Cryptic Roundup #23

Kicking off the week by . . . looking back at cryptics from Monday 7/18 to Sunday 7/24! It’s hard to find the right balance between timeliness and free-time-iness in which to get these puzzles solved and the write-ups done, but the point is that these clues are timeless and the sites are all archiving these grids, so . . . it’s never too late to break out your pen or pencil or stylus and solve. At any rate, if you’re looking to get notified about these posts as they break, you can also sign up for this same content in newsletter form (though be aware that I don’t know how to make spoiler tags in it). And now, from 11 puzzles and a total of 302 clues published between Monday (7/18) and Sunday (7/24), it’s time:


  • 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.


I don’t know if it’s because Jack Keynes’s puzzles were the first UK-style ones that I managed to regularly solve, but I often vibe with the wordplay and language he’s throwing down, and his latest mini is densely packed with great stuff. Since we’re talking about personal tastes, I’ve enjoyed the individual offerings from both George Ho (Loplop) and the duo at The Rackenfracker, so it’s no surprise that their collaborative “In One Basket” is a delightfully challenging variety grid. If you want a standard puzzle jam-packed with good clues, Hoang-Kim Vu’s Browser 82 is very good, too.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):


I rarely see this clue type on its own–it’s usually in conjunction with another mechanic. Is it perhaps too straightforward to allow for a natural surface?


[18a] Vault secured by mobile app (4) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]

What I love about this surface is that if you think about it, a vault wouldn’t be particularly safe if a mobile app could unlock it–Mission Impossible‘s multi-stage biometrics this is not–but a cryptic doesn’t need to always have full real-world logic. It’s enough just to make you consider a possible premise, as we do here, thanks to “secured” and the sneaky sense of “vault”: mobiLE APp.


  • [13d] Quietly engaged in twisty lower back movement at the ‘68 Olympics (5,5) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • The hero here is the suture of “lower back movement” and the gymnastic sense given by the Olympics reference. The solution is a different type of movement entirely, and one well worth remembering: BLACK(P)OWER* (*lower back).
  • [13d] Rarin’ to go change full diaper (3,5,2) [Cryptic Interpretation 5, Evans]
    • As a still relatively new dad, I’m going to continue to celebrate clues like this one, which so totally see me. There’s no half-assing a full-assed baby: when your child gets the call and then you get the cry, you’d better be rarin’ to go, or ALL FIRED UP* (*full diaper) as it were.
  • [2d] Elon’s first revolutionary space flight (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Though I hate this guy’s public stock- and crypto-market rigging for personal profit (at everyone else’s loss), he does own a space-flight company, and I can at least recognize that feat in well-deserved “revolutionary” cryptic form: E+SCAPE* (*space).
  • [3a] Not the greatest reward for running devil’s realm chaotically? (6,5) [“Call Me Maybe, Westley]
    • This sort of reminds me of those novelty “I DID X AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS T-SHIRT” items. Here, the situation involves literally running hell for a bit and you just got a SILVER MEDAL* (*devil’s realm). No wonder Satan is so angry.


  • [10a] Refuse to marry Juliet in Verona–the source of tragedy (4) [Keynesian 136]
    • Outstanding surface sense here thanks to a little foreign (not Shakespearean) language, specifically that of Verona, Italy: J+IL+T. If they’d only let their star-crossed kids wed!
  • [8d] Support for son of a bitch, perhaps (4,2) [Cryptic Interpretation 5, Evans]
    • The trick here is in the extra definition in “Support for.” You’ve got to split those for parts: PRO+PUP, and bonus points for describing how I feel about modern elections.
  • [22a] Drop the ball as well as you can run it (6) [Cryptic Interpretation 5, Evans]
    • Just a bunch of nice crossword clues here strung together in an entertaining way: “Drop the ball,” “as well as,” and the crème de la crème, “you can run it”: ERR+AND.
  • [1d] Game coach for Halo (6) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • The dazzlingly deception here has nothing to do with Esports but rather the use of a different game despite Halo being right there in the surface: NIM+BUS (“coach” is well-played here as well). That’s how you do a lot with a little.
  • [21d] Preoccupation with Iron Throne’s leader, sort of (6) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • GoT fans, especially those who stuck with the worst parts of the last three seasons (which I dutifully recapped for Slant Magazine), are guilty of having a FE+T+ISH for the show, so I like this even more than along the wordplay sense.
  • [27a] Place residents with officers (11) [Everyman 3954]
    • Sometimes I just appreciate a really clean break of a word into parts: LIEU+TENANT.


