Cryptic Roundup #28 (8/29-9/11)

Totally whiffed on getting something up last week, which means it’s an oversized edition this week (and I may have been a bit more picky with more to choose from, accordingly). Out of 19 perplexing puzzles and 584 conundruming clues that were published between Monday (8/29) and Sunday (9/11), here’s what I found (and remember, if you don’t like guessing when the next roundup will publish, my newsletter will surely tell you when a new one goes up).

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:

Juff goes two-for-two this roundup with the cheater-y “Bad Idea #2,” which does a very particular thing very well, and then “Loop,” a nifty variety puzzle that he was kind enough to let me suggest some fun clues for (but which sadly means I can’t talk about it here). I learned a lot, mainly that he never cuts corners in the surface department, and I’m happy to collaborate with anyone else looking for a partner. In general I love variety puzzles, so also adored the ones from Bob Stigger in World of GAMES, the rare blocked variety puzzle from Joshua Kosman & Henri Picciotto in Out of Left Field #127, and Steve Mossberg‘s “Heist.” (Matt Monito‘s “DDR” is a good gimmick that harkens back to my arcade days, but I did not have the right knowledge base to prase some of those clues!) Finally, if you just want to see a standard grid jam-packed with fun clues, check out Jeffrey Harris‘s Browser #89.

Learn Something New!

For me at least, one of the joys of a cryptic is learning an old word in a new way. I’ll try to highlight a few surfaces or individual words that did just that:

  • Audibly price footwear and woman’s scarf (5) [OOLF 127, Kosman & Piccioto]
    • There’s a whole brand of cryptics out there that are designed around lesser known words that you learn by cracking the wordplay. I’m not great at those; to me, it’s a lot of guessing along the lines of “is this a thing”? But I did enjoy learning of the FICHU /fee shoe/.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

  • [4a] Vape, on reflection: cool for all ages (1-3) [“Where in the World #3,” joeadultman]
    • Was this cryptic clue endorsed by the vaping corporations of America? Look, I trust cryptic solvers to be smart enough to not be misled or swayed by advertising, and I trust Joe (Camel) enough to enjoy this as a play on how cigarettes were marketed by “cool” mascots and the media. At any rate, E is a great abbreviation for “for all ages” and I like that “cool is a verb here: [ECI+G]<.
  • [28a] In revolution, puts an end to heartless entitled tyrants (7) [“Theme-less,” joeadultman]
    • If you found the previous clue distasteful, you’ll probably enjoy this one, which is all about justified revolution–and not just the reversal-indicating kind, but the sort that calls out [DE+SPOTS]<. This was a good place for a “heartless” indicator.

Hidden

[1d] Sorbet at establishment employing modern quality-control technique (4, 4) [Games September 2022, Stigger]

I’m a sucker for those “hide a modern thing” (sorBET AT ESTablishment) in a classic thing (ice cream parlor) surfaces, and “quality-control” is something you’d hope both would have.

Anagram

  • [22a] Adore old resort, fabulous place (2, 6) [Everyman 3960]
  • [11d] So, a reputable resort offering vehicle for fun (8, 4) [Everyman 3961]
    • “Resort” is an outstanding indicator, so nice I actually got fooled by it again one week after figuring it out. Both surfaces offer smooth, near-invisible anagrams for EL DORADO* (*adore old) and PLEAUSRE BOAT* (*so, a reputable), and that’s great.
  • [19d] Okay with plan for a Bond remake editing out what’s essential to Blofeld (2, 5) [“DDR,” Matt Monito]
    • A very nice surface in which a letter must be removed from the fodder, but it’s all remained very true to the Bond franchise of films–that “F” from “Blofeld” is the sort of good get you can find when your hero has fought like 26 different bad guys. I’m saying I’m ON BOARD* (*[-f]or a Bond) with this clue and especially the “remake” indicator.
  • [14a] Facility is seen as corrupt (8) [“Psychic Medium,” Keynes]
    • I admire surfaces that look simple but then drop one last trick. Yes, we’re clearly looking for an anagram for “facility”–but not the physical kind: EASINESS* (*is seen as).
  • [8d] Clumsy nuns cook with ketchup: they’ll drop some on the floor (8, 7) [“DDR,” Matt Monito]
    • I’m picturing a parodic film series called The Frying Nun that’s just kitchen hijinks with nuns. You see why funny surfaces work? I have no issue with the linking word “with” and even if I did have a complaint, that definition would lay me out: KNOCKOUT PUNCHES* (*nuns cook ketchup).
  • [3d] Any thug could be disobedient (7) [OOLF 128, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • It’s an anagram, but which way? Are we getting “Any thug” from the letters in COULD BE or is it that the letters in ANY THUG make up “disobedient”? For a heavy clue, very elegantly done: NAUGHTY* (*any thug).
  • [40a] Meatball, meltingly soft and light (5, 4) [“Heist,” Mossberg]
    • The surface split is nice here; the meatball is soft, but the “light” is our definition, leading to TABLELAM*+P (*meatball). Double definitions are everywhere, whether they’re the highlighted gimmick or not.

Charade

  • [3d] When a countdown might end [:00] (2, 3) [“Theme-less,” joeadultman]
    • The recent essay from Will Eisenberg on “Trust” comes to mind. I may not understand why at first, but I know there is a reason for having the literal countdown clock here–and that’s because it gives us two zeroes: O+NONE.
  • [6d] Heroic to go into area that’s shaking? (9) [NYT 9/4/22, Ewbank]
    • My ideal charade. Clever definition and two (or more) parts that break the word in a novel way: EPIC+ENTER.
  • [4d] Exit, say, on ship (6) [“Psychic Medium,” Keynes]
  • [18a] Say love is focus of human selfishness (6) [“DDR,” Matt Monito]
    • “Say” is one of those innocuously deceptive bits. It looks like a homophone indicator, but it can just as easily mean “e.g.,” as in “for example, say.” These surfaces use it both ways, equally misleadingly, and I’m here for it: E.G. + RE + S.S. and E.G. + O + IS + M.
  • [36a] Knock over fish in online game (6) [“Heist,” Mossberg]
    • My kid isn’t old enough to play this game yet, so for now I think it looks silly and I’m staying far away from it, and this wordplay befits my idea of it perfectly: ROB+LOX. Bonus points for there almost certainly being an option to actually “knock over fish” in this game. Grand Theft Auto: Deli Edition.
  • [11d] Santana vacantly practice banger (7) [“Heist,” Mossberg]
    • I can’t stop picturing the band playing “Smooth” on some very meaty instruments, so thanks for that! Just a real nice use of a modern meaning of “banger to give us SA+USAGE.

Container

  • [9d] Reviewer, wrapping up Stephen King novel: “A pain in the neck, mostly” (6) [OOLF 127, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • King has written so much that this is certainly true of some of his work, although probably not for this particular novel. Either way, though, it’s a humorously reductive take on what a reviewer or CR(IT)IC does and you’ll note that when a surface is this clean, I don’t mind an alternate spelling.
  • [11a] Pooh’s friend Rabbit’s beginning to intervene and provoke (7) [Everyman 3960]
    • I love the fake out here of “Pooh’s friend Rabbit,” which is accurate, but not what’s being used here. Instead, we put “Rabbit’s beginning” inside a different friend of Pooh’s to get a word that very clearly these days means “provoke”: T(R)IGGER.
  • [20a] For example, top power seized by malefactor (7) [OOLF 128, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • K&P are becoming known, at least to me, for this type of break, and that’s not a negative! The split is seamless, yielding S(P)INNER as a kind of top–power being used formulaically.
  • [16d] Overcome by a problem of restricted airflow, Kenan’s partner is using a breathing tube (10) [“Theme-less,” joeadultman]
    • OK, I don’t love “Kenan’s partner” because it’s arbitrary but the rest of this is so good (and I do love the Good Burger-y show that’s being referenced), with two different types of air-related components: SNOR(KEL)ING. Imagine trying to treat apnea this way!
  • [1d] Influence campaign finance watchdog in back (6) [OOLF 127, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • This surface describes something that’s not on the up-and-up, but the wordplay itself is 100% legit: AF(FEC)T.
    • I can’t stop picturing the band playing “Smooth” on some very meaty instruments, so thanks for that! Just a real nice use of a modern meaning of “banger to give us SA+USAGE.

Deletion

  • [27d] Result of cramping style–not to criticize (4) [“Bad Idea #2,” juff]
    • I really like to see whole word deletions; they’ve got a bit more play or surprise to them than simple curtailments and beheadments. “Cramping style” is a nice place to split here, too, giving us [-pan]ACHE.
  • [25a] Pull from storytelling device with amnesia at the start (4) [“Welcome to the Inn,” joshsolves]
    • “With amnesia at the start” is a fantastic indicator to suggest losing (or forgetting) a letter and it is even better in this surface, which yields [-t]ROPE.
  • [7d] Top story: “Network of bars rejecting outsiders” (5) [Browser 88, Cardin]
    • I feel like FOX reported on this very story when a rowdy MAGA-hat-wearing fellow was asked to remove the apparel or leave, but those aren’t the outsiders we’re talking about here, and that’s not the kind of top story: [-l]ATTIC[-e].
  • [21a] Age of beheading a member of a noble group? (3)  [“Where in the World #3,” joeadultman]
    • Between this clue and the tyrant one above, I think we should either keep Joe very far away from the guillotines… or get him one for his birthday. It’s OK, the police–we’re not talking about those nobles, see? [-n]EON.

Double Definition

  • [3d] Pedestrian where they shouldn’t be? (6-2-3-4) [“Psychic Medium,” Keynes]
    • How often will you find a phrase that, with perfect surface sense, doubles for two meanings like this? This isn’t average or median at all, despite the MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD answer.
  • [18a] Like an anagram that’s not working? (3, 2, 5) [NYT 9/4/22, Ewbank]
    • A lovely, semi-meta clue that doesn’t use an anagram but spot-on describes it: OUT OF ORDER.
  • [19a] Lecture that might be a little flat (7) [Everyman 3960]
    • Are we really talking about yet another boring lecture here? Nope! This is a UK setter, so we’re looking at a double for ADDRESS, a place that literally might be a little flat.
  • [1d] One who’s blamed or one who’s worshipped? (4) [New Yorker 9/11, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • This is a neat turn of phrase given the way we’ve repurposed this word as an acronym (see the following heteronym section): this word is now both positively and negatively charged and maybe that makes it the GOAT word?
  • [22d] Panic in part of aircraft (4) [Everyman 3961]
    • I don’t like to see the word “panic” anywhere near an “aircraft,” but I feel a little better about it as long as I’m on solid ground myself, and so long as we’re in cryptic territory, but I am certainly never going to look at a FLAP the same way.

Heteronym/Pun

  • [24a] Reagan campaign slogan produces something negative? (8) [AVCX 9/8/22, Zawistowski]
    • I don’t particularly hide my politics, sorry. His slogan was “Let’s make American great again,” and that has very clearly led to bad things for this country, so this is about as true a surface as you will ever get by way of science: ELECT RON.
  • [19d] Legal official’s musical phrase for women? (7) [OOLF 128, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Some people obey their local deputies, but I only listen to those who can carry a tune as well and do that SHE-RIFF.
  • [25a] Attack Michael Jordan or Simone Biles? (4) [OOLF 127, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • K&P clued this same word as a double definition above, here’s how it plays out as a heteronym, adding a space between the word for these two great athletic examples to describe an act of violence: GO AT.

Homophone

  • [29d] Broadcast earlier broadcast (3) [“Welcome to the Inn,” joshsolves]
    • Echo clues are particularly apt for homophones, and this is a very smooth one that reminds solvers that broadcast isn’t just an indicator, it’s also AIR /ere/.
  • [17a] Enlightenment in, we’re told, theguardian.com? (7) [Everyman 3961]
    • A cute nod to the publisher of the Everyman puzzle, this is INSIGHT /in site/.
  • [8d] Cheap place to stay sounds less than welcoming (6) [Browser 89, Harris]
    • An oldie but a goodie, at least if you watched Eli Roth’s 2005 horror film that basically went no further than this basic similarity; this is a HOSTEL /hostile/.
  • [7a] Sounds like #1 joint for card game (8) [AVCX 9/8/22, Zawistowski]
    • Always here for a good #1 joke, especially with this clever pairing with “joint,” which makes me think of an underground PINOCHLE /pee knuckle/ club that also hosts MMA fights.

Spoonerism

  • [24a] Spooner disappoints supplier’s marketing group (5,5) [Browser 88, Cardin]
    • A terse spoonerism that pays off in spades by leaning into the commerce of SALES FORCE /fails source/.
  • [3d] Reverend Spooner’s taunting remark put on break-up letter (4, 4) [Browser 89, Harris]
    • A fun thing about spoonerisms is not needing the root phrase to make sense. This could’ve been “jeered on,” but no, we get “put on” for surface reasons, and that’s even better: DEAR JOHN /jeer don/.
  • [14d] According to Spooner, Holmes’ creator pleads for simple culinary fare (6, 4) [Everyman 3960]
    • See? This knighted author was a true Everyman, the sort of guy who, despite commercial success is still just looking for good BOILED EGGS /Doyle begs/.
  • [14a] Rev. Spooner’s charming pitch for a yarn-making device (8,5) [Games September 2022, Stigger]
    • “Charming pitch” makes for a lovely phrase but, hey, did you know that his real name was Rumpelstiltskin? SPINNING WHEEL /winning spiel/.

&lit

  • [31a] Excites Tesla coils! (10) [Browser 88, Cardin]
    • How exciting it must have been to discover this self-descriptive anagram of OSCILLATES* (*Tesla coils).
  • [26a] Finally, after appropriate review, redo your task! (6) [Games September 2022, Stigger]
    • A cute last-letter path for REWORK.
  • [3d] Some gum, in taste! (4) [New Yorker 9/4, Cox & Rathvon]
    • All &lits are good because they’re true. “Some” is working overtime here both as indicator but also as the qualifier that not all gum–just an awful lot of it–is guM IN Taste.
  • [16a] It’s used to start retrieving fish! (4) [Browser 89, Harris]
    • Does this one need a qualifier given that you can also trawl or fish without this object? Nah, for our purposes the connection is well enough established for R+EEL.

Letter Bank

  • [15d] Lab worker reorganized and redistributed insect parts (9) [Browser 89, Harris]
  • [18d] Found value in Sade played on shuffle-repeat (8) [“Bad Idea #2,” juff]
    • I’ve been saying that letter bank clues, more than almost any other type, require really strong indicators, and these two are outrageously good. A technician working with pieces for insect > SCIENTIST and then a musician being on “shuffle-repeat” with a “played” in there for good measure to make sade > ASSESSED? Love these, truly.

Combination

  • [28a] Reluctant male model against shaking behind (8) [“Heist,” Mossberg]
    • All models are likely to face exploitation at some point, if reality television is to be believed at least, so kudos to this fictional character for giving the example of when and where to take a stand: HE+SIT+ANT[-i].
  • [22d] It just shows . . . backward Michegan put nothing into reading, writing and arithmetic (6) [“Bad Idea #2,” juff]
    • I’m not sure if the misspelling of Michigan, but given this surface, it is funnier to leave it in. (I am very proud, after all the scoffing they did of English classes, that my “elite” high school, Stuyvesant, gave me a diploma in Science and Mathemetics.) And it does show, literally: MI+RR(O)R.
  • [9a] Cooler installed in a bus for summer (6) [AVCX 9/8/22, Zawistowski]
    • The only thing that isn’t smooth about this surface is the sad realization that most districts are just going to let their kids sweat it out if they wound up needing summer classes. How backward, almost like an A+B(AC)US.
  • [13a] Fixes member of Congress with a naked girl at either end of week (6, 4) [“DDR,” Matt Monito]
    • Who doesn’t like a scandalous clue now and again? That said, I think the real star here is “either end of week,” which does a lot of work, literally: REP+A+[-g]IR[-l]+W OR K.
  • [11a] Retro banger featuring popular singer/rapper (5) [Browser 89, Harris]
    • We had a banger-as-sausage clue earlier, but this one’s showing you the other sense: M(IN)AJ<.

