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A personal take on the best dozen Times crossword clues from the last 5 years
Part three of a thirteen-part series of blogs

Posted by Andy Brown on 11 December 2017

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11th position (from puzzle number 26345)

Cryptic crossword setters are always trying to mislead, and this clue illustrates just the heights (or depths?) they will go to. 

Once again, prime minister's back in the papers (5)

Even experienced solvers will probably begin on the wrong track with this.  Here's what would go through my mind for prime minister:

Idea Notes
Abbreviation? Prime Minister is often abbreviated to PM.  Because of the word "back", I would suspect that the answer might contain the letters MP.
Reference? Common Prime Ministers in crossword clues include Pitt, Heath and Attlee (it's much easier to use any of these in a clue than, say, Campbell-Bannerman).

But look again closely, and you'll see that prime minister has no capitals.  Now the experience solver may suspect that the two words don't actually belong together, and re-read the clue as:

ONCE AGAIN, PRIME minister's back in the papers (5)

So the definition is "Once again, prime" and the answer is REARM.  To see how this comes from the rest of the clue, here are two helpful bits of information:

Part of clue What it refers to
minister's back The letter R (the back of the word minister)
papers REAM (a ream of paper is 500 sheets)

If you put an R inside REAM you get the final answer.  This type of clue is called (by me, at any rate) a construction - it builds up the answer from different components.  They can often be tortuous, as these examples show:

Puzzle Clue Answer
26110 Makes good sense to drive, being lost? ( ATONES WIT SEND
26712 Pressure to stop mail while away (5) S-(P)-END
26880 Dull WI member perhaps joining English party (8) JAM-BORE-E
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