Cryptic Roundup #25 (8/1-8/14)

I was out sick last week, and having to miss doing both this roundup and the Twitch stream really hit home for me how much I’ve enjoyed not just solving but discussing these puzzles with the community. Maybe it’s because there are more parts to a cryptic, but they feel like more of a group effort, even when it’s still just a single setter and perhaps a test solver or two. From the responses I’ve gotten from others, with both Dan Feyer of The Browser and Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto in their Out of Left Field postmortem mentioning this blog last week, I suspect many of feel the same way. Anyway, I’m still a bit under the weather, so I had to pare back on some puzzles–especially since I still wanted to discuss some of the ones I skipped last week. My apologies to those setters; if I missed your grid and you’d like feedback, just reach out to me and I will try to backlog it!

Without further exposition (or expectoration), here’s the recap of 12 sterling puzzles and 333 total clues that I went through between Monday (8/1) and Sunday (8/14). Remember, if you follow this blog or sign up for this same content in newsletter form (sans spoiler tags), you’ll never miss a roundup (even when I do).

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:

It might seem weird for me to be recommending a puzzle I didn’t cover above, but that’s only because the dual-grid and combination surfaces of their latest variety puzzle don’t fit the format of this blog. You should still check out The Rackenfracker #9: Stereograms, especially if you want a real challenge. Also, there’s a neat collaboration between Juff, Saroota, and Skaldskaparmal; it came out while I was super sick and it’s online-only so I haven’t checked it out, but I’m looking forward to it! For something easier, Steve Mossberg’s “Stream Issues” is in the building–comparatively easy only because he only has four tricks in the grid, as opposed to Rackenfracker’s oops-all-shenanigans. For standard puzzles, being able to cite two back-to-back The Browser grids shows just how much I vibe with those ever-entertaining surfaces, just as seeing Sara Goodchild in both the AVCX and New Yorker demonstrates how much a setter’s voice stands out in this format. Also, don’t miss Ryan Patrick Smith‘s self-published debut; some real tough words in there, but very fair surfaces.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

  • [6d] Ruin atmosphere doing stand up (4) [Square Pursuit 156, Mossberg]
    • A few months back, a film broke at the movie theater, and, without anyone asking, a woman leapt out of her seat and began doing an impromptu fifteen-minute set to help keep people “entertained” while they rebooted the projector. If you can find that cursed footage online, you’ll better understand the surface of this clue and why we should treasure anybody who can make us feel better, not worse, while performing: [DOOM]<.
  • [28a] Rundown racehorse making a comeback (5) [AVCX 8/11/22, Goodchild]
    • Everybody likes a comeback story! I refuse to believe this isn’t already a Disney film somewhere; they can even call it Pacer, for the dozens of us who’d get it: [RECAP]<.
  • [12d] Caught society lady at bar doing stand-up? (6) [SC15: “Stream Issues,” Mossberg]
    • Yes, I know, another “standup” clue from Mossberg: so what? It’s a good revealer on a down clue, and honestly, this is the woman I was thinking of when I described that first clue above: [NAB+BED]<.

Hidden

  • [21d] Aptly named eroticist Chuck taking some writing lessons (6) [AVCX 8/11/22, Goodchild]
    • Sometimes the subject matter is so worthwhile that even a bad clue is worth citing, and I’m glad this constructor didn’t put me to that test. This author can be found appropriately, in wriTING LEssons, a thing he got while being pounded in the butt by lizards. (Look it up.)
  • [15a] Tech outlet stocks Amazon gadget (4) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]
    • Lovely surface! A “tech outlet” is precisely where you’d find this item stocked, so well done: tECH Outlet.

Anagram

[7a] Beginning to arrange notes or tones (5) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]

So long as triple definitions and the like are allowed, I’m all aboard for this kind of anagram, especially as it helps to deceive those of us who just look for an easy number of letters. “Or” is working in perfect grammatical sense here, too: ONSET* (*notes OR *tones).

