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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:

COLLEGE

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:

COL LEG E

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:

PATENT

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:

GOOF

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!

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