Excited as I am to get to the 11 excellent puzzles and a total of 320 clues that I reviewed between Monday (7/25) and Sunday (7/31), I did want to take a brief moment to plug my most recent cryptic crossword, a collaboration with the brilliant George Ho (@__loplop). This blog is meant to be supportive of the community and to encourage solving and construction alike, and this very very lightly themed puzzle, “Better Than One,” I think represents the fruits of those labors. Which is to say: I learned a lot more about cryptic grammar and surface refinement, and it gave me an even deeper appreciation for the puzzles I was solving, even if it (and my weekly live-solving Twitch stream) also delayed this blog a bit. I’m going to continue to think about ways to work with others–I very much enjoyed a late-night co-solving session with some stream regulars and newcomers–and I encourage all of you out there reading this to reach out to me (or anyone else) if you want to get more involved in any capacity. Also, remember that if my erratic posting of these “weekly” roundups is ever an issue, you can sign up for this same content in newsletter form (though it lacks spoiler tags). Let’s get into it!
- Quiptic #33 (Square Pursuit 155), Steve Mossberg | 1.00 MPC | +3 PJ | 1.85 D | [Twitch] [11×11]
- Cryptic #5 (Puzzle 0008), Hoyt Arcane | 2.22 MPC | +4 PJ | 2.22 D | [Twitch] [13×13]
- ($) “A Dirty Puzzle,” P&A Magazine #96, Foggy Brume | 1.46 MPC | +6 PJ | 2.1 D | [Twitch] [13×13] [V1]
- ($) The Browser #83, Nate Cardin | 1.61 MPC | +10 PJ | 2.29 D | [15×15]
- The New Yorker 7/31/22, Patrick Berry | 0.60 MPC | +6 PJ | 2.25 D | [8×10]
- ($) Out of Left Field #122, Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto | 1.34 MPC | +12 PJ | 2.78 D | [15×15]
- ($) AVCX Cryptic 7/28, Ori Brian | 1.33 MPC| +12 PJ | 2.43 D | [15×15]
- Everyman #3955 | 1.48 MPC | +3 PJ | 2.44 D | [15×15]
- Keynesian #137: “What Nonsense!” Jack Keynes | 2.31 MPC | +5 PJ | 2.65 D | [15×15]
- Cryptic #110, Mental Playground, MP | Untimed | +4 PJ | 3.17 [Twitch] [15×15]
- “Anagrammania,” WSJ 7/30/22, Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon | Untimed | +3 PJ | 2.5 [12×12] [V3]
- 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 what they were taking this week, some sort of creativity steroids or what, but Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto’s Out of Left Field #122 exceeded their already high bar, with bangers left and right. It’s well-worth checking out. I also think that Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon took off the kid gloves with a tricky variety puzzle called Anagrammania, that involves modifying either the surfaces or fill for each clue, resulting in an inevitable and yet wholly satisfying revealer. To be clear, you can’t go wrong with anything here–MP saved his most challenging puzzle for this grid, his self-published finale, and Hoyt Arcane continues to make impressive, comic surfaces. Just look at the bounty of clues from this week!
Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):
- [9a] Retreating soldier with trajectory for initiator of classified site (5) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
- The definition sells this one, shifting an innocuous (yet ubiquitous) website into a military surface, with “classified” doing heroic work here: [CRA+IG]<.
- [6d] Teacher’s best students, regressing, make a mistake–darn (4,6) [New Yorker 7/31/22, Berry]
- I think I’ve seen the (6) part of this phrase on its own this way, but “regressing” is the perfect word for this, and “darn” sets a nice tone: [STAR+PUPILS]<. In the world of cryptics, phrases are a great way to elevate pieces that might’ve worked on their own.
- [13d] Max, to hotel: “Set up a place for wi-fi” (7) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
- I continue to enjoy proper nouns that aren’t actually operating as such; yes, “Max” is a very arbitrary subject for this surface, but you could say that for the named protagonist of any story. What matters here is that this works to give you an impression of a harried assistant calling ahead to set up a workspace for his boss where there’s a [H+OT+SPOT]<.
