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Welcome – or welcome back – to Never a cross word, the blog that teaches authentic English through the unusual medium of cryptic crossword clues.

If you read Never a cross word – 16 you should have had no difficulty with the clue I left you with last week.

It read:

Some devil erupts, getting more unpleasant (5)

This was another example of the answer being ‘inside the clue’ – in this case formed from ‘some’ of the letters in ‘devil erupts’.  If I highlight the letters in question you will see it immediately:

devil erupts …

Yes, VILER is the answer, the comparative of the word vile, meaning extremely unpleasant or obnoxious.  You can use the adjective ‘vile’ in many different contexts – when referring, for example, to a vile temper, a vile smell or vile language (swearing obscenely).  It is coincidental that vile is an anagram of ‘evil’ but it can mean much the same.

As regards vile people, Shakespeare summed it up very well:

“Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.”  (King Lear, Act IV, Scene II)

Further examples of the use of the word may be seen at this helpful link.

Two clues now from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,709 of 27th January 2015.

The first is another example of taking letters away from one word to generate another.

The clue reads:

Radio problem?  Three characters get ejected as conclusion (9)

The first thing to think about is what happens if you are having a problem with your radio.  Assuming the radio is working, the most common problem is one of crackling or buzzing noises and poor reception, sometimes caused by faulty electrical equipment nearby.  This is a phenomenon known in English as interference.

Of course, that is not the answer since it is 3 letters too long.  However we are told that three characters get ejected (thrown out).  The word character can have many meanings and according to the Oxford English Dictionary is one of the 1,000 most frequently used words.  Normally one thinks of a character as an actor in a play or someone’s character being their personality and qualities.  However, a less commonly used meaning is to denote a symbol or letter of the alphabet (one can speak, for example, of Chinese characters).  We should therefore try to eject or remove 3 letters from INTERFERENCE to leave a word meaning ‘conclusion’ (the last word in the clue).

The answer is to delete the letters TER to give:


An inference is the noun from the verb ‘to infer’ which means to draw a conclusion about something based on evidence and reasoning.  For a definition of inference see here.

The second clue is another example of a partial anagram:

Tip, having massaged sore back (7)

I think we can safely infer, based on past experience, that the crossword setter is trying to fool us!  The answer is unlikely to be in any way straightforward, and the word ‘massaged’ hints strongly at an anagram.  However, the words ‘sore back’ cannot form the anagram since there is one letter too many.  But what if the anagram was simply of the word ‘sore’, added on to a 3 letter word for ‘tip’, meaning ‘back’?  That would fit the clue.

The tip of something can be the END – the tip of a snooker cue, for example, is placed on one end of it.  And an anagram of SORE is ORSE.

Put the two together and one gets the answer:


If you endorse something you agree to it and give your support, which is another meaning of the verb to back.  A politician may back, or give his or her backing to, a proposed act of parliament, for example.  The definitions of endorse and back (note the many meanings) may be found here and here.

In this clue the crossword setter cleverly used ‘sore’ and ‘back’ together to trick us into thinking the answer was something to do with an aching part of the body.  The fact that the solution had nothing to do with a back in the more common anatomical sense shows how important it is to open one’s mind to other interpretations – or, to quote an over-used modern idiom, to think outside the box! This is one of many reasons why I believe the novel teaching methodology used in this blog should be helpful to advanced ESL learners.

There is just space to leave you with this anagram from the same crossword:

Authorities could create best towpath here (3,6,4,2)

This will provide an interesting talking point next week.