Miscellaneous

  • [16a] Demands lovemaking after cycling (6) [Browser 88, Cardin]
    • I don’t relate to this clue, either in the “demands” department or the sense of doing absolutely anything else physical after a good bike ride, but that doesn’t stop me from laughing at it, because both of these things can be true: {}EX ACT{S}.
  • [10a] Belt out ballads incompletely (just the intros) (3)  [“Where in the World #3,” joeadultman]
    • “Just the intros” is a delightful way to indicate on a musical surface that has suggested an incomplete work, and it hides the real use of “belt” entirely: O+B+I.
  • [28a] Wide, costly piano swapped for trombone at first (9) [OOLF 128, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Real talk: price aside, it is much easier to have a trombone than a piano, especially with Manhattan real estate being what it is. Good thing we’re not really using either of these instruments in this clue, then: EX{p/T}ENSIVE.
  • [20a] Stories that can be read backwards (5) [OOLF 128, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • That’s a fun way to cue a palindrome like SAGAS. Oho, you say!
  • [4d] Starting point of petroleum product, replacing vanadium with boron (8) [AVCX 9/8/22, Zawistowski]
    • Like the music clue above, this is a nice swap, this time using two elements that I would believe could appear in this petroleum product to move from this jelly to a new start: {v/B}ASELINE. I really appreciate how different the two parts sound.
  • [2d] Cover surface of meat with combination of spices: a step in the Cuban tradition (5) [“Theme-less,” joeadultman]
    • I love the way this effortlessly shifts from cooking to dance with a RU(M)B+A and a well-utilized “a” and “step.”
  • [1d] Prime spots in atrium designed for walk (6) [“Bad Idea #2,” juff]
    • I’m just impressed by people who can make sensible phrases out of restricted placements like evens and odds or every third letter. I particularly like “prime spots” in this surface because that’s genuinely how I can hear an architect explaining it.

Rule Breakers

[15d] Musical instrument heard in Hoboken (4) [New Yorker 9/11, Kosman & Picciotto]

I don’t know that this is necessarily a rule breaker, but I’ve never seen a hidden homophone before. (Next week I’ll talk about a reversed letter selection.) It’s cool, and direct enough that solvers shouldn’t have a problem picking out the answer hOBOken /OBOE/.

Definitions Only

  • [21a] What some might call “Law & Order” finale involving nature worshipper (9) [Browser 89, Harris]
    • This is god-tier fill, and a really deceptive placement in the surface, with “finale” really looking to be part of “Order” if not the television series itself. In actuality, it’s CO(PAGAN)DA, and boy does every part of that except the out-of-place (but necessary for the wordplay) nature worshipper sing.
  • [13a] Oddly callow actor without a thing on the line? (10) [Browser 89, Harris]
    • “Thing on the line” could be very high stakes, or it could be as trivial as it is here–a CLO+THESPI[-a]N.

Beats Me

  • [1a] Pressing Adam? (6) [OOLF 128, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I wasn’t even thinking of punny prefixes here because I don’t often use this original one, but yeah, that’s a solid way to describe Adam, the UR-GENT.
  • [2d] Caretaker in Bury on WhatsApp? (7) [Everyman 3960]
    • I think this is INTER+IM because that’s a word for how to bury someone and what you do on WhatsApp, but I don’t think I’ve heard this for “caretaker” before. I think it’s a common UK football association, and shame on Ted Lasso for not teaching me that sooner.
  • [25d] Cliff and Mark left following injury (4) [Everyman 3960]
    • No clue. I think I filled in SCAR, but I didn’t feel good about that.
  • [17d] Did river divide Spain and Germany? (8)  [“Psychic Medium,” Keynes]
    • I like the word EXECUTED here for “Did,” nice and deceptive, and I can see “cut” as a potential way to divide, but I don’t know what to do with the river or the countries.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest #398: SUPERLATIVE

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

  • Unparalleled pleasure on popping bit of Viagra – sex’s revolutionary! (11)
  • I put several rowdy, drunken, tulip-averse relatives up; unfortunately, any one of them would be horribly repulsive at best (11)
  • Trap elusive mutation of the highest order (11)
  • Wonderful, exotic silver tea cup about to be given away (11) 
  • “Evita” plus “ER”, strangely, is the absolute best (11)

And mine: 

  • Eat emergency room laxative, shitting out 40% of Xanax–that’s excessive (11)

And for those of you who have made it to the end of this recap, I want to leave you with a burning question for the comments or next week’s Twitch stream or Twitter. Well, two since this is a double issue, so to speak.

  • Inspired by Juff’s passionate takedown of symmetry–yay or nay? I don’t think there’s enough to be gained by having symmetry in a grid, especially a barred one, to justify whatever compromises that may require to the fill/theme. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but why?
  • We’re fine–sometimes begrudgingly–with abbreviations from text speech, like U for “you,” or from other fields, like P for “power” or R for “resistance.” Do inferable but non-indicated homophonic swaps bug you, like T from “tea”?

I’ll be back on stream on Monday night (9:00 Eastern) on September 26–and possibly earlier, as I did a fun impromptu crossword-only stream on a random night where I found myself with some free time. I also might be looking for a new night to stream, so if y’all have preferences, let me know!

Cryptic Roundup #27 (8/22-8/28)

Before I get too far into things, if you’re a fan of this site, chances are that you’re also a budding, burgeoning, or brilliant cryptic constructor, and so I heartily encourage you to submit to the AVCX staff. Their editors are reliably putting out good puzzles three times a month, with lots of debuts in the mix, and I’d love to solve your work there as well! (No pressure.)

For those who simply prefer to solve–there’s nothing wrong with that! What I can say is that I think setting my own grids and especially collaborating with others (either for puzzles or on Twitch) has made me a better (test-)solver, and certainly a better analyst (I think), so whether you’re stepping up to the AVCX or taking someone up on their offer to co-construct or help with cluing, there’s plenty to be done between puzzles. Speaking of which, a notable omission this week from the puzzles: The Rackenfracker #10, “Arrowhead,” which I did some “assisting in the clue factory.” Though there are clues there that I had no hand in, if I do anything more than test-solve a puzzle, I’m just going to highly recommend it. So, uh, consider yourselves highly recommended?

Anyway, here’s the recap of 11 phenomenal puzzles and 327 captivating clues that were published between Monday (8/22) and Sunday (8/28). Sorry for the lateness of this one–I blame the holiday, or possibly trying to cram in another collaboration–but if you follow this blog or subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll never miss a week.

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:

Again, highly recommend Arrowhead from The Rackenfracker, especially since I saw first-hand how much work went into bettering and bettering each one of those surfaces. However, I’d be remiss to not also recommend their pop-cultural preview puzzle, On First, part of their upcoming (paid, but seemingly well-worth) suite Word[Play]. I must also point to Nate Cardin’s latest puzzle for the AVCX, which is just an explosion of edgy fill and surfaces that are entirely fairly clued. That Games article talks a lot about the classical way of solving, and that’s fine, but these timely, poppy puzzles are way more along the lines of what I’m looking for. Before we get into the best clues, let’s take a moment to:

Learn Something New!

For me at least, one of the joys of a cryptic is learning an old word in a new way. I’ll try to highlight a few surfaces or individual words that did just that:

  • Belittling a pair of crochets I intone (10) [Everyman 3959]
    • I was prepared to not know this on account of not crocheting, but this is actually a musical clue, something else I’m under-informed on. A “minim” is made out of two “crochets,” which is how we get to MINIM+I+SING. (If you’re wondering about the S, remember that UK puzzles, like the Everyman tend to use UK spellings unless otherwise indicated. The US is not the center of the world and that’s well-worth remembering.)
  • Study game in Africa (5) [Excusez-moi,” Māyā]
    • The eighth entry in Merriam-Webster, as a verb, to “con” something is to study or examine it closely, which would I think make this a positive use of a word that these days is mostly associated with scam artists: CON+GO. Surface-wise, I’m not entirely sold on “in Africa” as a definition, but that’s OK!
  • Pitcher Cy’s primary companion for a drill? (7) [“Art Gallery,” Cox & Rathvon]
    • I think you’re getting a good sense for my areas of inexperience: those who use drills often probably know what a “reamer” is, that rotating cutter that can shape a hole. (It’s also that thing that you use to get, say, orange juice.) Also, funny enough, C+REAMER is one of those words that describe both the vessel and the thing that might be in it.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

[6d] Down time by jacuzzi upset one stuck-up asshole (4-4) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]

What a way to start off this roundup! I’ve never much cared for the “breakfast test” because, really, whose breakfast are we talking about anyway? A puritanical household isn’t ever going to talk about sex or use a “bad” word, and maybe ought to be a place for family-friendly puzzles (though I find those limitations to be G RATING), but I’m glad the AVCX and a few others are willing to be the place for surfaces and fill that are slightly more real-world and daring. At any rate, you can probably picture the character in this surface, the one who demands to speak to the manager because the jacuzzi is temporarily down. “Stuck-up,” incidentally isn’t the reversal indicator for this down clue–that’d be “upset,” in a not-an-anagram moment: [BUT+T+PLUG]<. Extra points for that marvelous word play on “Down time.”

Hidden

  • [27a] Phosphorus, tin, gallium: elements forming iron oxide (7) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • The periodic table is one of those cryptic boons (much like roman numerals) that gives a lot of common bits-and-pieces in abbreviated form. Lists, in of themselves, already call out as being charades or acrostic components, so it’s very clever to make this one–clued with “elements,” nonetheless!–a hidden: phosphoRUS TIN Gallium. Don’t knock “forming” out as something like A “equals” B there either–it’s a vital part of the definition.
  • [17a] Dirty politician covers up mistake (4) [New Yorker 8/28/22, Fogarty]
    • Such a smooth, clean, find that describes, sadly, what we’ve seen all too many people do, instead of simply owning up to and apologizing for (and then fixing) the issue: dirTY POlitician.

Anagram

  • [22a] Existing freely? That’s lit and going above! Way out! (4,4) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • Every cryptic benefits from a clever definition, but I feel like anagrams are particularly aided by a good one, because it makes unscrambling the letters come as even more of an “aha” moment when it comes together. The deceptive punctuation here allows for a new-age-y surface, when what we’re really looking for is an illuminated thing above the way out, which, when you put it that way–a strong reason to not put it that way–is clearly EXIT SIGN* (*existing).
  • [9d] Psychiatrist’s work: align zany characters when out of sorts (9) [Where in the World 2, joeadultman]
    • I enjoy it when anagram indicators–“align” and “zany”–are instead part of the anagram, in this case playing off “characters when out of sorts” to get ANALYZING* (*align zany).
  • [2d] Fun indeed could be this clue? (9) [Lean on Me, saroota]
    • Nice to have a good self-referential clue, especially one that’s perhaps paradoxical depending on whether you think “this clue” is a definition for UNDEFINED* (*fun indeed).
  • [15a] OMG! Storms following onset of summer haze (4) [New Yorker 8/28/22, Fogarty]
    • I spoke about this on stream a bit, but I very much prefer surfaces that are willing to make the most of modern language. “OMG,” deceptively split apart from the indicator with an exclamation point, is scrambled in a weather-y S+MOG* (*OMG) clue.
  • [8a] I glance about, innocent-looking (7) [Rackenfracker #12]
    • Probably one of the most classic, straightforward clues I’ve seen from this duo, which sort of fits the surface sense, a “Who, me?” bit of mischief that had me second-guessing ANGELIC* (*I glance).

Charade

  • [10a] Regularly treat butthole for serious infection (7) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • Did I really put a second Cardin rear-related clue in this round-up? You betcha! As one viewer quipped on stream, this serious infection is likely to give you lockass, so please follow the every-other direction of “regularly” to treat TrEaT+ANUS.
  • [3d] Refusing to give a straight answer or firm yes (3) [“Paris Fashion,” Keynes]
    • Such a good surface for a short word, really maximizing that “firm.” This could be a sesquilit–the whole surface works as a definition, but only part works cryptically–but then again, “Refusing to give a straight answer” is a definition all on its own, which makes the rest just a nice bonus for cryptic purists who don’t like to mix and match. I like it: CO+Y.
  • [14a] Pulp, soft food that is right for my endless pain (6-5) [“Excusez-moi,” Māyā]
    • Having just gotten over being sick and with a limited amount of foods that we could manage to eat, I absolutely feel this entry and am impressed by the smoothness of these many parts, like “that is” or “my endless pain”: PAP+IE+R+M[-y]+ACHE.
  • [13a] Tip off witches parked on top of house–they can stand the heat! (9) [“Excusez-moi,” Māyā]
    • Yes, I lean a bit toward wacky surfaces that make grammatical sense. We all know about witches and their natural enemy, fire, so this is a cute way to describe a real-world item that is [-c]OVEN+P+ROOF.
  • [13a] Wild sheep are short of breath (7) [WSJ “Art Gallery,” Cox & Rathvon]
    • A classic and classy surface that evokes overly energetic sheep (have you ever seen the horror movie with the zombie animals, Black Sheep?), this is RAM+PANT.
  • [19a] Bachelor, suitable, is married in religious ceremony (7) [Rackenfracker #12, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • Marriages can be a religious ceremony, so it’s fun to make a surface consistent with that theme, only to sweep the carpet out at the last second with a revealer that it’s not that type of ceremony, but rather a B+APT+IS+M. (Uh, pro tip: don’t actually do this to your significant other on what should be your wedding day.)
  • [1d] Tear after celestial body for high-flying journey (5,4) [Browser 87, Zawistowski]
    • A fun split gives terrifying new meaning to this phrase, if there’s a PLANET+RIP, traveling overseas is going be the least of my concerns.

Container

  • [4d] Dry sandwiches or stew (5) [New Yorker 8/28/22, Fogarty]
    • With so many words to choose from, finding the ones that are most relevant to your cryptic and/or definitional components is key. If you seem to be talking about food like “stew,” then of course you want “sandwiches” as a container indicator. The extra kick here, of course, is that “stew” isn’t being used as a food: W(OR)RY.
  • [23d] Principal of school interrupts project fair (4) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • A very smooth extraction of that S, and in a way that also justifies calling it a “project fair” as opposed to a “school fair.” (Which, also, a nice split at the end, setting “fair” off on its own.) It’s a very good way to get at JU(S)T.

Deletion

  • [11a] Subtlety is not shown by bothersome person (6) [“Paris Fashion,” Keynes]
    • I don’t think I knew the phrase “en claire” before I did my last stream, but now I want to keep using it. “Is not shown” is such a fun way to literally provide instructions in a way that they’re still likely to be cryptically overlooked; that’s a feature, not a bug or a NU[-is]ANCE.
  • [7d] Additional distillation deficient in nectar essence (5) [Lean on Me, saroota]
    • Amusing to see a word that means “added” having something deleted from it, but that’s how we roll with EXTRA[-ct]. Got some real royal jelly vibes from this one!
  • [25a] Tournament game overlooking contingency of seeds (7) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • Seeding is all about a future prediction that will see the top-ranked players eventually show down with one another. Overlooking the possibility of upsets is what makes me lose every bracket I’ve ever entered. Or, y’know, this clue could just be about seeds, literally: SEM[-if]INAL.
  • [6d] Losing face, decline prize (6) [New Yorker 8/28/22, Fogarty]
    • It’s OK; if you shamelessly accept a prize you didn’t really earn, your morality will in fact [-a]TROPHY.

Double Definition

Nothing this week; which is to say they’re all hiding in the next category.

Heteronym/Pun

  • [24a] Two pieces of gold for foreign tender? (2,4) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • What a zinger for “foreign tender,” which seems, after the gold reference, to be monetarily inclined, but is actually describing a foreign word for the person who tends to your house, an AU PAIR. I wish they were paid in gold: they definitely deserve more.
  • [5a] Sobriquet for Spider-Man, he of many words? (7) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • I suspect one of the reasons Spider-Man is so beloved is because he’s the opposite of grimdark Batman, delightfully quipping his way through the city. So this surface is great, punning off the dictionary dude–as you might expect given the choice of “sobriquet” in here! Forget turtles, it’s WEB-STER all the way down.
  • [1a] Moral compass, contrary to biology, etc. (10) [Everyman 3959]
    • My editorial voice really wants to make this is against biology, etc. and make that political angle even more vicious, but damn, that’s a good spot for CON-SCIENCE.
  • [23d] Perfect comment from Vegas worker who’s coping . . . in more ways than one (5) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • It’s the extra little effort for “in more ways than one” that reels me in here; this is not an easy job, so kudos to anyone who can say, entirely, I DEAL.
  • [13d] Lies in synthetic coverings (10) [Everyman 3959]
    • O for this “in” to be an “on,” surface be damned. Still, “synthetic” is amazing here, giving us FALSE HOODS.
  • [12a] Opera mechanics? (6) [WSJ “Art Gallery,” Cox & Rathvon]
    • I’ve tried to get into opera, but it’s just aggressively not my thing. That said, I would be morbidly curious to see the opera CAR MEN.

