Cryptic Roundup #30 (10/3-10/23)

The trick is, I didn’t recap any puzzles for the last three weeks. The treat is, here they all are! For the sake of my time and sanity, this is a somewhat abridged version: the answers are not hidden (like how they appear in my newsletter) and I didn’t do the math on how long/joyous/hard these were. Sorry for the inconvenience–if those were really compelling features that you miss, let me know and I’ll make more of an effort to provide them in a timely fashion. Until then, you can blame my side gig at Slant Magazine for assigning me Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope (very good) and Gotham Knights (quintessentially mid) at the same time.

Anyway, this week features 22 ghoulish grids and, look, I didn’t count how many spooky surfaces there were, but it’s at least 600 (and this isn’t even the Halloween edition).


  • 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.


The artistic Crossword Nexus + Rackenfracker “Higher Ground” collaboration is an easy recommendation, and scores points in the “goes beyond” column. Not only is it a perfect hybrid of variety crossword/cryptic using the Snake Charmer format, but it revolves around an &lit (clued below), and visually does a neat thing with the placement of its clues and art. Jeff Slutzky’s AVCX from 10/13/22 showcases a lot of fun words and phrases with pitch-perfect cluing, and gives a good sense of what that outlet is all about.

Learn Something New!

I strongly recommend avid solvers rotate some UK puzzles into their queue as soon as they feel comfortable enough doing so, because you’ll pick up a whole new slew of uses, and not just slang.

  • [7d] Publicans procure facilities (10) [Everyman 3967]
    • The word “publican” is so new to me that I kept wondering if it were somehow a revenge play on “[-re]PUBLICAN,” but no, it’s from a public house owner–i.e., the keeper of a pub or, notably, an inn. In that sense, we get LAND+LADIES, which is also a very deceptive take on the two charade words. I appreciate, too, the acknowledgement that “landlords” is increasing outdated: women can exploit renters just as much!

The Discourse

This week’s topic is a short one, literally: how do we feel about abbreviations? There seems to be little consensus on what makes a word recognizable enough as an abbreviation, outside of perhaps postal codes and perhaps personal ads. Is ROYGBIV license enough for colors and if so, why not planets (MVEMJSUN)? Are both Saturday and Sunday equivalent to S, and March and May to M? If the United States can be US, why not India as just I? In much the same way that “all” words can be argued to be anagram indicators, are we at risk of all letters doubling as abbreviations?

Along the same lines, how do people feel about indicating an abbreviation as a light (i.e., answer)? Do we just treat it as a word, like (2,3) for TV SET? Must we use “abbr.” in the enumeration or in the definitional part of the clue (“Short answer” for ANS)? The “rules” for cryptics are like laws, but whose, and don’t these puzzles exist in open waters where there are no easy jurisdictions? Very curious as to how you all feel.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):


  • [23] During morning, rolled back digital update? (4) [“Higher Ground,” Crossword Nexus + Rackenfracker]
    • There’s gotta be a -phobia for this, right? The concern that your alarm will somehow uninstall or roll back and you’ll miss everything important the next day? Not an issue here, mind you–that question mark indicates that hte “digital” update is related to fingers, not tech: [MA+NI]<.
  • [25a] Hatred of retro electronic advice? (5) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • Speaking of electronics! This is a fun and punny take on the crossword complaint of nonsense tech words that are created by affixing the prefix e-. Hatred indeed, or: [SPIT-E]<.
  • [22a] Loud instrument neighbor brought around (4) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • You don’t often thank your neighbor, or at least I don’t, but it’s doing great work here as a sneak verb: [TUBA]<.


  • [4a] Someone who teaches lacrosse for paltry returns, in part (9) [OOLF 133, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Outstandingly topical reversed hidden, marred only slightly by the fact that of all the horribly underpaid teachers, those who are in sports are often immune: [lacROSSE FOR Paltry]<.
  • [7a] Letters from kidnapper reveal genetic material (3) [Cryptic Dungeon #3, brknFixie]
    • Oh those damned CSIs, making it so much harder to send a casual ransom note lest you get kiDNApper all over it.
  • [5d] “Tragedy!” Quoth Hel — “Loki’s imprisoned after onset of Heimdall’s banishment”? (7) [“A rather jolly cryptic,” n0hk]
    • A first for me: a combination hidden with a deletion in it. If this is fair game for anagrams, it is fair game for any other combination. Nice surface commitment as well, yielding quOTH [-h]EL LOki’s.
  • [4d] Power unit contains recalled steel (5) [New Yorker 10/9/22, Fogarty]
    • “Steel” is more flexible than I thought, I guess, since it’s a verb here: [powER UNIt]<.


