Cryptic Roundup #29 (9/26-10/2)

Apologies to the constructors who put out puzzles over the last two weeks–I feel behind and skipped writing them up. If I didn’t stream your puzzle and you want the feedback, please reach out to me and I’ll make that happen! And if the unintentionally irregular schedule is getting to you, remember that you can sign up for my newsletter. Anyway, this week features 12 gnarly grids and 372 superlative surfaces–as well as one Puns and Anagrams puzzle!


  • 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.


While this isn’t a necessity in cryptics, I have noticed that the puzzles I tend to enjoy the most are those that make a real effort to span as many different types of mechanisms as possible in a single puzzle (without harming the surfaces). To that end, it’s easy to point to George Ho’s Loplop #015, a puzzle so smooth that even though it used two clues that I’d just seen similar wordplay for, the definitions and surfaces somehow made them fresh again. I’d also have to recommend Foggy Brume’s “It’s Not Easy Being the King,” which is a nice intro to variety puzzles because only the grid entries get modified, but in a nifty, artistic way that tells a powerful story. As always, this isn’t about “better” puzzles–just about particular grids that stuck with me.

Learn Something New!

One of the best ways to learn and remember a word is to use it in context, and in that sense, cryptics are great, because they give you multiple ways to recall a word. Here are a few examples:

  • [7d] In speech, recognize boycotts for miscellaneous items (7) [Browser 92, Ries]
    • NOTIONS/ know shuns/ for “miscellaneous items” is new to me, but the homophonic wordplay is clear.

I also streamed a Puns and Anagram puzzle last week by Michael Lieberman and Kate Chin Park because that’s how I got into cryptics in the first place. The biggest distinction, apart from the fully-checked crossword grid, is that these surfaces tend toward straight wordplay: there aren’t necessarily indicators or definitions, which means that once you learn how to spot the underlying mechanisms, when a cryptic full-on gives them, you may be readier to suss them out. At any rate, here are a few that would’ve been at home in a cryptic:

  • Place to review the old record album (4) [YE+LP]
  • Reportedly eavesdrop [hey!] (4,4) [OVER HERE /overhear/]
  • Part of a Groucho costume that has to hurt (8) [MUST+ACHE]

And a few that are specific to the P&A format:

  • Winner of the I.V.E. pageant (7) [MISS IVE]
  • G SAY G (7) [SAY IN GS]
  • Plus 50 (4) [TOO+L]

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):


[28d] Retracted insult about setter’s latest crossword, perhaps (4) [“Nuclear Option,” Keynes]

Hey, now, we keep it pretty much all positive over here! I do wonder if “cross word” might have worked in place of “insult,” but I’m a fan of the definition and structure: [G(R)ID]<.


  • [15d] Michael Morbius’s inner monster seen onscreen (4) [New Yorker 10/2, Pasco]
    • Even if it were not eternally Morbin’ time, I would get a kick out of this clue, which releases one “inner monster” within another–and I can’t tell which is more frightening. Thanks, michaEL MOrbius’s.
  • Palin, a mudslinger, rejected bridges somewhere in Asia (6) [“Fall,” Curtis]
    • “Rejected” and “bridges” are two very clean ways to make indications about Palin, given her history with both. That leaves us with [pALIN A Mudslinger]<.
  • [31a] Bite during terrible twos (6) [“Not Cool,” Mossberg]
    • My kid is about to turn one. Am I terrified enough yet of the terrible twos, considering how strongly he already chomps down with just six teeth? I dunno, even the comfort food of a terRIBLE Twos might not help.


