Cryptic Roundup #20

It’s been a busy week, and I’ve started the first of several collaborations, which I’m rather excited to sharing with you all down the road. It’s a great learning experience–as, of course, is solving and being exposed to all of the excellent clues I encountered between Monday (6/28) and Sunday (7/3). I’ve got 10 puzzles and a total of 343 clues for you, in this order:


  • MPC (minutes per clue): how long it took me to fill in the grid, divided by total number of clues
  • PJ (personal joy): how many times I though a clue’s wordplay and/or surface stood out
  • D (difficulty): a simple average of every clue, rated with a 1 for straightforward mechanisms and up to a 5 for multiple devices, stretchy definitions, or devious wordplay and indicators
  • A variety puzzle has a gimmick that alters how clues are read and/or answers are entered.
  • A themed puzzle has at least eight clues within a similar category.
  • A Twitch puzzle is one that was solved on stream, with a link to it.
  • ($) represents a puzzle available only to subscribers for that outlet. Costs vary.


As always, every puzzle here is worth a look, but if you have limited time, the latest Rackenfracker, “Rock Bands,” is very good (though through no fault of its own, a few clues may be triggering), the D&D theme and grid design of Steve Mossberg’s Square Chase #13 is very nice. I also really like the Alphabetical Jigsaw format, so check out that (free) Mossberg puzzle as well.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):


Returning students commit an error (4,2) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]

There’s no rule that says a reversed word needs to be the same number of words as the answer, and it’s fun to turn one word into two (or three) with wordplay. The surface here is clean and elegant, at least until the education system improves: students (and adults!) are known to [SLIP UP]<.


  • “The Bill of Rights protects this caliber type constitutionally” (7) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • Timeliness, certainly not cleanliness, is the closest a cryptic surface can get to godliness, because however smoothly it may read generically, the specificity of a moment lends it that extra bit of strength. Uvalde only reinforces the frustrating truth of this statement, wherein caLIBER TYpe is mistakenly shoved down the barrel of a gun.
  • Little snip of a comedienne addresses the Supreme Court, e.g. (6) [July 2022 Harper’s, Maltby]
    • The comment above applies to this clue as well–it’s less specific, sure, but the thought of a female comedian–and how perfectly put is “little snip”?–facing these Supremes in this time is powerful: comediENNE ADdresses.
  • Spoke to Dietrich, offering low-carb weight-loss plan (4,4) [New Yorker 7/3, Berry]
    • Apolitical clues are fine, too! I like that this one evokes, at first, some sort of German accent of a homophone clue (we saw “Zinc” for “sink” last week), but is actually a hidden: SpoKE TO DIETrich.


  • In the U.S., aim to alter history, etc. (10) [Everyman 3951]
    • I promise, I’ll stop mentioning politics when they stop being so relevant. Just a very good find here, and I’ll quietly mourn this: Oh, the HUMANITIES* (*In the U.S., aim).
  • Overt maneuvering for key political figure (5) [OOLF #118, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • As I said, I’ll stop when this stuff becomes less relevant; hint: it won’t, and that’s why these types of surfaces work so well. Love this definition, by the way: put the power back where it should be, with the VOTER* (*Overt).
  • A cargo ship damaged ancient Egyptian vessels (10) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • A very smooth surface here, with a too-plausible scenario of breakage: SARCOPHAGI* (*A cargo ship).
  • Fancy Yanks like boas (5) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • “Like boas” is just perfect here, as is “Fancy,” neither of which is quite operating in the sense you’d expect: SNAKY* (*Yanks).
  • Contrived neologisms bringing misery (10) [Everyman 3951]
    • I find myself appreciating perfect anagrams–particularly long ones–a lot more these days, now that I’ve dabbled in construction myself. It’s not that hard to turn a long word into a few shorter ones by rearranging letters, but discovering longer words that become other equally long other words and capturing them both in a fun surface? It’s lovely technique, just the thing for getting rid of GLOOMINESS* (*neologism).


  • Cutesy “Star Wars” alien? Ugh, fine (4) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • No need to ever clue this word again. As someone who watched both live-action movies as a kid, this is the best surface you’ll ever get: one half “ugh,” one half “fine” for EW+OK.
  • In ballet shoe, end of toe to swell (7) [Beneath the Surface 13, Dolan]
    • The elegance of this clue fits the elegance that it describes. The difference, I hope, is that while ballet often carries a physical cost for that grace, a good clue should at worst provoke carpal tunnel: IN+FLAM+E.
  • Ultimately tossed logical conclusion out? (2’2) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • I’m in the camp that approves of using acronyms as charade components; even if I weren’t, this surface sense makes it all worthwhile–give me that D+QED.
  • Deteriorating butt restraint (10) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • Look, sometimes a concept is just funny. If this clue got you, even for a minute, to picture a butt restraint, it did its duty: RAM+SHACKLE.


