Refrain from singing? [7]

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

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

Big figure in Manhattan? [4]

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

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

Play award? [4]

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

Wait in a strategic location, in video game lingo [4]

Some day, I’m sure I’ll be a curmudgeonly solver complaining about all the new and despicable slang that’s popping up in my puzzles, but not when it comes to video games. At least here the answer is a real word and possibly even one that can be inferred: to wait in a specific area for your victim to respawn or to come through a narrow chokepoint so that you can kill them is to CAMP.

  • Erik Agard, The New York Times, 5/25/17

Initialism whose third initial often isn’t true [4]

Here’s one of those clues that is even funnier because of just how true it is in this false-faced, anonymously rude Internet age. If someone adds IMO (In My Opinion) to a post, you can take it at face value–they’re just covering their bases. But if someone says IMHO, you can bet there’s nothing humble about it.

  • Michael Hawkins, The New York Times, 5/24/17

Regional coverage plan? [11]

It’s all in the parsing here: when we’re talking about “regional coverage,” we’re talking about covering a specific area. The word “plan” suggests a type of strategy. Get those two concepts in the proximity of sports, and the answer becomes clear: ZONE DEFENSE.

  • Paolo Pasco and David Steinberg, The New York Times, 5/20/17

Sleepy number [7]

I was convinced for the longest time that this was something lingerie related. Even when I realized that “number” was referring to a sort of song, I kept thinking about genres rather than any one specific song. The key here is that Sleepy is a proper name, referring to one of the seven dwarfs–his most famous song is probably HEIGH HO.

  • Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun, 5/13/17

Otorhinolaryngologist, in 18 fewer letters [3]

This one could’ve been clued without the “in 18 fewer letters” kicker, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as funny that way. Credit to the clue then for finally calling out what we’ve all long thought about the good old Ear, Nose & Throat doctor–they’re ENTs, not an unpronounceable 21-letter word.

  • Matt Gaffney, The Wall Street Journal Daily Crossword, 5/12/17