Cryptic Roundup #22

I know these posts come out sort of erratically each week–I blame that on my goals being larger than my solving capacity and free time. Every time it looks like a light week, I wind up adding a few new constructors to the mix, and the challenge is real (and fun). I think my next side project will be to sort constructors by (personal) difficulty, in case that may help encourage anyone else to step up their own cryptic-solving game. Anyway, if you want to make sure you know when the next post is up, you can subscribe to this same roundup in newsletter form here. And now, from 13 puzzles and a total of 370 clues published between Monday (7/11) and Sunday (7/17), here we go:

Abbreviations:

  • 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. [V1] does one of those, lightly, [V2] is a bit trickier, [V3] is maximum shenanigans.
  • 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. Note that the New Yorker only allows a certain number of articles per week for non-subscribers.

Recommendations:

Honestly, this is hardest part of the roundup to write, because all of these puzzles are good in their own ways. What it comes down to, then, is what stands out beyond the cluing itself. Juff’s deceptively titled “Mini #2” gets an A for effort, and I’m in awe of the variety of mechanics employed to make it operate so smoothly. And Jack Keynes’s “Dungeons & Dragons” puzzle is wonderful, though I’m biased because I liked the theme from jump. If you’re looking for a density of bangers, both George Ho and Andrew J. Ries knock their respective puzzles out of the park, and as always, Steve Mossberg’s Square Chase cryptics are a fun and gentle introduction to the variety format.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

[5a] Epic poem about grief inspired by failure (7) [Keynesian #135]

I don’t remember the specifics of this book enough–I was always more of a modern Grendel guy myself–to know if this could be an &lit as well, but it’s a very fun (and full) reversal: [B(EOW)ULF]<.

Hidden

  • [17a] Mysterious character appearing in bar unexpectedly (4) [Keynesian #135]
    • The extra kicker to this surface is that it was part of a larger “Dungeons & Dragons” themed puzzle; you don’t need that context to solve this, but you may enjoy it more if you realize that this is basically the start of every campaign: baR UNExpectedly.
  • [16d] Some perfidious tracking technology (4) [Loplop #9]
    • Such a smooth surface, I mistook it for an &lit at first, even though “tracking technology” isn’t technically contributing to the cryptic side. But boy, this is timely, and if you don’t know what peRFIDious is, or aren’t eating up that lovely larger word, check it out!
  • [3a] Some roti categorically contains hot stuff (7) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • My wife introduced me to her family’s West Indian cuisine, and I deeply regret that I went so many years without roti. Do not make the same mistake as me: it is the best of the breads (with maybe fresh-puffed poori close behind), and can give the actual answer a run for its money: somE ROTI CAtegorically.

Anagram

  • [17a] The air is toxic, which is most alarming (8) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • As I write this, on a day where New York City has alerts about low air quality, and the future looks increasingly bleak in terms of climate, this surface absolutely slays, and conveys exactly what it says: HAIRIEST* (*the air is).
  • [17a] France is not revolutionary, say (3,8) [Loplop #9]
    • I remain a huge fan of words that look like indicators (“say”) actually being the definitions. It’s total fair play, but reinforces you can’t throw any words away: FOR INSTANCE* (*France is not).
  • [1a/8d] Mummers sighted in drama, performing “The Comedy of Errors’ perhaps? (1,9,6,5) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • The only thing more impressive than finding a smooth surface for a 21-letter anagrammatic phrase is doing so in a thematic sense, with one play swapping for another: A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM* (*mummers sighted in drama).
  • [26a] Remaster wonky service like Netflix (8) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • “Remaster” is maybe a bit tenuous here, in that you’re more likely to update the films hosted by Netflix in this way than to retool Netflix itself but it works by association and yes, it is a bit wonky, no? STREAMER* (*remaster)

