Never a cross word – 41


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Last week I left you with this clue:

Making fun of giant, sir, is silly (10)

The hint that we are dealing with an anagram is the word ‘silly’.  If you can find 10 letters to become silly – dance about and regroup into a different order – you will get the answer.

There is some ambiguity because ‘of’ and ‘is’ are the same number of letters.  The solution could be an anagram of OF GIANT SIR, meaning ‘making fun’; or it could be an anagram of GIANT SIR IS, meaning ‘making fun of’.  I am afraid there is no definite way of telling which is correct:  you just have to keep trying until you find a word that fits.

What is fairly certain is that the last three letters of the solution are – ING, because if the answer means making something it is highly likely that it will be a gerund.  The anagram is actually the second of the two possibilities above and the answer is:


The noun satire is defined as the use of humour to expose other people’s stupidity.  A satirical book, play, film or TV programme may, for example, poke fun at the leading political figures of the day, an institution, or the futility of war.  (A well known film in this category is Catch 22, which itself has given rise to the expression a catch 22 situation – a situation from which it is logically impossible to escape.)

The verb corresponding to satire is satirise, often spelt (especially in American English) as satirize, see here.  The answer, satirising, means making fun of.

Now try these two clues from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,841 dated 30th June 2015.  The solutions are exact opposites of each other.

The first is:

Narrow lens distorted reflection of colour (7)

The word ‘distorted’ is the hint that an anagram is involved – but here the solution contains only a partial anagram.  To cut a long story short (that is get straight to the point – in American English one would say ‘to make a long story short’) the answer is formed from an anagram of LENS with another three letters added meaning ‘reflection of colour’.  The colour we are looking for is red and if this is reflected (sent backwards) one gets DER.  The solution, therefore, is:


The word slender can mean narrow or thin – although it can be used in other ways, see here.

The second clue reads:

Orders we must lose weight if this? (5)

The key to the solution is to realise that ‘orders’ can be Orders of the British Empire or OBEs.  These are part of the UK honours system which is a long-standing tradition and an important part of British culture.  It is a way of recognising those who have made achievements in public life (like athletes and actors) or people who have committed themselves to serving and helping Britain (for example through charitable work).  The OBE – or, to give it its full name, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – does not have the prestige of a knighthood but it is still a great honour to receive.  By way of illustration, Eddie Redmayne, the actor, received an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2015 for ‘services to Drama’ and can now be referred to as Eddie Redmayne, OBE.

‘Orders we’ in the clue can therefore be written as ‘OBEs we’ or:


which makes no sense.  But if, as the clue tells us, it ‘must lose weight’ (weight being abbreviated to W), one gets:


Obese means overweight, so the solution, cleverly, is something that fits the wording of the whole clue.  I need hardly tell you that obesity is associated with increased risk of illness and death and is one of the most serious health problems of the 21st century.

On a happier note, let me leave you to consider this clue from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,859 dated 21st July 2015:

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

The answer will appear next week.


Never a cross word – 40


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

Ford perhaps needs parking by hotel guest (9)

It looks as though the answer should be something to do with cars.  However, you should know by now that cryptic crossword clues are rarely what they appear to be.

The solution is derived from P for parking (you often see signs saying P in towns and cities indicating parking areas or car parks) to which is added an 8 letter word meaning a hotel guest.  That word is resident, so the answer is:


meaning ‘Ford perhaps’.  Gerald Ford was the 38th President of the United States, who served in the mid-1970s immediately following the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Here are two more clues which relate to residents and Presidents, both from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,844 dated 3rd July 2015:

King Cole and Burl maybe as residents (7)

Angry boy grabbing one US President (7)

The first of these clues relies on having a knowledge of well-known people called King Cole and Burl.  Both hail from (come from) the world of music, or I should say ‘hailed’ from since both have now passed away (died).

Nat King Cole was an American singer and jazz pianist who was popular for many years before dying at a young age in 1965, see the Wikipedia entry here.

Burl Ives was also an American singer, as well as a writer and actor, see the Wikipedia entry here.

if you put NAT (King Cole) together with (Burl) IVES you get the answer:


A native is a resident of a particular place or country (a local inhabitant) although there are other meanings, see here.  It can also be used as an adjective – as in, for example: ‘he is a native New Yorker’.

