Saturday, May 17, 2014

Theme and Variations - May 2014

May 2014 | Harper's Cryptic puzzle solution
Welcome to spring, Dear Readers! Love, above-freezing temperatures are in the air!

The Theme

1A and 3D are related, yielding three theme words with two variations each. 1A turns out to be TRIATHLON and 3D IRON MAN und dann the theme words are the three legs of a triathlon:
    variation: kindsa swimming strokes
    • 11D) DOG PADDLE
  • 38A) BIKING
    variation: definition of component word parts
    • 6D) HERMAPHRODITIC (bi)*
    • 21D) MONARCH (king)
    variation: other famous battles
    • 29A) WATERLOO
    • 25D) HASTINGS
*we shall explore why this is tacky at the und


  • 12A) Good going in underwear worn before 50? (5)
    (underwear = BRA) + (50 = (5 = V) + (0 = O)) = BRAVO
Always with the brar always brar brar. And very much dislike this style of breaking up quantities into components, treating them as concatenated strings. It feels bad, and it is bad.

But forgiven for the mature underwear dance party this clue intimates! YUSSS! Bryan Cranston underwear | Breaking Bad | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

Needtit be said? This month's Nerd Hot Guy: Bryan Cranston.
Bryan Cranston headshot in Fast Company | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Sweet portrait via Fast Company

  • 17A) Opening, except for the third word that goes on the next line (5)
    (Opening = WINDOW) * (except for the third [letter]) = WIDOW
Typography nerds! Stand on the next line and rejoice!
typography: orphans and widows | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 18A) Seafood ring served in concessions (8)
    (ring = CALL) in (concessions = SOPS) = SCALLOPS
Scallops used to be our favorite seafood. Yum. And favorite line from the translation of Ulysses we read in seventh grade: “Blast and damn / must I be a milksop all my life?”

  • 23A) Pedantic gossip carries on—one's heart follows (7)
    (gossip = DISH) + ON + (one's heart = N) = DONNISH
don•nish [don-ish]

resembling or characteristic of a university don; bookish; pedantic.

Got this one and was like, “ ... do they ever make donnish puns in Mad Men?”
Funny you should ask, I *am* DONNISH
  • 24A) Heads off a ghost (5)
    HEADS * anagram = SHADE
Mmmm1!!!! Now this is what we love. Pure. Tight. Clean. Narrative.

Also very much enjoy when a likely indicator instead serves as anagrind. Delightful.
Disney's Sleepy Hollow | Headless horseman | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 31A) Turned up, I rutted in depravity (9)
    UP I RUTTED * anagram = TURPITUDE
Mwa! Anagramas! We loves! Always appreciate sex-positive references to perversions and depravity. TURNT UP!
I don't always turn up, but when I do ... [volume at 11]
  • 35A) Loaded in electric heater (4)
    electRIC Heater = RICH
Nice wordspanner.
  • 45A) Profligacy in various sexes describing Second Coming? (8)
    (SEXES * anagram) + (SEC * reverse) = EXCESSES
Liked this one, as usual, for 1) anagram 2) narrative. What always love. What love every time. Same always. “what good” is “what like.” You know.
  • 1D) Why water isn't hard? What's wrong? (4)
    WHAT * anagram = THAW
Oh very sweet, very nice play on “hard” water, very nice use of idiom. Mwa.
  • 14D) Gussied-up den, set like some tables (6)
    DEN SET * anagram = NESTED
BAHAHA YUSssSS!! Nested tables! If you want to code an email to look the same in every client, like exACTly the same, your choices are to either make the whole thing one giant jpeg and hope ever'body has images turned on, OR nest tables within tables within tables. Web 1.0 didn't go anywhere. Because the people who still use Eudora 1.0 didn't go anywhere. They're not all dead (yet).

