Cryptic Roundup #26 (8/15-8/21)

Thanks to everybody who has supported the stream and this blog over what I’m realizing is now about six months worth of solves! I may have started out doing this mainly as a way to catalogue and analyze my favorites in order to become a better setter, but I’ve kept refining the process in large part for all of you, as I think feedback and annotation are an important part for both setters and solvers.

Anyway, here’s the recap of 10 outstanding puzzles and 294 refreshing clues that were published between Monday (8/15) and Sunday (8/21). I try to get these up weekly, but as a reminder, you can subscribe directly to this blog or sign up for this same content in newsletter form (sans spoiler tags), to make sure you get the latest as it breaks..


  • 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 cannot praise Larry Kline‘s debut full-length AVCX cryptic enough: I was expecting profound letter bank clues, which he delivered, but just about every other clue type had some inventive approach, and I reiterate that this is why it’s important–even more so than in crosswords–to keep finding and nurturing new setters, because each one will bring at least one new or unexpected thing to the table, and what is this format for if not pushing boundaries? Along the same lines, Andrew J. Ries‘s puzzle and the latest Joshua Kosman & Henri Picciotto cryptic are worth checking out as a reminder of how good veteran constructors remain, so long as they’re not resting on their well-deserved laurels.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):


  • [8a] Two computer manufacturers turned around and requested merchandise’s return (8) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • I’m not much of a brand/proper-name person in puzzles–unless you’re literally talking about commercial manufacturers, in which case it makes perfect sense. Also, this is a reversal at its most literal in “return” but the surface hides it well for [RECA+LLED]<.
  • [18d] Major retailer overturned trolley statute (7) [LEO #7, Payne]
    • Are you not entertained by the concept of a trolley statute, which I assume is either an official way in which to deal with the Trolley Problem or ordinance passed in San Francisco. Either way, that’s a good find for [WAL+MART]<.
  • [35d] Uplifting Lifetime moment in series finale? (5) [Square Chase 16, Mossberg]
    • I was going to say that “Uplifting” and “Lifetime” was redundant, and then I remembered how many shows on that channel have absolutely horrible things happen and realized I was thinking of Hallmark, which is really bad branding for both networks. Which is to say, this is a fun non-television clue that tests a different type of series, [OM+EGA]<.


  • [10a] Manhattan avenue essentially perplexing to newcomers (9) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • Having grown up in Manhattan, I can say only that I was ever confused by tourists being confused by what is one of the cleaner grid maps you’ll find in an city. But sure, once you get out of the numbered avenues, as is my life now in Queens, I see it: perpLEXING TO Newcomers.
  • [25a] Darker nebula enthralling space type (4) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • It’s nice to see us editors get some of the space love that usually goes straight to astronauts. Fun fact: hidden words are harder to find when you don’t have the right definition, so I appreciate the work being done here by darKER Nebula.


  • [1a] Relishes traveling without children (8) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • My upcoming anniversary is going to be the first time I think we both leave the house without our son, so believe me when I say I feel this clue about as much as I fear it. Really nice surface split, too, giving no indication of the HEIRLESS* (*relishes) part.
  • [24a] Close tabs with abandon–they just get in the way (9) [LEO #7, Payne]
    • For everybody out there working from home on their inbox-zero and other work station management skills, you know how good the act described in this surface feels. “With abandon” is the star here, but that definition’s also apt for OBSTACLES* (*close tabs).
  • [19d,17d] Sorting job delayed? Pour another round for some trivia contestants (6,8) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • Masterful punctuation break here mid-anagram, and in a way that even better hides that definition by making it really feel like pub trivia and not DOUBLE JEOPARDY* (*job delayed pour).
  • [23a] Introductions to Broadway aspirant mistaken as Tim Rice (7) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • I’ve said this before, but if you must use a person’s full name, I hope it’s because you’re splitting it in an interesting way. In this case, that’s for B+A+SMATI* (*as Tim).
  • [1d] Freely admit rashly dropping $500 for genealogy project (6,4) [Beneath the Surface #14, Dolan]
    • This one’s for the crowd of people who went all in on 23andMe and the like when it was much more expensive, and still maintain they had no regrets: FAMILY TREE* (*freely a[-d]mit). I really like the way the “dropping $500” plays out in this context.
  • [18a] Chop using knife from infomercials (5) [Beneath the Surface #14, Dolan]
    • One of two synonymous infomercial knives, the other being XACTO; this one’s easier to naturally anagram, and so the surface is super clean for GINSU* (*using).


