon UK pages where you can read other reviews before you make up your mind.

4. What is acceptable when submitting prize puzzles?

Phil McNeill, the former Puzzles Editor for the Telegraph Media Group, has issued answers to questions like “Can I use pencil or Tippex?”. You can read what he has said in Guidelines for the submission of Prize Puzzles.

5. What are the names of the Toughie setters?

The names of the Toughie setters are published in the newspaper. Although they are not shown with the Toughie puzzles on the online Telegraph Puzzles site, they can now be found under The Knowledge / Inside Puzzles / Telegraph Toughie compilers. You can also see a full list, from Toughie #1 to date in Toughie Setters on this site.

6. Why does it say "Click here!"?

The answer to the clue is now hidden behind a spoiler, like this one: ANSWER. Just click on the spoiler to reveal the answer.

(see below for the method used on older reviews)

7. Why are there curly brackets beside each clue?

The answer to the clue used to be between the curly brackets – see the next question for how to reveal the answer.

8. How do I see the answers?

For newer reviews, just click on the “Click here!” spoiler to reveal the answer.

For older reviews, where the answers are in white text between the curly brackets, reveal this text by simply selecting it with the mouse. Single word answers can also be revealed by double clicking the space between the brackets. Try it out here: {THIS IS THE ANSWER}. If you are using an iPhone, iPad or certain other mobile/portable devices this may not work properly – see below.

8.1How do I find the answers on an iPhone, iPad or similar?

On some mobile/portable devices, the hidden answers in older reviews cannot be revealed by selecting with the mouse. This is because the browsers used on those devices are not fully html compliant. There are ways to get around this – try each one to see if it works on your device.

  1. Select the text between the curly brackets. To do this, tap and hold within the brackets. This should highlight the space occupied by the word. For answers with two or more words you may need to increase the capture area by using the drag bars to select the whole answer.
    • With the word highlighted, you will see an option to Copy the selected text. For iOS 5, if the highlighted word is in the iPhone / iPad dictionary, there will also be a Define option. Tapping on Define will open a temporary page with the word and its definition.
    • If Define is not available, you can click on Copy to copy the selected text. This can then be pasted into Notes or, if you want to quickly to see the word and there is Google search bar at the top of the screen, you can Paste it into the search bar. This works for the iPhone and iPad and may work with other devices.
  2. Use the Reader option by clicking in the address bar with Reader on it. This shows the main page (but not the comments) in plain text with all the answers revealed. This works for the iPhone and iPad, but iOS 5 must be installed for this option to appear.

9. Why don’t you give answers to prize crosswords?

This is a site for those who love crosswords. In common with the other major crossword sites, the answers to prize crosswords are not published until after the closing date for the competition. A few hints are published on the day that the puzzle is published in order to help anyone who is struggling to get started.

9.1. Why can I see some answers by hovering?

Some hints for prize puzzles might be illustrated with an image and hovering over this image could reveal an answer. These “gimmes” are at the discretion of the author of the hints.

10. Why is there text in bold red characters at the end of the post?

Those who leave comments on the hints pages for current Prize puzzles are requested to not reveal any information about an answer that is not clearly shown in the clue. The following message appears at the end of all such posts:

Could new readers please read the Welcome post and the FAQ before posting comments or asking questions about the site.

As this is a Prize crossword, please don’t put any ANSWERS, whether WHOLE, PARTIAL or INCORRECT, or any ALTERNATIVE CLUES in your comment.

Please read these instructions carefully – they are not subject to debate or discussion. Offending comments may be redacted or, in extreme cases, deleted. In all cases the administrator’s decision is final.

See below for explanations of partial answers and alternative clues.

11. What are the links included with some hints?

The links, which show up as underlined text or are accessed by clicking on some, but not all, of the pictures, provide supplementary information.

This will often be a link to a page which provides a more detailed explanation of the subject like this one about the poet Andrew Marvell. Other times it might be a music clue like this link to Chas McDavitt and Nancy Whisky with Freight Train, which was the first one I published. And then again it might be something entirely frivolous that just takes my fancy like this one of the Britannia Coco-Nutters of Bacup.

12. What is the BRB that is often referred to in reviews and comments?

Many of the users of this site affectionately refer to Chambers Dictionary as the Big Red Book, or BRB for short. Please note that the free online dictionary from Chambers is only a subset of the real thing. Chambers Crossword Dictionary, another worthwhile purchase, is also red, but not as big as the BRB.