Homophone

  • [13d] Bostonian’s orthodox look causes targeted rumors (10) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • I don’t know if regional dialects should perhaps be under “miscellaneous” instead of straight homophones, but I’m not gonna argue with a Bostonian when all they want is to take a PROPAGANDA /proper gander/ /propaa gandaa/.
  • [5d] Discussed a couple of pairs’ ballet costumes (5) [Browser 87, Zawistowski]
    • Infinitely cute, this sense of “a couple of pairs” for TUTUS /two twos/.
  • [5d] Certain Irish girl audited prerequisite for a diploma (4,5) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • “Audited” remains a terrific indicator for tax- or college-related homophones, and I appreciate the wording of “Certain” to seal the deal here with CORE CLASS /Cork lass/.
  • [28d] Understood how to pronounce the N in Athens (4) [Where in the World 2, joeadultman]
    • I paused to think whether the “N” in the word “Athens” were anything special for rather too long, which is why choosing that word instead of saying “Greek” more simply is a great choice. Now I can say I KNEW /nu/ it all along.

Spoonerism

Alas, the dear reverend was not with us in anything more than spirit this week.

&lit

[3d] Reminiscent of absinthe on the tongue! (8) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]

A homophonic &lit feels like the hardest kind, and yet this one seems effortless. That’s the beauty of a good drink or a good answer like LICORICE /liquor-ish/–it has some bite, but it goes down easy.

Letter Bank

[3d] “Young’un, concentrate! Support our troops!” (6) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]

A good letter bank, for me, is equal parts indicator and discovery, like when you realize a totally natural phrase is made with a set of the same repeating letters. That’s so with this reversed bank, in which “concentrate” evokes the essence of a juice: SPROUT > support our troops.

Combination

  • [20a] High quail, oddly plucked, in the sauce: cordon bleu? (5,7) [Everyman 3959]
    • Wait, is “cordon bleu” the container indicator? Knowing nothing about French food, I thought, based on the answer, that it might be in that French style, but no, I think “High” is the definition. Wow, what a turnabout and find for HAUTE C([-q]U[-a]I[-l])SINE (*in the sauce) with “oddly plucked” doing phenomenal work there.
  • [25a] Lacking a core, begun framing stray attempt to acquire a six-pack (4-3) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • If this were “began” instead of “begun” it would be a perfect surface, but it’s still so, so good, looking like it’ll be six-pack in the context of abs, but going instead with the classic BE[-g](ERR)UN.
  • [14a] Movie studio cans staff member responsible for pitches after passing on the last iconic role for Crystal (7,3) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • “Cans” as a container. “Staff member responsible for pitches” as “clef.” An actor’s famous role, but not that one. Everything except for the straightforward “Movie studio” is exceptionally misleading and thematically loaded. Chef’s kiss for MIRA(CLE[-f])MAX.
  • [12a] Saucy hors d’oeuvre knocked back in Hard Rock (8) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • I’ve not been in a Hard Rock in many years, so maybe their food got a little more fancy and/or saucy, but accurate or not, it’s still a vivid image to conjure up: FLI([PPA]<)NT.
  • [21a] Forbids convoluted process to adopt kid (10) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • This might be the best misdirect for “kid” I’ve seen, because that context (and look at “adopt” there too!) is so strong: PROSC(RIB)ES* (*process).
  • [21d] Bad taste to describe Cool J as “most high” (7) [Rackenfracker #12, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • This one’s a bit of a pop-cultural gimme, since there’s only one reason to just say “Cool J,” but the other two components are devilish, with “bad taste” actually an anagram, and “most high” a different superlative: TA(LL)EST* (*taste).
  • [22d] The standard about what’s behind sexy couch conversation (7) [Lean on Me, saroota]
    • I forgive saroota for inextricably linking together “sexy” with the definition, “couch conversation.” Every Freudian breast–I mean slip–is saroota’s fault now: THE+[RAP]<+Y.
  • [2d] Mother country gets into complicated conspiracy (11) [“Paris Fashion,” Keynes]
    • The split between “Mother” and “country” does it for me here, as well as that seamless “into.” We can quibble on whether “gets,” which feels container-y, is the right word, but the surface evokes The Americans so well that I forgive the MA+CHINA+TION* (*into).

Miscellaneous

  • [22a] Every second of social video site is most insincere (7) [Where in the World 2, joeadultman]
    • Is this a dig a Twitch streamers? Given that Joe’s one himself, I’m just going to laugh and assume we’re talking about some other site; is there a Truth-erized version of TikTok? Perhaps Quibi will return for the QAnon crowd? I digress: “every second” is absolutely perfect as an indicator in this context, giving us sOcIaL vIdEo SiTe.
  • [1d] Chaos as hardworking Americans vote out country’s leaders (5) [“Paris Fashion,” Keynes]
    • A politically apt acrostic for H+A+V+O+C. Real nice use of “leaders,” with a “vote out” in there to potentially misdirect down the deletion path.
  • [13a] Comment on preparation of Asian restaurant staple–”it’s, like, brined instead of browned” (5,2) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • I’ve never seen a letter-swap-by-example before, but I like it. You have to do to the Asian dish what you to do make “browned” into “brined,” and so fantastic to keep it all in the culinary context: CH[ow/I]ME IN.
  • [24d] Get naked–top to bottom–eliciting stimulating experiences (5)  [Where in the World 2, joeadultman]
    • My only editorial quibble is “head to toe” is equivalent and fits the surface a bit better in my book, but “stimulating experiences” is a good misdirect for what this letter shift is going to be leading to: {}TRIP{S}.
  • [22d] Plant’s coal turning Republican into demagogue leader (5) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]
    • I knew “plant” was going to be something other than a factory, but I wasn’t expecting it to become a verb: excellent word choice in a politically charged surface for EMBE{r/D}.
  • [8d] 7, front to back, makes numbers unlike 7 (5) [Browser 87, Zawistowski]
    • I’ve mentioned before my love of echoing surfaces, and even wilder to do so with a number, since either one can be a cross-reference to answer #7. The answer is simpler but no less elegant: {}EVEN{S}.
  • [10a] Company hires amazing new chief executive at their earliest opportunity (6) [Where in the World 2, joeadultman]
    • Nice indicator in “at their earliest,” which also neatly breaks out “opportunity” for C+H+A+N+C+E.

Rule Breakers

  • [24d] Neat! (5) [OOLF 126, JonMichael Rasmus & Sean Weitner]
    • I didn’t realize a one-word double-definition could be done, let alone be valid. Slang for “neat” gets us there, a heteronym takes us the rest of the way to NO ICE. Neat, indeed!
  • [18a] When is the letter from Greece due? (3) [“Excusez-moi,” Māyā]
    • Technically the two definitions are not contiguous: “letter from Greece” is one part, and “When is [it] due” is the other. Easy enough to parse regardless, but definitely a looser way to get ETA than with, say, The letter from Greece’s due-in date (3).
  • [8d] Driver with nothing to ____ ____ it, so to speak? (9) [“Excusez-moi,” Māyā]
    • Crossword clues use fill-in-the-blanks to signal an answer all the time, so it seems fair, albeit unexpected, to need to find that answer and then make it into a homophone “so to speak.” That’s a CHAUFFEUR /show for/.

Definitions Only

[17d] ID checkers dine before grand opening shindig starts (9) [AVCX 8/25/22, Cardin]

We talk about false punctuation all the time, but it’s almost always the first letter of a word getting capped to make it seem all proper. Here, it masks “Id” for “ID”–two types of checkers (no, not draughts). That makes the discovery of SUP+ERE+GOS so much tastier.

Beats Me

  • [11d] Unfeeling spymaster breaking heart (4) [“Paris Fashion,” Keynes]
    • I spotted NUMB right off the bat, but if this is a heart deletion, I can’t think of the base synonym for a spymaster.
  • [4a] A cut around Côte d’Ivoire church may involve hair loss (8) [“Excusez-moi,” Māyā]
    • I think I have this, but definitely had to look up both of those abbreviations: A+LOP+E(CI)C.
  • [11a] Pub’s risky investment opportunity: a cider press? (5,7) [Everyman 3959]
    • From the definition, sure, but no idea how to convert the rest into FRUIT MACHINE.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest #397: RECOVERY

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

  • Queen turned up with mask before the start of yearly rally (8)
  • Literally everybody goes for insurance renewal (8)
  • Getting back on top? Yes! (8)
  • Rude, heartless fellow on track to achieve improvement (8) 
  • Comeback concerning company to a great extent (8)

And mine: 

  • Fragmented core badly? A backup may allow this for your computer (8)

On my latest Twitch stream from 9/5 I solved John Ewbank’s New York Times cryptic, JoshSolves’s “Welcome to the Inn,” and a regular and variety Bob Stigger puzzle from the September 2022 Games World of Puzzles. Very different experience with the two Stigger puzzles, with me feeling drowned by my bane, proper names, in the regular grid, but delighted by the playfulness of the variety puzzle. The classical style is well and good, but it’s not for everybody, certainly not for me. I need that extra sense of surprise and discovery–ironically, I’ve found that with the Hex grids I’ve solved as well. I think, if you look back through most of the clues I’ve highlighted in this series, it’ll be clearer what I mean when I talk about not preferring proper nouns, at least not when they’re the focus.

I hope my strong sense of enthusiasm is infectious rather than off-putting, and hopefully I’ll see you all at next week’s roundup (whenever that is) and at the next stream, Monday 9/12 @ 9:00 EST.

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..

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:

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):

Reversal

  • [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]<.

Hidden

  • [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.

Anagram

  • [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).

Charade

  • [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.

Container

  • [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.

Deletion

  • [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.

Heteronym/Pun

  • [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.

Homophone

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.

Spoonerism

  • [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/.

&lit

[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.

Combination

  • [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.

Miscellaneous

  • [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.

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!

Cryptic Roundup 24 (7/25-7/31)

Excited as I am to get to the 11 excellent puzzles and a total of 320 clues that I reviewed between Monday (7/25) and Sunday (7/31), I did want to take a brief moment to plug my most recent cryptic crossword, a collaboration with the brilliant George Ho (@__loplop). This blog is meant to be supportive of the community and to encourage solving and construction alike, and this very very lightly themed puzzle, “Better Than One,” I think represents the fruits of those labors. Which is to say: I learned a lot more about cryptic grammar and surface refinement, and it gave me an even deeper appreciation for the puzzles I was solving, even if it (and my weekly live-solving Twitch stream) also delayed this blog a bit. I’m going to continue to think about ways to work with others–I very much enjoyed a late-night co-solving session with some stream regulars and newcomers–and I encourage all of you out there reading this to reach out to me (or anyone else) if you want to get more involved in any capacity. Also, remember that if my erratic posting of these “weekly” roundups is ever an issue, you can sign up for this same content in newsletter form (though it lacks spoiler tags). Let’s get into it!

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:

I don’t know what they were taking this week, some sort of creativity steroids or what, but Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto’s Out of Left Field #122 exceeded their already high bar, with bangers left and right. It’s well-worth checking out. I also think that Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon took off the kid gloves with a tricky variety puzzle called Anagrammania, that involves modifying either the surfaces or fill for each clue, resulting in an inevitable and yet wholly satisfying revealer. To be clear, you can’t go wrong with anything here–MP saved his most challenging puzzle for this grid, his self-published finale, and Hoyt Arcane continues to make impressive, comic surfaces. Just look at the bounty of clues from this week!

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

  • [9a] Retreating soldier with trajectory for initiator of classified site (5) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • The definition sells this one, shifting an innocuous (yet ubiquitous) website into a military surface, with “classified” doing heroic work here: [CRA+IG]<.
  • [6d] Teacher’s best students, regressing, make a mistake–darn (4,6) [New Yorker 7/31/22, Berry]
    • I think I’ve seen the (6) part of this phrase on its own this way, but “regressing” is the perfect word for this, and “darn” sets a nice tone: [STAR+PUPILS]<. In the world of cryptics, phrases are a great way to elevate pieces that might’ve worked on their own.
  • [13d] Max, to hotel: “Set up a place for wi-fi” (7) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
    • I continue to enjoy proper nouns that aren’t actually operating as such; yes, “Max” is a very arbitrary subject for this surface, but you could say that for the named protagonist of any story. What matters here is that this works to give you an impression of a harried assistant calling ahead to set up a workspace for his boss where there’s a [H+OT+SPOT]<.
  • [10a] Bite from insect that’s repelled (4) [Everyman 3955]
    • This is a familiar bit of wordplay, but worth calling out for that pitch-perfect use of “bite”: [TANG]<.

Hidden

[22d] A little app’s strangely quiet alert (4) [Everyman 3955]

There’s something that gets me about cluing this very old, sibilant sound (apP’S STrangely) in the language of modern technology–and you know what, phones do sometimes have odd notification sounds!

Anagram

  • [27a] Swing set snarled Doberman’s collar (8,7) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • Marvelous use of “swing set” here to paint the picture of a poor dog’s poor interaction with the chain of, say, a tire swing, when in actuality it’s an anagram leading to BALLROOM DANCERS* (*Doberman’s collar).
  • [14d] One makes an impression flaunting in G-string around back of house (6,4) [Cryptic 110, MP]
    • I talk a lot about imagery: with only a sentence or two to tell a story, the more vivid the description or action, the fresher the clue. Try to scrub this surface out of your mind–you can’t: it makes an impression (in a neatly misleading way for SIGN(E)T RING* (*in G-string).
  • [25d] I’ve fired off what a blue check means on Twitter (8) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
    • Chalk this one up to “Funny because it’s true.” I know way too many people who got all heated over the apparently arbitrary decisions that go into who gets a blue check or not, as if being VERIFIED* (*I’ve fired) is what’ll get you past that imposter syndrome.
  • [1d] Sold seat, sadly, for friendly soccer exhibition? (3,5) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • Marvelous definition here with “exhibition” working in the sense of “show” (or more specifically, a television programme): TED LASSO* (*Sold seat).
  • [6d] Important to hold tiger cats when frisky (9) [Quiptic #33, Mossberg]
    • Pro tip: If there is more in a surface than necessary (i.e., both “tiger” and “cats”), there’s probably a reason for it. That’s true here, but also, the emphasis of a “tiger cat” keeps this clue balanced between joy and terror, something that’s likely STRATEGIC* (*tiger cats).

Charade

  • [17a] Significant other, Crystal, with fashionable yellowish piece of wedding attire (9,3) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • Good wedding planning ties a theme together, and that’s what this nice long charade does, whipping a bunch of parts into a surprising whole: SO+METH+IN+GOLD.
  • [18a] Aggressively hype love poetry by Mr. Bean (8) [New Yorker 7/31/22, Berry]
    • The surprise of which “Mr. Bean” we’re talking about here is where it’s at; I can dine on the idea of Rowan Atkinson as a poetry slam hype man: 8 1/2 Mile, perhaps. O+VERSE+LL.
  • [14a] At first, bases on Moon sound like certain modern warfare (10) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
    • Hard not to think of the Space Force here; sad (for humanity) to think of the actual answer: B+IO+LOGICAL. That’s a great use of “sound/like” for a non-homonym.
  • [6a] Sixty up front was going rate (5) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
    • I’m not saying that I had a kid in order to excuse potty humor in the house, but I’m not not saying that either. What I mean is, I laughed at “going,” and it works so well in the automotive context of S+PEED–if only the movie had been “sixty” and not “fifty” there’d be an &lit here!
  • [26a] Bulb lit with bit of electricity (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • Nice little literal aha moment here with this tasty bulb of an ON+ION.
  • [13a] Uber model: smoothly lead press with public relations and sugar coating (5,7) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • Oh, the number of shitty corporations that do exactly this to get away with inhumane practices, as if you can spin away exploitation. (Sadly, they can.) Politics aside, that’s a nice long string of novel pieces: S+URGE+PR+ICING. I particularly like the use of “press” here.
  • [18d] For instance, rash and speedy extremes lead British politician to the capital of Malta (7) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Great surface split here, and “extremes” is a fun term: SY+MP+TO+M.