Charade

  • [27a] Co-producer of “Thor: Love and Thunder”? (4) [Browser 84, Nediger]
    • Could there be a more organic clue than this? Unless the constructor got the producers to name the film this specifically so that he could write this surface, it’s just a perfect lightning-bolt of a coincidence, and it gives new life to O+DIN, a literal “co”-producer.
  • [5d] Pokémon’s appeal and commercial essence (10) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • Another stunningly appropriate description of a product, and wow at the discovery of “commercial essence” to grab those necessary letters for CHARM+AND+ER.
  • [14d] Bug Steve through Ring app (9) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • I watched an episode of American Horror Stories recently that hinted at how hackers might mess with your digital surveillance tools. I guess I should’ve watched an episode of the Sopranos instead: ANT+I+PAST+O. Really nice use of “through.”
  • [17a] People shipping sultry outcome (6) [Square Pursuit 156, Mossberg]
    • If we’re going to suggest the hip, modern secondary definition of “shipping” (as in worshipping), something steamy is the only way to go–so a tip of my hat to Mossberg for making the postal definition work as well in UPS+HOT.
  • [24a] Support your constructor *grin* (1-4) [SC15: “Stream Issues,” Mossberg]
    • I really like the “*grin*” here, which sets a definite mood. “Constructor” also takes a more outside-the-grid meaning in the surface of an I+BEAM.

Container

  • [19a] Lab vessel containing spherical nucleus of an infection (5) [New Yorker 8/7/22, Pasco]
    • I don’t know the biology well enough to say, but “spherical nucleus” sounds accurate, and is a none-too-wordy way of getting that necessary letter for the vessel: VI(R)AL.
  • [2d] Put off by bite of futomaki, encrusted with roe, perhaps (5) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • A phenomenal food fake-out here, with “roe” so strongly connected in the egg-sense to the futomaki sushi that it’s really hard to step back to what’s actually wanted: DE(F)ER.
  • [13a] All right, did some yard work outside–was incapable of letting it go! (6) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]
    • This surface is almost Tom Sawyer-ish in getting me excited about the prospect of tending a garden, though I don’t know that his crowd would’ve understood cryptics. Their loss, our gain: HO(OK)ED.
  • [16a] Animal lobby group interrupting chef’s words (6) [New Yorker 8/14/22, Goodchild]
    • The great misdirect here is that you can’t see “Animal lobby group” and not think PETA, for better and worse. Perfect place, then, to add a sneaky break in the parse, actually giving us AL(PAC)A.
  • [16d] European boxes, winning prize (6) [SC15: “Stream Issues,” Mossberg]
    • “Boxes” is a great container indicator because it can so readily fit a more sporting type of surface, though credit’s due to “winning” here as well: S(UP)ERB.

Deletion

  • [2d] For instance, a neutrino, say, with no detectable origin (7) [OOLF 123, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • A deviously slight break in the parse here completely hides the answer of [-p]ARTICLE.
  • [20a] Trim start and finish from most verbose film festival offerings (6) [AVCX 8/11/22, Goodchild]
    • Fun way to lean into an unharmful stereotype here about the sort of art films that debut at festivals and how they’re the [-w]INDIES[-t].
  • [16d] Antique sword roughly removed from ditch (7) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]
    • Took me several passes to see the deletion here, that’s how clever it was. You’ve gotta know the word CIRCA for “roughly,” as in a point in time many years ago. Once you have that, you have to figure out which one of the two to pull out of a phrase for “ditch” (which is also a really nice definition): CUT [-c]LASS.
  • [8a] Without hesitation, parent becomes spotlight lover? (4) [New Yorker 8/14/22, Goodchild]
    • Warning, stage mom alert! Thankfully, this is only a cryptic, so we’re all safe from the MOTH[-er].