  • Manicurist at times holding piece of light padding (6) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]
    • I admire a cryptic clue that looks like it’s just describing a normal thing. If you’ve ever been in a salon, this is what you’ve seen. FI(L)LER, this clue is not!
  • Dodge launderer’s money flooding half of African nation? (3,4) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • A very, very well-deserved ? for this definition had me confused for a long while, as did the use of “flooding,” but it’s good: CA(RWA[-nda])SH.
  • Rise to throttle comedian, a wise guy (4-2-3) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • All I can think about is Joe Pesci’s “Funny like a clown” speech, and I’m living for it. I will add that “Rise” is a wonderfully misleading sense here: KNO(WIT+A)LL.
  • Embarrassed about diverting money from the IRS, maybe (6) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]
    • I don’t know that I’d be embarrassed to do this these days, but this is a wonderful split of “diverting money”: RE(FUN)D.


  • After the kickoff, didn’t pass and fared poorly (5) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • Like politics, sports lends itself naturally to cryptic clues because it’s so universal, even if solvers might not be up on all the individual terminology (see: UK references to cricket). This is just an outstanding description of a football game: [-f]AILING.
  • Showing sensitivity, using clear thinking after company leaves (6) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]
    • Even though I think I’m the opposite here–I can say some very stupid and thoughtless things when I’m all alone–I love the sense here: [-co]GENTLY.

Double Definition

  • It makes a kiss feel fresh and pristine (4) [Rackenfracker #7]
  • Therapists’ contracts (7) [Everyman 3951]
    • Two very different approaches here, both good. The first is the more deceptive approach, in that longer clues tend not to be double definitions–which pays dividends when they are (MINT). The second is as terse as you can be, banking on solvers not being able to find the common synonym, especially if its used in two entirely different senses (SHRINKS).


  • Place to work out one’s pronouns (4) [Square Chase 13, Mossberg]
    • I hear it is, in fact, fun to go to this place, whether it’s to flex muscles or pronouns: THE Y.
  • Optimistic, like composer Philip midway through a meal (5,4,4) [Beneath the Surface 13, Dolan]
    • Given his music, I tend to think of this composer as a very dour fellow, so the idea of a GLASS HALF FULL brightens my day, likely as intended.


  • Reported slaughterhouse product loss unfortunately happened (6) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • You hate to see it, but you love to hear it–“L” for “loss” is particularly inspired: BEFELL /beef L/.
  • Superfluous sound not mixed manually (8) [July 2022 Harper’s, Maltby]
    • Oh, I love the break of “Superfluous” and “sound” and the auditory component, all of which fits so well in the musical realm: UNNEEDED /unkneaded/.


  • Heart repair operation after Rev. Spooner fills his mouth with pie (this fellow has a wide mouth) (6) [Rackenfracker #7]
  • Spooner’s Frank Herbert-themed shakeable word game: waste of money (10) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • I’ve come to the conclusion that a Spoonerism is the comic relief of a cryptic crossword. It’s an obvious device that cuts the tension just when you need it to–and the wordplay’s not bad either! You can’t tell me that the base sounds for BYPASS /pie bass/ and BOONDOGGLE /Dune Boggle/ don’t bring a smile to your face!


These are admittedly hard to craft; the few I saw didn’t thrill me. Sorry!

Letter Bank

These remain rare, and the one I saw (which was very good!) was the revealer of a themed OOLF puzzle and wouldn’t make any sense here out of context. Shucks!