Container

  • [28a] Publications covering birth of miracle babies (7) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • The noun-to-verb swap of “babies” here surprises in the best possible way, yielding PA(M)PERS. I’d read stories about this!
  • [20d] One who follows orders filling general manager with encouragement (5) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
    • The definition here is as outstanding as the implication is damning; you can bet that if your boss could replace you with a tireless, unpaid G(OLE)M, they would.
  • [5a] Address, originally collected by USPS, occupies sides of boxes for transit identification (3,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • A fun double container made possible by the post office: B(USP(A)S)S.
  • [17a] Holy land in South Dakota (6) [“Anagrammania,” Cox & Rathvon]
    • A sequel to The Book of Mormon perhaps? Nice, tight surface: S(ACRE)D.

Deletion

[44a] Plane’s not serious without debts (5) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]

I read this as an indictment of airlines, which are badly in need of subsidizing but keep resisting the regulation that might allow it. At any rate, it’s a nice (and rare) four-letter deletion: FACET[-ious].

Double Definition

  • [24d] Punch cards (4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • The familiarity of a “punch card”–at least if you’ve ever worked that kind of job–is what justifies the simplicity of this surface, in which one object becomes three: DECK.
  • [4d] Develops–or decreases? (7) [Everyman 3955]
    • This surface has a little more room to play, but it’s still operating on the same terse principle in which you’re trying to find the thing that can unify two opposites: UNFOLDS.

Heteronym/Pun

  • [10a] Lord concerned with resistance? (2,2) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
    • This is what I’m calling all the guests of my stream now. It’s just a fun word to say, with apologies to George Takei: OHM-Y. Using “Lord” in this way is really just top-notch.
  • [19d] Chemistry unit: the first half of the alphabet? (4) [Cryptic #5, Hoyt Arcane]
    • Another winner from Hoyt that reparses one subject as another (A TO M).

Homophone

  • [26a] Put up, take down broadcast (5) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • This might be a contender to rival “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” for the navel-gazing modern day. The brief rise and fall of a podcast: RAISE /raze/.
  • [9a] Sounds like trouble…bye (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • This is a cute and all-too-familiar scenario to me, the guy who definitely doesn’t want to get in the middle of a fight: ADIEU /ado/. Inspired me to come up with this opposite scenario (non-homophone): The fight is over? I’m out (5) for PEACE.

Spoonerism

[10a] Land from Spooner’s Netherlands settlement (5,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]

Extremely smart use of “Land” here to give one of the least absurd (in either sense) Spoonerism surfaces I’ve seen: TOUCHDOWN /Dutch town/. Like, I’m sure there could’ve been a sports riff here, and resisting that more obvious usage made this positively sing.

&lit

  • [13d] Big game set up around trickery! (6,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • Given what I’m sure is the large overlap between people who like this surface’s activity and those who like solving cryptics, this is likely to be many people’s favorite clue of the week if not month or year, and it being an &lit is just the cherry on top: ES(CAPER)OOM[<]. So smart to think of “Big game” that way.
  • [7d] Flexibly tinker about hypothesis’s chief attribute (7) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Given the constraints of an &lit, I’m impressed by the way “tinker” is being used here, not as an anagrind but as the anagrist: RET(H)INK* (*tinker). Everything I knew was wrong 🙂

Letter Bank

  • [23a] Kidnapper using only cardboard cutout letters (8) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • Probably the most literally appropriate use of this type of clue you can find, given that a ransomer is known for their bank of individually cut out and rearranged letters. Hate the ABDUCTOR > cardboard cutout, love the clue.
  • [1a] Components required for Dungeons and Dragons could be unsafe (9) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Probably the second most literally appropriate use of this type of clue, with extra points for taking an existing thing like D&D and revising it (for a cryptic edition): DANGEROUS > Dungeons and Dragons. I’m also visualizing a barbed wire icosahedron.

Combination

  • [8d] In middle of set, off-key band presenting “Shallow” (4,4) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • I appreciate when a combination clue avails itself of every opportunity to misdirect. “Set” is not at all what I thought, “Shallow” isn’t the song despite the presentation and context for it, and “band” isn’t an O here: S(ANDB*)ANK.
  • [12a] Gourmet’s beginning to eat without thinking at first–an impressive sight (7) [Cryptic 110, MP]
    • I wanted “thinking at first” to be “second utensil” at first, but I think the subject of this surface is actually more aptly described this way, just digging in to everything, a true E+PIC[-t]URE in every sense.
  • [16d] Admirable person internalizing mystic syllable–and repeating it where students meet daily (8) [OOLF #122, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I’m increasingly a fan of “repeating” indicators, which tell you to basically repeat an action or element within the finished answer. It’s an economic way of cluing a string of letters, and it works really well in the context of a mantra: H(OM)ERO+OM. Whatever helps that most heroic of people, a teacher, get through the day!
  • [11a] Instrument for disheartened tour performer (10) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • I think the only thing I don’t like about this surface is the “disheartened” part, solely because I can’t imagine them actually still performing. But I guess the show must go on, and so we get PRO+T[-ou]R+ACTOR.

Miscellaneous

  • [17d] Confuse with cryptic indication of worth (5,3) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
    • The revenge clue is a lot of fun: the answer is cryptic, feeding back into the surface. So here, you need a cryptic way to get “worth” that means “Confuse”: THROW OFF!
  • [24d] Campaign research going back and forth (4) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • A very appropriate palindrome indicator the explains the Sorkin-y feel of the behind-the-scenes research of a (political) campaign: <OPPO>.
  • [23d] Used a blade on a razor’s edge (dull, at first) (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • The best way to hide an acronym indicator is at the end, so people aren’t trying to solve the clue before finishing the surface. In this case, it also helps the surface, with an apt parenthetical disclaimer for O+A+R+E+D, another kind of blade.

Rule Breakers

  • With rules this loose, it’s hard to break them!

Definitions Only

  • [19d] New episode of “Tim’s Disturbing Bias” (relatively speaking?) (8) [“A Dirty Puzzle,” July/August 2022, Brume]
    • So I use this category to call out definitions I liked so much that I was willing to ignore the surface–which isn’t to say either of these surfaces are bad! But “Tim’s Disturbing Bias” isn’t an actual show, which makes it jump out, and I’m not used to O for “of” (as in, I guess “three o’ clock). All that actually helps the definition to hide a bit more behind both quotation marks and parentheses, giving us N+EP+O+TISM* (*Tim’s).
  • [1a] Rolled, lit herbal hash in queer capital? (5-6,4) [Browser 83, Cardin]
    • Similarly, while I loved “queer capital,” I was having trouble connecting the drug surface to the definition in anything more than a superficial sense. That’s just me, though, and again, it’s strong enough with that wording to justify putting in THREE-DOLLAR BILL* (*Rolled, lit herbal). (Folks, it’s way hard to find a satisfying anagram than it is to unpack one!)

Beats Me

  • [5d] Mars Bar wrapper–I have one left to discard (5) [AVCX 7/28/22, Brian]
    • I got the “Mars”/”Bar” split real quick for B[-a]R+UNO, but wasn’t seeing how I needed to use anything else other than “one.”
  • [7d] Curved fastener’s top removed by German engineers (6,4) [Cryptic 110, MP]
    • Is this G+ROUND+[-s]CREW? If so, not sure how the G from German gets to the front–can “by” really get away with doing that much work, as in “Everything before me comes after.”
  • [24a] Shrapnel discovered hewn in tree (6) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
    • I want this to be CASHEW, as a type of “tree,” and “hewn” has some of the letters I need, but I don’t know what to do with the rest.
  • [5d] Hessian roll wrapped around uniform on both sides (6) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
    • I figured this one out while writing this out–tough simply because it’s a lot of British slang: knowing the word for Hessian and roll, plus being able to spot that it’s not “U” appearing on both sides, but “U” and then “RL,” the two sides. B(U+RL)AP.
  • [6d] Artful Dodger definitely jumping over trios of characters (4) [“What Nonsense!” Keynes]
    • I think the answer is DEF+T for “Artful,” and I see the creative “trios of characters” to get me there, but getting a T from “Dodger definitely”? I’m missing something.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #394: SUPREME COURT

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

  • Computer user designed site of highest appeal (7,5)
  • Respect our . . . um … appalling jurists?! (7,5)
  • Organized crime erupts out without it (7,5)
  • Right where righties kill rights? (7,5)

And mine: 

  • Judicial body placing gun-centrists before me in rifle stance (2nd) (7,5)

I’ll be streaming again next week, Monday 8/15 from 9:00 PM EST to at least midnight. I’ll be solving puzzles published between 8/8 and 8/14 at that point, so feel free to recommend some to me that you’d like to see, especially if you’re a setter I’ve never spotlighted before and you’re interested in seeing the real-time solve.

Cryptic Roundup #23

Kicking off the week by . . . looking back at cryptics from Monday 7/18 to Sunday 7/24! It’s hard to find the right balance between timeliness and free-time-iness in which to get these puzzles solved and the write-ups done, but the point is that these clues are timeless and the sites are all archiving these grids, so . . . it’s never too late to break out your pen or pencil or stylus and solve. At any rate, if you’re looking to get notified about these posts as they break, you can also sign up for this same content in newsletter form (though be aware that I don’t know how to make spoiler tags in it). And now, from 11 puzzles and a total of 302 clues published between Monday (7/18) and Sunday (7/24), it’s time:

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:

I don’t know if it’s because Jack Keynes’s puzzles were the first UK-style ones that I managed to regularly solve, but I often vibe with the wordplay and language he’s throwing down, and his latest mini is densely packed with great stuff. Since we’re talking about personal tastes, I’ve enjoyed the individual offerings from both George Ho (Loplop) and the duo at The Rackenfracker, so it’s no surprise that their collaborative “In One Basket” is a delightfully challenging variety grid. If you want a standard puzzle jam-packed with good clues, Hoang-Kim Vu’s Browser 82 is very good, too.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

I rarely see this clue type on its own–it’s usually in conjunction with another mechanic. Is it perhaps too straightforward to allow for a natural surface?

Hidden

[18a] Vault secured by mobile app (4) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]

What I love about this surface is that if you think about it, a vault wouldn’t be particularly safe if a mobile app could unlock it–Mission Impossible‘s multi-stage biometrics this is not–but a cryptic doesn’t need to always have full real-world logic. It’s enough just to make you consider a possible premise, as we do here, thanks to “secured” and the sneaky sense of “vault”: mobiLE APp.

Anagram

  • [13d] Quietly engaged in twisty lower back movement at the ‘68 Olympics (5,5) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • The hero here is the suture of “lower back movement” and the gymnastic sense given by the Olympics reference. The solution is a different type of movement entirely, and one well worth remembering: BLACK(P)OWER* (*lower back).
  • [13d] Rarin’ to go change full diaper (3,5,2) [Cryptic Interpretation 5, Evans]
    • As a still relatively new dad, I’m going to continue to celebrate clues like this one, which so totally see me. There’s no half-assing a full-assed baby: when your child gets the call and then you get the cry, you’d better be rarin’ to go, or ALL FIRED UP* (*full diaper) as it were.
  • [2d] Elon’s first revolutionary space flight (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Though I hate this guy’s public stock- and crypto-market rigging for personal profit (at everyone else’s loss), he does own a space-flight company, and I can at least recognize that feat in well-deserved “revolutionary” cryptic form: E+SCAPE* (*space).
  • [3a] Not the greatest reward for running devil’s realm chaotically? (6,5) [“Call Me Maybe, Westley]
    • This sort of reminds me of those novelty “I DID X AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS T-SHIRT” items. Here, the situation involves literally running hell for a bit and you just got a SILVER MEDAL* (*devil’s realm). No wonder Satan is so angry.

Charade

  • [10a] Refuse to marry Juliet in Verona–the source of tragedy (4) [Keynesian 136]
    • Outstanding surface sense here thanks to a little foreign (not Shakespearean) language, specifically that of Verona, Italy: J+IL+T. If they’d only let their star-crossed kids wed!
  • [8d] Support for son of a bitch, perhaps (4,2) [Cryptic Interpretation 5, Evans]
    • The trick here is in the extra definition in “Support for.” You’ve got to split those for parts: PRO+PUP, and bonus points for describing how I feel about modern elections.
  • [22a] Drop the ball as well as you can run it (6) [Cryptic Interpretation 5, Evans]
    • Just a bunch of nice crossword clues here strung together in an entertaining way: “Drop the ball,” “as well as,” and the crème de la crème, “you can run it”: ERR+AND.
  • [1d] Game coach for Halo (6) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • The dazzlingly deception here has nothing to do with Esports but rather the use of a different game despite Halo being right there in the surface: NIM+BUS (“coach” is well-played here as well). That’s how you do a lot with a little.
  • [21d] Preoccupation with Iron Throne’s leader, sort of (6) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • GoT fans, especially those who stuck with the worst parts of the last three seasons (which I dutifully recapped for Slant Magazine), are guilty of having a FE+T+ISH for the show, so I like this even more than along the wordplay sense.
  • [27a] Place residents with officers (11) [Everyman 3954]
    • Sometimes I just appreciate a really clean break of a word into parts: LIEU+TENANT.

Container

  • [19a] Tough guy accepting part of mosque is a promising sign (4,4) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]
    • I said on-stream that this clue gave me hope: I remember after 9/11 how even the “tough guys” of my hometown New York sort of flipped out with Islamophobia, so it is indeed promising to think we might move past that toward acceptance (which is a great indicator in both ways): GOO(DOME)N.
  • [3d] Do not talk about academic level (6) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Another exercise in powerful terseness from K&P: “Do not talk” goes around “academic” to give you a “level” and that makes the answer somewhat self-descriptively S(MOOT)H.
  • [24d] Love, in brief, where singles find their match? (5) [Mental Playground 109]
    • If ever you were going to abbreviate “love” as “O,” this is the right kind of surface for it, and that’s a lovely way to define a C(O)URT. (“In brief” is a superlative superfluous bit here–it doesn’t need to signal the O, which leaves it free to do what it’s actually needed for.)
  • [4d] Thanks to nurse, identify orderly (4) [Keynesian 136]
    • Terrific surface sense, with “nurse” and “orderly” not at all what they’re cracked up to be: T(ID)Y.
  • [3d] Square meal takes up essential part of day (6) [Keynesian 136]
    • If you’re a New Yorker like me, this is more essential than you might think, and former Mets player Mike would certainly agree: PI(A)ZZA.
  • [19a] Primates possessed by hunger for type of oil (9) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • I enjoy the cataclysmic climate surface sense here, wherein mankind’s primitive lust for oil destroys us all–GR(APES)EED. I might be reading into that a bit, but not THAT much.
  • [18d] Big heads move in two directions (4) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]
    • I like the natural clash of cardinal directions here from these “big heads”: E(GO)S.

Deletion

  • [15d] Finance guys ignoring the top market index (5) [New Yorker 7/24, Payne]
    • Personal bias from me: I think the whole stock game is blatantly rigged, since the market can be so easily manipulated, whether by Gamestonk memes or, more generally, “finance guys.” This surface suckered me good with the “Finance/guys” split in [-m]EN+DOW.
  • [7d] Given a different slot, denied opening, called a strike (5) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • This clue successfully points toward unionization in the sense that when your company keeps screwing you over (a different slot, no opening), it’s time to fight back. Convenient, then, that those are also solid indicators for [-b]UMPED and a different type of strike-caller.
  • [5d] Endorsed on the internet? Quit right away (1-6) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • Not that I am in any danger of it, but I do worry about the risks of being Internet Famous, wherein if you’re doing something “right” in the most toxic of digital environments, you may want to step back from it: [-r]E-SIGNED.