The second clue above demonstrates how even a native English speaker can learn something new from a cryptic crossword puzzle.

We have already learnt that another word for ‘angry’ can be mad (see Never a cross word – 35). A boy can be a son.  And if mad and son ‘grab’ (hold on to) ‘one’ (I) you form the word:


Until I worked that out, and then checked the answer on Wikipedia, I did not know that James Madison was the fourth President of the USA in the early 1800s. Madison Avenue and Madison Square Garden in New York City are (I now realise) named after him. Not knowing the names of all the US Presidents may seem very ignorant of me, but I was taught to learn, parrot-fashion (see last week’s blog), the names of all the Kings and Queens of England instead!

Finally, it is some time since we have had a good anagram.  See if you can solve this, from the same puzzle:

Making fun of giant, sir, is silly (10)

The answer will appear next week.

I hope, 40 posts on, that you are finding this unusual way of improving your English interesting and that you have come across new words to expand your vocabulary.  If you have only just discovered this blog you may wish to check the About Patently English section.  It explains why I believe ESL learners should find studying cryptic crossword clues helpful.

Never a cross word – 39


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Last week I challenged you to explain why the solution to this clue:

Half score before point is added in game (6)


Since Wimbledon is drawing rapidly to a thrilling conclusion, you could describe this clue as topical, meaning of particular interest in the light of current events (see the definition here).

As explained in earlier posts, there is always a word (or words) in the clue defining the answer.  In this case it is the word ‘game’ since tennis is a game.  But can you arrive at ‘tennis’ from the other words in the clue?  You can – but how is far from obvious.

The key is that the word score can have a rather obscure meaning.  As defined here it can mean the number twenty.  In the Bible (Psalms 90) threescore years and ten (3×20+10=70) was said to be the ‘days of our years’ (today we would call it life expectancy).  In the same way, ‘half score’ is ten – the first three letters of the answer.

The word ‘point’ can refer to a point of a compass (North, South, East or West).  If it is North this can be abbreviated to N – the fourth letter in the answer.

Finally, if ‘is’ (IS) is ‘added’ to TEN N … I don’t think I need say more.  You get the idea!

In the last couple of weeks we have covered a number of games – tennis, cricket, football, not to mention the gambling games roulette and poker.  Now for something completely different.  The next two clues contain references, in one way or another, to our feathered friends (birds).

Try this from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,841 dated 30th June 2015:

Chickenfeed with vegetable? Crazy! (7)

It seems fairly clear that the solution means either ‘chickenfeed’ or ‘crazy’ but this clue had me puzzled for a long time until I discovered that the first letter was P.  The beauty of crossword puzzles is that one can find some of the letters of the answer to a tricky ‘across’ clue by solving easier intersecting ‘down’ clues and vice versa (the other way round).

Armed with that knowledge, I went through every vegetable I could think of beginning with P.  Immediately ‘pea’ sprang to mind (a self-explanatory and commonly used idiom). Probably most people these days use frozen peas, an innovation made possible by the pioneering work of Clarence Birdseye on food preservation.

There is an informal word for ‘crazy’ which is nutsIn retrospect (looking back on it) I should have included this in Never a Cross Word- 22.  Instead of ‘he is driving me bananas’ (he is making me go crazy) one could perfectly well say ‘he is driving me nuts’.

If you add pea to nuts you get:


which, in a certain sense, means ‘chickenfeed’ – the first word in the clue.

Chicken feed (normally written as two words) is defined here as ‘a ridiculously small sum of money’ – as in ‘we worked all day but only got paid chicken feed’. The reason peanuts is the solution is that, used informally, it can mean exactly the same: ‘we worked all day but only got paid peanuts’ – see here.

The next clue, taken from the same puzzle, similarly teaches the ESL learner an unusual meaning.  It reads:

Parrot – one pal holds it (7)

Rather surprisingly, the solution (meaning ‘parrot’) is:


Wait – I hear you say: a parrot is a colourful bird. It is indeed, but there is also a verb ‘to parrot’ meaning to imitate (copy) in a mechanical way what one is taught or has learnt. No doubt this comes from the ability of some parrots to repeat parrot-fashion (exactly) what their owners teach them.  There is evidence to suggest that the brains of parrots are structured differently to the brains of other birds, giving them this remarkable ability to mimic (reproduce) what they hear.  This of course does not apply to a dead parrot, as in the famous Monty Python sketch!