  • [31] I’m dubious Trump Air gets official approval (10) [“Higher Ground,” Crossword Nexus + Rackenfracker]
    • I have zero problems with proper names that are specific to surface sense, as is this dig at yet another Trump-branded product that is cursed from the start: IM+PRIMATUR* (*Trump Air).
  • [14d] Somehow locate tree for pickers? (10) [Everyman 3965]
    • I was going to say “the most important pickers,” but let’s not devalue (or dehumanize) those who do the vital work implied by this surface: ELECTORATE* (*locate tree).
  • [1a] Cardin says: “Use hash for pre-work-week anxieties” (6,7) [Browser 94, Cardin]
    • I’d somehow never heard this phrase before and now I see it everywhere. Best kind of excuse for the constructor to work his name into the surface, and while I think he’s a teacher and not a doctor, this seems like fairly good medical advice: SUNDAY SCARIES* (*Cardin says use).
  • [34a] Isn’t it an anagram? (4) [“Costume Party,” juff & joeadultman]
    • Y’know what’s a fun anagram indicator? Anagram. Succinct yet still meta, we get AIN’T* (*it an) for ISN’T.
  • [14a] Weird shit: coin money? With the state of the world right now? (2,4,7) [AVCX 10/13/22, Slutzky]
    • I do love me some colloquial phrases, especially this timely classic IN THIS ECONOMY? (*shit coin money). Apart from being a fun anagrist, this is right on the money, so to speak–finance is weird.
  • [29d] eBay’s panicked about why we’re leaving (3,3) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • And Twitter’s next! My only query is whether “why” for Y is OK, since that seems like an unindicated phonetic swap (like T for tea); that said, I hope we don’t have to SA(Y)BYE* (*eBay’s). We’re just getting started.


  • [9a] Monks party with pint-sized beers? (10) [Everyman 3965]
    • This works because of the dissonance of somber-seeming monks and a microbrew mixer: DO+MINI-CANS.
  • [19d] Fellow feeling space walk, dizzy at the end (7) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • I can’t praise “fellow feeling” as a definition enough, to say nothing of that sneaky break of “space walk.” I feel for this clue, is that EM+PATH+Y?
  • [11a] What not to do on “The Price Is Right,” say: jump, scream, or faint after one’s first name (7) [AVCX 10/20/22, Hamill]
    • Crosswords do this a lot, but it’s sneakier in a cryptic: “jump, scream, or faint” are all members of a set, which yields O+VERB+ID, and this is all very The Price Is Right-y.
  • [16d] It inhibits teamwork in online game (3) [“A rather jolly cryptic,” n0hk]
    • I mentioned the e- prefix e-arlier, but it’s e-verything here: E-GO.
  • [8d] Quiet orgasms? Get outta here! (4) [“Costume Party,” juff & joeadultman]
    • Read this clue in Rob Reiner’s voice. You want funny? Just get louder: SH+O+O.
  • [23a] Leftover bit of udon order (7) [AVCX 10/13/22, Slutzky]
    • Such an innocuous looking clue, it could be a description of one’s fridge. But no, that order is what most people need to do to their fridge: U+NEATEN.
  • [1a] Birds may ram in the sky (8) [New Yorker 10/16/22, Cox & Rathvon]
    • The surface is so visceral, I almost feel like this clue needs a “No birds were harmed in the writing of this clue.” At any rate, we’re talking about CAN+ARIES.
  • [20a] Write graffiti signature on U.S. government building (8) [New Yorker 10/16/22, Cox & Rathvon]
    • One man’s defacement is another man’s cryptic clue: PEN+TAG+ON.
  • [14d] Blues musician with boss hooks? Yes (9) [AVCX 10/20/22, Hamill]
    • A very tricky clue if you don’t know these proper nouns, especially the stylistically lowercased (and therefore super tricksy) one: LEAD+bell+Y.


  • [16a] Investigator: “You getting into fun with whips, chains, and collars in Middle Eastern country?” (9) [AVCX 10/13/22, Slutzky]
    • This clue was already killing it with that snarky query about “whips, chains, and collars,” but to then pair that sex-positive kink with the regression associated with some Middle Eastern countries? Pow: OM(B(U)DSM)AN.
  • [9a] Produce front end for Metaverse, plugging rival of Bezos (Jeff) (9) [Browser 93, Geller]
    • Rule of thumb for crosswords: if the grammar is funky, it’s probably intentional. The reasonf or “Bezos (Jeff)” is that we need MUSK(M)+ELON, Zuckerbergs not included (nor desired).
  • [12a] Refined uranium in stockpile (5) [New Yorker 10/9/22, Fogarty]
    • We have to be very careful about splitting the atom, but splitting “refined uranium” gives the very fun S(U)AVE.
  • [43d] Void wager after official intervention (6) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • Fight-fixing is a very serious problem, and yeah, if a judge is involved, it’s messy: BE(REF)T.
  • [7d] Around India, gift-giving party’s more flamboyant (7) [Everyman 3966]
    • I don’t know a lot about Indian bridal culture, but from what I’ve seen of their weddings in film, this sounds legit to me as SHOW(I)ER.
  • [14d] Riot about our choice of latke topping (4,5) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • The only thing to put on a latke is APPLE SAUCE. This constructor, knowing that to be the case, gets away with murder and rightfully evokes a riot by cluing S(OUR)CREAM instead.
  • [25a] Fleet, as in feet (4) [AVCX 10/13/22, Slutzky]
    • The so called en claire gets me every time, with “fleet” and “feet” making me look for a harder answer than is necessary. It’s just F(AS)T, but to be clear “it’s just” is rarely a disappointment in a cryptic.


