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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:

WILD-GOOSE CHASE

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:

A SWAN DAM … or

ASWAN DAM

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:

DOG’S BREAKFAST

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.

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