Charade

  • [5d] Where tablets were given evil artificial intelligence (5) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • Such a good use of “tablets,” and look at that seamless transition between the two types of surface here: SIN+AI. You’ll know we’re doomed when computers can come up with cryptic clues this good.
  • [4d] In accordance with Constitution, able to speak freely (9) [Keynesian #135]
    • A chillingly prescient clue in that this may not actually be true for much longer, given how our liberties are under attack from within. That said, this is a great disguise for the D&D stat of constitution (CON): CON+FLUENT.
  • [19d] Stretch with dexterity in close-fitting costume (7) [Keynesian #135]
    • Another solid D&D hit from Keynes, with DEX stepping up to the plate this time, and I love the relationship between these two words: SPAN+DEX, which doesn’t have a shared root, since the answer here actually comes from EXPAND.
  • [12d] Spirit is downright horny (4,6) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • This would’ve been a good fit for Māyā’s theme, but works great on its own, too: gets you thinking about satyrs, but it’s actually about what they drink: PLUMB+RANDY. Thanks, Austin Powers!
  • [7d] Weights, running, and exercises (6) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • The terseness of this clue leaves little room to hide, and yet, the deceptiveness of “running” and the chosen sense for “weights” works magic in getting all of these elements on the same page: ON+USES. American-style crosswords have to expend an entire grid pulling off something like that across three to five themed entries; a cryptic does it all in one, and that’s why they’re better (from a wordplay perspective).
  • [12a] Hurtful remark to Eliza Doolittle? He’s often cutting (6) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • One of those cute “sounds-like” clues where you need to know where Eliza Doolittle is from in order to get the intent; BARB+’ER. Ah, my fair cryptic.

Container

  • [8d] Flowery organ in Eminem song “Without Me” (6) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • I didn’t love “flowery” in this clue when I first solved on stream, but thinking about it, the dissonance it evokes with the rap elements of Eminem actually makes me like it even more. Beyond that, this is great, the way the given Eminem song is actually wordplay for the one it implies: STA(ME)N.
  • [25a] Become deteriorated taking in the rain and snow, perhaps (7) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • Another almost-&lit, where the whole crossword part could work, but some elements are not used cryptically. Ah, well; it’s still a thing of beauty, with a deceptive use of “the” for WEA(THE)R.
  • [15a] Puppet Waldorf’s mouth breaks scathing review (4) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • There is, apparently, much debate over how to use proper nouns in puzzles, and I think I agree that having to know names either as answers or bits and pieces can be rough. But so far as using them to evoke a surface, I’m all in, especially since I grew up to become a critic probably at least on some level because of the animated curmudgeonry of Statler and Waldorf: PA(W)N.
  • [4d] Pavement made from a tar containing measure of acidity (7) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • Science is a natural fit for cryptic crosswords, because it’s all bits and pieces and compounds over there anyway! Which is to say the idea of literally “making” a product like “Pavement” out of words is fun: A+S(PH)ALT.
  • [38d,6d] Fate closing in on leaders of truly corrupt online company (3-3) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]
    • This one, sadly, may be wishful thinking; not nearly enough corrupt online companies have met their well deserved fates (or even just the absolute minimum of their deserved taxes). At least we have cryptics to teach them a lesson: DO(T+C)OM.
  • [15d] Put everything in to try to find Olympus Mons, perhaps (7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Fun fact that may help: Olympus Mons is twice the height of Everest. I can’t even really picture the latter, let alone the former, but I can come to grips with it in a cryptic: T(ALL)EST.

Deletion

  • [4a] Prickly thing in Mexican food–one to remove (4) [Loplop #9]
    • A deceptive deletion here, not just of “one,” and that makes for a very nice surface (albeit a very terrible restaurant): BURR[-I to].
  • [17a] Fear scratching Tesla in blunder (5) [SQP154, Mossberg]
    • Not much a fan of Musk these days, but as with any pretty car, I understand the concern about even the slightest of dings or dents: [-t]ERROR. (It’s why it took me so many years to finally learn how to drive.)
  • [26d] Concealed monotreme missing all four extremities (3) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • A fun double deletion, impossible to spot, perhaps, if you don’t know what a monotreme is: [-ec]HID[-na].

Double Definition

[12d] Awkward situations, greetings (3-2-3-3) [Everyman 3953]

I was surprised there wasn’t a shared root here, especially given how my social skills have declined over the last two years, but one’s just a fun informal expression: HOW-DO-YOU-DOS. (By the way, be careful Googling this lest you be flagged as a denial-of-service-seeking hacker, which is also the way I might have clued this.)

Heteronym/Pun

  • [8a] Important to accept package if I happen to be unable to (11) [Loplop #9]
    • Long heteronyms are a thing of beauty, as is this surface for it, which sounds really natural: SIGN IF I CAN’T (we’ve all been there).
  • [5d] Employment of 246 years (as of 2022)? (5) [Loplop #9]
    • Another smash from this setter: do the math, and you’ll see it’s the US AGE. (Also, terrifying to think that if businesses and biology had their way, that’s definitely at least how long we’d be working.)
  • [10a] Illogical silence? (7) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I think both of these words are being unusually prefixed, and I rely on these setters to keep finding fun and novel senses for language: UN-SOUND.
  • [10a] Bouncy castles are beacons? (11) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Fun fact: I think these castles would probably float, so they could be deployed as mobile LIGHT HOUSES, or, as the surface intends, just operate as light(weight) homes. (There’s a great skit online about the just this.)