The rest of the words in the clue lead to the solution:  ‘one’ is I; ‘pal’ (meaning friend) is MATE and if those words ‘hold’ it (IT) you get:


Finally, I will leave you to think about this clue from the same puzzle:

Ford perhaps needs parking by hotel guest (9)

A Ford is a make of car, so the clue seems to make sense – but I will tell you that the solution has nothing to do with cars.  It has nothing to do with birds either, but if you don’t get it there is a good chance you will be as sick as a parrot!

Never a cross word – 38


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

Ashes could be reinvigorated with this game (5)

Say ‘the Ashes’ to anyone who knows anything about cricket and they will tell you that it is the name of a famous contest between England and Australia which began well over 100 years ago.  This year the Ashes series, consisting of 5 matches each potentially 5 days in length, is being played in the UK and starts on 8th July.

However, I am sorry to say that none of that information is of assistance. By making Ashes the first word in the clue, where it naturally has a capital letter, the crossword setter has deliberately led us astray.  The clue refers, not to a series of cricket matches, but to ashes which remain after something is burnt (the word ‘ashes’ is the plural of ash, see here).  While ashes in a fire are still hot it is usually possible to reinvigorate them (defined here as to give them new energy – in other words re-establish a flame) by stirring them a little.  To do that one pokes the smouldering (still burning) ashes using an implement called a poker.  And that is the answer to the clue:


since poker refers not only to something which could reinvigorate ashes but is also a well known game (a gambling game involving cards), as defined here.

Although cricket has nothing directly to do with the clue, there is a historical connection between cricket and ashes.  A trophy known as The Ashes (kept permanently at a famous cricket ground in London called Lords) is said to contain the ashes of a piece of cricket equipment burnt in 1882 following the English team’s heavy defeat by Australia in England.  It is this trophy (a very small urn or vase) that the English and Australian teams compete to win every couple of years (the current holder is Australia). If you are interested in learning more about this piece of cricketing history please see the Wikipedia article here.

The English summer has a busy sporting calendar.  As the Ashes gets under way we still have to get through the later stages of the tennis at Wimbledon, which began earlier this week.  This will be a nail-biting time (an anxious few days) for supporters of Andy Murray, the great British hope.  It seems only appropriate, therefore, to include a clue about tennis.  This is from The Daily Telegraph Prize Crossword Puzzle No. 27,767 dated 4th April 2015 and reads:

Front drive in SW19 (8)

If you have been to London you will have seen streets in the city labelled W1, WC2, EC4 etc.  These are postal districts:  W standing for West, E for East, C for Central.  The area known as SW19 (South West 19), on the outskirts of London (quite a long way from the centre), is Wimbledon where the tennis courts are situated.

A front drive is a path leading to a house and is typically where you might park your car.  However, in tennis, ‘drive’ has another meaning.  It refers to a strong stroke: the ball is driven hard by the player’s racquet.  Being a ‘front’ drive the answer is:


rather than a similar type of shot played on the backhand.

For some of the vocabulary used in tennis please see the BBC Learning English website here.

It is really too early to start thinking about football which resumes again in the UK in early August, but for those who are more interested in ‘the beautiful game’ than cricket and tennis here is a clue you might like from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,834 dated 22nd June 2015:

False credit note accepted by football team (8)

A credit note (saying you owe someone money) is known as an IOU – because if you say IOU quickly you hear “I owe you”. One of many football teams in the English Premier Division is called Tottenham Hotspur or Spurs for short. The club is based in North London (N17) at White Hart Lane.

So if IOU is ‘accepted’ (taken inside) SPURS, the answer is:


The word spurious means false or fake and in certain contexts can mean invalid – see the definition here.

But back to Wimbledon, and (from the same crossword as the SW19 clue above) this is quite neat:

Half score before point is added in game (6)

I will tell you that the answer is:


Your challenge is to work out why.  All will be made clear next week!

Never a cross word – 37


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

Fool in rage about uncontrolled heat (7)

I am sorry to say that the solution is yet a further term of abuse to add to those already covered in Never a cross word – 23, published on 13th March this year.  The British seem to specialise in coming up with words to be rude to other people!  The answer is:


A fathead (used only in informal speech) is a stupid person; see here.