  • Strenuously deny Ovid was involved in Metamorphoses (7) [“Fall,” Curtis]
    • There’s nothing quite like finding the perfect word in an artist’s oeuvre with which to mess about with that artist’s name. The idea of just doubling-down on Ovid not being the author here (a thing that literary historians frequently do, often with Shakespeare) makes for a great surface: but if you push me on it, I might DISAVOW* (*Ovid was) it.
  • [13d] Volatile coal price overwhelms leader of representatives on both sides (10) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • Nice and timely subject–gas isn’t the only fluctuating fossil fuel–and a well-written clue out of it: RECIP(R)OCAL* (*coal price).
  • [12a] Something to beat stinky underarms (5,4) [OOLF 131, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • This one passes the smell test! You can get the deodorant out of this one; we’re talking about something more percussive: SNARE DRUM* (*underarms).
  • [12a] Questionable, distorted soundbite taken out of context? (2,5) [P&A 97, Brume]
    • I love seeing new (to me, at least) indicators: “taken out of context” here suggests that we’re removing the outermost letters before anagramming: IN DOUBT* (*[s]oundbit[e]).
  • [7a] Impenetrable, transforming, power of art (10) [SQP159, Mossberg]
    • The loopy grammar of this clue sounds like the subject of which it speaks, and that’s bonus points if intentional: WATERPROOF* (*power of art). That said, try explaining this definition to my old watch.
  • [9a] North Carolinian leatherworking? (3,4) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • I haven’t seen many fused anagrams lately–I imagine they’re a limited breed–but this is a fine example of them: TAR HEEL* (*leather).


  • [3d] Love a place for sex that is naughtiest on vacation with submissive (8) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • I love a raunchy clue, especially when the answer is relatively tame: O+BED+IE+NT. I would never kink or cryptic shame!
  • [12d] Tin unacceptable portion of pork? (5) [“Not Cool,” Mossberg]
    • You’re probably on the lookout for periodic table abbreviations, so using “Tin” as a verb helps to slow us down a bit, all while giving an extra “aha” when we circle back to it: SN+OUT.
  • [17d] Team without a pitcher to fill the position on a short-term basis (4) [New Yorker 10/2, Pasco]
    • The way “pitcher to fill the position” just glides on in here makes me think that the full-timer is going to have to watch their back when they return: TE[-a]M+P. That is alarmingly smooth and fun to parse.
  • [8a] A less-than-half-finished crossword? Jerk puzzle (8) [New Yorker 10/2, Pasco]
    • Sounds a bit like George Costanza got frustrated with a grid; lovely punctuation break here: A+CROS[-sword]+TIC. Note the precision of “less-than-half.”
  • [20a] Old-timey hangout turf: a small high-school dance in the fifties (4,4) [New Yorker 10/2, Pasco]
    • I’m impressed by how much in the past this clue dwells while still being relevant–reminds me a lot of Riverdale in that sense. There’s just a timelessness to the SOD+A+S+HOP.


  • [2d] Colts and Broncos acquiring draft pick for season openers? (9) [Browser 92, Ries]
    • Just the “Colts and Broncos” part could’ve been evocative enough of this surface, but to throw in a “draft pick” and then a “season opener”? Outstanding commitment: this clue came to play the EQUIN(OX)ES.
  • [9a] Legendary detective cracks enigmatic case (4) [“Not Cool,” Mossberg]
    • I’ve said this before, but the fewer restrictions you have, the harder you need to work to justify the words that you did choose. Mossberg needed an EC here, and while that could’ve been an old Tales of the Crypt publisher reference, he finds the perfect one for the rest of the surface: an “enigmatic case” that gets cracked: E(PI)C.
  • [17d] Article featured in worldly French newspaper is something to make a stand for? (8) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • This wordplay is a bit of a chestnut, and yet “something to make a stand for” is super fresh and apt, and elevates the whole thing. Don’t just stop with a fun turn of phrase: earn it with the rest of the clue, as with LE MON(A)DE.
  • [19d] To marry me takes a little work? (5) [“Nuclear Option,” Keynes]
    • This could be describing cryptics: it takes work, but it’s worth it! “Takes a little work” rightfully gets a question mark, but the whole clue is one big enthusiastic exclamation point of joy: M(ERG)E.
  • [4d] Dogs are primarily sheltered by pounds (4) [Browser 92, Ries]
    • Lovely, accurate, brisk, simple: L(A)BS.
  • [12a] Picking up pace is wise for our time? (5,3) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • As a mile-a-minute New Yorker, I appreciate this on-the-go clue, and I particularly like the grammar that allows PACE to go inside WISE: S(PACE)AGE.
  • [9a] Argument about a popular bishop’s display of pride (7) [AVCX 9/29, Evans]
    • I get that there are certain words that are just intrinsically common to cryptics because they abbreviate easily. I appreciate when a surface does something more than settle on them: this clue feels like it really has something more to say about the foolish conflict that arises over something that should be so simple as acceptance: R(A+IN+B)OW.


