Cryptic Roundup #15

It’s a long weekend, so I’m going to count this as still being “on time” in that the weekend isn’t over. Anyway, I did 11 puzzles and 319 clues between 5/16 and 5/22 from the following publications:

As always, these are all good puzzles and my ratings are subjective, but if you had time for but one puzzle, Trent H. Evans’s Cryptic Interpretation #2 is indeed packed full of interesting interpretations and some powerful misdirects. If you’re doing a second, make it The Rackenfracker’s variety puzzle, “Song of the Summer,” which has fun wordplay everywhere you’d expect–and a few you might not!

UPDATE (5/30 @ 11:00 AM): Because I keep adapting the metrics I use from week to week in an attempt to find those that are most descriptive/helpful, I realize I neglected to actually explain them. The first number (with a +) represents the raw number of personal “delights” in the puzzle–so basically, all the clever turns of phrases, tight surfaces, surprising indicators or wordplay, and overall deceptive pleasure–weighed against any jarring clues that felt like they still needed work. This is a very subjective number.

The second number (in the brackets) represents the average difficulty of the puzzle. Essentially, I give each clue a score from 1 (easy) to 5 (hard). For instance, “Pastry leaders of Pakistan in England (3),” from Mathrix’s “Not So Loud” grid is a 1: every element is straightforward, from the definition “Pastry” to the indicator (“leaders”) to the mechanic itself (an acrostic). I’m not saying this surface won’t stump someone–I’ve been told that some solvers struggle with hidden clues, for instance–but it feels comparatively easy. By contrast, something like “Certain naval officers stand to lose, and ready case for rifles”–beyond not giving the exact enumeration–is a 5: the definition may be unfamiliar to some, “stand to lose, and” is delightfully misleading, “ready” switches from verb to noun, and “case for rifles” is a tricky bit of wordplay: there’s a lot going on there.

Finally, the third number (with MPC) stands for minutes-per-clue, and you’ll note that doesn’t necessarily sync up with the bracketed difficulty. I jump around between clues, so this is generally a sign that crossings helped to break through clues that would’ve been really tough on their own, and is a sign of how balanced the puzzle is as an entire grid, not just a set of independent clues.

Anyway, here are my favorite clues:


  • Slight setback for McDonald’s stock (4) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • “Stock” is great in this context, and even if you’ve narrowed it down to the chain’s actual supply of goods (as opposed to the stock market), it might still take a minute to properly parse “slight setback” as BUNS(<-).
  • Reasonable lawyer leading Beantown retrospective (3,2,3) [LEO #4, Payne]
    • This clue goes to show you that even if you disagree completely with a surface–reasonable? Beantown retrospective?!–you can still greatly enjoy the solve: NOTSOB+AD(<–).


  • Somewhat unsafe drag near northbound, be prepared (2,5) [Browser #73, Mossberg]
    • “Drag” as in a stretch of road, though this could also be a warning about LGBT-unfriendly locales to watch out for, but either way, “be prepared” works: unsafE DRAG NEar (<–).
  • Part of ugly pharaoh character (5) [Loplop #5, Ho]
    • Maybe it’s a commentary on Steve Martin’s infamous “King Tut,” which some people find offensively dated and others celebrate on account of a sort of superseding silliness? “Character” is the workhorse here, pulling together uGLY PHaraoh.


  • Races horses around, captivating a Roman emperor (6) [Rackenfracker #5]
    • “Horses around” is a fantastic indicator here, because it fits so well with the Circus Maximus vibe of the surface–and wow, that “a” isn’t wasted at all: CAES(A)R* (*races).
  • Plastered bar friends becoming rabble-rousers (10) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • I’m not much of a drinker, so for me, this anagrammatic outcome feels like the best possible outcome for your shit-faced companions–FIREBRANDS* (*bar friends) at least try to accomplish something political instead of just, I dunno, angrily puking in a corner.
  • assembled oracles: “we like this sentence” (9) [Loplop #5]
    • I’m a sucker for fourth-wall-breaking clues, like this demonstrative one. I guess what I’m saying is punctuation matters, unless it doesn’t: LOWERCASE* (*oracles we).
  • Encouraged remodel of Ford Comet (9) [“Not So Loud,” Mathrix]
    • I’m not familiar with the Ford Comet, a car from the ’60s, but the fact that it exists and pairs so well with “remodel” makes this a stellar find: COMFORTED* (*Ford Comet).
  • Forgetful person accepted as imperfect (5,5) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • If I am doomed to be this sort of forgetful guy, I’m fortunate to have people around me who can accept that–and if not, well, I guess I won’t remember to regret it. The answer here’s also a fun phrase: SPACE CADET* (*accepted as).


  • Good thing to have after a blowout/poop (5,4) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • You don’t have to be a newborn’s dad–like me–to appreciate the genius interpretation here: I cannot stress enough how important punctuation can be: SPARE+TIRE. This one’s definitely in the running for Clue of the Year.
  • We should have dinner–call to reserve a spot at the table! (4,3) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • If not for Evans’s previous clue, I’d be raving even more about “call to reserve” and how well it works in this context: LET+SEAT.
  • Fast-food sandwich in man-baby’s bed (5) [AVCX 5/19, Pasco]
    • I can accept that there’s very much an overlap between those who eat fast-food well into their adulthood and the so-called “man-baby”: M+CRIB.
  • String ensemble’s overture follows counterpart (5) [“Not So Loud,” Mathrix]
    • This surface is even better if you solve the whole puzzle, which is all about musical dynamics. It’s strong on its own, though, with “String” probably not at all what you expected here: TWIN+E.