This is derived from an anagram of ‘heat’ (the hint that an anagram is involved is the word ‘uncontrolled’) which a three letter word for ‘rage’ is ‘about’ (wrapped around).

The more common definition of rage is intense anger, but here rage has another meaning. Something that is all the rage is something which a great many people are passionate about – usually temporarily.  For example, you could say: ‘flared trousers were all the rage in the late 1960s’.  There are other words for rage in this sense: one is craze; the other (which is the word we need to solve the clue) is fad, defined as a widely shared enthusiasm for something.  The answer to the clue (meaning ‘fool’) is constructed as shown below:


Now try these clues from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,828 dated 15th June 2015.  They bring out some interesting points of English.

The first reads:

Bold prosecutor takes on cartel (6)

A prosecutor in America can be a District Attorney (abbreviated to DA), who represents the Government in prosecuting criminal offences.  There is a DA for most US States; see the Wikipedia article here.

I think I first came across the term DA watching the TV series Perry Mason.  The show depicts a fictional US defence lawyer, who argues cases against Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger and invariably wins!

Or perhaps – I really can’t remember – I first heard it in the lyrics (words) of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

But enough of these reminiscences (happy memories), which are causing me to get off the point (stray from a discussion of the main subject): the important thing is that the first two letters of the answer are DA.

A cartel (see the definition here) is a group of people from different associations who work together to fix prices so as to restrict competition.  This is highly illegal and, if found guilty, those who take part in such activity can face enormous penalties.  Readers who are lawyers will know that this anti-competitive (also known as anti-trust) behaviour has led to huge fines imposed by the EU, the US, or other Competition Authorities.  In some cases the sums involved have reached hundreds of millions of Euros or dollars.

The worst of such organisations are drug cartels, also known as drug ‘rings’, run by ruthless criminals.  So, in this sense, another word for a cartel can be a ring.

If DA ‘takes on’ (adds) RING, we arrive at the answer:


which of course means the first word in the clue – bold.

Now try:

Gambling game using rent in the course of journey (8)

The solution is derived from a word for ‘rent’ inside a word for ‘journey’ – yet another example of how cryptic crossword clues often involve words within words, and in the process provide a great mental workout.

A synonym for ‘rent’ (as a verb) is let. To let a property means to make it available to someone to live in or use in exchange for rent (money). The person letting the property is called the owner or landlord and the person who pays rent is called the tenant or lessee.  Both parties normally have to sign a legal contract to complete the deal. In towns and cities in the UK you often come across a sign ‘TO LET’ meaning that a flat, house, or commercial premises such as a shop, are available for rent.  Mischievous children sometimes deface (change) such signs by inserting an ‘I’ so the sign reads TOILET – a joke that is now wearing a bit thin (too well known to be funny any longer).

Another word for ‘journey’, in the sense of the directions followed, is route – a word pronounced very differently in British and American English.  To listen to the difference please click here.

Putting all this together, the answer is formed as shown:


Roulette is, of course, a well-known gambling game, generally played in a casino, with the sort of chips you can’t eat.   I am sure you are familiar with it – if not, see here.

Speaking of games, I will leave you with this clue to think about.  It is from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,835 dated 23rd June, 2015:

Ashes could be reinvigorated with this game (5)

The answer will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 36


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Last week I challenged you to solve this clue:

On foot, end traipse shattered (10)

The word ‘shattered’ (meaning broken into small pieces) is the hint that an anagram is involved.  Since the answer is 10 letters it seems pretty clear that ‘end traipse’ is shattered – and then put back together in a different order – to give a word meaning ‘on foot’.

The solution is: PEDESTRIAN

A pedestrian is someone who gets around on foot, rather than travelling in a bus, train, car – or riding a bicycle. You will no doubt be familiar with a pedestrian crossing, a designated place for pedestrians to cross the road.  In the UK a pedestrian crossing is marked with black and white stripes, and for that reason is also called a zebra crossing.

The clue is particularly apt, because, as well as supplying 70% of the letters needed to make the anagram, the word traipse has a meaning.  It means a tiring walk, see here.  Furthermore, as explained in Never a cross word- 1, another meaning of ‘shattered’ when used informally is exhausted.  You might indeed end a tiring walk exhausted – or in other words end a traipse shattered!