Homophone

  • [9a] Trojan object audibly deceived ‘em (6) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • And with this clue, the association between the CONDOM /conned ’em/ brand and the Iliad is complete. Very smart.
  • [39a] Ballet excerpts, candy for the ear (6) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • I know that ballet may be candy for the eyes for many of you, but at someone who came to the form through the music, I appreciate this: SUITE /sweet/.
  • 13a Wear a rubber ring in your ear (6) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • “In your ear” is in fact a homophone indicator, but it also perfectly describes a “gauge,” which is the type of rubber ring that one puts in the lobe: ATTIRE /a tire/.
  • 10a Capital city announced toll cuts (7) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • If you’re going with a proper name, give a fun way to get there: this is exactly that, not with something rising from the ashes but with the adult excitement of a PHOENIX /fee nix/.

Spoonerism

[1a] Singer’s steam room less bright for Spooner (5,6) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]

Have you ever seen a steam room in use? It is, in fact, less bright, so that surface checks out, as does the Spoonerism, which passes the one key test: making the solver laugh. DONNA SUMMER /sauna dumber/.

&lit

Sadly, another week without any &lits. Come back, The Rackenfracker! You’re needed!

Letter Bank

[20a] Father rambling repetitiously since then (10) [Keynesian #135]

Great indicator here, one that sort of matches how some fathers–usually someone else’s–end up droning on: father > THEREAFTER.

Combination

  • [15d] Following conventions, full rum & cola cocktail includes bit of ice (9) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • I love this surface; my only nit is that the awkward use of an & makes it very obvious that an anagram is intended, and I think it is therefore fair for users to figure out on their own if “and” is part of the anagram or not. Still, this surface sounds like Mixology 101 more than a cryptic clue, and that’s an achievement: F+ORMULA(I)C* (*rum, cola).
  • [4a] Buddy holding an online interview is able to make a coast-to-coast connection (6,5) [Mini #2, Juff]
    • I said it on stream and will repeat it again: “coast-to-coast connection” is a lot of fun not just because it ties together the rest of that fun surface, but because it’s an unexpected definition: P(AN+AMA+CAN)AL. And that’s not even the best part of this clue! (That’d be “online interview” for Ask Me Anything.)
  • [3d] Brought back tamale (mostly) in an Alaska tapenade (mostly) (8) [Mini #2, Juff]
    • The repetition of “(mostly)” does it for me here. I fully expect, in a clue like this, for the wordplay of each to be different; I’m impressed that one is actually part of the definition: [KA+([-e]LAMAT)+A]<–.
  • [19a] Read aloud terrible introduction to story, resulting in shock (10) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • When you solve a lot of cryptics, your gut starts to make certain assumptions about how these key words will operate, so I’m always delighted when I can say that it’s not what I thought, and when I’ve, despite all my jadedness, still been tricked. (Think about the genuine delight from Penn & Teller when they are, in fact, fooled on Fool Us!) So hooray to this clue for not being a homophone: SCAN+DALOU*+S (*aloud).
  • [2d] Hack start of download stream, after sabotaging ABC (3,6) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • A great way to hide words are to extract the older definitions from modern surface senses: CAB*+D+RIVER (*ABC).
  • [20a] Use muddled lime to improve whiskey, in a way (7)  [New Yorker 7/17, Zawistowski]
    • Great finds here for liquor, with a nice break of “muddled lime”: MILE*+AGE (*lime).
  • [17a] Uses open-air synagogue: “Oy! Such beginning!” (7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Big fan of “open-air” here (and boy, “use” seems like it was popular this week as a definition): [-t]EMPL[-e]+OY+S. One reason why I love newer constructors is they always seem to be trying to prove something with thoughtful, stretchy new indicators such as that (even when they’re only new to me!).
  • [32a] Be left eager to discuss vital money bag with Queen’s retainers (10) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • The only thing missing from this clue as an excerpt is that by the time you got to it in Māyā’s puzzle, you were probably even more deceived about which type of queen was being referred to. We’re looking for BE+E+KEEPERS /key purse/.