13. How do I add a comment?

There are two different ways in which you can add a comment:

1. At the bottom of each post that was added in the last 180 days, in the section headed “LEAVE A RESPONSE”, there are several boxes. Complete these as follows:

Name: Enter your name as you wish it to appear on the comment. Please avoid unnecessary capitals as this is the internet equivalent of shouting (i.e. Name or name not NAME).

Email: Enter you email address. This does not appear on the site, but it enables you to receive notification via email of any follow-up comments and it enables me to get in touch with you.

Your response: Enter your comment in here. If you wish to use formatting, please see the appropriate FAQ.

Submit Comment: Select this when you have entered all the details above.

Notify me of follow-up comments by email: Select this box if you wish to be notified of follow-up comments.

Notify me of new posts by email: Select this box if you wish to be notified of new posts.

2. If one or more comments have been previously entered on the post then you can reply to one of them by selecting Reply. This opens up a set of boxes. Complete these as described in paragraph 1 above. Be careful to select the comment to which you wish to reply rather than one of the replies themselves. All replies are indented one level, up to a maximum of ten levels.

14. What can I put in a comment?

This site operates a very liberal approach to comments and, with a few notable exceptions, anything is allowed.

Any comments which infringe the guidelines outlined in Comment Etiquette may be redacted or, in extreme cases, deleted. Persistent offenders will have their future comments subjected to moderation.

15. What is a partial answer?

Partial answers usually take the form of “I have ?A?B?C? but can’t get the answer”. The given letters may or may not be correct. Either way they are contrary to the philosophy of this site, which is to encourage solvers to learn how to interpret the wordplay in order to determine the correct answer to a clue. Partial answers for Prize crosswords will be redacted or deleted.

16. What is an alternative clue?

Alternative clues are clues that lead to the correct answer but have nothing to do with the actual clue. Many such clues commence with the words “think of …….”. Providing such clues is somewhat akin to just giving the answer and does nothing to assist in helping solvers to understand how to interpret the wordplay. Alternative clues for Prize crosswords will be redacted or deleted.

17. Why are some comments nested?

Any replies to a comment are indented by one level, replies to a reply are indented two levels, and so on. Up to ten levels are allowed, which is usually more than sufficient.

18. Why is my comment being ignored?

The first time you post a comment, it has to be moderated. Some sites require all comments to be moderated, but here all comments are published immediately as long as you have a previously approved comment. Approval is linked to alias and the email address that you provide, although the address is not displayed on the site.

These restrictions are in place in order to protect the site against malicious comments. You would be surprised how often attempts are made to post spam containing unwanted links. Any comment containing two or more links is automatically designated as spam.

This site, along with millions of other sites, uses Akismet to monitor comments and to reject any that look as if they are spam. From time to time this process gets overloaded and some comments are temporarily left in moderated status. In such cases the following message appears on the site’s Comment dashboard (only seen by authorised users such as members of the blogging team):

Akismet has detected a problem.

Some comments have not yet been checked for spam by Akismet. They have been temporarily held for moderation and will automatically be rechecked later.

Please be patient as this is usually resolved automatically, or manually by the blogging team. Very occasionally a genuine comment falls foul of the vagaries of the spam filter – in this case a Captcha question must be completed and, if noticed, the comment will be rescued from the spam queue, again by the blogging team.

19. How do I add formatting to a comment?

The process for doing this uses standard html code and combinations are allowed:

italics <i>italics</i>
bold text <b>bold text</b>
<strong>bold text</strong>
underline <u>underline</u>
delete <del>delete</del>

block quote

<blockquote>block quote</blockquote>
cite <cite>cite</cite>
preserve   spaces
<pre>preserve spaces</pre>
bold underlined <b><u>bold underlined</u></b>
bold italics <strong><em>bold italics</em></strong>

Don’t worry if you make a mess of it, I will tidy it up for you.

20. How do I add a link to a comment?

To insert a hyperlink, just use the standard html code:

Link to this site <a href=”https://bigdave44.com”>Link to this site</a>

All parts of this code are important, for example if you omit the text, then there will be no way of selecting the link.

Please remember that if you add two or more links to a comment it will be automatically designated as spam and will disappear into the ether.

21. Where does the avatar beside my comment come from?

The avatars are automatically generated from the email address that you provide. If you would like your own avatar, see the next question.

22. Can I have my own avatar?

Yes you can. All you need to do is to sign up for a free account with gravatar.com and then add as many email addresses and upload as many avatars as you wish. The chosen avatar will then appear on all WordPress blogs and several other sites like AnswerBank.

Alternatively you can sign up for your own WordPress account here. During this process you will be offered the chance to start your own blog, just like I did back in January 2009, and it’s all free. Once you have an account, you can upload an avatar of your own creation.