Here are another couple of neat clues, both from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,813 dated 28th May 2015.  The first (slightly altered) reads:

Cracks seen around top of short pants (5)

A crack, in certain circumstances, can be a gap; and the ‘top’ of ‘short’ is simply the first letter (S) of the word.  Put GAPS (cracks) ‘around’ S and one has the answer:


The verb to gasp, defined here, can mean essentially the same as to pant – i.e. struggle to breathe, or breathe in with short quick breaths.  The answer has nothing to do with pants in the sense of trousers (a term commonly used in the USA) or underwear (the corresponding meaning of pants in the UK) – short or otherwise!

Now try:

Separate after carbon copy (5)

Solving this relies on a very basic knowledge of chemistry:  the element carbon is represented by the letter C.  It is almost certain that there will be a C in the answer somewhere.  The question is whether one is looking for a synonym for ‘separate’ to come after the C (in which case the answer would mean ‘copy’) or whether one is looking for a synonym for ‘copy’ to come after the C (in which case the answer would mean ‘separate’).

There is no simple way of working this out other than trial and error, but I can reveal that the first of these two options is correct.  However we now run into another problem, since nothing tells you whether the required synonym for ‘separate’ is a verb (meaning to cause to move apart), an adjective (meaning distinct or different), or even a noun (meaning an individual piece of clothing); see the Oxford English online dictionary here.

To cut a long story short (in the US: to make a long story short), the word we are looking for is the adjective ‘lone’ which can mean solitary or unaccompanied by other people – in other words ‘separate’.  The expression lone wolf can be used to describe someone who prefers his or her own company and likes to operate alone.

We now have C (carbon) + LONE (separate) giving the solution:


which means (as a verb) to make an exact copy of something and (as a noun) an identical copy.  The word is frequently used in a scientific sense: the microbiological process of gene cloning (making an exact copy of a piece of DNA) is now well established and an essential tool in the biotechnology (‘biotech’) industry.  For other meanings of the word clone please see here.

The clue cleverly deceives the solver into thinking that carbon copy, a copy of a typewritten sheet of paper, has something to do with the answer.  This is made by inserting into the typewriter a sheet of inked paper (carbon paper) between a blank sheet of paper and the sheet which will be directly typed on (the top copy).  In the age of personal computers, printers, and photocopiers – with the potential to produce limitless copies of an original document – there is no need to use this antiquated (old) technique today.  Nevertheless the term still survives, as when a copy of an e-mail or memo is sent to someone in addition to the primary recipient the letters cc are used on the address line.  Probably few people know that those letters stand for ‘carbon copy’ but that is indeed the origin.

Let me finish by leaving you this clue to think about.  It is from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,822 dated 8th June 2015:

Fool in rage about uncontrolled heat (7)

The answer will be explained next week.

Never a cross word – 35


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

Pick of the Spanish, Italian and English (5)

This is a clue of a type we have encountered before, which relies on a very basic knowledge of a language other than English: here the first two letters of the answer are formed from EL (‘the’ in Spanish).  The third and fourth letters are IT (an abbreviation for Italian) and the final letter is E (an abbreviation for English).  In other words, the solution is:


As already discussed in Never a cross word – 31, elite is a word meaning the best (for example ‘an elite group of artists’).  It fits the rest of the clue because the pick of something also means the best.  The pick of the bunch is used to describe the best in a particular group and the pick of the crop is a term which can be applied to the finest fruit and vegetables – asparagus, apples, strawberries etc.

Let’s switch from an elementary knowledge of Spanish to one of German.  This clue appeared in Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,815 dated 30th May 2015.  It reads:

East German – wealthy person who refuses to recognise reality (7)

In just the same way that ‘the Spanish’ was EL in the clue above, ‘East German’ is OST, the German for East.  Think of another word for wealthy – RICH – and you have the solution:


An ostrich is a large flightless bird native to Africa which, according to popular belief, has a habit of burying its head in the sand when it senses danger.  This in fact is not true (see the Wikipedia entry here) but the story persists. Because of this, a person who will not recognise reality, or chooses to avoid dealing with an unpleasant situation, can be called an ostrich.  And you could say to someone who refuses to face facts in this way ‘you are just burying your head in the sand, an idiom further explained here.