  • [27a] Charge one that may have a tab for extra glass (5,6) [Everyman 3958]
    • “One that may have a tab” is a really fun and modern way to jazz up what looks like a traditional wine bar scenario. “Charge” is also doing great work, and really, that’s what you need if you’re breaking cleanly in your phrase: STORM+WINDOW.
  • [16d] Crypto bro’s interest at that place between ecstasy and hesitation (8) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • The derogatory “crypto bro” is necessary here to summon up that weird vacillation of extremes that yields E+THERE+UM. I still think the world would be better off without any of this scammy get-rich crypto stuff, but a clue like this makes me feel like maybe it has some fungible value.
  • [24d] Defense strategy of famous boxer: swinging both ways (5) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • Short and sweet clue here: a boxer swings, sometimes defensively, so it’s perhaps hard to see how the surface parses. Just think about the greatest to get there and his ALI+BI.
  • [16d] Entrance fee is something that’s charged following commercial failure (9) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • Very much a fan of the positional misdirect of “something that’s charged,” with a surface suggesting that a free-to-play model has gone so bad that prices need to be raised post-haste: AD+MISS+ION.
  • [4d] Drags out heads of SpaceX and Microsoft (9) [SP34, Mossberg] 
    • Was definitely expecting a GUILLOTINE-type answer here, given the way my Twitter feed seems to feel about the super-rich. At least the surface evokes it, with ELON+GATES, and this is sort of a corollary to my note above about proper name/manufacturers: do it with purpose.
  • [13a] Asian food is not to be trusted outside of Hanoi (5) [LEO #7, Payne]
    • I thought the cake alone was a lie, but no, if we go by this clue, it turns out that the very timely slang from Among Us has also given us concerns about SUS+H[-ano]I. More for me I guess!
  • [24d] Bank is concerned with marginal liquidity (4) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • When I talk about surface connectivity, this is the prime example: banks are connected with buzz words like “margins” and “liquidity,” so using all of those terms together as indicators and wordplay makes it feel smoother, as with RE+L[-iquidit]Y.


  • [1d] Complain about mopey music invading bar (6) [SP34, Mossberg]
    • If you’ve got a favorite watering hole, especially one with a jukebox, then you’ve probably lodged this complaint when someone starts spinning a tune that’s just out of place. Really, if ever there were a thing to B(EMO)AN, this would be it.
  • [8d] Love to tuck into desserts such as honey bun and treacle (5,8) [Everyman 3958]
    • This is kind of like a double-definition that also has a baked-in bit of wordplay, and I love it–especially the treatment of “love” here, which isn’t as the common shorthand “O” but rather the whole shebang: SWEET(NOTHING)S.
  • [21d] Middle Eastern country accepts southern guys without criticism (3-3) [LEO #7, Payne]
    • I sort of feel like this wouldn’t be the real-world case, but I’ve tried to become more of an optimist in my “old” age, so let’s just chalk this up as wishful thinking with a nice split between “southern” and “guys” for YE(S)MEN.


  • [12d] Dramatic sort of plant shedding outer layer (5) [SP34, Mossberg] 
    • I love the image of this, some really emotive plant just absolutely having had enough and stripping. Like, think of a dandelion just scattering in frustration, its head having literally exploded from all the drama. The answer, mind you, is an entirely different type of plant, so all that imagery is really effective at leading you down the wrong path to [-f]ACTOR[-y].
  • [5a] College community joining hustle and work after commencements (6) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • “After commencements” is a marvelous, on-theme way of indicating deletions, and the seeming synonyms of “hustle” and “work” are very much topical for how people are treating debt-ridden graduates right now. Having dual deletions makes for an extra-fun sense of discovery here: [-s]CAM+[-o]PUS.
  • [3d] Planes route flight, ignoring street (6) [Square Chase 16, Mossberg]
    • Feels like this could be describing Elon Musk’s recent nine-minute highway-hopping flight; I really like the way “route” is switching from verb to noun here, and of course the fun of two types of “flight”: [-st]AIRWAY.

Double Definition

  • [18d] Suspends items of furniture (7) [Everyman 3958]
    • I feel like this should be an &lit double definition given how well they fit together (reader: SHELVES never fit this well together). I know that’s not how an &lit works, I just think this is a superlative double definition.
  • [13d] Refuse a bunch of puppies (6) [New Yorker 8/21, Payne]
    • Look, I’m allergic to dogs, and my gut response here is still to ask what sort of monster could turn away a bunch of puppies. I can’t tell if that’s a bonus feeling from this clue or not, but it definitely makes me rethink the origins of the dog LITTER, and now I’m wondering if a third definition pertaining to cats might’ve been worked in.


