Enumeration is a way of providing hints for a puzzle in the form of numbers indicating the lengths of words in a given answer. Often used with clue-based puzzles, enumerations are used extremely commonly, to the point where their absence is often more notable than their presence.

Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]

Enumerations appear in many of puzzles, but are primarily found in word-based puzzles. Exceptions to this include non-word-based puzzles that instead have word-based answers that may need additional hinting or confirmation.

Enumerations work by detailing the word length (and spacing, if something is multi-word) of a particular word/phrase, usually by letter count. Alternatively, enumeration can be done by providing a series of blanks equal to the length and spacing of the answers.

THE ANSWER TO THIS PUZZLE IS --> (3 6 2 4 6 2)
THIS IS THE ANSWER --> _ _ _ _   _ _   _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _

While all letters present in a phrase must be included in an enumeration, punctuation does not count towards a particular 'word length'. Instead, it is up to the author whether to include punctuation that would be in the string in the enumeration, or to omit it entirely. There is no one 'correct' set of punctuation symbols to do this with, but many authors choose to include apostrophes as breaks in a given word, treating letters before as one group and the ones after as another, resulting in the Charlie's Angels example below.

Jeopardy! --> (8!) or (8)
Charlie's Angels --> (7'1 6) or (8 6)
Stay (I Missed You) --> (4 (1 6 3)) or (4 1 6 3)
Eat, Pray, Love --> (3, 4, 4) or (3 4 4)

Some cases of enumeration are not explicit, as it lengths of the entries in them can usually be determined by looking at the space provided. As a general rule, puzzles with fillable grids like this will usually not include enumerations unless they are hiding something or otherwise providing contradictory lengths in the grid. This is especially true for variety cryptic crosswords, as they may provide enumerations that help solve the clues themselves, but then require further transformation before being placed in the grid (which may increase or decrease their length).

Enumerations also have multiple purposes in puzzles. While the most common is to make the solving process of large numbers of crossword-style clues somewhat easier, it may also serve to disambiguate. This disambiguation may be to indicate one out of a few possible options for clue answers, or it may be to show how to space out a series of extracted letters into a clue phrase.


Cases like the above are rare, mostly because they can be avoided easily by simply choosing a different final phrase (such as ANSWER LAND for the former or NO MAN IS A BLANK for the latter). However, should they arise and be unavoidable, enumerations can help differentiate between the multiple interpretations.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

Is It An Enumeration?[edit | edit source]

Whether or not a particular number or set of numbers found in a puzzle is actually meant to be used as an enumeration can be a difficult question to answer, particularly if there are a lot of different sets of numbers being thrown around.

One common confusion can be whether numbers presented after clues are enumerations or indexes An easy way to differentiate them is to remember that indexes will usually be single numbers. If any of the clues is followed by two numbers separated by a space, it's likely that it's an enumeration for a two-word phrase, and the rest should be treated as enumerations as well. Alternatively, if the answers to the clues consistently end up being the same lengths as the numbers, it's likely they're enumerations rather than an overly-signposted terminalization extraction. If the numbers span from 1 to some number uniquely in some order, they might be a method to reorder the clues or elements instead of an index.

Numbers present at the bottom of a puzzle or otherwise disconnected from any other element should be considered to be enumerations, either for the final answer or for a final clue phrase. Similarly, if a final clue phrase contains a number written out, such as 'BLAH BLAH EIGHT', it should be treated as an enumeration for the final answer clued by the BLAH BLAH section, essentially written as BLAH BLAH (8).

How To Treat Enumerations[edit | edit source]

Enumerations are rarely ever intentionally wrong. When you see one after a clue, you can usually take it at its word, and should generally trust enumerations next to clues more than implied enumerations should the two differ.

Should a cryptic crossword puzzle lack enumeration, instead relying entirely on implied enumerations within a grid, you should proceed with caution. Leaving out enumerations is a conscious decision and allows for more opportunity to trick the solver with the way things get entered. Regular crosswords, which usually just rely on implied enumerations anyway, should be much less suspicious, but a minor amount of caution and suspicion towards implied enumerations is just a safe tactic overall.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Played Straight[edit | edit source]

  • Deep Blue (MITMH 2019) (web) - While the cryptic clues in this puzzle don't have traditional answers, it's helped heavily by the presence of enumerations for each.
  • Orbital Simulator (MITMH 2020) (web) - This puzzle begins with a series of blanks and a bracketed pair of numbers. As solvers will find out by solving the puzzle, the blanks are an enumeration for the final clue phrase (3 2 4), and the bracketed numbers are an enumeration for the final answer (7 3)

Notable Twists[edit | edit source]

  • The Balloon Merchant's Gambit (MITMH 2020) (web) - Instead of normal enumerations, this puzzle presents clues in the form of fictional named chess moves. By pairing the actual clues with words starting with the letters B, C, D, E, or F, the puzzle actually indicates the enumerations of the clues' answers (all ranging from 2 to 6 letters, with B meaning 2 and F meaning 6).
  • Chaos in Neopia (Huntinality 2022) (web) - This puzzle has some missing answers that need to be backsolved, each of which having an enumeration of sorts. However, instead of telling solvers the exact enumeration (except in one case), they instead provide a range of lengths, such as '6-10 letters' or 'fewer than 6 letters'.

See Also[edit | edit source]