That was the year that was!


Exactly a year ago today I said I would provide a series of weekly posts which looked at contemporary English in a rather unusual way. If you have been reading Never a cross word, you will know that cryptic crossword clues have served as a catalyst for providing a whole range of different talking points – a teaching methodology for ESL students which may be unique. That series has now concluded after 50 posts which are all still accessible in the archive.  If you are interested, there is plenty there to read.

I do hope, wherever you are in the world, that you found this experiment enjoyable and educational.  Good luck with your English studies.


Never a cross word – 50


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Last week I left you this clue to think about:

Important china liar shattered (8)

Trying to solve this would be impossible if you had never come across Cockney rhyming slang. As I explained in the last post, china (an abbreviation for china plate) is rhyming slang for mate. Armed with this knowledge, one should keep in mind the possibility that the letters MATE appear in the solution.

It would be similarly impossible to solve the clue if you were unaware of some of the rules of cryptic crosswords, which I have attempted to explain in this series.  You should know by now that it is very unlikely that the answer has anything to do with an untruthful person breaking china!

The word ‘shattered’, which we encountered in the very first post (see Never a cross word – 1), suggests that the letters of the word ‘liar’ are broken apart and put back together in a different order – or in other words provide an anagram for the last four letters of the solution.  (If you have only just discovered this series please see Never a cross word – 3 for further information about anagrams.) In this case, the letters LIAR are rearranged as RIAL.  Added to china (MATE), this gives:


We know this is correct since there is always a word or words in the clue defining the answer – in this case the word ‘important’.  Although it is not the most common meaning, significant or important is one of the ways in which the word material can be used; see here.  Lawyers will know this in connection with whether facts are material to a case or legal argument.

Material is more widely used as a general term to describe what things are made from, so an alternative clue could be:

Mother takes test about European cloth possibly (8)

Here, mother is MA; test is TRIAL; European is abbreviated to E and the answer, MATERIAL, is indeed possibly cloth. There are almost endless ways in which clues can be devised.

Material can also mean information or ideas and, in that sense, we have certainly covered a lot of material in the 50 posts in this series.  In just one year of Friday posts, which have been viewed in many different parts of the world, the advanced ESL learner has been exposed to several hundred words and idioms, mixed in with a smattering (small amount) of commentary on current affairs (what is in the news).  In the process, we have embarked on a magical mystery tour, covering a range of diverse subjects from practical jokes to politics and from tennis to twitter.  And we have encountered some authentic English which, without the stimulus of cryptic clues, we might never have had reason to discuss.

In addition, although this was always a secondary objective, I hope readers have learnt something about the art of cryptic crossword puzzles and can see why they are so appealing.  I feel sure, although this is difficult to prove, that engaging in the mental challenge of trying to solve clues, or simply understanding the solutions, must be an effective way of learning, as noted here.  For more commentary on cryptic clues as a teaching methodology please see Never a cross word – 1.

With crosswords published every day in national British newspapers, there is no shortage of material to draw on and I could continue these blogs indefinitely.  However, enough is enough and I have decided to wind up (stop) this series at the 50 post mark.  If you have not read them all there are plenty of articles in the archive to look back at.

So, school’s out: no homework this week.  Take a break and enjoy the Rugby World Cup. I will just conclude by wishing all readers the best of success in their English studies.  And when you next see a cryptic crossword puzzle, have a go.  If you can get even a couple of answers right you will find it tremendously satisfying.

Thank you for reading Never a cross word. 

Never a cross word – 49


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Last week I left you with this clue:

Lines penned by leading business figure for musical instrument (5)

The way to break this down is as follows.  An abbreviation for lines is ‘ll‘ (LL).  If, for example, you refer to a passage in a book from lines 12-17 you can write ‘see ll 12-17′.  A leading business figure is a CEO – standing for Chief Executive Officer.  We have come across pen before, one meaning of which is to enclose.  So, if LL is ‘penned’ by CEO we get the answer:


a well-known musical instrument.

A CEO is the head of a company and the word ‘company’ (meaning a business) frequently appears in cryptic crossword clues.  That is because the usual abbreviation is Co. (as in Smith and Co. Ltd.) and CO is quite common in English words.  Take this example from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,902 dated 9th September 2015:

Hide from company and clean building (7)

The answer is obtained from the abbreviation for company plus an anagram of ‘clean’ (‘building’ is the hint that an anagram is involved because the letters we require can be built into ‘clean’ when rearranged).  The solution is therefore CO + NCEAL; or:


which means, of course, ‘hide’.  For the definition of conceal, see here.