  • [4d] In present condition, equilibrium state’s slipping away (2,2) [“Costume Party,” juff & joeadultman]
    • I wonder if “equilibrium state” was the seed for this surface, because that’s a fun term to break apart as [-st]AS IS.
  • [9a] One who has bad experience, losing face (5) [“Frankenstein,” Cox & Rathvon]
    • Great split between “One who has” and “bad experience,” with extra points for that wonderful indicator that has me thinking about ambassadors and royalty: [-d]OWNER.

Double Definition

[13a] Monet painting might provide this depiction of Elvis? (10) [Everyman 3967]

Monet is well-known for a certain style, and these Vegas performers are, too. Finding the middle-ground on which these two disparate entities can co-exist is what makes a thrilling double definition like IMPRESSION.


  • [7d] Greek god is the asshole from which all other assholes are descended? (6) [Browser 95, Zawistowski]
    • A phenomenal clue that, sadly, not enough venues would run as is, even though the tone is markedly earned, and the wordplay is sublime. We’re looking at the UR-ANUS.
  • [15d] Abstain from golfer’s eighteen? (8) [Browser 95, Zawistowski]
    • A lot of puns are just a matter of stepping back and going, “What’s another way to say this?” So what is done eighteen times on a golf course? That’d be your TEE TOTAL.


  • [29] William Shatner famously shouted this before an audience at a gathering of fans (3) [“Higher Ground,” Crossword Nexus + Rackenfracker]
    • The homophone indicator is hidden so well here, given the context. Go watch the second film again, one of those rare better-than-the-original sequels, and you’ll sound it out: CON /Khan!/.
  • [12a] Pajamas acquired, sleep soundly (7) [Browser 93, Geller]
    • I had begun to think of these exclusively in terms of baby attire, but once I remembered they were also PJs, I slumbered peacefully: ONESIES /won Z’s/.


The Reverend is very disappointed to not have any mentions this installment.


  • [18] It’s embodied by mesmerizing snake that describes the way reincarnationism begins and ends! [“Higher Ground,” Crossword Nexus + Rackenfracker]
    • The amount of weight this thematic lynchpin to a hybrid crossword/cryptic Snake Charmer puzzle had to bear, and it does, with a classic animated python and the term “reincarnationism” to the rescue: KA(R+M)A. If ever there were a time to bend the rules, this &lit deserves it.
  • [18d] Modeling MeUndies! (8) [Browser 93, Geller]
    • Perfect find for a silly brand: those who wear only this product are SEMINUDE* (*MeUndies).

Letter Bank

Nothing in this category this time around.