  • [19a] Tough guy accepting part of mosque is a promising sign (4,4) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]
    • I said on-stream that this clue gave me hope: I remember after 9/11 how even the “tough guys” of my hometown New York sort of flipped out with Islamophobia, so it is indeed promising to think we might move past that toward acceptance (which is a great indicator in both ways): GOO(DOME)N.
  • [3d] Do not talk about academic level (6) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Another exercise in powerful terseness from K&P: “Do not talk” goes around “academic” to give you a “level” and that makes the answer somewhat self-descriptively S(MOOT)H.
  • [24d] Love, in brief, where singles find their match? (5) [Mental Playground 109]
    • If ever you were going to abbreviate “love” as “O,” this is the right kind of surface for it, and that’s a lovely way to define a C(O)URT. (“In brief” is a superlative superfluous bit here–it doesn’t need to signal the O, which leaves it free to do what it’s actually needed for.)
  • [4d] Thanks to nurse, identify orderly (4) [Keynesian 136]
    • Terrific surface sense, with “nurse” and “orderly” not at all what they’re cracked up to be: T(ID)Y.
  • [3d] Square meal takes up essential part of day (6) [Keynesian 136]
    • If you’re a New Yorker like me, this is more essential than you might think, and former Mets player Mike would certainly agree: PI(A)ZZA.
  • [19a] Primates possessed by hunger for type of oil (9) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • I enjoy the cataclysmic climate surface sense here, wherein mankind’s primitive lust for oil destroys us all–GR(APES)EED. I might be reading into that a bit, but not THAT much.
  • [18d] Big heads move in two directions (4) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]
    • I like the natural clash of cardinal directions here from these “big heads”: E(GO)S.


  • [15d] Finance guys ignoring the top market index (5) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]
    • Personal bias from me: I think the whole stock game is blatantly rigged, since the market can be so easily manipulated, whether by Gamestonk memes or, more generally, “finance guys.” This surface suckered me good with the “Finance/guys” split in [-m]EN+DOW.
  • [7d] Given a different slot, denied opening, called a strike (5) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • This clue successfully points toward unionization in the sense that when your company keeps screwing you over (a different slot, no opening), it’s time to fight back. Convenient, then, that those are also solid indicators for [-b]UMPED and a different type of strike-caller.
  • [5d] Endorsed on the internet? Quit right away (1-6) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • Not that I am in any danger of it, but I do worry about the risks of being Internet Famous, wherein if you’re doing something “right” in the most toxic of digital environments, you may want to step back from it: [-r]E-SIGNED.

Double Definition

  • [22d] Problem children (5) [Everyman 3954]
    • That’s not the way I think of “children,” but it’s absolutely correct, and therein lies the great way to do a two-word double definition, where you make a new connection (like ISSUE).
  • [18d] Lesser-known song that might be infectious? (4,3) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • On stream, I took a long beat to wonder if this wasn’t misenumerated, because EAR WORM seemed like such a fun answer, but that’s not a lesser-known song (and I think it has a shared root, and it’s not really infectious, now that I think about it). As always, you know the right song/answer when you hear it, though, and that’s a DEEP CUT.


  • [AA] Cartoon duck is shady? (4) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • There’s no wrong way to solve a cryptic, y’know? My mind went to Baby HUE-Y, but you probably thought of one of Scrooge’s Duck Tales nephews.
  • [7a] Titian, perhaps drunk, suggesting something to draw at night (8,5) [Everyman 3954]
    • Are there shared roots here? Probably. Does that matter as clued? Nope! “Draw” is the perfect word here, and justifies the use of “Titian, perhaps” and the slangy version of “drunk”: VENETIAN BLIND. Suggestive indeed!
  • [I] Where you can land in Paris? That’s obvious if you ask internet forum dwellers (4) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • This might just be a straightforward double-definition depending on how you punctuate the latter part, but I take it as O RLY, as in the Nic Cage meme. Either way, it’s lovely.
  • [28a] Greetings from a ring of fire? (5) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Top marks come from that ? indicated “ring of fire”: HELL+O.