Other clues that apparently relate to the business world may include references to ‘work’ and ‘workers’ – but these are (as you might imagine) deceptive.  The word ‘work’ more often than not signals the letters OP, standing for opus – another musical term (compare Never a cross word – 48); and ‘worker’ normally signifies ANT (as in the insect, worker ant).

The following clues, from the same puzzle as above, show these tricks in operation:

First, consider:

Not joining in work can get initially unpopular (6,3)

Here, ‘work’ is OP (as explained above), ‘can’ is TIN (as in tin can!); ‘get initially’ is the first letter of ‘get’ (G) and unpopular is OUT (compare Never a cross word – 17).

Putting all that together gives:


which means not joining in.

Now try:

Worker trapped by wild pig with a bear? (5,5)

‘Worker’ is ANT (as explained above) but it is ‘trapped’ suggesting that those letters appear inside another word.  It is trapped by ‘wild pig’ which suggests an anagram of PIG; and ‘with a’ can be replaced by ‘and a’ or ANDA.

Putting all that together gives:


which is a bear native (see Never a cross word – 40) to a part of China; see here.

The word China reminds me to tell you about something you might encounter in spoken English – at least in the London area.  That is Cockney rhyming slang.  A Cockney is someone from the East End of London (see here), and rhyming slang (spoken with a distinctive cockney accent) is a weird dialect as I shall explain shortly. Basically, instead of using a particular word, you use a word or phrase which rhymes with it.  To take an example, you might go up the ‘apples and pears‘ meaning to go up the stairs.  When a phrase is used, the word which actually rhymes with what is meant is frequently omitted, making things even more confusing.  Thus, to take a butcher’s at something is a widely understood expression meaning to take a look – because look rhymes with ‘butcher’s hook‘.  ‘China’ – an abbreviation for ‘China plate‘ – rhymes with mate, so in the strange language of Cockney rhyming slang a china is a friend.  An online dictionary of Cockney Rhyming Slang may be found here.

You are less likely to come across these expressions these days but they can still be heard, and occasionally appear in crossword puzzles.  I don’t have to hand (readily available) an example from a newspaper so I will make up a clue instead.  It reads:

Important china liar shattered (8)

Good luck! The answer will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 48


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Last week I left you with this clue:

Patriotic song, Arne air Butlin’s broadcast (4,9)

and noted that the answer had a connection with the Last Night of the Proms which takes place at the Royal Albert Hall in London tomorrow evening.

The word ‘broadcast’ is a hint that an anagram is involved, since – as well as the more familiar meaning (transmission of a radio or TV programme) – the verb ‘to broadcast’ can mean to spread.  One can broadcast seeds by throwing them (scattering them is a better word) on to the ground by hand.  The full definition is here.

So, if the thirteen letters in ‘Arne air Butlin’ are scattered and put back in a different order one obtains the solution. (If you are wondering what happened to the ‘s in Butlin’s, it is short for ‘is’ so the whole expression ‘Arne air Butlin’ is broadcast.)

Did you get it?  The answer is:


which is a famous British patriotic song.  At the Last Night of the Proms the audience joins in the chorus.  You can see a clip on You Tube here.

Rule, Britannia! was originally set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740 which makes the inclusion of the word ‘Arne’ in the anagram – and the word ‘air’ (meaning a piece of music) – particularly apt.  The word Butlin is less so but not entirely meaningless. Butlin’s is a chain of holiday camps in the UK, well known for using a system of loudspeakers to broadcast music and messages to its residents.

Rule, Britannia! is not of course the British National Anthem.  That is God Save the Queen (or King), which will also be featured at the Last Night of the Proms.  It will no doubt be sung with particular feeling this year: Queen Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest reigning monarch on Wednesday this week, surpassing the 63 years and 7 months achieved by Queen Victoria (1837-1901), after whose husband the Royal Albert Hall is named.