Double Definition

  • [14d] Music with no words? Get out of here (4) [Browser 84, Nediger]
  • [1d] Stars in Dallas pursue this Shakespearean role (4) [Browser 84, Nediger]
    • This definitely fooled me on stream, as I didn’t know what sport the Stars played. (They have ice rinks in Texas?) Shame on me for getting stuck on IAGO and LEAR and forgetting all about PUCK.

Heteronym/Pun

[5d] Empty inside, like the Tower of London? (8) [AVCX 8/11/22, Goodchild]

I think the population of the Tower of the London may be the only bit of trivia I retained from touring it; my hunger for that factoid is super appropriate for this false suffix: RAVEN-OUS.

Homophone

[6d] By the sounds of it, constructor gettin’ strong mood regulator (9) [AVCX 8/11/22, Goodchild]

New rule: every constructor should challenge themselves to insert their name (and not just as “I”) into a grid of theirs, if at all possible. This is just such a fun homophone, from the “constructor” to the intentionally elided “gettin'” part: SEROTONIN /Sara tonin’/.

Spoonerism

  • [28a] For Spooner, shaken wrist is defiant gesture (6,4) [Browser 84, Nediger]
    • In the wacky, not-quite-right world of a Spooner, I can see a “shaken wrist” being defiant, but we’d all agree that a RAISED FIST /fazed wrist/ is more applicable to the real world.
  • [13d] Airman or woman is Spooner’s spotter of sin (10) [Māyā #12]
    • Bit of a slang here in knowing that an “air” is a bit of music, though I like the idea of this being some sort of flying hero scouring the surface for evil: SONGWRITER /wrong sighter/.

&lit

  • [15a] Cola variant with punch! (7) [Browser 84, Nediger]
    • This &lit has some kick, thanks to a “punch” that thankfully is not a shared root: ALCO*+POP (*Cola).
  • [7d] Piece of petunias and other such things! (5) [Browser 84, Nediger]
    • “Other such things” is a nice catch that not only sells the &lit surface but also fills in the necessary part of the clue. And while any P-named flower might work here, the alliterative rhythm of “piece of petunias” is a nice touch: P+ETAL.
  • [9a] Concoction from inside Seattle! (5) [OOLF 123, Kosman & PIcciotto]
    • Interesting partial anagram, where the “inside” letters of Seattle conveniently make up a product that state (thanks to one company in particular) is well known for: LATTE* ([*-S]eattl[-e]).

Letter Bank

Empty category this week.

Combination

  • [26a] Remove boxers from combat sport in living quarters after battle with stones (2,8) [Browser 84, Nediger]
    • Ever since dabbling with construction, I have found myself wondering which part of the clue the setter must have started with. Nothing, not even the truth, will convince me it wasn’t realizing that the definition “Remove boxers” would go really well with a fight-centric surface. Finding the mixed-martial-arts angle is a boon: GO+CO(MMA)NDO.
  • [1a] Curmudgeon flipped over praiseful poems’ unique lines (8) [New Yorker 8/7/22, Pasco]
    • So much of a good cryptic comes down to an inventive definition, because it allows you to take the surface in the direction you want. Here, we get positively poetic about “unique lines,” but the ones we’re talking about as are mundane as it gets: [BARC]<+ODES.
  • [6d] Soft rock turned up in garden sheds? (6) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • I love that you can interpret this either as a person pumping soft rock music in their shed OR as a person doing some digging there and the “garden sheds” part is still just as deceiving for P+[ETALS]<.
  • [8d] Having consumed case of wine, lay sheets below top deck and have a pleasant sleep (5,6) [1Across, “Words and Pictures,” Aquifer]
    • “Case of wine” is a nice grab for those letters, well-set up by “consumed,” and “below top deck” is a clever bit of masked direction that tells you how to order everything: S(WE)ET+D+REAMS.
  • [17d] Plunge right into assessment, failing everybody (4,4) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • A fun clue tells an immediately recognizable situation, no matter how absurd. If you have any teachers in your life, you can imagine them getting back to school after a nice relaxing summer and just Not Having Time For This as they break out the red pen: F(R)EE+F+ALL.
  • [5d] Critical edition of Plato contains one volume (7) [OOLF 123, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Definitely a scenario you might see playing out on a bookshelf, with Plato’s work condensed more and more critically into a single volume: P(I+V)OTAL* (*Plato).
  • [25a] Player’s cool swagger snagging fellas of superstar status (15) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • A lot of very nice charades here tell the story of a real “player”: IN+STRU(MEN)T+A LIST.
  • [22a] Base for space flight nut amid three states? (4,9) [OOLF 123, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • As a cryptic mechanism, I’m a huge fan of numbered list clues like “three states”–at least, when they’ve got a surprise, as this one does. Two are your standard two-letter state abbreviations for California and Alabama, sure, but the third is a different type of state altogether, which makes collecting them in one direction great: CA(PECAN)+AVER+AL.