  • [6d] Incisor finally extracted from bad-tempered beast (5) [AVCX 9/29, Evans]
    • Clear, concise story being told here about an animal that’s in a bad mood because it has a toothache (and bad dental coverage). Meanwhile, the cryptic part is just quietly deleting a letter from one word to make another: MO[-r]OSE. The more work one half does, the more effortless the other should be, like this.
  • [24a] Slight reduction in hormone (7) [“Women Power,” Saral]
    • The use of “slight” here is outstanding; we’re not talking about a measure of CCs here, but rather about a DIS-traction: INSUL[-t]+IN. And yes, neat use of that innocuous “in.”
  • [2d] Browns, Giants don’t have it (4) [P&A 97, Brume]
    • Sports is just so flexible: what a great find in these two team names, neither of which has anything to do with the game: T[-it]ANS.

Double Definition

  • [27a] Ruthless interrogation for Ph.D.? (5,6) [Everyman 3964]
    • For a moment, I was wondering if this might be a cryptic definition, signaling that last stage before getting the Ph.D., where you have to defend yourself in oral arguments. But no, the person here is clearly already a Ph.D., which means we’re talking about the THIRD DEGREE.
  • [7d] Essential part of successful wedding: four bars, perhaps (4,9) [Everyman 3964]
    • Having been to more than a few weddings (and co-throwing one myself), I can attest to the cleanliness of this surface in all but the most teetotalering communities. The more bars, the merrier and the fuller the dance floor–or better your phone performs, which is how we get GOOD RECEPTION.
  • [18d] Last offer (4,3) [Everyman 3964]
    • Really neat to see a double definition where the answer is basically as long as the clue. The sense here is of resisting or presenting: HOLD OUT.


  • [14a] Trade coins taken out of circulation? (8) [Browser 92, Ries]
    • Fun with false prefixes; if a coin is removed from circulation, it becomes EX-CHANGE, which is also a word for trade. I think this might be my favorite type of punny wordplay, in that it takes a root and purports to follow a grammatical concept, but for fictive gains.
  • [27a] Not working and making bread? (7) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • File this one in the fail upward category: people getting paid to do nothing. (Or perhaps simply conjuring up loaves, Jesus-style?) At any rate, this is a person who is LOAFING.


  • [20a] Carp vendor in discussions for a climate controlled room (4,6) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • A banger on every level–a carp vendor would benefit from a climate-controlled room (instead of trusting that the ice in their outdoor stalls will do the trick), but that also becomes the very funny WINE CELLAR /whine seller/. I would not be above describing many nightly news “talk shows” as also selling that sort of kvetch.
  • [2d] Listen to hit rotations and musical compositions (9) [OOLF 131, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • “Hit rotations” takes a nice break here, translating to NOCTURNES /knock turns/. It seems to stay in the musical family, even if we all know it isn’t really.


  • [24d] Reverend’s fashionable place to sit: a stick (4,3) [P&A 97, Brume]
    • This is very insider poker–no, not that kind of stick!–the use of “reverend” alone to indicate the Spooner(ism) in question. It works, and gives a very anti-religion read: he wouldn’t be the first priest suspected of having a stick up his ass! POOL CUE /cool pew/.
  • [2d] Part of Spooner’s seaside wordplay (7) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • Gotta love the semi-meta surface, which refers to the fact that Spooner is doing some wordplay. Except, in this instance, the wordplay is of a synonym for wordplay, yielding PORTION /shore pun/. Feel free to leave a groan in the tip jar.


