Approaching a clue
The first step looking at any cryptic clue should be determining the definition. If unsure, make an educated guess and attempt to solve the clue assuming you have guessed correctly. If you make no progress, re-evaluate your assumption. Note that if you feel the clue may be a purely cryptic type, try reading the clue several times putting emphasis on a different words. Also try to think of meanings for words that would normally be out of context.
Look for identifiers. These are words used to determine what types of wordplay have been employed. Look for anagram indicators (anything that means change – for example: transferred, died, warped, baked, mixed, off, out, twisted, cooked, modified, jumbled, about, turned, moved, thrown just to name a few) and then “fodder” either side of that word to rearrange into the answer. Identifying this fodder can be made easier by taking note of the number of letters required in the answer.
An ideal clue deciphering:
“Dodgy” is an anagram indicator, “over” means put a “cry of pain” in front of “dodgy puns”
[Cry of pain] in front of [an anagram of “puns”] to give the definition “admits”.
Answer: OWNS UP
Stop thinking “This clue is too hard for me”… “It’s probably some word I’ve never heard of”… Adopt the approach that you can deduce the answer to every clue with persistence. Too often frustration arises out of only skimming through the clues looking to find ones you can solve with little effort.
Strategically pick where to start. Having the first letter to a solution significantly decreases the difficulty of a clue. Assuming it takes as equal length of time to analyse and each of the highlighted clues below, which one would you spend time on?
Solve 1 Across or 10 Across?
If you solved 1 across you would have the starting letter of five clues (1D, 2D, 3D, 4D, 5D), where solving 10 across wouldn’t give you any. By choosing to focus on 1 across, if you successfully solve the clue, you will have five significantly easier clues to continue the puzzle. However, apply this principle only when you are stuck and cannot distinguish between difficulties of clues.