I started this blog by looking for a word for ‘the’ in another language – but what if I said there was another word for ‘the’ in English?  Surprisingly there is – or was!  In archaic (very old) English the word for ‘the’ was ‘ye’.  You can still see this today in names of pubs or restaurants that either are – or are trying to look – ancient.  In the city of London, for example, you will come across Ye Olde Cheddar Cheese in Fleet Street, a pub which was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666.  For completeness, I should add that the word ‘ye’ is also very old English for ‘you’ (in the plural) – as in the Christmas Carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’.

Armed with (having) this knowledge, try this clue from the same puzzle as OSTRICH:

Irish writer, the old dramatist, initially staring in a demented way (4-4)

This is particularly difficult because the commas have been deliberately put in the wrong places (a trick that is allowed).  What we are looking for is (a) an Irish writer; (b) a word for ‘the’ (which is old); and (c) something representing dramatist initially, all of which put together produce a hyphenated word [note the answer is four letters dash (-) four letters] meaning ‘staring in a demented way’.

The elements (b) and (c) are easy.  You now know that (b) will be YE; and demented initially is simply the first (initial) letter in demented – D.  So the last word in the answer will end in YED.

The question is: what is the Irish writer?  There are so many famous Irish writers (for example George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Iris Murdoch, Edna O’Brien – a list can be seen here) that one is spoilt for choice (there are too many to choose from).  But the fact that the last word in the answer ends in YED and the clue mentions ‘staring’ strongly suggests that it is EYED.  If that is correct, the last letter of what must be a five lettered Irish writer will be E.  Having worked that out, it does not take a great leap to realise that the Irish writer is the great Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), author of plays that are constantly revived today such as ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.  A Wikipedia entry may be accessed here.

So to solve the clue we have to put together (a) WILDE; with (b) YE; and (c) D to get:


which means staring in a demented way.  The word demented can mean literally suffering from dementia, a progressive lack of mental ability defined here, which is becoming increasingly common as the average age of the human population increases.  It would be cruel and inaccurate to describe anyone suffering from dementia as ‘mad’.  However, ‘demented’ can be used in everyday speech in a non-medical sense to mean mad or completely crazy – and there is a phrase stark staring mad which describes the wild staring eyes that frequently accompany this condition.  The word demented can also be used in an exaggerated way to describe being temporarily driven mad (made very angry) by something annoying.  For example, you might hear someone say ‘filling in this application form is driving me demented.’

That is quite enough for this week but let me leave you with this clue to think about over the weekend.  It is from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,813 dated 28th May 2015:

On foot, end traipse shattered (10)

The meaning of ‘shattered’ was explored in Never a cross word – 1 last October.

I hope you are enjoying this peculiar way of exploring the English language.  More next week.

Never a cross word – 34


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

Show how in reorganisation a list of people is required (4,3)

The answer is an anagram of ‘show how’ and the hint that the letters are jumbled up (put in a different order) is the word ‘reorganisation’.  Did you get it?  The solution is:


Who’s Who is the name of a well known publication which lists important people. According to the publisher’s website, it is a directory of ‘the noteworthy and influential in all walks of life, in the UK and worldwide’.

When I say that Who’s Who is a directory I should point out that it is nothing like a telephone directory which simply lists names, numbers and addresses.  Who’s Who includes biographical details about each person’s qualifications and career.  It has been published annually since 1849 and is now available online if you have a subscription (pay for it).

Last week we discussed, inter alia (a Latin expression sometimes used in English to say ‘amongst other things’), various meanings of ‘the blues’ – a distinctive style of music being one of them.

With that in mind, try this clue from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,817 dated 2nd June 2015.  It reads:

Article penned by blues musician, to make things more confusing (5,3,6)

As noted in a previous post, the word ‘article’ in a cryptic clue usually has a grammatical meaning.  That is to say it can refer either to the definite article (the) or indefinite article (a or an). Since the middle word is three letters it is a fair bet that it is the word THE.  It is also likely that the first and third words make up the name of a blues musician, with the ‘the’ in the middle being penned between them.  ‘Penned’ here means trapped or enclosed (not ‘written’ as the clue cleverly tricks you into thinking).  If that analysis is correct then the answer as a whole must mean ‘to make things more confusing’.

The blues musician in this case is Muddy Waters (real name McKinley Morganfield), a talented guitarist who had a huge influence.  You can read more about his career in this Wikipedia article, which notes, inter alia, that the Rolling Stones named the band after Muddy’s 1950 song ‘Rollin’ Stone’.