Not sure what nested tables mean to a non-coder. Or what they would have meant to us ten years ago. Sure as heyk know what they mean to us now. O the painstaking! O the meticulous!
  • 27D) Miso soup is full of energy—it affects the cells (7)
    (MISO IS + (energy = E)) * anagram = MEIOSIS
Oh HAYLE yes! Ninth grade biology. Much love.
Meiosis | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 39D) Cows members of flock in Episcopalianism (4)
    floK IN Episcopaliamism = KINE
Ohhhhhh YUS in yet another highly specific and not particularly interesting memory from Erica's past: we know the word “kine” because it comes up in some crowd work on Buy Me Bring Me Take Me Don't Mess My Hair ... Life According to Four Bitchin' Babes, V. 1. Megan McDonough sings a song about kine, and explains, at length what “kine” is.

This is the songbook cover for the second line-up of the Four Bitchin' Babes.
Four Bitchin' Babes | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Notable line-up change was swapping in Julie Gold for Patti Larkin. Yes, From a Distance is great. But also yes, Patti Larkin is way better and funnier then alla dem bitches put together. We said it. This paragraph is for the nonexistant Dear Readers who love the Harper's cryptic AND '90s folk music.


  • 9A) Spoken in the past tense, this would make a planet spin (5)
    ((planet = WORLD) * homophone = WHIRLED) - past tense = WHIRL
Ew! Ohhhhhhh so torturous. Bleh.
Imagine whirled peas | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 15A) New or otherwise, it's a second crop of hay (5)
    NEW OR * anagram = ROWEN

a second growth of grass or hay in one season.

Source: Goog
This one was called out in the instructs as uncommon. Yah. Twas uncommon. Meh!
  • 20A) Point of an instant message? (3)
    AIM (double syn.)
Wowee wowee wowee!! 1998 has come to join us in our world.
  • 2D) Before, I never disputed small state of a flower! (8)
    (I NEVER + (small state = RI)) * anagram = RIVERINE
Riverine? Riverine? These uncommons are uncommonly bucolically bluh.

  • 28D) Illness in the ear—took a powder for it (3)
    (took a powder = FLEW) * homophone = FLU
We first learned the phrase “take a powder” by reading IT at a much too young age. “too young” as in “not personally able to absorb without being disturbed, perceiving monsters in the dark, etc.” Another 11-year-old might have been fine. We were not. Anyway the character who grows up to be a driver (Eddie?) talks about taking a powder from his job when he gets the call that the monster resurfaced in his rural Maine hometown. At the time we assumed “a powder” meant “cocaine.”

There's a nice narrative quality to the clue, but “take a powder” = “flew” is weak. Appreciate the (accidental?) association with floo powder, tho.
Floo powder | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 36D) First to last, what's thrown around by gamblers? Getting murdered (4)
    (what's thrown around by gamblers = DICE) * (first [letter] to last) = ICED
Indicator is heavy-handed for a single-translation anagram of a word which is, like, one of the top three most common puzzle words. #PuzzleComplaints

The Tacky!

One and a half this month! And the “half” is us being sensitive ... or perhaps too sensitive? Which is it? Dear Readers can decide!!
  • 22A) Mobile home tethered, at first, to a piece of fencing (5)
    (tethered * at first = T) + (piece of fencing = EPEE) = TEPEE
Callin' this half-tacky because of the class associations between mobile homes and poverty, and the reality of rampant poverty on American Indian reservations. So dire such poverty, it has its own Wikipedia page. Would prefer that references to tepees also mention “stolen land” “colonialism” &c.
Custer's Last Stand | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

Und, from up top:
“Intersex” qua “bi” is quite the stretch. “bi” commonly abbrevs “bisexual,” and without qualification, bisexual ≠ intersex. Altho, likely, non-zero intersex folks are bisexual. Altho, more likely, when you already occupy such a non-normative sex then what's the point of clinging to the gender binary anyway such that “bisexual” even holds meaning, and why not just call yourself “queer” and do whatever the fuck you want? Fuck whoever the do you want? Exactly.

Why don't we all just do that? Exactly. Gender queer | gender fuck | Fuck Yeah Hard Femme | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Source: (our favourite)

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  1. Y'know, I always thought the Kirby games screwed that up.

  2. Someone should make a bumper sticker: "Typographers kill widows and orphans"