Double Definition

  • [22d] Problem children (5) [Everyman 3954]
    • That’s not the way I think of “children,” but it’s absolutely correct, and therein lies the great way to do a two-word double definition, where you make a new connection (like ISSUE).
  • [18d] Lesser-known song that might be infectious? (4,3) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • On stream, I took a long beat to wonder if this wasn’t misenumerated, because EAR WORM seemed like such a fun answer, but that’s not a lesser-known song (and I think it has a shared root, and it’s not really infectious, now that I think about it). As always, you know the right song/answer when you hear it, though, and that’s a DEEP CUT.

Heteronym/Pun

  • [AA] Cartoon duck is shady? (4) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • There’s no wrong way to solve a cryptic, y’know? My mind went to Baby HUE-Y, but you probably thought of one of Scrooge’s Duck Tales nephews.
  • [7a] Titian, perhaps drunk, suggesting something to draw at night (8,5) [Everyman 3954]
    • Are there shared roots here? Probably. Does that matter as clued? Nope! “Draw” is the perfect word here, and justifies the use of “Titian, perhaps” and the slangy version of “drunk”: VENETIAN BLIND. Suggestive indeed!
  • [I] Where you can land in Paris? That’s obvious if you ask internet forum dwellers (4) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • This might just be a straightforward double-definition depending on how you punctuate the latter part, but I take it as O RLY, as in the Nic Cage meme. Either way, it’s lovely.
  • [28a] Greetings from a ring of fire? (5) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Top marks come from that ? indicated “ring of fire”: HELL+O.

Homophone

  • [16a] Sounds like entitled child cried and missed everything? (9) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • The sweet sounds of an entitled child crying–let that be a lesson to us all! Really enjoyed the meaning of “entitled” here, as well as “missed everything” with a needed question mark to get us to AIRBALLED /heir bawled/.
  • [9a] Working solo, read aloud, but not in the library (2,4) [“Call Me Maybe, Westley]
    • This isn’t ALONE, which tripped me up for while, since I was trying to shoehorn that sound in, despite an incorrect enumeration. Best advice I can give with cryptics is don’t be afraid to set a surface down for a second to re-evaluate–what is “working” really doing here, for instance? That gets you to ON LOAN /on lone/.
  • [12a] Hospital department broadcast cry of discovery (1,3,3) [Browser 82, Hoang-Kim Vu]
    • The cry of discovery I made (AHA!) when realizing how these two things overlapped was pretty good: I SEE YOU /ICU/. It helps that I was listening to Cocomelon’s “Peek-a-Boo” song while solving with my son.

Spoonerism

  • [8d] ‘Timid? You have backbone!’ says Spooner, to express thoughts plainly (5,4,4) [Everyman 3954]
    • This is why I love Spoonerisms. What a convolutedly, patently ridiculous phrase–that turns into a wonderful answer: SPEAK YOUR MIND /Meek? You’re spined!/
  • [23d] Travel fatigue from Reverend’s rented car (3,3) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • This is the slightly more tricky way of indicating a Spoonerism, by using “Reverend” alone. Whatever helps the surface, because the wordplay doesn’t change: JET LAG /let Jag/.
  • [7d] Illegally access computer device blocking signal via Spooner’s noisy machine (10) [Keynesian 136]
    • Two tech clues give way to a decidedly lower tech tool (or maybe it just seems that way: I mean, I certainly couldn’t build a JACKHAMMER /hack jammer/ from scratch!).

&lit

  • [12a] A détente almost arranged–very much the reverse! (8) [Everyman 3954]
    • I’ve been having a lot of debates lately about what is an &lit or not, and for me, it’s just that both the cryptic and definitional parts–however tenuously or stretched–need to make use of the entire surface. A détente is an easing of hostility, and the opposite, clued by “very much the reverse” is a V+ENDETTA[-e]* (*A detent[-e]). That reversal also works for the indicator–take the “V” from very (which is last) and put it first, before the almost anagram of “A détente.” Wonderful and creative, which is what I expect from an &lit.
  • [K] Clergies may be riled up about one! (9) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • Put another way, what is one thing clergies may be upset about? S(A)CRILEGE* (*clergies). The beauty of the &lit is that it only works in one very particular parsing, and it can be a real juggling act to get it where it needs to be–a smashing success when it works!

Letter Bank

I didn’t see any letter banks that stood out this week: you’ve got to really nail the indicator to make that work.

Combination

  • [14a] Taking English and science, I conceded, ruined loads of childhoods (12) [Mental Playground 109]
    • I rarely hear people complaining about English as a childhood activity (it’s generally Math), but I suppose if it isn’t your primary language, it’s going to make things really tough. At any rate, the idea of “school sucks” is pretty universal, even if learning itself is absolutely essential, so I appreciate the surface sense behind ADOL(E+SC[-i]ENCE)S* (*loads). This “I conceded” bit is super smart.
  • [3d] Site for a school exam in Florida: its outcome is anyone’s guess (4-3-3) [AVCX 7/21, Smith]
    • I think I cackled a bit at this on stream, given my limited experience with state-wide adoptions of test-prep material and the odd things that some states want to ban from what should be universal (common) curriculum. Who knows what they’re learning in Florida? All I know is the wordplay works really well: F(REEF+ORAL)L.
  • [7d] Fixed days to travel taking time on vacation (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I really have to remember that “on vacation” is a common overseas indicator for “not carrying anything.” For the rest of us, even if we’re not traveling because of COVID, we mostly know the “joy” of having to rearrange days to travel–S(T[-im]E)ADY* (*days)–and how some managers would only allow it when you didn’t need it.
  • [2d] Irregular cases rising–Covid almost indisputable (11) [Keynesian 136]
    • Very tricky, despite being given one of the words in the surface: UNEQU([-d]IVOC<)AL.
  • [M] Avoid returning boarding school’s books (9) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]
    • It’s the use of “boarding school” here that I get a kick out of: SCH(EDULE<)S, although I suppose “books” is doing a bang-up job here as well.
  • [1a] Dad is hiding, feeling worse after tattoos and drugs (11) [“Call Me Maybe, Westley]
    • In this one, I like the positional “after” and the sense of “hiding.” Combination clues have no restrictions, so there’s no excuse for an imprecise surface: PA(INK+ILLER)S.

Miscellaneous

[C] “IM4U,” “In the Club” go up the charts (5) [“In One Basket,” Loplop & Rackenfracker]

Such an amazing letter swap here, and so nakedly presented: “IM 4 U,” which is a song title I absolutely buy, whether it actually is one or not. (Remember, cryptics have no obligation to be accurate in their wordplay–just grammatically fair.) Hence we get CL{[u]->IM)B.

Rule Breakers

  • Everything seemed to play fair this week. You can’t always reinvent the wheel!

Beats Me

  • [21a] West and south, backing kind experts (8) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I get “west” as indicating a reversal, and I see a synonym for “kind” for get me to “experts,” but I couldn’t parse the “south backing” part: [MAES+TROS]<.
  • [30a] The author (operative in dysfunctional club) dancing with a prince of the jungle? (4,3) [OOLF #121, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I like the wordplay here, but are both “dysfunctional” and “dancing” doing the same thing for “club”? L(I+ON)CUB* (*club).
  • [1d] Apparitions as may appear after cheese? (7) [Everyman 3954]
    • My best guess is this is a loose double or cryptic definition for foodstuff? SPIRITS
  • [1a] Wow–a spiked up point of hair! (6,4) [Mental Playground 109]
    • I know everything is an anagrind, but is “up”? I guess as in like hyperactive, animated, moving around? The “!” also threw me, because this isn’t an &lit: WIDOW’S PEAK* (*Wow–a spiked).
  • [8d] Run down to hum (3,5) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I think this is just maybe a term I don’t know for “hum”? A rebus, maybe? BAD MOUTH
  • [17a] Fail to meet holy man joining with state (5,2) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Not sure about the “state” part: ST+AND+UP.
  • [20a] Cut and paste (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Is this a double-definition I’ve just never heard of? CLEAVE
  • [26a] Trouble husband and wife had describing books with rules (3,5) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • H(OT)W+ATE+R looks right, so I’m going to assume “rules” for R is cricket related?
  • [28a] Truthful accountant backing trade union’s talk, essentially (6) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Just a bunch of foreign-to-me abbreviations, which is the biggest trick to getting into overseas cryptics: [AC]<+TU+AL.
  • [4d] Devoted people putting alumni behind school (7) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I have no idea for this one; didn’t know the word OBLATES either.
  • [5d] How Hypatia initiates card game for perfectionist (8) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • I started off cleanly enough with I DEAL, but don’t see how to get the IST at the end.
  • [18d] Cleans posh building needing money in America (5,3) [Hindu 13616, Hypatia]
    • Is U(NCLE SA*)M (*cleans) synonymous for “America”? What’s the “building needing money” for?

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #393: MODERATION

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

  • A proportional relationship between the most commonly seen value and the total number of observations in a statistical sample (disregarding extreme values) (10)
  • To remain composed about one’s desires, primarily (10)
  • Cook me tandoori–not too much! (10)
  • Restraint with date in room? Difficult (10)
  • Starts to meditate often, daily exercise helping relaxation (10)

And mine: 

  • Discipline India’s Prime Minister by running around (two-time)? (10)

I’m back on stream tonight, Monday 8/1, at around 9:00 EST and will probably do three or four puzzles. May “warm up” with a tough Steve Mossberg Quiptic, but then I want to get into Hoyt Arcane’s new Cryptic #5 and Foggy Brume’s non-meta “A Dirty Puzzle” from the latest P&A Magazine. Will maybe also try MP’s final indie (for now) Cryptic #110. Feel free to stop by and make suggestions as to what I should stream as long as it’s from 7/25 to 7/31, setters always welcome; we should all have fun and learn something from the stream.

Cryptic Roundup #22

I know these posts come out sort of erratically each week–I blame that on my goals being larger than my solving capacity and free time. Every time it looks like a light week, I wind up adding a few new constructors to the mix, and the challenge is real (and fun). I think my next side project will be to sort constructors by (personal) difficulty, in case that may help encourage anyone else to step up their own cryptic-solving game. Anyway, if you want to make sure you know when the next post is up, you can subscribe to this same roundup in newsletter form here. And now, from 13 puzzles and a total of 370 clues published between Monday (7/11) and Sunday (7/17), here we go:

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:

Honestly, this is hardest part of the roundup to write, because all of these puzzles are good in their own ways. What it comes down to, then, is what stands out beyond the cluing itself. Juff’s deceptively titled “Mini #2” gets an A for effort, and I’m in awe of the variety of mechanics employed to make it operate so smoothly. And Jack Keynes’s “Dungeons & Dragons” puzzle is wonderful, though I’m biased because I liked the theme from jump. If you’re looking for a density of bangers, both George Ho and Andrew J. Ries knock their respective puzzles out of the park, and as always, Steve Mossberg’s Square Chase cryptics are a fun and gentle introduction to the variety format.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

[5a] Epic poem about grief inspired by failure (7) [Keynesian #135]

I don’t remember the specifics of this book enough–I was always more of a modern Grendel guy myself–to know if this could be an &lit as well, but it’s a very fun (and full) reversal: [B(EOW)ULF]<.

Hidden

  • [17a] Mysterious character appearing in bar unexpectedly (4) [Keynesian #135]
    • The extra kicker to this surface is that it was part of a larger “Dungeons & Dragons” themed puzzle; you don’t need that context to solve this, but you may enjoy it more if you realize that this is basically the start of every campaign: baR UNExpectedly.
  • [16d] Some perfidious tracking technology (4) [Loplop #9]
    • Such a smooth surface, I mistook it for an &lit at first, even though “tracking technology” isn’t technically contributing to the cryptic side. But boy, this is timely, and if you don’t know what peRFIDious is, or aren’t eating up that lovely larger word, check it out!
  • [3a] Some roti categorically contains hot stuff (7) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • My wife introduced me to her family’s West Indian cuisine, and I deeply regret that I went so many years without roti. Do not make the same mistake as me: it is the best of the breads (with maybe fresh-puffed poori close behind), and can give the actual answer a run for its money: somE ROTI CAtegorically.

Anagram

  • [17a] The air is toxic, which is most alarming (8) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • As I write this, on a day where New York City has alerts about low air quality, and the future looks increasingly bleak in terms of climate, this surface absolutely slays, and conveys exactly what it says: HAIRIEST* (*the air is).
  • [17a] France is not revolutionary, say (3,8) [Loplop #9]
    • I remain a huge fan of words that look like indicators (“say”) actually being the definitions. It’s total fair play, but reinforces you can’t throw any words away: FOR INSTANCE* (*France is not).
  • [1a/8d] Mummers sighted in drama, performing “The Comedy of Errors’ perhaps? (1,9,6,5) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • The only thing more impressive than finding a smooth surface for a 21-letter anagrammatic phrase is doing so in a thematic sense, with one play swapping for another: A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM* (*mummers sighted in drama).
  • [26a] Remaster wonky service like Netflix (8) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • “Remaster” is maybe a bit tenuous here, in that you’re more likely to update the films hosted by Netflix in this way than to retool Netflix itself but it works by association and yes, it is a bit wonky, no? STREAMER* (*remaster)

Charade

  • [5d] Where tablets were given evil artificial intelligence (5) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • Such a good use of “tablets,” and look at that seamless transition between the two types of surface here: SIN+AI. You’ll know we’re doomed when computers can come up with cryptic clues this good.
  • [4d] In accordance with Constitution, able to speak freely (9) [Keynesian #135]
    • A chillingly prescient clue in that this may not actually be true for much longer, given how our liberties are under attack from within. That said, this is a great disguise for the D&D stat of constitution (CON): CON+FLUENT.
  • [19d] Stretch with dexterity in close-fitting costume (7) [Keynesian #135]
    • Another solid D&D hit from Keynes, with DEX stepping up to the plate this time, and I love the relationship between these two words: SPAN+DEX, which doesn’t have a shared root, since the answer here actually comes from EXPAND.
  • [12d] Spirit is downright horny (4,6) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • This would’ve been a good fit for Māyā’s theme, but works great on its own, too: gets you thinking about satyrs, but it’s actually about what they drink: PLUMB+RANDY. Thanks, Austin Powers!
  • [7d] Weights, running, and exercises (6) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • The terseness of this clue leaves little room to hide, and yet, the deceptiveness of “running” and the chosen sense for “weights” works magic in getting all of these elements on the same page: ON+USES. American-style crosswords have to expend an entire grid pulling off something like that across three to five themed entries; a cryptic does it all in one, and that’s why they’re better (from a wordplay perspective).
  • [12a] Hurtful remark to Eliza Doolittle? He’s often cutting (6) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • One of those cute “sounds-like” clues where you need to know where Eliza Doolittle is from in order to get the intent; BARB+’ER. Ah, my fair cryptic.

Container

  • [8d] Flowery organ in Eminem song “Without Me” (6) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • I didn’t love “flowery” in this clue when I first solved on stream, but thinking about it, the dissonance it evokes with the rap elements of Eminem actually makes me like it even more. Beyond that, this is great, the way the given Eminem song is actually wordplay for the one it implies: STA(ME)N.
  • [25a] Become deteriorated taking in the rain and snow, perhaps (7) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • Another almost-&lit, where the whole crossword part could work, but some elements are not used cryptically. Ah, well; it’s still a thing of beauty, with a deceptive use of “the” for WEA(THE)R.
  • [15a] Puppet Waldorf’s mouth breaks scathing review (4) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • There is, apparently, much debate over how to use proper nouns in puzzles, and I think I agree that having to know names either as answers or bits and pieces can be rough. But so far as using them to evoke a surface, I’m all in, especially since I grew up to become a critic probably at least on some level because of the animated curmudgeonry of Statler and Waldorf: PA(W)N.
  • [4d] Pavement made from a tar containing measure of acidity (7) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • Science is a natural fit for cryptic crosswords, because it’s all bits and pieces and compounds over there anyway! Which is to say the idea of literally “making” a product like “Pavement” out of words is fun: A+S(PH)ALT.
  • [38d,6d] Fate closing in on leaders of truly corrupt online company (3-3) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]
    • This one, sadly, may be wishful thinking; not nearly enough corrupt online companies have met their well deserved fates (or even just the absolute minimum of their deserved taxes). At least we have cryptics to teach them a lesson: DO(T+C)OM.
  • [15d] Put everything in to try to find Olympus Mons, perhaps (7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Fun fact that may help: Olympus Mons is twice the height of Everest. I can’t even really picture the latter, let alone the former, but I can come to grips with it in a cryptic: T(ALL)EST.