  • [16a] Sounds like entitled child cried and missed everything? (9) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • The sweet sounds of an entitled child crying–let that be a lesson to us all! Really enjoyed the meaning of “entitled” here, as well as “missed everything” with a needed question mark to get us to AIRBALLED /heir bawled/.
  • [9a] Working solo, read aloud, but not in the library (2,4) [“Call Me Maybe, Westley]
    • This isn’t ALONE, which tripped me up for while, since I was trying to shoehorn that sound in, despite an incorrect enumeration. Best advice I can give with cryptics is don’t be afraid to set a surface down for a second to re-evaluate–what is “working” really doing here, for instance? That gets you to ON LOAN /on lone/.
  • [12a] Hospital department broadcast cry of discovery (1,3,3) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • The cry of discovery I made (AHA!) when realizing how these two things overlapped was pretty good: I SEE YOU /ICU/. It helps that I was listening to Cocomelon’s “Peek-a-Boo” song while solving with my son.


  • [8d] ‘Timid? You have backbone!’ says Spooner, to express thoughts plainly (5,4,4) [Everyman 3954]
    • This is why I love Spoonerisms. What a convolutedly, patently ridiculous phrase–that turns into a wonderful answer: SPEAK YOUR MIND /Meek? You’re spined!/
  • [23d] Travel fatigue from Reverend’s rented car (3,3) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • This is the slightly more tricky way of indicating a Spoonerism, by using “Reverend” alone. Whatever helps the surface, because the wordplay doesn’t change: JET LAG /let Jag/.
  • [7d] Illegally access computer device blocking signal via Spooner’s noisy machine (10) [Keynesian 136]
    • Two tech clues give way to a decidedly lower tech tool (or maybe it just seems that way: I mean, I certainly couldn’t build a JACKHAMMER /hack jammer/ from scratch!).


  • [12a] A détente almost arranged–very much the reverse! (8) [Everyman 3954]
    • I’ve been having a lot of debates lately about what is an &lit or not, and for me, it’s just that both the cryptic and definitional parts–however tenuously or stretched–need to make use of the entire surface. A détente is an easing of hostility, and the opposite, clued by “very much the reverse” is a V+ENDETTA[-e]* (*A detent[-e]). That reversal also works for the indicator–take the “V” from very (which is last) and put it first, before the almost anagram of “A détente.” Wonderful and creative, which is what I expect from an &lit.
  • [K] Clergies may be riled up about one! (9) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • Put another way, what is one thing clergies may be upset about? S(A)CRILEGE* (*clergies). The beauty of the &lit is that it only works in one very particular parsing, and it can be a real juggling act to get it where it needs to be–a smashing success when it works!

Letter Bank

I didn’t see any letter banks that stood out this week: you’ve got to really nail the indicator to make that work.


  • [14a] Taking English and science, I conceded, ruined loads of childhoods (12) [Mental Playground 109]
    • I rarely hear people complaining about English as a childhood activity (it’s generally Math), but I suppose if it isn’t your primary language, it’s going to make things really tough. At any rate, the idea of “school sucks” is pretty universal, even if learning itself is absolutely essential, so I appreciate the surface sense behind ADOL(E+SC[-i]ENCE)S* (*loads). This “I conceded” bit is super smart.
  • [3d] Site for a school exam in Florida: its outcome is anyone’s guess (4-3-3) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • I think I cackled a bit at this on stream, given my limited experience with state-wide adoptions of test-prep material and the odd things that some states want to ban from what should be universal (common) curriculum. Who knows what they’re learning in Florida? All I know is the wordplay works really well: F(REEF+ORAL)L.
  • [7d] Fixed days to travel taking time on vacation (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I really have to remember that “on vacation” is a common overseas indicator for “not carrying anything.” For the rest of us, even if we’re not traveling because of COVID, we mostly know the “joy” of having to rearrange days to travel–S(T[-im]E)ADY* (*days)–and how some managers would only allow it when you didn’t need it.
  • [2d] Irregular cases rising–Covid almost indisputable (11) [Keynesian 136]
    • Very tricky, despite being given one of the words in the surface: UNEQU([-d]IVOC<)AL.
  • [M] Avoid returning boarding school’s books (9) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • It’s the use of “boarding school” here that I get a kick out of: SCH(EDULE<)S, although I suppose “books” is doing a bang-up job here as well.
  • [1a] Dad is hiding, feeling worse after tattoos and drugs (11) [“Call Me Maybe, Westley]
    • In this one, I like the positional “after” and the sense of “hiding.” Combination clues have no restrictions, so there’s no excuse for an imprecise surface: PA(INK+ILLER)S.