  • [8a] Slide obliquely! (5) [Loplop 15, Ho]
    • I’m not just sharing this one because I was just introduced to the crab rave and therefore have SIDLE* (*slide) on the brain. I just really admire the minimalism of this surface: anagrind, anagrist, definition.
  • [1a] What might grow from garden soil! (9,6) [OOLF 131, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Some might dispute whether “what might grow” indicates the anagrammatic portion of this letter bank, but it’s an &lit, which means I’m much more prone to make allowances. I also think, having seen plenty a tangled, messy garden, that the surface contains both implications: garden soil > DANDELION GREENS.
  • [16a] Sort of roll created to yield lists of registered! (9) [“Nuclear Option,” Keynes]
    • I think “lists of” here is indicating the extremities of “registered” and is suggesting that you can delete the “r” and “d” from “roll created” (because they “yield” those letters) to get an anagrammed phrase (“sort of”) that describes the whole thing. Whether I’m right or not, I love the definition, so I’m all-in on this: ELECTORAL (*[-r]oll create[-d]).

Letter Bank

[14a] Sculpt nose as much as you need–nothing fancy (2-8) [Loplop 15, Ho]

A good letter bank clue needs two good indicators, one to suggest an anagram and the other to suggest a stockpile of letters, and needing to do both can sometimes weaken a surface. Not so here, with this plastic surgery approach, which suggests doing “as much as you need” while also moderating with “nothing fancy,” which is the definition: nose > NO NONSENSE.


  • [24a] During conflict, helicopters initially fail landing (5) [AVCX 9/29, Evans]
    • “Landing” looks so much like a verb here, and that’s what you want from the surface sense, which also nicely evokes a specific setting with that “During conflict” description of helicopters that might have some difficulty safely landing: W(H)AR+F. Suffice to say that while you don’t want to fail at this, the clue sticks the landing and succeeds.
  • [27a] Newspaper posting a pop article penned by two boys (8, 2) [Browser 92, Ries]
    • A perfect example of misleading parsing that only makes sense if you rebreak the surface, “a pop / article” here gives you PER+SON(A)+LAD, with the “article” being contained.
  • [1a] Complaint after Congress permitted return of sot’s knives (9) [AVCX 9/29, Evans]
    • Don’t trust capitalization: we’re looking at the fun kind of “congress” here, not the political branch–even if the “complaint” part makes this the un-fun kind all over: STI+LET+[TOS]<. Extra points for making this a bit about the right to bear arms: we penalize drunks for driving and encourage bartenders to confiscate their keys, so let’s uh, maybe not give them weapons until they sober up?


  • [20d] Moms raising kids ultimately do some helicopter parenting (7) [Browser 92, Ries]
    • “Helicopter parenting” is such a fun phrase that lends itself to some sort of anagrammatic indicator–but here it’s the definition, leaving space for the more innocuous “moms raising kids ultimately” to shift things around: {S}MOTHER{-s}.
  • [5d] Switching sides near the end, give new weapons to kingdom (5) [Everyman 3964]
    • Depending on who you ask, specificity is a key part of cryptics, and this clue should make them very happy. The root word here has two potential side switches, so “near the end”–which also signals an opportunistic surface–makes things crystal clear: REA{r/L}M.

Rule Breakers

[17a] What follows tango in hotel? (4) [Everyman 3964]

At some point, I’m going to understand what qualifies as a “cryptic” definition–but to me, this just looks like a standard question-marked crossword clue: in the word “hotel,” phonetically speaking (and it’s doubly cute because “hotel” is also in that set), after “tango” would be ECHO.

Definitions Only

Nothing in this category this week.

Beats Me

  • [1d] Winter transport conveying butchers to the audience (7) [Everyman 3964]
    • This may just be an instance of UK slang I don’t know, but while the “winter transport” part is clear, I can’t quite parse whether the rest is a homophone for SLEDGES.
  • [27a] Errors committed by shortstop covering two outs? (4) [P&A 97, Brume]
    • I see the ? to tell me something odd is meant by “two outs,” and I see S(IN)S very clearly there from the definition and shortstop abbreviation, but I’m missing that last leap.

A quick end-of-post heads-up, since you dedicated readers are the ones most likely to drop by the weekly stream–know that I’ll be switching from Monday to Tuesday nights (still at around (9:00 Eastern, once the baby goes to sleep), at least for the duration of Boswords. Hope that works for all of you, or perhaps I’ll catch you at another impromptu daytime stream the next day I get off from work.


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