  • [11a] Cold energy at no cost? (8) [OOLF #125, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Read as much science-fiction as I have and you’ve definitely seen scenarios about different types of energy that might solve all of our problems (while creating new ones). The split in this phrase will at least warm your heart with its FREE ZING.
  • [21a] No longer thinking, dear? (9) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • A very nice question that you should never ask your significant other, this is one of the best false prefixes I’ve seen, aided by a very sneaky use of “dear”: EX-PENSIVE.
  • [12a] PS: For example, enormous ovine (6) [OOLF #125, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • “For example, a” was their clue last week, and now we’ve got “PS: For example,” which messes with punctuation as well. I really like this playful sort of example, courtesy of a BIG RAM.
  • [32a] Heavy reading, imo (4) [Square Chase 16, Mossberg]
    • I really like the constructors who lean into modern language, both in cryptics and crosswords, as it gives us all even more room to learn and play. The lowercasing vexes me, but I’ll just pretend this is a text message for TO ME.
  • [6d] Protective frameworks: those are often obtained by Disney movies (8) [OOLF #125, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • K&P really went all out with heteronyms this week, and I think one of the nice things about them is that you know they’re good when you find them, because they partially describe themselves. So here, we get a double layer of protection: G RATINGS.


Sadly, nothing in this category sounded good enough to include this week, though THAI TAX for TIE TACKS from Trip Payne’s LEO #7 came very close.


  • [27a] The reverend says not to bash as often–a monster’s home (4,4) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • The reverend usually gives terrible advice on account of it being nonsense that you have to translate, but this is a pretty solid play on LOCH NESS /knock less/ and I particularly like how the spelling changes so thoroughly from a simple sound shift.
  • [16d] Piano, perhaps it includes D# and F# (according to Spooner) (8) [Everyman 3958]
    • Bit of a tough one for the non-musically inclined if only because I knew that those two particular sharps represented something, but had to work backward from the main definition to figure out what: KEYBOARD /B chord/.
  • [26a] A certain reverend’s straw chart, possibly (6) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • The olden quality of this answer sort of fits the idea of a “straw chart,” and I just regret ever going down a divination route before going for the more straightforward MAYHAP /hay map/.


[13a] I’m producing opera, sir! (10) [Beneath the Surface #14, Dolan]

Tone will get you far: the indignant “sir!”–as if this person needs to explain it to you!–really sells this, while also naturally hiding the fact that the exclamation mark is fully earned as this is a complete &lit for IM+PRESARIO* (*opera sir).

Letter Bank

  • [20d] Listlessness after deleting reruns and changing channels (6) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
  • [18a] Repeatedly tore around playground equipment (6-6) [AVCX 8/18, Larry Kline]
    • Larry Kline started tweeting letter bank clues over at @LowdownCryptic at the end of December 2020. He’s up to 544 at last count, so I knew I’d see both expanding and shortening versions in his full-length debut. The playground one is standard albeit playful, turning the four base letters in “tore” into a twelve letter phrase (tore > TEETER-TOTTER). But that other bank is where his style shines, with a marvelous indicator “deleting reruns and changing” that fully encapsulates the essence of the transformation without breaking the surface or giving anything away. To have that parse split in “changing channels” as well is just masterful, to say nothing of finding that word to compress: INLETS > listlessness.


  • [8d] Failing public transit vehicles don’t start, creating areas of congestion (7) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • The only stretch here might be “Failing,” but I think it’s clear enough, especially in the way I, as a city boy, go from one type of congestion to another: SIN+[-b]USES.
  • [23a] Wader’s irrational fear: “Am I at risk of having my toes nibbled?” (8) [Beneath the Surface #14, Dolan]
    • Irrational you say? If I wasn’t worried about this before, I certainly am now, and this therefore doubles as a great advertisement for the synonymous version of “wader” used here: B(AREF*)OOT (*fear).
  • [1a] Will midterm perhaps end in opponent winning? Absolutely! (9) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • That’s how you deceptively punctuate! Colloquial “absolutely” being on its own hides the, well, winning container indicator found in “winning,” plus there’s that sneaky parse split between “Will” and “midterm.” Absolutely what you want in a combo clue: TEST+(AMEN)T.
  • [15a] Open seat transformed ballot options (10) [Browser 86, Ries]
    • Great way to break down “open seat” in two ways. It feels like an organic way of using combination clues–for variety, as opposed to necessity, though they feel needed given the surface for CANDID+ATES* (*seat).
  • [19d] Bit of litter fit to be thrown in garbage–it’s trash (8) [Beneath the Surface #14, Dolan]
    • I’m reminded of that old verbal trick where you ask someone to say “silk” ten times fast and then ask them to answer, without thinking, what cows drink. (“Water,” clearly, but “milk” is the instinctive response.) The echo of “litter,” “garbage,” and “trash,” is fun, with each part getting its full due in C(L+APT)RAP…which of course means none of it is junk.