[C] “IM4U,” “In the Club” go up the charts (5) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]

Such an amazing letter swap here, and so nakedly presented: “IM 4 U,” which is a song title I absolutely buy, whether it actually is one or not. (Remember, cryptics have no obligation to be accurate in their wordplay–just grammatically fair.) Hence we get CL{[u]->IM)B.

Rule Breakers

  • Everything seemed to play fair this week. You can’t always reinvent the wheel!

Beats Me

  • [21a] West and south, backing kind experts (8) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I get “west” as indicating a reversal, and I see a synonym for “kind” for get me to “experts,” but I couldn’t parse the “south backing” part: [MAES+TROS]<.
  • [30a] The author (operative in dysfunctional club) dancing with a prince of the jungle? (4,3) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I like the wordplay here, but are both “dysfunctional” and “dancing” doing the same thing for “club”? L(I+ON)CUB* (*club).
  • [1d] Apparitions as may appear after cheese? (7) [Everyman 3954]
    • My best guess is this is a loose double or cryptic definition for foodstuff? SPIRITS
  • [1a] Wow–a spiked up point of hair! (6,4) [Mental Playground 109]
    • I know everything is an anagrind, but is “up”? I guess as in like hyperactive, animated, moving around? The “!” also threw me, because this isn’t an &lit: WIDOW’S PEAK* (*Wow–a spiked).
  • [8d] Run down to hum (3,5) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I think this is just maybe a term I don’t know for “hum”? A rebus, maybe? BAD MOUTH
  • [17a] Fail to meet holy man joining with state (5,2) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Not sure about the “state” part: ST+AND+UP.
  • [20a] Cut and paste (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Is this a double-definition I’ve just never heard of? CLEAVE
  • [26a] Trouble husband and wife had describing books with rules (3,5) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • H(OT)W+ATE+R looks right, so I’m going to assume “rules” for R is cricket related?
  • [28a] Truthful accountant backing trade union’s talk, essentially (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Just a bunch of foreign-to-me abbreviations, which is the biggest trick to getting into overseas cryptics: [AC]<+TU+AL.
  • [4d] Devoted people putting alumni behind school (7) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I have no idea for this one; didn’t know the word OBLATES either.
  • [5d] How Hypatia initiates card game for perfectionist (8) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I started off cleanly enough with I DEAL, but don’t see how to get the IST at the end.
  • [18d] Cleans posh building needing money in America (5,3) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Is U(NCLE SA*)M (*cleans) synonymous for “America”? What’s the “building needing money” for?

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #393: MODERATION

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

  • A proportional relationship between the most commonly seen value and the total number of observations in a statistical sample (disregarding extreme values) (10)
  • To remain composed about one’s desires, primarily (10)
  • Cook me tandoori–not too much! (10)
  • Restraint with date in room? Difficult (10)
  • Starts to meditate often, daily exercise helping relaxation (10)

And mine: 

  • Discipline India’s Prime Minister by running around (two-time)? (10)

I’m back on stream tonight, Monday 8/1, at around 9:00 EST and will probably do three or four puzzles. May “warm up” with a tough Steve Mossberg Quiptic, but then I want to get into Hoyt Arcane’s new Cryptic #5 and Foggy Brume’s non-meta “A Dirty Puzzle” from the latest P&A Magazine. Will maybe also try MP’s final indie (for now) Cryptic #110. Feel free to stop by and make suggestions as to what I should stream as long as it’s from 7/25 to 7/31, setters always welcome; we should all have fun and learn something from the stream.


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