Deletion

  • [4a] Prickly thing in Mexican food–one to remove (4) [Loplop #9]
    • A deceptive deletion here, not just of “one,” and that makes for a very nice surface (albeit a very terrible restaurant): BURR[-I to].
  • [17a] Fear scratching Tesla in blunder (5) [SQP154, Mossberg]
    • Not much a fan of Musk these days, but as with any pretty car, I understand the concern about even the slightest of dings or dents: [-t]ERROR. (It’s why it took me so many years to finally learn how to drive.)
  • [26d] Concealed monotreme missing all four extremities (3) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • A fun double deletion, impossible to spot, perhaps, if you don’t know what a monotreme is: [-ec]HID[-na].

Double Definition

[12d] Awkward situations, greetings (3-2-3-3) [Everyman 3953]

I was surprised there wasn’t a shared root here, especially given how my social skills have declined over the last two years, but one’s just a fun informal expression: HOW-DO-YOU-DOS. (By the way, be careful Googling this lest you be flagged as a denial-of-service-seeking hacker, which is also the way I might have clued this.)

Heteronym/Pun

  • [8a] Important to accept package if I happen to be unable to (11) [Loplop #9]
    • Long heteronyms are a thing of beauty, as is this surface for it, which sounds really natural: SIGN IF I CAN’T (we’ve all been there).
  • [5d] Employment of 246 years (as of 2022)? (5) [Loplop #9]
    • Another smash from this setter: do the math, and you’ll see it’s the US AGE. (Also, terrifying to think that if businesses and biology had their way, that’s definitely at least how long we’d be working.)
  • [10a] Illogical silence? (7) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • I think both of these words are being unusually prefixed, and I rely on these setters to keep finding fun and novel senses for language: UN-SOUND.
  • [10a] Bouncy castles are beacons? (11) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Fun fact: I think these castles would probably float, so they could be deployed as mobile LIGHT HOUSES, or, as the surface intends, just operate as light(weight) homes. (There’s a great skit online about the just this.)

Homophone

  • [9a] Trojan object audibly deceived ‘em (6) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • And with this clue, the association between the CONDOM /conned ’em/ brand and the Iliad is complete. Very smart.
  • [39a] Ballet excerpts, candy for the ear (6) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • I know that ballet may be candy for the eyes for many of you, but at someone who came to the form through the music, I appreciate this: SUITE /sweet/.
  • 13a Wear a rubber ring in your ear (6) [AVCX 7/14, Reichert]
    • “In your ear” is in fact a homophone indicator, but it also perfectly describes a “gauge,” which is the type of rubber ring that one puts in the lobe: ATTIRE /a tire/.
  • 10a Capital city announced toll cuts (7) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • If you’re going with a proper name, give a fun way to get there: this is exactly that, not with something rising from the ashes but with the adult excitement of a PHOENIX /fee nix/.

Spoonerism

[1a] Singer’s steam room less bright for Spooner (5,6) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]

Have you ever seen a steam room in use? It is, in fact, less bright, so that surface checks out, as does the Spoonerism, which passes the one key test: making the solver laugh. DONNA SUMMER /sauna dumber/.

&lit

Sadly, another week without any &lits. Come back, The Rackenfracker! You’re needed!

Letter Bank

[20a] Father rambling repetitiously since then (10) [Keynesian #135]

Great indicator here, one that sort of matches how some fathers–usually someone else’s–end up droning on: father > THEREAFTER.

Combination

  • [15d] Following conventions, full rum & cola cocktail includes bit of ice (9) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • I love this surface; my only nit is that the awkward use of an & makes it very obvious that an anagram is intended, and I think it is therefore fair for users to figure out on their own if “and” is part of the anagram or not. Still, this surface sounds like Mixology 101 more than a cryptic clue, and that’s an achievement: F+ORMULA(I)C* (*rum, cola).
  • [4a] Buddy holding an online interview is able to make a coast-to-coast connection (6,5) [Mini #2, Juff]
    • I said it on stream and will repeat it again: “coast-to-coast connection” is a lot of fun not just because it ties together the rest of that fun surface, but because it’s an unexpected definition: P(AN+AMA+CAN)AL. And that’s not even the best part of this clue! (That’d be “online interview” for Ask Me Anything.)
  • [3d] Brought back tamale (mostly) in an Alaska tapenade (mostly) (8) [Mini #2, Juff]
    • The repetition of “(mostly)” does it for me here. I fully expect, in a clue like this, for the wordplay of each to be different; I’m impressed that one is actually part of the definition: [KA+([-e]LAMAT)+A]<–.
  • [19a] Read aloud terrible introduction to story, resulting in shock (10) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • When you solve a lot of cryptics, your gut starts to make certain assumptions about how these key words will operate, so I’m always delighted when I can say that it’s not what I thought, and when I’ve, despite all my jadedness, still been tricked. (Think about the genuine delight from Penn & Teller when they are, in fact, fooled on Fool Us!) So hooray to this clue for not being a homophone: SCAN+DALOU*+S (*aloud).
  • [2d] Hack start of download stream, after sabotaging ABC (3,6) [OOLF #120, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • A great way to hide words are to extract the older definitions from modern surface senses: CAB*+D+RIVER (*ABC).
  • [20a] Use muddled lime to improve whiskey, in a way (7)  [New Yorker 7/17, Zawistowski]
    • Great finds here for liquor, with a nice break of “muddled lime”: MILE*+AGE (*lime).
  • [17a] Uses open-air synagogue: “Oy! Such beginning!” (7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Big fan of “open-air” here (and boy, “use” seems like it was popular this week as a definition): [-t]EMPL[-e]+OY+S. One reason why I love newer constructors is they always seem to be trying to prove something with thoughtful, stretchy new indicators such as that (even when they’re only new to me!).
  • [32a] Be left eager to discuss vital money bag with Queen’s retainers (10) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • The only thing missing from this clue as an excerpt is that by the time you got to it in Māyā’s puzzle, you were probably even more deceived about which type of queen was being referred to. We’re looking for BE+E+KEEPERS /key purse/.

Miscellaneous

  • [3d] Jordan, once leading Monstars’ opponents and Bulls (4) [SQP154, Mossberg]
  • [24d] Yak starts to chew hay in Nepal (4) [Browser 81, Ries]
    • I’m not a huge fan of acronyms–except for when the surface sense hides them a bit. You can see that in the very Space Jam-seeming clue (M+O+A+B) and then in the use of “yak” for C+H+I+N.
  • [2d] Neighbor watching BBQ just stole seconds (4) [Square Chase 14, Mossberg]
    • I am more inclined to give leeway to clues like this than acronyms because they’re pulling in a slightly less obvious fashion, but I don’t even need to for a zinger like this! Just a perfect picture (A+B+U+T) and not at all of the type of neighbor I had in mind.
  • [26a] Characters in R&B, &c.? (10) [Everyman 3953]
    • I think cryptic definitions like this work best when they revolve around making a solver overthink the obvious. What characters show up in both R&B and &c.? Those would be the AMPERSANDS.

Rule Breakers

  • [18a] Chances of 18 going in for dudes? (4) [Keynesian #135]
    • The first full-on meta clue I’ve seen: this one cross-references itself in a sort of Catch-22 (but solvable) way: ODDS are chances that are found, appropriately enough, in “for dudes.”
  • [9d] Give game away via cryptic reference to hen-beast? (5,3,5) [Keynesian #135]
    • I was told that this is a “revenge” clue, in that the solution itself is a set of cryptic instructions: SPILL THE BEANS is the answer, but also a way to make “hen-beast” from “the beans.”
  • [19a] Male, hairy: to him it’s a salutation! (7) [Everyman 3953]
    • Here, the traditional indicator has been taken out, used instead as the answer, which I think makes this a revenge &lit? SPOONER is the answer, because it’s the way in which you turn “male, hairy” into the salutation “hail Mary.”

Beats Me

  • Deliveries proceed quickly in storm (7) [Everyman 3953]
    • I’m just going to assume that “Deliveries” is a cricket term for an OVER because I want this to be OVER+RUN.
  • Given investment, son made more comfortable (5,2) [Everyman 3953]
    • I think this is SHOWN IN, but I have no idea how to parse that.
  • On the contrary, a conservative on Hill is pretender (5) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]
    • “On the contrary” throws me, because it seems superfluous to A+C+TOR.
  • Dresses, well-used, hung up during party (2 wds) [“Summer Vacation,” teamcrazymatt]
    • I think there might be some British slang in here? Also not sure about dupes, because I want this 7-letter phrase to end in UP, but that’s already in the clue.
  • The twelfth of a sequence represents a larger number? (5) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Pretty sure this is FIFTY, but the math eludes me.
  • Undoing gift mountain wine became extremely popular activity (8,7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • I have the middle of this, with NATION+ALP+ASTI+ME, but I’m “became extremely” signals BE, not ME to me, and even if that’s “UN doing,” I don’t love NATION there or see what “gift” has to do with it.
  • Pouring, split just past the middle and flipped, gives fix (7) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • Is this ING+RAIN somehow, taking the last three letters of “Pouring” because it’s “split just past the middle? But then “flipped” doesn’t really work for me–a reversal somewhere?
  • Extremely absorbing people-finders are after Gladys’s innermost enemy (9) [Cryptic #4, StJtB]
    • I’m guessing that “people-finders” has an acronym or slang I don’t know, because this is absolutely [-gl]AD[-ys]+VER(SAR)Y or [-gl]AD[-ys]+VE(RSA)RY.
  • With [INTER], she’s a source of vulgarity (10) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • “Source” feels like it indicates a letter bank more than an anagram, so maybe I’m missing something in EARTHINESS* (*inter she’s a).
  • Suit working holiday-maker travelling around a loch (11) [“This Be the Verse,” Māyā]
    • So, I like “suit” as the definition: BUSI(NESS)MAN. I even see the one loch I can name in there. But “working holiday-maker traveling”? No clue.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #392: CAPITALIST

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

  • Fat cat – pet stuffed with bread and fluids regularly (10)
  • I primarily support trade (10)
  • Supplier of dough for California flatbread menu (10)
  • Thatcher fits this description! (10)
  • Plutocrat who shouts on the internet? (10)
  • “Beat It” – a record money-spinner! (10)

And mine: 

  • Leader of commerce, elite loaded with a stuffed pocket! (10)

I’m back on stream tonight, Monday 7/25, at around 9:00 EST. Will, as usually, probably focus on highlighting constructors I haven’t solved before like Ryan Patrick Smith or Trent Evans, though I may extend that to first-time collaborators, like Loplop and the Rackenfracker, perhaps. Feel free to stop by and make suggestions as to what I should stream as long as it’s from 7/18 to 7/24–I haven’t locked in anything yet, and my goal is to help both you and me become better, smarter solvers.

Cryptic Roundup #21

If you watched my cryptic roundup last week, I’m not suffering from cryptic burnout–if anything, just the opposite! Between collaborating on a new puzzle and working on some clues wholly my own, it’s been quite productive. But as I looked over my annotations for the week, I realized that this is the harshest I’ve been in my grading. This isn’t to say the clues or puzzles were bad, but for whatever reason, the surfaces weren’t seizing me. Anyway, from 11 puzzles and a total of 321 clues published between Monday (7/4) and Sunday (7/10), here we go:

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.
  • 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.

Recommendations:

Even if it weren’t her last puzzle (for now), and even if it weren’t a new-to-me 3D grid shape, Liari’s “Slumber Party” would still rank at the top of my list–killer surfaces the whole way through. I couldn’t call out as many clues as I wanted to from herzwesten & joeadultman’s “Cryptic Keepers,” because the variety gimmick altered some of the surfaces–go see for yourself just how that went down! I’d also give a shoutout to Neville Fogarty’s 7/10/22 New Yorker puzzle, which crammed a lot of elegant clues into a tiny grid.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

Apple’s revolutionary fraud (4) [P&A May/June 2022, Brume]

Cryptic surfaces are under no requirements to be truthful, and yet this one still hits dangerously close to home: the products work great, but the pricing (and built-in obsolescence) has never felt right. This clue, on the other hand, feels perfect: SCAM[<].

Hidden

This is a hard category for me. Hiding a word requires some constraint, and I find that far too many clues of this variety are, as a result, a bit too straightforward for my liking. No shade, just a matter of personal preference.

Anagram

  • Mixed bean soup: it’s served (8) [New Yorker 7/10/22, Fogarty]
    • This surface breaks in all the right ways. Food-wise, it splits that “mixed/bean” for an anagram, and then turns it into something that’s served–but likely not on a platter: a SUBPOENA* (*bean soup).
  • Inspiring passages from Syrian War novel releasing in October, finally (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • Several good things here; the more I see “novel” the more obvious it becomes as an anagram indicator, even with a context this strong, which is why “Syrian War” being 9 letters works so well to throw solvers off the scent. The double deletion (sneakily cued by “releasing”) makes it even trickier, and then on top of all that, “inspiring passages” is a phenomenal crossword clue: AIRWAYS* (*Sy[-r]ia[-n] War).
  • Maybe find a replacement? Lead traces floating around (6)  [“Something to Believe In,” Juff]
    • The punctuation break is everything here: we’re looking for a replacement lead, but the surface serves up hardcore call-a-contractor realness: RECAST* (*traces).

Charade

  • Take drugs…take too much drugs…I’ve got three legs (6) [P&A May/June 2022, Brume]
    • This is how you do repetition in a surface; not just in a funny way, but one that also serves the voice and the intent of the clue: TRIP+OD. If you’re not laughing at that ellipse-indicated pause and the realization “I’ve got three legs!”, you need to take a hit.
  • Devil, in the manner of a creature with hooves (6) [P&A May/June 2022, Brume]
    • Another solid surface: the devil, like the answer, is a creature known for hooves, and that sells the whole “in the manner of” part: IMP+ALA.
  • Investigating locals serving time (6,4) [“Jaded Radio Plays,” Pixie Dust]
    • I prefer a charade to not break in the same fashion as the answer phrase but when it finds such distance in the synonyms as this, and the surface holds up, I’m here for it. Every rule is meant to be broken, it just needs to be merited: BEHIND+BARS.
  • Talk incessantly about origins of Doctor Who, and whatever’s popular right now (9) [Keynesian #134]
    • A British phrase, a fun answer word, a stretchy use of “origins” (is it for one word, two words, three?!)–it’s both vague and specific all at once, which is what you’d expect from the surface’s cluing of BAN(D+W+A)G ON.
  • Tantalised by a little bird, I will have dined on starter of duck (10) [Everyman 3952]
    • I like the evocation of a “little bird” leading one to eat “duck” as a starter; this is also just a fun word to clue: TIT+I’LL+ATE+D.
  • Fill in overdue pattern (8) [NYT 7/10, Arbesfeld]
    • This is a great split both in terms of the word and the surface, with almost all the parts signaling something other than what’s expected: TEMP+LATE.
  • Determined soldier is behind a barrier (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • “Behind” seems like such a casual word, but it’s doing work in this surface, not just conjuring the sense of defending a foxhole or barricade in a war, but giving the cryptic direction (literally) in the sense of where the word for “soldier” goes: A+DAM+ANT.

Container

  • Notices in a station where you can’t find a bar (4,4) [NYT 7/10, Arbesfeld]
    • If you’ve ever lost service in a subway, you probably feel seen by this surface–and that’s what you want a clue to do, acknowledge a story, whether it’s a real one or just a fantasy. DE(ADS)POT.
  • Steal from king, getting arrested by one of the brass (6) [Keynesian #134]
    • I joked about this on stream the other night, but I really do feel that as much as we joke about every word potentially being an anagrind (anagram indicator), every time I turn around, especially in UK puzzles, there’s a new and unexpected abbreviation. R for king, in this case, comes from an abbreviation of Rex, and it pairs really well with “one of the brass,” the kind that can arrest you–musically: BU(R)GLE.