  • [17d] Suggestive emojis, for example, beginning to guide intentions (including lust, ultimately) (9) [Browser 94, Cardin]
    • 🔥🔥🔥. Very hip with the “suggestive emoji” definition, giving E.G.+G+PLAN+T. Who will claim this purple vegetable for their community next?
  • [5a] Shows literacy, following most of the long Twitter posts (7) [“Monster in the Closet,” Mossberg]
    • I read an article (TL;DR to many others) about how may people immediately check out of a multi-post message on Twitter, so yeah, having seen the sorts of arguments that erupt on social media, I am inclined to believe that literacy–or a lack thereof–has to do with why people can’t follow certain arguments. Not a problem for the cryptic crowd, I’m betting, who likely spotted TH[-e]+READ.
  • [22a] Get drunk in two long stretches after tossing it back (3,3,2) [Browser 94, Cardin]
    • I’m increasingly enamored by the “two” indicator, especially when it breaks in unusual ways. Don’t get me wrong, I like echoes in a surface, but back-to-back they can be redundant, so [TI]<+EON+EON is cute.
  • [4a] Difficult to impress setter with zero style (6) [“Golden Goose,” Keynes]
    • This clue feels like it is in direct conversation with me and how I’m always talking about the need for style and voice in a cryptic clue. I know that sounds vain, but I’m really just talking about my HA(I)RD+O.
  • [15d] A nerd painfully internalizes formal censure (9) [OOLF 132, Kosman & Piccotto]
    • I can’t tell you how much I’ve internalized over the years. Thankfully, not too many of either the definition or the formal bit: RE(PRIM)AND* (*a nerd).
  • [14a] Sent file accidentally? Take a break for your own benefit (4-8) [Browser 95, Zawistowski]
    • This is high on my list of reasons to take a five-minute break from staring at screens because as an editor–despite solving cryptics in unforgiving pen–I hate not being able to easily fix an error once I’ve posted it into the wild: SELFINTE*+REST (*sent file).
  • [14d] Cold meal nuked: It may carry you over the hump (5) [“Costume Party,” juff & joeadultman]
    • Great definition here to go with the idea of zapping food in the microwave. Cryptics are my little extra burst of energy to get through the day; I wouldn’t know what to do with a C+AMEL* (*meal).
  • [16d] Delighted to chat (getting high on grass before I do) (9) [AVCX 10/20/22, Hamill]
    • In my stream, I mentioned that this surface made me think of Bill Maher–and love him or hate him, that to me is the sign of a good surface, in that it can immediately evoke something. Even better if that memory is R(H)AP+SOD+I+C.
  • [17a] Write lines of wrath and start attacking (4,4) [The New Yorker 10/23/22, Berry]
    • “Lines” as in linings is a very tricky indicator, and I love to see it in The New Yorker: it’s important to challenge oneself or you’ll never learn. (Why do you think I’m working on a 46-clue variety puzzle?) O(PEN)F+IRE.
  • [20a] Chain letters for Meryl lost? Post office takes initiative (7) [“Costume Party,” juff & joeadultman]
    • I’m a sucker for breaks across familiar phrases like “chain letters.” We only want the “Chain” part as a definition here; the rest is P.O.+LYMER* (*Meryl).
  • [3d] Salespeople opposing half of endorsements (7) [The New Yorker 10/23/22, Berry]
    • Precision matters in cryptics, so to get a six-letter word from “half of,” you need a twelve letter one: V+ENDORS[-ements].
  • [15a] Novelist related incomplete tale, not right (7) [Everyman 3965]
    • Double your deletions, double your fun? This is TOL[-d]+STO[-r]Y, in not so many letters.


  • [7d] D a z e d? (6-3) [Browser 94, Cardin]
    • Last roundup, I talked about Puns & Anagrams clues that would be right at home in a cryptic, and look, here’s a cryptic clue that would fit right into a P&A. They’re closer cousins than you think! At any rate, the kerning is intentional: you need a synonym for “dazed” so why not go with the apropos SPACED OUT.
  • [10a] Quietly replaces two leads of biopic before working for idol (3,4) [AVCX 10/13/22, Slutzky]
    • Indicators should be clear–once you’ve deciphered what they’re doing. Here, “two leads” is necessary to indicate that both the “b” and “i” of “biopic” are replaced by a single P (musical notation for “quietly), yielding {bi->P}OPIC+ON. I love the way the sounds change here.
  • [16a] Woodland nymphs making first-rate sludge to produce certain grocery items (3,5) [OOLF 134, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Another solid substitution sees a word for these specific faeries taking “first-rate” (A) and making it ooze: DRY{a->GOO}DS. Clear, but not obvious.
  • [25a] Standard displayed at beginning/end of National Anthem (4) [Everyman 3967]
    • A literalism; the beginning/end of “National Anthem” is N OR M. I wonder if this belongs with the heteronyms.
  • [3d] Passion and rare devotion over Roblox for beginners (5) [“Quiptic 38,” Mossberg]
    • An acrostic is only as interesting as what you can put into the surface, so kudos to the constructor for this timely introduction to Roblox, and “beginners” is a fitting indicator, since that’s what many of that demographic are.

Rule Breakers

Oh you goody-two-shoes not breaking the rules.

Definitions Only

[16a] Led Yank about wanting wardrobe? (7) [Everyman 3967]

I don’t entirely buy this surface, but “wanting wardrobe” as a clue for NAKEDLY is sheer cleverness.

Beats Me

  • [19a] Not good, missing small cakes (7) [Everyman 3965]
    • “Small cakes” is I think super deceptive here, because this looks like MUFFIN[-g]+S. I guess “cakes” alone holds up for those hand-held pastries, but not being able to split this up is where I got stuck.
  • [2d] A border or two in the East End? (4) [Everyman 3967]
    • Pretty sure this is EDGE, but I have no idea how.
  • [10a] Perhaps Pavlova going up and down? (4) [Everyman 3967]
    • Is this maybe just a cryptic definition with a palindromic indicator? If this were a down clue, I wouldn’t hesitate, but across I wonder if it’s talking about the way this ANNA might dance up and down?

That’s it for this exhaustive (but not really, considering how many daily puzzles I don’t even look at, though remember that I’m always open to recommendations) rundown. Maybe will be on track a bit more in the coming weeks, but also possibly not, because HOLIDAYS are upon us. Looking forward to all the themed goodness.


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