23. How do I use emoticons?

Many standard emoticons, or smilies, are automatically changed into the equivalent graphic. Note that, in order to be converted into an emoticon, a smiley must be preceded by a space. The following emoticons are supported on this site:

Emotion Emoticon Text Code Code
bye :bye:    
cool :cool: B-) 8-)
cry :cry:    
good :good:    
heart :heart:    
mail :mail:    
negative :negative:    
rose :rose:    
sad :sad: :( :-(
scratch :scratch:    
smile :smile: :) :-)
unsure :unsure:    
wacko :wacko:    
whistle :whistle:    
wink :wink: ;) ;-)
yahoo :yahoo:    
yes :yes:    
phew :phew:    
yawn :yawn:    
arrow :arrow:    
confused :???: :? :-?
eek :eek: 8O 8-O
evil :evil:    
exclaim :exclaim: :!:  
grin :grin: :D :-D
idea :idea:    
lol :lol:    
mad :mad: :x :-x
mrgreen :mrgreen:    
neutral :neutral: :| :-|
question :question: :?:  
razz :razz: :P :-P
oops :oops:    
roll :roll:    
surprise :surprise: :o :-o
twisted :twisted:    

24. How do I contact any of the contributors?

You can use the form on the Contact page, and I will forward the message to the appropriate contributor. Alternatively, any comment made on a particular post will be automatically emailed to the author of that post.

25. How do I find a particular puzzle?

The WordPress software supports a wide range of search facilities, which are available by using various widgets in the sidebar

1. Recent Posts. The 20 most recent posts, which covers the majority of requests.

2. Calendar. If you know which day the puzzle was published, then select that day from the calendar and then select the required puzzle from the search results that are displayed. Please note that the full review of the Saturday prize puzzle is filed under the Friday following the date of publication (six days later) and that of the Sunday prize puzzle is filed under the Thursday of the following the week (eleven days later).

3. Contributor. Select the name of the contributor, either from the bottom of one of their posts or from the list on the Search page, to view a summary of all their posts.

4. Categories. Categories vary from type of crossword to the name of the setter (Toughies, MPPs and NTSPPs only) or day of the week (regular cryptics). Select the required entry from the drop-down list on the Search page to view a summary of all the posts in that category.

5. Search. See the next question for how to use the search widget.

26. What does the search widget in the sidebar do?

The original search widget was somewhat clunky and results were always ordered newest to oldest. This has been replaced by a Google search page, accessed by clicking the link in the sidebar widget, which utilises the power of Google to search this site. The results are ordered by relevance rather than date. You can search for a particular answer or clue, a puzzle number or anything else.

As an example, if you search for To Sir With Love you will get several matches, although Google will list the answers containing all of the words at the top. If you search for “To Sir With Love”, with the argument in quotes, you will find the puzzle that had this as an answer (and this page in the FAQ as well!).

Apologies in advance for the embedded advertisements, but Google charge if you want them to be removed!

27. What are the links at the bottom of each post?

Following “By” is the name of the contributor. Select this link to view a summary of all that contributor’s posts.

One or more category and, possibly, a number of tags are assigned to each post. The categories also act as tags. If you select one of these tags you can see a summary of all posts assigned to that tag. This facility is closely linked to the various search engines, and makes the site easy to find.

28. How do you know the names of the setters?

The simple answer is that, unlike with the Toughies, we don’t know the names of those who set the regular back-page crossword puzzles. However, many of the setters have told us which days their puzzles are usually published, and we have learned to recognise the styles of some of the others. This article includes a photograph (below) of many of the current setters.

Clockwise from ’12 o’clock’: Roger Squires (in blue jumper, now retired); Phil McNeill (in red tie), the former Telegraph Crossword Editor; Peter Chamberlain a.k.a. Cephas; John Graham, a.k.a. Araucaria (died in 2013) ; Anna Squires, Roger’s wife; Dean Mayer, a.k.a. Elkamere; Daniella Gomés, the Telegraph’s Assistant Puzzles Editor; Jeremy Mutch; Val Gilbert, the Telegraph Crossword Editor for 30 years until she retired in 2006; Philip Marlow, a.k.a. Shamus; Don Manley, a.k.a Giovanni; John Henderson, a.k.a. Elgar.

The following table is correct insofar as we know for current puzzles. The aliases given are those frequently used on the blog. Some are aliases used for Toughie Crosswords (shown in bold) and others are those used in other publications such as The Guardian and The Independent.

