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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.