Deletion

  • Ignoring start of recipe, set fire to something in the oven? (3) [Cryptic Keepers, herzwesten & joeadultman]
    • If you’re cooking, might as well go all the way–that kind of dedication will never make me cross, only hot: BU[-r]N.
  • Letter’s grammar not right at all (5) [Browser 80, Pasco]
    • I appreciate that there’s no ambiguity here about which “right” to remove–I wonder if anybody would accept “all wrong” as an indicator along the same lines: G[-r]AMMA[-r].
  • Submit letter without introduction (5) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • Very different type of “letter” here, and that’s why cryptics have so much capacity to delight and surprise: [-r]ENTER.
  • House where bad guy drops in (5) [NYT 7/10, Arbesfeld]
    • So neat to find natural phrases that cue the specific deletions you want, like “drops in”: VILLA[-in].

Double Definition

  • Cook up something sweet (5) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]This is an absolutely criminal definition for “cook up” and that juxtaposition between meanings of FUDGE slays for me.
  • Found a description of a ladybug? (7) [“Something to Believe In,” Juff]
    • Ladybugs are cute, especially for bugs, and so is this clue, especially when seen in the right way: SPOTTED.
  • Dwelling appreciates (4) [OOLF 119, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • Slang to the rescue here, allowing for this terse housing market observation: DIGS.

Heteronym/Pun

Maybe this is why I felt a little off this week? I like to laugh, and this is the surefire category for that–and I found nothing here.

Homophone

Massaged, we heard, for a nice way to feel (6) [NYT 7/10, Arbesfeld]

This definition, “a nice way to feel,” is really strong, with “feel” in particular linking the two sounds of NEEDED /kneaded/.

Spoonerism

These always make me laugh, but they are admittedly obvious, at least in terms of indication, so I guess I understand constructors pulling back from this category.

&lit

Show putting on risqué act! (7) [Cryptic Keepers, herzwesten & joeadultman]

Love this, full stop. What a joy that this wordplay came together, with “show” as the lynchpin holding it all together–by being held: CA(BARE)T* (*act).

Letter Bank

Still a relatively newer cryptic convention, I think, a heightened anagram popularized by Spelling Bee fanatics, perhaps; either way, nothing new here to report this week.

Combination

  • Mix-tape with excellent content (2,5) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • Just a butter smooth use of both “mixtape” and “content” here–my only regret is that the former had that unnecessary hyphen: ATPE*+ACE (*tape).
  • Drugs reportedly found after endless revolutionary rave in swinger’s bar (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • How good and confident is “swinger’s bar” here? So much so that I’m fine with the partial homophone it requires: ][-y]TRAP]<+ESE /Es/. Also: some fire reversal indicators here.
  • Rule from university–zero have incomplete/withdrawn (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • It’s a terse but ultimately clean surface, suggesting that students at this prestigious school are not allowed to have incompletes or to withdraw, an especially fine find given that neither is actually collegiate related in the wordplay MIT+Z+[[-e]VAH]<.
  • Spy going around queen’s guards (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • I love the change in part of speech here with “spy”; imagine if “guards” had also been doing the same! This is cute and tight: [KEEP]<+ER’S.
  • In real life, rings kept in folded cloth might be treasure (8) [Keynesian #134]
    • A mix of new and old bits and pieces collide here, inside a possibly borrowed “folded cloth”: the only thing missing from HE(IRL+OO)M is something blue.

Miscellaneous

  • Singer jokingly mangling obsolete dinosaur in progressive quarters (8) [P&A May/June 2022, Brume]
    • Just as I get myself used to things like “intermittently” and “prime” and other fun letter extraction mechanisms, I see this one, “progressive quarters.” I even think the surface kind of works–I’m picturing a liberal singer sending up Barney: JO+NG+LE+UR.
  • Avoids chewiness? (7) [New Yorker 7/10/22, Fogarty]
    • I love a rebus, especially one that allows a two-word clue to not be a double definition: here it’s ESCHEWS: chew in ess.

Beats Me

  • Capture enemy’s vessel (6) [Keynesian #134]
    • So I see the hidden answer here as TUREEN, but is a self-indication like this OK?
  • Fragrant tip of daffodil at setting around head of table (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • I see all the elements for SCEN(T)E+D, but I’m not quite sure how the “tip of daffodil” gets to the end of the wordplay unless “at setting” is somehow doubling?
  • Block press section? First answer to one in undercover suit? (7) [“Slumber Party,” Liari]
    • No idea here. I think the word is JAM+P+ANS, and “block” and “answer” both read clear to me, but having both “section” and “first” seems unnecessary, and I don’t know the word in question well enough to recognize whether this ? clue accurately describes it.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #391: ANTHEM

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

  • Reckless management of deadlier variant, at first (9)
  • Stunt pilot’s flying formation contributed to deadlier accident (9)
  • Reckless lead diver gets the bends (9)
  • Invited wrong superhero, perhaps (9)
  • Stuntman tamed live adder (9)

And mine: 

  • America’s Next Top Model returns–wait, really?–clothed in something patriotic? (6)

A reminder that I stream Mondays at 9:00 EST, so if you can’t wait until next week to see me recap highlights from Juff’s stunning new midi, Jack Keynes’s D&D-themed puzzle, or Danny Reichert’s AVCX debut, you can see the whole thing here (https://www.twitch.tv/thecrosswordscholar), including the debut of FLEXICON as a word.

As always, if you have recommendations about features–either on Twitch or this blog–let me know! I’m particularly looking to highlight constructors and venues I haven’t previously covered: Maya of Aukland, teamcrazymatt, StJtB, Elgel–even if I can’t finish the puzzle without help, it’s still sure to be a learning experience for you and me, and that’s the whole point.

Cryptic Roundup #20

It’s been a busy week, and I’ve started the first of several collaborations, which I’m rather excited to sharing with you all down the road. It’s a great learning experience–as, of course, is solving and being exposed to all of the excellent clues I encountered between Monday (6/28) and Sunday (7/3). I’ve got 10 puzzles and a total of 343 clues for you, in this order:

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.
  • 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.

Recommendations:

As always, every puzzle here is worth a look, but if you have limited time, the latest Rackenfracker, “Rock Bands,” is very good (though through no fault of its own, a few clues may be triggering), the D&D theme and grid design of Steve Mossberg’s Square Chase #13 is very nice. I also really like the Alphabetical Jigsaw format, so check out that (free) Mossberg puzzle as well.

Favorite surfaces (by predominant cryptic category):

Reversal

Returning students commit an error (4,2) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]

There’s no rule that says a reversed word needs to be the same number of words as the answer, and it’s fun to turn one word into two (or three) with wordplay. The surface here is clean and elegant, at least until the education system improves: students (and adults!) are known to [SLIP UP]<.

Hidden

  • “The Bill of Rights protects this caliber type constitutionally” (7) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • Timeliness, certainly not cleanliness, is the closest a cryptic surface can get to godliness, because however smoothly it may read generically, the specificity of a moment lends it that extra bit of strength. Uvalde only reinforces the frustrating truth of this statement, wherein caLIBER TYpe is mistakenly shoved down the barrel of a gun.
  • Little snip of a comedienne addresses the Supreme Court, e.g. (6) [July 2022 Harper’s, Maltby]
    • The comment above applies to this clue as well–it’s less specific, sure, but the thought of a female comedian–and how perfectly put is “little snip”?–facing these Supremes in this time is powerful: comediENNE ADdresses.
  • Spoke to Dietrich, offering low-carb weight-loss plan (4,4) [New Yorker 7/3, Berry]
    • Apolitical clues are fine, too! I like that this one evokes, at first, some sort of German accent of a homophone clue (we saw “Zinc” for “sink” last week), but is actually a hidden: SpoKE TO DIETrich.

Anagram

  • In the U.S., aim to alter history, etc. (10) [Everyman 3951]
    • I promise, I’ll stop mentioning politics when they stop being so relevant. Just a very good find here, and I’ll quietly mourn this: Oh, the HUMANITIES* (*In the U.S., aim).
  • Overt maneuvering for key political figure (5) [OOLF #118, Kosman & Picciotto]
    • As I said, I’ll stop when this stuff becomes less relevant; hint: it won’t, and that’s why these types of surfaces work so well. Love this definition, by the way: put the power back where it should be, with the VOTER* (*Overt).
  • A cargo ship damaged ancient Egyptian vessels (10) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • A very smooth surface here, with a too-plausible scenario of breakage: SARCOPHAGI* (*A cargo ship).
  • Fancy Yanks like boas (5) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • “Like boas” is just perfect here, as is “Fancy,” neither of which is quite operating in the sense you’d expect: SNAKY* (*Yanks).
  • Contrived neologisms bringing misery (10) [Everyman 3951]
    • I find myself appreciating perfect anagrams–particularly long ones–a lot more these days, now that I’ve dabbled in construction myself. It’s not that hard to turn a long word into a few shorter ones by rearranging letters, but discovering longer words that become other equally long other words and capturing them both in a fun surface? It’s lovely technique, just the thing for getting rid of GLOOMINESS* (*neologism).

Charade

  • Cutesy “Star Wars” alien? Ugh, fine (4) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • No need to ever clue this word again. As someone who watched both live-action movies as a kid, this is the best surface you’ll ever get: one half “ugh,” one half “fine” for EW+OK.
  • In ballet shoe, end of toe to swell (7) [Beneath the Surface 13, Dolan]
    • The elegance of this clue fits the elegance that it describes. The difference, I hope, is that while ballet often carries a physical cost for that grace, a good clue should at worst provoke carpal tunnel: IN+FLAM+E.
  • Ultimately tossed logical conclusion out? (2’2) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • I’m in the camp that approves of using acronyms as charade components; even if I weren’t, this surface sense makes it all worthwhile–give me that D+QED.
  • Deteriorating butt restraint (10) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • Look, sometimes a concept is just funny. If this clue got you, even for a minute, to picture a butt restraint, it did its duty: RAM+SHACKLE.

Container

  • Manicurist at times holding piece of light padding (6) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]
    • I admire a cryptic clue that looks like it’s just describing a normal thing. If you’ve ever been in a salon, this is what you’ve seen. FI(L)LER, this clue is not!
  • Dodge launderer’s money flooding half of African nation? (3,4) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • A very, very well-deserved ? for this definition had me confused for a long while, as did the use of “flooding,” but it’s good: CA(RWA[-nda])SH.
  • Rise to throttle comedian, a wise guy (4-2-3) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • All I can think about is Joe Pesci’s “Funny like a clown” speech, and I’m living for it. I will add that “Rise” is a wonderfully misleading sense here: KNO(WIT+A)LL.
  • Embarrassed about diverting money from the IRS, maybe (6) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]
    • I don’t know that I’d be embarrassed to do this these days, but this is a wonderful split of “diverting money”: RE(FUN)D.

Deletion

  • After the kickoff, didn’t pass and fared poorly (5) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • Like politics, sports lends itself naturally to cryptic clues because it’s so universal, even if solvers might not be up on all the individual terminology (see: UK references to cricket). This is just an outstanding description of a football game: [-f]AILING.
  • Showing sensitivity, using clear thinking after company leaves (6) [“Independence,” July 2022 WSJ, Cox & Rathvon]
    • Even though I think I’m the opposite here–I can say some very stupid and thoughtless things when I’m all alone–I love the sense here: [-co]GENTLY.

Double Definition

  • It makes a kiss feel fresh and pristine (4) [Rackenfracker #7]
  • Therapists’ contracts (7) [Everyman 3951]
    • Two very different approaches here, both good. The first is the more deceptive approach, in that longer clues tend not to be double definitions–which pays dividends when they are (MINT). The second is as terse as you can be, banking on solvers not being able to find the common synonym, especially if its used in two entirely different senses (SHRINKS).

Heteronym/Pun

  • Place to work out one’s pronouns (4) [Square Chase 13, Mossberg]
    • I hear it is, in fact, fun to go to this place, whether it’s to flex muscles or pronouns: THE Y.
  • Optimistic, like composer Philip midway through a meal (5,4,4) [Beneath the Surface 13, Dolan]
    • Given his music, I tend to think of this composer as a very dour fellow, so the idea of a GLASS HALF FULL brightens my day, likely as intended.

Homophone

  • Reported slaughterhouse product loss unfortunately happened (6) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • You hate to see it, but you love to hear it–“L” for “loss” is particularly inspired: BEFELL /beef L/.
  • Superfluous sound not mixed manually (8) [July 2022 Harper’s, Maltby]
    • Oh, I love the break of “Superfluous” and “sound” and the auditory component, all of which fits so well in the musical realm: UNNEEDED /unkneaded/.

Spoonerism

  • Heart repair operation after Rev. Spooner fills his mouth with pie (this fellow has a wide mouth) (6) [Rackenfracker #7]
  • Spooner’s Frank Herbert-themed shakeable word game: waste of money (10) [Browser 79, Goodchild]
    • I’ve come to the conclusion that a Spoonerism is the comic relief of a cryptic crossword. It’s an obvious device that cuts the tension just when you need it to–and the wordplay’s not bad either! You can’t tell me that the base sounds for BYPASS /pie bass/ and BOONDOGGLE /Dune Boggle/ don’t bring a smile to your face!

&lit

These are admittedly hard to craft; the few I saw didn’t thrill me. Sorry!

Letter Bank

These remain rare, and the one I saw (which was very good!) was the revealer of a themed OOLF puzzle and wouldn’t make any sense here out of context. Shucks!

Combination

  • Legislators game system during recession, rates unrestricted (6) [Square Chase 13, Mossberg]
    • Gosh, “game system” in this context is just so smooth. Politics really encompasses everything in a cryptic, doesn’t it? SEN[<]+[-r]ATE[-s].
  • #throwbackthursday initially has a good following (7) [Beneath the Surface 13, Dolan]
    • If you’ve never seen punctuation used this way before, you’re welcome! It’s that sort of delightful surprise we all crave from a cryptic: HAS+HT[<]+A+G.
  • Fish carrying club card, something many fish don’t have (6) [New Yorker 7/3, Berry]
    • Nonsense surfaces work if they lean far enough into the surreal, as they do here, with the thought of a fish with something exclusive (in its fish wallet, I guess?): E(Y)EL+ID.
  • Mom’s left, interrupting topless live holiday production (4,4) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • This one’s playful yet serious: I’m picturing a mother who discovers, belatedly, that she’s brought her kids to a burlesque holiday show instead of the family friendly one down the street. “Holiday production” as a definition really anchors this: [-e]X(MA’S+L)IST.
  • Idle role-playing around tech department (6) [Square Chase 13, Mossberg]
    • I’m almost positive that this was a constraint: Mossberg, doing a D&D puzzle, had to use “role-playing” in there somewhere. That he’s talented enough to still use it this way delights me to no end: LO(IT)ER* (*role).
  • Retrospective spoils Fritz Lang movie Fury (5) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • I didn’t realize, initially, the extra layer to this one, in that Fury is also a Fritz Lang movie and not just a 2014 Brad Pitt film. Works either way, though: STOR[<]+M.
  • Propose touring an awfully boring BBQ spot (3,1,4,2,2) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • This surface surprises at every turn. “Touring” isn’t the anagram indicator. “Boring” isn’t part of a charade. “Propose,” not “BBQ spot” is the definition! Quelle surprise; if I like this clue this much, why don’t I P(UT A RING ON*)IT? Sorry, I love my wife more.
  • As expected, cut for fear that it’s boring to the max (7) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • Here’s boring again, but in a different sense: DUL[-y]+LEST. Look at these surface breaks!

