Word construction clues, as my name for them suggests, require a solution that is made up of two or more separate word solutions. An extremely simple example (that you’ll probably never see in The Times) is ‘rainbow’. The clue for this solution would have one part that gave you the word ‘rain’ and another providing ‘bow’. Of course, it’s not that simple.
In the sort of puzzles we’re interested in here, word constructions are usually combined with other clue types to make the solution – and the identification of the clue as a word construction – more tricky. It’s common to find that one or more of the words will have to be spelled backwards (usually indicated by the words ‘about’, ‘up’ or ‘turn’) or treated as an anagram. You’ll also find that frequently one of the words is split around one or more others, forming the start and end of the solution. So, far from the simple ‘rainbow’ you might find yourself finding three new words, splitting one of them and solving an anagram of the other two!
One particularly devious example is as follows:
Source of report, “comfortable, turning very warm” (7)
In this case it’s easiest to start with the solution, which is ‘gunshot’. How? Firstly, the straight clue here is ‘source of report’ and the devilish nature of this clue starts with the sentence leading you to think of ‘report’ as meaning a weather report (in this particular puzzle there was a strong geographical theme so this doubled the misleading aspect). It’s actually report as in the sound made by a gun.
The first part of the solution is ‘guns’ which is ‘snug’ reversed, indicated by ‘comfortable turning’. The second is ‘hot’ which is just the solution to ‘very warm’. It’s a lovely clue and a good example of how important it is to disregard punctuation and search for alternative meanings.
Here’s an example of a word construction that needs a little more manipulation:
Ruined achievement, accepting rambling story (9)
Once again the setter is out to mislead us because ‘ruined’ is the straight clue, not an indication of an anagram. The solution to this is ‘destroyed’ and here’s how it breaks down.
Firstly, an ‘achievement’ is a ‘deed’ and the word accepting tells us that ‘deed’ is going to be split. Rambling indicates that we need to make an anagram of ‘story’ and there’s the solution. ‘De’ from deed, ‘stroy’ from story (not a particularly tricky anagram!) and ‘ed’ from the other end of deed.
We’ll have one final example of how nasty word constructions can be…
Shock vote for right – nothing smart (11)
We’re looking for eleven letters here which is no mean feat and the construction is as follows. The straight clue here is ‘shock’, once again attempting to mislead us into looking for an anagram. To ‘vote for’ is ‘elect’, and ‘smart’ is ‘cute’.
By now you may be able to see that the solution is ‘electrocute’ but where do the ‘r’ and the ‘o’ come from. Here we can see more favourite tricks of the Telegraph. The word right almost always means the letter ‘R’ and left means ‘L’. Nothing indicates an ‘O’ (as in zero) as, usually, does love or duck. So it’s elect, plus an ‘r’, plus an ‘o’, finished off with ‘cute’. Electrocute
There’s no real trick for identifying word constructions although they can have quite long clues. As usual, experience will give you an instinct for spotting them but always remember to rethink your approach if a solution seems impossible.