Musical references appear quite frequently in cryptic crossword clues.  Sometimes ‘quiet’ or ‘soft’ denotes the letter P (for piano) and ‘loud’ is an indicator for the letter F (forte). Often the word ‘note’ is used to suggest the inclusion in the answer of one of the letters A, B, C, D, E, F or G, or occasionally DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, or TE.

But sometimes a little more musical knowledge is called for.  Take this clue from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,898 dated 4th September 2015:

Groups coming together chat about Wagner’s work (10)

One of the musical works Wagner is most famous for is The Ring cycle, a complete performance of which (usually over 4 days) takes about 15 hours, see here.

To chat is to talk about nothing of much importance in a friendly and informal way, see here.  Chatting with people is a pleasant way of spending the time but it can sometimes go on for a bit too long.  In that case a slang expression ‘to gas‘ can be used – to talk excessively about trivial matters (see one of the many meanings of gas here).

If GAS (chat) is put ‘about’ THE RING (Wagner’s work) we obtain the solution:


which are groups of people coming together.  You can talk about a family gathering, which is a meeting of members of the same family, often involving cousins or more remote relations who do not often see each other.

The names of composers appear not only in clues but sometimes in solutions.  Here is an example adapted from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,901 dated 8th September 2015:

Time to go over French composer’s journeys (7)

(The original clue said ‘passages’ instead of ‘journeys’ but I have made it slightly easier.)

‘Time’ is frequently abbreviated to T so that part is trivial; the skill comes in naming a French composer. That, in this case, is Ravel (1875-1937) who famously composed Boléro.  Ravel’s (ignoring the apostrophe as one is allowed to do in these clues) added to T gives the answer:


meaning journeys.

I will leave you with just one more clue which in one way or another features the world of music.  This time it relates to an instrument.  Try this from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,903 dated 10th September 2015:

Lines penned by leading business figure for musical instrument (5)

The answer will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 47


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Last week, if you recall, you were left this clue to think about:

Pay close attention to verbose drunk (7)

I told you that the word ‘drunk’ could signal an anagram and that you did not even need to know the meaning of the word ‘verbose’.

That should have made it quite clear that the answer is an anagram of verbose! Did you get it? The answer is:


which of course means to pay close attention to something, see here.

Just for the record, the word verbose means saying something in more words than are needed – see here.  A more common expression, which can also be applied to unnecessarily lengthy writing, is long-winded.

The verb ‘to observe’ can also mean to make a remark about something.  I observed in an earlier post that cryptic crossword clues quite often involve references to food.  Here are another couple of clues from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,890 dated 26th August 2015 which illustrate the point.

The first reads:

Fare available in Chinese boat?  (4,4)

This is a clever play on words as fare can mean not only what you have to pay for transport (as in train fare, bus fare, taxi fare and, maybe, the fare you pay to ride on a Chinese boat) but also it can mean food of a particular type.  See the definition here.

A Chinese boat can be a junk, an old sailing ship still used today, see here.  So ‘fare available in Chinese boat’ could be:


As defined here, junk food is food which is high in calories but of no real nutritional value, the ready availability of which in developed countries has led to an alarming rise in obesity.  The term comes from the word junk, which means rubbish.  Junk mail (advertising leaflets or unwanted e-mails trying to sell you something) is a related expression.

The answer to the second clue is a prime example of junk food:

Sponges coat covered in trophies (8)

The answer is:


which are small cakes made of sponge.  Sponge is a versatile word meaning many things, but in the clue it refers to a light cake made from flour, eggs, sugar etc., see here.  Cupcakes (small cakes which typically look like this) are normally made from sponge, so in that sense they are ‘sponges’.

But how does the rest of the clue point to cupcakes?  As well as being something edible, cake can also be a verb meaning to coat or cover something.  If your shoes are ‘caked in mud’ they need cleaning!  And trophies (awarded for succeeding at sport) are typically cups.  So if coat (CAKE) is ‘covered’ by trophies (CUPS) you have the solution – another example of a word being placed inside another word.