- [10a] Bite from insect that’s repelled (4) [Everyman 3955]
- This is a familiar bit of wordplay, but worth calling out for that pitch-perfect use of “bite”: [TANG]<.
[22d] A little app’s strangely quiet alert (4) [Everyman 3955]
There’s something that gets me about cluing this very old, sibilant sound (apP’S STrangely) in the language of modern technology–and you know what, phones do sometimes have odd notification sounds!
- [27a] Swing set snarled Doberman’s collar (8,7) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- Marvelous use of “swing set” here to paint the picture of a poor dog’s poor interaction with the chain of, say, a tire swing, when in actuality it’s an anagram leading to BALLROOM DANCERS* (*Doberman’s collar).
- [14d] One makes an impression flaunting in G-string around back of house (6,4) [Cryptic 110, MP]
- I talk a lot about imagery: with only a sentence or two to tell a story, the more vivid the description or action, the fresher the clue. Try to scrub this surface out of your mind–you can’t: it makes an impression (in a neatly misleading way for SIGN(E)T RING* (*in G-string).
- [25d] I’ve fired off what a blue check means on Twitter (8) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
- Chalk this one up to “Funny because it’s true.” I know way too many people who got all heated over the apparently arbitrary decisions that go into who gets a blue check or not, as if being VERIFIED* (*I’ve fired) is what’ll get you past that imposter syndrome.
- [1d] Sold seat, sadly, for friendly soccer exhibition? (3,5) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- Marvelous definition here with “exhibition” working in the sense of “show” (or more specifically, a television programme): TED LASSO* (*Sold seat).
- [6d] Important to hold tiger cats when frisky (9) [Quiptic #33, Mossberg]
- Pro tip: If there is more in a surface than necessary (i.e., both “tiger” and “cats”), there’s probably a reason for it. That’s true here, but also, the emphasis of a “tiger cat” keeps this clue balanced between joy and terror, something that’s likely STRATEGIC* (*tiger cats).
- [17a] Significant other, Crystal, with fashionable yellowish piece of wedding attire (9,3) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- Good wedding planning ties a theme together, and that’s what this nice long charade does, whipping a bunch of parts into a surprising whole: SO+METH+IN+GOLD.
- [18a] Aggressively hype love poetry by Mr. Bean (8) [New Yorker 7/31/22, Berry]
- The surprise of which “Mr. Bean” we’re talking about here is where it’s at; I can dine on the idea of Rowan Atkinson as a poetry slam hype man: 8 1/2 Mile, perhaps. O+VERSE+LL.
- [14a] At first, bases on Moon sound like certain modern warfare (10) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
- Hard not to think of the Space Force here; sad (for humanity) to think of the actual answer: B+IO+LOGICAL. That’s a great use of “sound/like” for a non-homonym.
- [6a] Sixty up front was going rate (5) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
- I’m not saying that I had a kid in order to excuse potty humor in the house, but I’m not not saying that either. What I mean is, I laughed at “going,” and it works so well in the automotive context of S+PEED–if only the movie had been “sixty” and not “fifty” there’d be an &lit here!
- [26a] Bulb lit with bit of electricity (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- Nice little literal aha moment here with this tasty bulb of an ON+ION.
- [13a] Uber model: smoothly lead press with public relations and sugar coating (5,7) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- Oh, the number of shitty corporations that do exactly this to get away with inhumane practices, as if you can spin away exploitation. (Sadly, they can.) Politics aside, that’s a nice long string of novel pieces: S+URGE+PR+ICING. I particularly like the use of “press” here.
- [18d] For instance, rash and speedy extremes lead British politician to the capital of Malta (7) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
- Great surface split here, and “extremes” is a fun term: SY+MP+TO+M.
- [28a] Publications covering birth of miracle babies (7) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- The noun-to-verb swap of “babies” here surprises in the best possible way, yielding PA(M)PERS. I’d read stories about this!
- [20d] One who follows orders filling general manager with encouragement (5) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
- The definition here is as outstanding as the implication is damning; you can bet that if your boss could replace you with a tireless, unpaid G(OLE)M, they would.