The solution to the clue, therefore, is:


To muddy the waters means to make things more confusing (the remaining words in the clue) – see here.  This is a fairly literal idiom since if the water in a river or pond is muddy (full of fine particles of mud) you cannot see into it clearly. Similarly if something is confusing or difficult to understand you can say it is as clear as mud – in other words not clear at all!

Now let’s turn to a clue from the same crossword puzzle which reveals another English idiom.  It reads:

Problems ahead for company that makes beer (7,7)

The answer (meaning problems ahead) is:


The reason this is correct is that the process of making beer is known as brewing, from the verb to brew – defined here.  Because making beer is a gradual process the word brewing has the meaning ‘slowly being created’, so one can talk about trouble brewing to indicate that problems are building up and lie ahead.  In the same way you can say there is a storm brewing if a storm is obviously coming but has not actually arrived yet. The answer to the clue is a subtle joke because if a company that makes beer has problems it may have difficulty (trouble) brewing it.

Once again a study of a few cryptic clues has enabled us to cover a lot of ground, rather improbably ranging from Who’s Who to Muddy Waters, and to one of mankind’s greatest achievements – learning how to brew beer!  Now let me leave you with this clue from the same crossword:

Pick of the Spanish, Italian and English (5)

The solution, a word we encountered in Never a cross word-31, will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 33


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

He wrote of crimes involving horrendous carnality (3,6,5,5)

The answer, an anagram of ‘horrendous carnality’, is:


I suggested last week that this was quite an apt anagram, but I am now having second thoughts (meaning I am not so sure).  Conan Doyle, the author of stories about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, wrote about horrendous (horrible, terrifying) crimes – but I am not confident that the crimes could be said to involve horrendous ‘carnality’.  Carnality, defined here, is generally associated with a sexual element, which Conan Doyle’s stories did not really include.

You can read more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle here.

Now try these, both from the Times crossword puzzle No. 26,103 dated 20th May 2015.  They bring out some interesting points of English – which, I should explain to newcomers, is what this series is all about; see here.

The first clue reads:

Company designs toilets to limit gallons (5)

The answer (meaning company designs) is:


Why?  Because in English it is becoming increasingly popular in polite society to refer to a toilet or lavatory as a loo.  This is an example of what is known as a euphemism, which means avoiding using a direct word for something slightly awkward or embarrassing.  Other examples of modern euphemisms include ‘pass away’ meaning ‘die’ (‘he passed away last week’); or ‘let go’ meaning ‘to fire (or ‘sack’) someone’ (‘we had to let him go’).

So if you are in the UK (particularly I suspect in the South of England, where people are less direct) and you want to find a lavatory you could say to someone ‘please could you tell me where the loo is?’  In the USA, however, you would use another euphemism:  ‘where is the bathroom?’ or – in a public place – ‘where is the rest room?’

So, armed with that knowledge, ‘toilets’ in the clue translates into LOOS.  And since G is an abbreviation for ‘gallons’ you can see where the answer comes from (the LOOS ‘limits’ the G in gallons by keeping it inside the word).

A logo is defined (here) as a symbol used by a company to promote its products or services.  Some well-known examples may be seen here.

And if you are unfamiliar with the word gallon, it is a unit of volume, defined here.  In the UK a gallon is equivalent to 4.55 litres.  A US gallon is slightly smaller.  If you fill up a car at a petrol station (in the US a gas station) you will typically put about 10 gallons or more in the tank.  Note that a ten gallon hat is a large hat, though not literally 10 gallons in volume!

The second clue is:

The blues period of American history (10)

Solving this clue relies on an elementary knowledge of American history.  The solution (meaning both ‘the blues’ and ‘period of American history’) is:


The reason that is the correct answer is that if you are mildly depressed (feeling sad) you are said to have the blues.  According to this source the expression comes from blue devils, imaginary creatures or spirits thought many years ago to affect one’s mood.  The distinctive style of sad or soulful singing known as ‘the blues’ was – and still is – an important musical genre (type of music), coming originally from the Southern part of the USA and probably dating back to the 1890s, see here.  I should add, with reference to the discussion of the previous clue, that suffering from the blues can be used as a euphemism for more serious forms of mental illness and having the baby blues is a euphemism for post-natal depression.