Next week, as well as being the anniversary of 9/11 on Friday, will – on a happier note – feature the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday.  The Proms, or to give the full title, the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, are daily concerts held mainly at the Royal Albert Hall in London over the summer months and are a notable feature of British life.  The tradition dates back to 1895 and you can read more about it here.  On the last night the audience always joins in the chorus of a particular song and, with that in mind, I have been saving this clue for you from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,793 dated 5th May 2015:

Patriotic song, Arne air Butlin’s broadcast (4,9)

The answer, and some further explanation, will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 46


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Last week I left you with this clue:

It’s audible although surprisingly I won’t hear this (6,7)

The first thing to check is whether the answer could be an anagram.  You should do this in two ways:

(1) Count the number of letters in whole words in the clue.  Here it is significant that the thirteen letters we need (in total) might be found (ignoring apostrophes) in:


(2) Look for a word that hints at letters being jumbled up.  Here, ‘surprisingly’ suggests that the letters immediately following it should be arranged in a surprise order.

Having concluded that an anagram is involved, I am afraid there is no magic formula other than writing the letters down in a different order and hoping for inspiration.  Of course you should analyse the remainder of the clue to deduce the meaning of the solution.  In this case, it seems quite clear that the answer means: ‘It’s audible’.

The answer is the idiom:


If something is within earshot it is close enough to be heard, or is audible;  see here.  The opposite is ‘out of earshot’.

The strange expression ‘earshot’ is thought to be a natural progression from the old word ‘bowshot’, being the range (distance) one could shoot an arrow from a bow.

A similar example of word derivation occurs in this clue from Daily Telegraph Crossword No. 27,884 dated 19th August 2015:

Fixer who’s corrupt to others protecting currency? (14)

Like the within earshot clue, this is an anagram but this time only a partial anagram, which makes it a little more tricky since it is not obvious how many of the 14 letters are involved.

The hint that an anagram is involved is the word ‘corrupt’, suggesting that something has gone bad.  If you have a computer file which has become corrupted the information contained within it is ruined or unreliable and it may be impossible to access or read it.

What has become corrupt in this clue are the words:


If those letters are mixed up and used to protect (surround) some sort of currency then we should obtain a word meaning ‘fixer’.

The currency (money) is that used in Russia, namely the rouble (or ruble).  There is nothing in the clue telling you that – you just have to mentally run through a list of possibilities, discounting Euro, dollar, pound, yen etc. until – in a split second (very quickly or in a flash) your brain spots the answer. The Russian ruble was, incidentally, the world’s first decimal currency; see here.

Putting ‘rouble‘ inside the anagram of ‘to others’ we arrive at the solution:


A troubleshooter is someone who traces and fixes (corrects, mends) faults; see the definition of the verb ‘troubleshoot’ here.

According to this link, the term originally arose when telegraph lines were being built in the USA in the mid to late 1800s.  A troubleshooter threatened to shoot anyone who interfered!

If you have ever bought a piece of equipment you will have seen at the back of the instruction booklet a ‘troubleshooting guide’ telling you what steps to take if it does not work properly.  If it is a piece of electronic equipment, usually the first thing is to check it is turned on!

That brings us to our next clue where the word ‘on’ is used as a synonym for ‘working’.  The clue (from the same puzzle as above) reads:

Drunk restricts working when stars are out (7)

This looks like it might be an anagram (the word ‘out’ frequently acts as a hint).  However, that idea can be quickly rejected because ‘stars are’ has the wrong number of letters.

There are many, many ways of saying that someone is drunk (has consumed too much alcohol).  In fact there are hundreds – mostly slang expressions; see here!

A popular word for being slightly drunk is tipsy; but the word we are looking for is tight, which means being rather more inebriated (there are many other meanings of tight of course, one of which is being reluctant to pay for anything).

If the word ‘tight’ restricts (traps, prevents from moving) the word ‘on‘ (meaning ‘working’) one gets:


which is when stars are out (assuming it is a clear night)!

Being drunk normally results in confusion, so in some cryptic clues the word ‘drunk’ is a signal that an anagram is involved. With that strong hint, try this from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,890 dated 26th August 2015:

Pay close attention to verbose drunk (7)

You don’t even have to know what verbose means, although I will tell you next week.

Good luck!

Never a cross word – 45


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Last week I left you with this anagram to solve:

Do legacies show off this fruitless pursuit? (4-5,5)

You probably guessed by counting the number of letters that the solution is an anagram of DO LEGACIES SHOW. Perhaps you also recognised the hint that an anagram is involved (the word ‘off’), and that the answer means ‘fruitless pursuit’. But I wonder if you got:


A wild-goose chase is a pointless search for something that can never be found. Carrying out the exercise will never bear fruit (result in success) and the pursuit is therefore destined to be fruitless.