- [5a] Address, originally collected by USPS, occupies sides of boxes for transit identification (3,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- A fun double container made possible by the post office: B(USP(A)S)S.
- [17a] Holy land in South Dakota (6) [“Anagrammania,” Cox & Rathvon]
- A sequel to The Book of Mormon perhaps? Nice, tight surface: S(ACRE)D.
[44a] Plane’s not serious without debts (5) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
I read this as an indictment of airlines, which are badly in need of subsidizing but keep resisting the regulation that might allow it. At any rate, it’s a nice (and rare) four-letter deletion: FACET[-ious].
- [24d] Punch cards (4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- The familiarity of a “punch card”–at least if you’ve ever worked that kind of job–is what justifies the simplicity of this surface, in which one object becomes three: DECK.
- [4d] Develops–or decreases? (7) [Everyman 3955]
- This surface has a little more room to play, but it’s still operating on the same terse principle in which you’re trying to find the thing that can unify two opposites: UNFOLDS.
- [10a] Lord concerned with resistance? (2,2) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
- This is what I’m calling all the guests of my stream now. It’s just a fun word to say, with apologies to George Takei: OHM-Y. Using “Lord” in this way is really just top-notch.
- [19d] Chemistry unit: the first half of the alphabet? (4) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
- Another winner from Hoyt that reparses one subject as another (A TO M).
- [26a] Put up, take down broadcast (5) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- This might be a contender to rival “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” for the navel-gazing modern day. The brief rise and fall of a podcast: RAISE /raze/.
- [9a] Sounds like trouble…bye (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- This is a cute and all-too-familiar scenario to me, the guy who definitely doesn’t want to get in the middle of a fight: ADIEU /ado/. Inspired me to come up with this opposite scenario (non-homophone): The fight is over? I’m out (5) for PEACE.
[10a] Land from Spooner’s Netherlands settlement (5,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
Extremely smart use of “Land” here to give one of the least absurd (in either sense) Spoonerism surfaces I’ve seen: TOUCHDOWN /Dutch town/. Like, I’m sure there could’ve been a sports riff here, and resisting that more obvious usage made this positively sing.
- [13d] Big game set up around trickery! (6,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- Given what I’m sure is the large overlap between people who like this surface’s activity and those who like solving cryptics, this is likely to be many people’s favorite clue of the week if not month or year, and it being an &lit is just the cherry on top: ES(CAPER)OOM[<]. So smart to think of “Big game” that way.
- [7d] Flexibly tinker about hypothesis’s chief attribute (7) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
- Given the constraints of an &lit, I’m impressed by the way “tinker” is being used here, not as an anagrind but as the anagrist: RET(H)INK* (*tinker). Everything I knew was wrong 🙂
- [23a] Kidnapper using only cardboard cutout letters (8) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- Probably the most literally appropriate use of this type of clue you can find, given that a ransomer is known for their bank of individually cut out and rearranged letters. Hate the ABDUCTOR > cardboard cutout, love the clue.
- [1a] Components required for Dungeons and Dragons could be unsafe (9) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
- Probably the second most literally appropriate use of this type of clue, with extra points for taking an existing thing like D&D and revising it (for a cryptic edition): DANGEROUS > Dungeons and Dragons. I’m also visualizing a barbed wire icosahedron.
- [8d] In middle of set, off-key band presenting “Shallow” (4,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- I appreciate when a combination clue avails itself of every opportunity to misdirect. “Set” is not at all what I thought, “Shallow” isn’t the song despite the presentation and context for it, and “band” isn’t an O here: S(ANDB*)ANK.
- [12a] Gourmet’s beginning to eat without thinking at first–an impressive sight (7) [Cryptic 110, MP]
- I wanted “thinking at first” to be “second utensil” at first, but I think the subject of this surface is actually more aptly described this way, just digging in to everything, a true E+PIC[-t]URE in every sense.