  • Legislators game system during recession, rates unrestricted (6) [Square Chase 13, Mossberg]
    • Gosh, “game system” in this context is just so smooth. Politics really encompasses everything in a cryptic, doesn’t it? SEN[<]+[-r]ATE[-s].
  • #throwbackthursday initially has a good following (7) [Beneath the Surface 13, Dolan]
    • If you’ve never seen punctuation used this way before, you’re welcome! It’s that sort of delightful surprise we all crave from a cryptic: HAS+HT[<]+A+G.
  • Fish carrying club card, something many fish don’t have (6) [New Yorker 7/3, Berry]
    • Nonsense surfaces work if they lean far enough into the surreal, as they do here, with the thought of a fish with something exclusive (in its fish wallet, I guess?): E(Y)EL+ID.
  • Mom’s left, interrupting topless live holiday production (4,4) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • This one’s playful yet serious: I’m picturing a mother who discovers, belatedly, that she’s brought her kids to a burlesque holiday show instead of the family friendly one down the street. “Holiday production” as a definition really anchors this: [-e]X(MA’S+L)IST.
  • Idle role-playing around tech department (6) [Square Chase 13, Mossberg]
    • I’m almost positive that this was a constraint: Mossberg, doing a D&D puzzle, had to use “role-playing” in there somewhere. That he’s talented enough to still use it this way delights me to no end: LO(IT)ER* (*role).
  • Retrospective spoils Fritz Lang movie Fury (5) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • I didn’t realize, initially, the extra layer to this one, in that Fury is also a Fritz Lang movie and not just a 2014 Brad Pitt film. Works either way, though: STOR[<]+M.
  • Propose touring an awfully boring BBQ spot (3,1,4,2,2) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • This surface surprises at every turn. “Touring” isn’t the anagram indicator. “Boring” isn’t part of a charade. “Propose,” not “BBQ spot” is the definition! Quelle surprise; if I like this clue this much, why don’t I P(UT A RING ON*)IT? Sorry, I love my wife more.
  • As expected, cut for fear that it’s boring to the max (7) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • Here’s boring again, but in a different sense: DUL[-y]+LEST. Look at these surface breaks!


  • Rest area among prime contributors to road slipups? (5) [Rackenfracker #7]
  • Plays with mode of thermostat and furnace (7) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • For a creative constructor, there are so many ways to select the bits and pieces that you need for an answer. “Prime” is a math-y way to indicate the second, third, fifth, seventh, and eleventh (etc.) letters of a phrase: OASIS. I’m sure “According to Fibonacci” isn’t far behind, if it hasn’t already been employed. “Mode” is in that camp, too, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a puzzle: it generally selects the thing used the most in a set–in this case, for “thermostat,” it’s a T, giving us the very clever T+HEATER.
  • “Kingdom Hearts” in artfully tinged revival (5) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • I don’t actually love the Kingdom Hearts series–from a surface sense, it just mashes up Disney stories with JRPG fantasy characters with little care for how they go together. (A cryptic writer could surely teach them a better means of construction.) Here, split misleading through that end quotation mark, I love it: the hearts are FU+NG+I, and that’s definitely not the kingdom the game refers to.
  • One who got pulled into a war? (6) [July 2022 Harper’s, Maltby]
    • I think this is a cryptic definition? I’m never quite sure. I had initially wanted this to be TUGGER, as in like, a game of tug of war, and I think that latter part is still true. The answer, however, is YANKEE, as in the opposite of a yanker.

Beats Me

  • Clever clogs (Sting that is) (7) [Everyman 3951]
    • The wordplay is clear: SMART+I.E. Is “clogs” slang for something? I assume it’s there to help make more sense of the surface, but it’s only confusing me.
  • Abundance, supply: holy, kind Amen (4,3,5) [Everyman 3951]
    • Not being a religious person, I didn’t know the phrase in question (MILK AND HONEY). Seeing it now makes me think of a letter bank, but this phrase repeats an N, so….
  • That man’s attention is on capital investments? (11) [Everyman 3951]
    • I know the answer is HE+ADDRESS, and I think that’s the charade, but I just don’t follow the definitional work here.
  • Former Test captain getting boundary, loudly cheer on (4,3) [Everyman 3951]
    • This feels like it’s ROOT FOR, and “loudly” could evoke a homophone, but I see “Test” and “boundary” and assume this is just cricket terminology I don’t know.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #390: DAREDEVIL

These clues all have the same answer. Check the highlighted link above for the answer and to see the full list of ones submitted.

  • Reckless management of deadlier variant, at first (9)
  • Stunt pilot’s flying formation contributed to deadlier accident (9)
  • Reckless lead diver gets the bends (9)
  • Invited wrong superhero, perhaps (9)
  • Stuntman tamed live adder (9)

And mine: 

  • Marvel’s Matt Murdock is oddly reviled while supporting District Attorney (9)

I’ll be streaming as usual later tonight (whenever the kid goes to bed); I want to continue trying out different puzzles on stream to give everyone a wider vocabulary on outlets and styles, so I’ll probably dig into this week’s Everyman and the rare New York Times-published cryptic (you’d think this site would take this format at least as seriously as the New Yorker or WSJ and make this a weekly or monthly feature).

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