The term ‘wild-goose chase’ was introduced into the English language by Shakespeare (in Romeo and Juliet).  But in Shakespeare’s day the expression had a different meaning: please see the fascinating account here.

Animals often feature in cryptic crossword clues and here are two examples from Daily Telegraph Crossword No. 27,875 dated 8th August 2015.  In the first, the reference to the animal is in the clue:

A bird with mother somewhere in Egypt (5,3)

This is difficult because there are so many possibilities for a bird.  In fact the bird is a swan (there is no way of knowing other than making an inspired guess); and the mother is a dam (a rather unusual meaning of the word, defined here). The answer is therefore:



which is an important dam across the Nile river in Egypt.  A dam in this sense has the more usual meaning of a barrier built to hold back water, see here.

In the second clue the reference to an animal is in the answer.  It reads:

Right pickle to follow small first bite (4,9)

Only a native English speaker would get this I’m afraid – and it would probably leave even a North American reader bemused (puzzled).  However this column exists to bring you authentic modern-day language, so I will tell you that the answer is:


Why on earth is that right?  Here’s why.

In informal British English a right pickle (sometimes a right ‘old’ pickle or a ‘pretty’ pickle) is a difficult situation – as in: ‘If you lose your passport while you are abroad you’ll be in a right pickle’.  It can also mean a mess, as in: ‘You have made a right pickle of painting that wall – there are paint splashes all over the floor.’  A complete mess is also what a dog’s breakfast means, see here, so in that sense the two expressions mean the same.  A dog’s dinner can also be used to mean a mess – but this depends on the context.  Oddly enough, if you are dressed up like a dog’s dinner you are smartly dressed, see here!

We now know that right pickle defines the answer but how does the rest of the clue point to dog’s breakfast?  The reason is that another word for ‘to follow’ is to dog.  If you dog someone you follow them closely and persistently – see the definition of dog as a verb here.  The clue says ‘to follow small’ so if we add the abbreviation S for ‘small’ we get:  DOG+S = DOGS.  Finally your ‘first bite’ of the day is your BREAKFAST!

Working out these clues is not rocket science (something only highly skilled and clever people can do) but it does take a lot of practice built on a thorough knowledge of the English language.  That is why I believe using cryptic clues as a teaching method is so valuable.  Please let me know if you agree.

This has nothing to do with animals, but try the following clue from the same puzzle:

It’s audible although surprisingly I won’t hear this (6,7)

All will be revealed next week.

Never a cross word – 44


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Welcome back. Here we go again – off on another magical mystery tour inspired by cryptic crossword clues. Last week we started in Aberdeen, stopped over for some caviar and ended up with a spot of surfing. This week our first port of call is Oxford University.  But you would not believe that from the clue I left you which read:

Old King circling stage in Worcester perhaps (7)

The answer is:


Why?  You have to go through three mental steps to understand this.

First, we have the Old King.  The answer to that part is COLE.  Practically every child who has grown up in the UK will have heard the nursery rhyme (a poem you learn when you are very young) about Old King Cole.  It starts:

Old King Cole was a merry old soul …

Secondly, we have the word ‘stage’.  This had me fooled for some time until I realised that stage can mean a part or section of a journey. The word leg is frequently used in this context, see under point 3 here. For example you could say ‘the first leg of my journey was from London to Paris’.

If COLE is ‘circling’ LEG it means that it is wrapped around it, as shown here:


But why does that answer – college – have anything to do with Worcester, best known as a city in the Midlands of England?  The third step in the reasoning is to realise that Worcester is one of the colleges in Oxford.  The clue says ‘Worcester perhaps‘ meaning Worcester is one of several examples of something more generic (general): the clue could equally well have said ‘Christ Church perhaps’ or named a Cambridge or other university college.  Worcester College (founded in 1714) is one of the less well known of the 38 colleges in Oxford but well worth a visit, not least for its beautiful gardens.

