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Variety: Cryptic Crossword

Sep 30, 2023


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Richard Silvestri comes in hot with a difficult puzzle.

By Caitlin Lovinger

CRYPTIC CROSSWORD — This is Richard Silvestri’s 50th cryptic crossword for The New York Times, and I hope you’re up for a challenge! I usually expect a major obstacle here or there in a cryptic, not a cliff face that offers one toehold at a time. I actually solved the whole puzzle bottom to top, after feeling a real frisson of panic when I approached the clue set and found absolutely nothing to go on. Even in retrospect, the puzzle is marvelously tough.

However, it’s also airtight — not a stray word, and every clue is a logical equation that you just have to separate into its parts. To that end, know your clue types (or open a cryptic glossary on a new tab for reference) and gear up to match wits with a brilliant construction.

1A. Right away, we get a hard-to-decipher little clue that requires knowledge of two uncommon words that differ by a single letter. To solve “Modest object, English,” consider “object” as the verb, rather than the noun. It’s “demur,” not to be confused with DEMURE, or “modest,” which adds the “e” from the third word in the clue, “English.” “Demur” and DEMURE are apparently unrelated, if you were wondering (I was).

4A. Then, we get another uncommon word for an entry — it’s a debut word in the Times crossword, in fact — and another very difficult clue. “A follower without polish” is a charade that breaks down bizarrely. “A follower” is B, the letter that follows A; “without” is LACKING; and the entry is BLACKING, “polish” like a shoeshine boy might have used in the 1920s. Talk about obscure.

11A. This is actually one of the milder charades in this puzzle, which is a little terrifying because it’s no picnic. However, its definition is specific and guessable, and the directions to get there make sense. “It overturned the payment to the church” splits in half. “It overturned” becomes TI, or the letters in “it” reversed; then add THE to get TITHE, a “Payment to the church.”

13A. Trivia plays a part in cryptic crosswords, but it’s usually in a supporting role to wordplay, the big star. This clue is an exception: “Actress Hart to perform various roles” solves to DOLORES, “do” (or perform) plus LORES, an anagram of “roles.” I had never heard of DOLORES Hart, who made it in Hollywood and then became a nun in Connecticut.

16A. “Glittery object — small, soft fish” misdirected me. I made a running list of “fish” in my mind like gar, carp and so on, when the reference is actually to the verb. The entry is SPANGLE: S for “small,” P for “soft” (or piano, in musical notation) and ANGLE for “fish.”

19A. I found this one of the most difficult clues to solve — impossible without its crossing letters and some flexibility. “A place to sleep with Ontario neighbor and other friends” had me thinking about Canadian provinces like Manitoba and Quebec, when the “neighbor” in question is Lake ERIE. With a “place to sleep,” or COT, this entry is “other friends”: one’s COTERIE.

21A. If you got to this clue soon after solving 16A, it might have quickly made sense. “Audible quiet bit” uses P for “quiet,” instead of “soft’’ makes it plural, then solves to a homophone: The entry is PIECE.

23A. This is another doozy, but it’s so fun when a great clue like this untangles. “Ford model has to chill out among Cockneys” is a Ford MUSTANG; MUST (“has to”) with ANG, as in “hang out,” if you’re chilling in “Cockney” dialect.

25A. The key to figuring out this three-part charade, “One termite originally consumed transparent material,” is that “One” is a playing card reference to an ace. Add the first “t” in “termite” (“originally” is the tip-off for that) and ate for “consumed” to get ACETATE, a “transparent material.” I solved this completely backward, guessing the answer from the definition at the end of the clue and reverse-engineering the equation.

28A. In a tough cryptic, I utter an “Aah” of relief for every anagram. This one isn’t bad — shuffle the letters in the first two words of “Rains came unexpectedly for people in the United States” to get AMERICANS.

29A. “Commander left a door unhinged somewhere in the West” is another well-concealed charade, with an anagram tossed in, as indicated by “unhinged”. Take CO from “Commander,” add L for “left” and tack on the letters in “a door” to get COLORADO, which is “somewhere in the West.”

30A. “Inclined to be conductor around New England” is a container clue. Take a word for “be conductor” — lead — and wrap it around N.E., for “New England,” to get a word for “Inclined”: LEANED.

2D. The end of this clue is a homophone indicator: “Spots Groucho in the audience” solves to MARKS, which are “Spots” that sound like “Marx,” for “Groucho.”

3D. “One with no illusions about top celebrities” is a good clue for demonstrating a charade, since the definition comes first and it’s highly guessable. The entry is REALIST, or “about” — RE — with “top celebrities,” members of the A-LIST.

5D. I had three of five letters in place for this entry from crossing entries: L _ R _ D. “Sensational thing that’s flipped around ancient city” lent itself to LURID, for “Sensational,” but why? Oh, of course. The “thing that’s flipped” is LID, as in, “I flipped my lid a few times while solving this puzzle. How about you?” Then, obviously, the “ancient city” is UR — good old UR.

6D. The names in this clue, “Kitty and Albert try to return mail-order book,” rang a bell to me for the longest time before I figured out what they reminded me of (a museum, completely irrelevant to the answer to this clue). For “Kitty,” think CAT; for “Albert,” think AL. At this point, the answer has to be CATALOG, which means that “try” translates to “go,” in reverse (“to return”).

7D. This clue, a treacherous anagram, is hard to pin down, even with crossing letters. To solve “Step in one, maybe ten? Never,” the definition is “Step in,” and the entry starts with the letter I, for “one,” and ends in the letters from “ten” and “never”: INTERVENE.

8D. This clue is tougher to parse than to solve, in my opinion, because of a clever double entendre. “Slick Greek child’s play” solves to GREASE. At first, I thought this was a reference to the “play” (actually a musical, and then a movie). But the definition in the clue is “Slick,” and the entry is derived from the GR in “Greek” and EASE, which is a meaning for “child’s play.”

10D. The solution to this clue is hidden within it: “Padre’s sermon covers article of furniture” is a DRESSER.

18D. This is where I got my first toehold, even though the clue is crafty. “Backward Carmine penning poem” could be a reversal (with “Backward” as the indicator) or a container (if “penning” means encircling, rather than writing). It is a container; “Carmine” is red, “poem” is verse and the entry is REVERSED, or “backward.”

21D. Another “Aah”nagram: “Particular fudge recipes” can be solved when you mess with the third word to get a synonym for the first: PRECISE.

22D. This solves to an unusual entry word, as a result of a reversal clue. “Quote me the wrong way — it makes me sick” is “cite me” backward, or “the wrong way”: EMETIC.

26D. “Not a loss, and not for the first time” is a double definition for A GAIN, or AGAIN (and I’d never have seen this without crossing letters).

What did you think?