Miscellaneous

  • Rest area among prime contributors to road slipups? (5) [Rackenfracker #7]
  • Plays with mode of thermostat and furnace (7) [Rackenfracker #7]
    • For a creative constructor, there are so many ways to select the bits and pieces that you need for an answer. “Prime” is a math-y way to indicate the second, third, fifth, seventh, and eleventh (etc.) letters of a phrase: OASIS. I’m sure “According to Fibonacci” isn’t far behind, if it hasn’t already been employed. “Mode” is in that camp, too, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a puzzle: it generally selects the thing used the most in a set–in this case, for “thermostat,” it’s a T, giving us the very clever T+HEATER.
  • “Kingdom Hearts” in artfully tinged revival (5) [SQP153, Mossberg]
    • I don’t actually love the Kingdom Hearts series–from a surface sense, it just mashes up Disney stories with JRPG fantasy characters with little care for how they go together. (A cryptic writer could surely teach them a better means of construction.) Here, split misleading through that end quotation mark, I love it: the hearts are FU+NG+I, and that’s definitely not the kingdom the game refers to.
  • One who got pulled into a war? (6) [July 2022 Harper’s, Maltby]
    • I think this is a cryptic definition? I’m never quite sure. I had initially wanted this to be TUGGER, as in like, a game of tug of war, and I think that latter part is still true. The answer, however, is YANKEE, as in the opposite of a yanker.

Beats Me

  • Clever clogs (Sting that is) (7) [Everyman 3951]
    • The wordplay is clear: SMART+I.E. Is “clogs” slang for something? I assume it’s there to help make more sense of the surface, but it’s only confusing me.
  • Abundance, supply: holy, kind Amen (4,3,5) [Everyman 3951]
    • Not being a religious person, I didn’t know the phrase in question (MILK AND HONEY). Seeing it now makes me think of a letter bank, but this phrase repeats an N, so….
  • That man’s attention is on capital investments? (11) [Everyman 3951]
    • I know the answer is HE+ADDRESS, and I think that’s the charade, but I just don’t follow the definitional work here.
  • Former Test captain getting boundary, loudly cheer on (4,3) [Everyman 3951]
    • This feels like it’s ROOT FOR, and “loudly” could evoke a homophone, but I see “Test” and “boundary” and assume this is just cricket terminology I don’t know.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #390: DAREDEVIL

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

  • Reckless management of deadlier variant, at first (9)
  • Stunt pilot’s flying formation contributed to deadlier accident (9)
  • Reckless lead diver gets the bends (9)
  • Invited wrong superhero, perhaps (9)
  • Stuntman tamed live adder (9)

And mine: 

  • Marvel’s Matt Murdock is oddly reviled while supporting District Attorney (9)

I’ll be streaming as usual later tonight (whenever the kid goes to bed); I want to continue trying out different puzzles on stream to give everyone a wider vocabulary on outlets and styles, so I’ll probably dig into this week’s Everyman and the rare New York Times-published cryptic (you’d think this site would take this format at least as seriously as the New Yorker or WSJ and make this a weekly or monthly feature).

Cryptic Roundup #19

I put out a call to collaborate with people and, no surprise given how welcoming the community’s been, you should see some much-improved cluing from me over the next month. It did, however, slow me down a bit so I’m once again on a delay: this roundup is for the week of Monday 6/21 to Sunday 6/27. In that time, I tackled the following 9 puzzles and 251 clues, plus Francis Heaney’s magnificent LGBTQIA+, a convention-defying variety puzzle with so much surface shenanigans (extraneous letters AND words) that I can’t quote any of the clues. You must solve it, though!

As always, MPC above stands for “minutes per clue,” which is my assessment of how long it took me to get through the grid. PJ stands for “personal joy” and is an entirely subjective measure of how many individual clues delighted me in both surface and wordplay. And finally D is just “difficulty,” which is a simple average found from rating each clue somewhere between a 1 (simple) to 5 (complex) based on the number of cryptic mechanisms employed, the stretchiness of definitions, and the deviousness of indicators. DNF, for those unfamiliar, means “did not finish,” and if you check the “Beats Me” category below, you’ll see exactly why I got stuck.

The Twitch links are to my weekly Monday @ 9:00 solving stream, where you can come and help me choose what to solve; I’ve also linked to various other Twitch cryptic streams at the bottom of the page, but if anyone has a broadcast that specifically covers one of the above puzzles, feel free to link me to it and I’ll add it to this post.

As I said above, the all-star this week is Francis Heaney’s LGBTQIA+ puzzle, but if you’re looking for a standard grid, guest contributor Matthew Guerrieri makes the most of his time in Out of Left Field #117 and Trent Evans continues to do interesting things with charades with Cryptic Interpretation #4.

Reversal

Revolutionary supercomputer breaks down plot line (5,3) [Cryptic Interpretation 4, Evans]

I suspect I’m not alone in never having heard of this supercomputer before, but it’s the mark of a good surface (as with a good crossing in a standard American crossword) that it’s not only inferable from the cluing but does well with the actual sense in an age of DALL-E minis and machine-learning bots that write the most wonderfully terrible stuff: (STOR+YARC)<.

Hidden

  • Being somewhat high-minded, I blessed foodstuffs (7) [Everyman 3950]
    • The “rule” with cryptics (as always, meant to be broken) is that the straight clue and cryptic clue must be entirely separate (or entirely together, as with an &lit). But there’s nothing against one part of the clue echoing the other, as with the use of “high” here in high-mindED I BLESsed.
  • Part of Martha Stewart’s expedition (5) [Cryptic Interpretation 4, Evans]
    • If this were something Martha Stewart were known for, this would be a perfect clue; as it’s, it’s just a very funny one: martHA STEwart.
  • Part of grosser pseudonym written backward for Starbucks order (8) [LEO #6, Payne]
    • There’s a whole internet subculture about… getting baristas to write funny things (or misinterpreting your serious things) on coffee orders. Gross things are funny–grOSSER PSEudonym–and this is a well-found hidden.

Anagram

  • Wavering: Do we pick sundae for dessert? (6-4,4) [OOLF #117, Guerrieri]
    • I’ve been learning just how difficult long anagrams are to do lately, so extra appreciation for one that works so smoothly and references a different dessert to boot: UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE* (*Do we pick sundae).
  • Cost is adjusted for cool people (6) [Loplop #008, Ho]
    • I’m personally tired of “cool” people–celebrities and so-called influencers–getting things for free or discount. (That said, if anybody wants to send me some sweet cryptic merch that I can talk about, I’m absolutely game ^_0.) I love that this clue is only superficially about such superficial people: STOICS* (*Cost is).
  • It’s used for pumping reggae with sun out (6,3) [Everyman 3950]
    • Perfect misdirect on “used for pumping [music],” and if I spotted it quickly, it’s probably just because I haven’t been out long enough to really experience this on a beach in a few years now: GREASE GUN* (*reggae, sun).
  • Subjects such as History, English, Classics, on ice regrettably (6,8) [Everyman 3950]
    • As someone who works in the education space, this is indeed regrettable; the seamless split on this surface is not: SOCIAL SCIENCES* (*E, Classics on ice).

Charade

  • Table fed boiled Maine lobster tails (5) [New Yorker 6/26, Pasco]
    • Hungry as I am for cryptics, it is somewhat unfair to make me hungry for food atop that, but this one is tasty through and through: DEF*+[main]E+[lobste]R (*fed).
  • Tea Party figure could be Franken on crystal meth (5) [Cryptic Interpretation 4, Evans]
    • A marvelous political/non-political hybrid of surfaces (with a dash of Breaking Bad) gives us a nice reparsing of AL+ICE.
  • One that falls in love following affair with monsieur (6) [OOLF #117, Guerrieri]
    • I’ve seen this definition before, but the ordering of it really sells it: “in love” comes after “affair with,” and that’s a good way to hide literal bits and pieces: DO+M+IN+O.
  • Stand in middle of elephants, holding up trunk for Queen Elizabeth (5) [OOLF #117, Guerrieri]
    • Given how often “Queen Elizabeth” or the like gets used as an abbreviation in a charade, I really appreciate it instead being used simply to hint at us needing a British word for “trunk”–especially clever since we’re already thinking of “trunk” in the sense of an elephant: BOOT+[elep]H[ants].
  • Apple product put something on label for a network device (2,7) [LEO #6, Payne]
    • Very strong reparsing here, with an unexpectedly non-tech component: IPAD+DRESS.
  • Save a lot for video game controllers (7) [Cryptic Interpretation 4, Evans]
    • Great use of “save” here: BUT+TONS. As someone working on a video-game cryptic, I am jealous that Evans got to this clue first.

Container

  • Move back and forth, perhaps, cuddling wife (4) [Mother Goose, Liari]
  • Nothing upsets snuggling love birds (7) [Mother Goose, Liari]
  • Chef consuming hot, hot fish (7) [Mother Goose, Liari]
    • I haven’t solved enough of Liari’s puzzles yet to know what type of mechanic she prefers–I know she’s great at figuring out anagrams–but this particular puzzle had a wild variety of somewhat amorous container indicators: cuddling, snuggling–even consuming. The first is the most straightforward, S(W)AY, with a nice use of “perhaps,” and the others find multiple ways for “O” as fill or “hot” in the clue: O+RI(O)LES and C(H+IN)OOK.
  • “About wearing pants, Daddy and Papa…” (7) [Browser #78, Zawistowski]
    • First off, I really like the use of “Daddy and Papa” here. I know there’s a vocal minority of people who want “politics” out of their puzzles–I just love to see life, in all its forms (and synonyms) reflected here. Second, this is just a funny surface, one that you can complete with your own imagination. Finally, what a neat cryptic sense: PA(RE)NTS.

Double Definition

Cuddling and giving bites (8) [Loplop #008, Ho]

Liari and Ho were on similar wavelengths this week, perhaps, or maybe we’re all just looking for ways to add a little romance to our puzzles: here are two very different senses of the word that come together for a united surface in SPOONING.

Heteronym/Pun

  • Switch off ad for diplomats? (6) [OOLF #117, Guerrieri]
    • I’m laughing at this one as I imagine Beavis and Butthead would: heh-heh, plug. I’m also wishing–with all the political ads I’ve been getting–wishing that this were a thing I could so easily do: UN PLUG.
  • Corroborate order to get some distance from Paddington? (4,3) [Everyman 3950]
    • Fast as I was to cotton onto which Paddington we were speaking of (OK, look, Paddington 2 is an absolute delight, and the first’s good as well), it took me a long time to see the imperative split here–very, very solid: BEAR, OUT!

Homophone

  • Vendor said to be filthier (6) [Loplop #008, Ho]
    • I think I mentioned something about gross clues earlier in this round-up; this is a very different kind, but it’s also comic gold: GROCER /grosser/.
  • Limit closing broadcast (7) [Mother Goose, Liari]
    • As I learned from G.I. Joe oh so many Saturday morning cartoons ago, “knowledge is only half the battle.” With only three words, one of them a very clear homophone indicator, I was pretty sure of the parse, but I was not expecting this brilliant connection between “limit” and “closing”: CEILING /sealing/.
  • Going rate of legendary jazz saxophonist not great, I hear (5,4) [Browser #78, Zawistowski]
    • A historically sad but true surface here, in that this musical genius probably didn’t get his full due. What a smart leap here between “Going rate” and the rest of this spoken surface: TRAIN FARE /Trane fair/.

&lit

Not something published digitally! (8) [Loplop #008, Ho]

Some might argue that digital versions of this answer certainly do exist, but as a pen-and-paper purist, they’re just not the same thing. (See also the way Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy once spoke of how we needed different names for umbrellas and “broken umbrellas,” which serve different functions and are their own distinct, unmodified objects.) I digress: here we have the NOT+EBOOK.

Letter Bank

Cat, monkey, and birds playing repeatedly in old children’s rhyme (6,3,6,3,5,2,5) [Mother Goose, Liari]

Not only did this surface allow Liari to mention birds–a favorite of hers–but it’s one of the longest letter banks I’ve seen. 14 unique letters, 30 letters in all: what an amazing find: cat monkey birds > STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES.

Combination

  • Moodier mob member abandoning gun at first, taking cannoli in the end (8) [New Yorker 6/26, Pasco]
    • This is a God(father)-tier clue, and it takes me for the best possible ride as I add and remove letters: [-g]ANGST(I)ER.
  • Simmering rage toward tax audit starts massive row (7) [OOLF #117, Guerrieri]
    • “Massive row” is a spectacular definition, especially after “rage” works so hard to make you think of a very different kind of “row”: REGA*+T[oward]+T[ax]+A[udit] (*rage).
  • Seat belt keeps retracting: serious concern for a fast driver (5,4) [LEO #6, Payne]
    • The use of that colon and the inherent connection of “serious concern” makes this one sing: S(PEED[<])TRAP.

Miscellaneous

  • Cover over, in a way … in two ways (7) [LEO #6, Payne]
    • I’m not a huge fan of palindromic indicators, but the doubling of “in a way” and “in two ways” more than makes up for it: <REPAPER>.
  • You should see Papa before seeing this city! (6) [Everyman 3950]
    • Use of the NATO phonetic alphabet is what makes this cryptic definition work: QUEBEC.

Definitions Only

Reptile capturing shivering fowl that’s small and cold? (9) [Mother Goose, Liari]

OK, I added a new category because I don’t love this surface (though “shivering” is spot on): a reptile, a fowl? Seems almost random. It’s one parse away from “Reptile consuming owl eating fieldmouse’s head that’s small and cold.” But the DEFINITION is so very good: SN(OWFL*)AKE.

Beats Me

Before we get into all the stuff I don’t know, one thing I’ve learned. There are many ways to represent “O”–love, bagel, nothing–and apparently “duck” is the cricket synonym to add to this list.

  • Local church inclined to sin, for the most part (7) [OOLF #117, Guerrieri]
    • I think this is CH+APTER, with “for the most part” signaling a comparative rather a deletion, and “sin” a superfluous addition that bolsters the surface sense?
  • A nation with naval strength, we’re told: it’s in the mains (2,5) [Everyman 3950]
    • Not familiar with the slang here for “the mains,” but it’s a tricky homophone either way: AC POWER /a sea power/.
  • Be alert: noted gang leader upset over stabbing (4,5) [Cryptic Interpretation 4, Evans]
    • The first part’s the definition, I see that, but I had never heard of this specific (musical) gang leader and “stabbing” is doing some tricky gerunding here: (LOOK)<+SHARP.
  • Top 10 starts with “Crazy” (4) [LEO #6, Payne]
    • I didn’t realize that “crazy” worked in that sense (though I’ve heard the term “Go ___”), and the literal mis-direction threw me off that Roman numeral: APE+X.
  • Messenger remains outside before circling block (7,6) [Keynesian #132]
    • Is “pig” slang for “block”? It was already a tough double container and broad definition: CARRI(ER(PIG)E)ON.
  • Metalwork inlaid in lockbox (6) [Keynesian #132]
    • I think we’ve got some compound trickery here, with “W” perhaps being put inside a word for “lockbox”: PE(W)TER?
  • Mediocre rank’s second chevron covers worn-out patch of clothing (7) [Keynesian #132]
    • Is this a letter substitution? With like a “V” for a visual chevron replacing the second letter: A{c/V}ERAGE? I see C in “patch of clothing” but can’t quite bring it home.
  • Fool student cracking joke (4) [Keynesian #132]
    • Is a “cod” a slang for a joke? I buy “cracking” as a container indicator: C(L)OD.
  • Regiment attends base drill (8) [Keynesian #132]
    • I’m stuck thinking that there’s an abbreviation for “regiment” here for something like RE+HEARS+E or REHE+ARSE?
  • Wings in painting rejected by cathedral (6) [Keynesian #132]
    • Not sure I like “by” as a reason to put a reversed painting after a cathedral–lots of stuff I’m not familiar with here: ELY+(TRA)<.
  • Tip: crusts of loaf unhealthy? (8) [Keynesian #132]
    • This is a neat (and very tricky) rebus, but is “tip” a common British term for the answer? L AND F+ILL.

1Across Weekly Crossword Contest (1ACCWC) #389 – SCARLET

Remember: all of these clues have the same answer. See if you can figure out what it is, and consider submitting to the contest yourself next week, variety being the spice of life and all.

  • Will the English outlaw organized cartels? (7)
  • Reddish, smallish blemish? (7)
  • Sommelier initially mixed up claret and another type of red (7)
  • Hot climax leaves Black Widow actress flushed (1)
  • Red clarets? Fantastic! (7)

And a bit of a stretch with “on” from me:

  • Shameful letter penned on NASCAR letterhead (7)

I know it’s the 4th, but I don’t feel like celebrating my country right now, so maybe I’ll see some of you at my weekly stream tonight, where you can help me choose which puzzles for my next roundup I should solve live.