Another example of a clue using ‘perhaps’ to hint at a generic word appeared in Daily Telegraph Crossword No. 27,866 dated 29th July 2015.  It reads:

Perhaps mother should have time for runs?  It’s evident (6)

A mother, like a father, is an example of the more general word parent, which is 6 letters but cannot be the answer.  If it were, the clue would simply stop after ‘perhaps mother’! The trick is to recognise that you have to take the word PARENT and replace the letter R (short for runs in cricket) by the letter T (short for time). If you do that you get the answer:


This is the solution because patent as an adjective means easily recognisable, obvious or evident, see here.  When I was training to become a patent attorney, it seemed to me a little paradoxical (seemingly absurd) that when one is trying to obtain a patent (in the sense of a legal right) one can only do so for an invention which is not obvious!

Now try this, from Daily Telegraph Crossword No. 27,872 dated 5th August 2015:

To leave without finishing is a mistake (4)

Another way of saying ‘to leave’ could be ‘to go off’, as in ‘I am just going off to collect John from the station’.  To go off is one of many examples of phrasal verbs which seem to give ESL learners difficulty. This is not helped by the fact that ‘go off’ can have other meanings – for example food can go off if it turns bad; an alarm clock can go off (ring); and a bomb can go off (explode).  Some other phrasal verbs with ‘go’ are highlighted in this nice online exercise from 5 Minute English.

Anyway if ‘go off’ is written ‘without finishing’ (with the final letter omitted) you get the answer:


A goof is an informal word for a mistake, chiefly used in North America- see here.   This should not be confused with the adjective goofy, which generally means displaying protruding (sticking out) front teeth, as in ‘a goofy grin’; see here.  Goofy with a capital G is of course an eccentric character in Mickey Mouse films.

And there we have it.  Thanks to the power of cryptic clues in leading us down unpredictable avenues we have gone from an Oxford College to Mickey Mouse in less than 700 words.  As the recently victorious English cricketers would say – sorry, Australian readers, to bring up (mention) this delicate subject –  ‘Owzat’!

It is some time since we have had a challenging anagram – so, with that hint, let me leave you with this, from the same puzzle:

Do legacies show off this fruitless pursuit? (4-5,5)

The answer, a fine example of an English idiom, will be revealed next week.

Good luck!

Never a cross word – 43


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Hello again.  I hope those of you who can are enjoying the summer weather and having a pleasant holiday (what Americans call a vacation).

The clue I left you to ponder (think about) last week was:

Break bread, even in Scotland (8)

As you might have guessed, the answer has nothing to do with eating.  The word ‘break’ is a hint that an anagram is involved.  The following word (BREAD) is broken up and the letters are then put back together in a different order.

In fact the answer is:


which is an important port in Scotland.

It comes from rearranging the letters of bread to give ABERD, followed by the Scottish word for ‘even’ which is e’en (see here). This is an example of a clue, not found very often, where part of it serves double duty (is used twice): the ‘in Scotland’ defines how ‘even’ should be written and in addition defines the location of the final answer.

The ESL learner does not need to know Scottish dialect, but it is at least worth knowing of its existence. And it is worth knowing a little about Aberdeen which is the third largest city in Scotland (for a Wikipedia entry please see here). The other two major cities are of course Glasgow and Edinburgh.  The famous Edinburgh Festival begins today and continues throughout August.

Talking of Scotland, try this clue from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,868 dated 31st July 2015:

Good person to encourage Scottish politician (8)

Whenever you see a reference to a ‘good person’ in a cryptic crossword clue you can be fairly certain that it means ‘Saint’ – abbreviated to St.  As, for example, in St Peter or St Joan.  You don’t get to be a Saint if you are not a good person!

We now need a word or words meaning ‘to encourage’.  To encourage means to give support, advice or hope to someone (see the definition here).  To urge on means much the same thing – if you urge someone on you encourage them to succeed – see here.

So – putting it all together – we have:




Those who have been following British politics will know that Nicola Sturgeon is a Scottish politician.  More than that, she is the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) which succeeded in winning 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland at the 2015 General Election.  Winning in such a successful way (winning by a wide margin) is known as a landslide victory.

By chance, Nicola Sturgeon shares her last name with that of a large fish: the sturgeon (of which there are several species) is where the expensive delicacy caviar comes from, see here.

Changing the subject, try this from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,871 dated 4th August 2015:

Best place for a surfer, out in the open (5-5)

As with so many clues, the answer is idiomatic and relies on a little joke or pun.  The answer is:


Obviously the best place for a surfer is above his or her surf board, but above-board (not always hyphenated) has another meaning in English.  As defined here, it can be an adjective or adverb and means legitimate or honest.  If you act in a way that is completely above board, you are being transparent in your dealings and could never be accused of fraud.  Put another way, everything is out in the open – the second half of the clue.