So the ‘blues’ in the clue means ‘depression’ and ‘The Depression’ (or the ‘Great Depression’) was also a well-known economic crisis in America which began in August 1929.  For more information please see Wikipedia here.

So there we have it: three short cryptic crossword clues have acted as a catalyst for us to cover subjects ranging from Sherlock Holmes to the Great Depression – with time on the way to check out some company logos, put a gallon in the tank, sing the blues and even pay a visit to the loo.  Such is the unpredictable, but I hope valuable and interesting, way of looking at authentic English using this methodology.  Let’s see where we wind up next time.

Finally, from the same crossword, try this:

Show how in reorganisation a list of people is required (4,3)

You should know by now what a word like ‘reorganisation’ hints at.  The answer will appear next week.

Never a cross word – 32


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Last week I left you this clue to solve:

Arrived ahead of artist, producer of pictures (6)

And I gave you a strong hint that ‘artist’ was likely to be represented by the letters RA.  Did you get the answer?  It is formed by putting a word for arrived (CAME) ahead of RA to give:


which is of course a ‘producer of pictures’.  I told you the answer was a word you would be familiar with!  Note the pronunciation, which you can hear here.  There is a hard k sound at the start of the word, the stress is on the first syllable, and the middle e is only lightly sounded.

Composing clues which seem to make sense when you read them is part of the art of the crossword compiler and the clue we have just looked at is a good example: an artist is indeed a producer of pictures. There is a word in English – apt – which describes a clue of this type.  Apt is defined as appropriate or suitable in the circumstances (although there are other meanings).  The fact that the solution has nothing directly to do with artists is cleverly intended to come as something of a surprise.

Now let’s look at another couple of apt clues, both from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,801 dated 14th May 2015.  The first reads:

He fiddles with cold radiator (7)

A radiator is something you have in your house or flat to provide heating when it is cold. And if a radiator is cold when it should be hot it is highly likely that you will fiddle with it.  The verb to fiddle in this context means to keep making adjustments in the hope you will solve the problem.  Trapped air might be preventing hot water to circulate, for example – something that can be fixed in less than a minute if you know what to do.

Having read all that, it might come as a shock to learn that the answer to the clue is:


As we have seen in a previous post, cold can be abbreviated to C.  And a radiator is a heater.  Put C in front of HEATER and you have the answer.

The reason CHEATER is correct is that there is an informal meaning of the verb to fiddle – which is to falsify records in order to gain money.  If you hear of people fiddling their expenses they are cheating their employer by making claims for money they did not spend (for example on imaginary taxi fares).  A cheater, defined here, is someone who behaves dishonestly.  A cheater can be a man or a woman, and in the case of a man the remaining words in the clue – ‘he fiddles’ – provide the perfect description!

Now let’s look at this one:

Deposit posted containing bit of money (8)

This, again, is apt because ‘deposit’ (whether as a noun or a verb) is frequently linked with money.  You can deposit cash in your bank, for example.  You may have savings in a deposit account.  Or you may put down a deposit on a house to reserve it (a large sum of money which is deducted from the total cost provided the transaction is completed).

So, with money in mind, it may surprise you that the answer is:


This is derived from the clue as follows.  If you have ‘posted’ something, for example a letter or a parcel, you have sent it.  And a ‘bit of money’ could be a dime – the name given to 10 cents in the USA.  If ‘posted’ (SENT) contains ‘bit of money’ (DIME) you put the second word inside the first to give the answer:


The word sediment, defined here, is a different kind of deposit altogether – a layer of solid particles that can collect the bottom of a liquid.  You may need to decant wine carefully to leave at the bottom of the bottle any sediment which, over time, has been deposited.  And, on a grander scale, a sediment can be created from soil or other matter forming a deposit on the bottom of a river or lake.  For the different meanings of deposit please see here.

Finally, perhaps the most satisfying clue of all is the apt anagram.  In this case, rather than disguising the answer, the words which form the anagram are particularly relevant to the solution.  Whoever realised that THE MORSE CODE is an anagram of HERE COME DOTS … must have been delighted!

Here is an apt anagram from Daily Telegraph Puzzle No. 27,797 dated 9th May 2015:

He wrote of crimes involving horrendous carnality (3,6,5,5)

See if you can work this out.  You are looking for someone who ‘wrote of crimes’.

The solution will appear next week.