Miscellaneous

  • [10a] Apple device’s case receiving VR conversion (5) [Browser 85, Mossberg]
    • I’m so used to seeing “Apple” misdirect from the fruit to the company, so it’s fun that when a device gets involved, we’re actually going the other way–and that VR bit of the surface only widens the misdirect, as it should. “Conversion” is the icing on top, a perfect revealer for a letter swap: CO{v/R}ER.
  • [17d] Coronate Coolidge after change of hands in cramped vehicle (5,3) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]
    • I will 100% of the time take a somewhat nonsense-y surface (that still makes grammatical sense, mind you) if the wordplay merits it, as it does here. Think of this as being Spooner-like: switching the hands (R to L and L to R), you make the silly phrase CROWN CAL into the familiar answer, CLOWN CAR.
  • [1d] According to Insta, cryptics slap! We’re popular at last (2,3) [SC15: “Stream Issues,” Mossberg]
    • Bring on that ultra-modern self-referential cryptic praise! Extra points for this one appearing in a puzzle about streamers! And super special recognition for finding a really nice surface in which to hide a very simple mechanic “at last”: A+S+P+E+R.
  • [9a] He had a plumb job once (6) [Māyā #12]
    • I believe this is a cryptic definition, since there’s only one super sneaky route to this answer, but it made me laugh with this slang, and what more do you want, really? EUNUCH

Rule Breakers

[16d] Motorcycles rev in unison, holding everything up (8) [Māyā #12]

I think this needs to be “holding up everything,” which works just as well for a vehicular surface, because otherwise the definition is not at the end: [motorcyclES REV IN Unison]<.

Definitions Only

Empty category this week!

Beats Me

  • [12a] Graduate students left in commotion (5) [1Across “Words and Pictures,” Aquifer]
    • Is a “B.E.” a degree? If so, I get it; if not, I’m stuck on BA+BE+L.
  • [18a] Dresses stars after sex (5) [1Across “Words and Pictures,” Aquifer]
    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Dresses” as a definition of F+ACES.
  • [2d] Purveyor of gold in Paris: Spaniard’s come before (6) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]
    • I want “gold” to be in French and Spanish, but I think it’s something else for VEND+OR.
  • [12d] Psychological disorder is a cool and initially comforting escape yielding symbolic relief (5) [Real Puzzling Stuff #1, Smith]
    • I think the definition is “symbolic relief,” which is fun and fresh, but I don’t know about the rest of GLYPH.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #396: COMEDIAN

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

  • Jokester from “Malcolm in the Middle” extremely close to stealing TV and radio (8)
  • I come and joke around? (8) 
  • Wit of Modi can ultimately irritate in assembly (8)

And mine: 

  • Stand-up fellow? He’s found to be just the opposite when journalists dig in (8)

I don’t entirely have the full range of my voice, but I’ll still be streaming tonight, Monday 8/22, with a full range of cryptics. My plan is to do Kyle Dolan’s new Beneath the Surface #14, Larry Kline’s AVCX debut (you may know him better as @LowdownCryptic), and possibly Trip Payne’s final LEO puzzle, as it’ll be my last chance to do so at that venue. Hope to see you all there!

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