Day Alias Name
Monday Campbell Allan Scott
Tuesday Samuel/X-type/Dada/ Anthony Plumb
Chris Lancaster, Jim Coulson, John Halpern
Wednesday Jay(Logman) / Donnybrook Jeremy Mutch, Paul Bringloe
Thursday Ray T (Beam )/ Giovanni
Ray Terrell, Don Manley
Friday Silvanus/Zandio/proXimal Russell Henwood, ????????, Steve Bartlett
Saturday Cephas/Donnybrook/Chalicea/ Samuel
Peter Chamberlain, Paul Bringloe, Shirley Curran, Chris Lancaster
Sunday Dada John Halpern
Others Shamus, – Philip Marlow, Phil McNeill

29. Which crosswords are published in the newspaper?

For those who are unable, or unwilling, to buy the Telegraph newspaper Falcon has prepared the basis of the following notes:

  • the daily newspaper is called The Daily Telegraph (DT)
  • the DT carries three main crossword puzzles (Quick, Daily, and Toughie)
  • the DT Quick and Daily appear six days a week (Monday through Saturday)
  • the DT Toughie only appears on Tuesday through Friday
  • General Knowledge crossword puzzles appear in the DT on Saturday and Monday
  • the Quick is a straightforward puzzle where the answers are usually synonyms of the clues
  • the Daily and Toughie are both cryptic puzzles
  • the Quick and Daily are almost invariably set by the same person
  • the first two or more answers in the Quick crossword form a tooth-sucking pun like ardour + snails = hard as nails (Campbell, who sets some of the Monday puzzles also includes a bottom line pun — and often a third pun in the middle of the grid)
  • the Daily and Quick usually appear on the back page of the paper – thus the daily is often referred to as the “back-page puzzle” or “back pager”
  • the Toughie appears in the middle of the paper, along with other puzzles like Sudoku and Codewords
  • the Saturday Daily puzzle is a prize puzzle (the winner receives a pen and the runners-up receive other prizes)
  • the Sunday newspaper has a different name, The Sunday Telegraph (ST)
  • the ST also features Quick, Cryptic, and Toughie puzzles
  • the ST puzzles have a separate numbering convention from the DT puzzles
  • both the Sunday Cryptic and the Sunday Toughie are prize puzzles
  • the Sunday Quick crossword lacks the pun mentioned above
  • a barred cryptic puzzle called Enigmatic Variations is also published on Sunday

30. What is a pangram?

Strictly speaking a pangram is a sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet, e.g. the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. This has been extended by crossword enthusiasts to mean a crossword in which the answers contain all the letters of the alphabet. If two or more of the letters J, Q, X and Z are present, it is often worth looking out to see if the others can be fitted in to any of the missing answers.

31. Who (or what) is Nina?

A Nina is a hidden feature in a crossword. The original Nina was the daughter of American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who was best known for his simple black and white portraits of celebrities and Broadway stars. He frequently hid his daughter’s name in his caricatures. See if you can spot her name in either of the two images below. Hover over the image to highlight the Nina, click on the image to view a larger version.

Click here to see enlarged image Click here to see enlarged image

The term has been adopted for crosswords that contain a hidden message.

Typically this is found in the unchecked letters, horizontally, vertically or along one of the diagonals. This one, by Shamus, starts in the middle of the right-hand column and reads clockwise around the grid,


Sometimes the message is derived from consecutive answers. Look at rows 5 and 11 and columns 5 and 11 in this Notabilis puzzle.


Further information can be found in this excellent article on Shuchi’s Crossword Unclued website.

32. How can I access puzzles on a phone or tablet?

Prolixic has prepared this excellent guide to accessing Crosswords on the move.

33. Why do I get a pause when first accessing the site?

When you access the site you may see a message like this one:

Checking your browser before accessing bigdave44.com.

This process is automatic. Your browser will redirect to your requested content shortly.

Please allow up to 5 seconds…

This is because the site is protected from a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS) attack, a malicious attempt to make a network resource unavailable, by CloudFlare.

34. Why is a puzzle often referred to as a "guzzle" in the comments?

Regular commenter Chriscross accidentally dubbed it a guzzle and the name seems to have caught on. As Chriscross has acknowledged, “Guilty as charged, it was one of the funniest of the many typos that I make, due to the effect of a stroke on my eyesight.”

35. Who is the Floughie Lady?

In the words of Chriscross in a comment on DT 30437, “when Chalicea compiled a Toughie, some wag commented that it was more of a Floughie than a Toughie. It stuck and she became the Floughie Lady.”

Back to top of page

Created 02 April 2009

Updated 13 November 2018