Miscellaneous

  • [3d] Jordan, once leading Monstars’ opponents and Bulls (4) [SQP154, Mossberg]
  • [24d] Yak starts to chew hay in Nepal (4) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • I’m not a huge fan of acronyms–except for when the surface sense hides them a bit. You can see that in the very Space Jam-seeming clue (M+O+A+B) and then in the use of “yak” for C+H+I+N.
  • [2d] Neighbor watching BBQ just stole seconds (4) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • I am more inclined to give leeway to clues like this than acronyms because they’re pulling in a slightly less obvious fashion, but I don’t even need to for a zinger like this! Just a perfect picture (A+B+U+T) and not at all of the type of neighbor I had in mind.
  • [26a] Characters in R&B, &c.? (10) [Everyman 3953]
    • I think cryptic definitions like this work best when they revolve around making a solver overthink the obvious. What characters show up in both R&B and &c.? Those would be the AMPERSANDS.

Rule Breakers

  • [18a] Chances of 18 going in for dudes? (4) [Keynesian #135]
    • The first full-on meta clue I’ve seen: this one cross-references itself in a sort of Catch-22 (but solvable) way: ODDS are chances that are found, appropriately enough, in “for dudes.”
  • [9d] Give game away via cryptic reference to hen-beast? (5,3,5) [Keynesian #135]
    • I was told that this is a “revenge” clue, in that the solution itself is a set of cryptic instructions: SPILL THE BEANS is the answer, but also a way to make “hen-beast” from “the beans.”
  • [19a] Male, hairy: to him it’s a salutation! (7) [Everyman 3953]
    • Here, the traditional indicator has been taken out, used instead as the answer, which I think makes this a revenge &lit? SPOONER is the answer, because it’s the way in which you turn “male, hairy” into the salutation “hail Mary.”

Beats Me

  • Deliveries proceed quickly in storm (7) [Everyman 3953]
    • I’m just going to assume that “Deliveries” is a cricket term for an OVER because I want this to be OVER+RUN.
  • Given investment, son made more comfortable (5,2) [Everyman 3953]
    • I think this is SHOWN IN, but I have no idea how to parse that.
  • On the contrary, a conservative on Hill is pretender (5) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]
    • “On the contrary” throws me, because it seems superfluous to A+C+TOR.
  • Dresses, well-used, hung up during party (2 wds) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]
    • I think there might be some British slang in here? Also not sure about dupes, because I want this 7-letter phrase to end in UP, but that’s already in the clue.
  • The twelfth of a sequence represents a larger number? (5) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Pretty sure this is FIFTY, but the math eludes me.
  • Undoing gift mountain wine became extremely popular activity (8,7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • I have the middle of this, with NATION+ALP+ASTI+ME, but I’m “became extremely” signals BE, not ME to me, and even if that’s “UN doing,” I don’t love NATION there or see what “gift” has to do with it.
  • Pouring, split just past the middle and flipped, gives fix (7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Is this ING+RAIN somehow, taking the last three letters of “Pouring” because it’s “split just past the middle? But then “flipped” doesn’t really work for me–a reversal somewhere?
  • Extremely absorbing people-finders are after Gladys’s innermost enemy (9) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • I’m guessing that “people-finders” has an acronym or slang I don’t know, because this is absolutely [-gl]AD[-ys]+VER(SAR)Y or [-gl]AD[-ys]+VE(RSA)RY.
  • With [INTER], she’s a source of vulgarity (10) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • “Source” feels like it indicates a letter bank more than an anagram, so maybe I’m missing something in EARTHINESS* (*inter she’s a).
  • Suit working holiday-maker travelling around a loch (11) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • So, I like “suit” as the definition: BUSI(NESS)MAN. I even see the one loch I can name in there. But “working holiday-maker traveling”? No clue.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #392: CAPITALIST

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

  • Fat cat – pet stuffed with bread and fluids regularly (10)
  • I primarily support trade (10)
  • Supplier of dough for California flatbread menu (10)
  • Thatcher fits this description! (10)
  • Plutocrat who shouts on the internet? (10)
  • “Beat It” – a record money-spinner! (10)

And mine: 

  • Leader of commerce, elite loaded with a stuffed pocket! (10)

I’m back on stream tonight, Monday 7/25, at around 9:00 EST. Will, as usually, probably focus on highlighting constructors I haven’t solved before like Ryan Patrick Smith or Trent Evans, though I may extend that to first-time collaborators, like Loplop and the Rackenfracker, perhaps. Feel free to stop by and make suggestions as to what I should stream as long as it’s from 7/18 to 7/24–I haven’t locked in anything yet, and my goal is to help both you and me become better, smarter solvers.

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