Finally, let me leave you this from the same crossword:

Old King circling stage in Worcester perhaps (7)

For a non-native English speaker (and even for a native one) this clue is very difficult but introduces some interesting points for discussion. The answer will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 42


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Last week I left you to think about this clue:

Instructions: put boiled rice on edges of plate (6)

Most people would find this incomprehensible (impossible to understand) but if you have been following this series of posts you will by now know a bit about the strange world of cryptic crossword clues – a world where everything is not quite what it seems.  The aim of this blog is not really to teach the ESL learner how to solve such clues, although if it does so that is a bonus.  Rather, the objective is to use cryptic clues as a catalyst to explore the richness of the English language.  Because this approach is, to say the least, unusual I hope it makes learning new vocabulary interesting and memorable.  You may wish to make a note of words or expressions in bold italics.

In this case the answer means ‘instructions’.  It is obtained in two steps from the remainder of the clue as follows:

(a) The phrase ‘boiled’ rice indicates an anagram of the word RICE.  The idea is that ‘boiling’ the letters jumbles them up and puts them in a different order.  One possible way of doing so generates RECI.  This is not in itself a word in English, but just wait until we have completed the second step:  you have to add the boiled rice to two other letters meaning ‘edges of plate’.

(b) Since we are looking for only two letters for ‘edges of plate’ you can immediately guess that there is some sort of trick going on.  There are many two letter words in English but most are prepositions which could not possibly have that meaning.  The trick is to take letters from the edges – the two ends – of the word PlatE.  In other words, the letters P and E.

Now you can see where the answer is coming from.  It is formed from:

RECI added to PE, or:


A recipe is a set of instructions, normally used in cooking.  You can see a definition, and hear the correct pronunciation, here.  If you want to cook something new you may decide to follow a recipe – perhaps published online or in a recipe book.  You can search for a recipe on the BBC website here.

Note that there are some interesting ways of using the word recipe that do not involve cooking.  For example doing something unwise, like staying up all night before driving a long distance the next day, could be called a recipe for disaster.  Conversely, taking positive steps towards a particular goal could be a recipe for success.  An example is shown here.

The subject of cooking, and indeed food in general, often appears in crossword clues.  Here are two from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,851 dated 11th July 2015.

The first reads:

Not a square meal for Italians (5)

The interesting point of English in this clue is the idiom square meal.  When people speak of a having a square meal they are not referring to a meal that is literally a square shape. What is meant is a substantial and well-balanced meal, see here.  However, for a joke, the crossword setter has applied the literal meaning and the solution is:


The reason this is correct is that pizza, a classic Italian dish, is usually (but admittedly not always) cooked in a circular shape – for a photo of a mouth-watering (delicious looking) pizza see here.

The second clue refers to food but the answer comes as quite a surprise:

School sandwiches used to be cut in half in station (6)

Everyone reading this will have eaten a sandwich – two pieces of bread containing some kind of filling.  Sandwich is actually the name of a town in the county of Kent in England.  It is said that the snack (light meal) of the same name many of us enjoy for lunch was invented by the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, enabling him to eat without interrupting his gambling!  However, in the clue, sandwich is used as a verb, not a noun.  To sandwich (or to be sandwiched between) vividly conveys the meaning of something being squeezed into a small space.  You could say: ‘I was sandwiched between two commuters on the train this morning’.  For the definition and pronunciation of sandwich please see here.

Now let’s deal with the rest of the clue. A well known school in England is Eton, attended by many Prime Ministers, including the present one.  And ‘used’ cut in half provides the letters US (the other half is ED but that does not lead to a sensible answer).  Now sandwich US between the letters of ETON and with a blinding flash the answer appears:


Euston is an important main line railway station in London – and station is the remaining word in the clue!  Once again the crossword setter has tried to mislead us: the solution has nothing to do with the unappetising sandwiches you might have had at school, often cut from rather thickly sliced bread.

Speaking of bread, try this one from Daily Telegraph Crossword No. 27,864 dated 27th July 2015:

Break bread, even in Scotland (8)

The answer will appear next week.