- [16d] Admirable person internalizing mystic syllable–and repeating it where students meet daily (8) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
- I’m increasingly a fan of “repeating” indicators, which tell you to basically repeat an action or element within the finished answer. It’s an economic way of cluing a string of letters, and it works really well in the context of a mantra: H(OM)ERO+OM. Whatever helps that most heroic of people, a teacher, get through the day!
- [11a] Instrument for disheartened tour performer (10) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- I think the only thing I don’t like about this surface is the “disheartened” part, solely because I can’t imagine them actually still performing. But I guess the show must go on, and so we get PRO+T[-ou]R+ACTOR.
- [17d] Confuse with cryptic indication of worth (5,3) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
- The revenge clue is a lot of fun: the answer is cryptic, feeding back into the surface. So here, you need a cryptic way to get “worth” that means “Confuse”: THROW OFF!
- [24d] Campaign research going back and forth (4) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- A very appropriate palindrome indicator the explains the Sorkin-y feel of the behind-the-scenes research of a (political) campaign: <OPPO>.
- [23d] Used a blade on a razor’s edge (dull, at first) (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- The best way to hide an acronym indicator is at the end, so people aren’t trying to solve the clue before finishing the surface. In this case, it also helps the surface, with an apt parenthetical disclaimer for O+A+R+E+D, another kind of blade.
- With rules this loose, it’s hard to break them!
- [19d] New episode of “Tim’s Disturbing Bias” (relatively speaking?) (8) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
- So I use this category to call out definitions I liked so much that I was willing to ignore the surface–which isn’t to say either of these surfaces are bad! But “Tim’s Disturbing Bias” isn’t an actual show, which makes it jump out, and I’m not used to O for “of” (as in, I guess “three o’ clock). All that actually helps the definition to hide a bit more behind both quotation marks and parentheses, giving us N+EP+O+TISM* (*Tim’s).
- [1a] Rolled, lit herbal hash in queer capital? (5-6,4) [Browser 83, Cardin]
- Similarly, while I loved “queer capital,” I was having trouble connecting the drug surface to the definition in anything more than a superficial sense. That’s just me, though, and again, it’s strong enough with that wording to justify putting in THREE-DOLLAR BILL* (*Rolled, lit herbal). (Folks, it’s way hard to find a satisfying anagram than it is to unpack one!)
- [5d] Mars Bar wrapper–I have one left to discard (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
- I got the “Mars”/”Bar” split real quick for B[-a]R+UNO, but wasn’t seeing how I needed to use anything else other than “one.”
- [7d] Curved fastener’s top removed by German engineers (6,4) [Cryptic 110, MP]
- Is this G+ROUND+[-s]CREW? If so, not sure how the G from German gets to the front–can “by” really get away with doing that much work, as in “Everything before me comes after.”
- [24a] Shrapnel discovered hewn in tree (6) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
- I want this to be CASHEW, as a type of “tree,” and “hewn” has some of the letters I need, but I don’t know what to do with the rest.
- [5d] Hessian roll wrapped around uniform on both sides (6) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
- I figured this one out while writing this out–tough simply because it’s a lot of British slang: knowing the word for Hessian and roll, plus being able to spot that it’s not “U” appearing on both sides, but “U” and then “RL,” the two sides. B(U+RL)AP.
- [6d] Artful Dodger definitely jumping over trios of characters (4) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
- I think the answer is DEF+T for “Artful,” and I see the creative “trios of characters” to get me there, but getting a T from “Dodger definitely”? I’m missing something.
1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #394: SUPREME COURT
These clues all have the same answer. Check the highlighted link above for the answer and to see the full list of ones submitted.
- Computer user designed site of highest appeal (7,5)
- Respect our . . . um … appalling jurists?! (7,5)
- Organized crime erupts out without it (7,5)
- Right where righties kill rights? (7,5)
- Judicial body placing gun-centrists before me in rifle stance (2nd) (7,5)
I’ll be streaming again next week, Monday 8/15 from 9:00 PM EST to at least midnight. I’ll be solving puzzles published between 8/8 and 8/14 at that point, so feel free to recommend some to me that you’d like to see, especially if you’re a setter I’ve never spotlighted before and you’re interested in seeing the real-time solve.