Learn one’s lessons quickly? [4]

We can debate the semantics of whether you actually “learn” anything if you CRAM for a test or if you’re just enabling yourself to get by on a difficult test, but I think we can all agree that this clue does a fine job of cluing the act itself.

  • Francis Heaney, The American Values Club Crossword, 6/14/17

Bar at a roast [4]

Should I ever become famous enough to be roasted, I’ll certainly need a bar, but that’s not what this clue is talking about. Instead, we’re talking about the sort of roast that might occur at a luau, and the bar that’d be found there is most likely the SPIT that’s helping to evenly cook the meat.

  • David Steinberg, The New York Times, 6/8/17

Leave nothing behind? [5]

I have a lot of mixed feelings about our culture’s emphasis on “tipping,” but I can absolutely agree that the word used to describe “leave nothing behind (on your bill)” is STIFFS.

  • Derek Bowman and Sarah Keller, The New York Times, 6/1/17

Refrain from singing? [7]

Clues like this are what got me started on cryptic crosswords–there’s something lovely about words with such completely different double meanings. As a verb, “refrain” means to stop, but as a noun–which is how it’s trickily being used here–it refers to a repeated part of a song. CHORUS doesn’t fit, so use something more specific: TRALALA.

  • Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times, 5/31/17

Big figure in Manhattan? [4]

The play on words in this clue has to do with “figure,” which is referring to a number, not a person. A big number isn’t just large, it’s high–too damn high, and if you haven’t Jimmy McMillan’ed your way to the answer yet, we’re talking about the RENT.

  • Andrew Zhou, The New York Times, 5/28/17

Play award? [4]

I almost wish this one were published without the question mark, since that too easily rules out the possibility of the answer being TONY or OBIE. The redirect is fun, though, since we’re talking about one of the many individual plays that makes up part of a game: the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award–aka, the ESPY.