  • Patriotic uncle drinks after peace in the Middle East (6) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • I’d love to believe the politics of this clue; I said earlier that I wasn’t a drinker, but I would definitely share a glass for this: S(ALA)AM. Really nice use of “drinks” as the container indicator and “after” as an unexpected synonym.
  • Doctors taking on the American Medical Association–they’re serious (6) [New Yorker 5/22, Pasco]
    • The adversarial “taking on” is a nice indicator here, and “they’re serious” is a fun way to clue the whole thing: DR(AMA)S.
  • Basic old hat covers pauper’s head (6) [Cryptic Interpretation #2, Evans]
    • When is an old hat not an old hat? When it’s old hat. There is nothing “basic” about this wordplay, even the “head” part within this context is elevated (albeit still obvious): STA(P)LE.
  • Boot something shocking with old version of Windows (5) [Loplop #5]
    • Have you played Inscryption? If not, you should. Of course, the “something shocking” in this case (or as the case, as it were) isn’t software–though it is soft: E(XP)EL.
  • Yogi, um, wearing lingerie item (5) [National Post 5/14, Cox & Rathvon]
    • Clues, especially cryptics, need a good voice behind them, and the use of commas to establish that questioning “um” says it all–especially given the vital role it plays in this answer: B(ER)RA. This Yogi would be proud.
  • Chicken egg roll’s wrapping (7) [AVCX 5/19, Pasco]
    • This is one of those “found”-like cryptics: it looks like a straight description of something off a Chinese menu, but it’s actually doing a lot of work behind the scenes to give you RO(O)STER.


  • “Hello there!”: What Miss Piggy might say when hitting on you? (4) [Rackenfracker #5]
    • Could there be a more perfect description here than “hitting on you”? Muppets are always welcome, as are catches like this: HIYA indeed!
  • Brag of location of seats three back from the stage? (4) [Rackenfracker #5]
    • If you did CROW about being in the C-ROW, I would be jealous.
  • Got naked and probed? (9) [AVCX 5/19, Pasco]
    • A surface can be unpleasant and still delightful–much like puns in general, the groanier the better: DE-BRIEFED.


  • Said to employ females who only get haircuts once a year? (4) [Rackenfracker #5]
    • I’m sure this common homophone has been used before–but that creative flourish of a definition sets it apart and is just one more way for a good setter to help personalize and/or stand-out a clue: EWES /use/.
  • Legwear made from cattle in French city, it’s said (4,5) [AVCX 5/19, Pasco]
    • Very impressed by the phrasing on this, wherein the base term looks nothing like the final answer: KNEE SOCKS /Nice ox/.


It’s fundamental to integrity! (4) [Rackenfracker #5]

I rather enjoy words that contain their own synonyms; they make for good &lits, as seen here: inteGRITy.

Letter Bank

Opines repeatedly and widely, revealing ownership (10) [OOLF #112]

“Repeated and widely” is a good way to indicate this mechanic, and the underlying insistence to the clue gives it a nice tone: opines > POSSESSION.


  • Butters up ahead of exam–most clever (8) [Browser #73, Mossberg]
    • Great use of “Butters up” in a down clue: SMAR(<-)+TEST.
  • Simmer down lower, incorporating oil, not stirring (4,2,3) [Browser #73, Mossberg]
    • A neatly consistent cooking surface that’s actually hiding a colloquial definition: CO(OLITNO*)W (*oil not). Kudos to the not-what-it seems “lower,” too.
  • Shakespeare heroine left Iago before the second half (6) [AVCX 5/19, Pasco]
    • And another really solid surface that keeps it in the bard’s family, right down to the tricky use of “left” and the literally playful refence to a “second half”: PORT+IA[-go].


  • See diet foiled by donut shop on occasion (1,4,3,2) [Browser #73, Mossberg]
    • I don’t know how one sets about writing an every-other-letter clue like this one, let alone one that’s this smooth (says the guy who ate three Krispy Kremes today), but I’m thankful for those setters who go the extra mile beyond a mere hidden word to give us a tasty treat like I TOLD YOU SO {“diet foiled by donut shop”}.
  • At first, all creative new endeavors face problems (4) [Loplop #5]
    • By contrast, acrostics seem very easy to write–but it takes a real master of the form to have such a solid surface and a seamless definition like “face problems”: ACNE.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest #384 – SMACK

Remember that all of the following clues have the same answer: reveal the link highlighted above to find out if you guessed correctly, and to see the other entries:

  • Stack Exchange™ offers a hint (5)
  • Spank groom’s butt in bed (5)
  • Western leaders kept calm amidst Modi’s surgical strike (5)
  • Show orgasm acknowledgment as a sign of love (5)
  • Ailing mother sending setter off to get drug (5)

And once again, we come to a close. I didn’t get to nearly as many puzzles/clues as I’d hoped this week, so please remember: if you see something good out there, send it my way. Celebrating and discovering new ways to read a sentence is a joyful act that we should want to share with as many people as possible.

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