  • [14a] Grooves on disk irritate grumpy singer at first (4) [New Yorker 8/21, Payne]
    • I’m no audiophile and vinyl sounds about the same to me as a CD or .mp3 but I appreciate that a singer would probably have a very different take. Bonus points for the misdirect on “Grooves” itself: D+I+G+S.
  • [17d] We’re toty defeated! (3,2,4) [OOLF #125, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Still not entirely sure if there’s a difference between a “rebus” clue, which is what K&P bring to this from their NPL experience, or a “revenge” clue (which is a nice portmanteau for REVERSE ENGINEER, and fun fact: my first nom at NPL was Portmanteau and my current one is reenignE, so I can see it either way). That said, “toty,” which I parsed as an even slangier version of “totes,” needs reconstruction for the surface to make sense–in short, ALL IS LOST, literally.

Rule Breakers

[19a] Crush gossip linked to listener with this -> (10) [OOLF #125, Kosman & Picciotto]

The closest I’ve seen to this was a Conto puzzle at MyCrossword, and even though the trick is more explicitly indicated here, it’s also somehow more masked, because I kept trying to parse -> as the ENTER key or as a literal arrow, instead of looking at as intended. Thankfully, though this broke me a bit, it did not DIS+HEAR+TEN me.

Definitions Only

  • [6d] After football season starts, shirts and jerseys showing some numbers to focus on? (1-5) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • This surface works, though it’s a bit random in calling out “shirts and jerseys”; the real MVP, however, is that glorious, picture-perfect definition of F+S+TOPS.
  • [13d] No end in turmoil rewind by car showroom? (10) [Everyman 3958]
    • I’ve heard mixed things from people about “by” since it doesn’t clearly indicate whether a charade goes to the left or right of the other part. Given the cryptic form as a whole, I’m OK with that sort of ambiguity; at any rate, the heteronymic “showroom” alone is worth the admission here for AUDI+TORIUM* (*turmoi[-l]).

Beats Me

  • [14a] Discovered biological structures with problems (6) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • I keep getting suckered by “dis-covered,” so I just glommed onto this one too late. It’s really a great science-y surface for [-t]ISSUES.
  • [22a] Before going about mundane routine, taking on a bit of cardio and a lot of strength (5,5) [Loplop #13, Ho]
    • Tripped up by the double container (as opposed to a nested one); it is fairly indicated, though, from both “going about” and “taking on.” Ultimately, this is what happens when you face a less common cryptic mechanic, which is why you should expose yourself to as many puzzles and forms as possible and leave your mind limber: B(RUT)EFOR(C)E.
  • [21a] Farm animal breaking speed of light . . . take off . . . lift off! (8) [Everyman 3958]
    • This is S(H)EEPD*+[OG]< (*speed), but I’m missing where the H is coming from.
  • [7d] Following drink, goes off with summer clothing (5,8) [Everyman 3958]
    • I’m totally baffled by this one. I wanted “drink” to be SHOT or something like that, but I’m not getting to SHORT TROUSERS.

The plan for tonight’s Twitch stream (starting at 9:00 PM EST) is, as always, to focus on constructors I haven’t yet spotlighted, which means it’s time to do joeadultman’s Where in the World #2 and Saroota’s Lean on Me. After that, I’m going to check out Nate Cardin’s contribution to the AVCX, and, if there’s time The Rackenfracker’s guest puzzle over at Out of Left Field #126. We’ll see how late things go with my stack of ten puzzles to get through before the next one of these Roundups.

One thought on “Cryptic Roundup #26 (8/15-8/21)

  1. Wow, I can’t thank you enough for all the high praise in here. I was just hoping to get a mention or two, but I think you’ve included a third of the clues in my puzzle! It was fun to join you on the Twitch stream as you solved this. High praise to *you* for supporting less established constructors and contributing so much to the crossword/cryptic community!


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