Friday, November 9, 2012

It's Time - November 2012

Harper's November 2012
Another month, another beautiful, clean puzzle from Richard E. Maltby Jr. We are in danger of needing to change the title of this blog from "Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues" to "Glorious Harper's Cryptic Clues." Because that's what it was. Glorious.

That said! If we had a sister blog, and if that sister blog were named "Bleeding Heart Liberal Harper's Cryptic Clues," our twisted sister would have much fodder the last few months, and this month in particular.

To the puzzle!

Theme: "It's Time," referring to Things That Happen in November, but also, beautifully, baldly, un-subtley, referring to the USA election and this cover of The Economist from Fall 2008, when even that staid Chicago-school rag knew: it's time. Gobama. Boom kaboom.
It's Time: Obama on the cover of The Economist
fun fact: this cover was magnetized to our refrigerator when we lived in The Cottage in San Francisco. That was back when we subscribed to The Economist instead of Harper's. We've changed, dear readers. We've changed.

O but there were so many o where to begin. There were like 12 or 15 truly exquisite ones this month. Below are the cream of the cream:
  • 17A) In a postoperative recovery, get a handle on an organ (4)
    poSTOPerative = STOP
    Like an organ stop. Nice. Wanted it to be MOOG. And then later really really wanted it to be ONAN.
Organ stop
We should mention: here at the offices we are sexually frustrated. Just a casual thing for you threes of dear readers to know, and not directed at anyone in particular.

Moving on!
  • 18A) Ladies proud of their family name? Fiddle-de-dee! (4)
    (Ladies proud of their family = DAR) + (name = N) = DARN
    "DAR" as in "Daughters of the American Republic." This is one of those smooth clues free of faultlines that we love very best of all. When we encounter one we like to thrillingly caress it with our mind, enjoying how hard and perfect it is. What's that? Why yes, we ARE sexually frustrated. You remembered from five seconds ago! Next!
  • 19A) Multifaceted figures curiously hard-nosed about the European Community ... (11)
    (HARD-NOSED (European Community = EC) ) * anagram = DECAHEDRONS
    Usually think of glorious Platonic solid dodecahedron. But forget not the noble decahedron. There's a lot of them kinds. For example:
And as a special treat, here's a video of brilliant Emily Peters talking about the Platonic solids. How do we know that humanity knows them all? EP SPLAINS ALL:

  • Shake puzzle constructor by being excluded (4)
    (puzzle constructor = MALTBY) - BY = MALT
    YESssssss! We believe that in all our years of Harper's cryptics, we had yet to before see Richard E. Maltby Jr. indulge in inserting himself into the puzzle, exercising a near Will Shortzian restraint. just kidding: Shortz is like Darth Vader; he doesn't need to sign his name to the Force, he is become the Force. clarifying: we mean that Will Shortz is like unto Darth not in evil, but in raw badassery.
  • 37A) Condition coarsens in blacked-out states (8)
    Not quite as smooth as that DAR clue, but still. So smooth! (fingers spider touch over it) (cf S'Touching)
  • 38A) Person in a service van many rent (4, 3)
    (VAN MANY) * anagram = NAVY MAN
    Delicious. And shout out to our longtime friend and former roommate Commander Tofer of the Naval Reserves, currently stationed in Djibouti. Your booty? No. Djibouti. Yusssssss.
  • 32A) Lose liquid, missing a piece of Albanian bread (3)
    (lose liquid = LEAK) missing A = LEK
    Yes. "Lek" is one of thems words where we don't know that we know it, until it's there and we clearly know it, somehow embedded amongst the deep nuggets of the mind.
Albanian Lek
  • 9A) To be produced by spoken voice, that's the end of poetry (5)
    spokEN VOIce = ENVOI
    "envoi" what da hayck is that word? Something in poetry. Fine whatever. Thought for a long time it would be ENNUI and some kinda subtle, knowing dig on poets, in the way only a fellow traveler can give a subtle, knowing dig. Negator, friends. Negator.
  • 11A) Make unholy concoction from rue Gâteaux (10)
    Sigh. The Free Dictionary says it's a synonym for "unhellow." Great, what's "unhellow" oh hey guess what none found. Cool word, guys!
  • 28D) Philippine tree, English lime, grafted together (5)
    (English = E) + LIME = ELEMI
    The puzzle qualified this as one of the rare words. Meh. More like lazy vowel-disproportionate words. Ooh, sick burns, Maltby! Sick burns from
And now we address our favorites!

The pink!
  • 25D) Hey dude! The goal in mating is getting into bondage! (6)
    (Hey dude = YO) + (The goal in mating = KING) = YOKING
Yes. One thousand yes. This is not the first time bondage has appeared in the Harper's cryptic. And this isn't even one of those teasers that insinuates something dirty and then pulls out. No, this one's a pleaser.
Maggine Gyllenhaal in 'Secretary'
The seafoam green!
  • 33A) Savings plan question: Was this something worth fighting for?
    (Savings plan = IRA) + (question = Q) = IRAQ (!!!)
    Holy smokes. Was Iraq something worth fighting for? SICK BURNS FROM MALTBY, USA. Sick burns. would be having a field day with this one! Jus ad bellum, casus belli, &c. They'd be spittling out Latin as fast as they could type with their juicy fat fingers. Stereotypes.

And that does it for this month! Will winking references to positive consensual BDSM relationships continue to replace tacky/sexist/racist clues? We can but hope.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hidden Meanings - October 2012

October 2012
Another clean month, dear readers of Nothing tacky.

Apparently, Maltby Jr. and cohort have heard our cries.

This one took some time to crack! We were distracted by our web series BLOGJOB (tagline: "Giving blogjobs is a terrible way to make a living") (coming Fall 2012 to YourTube!). We were distracted by the business of life. No more distractions.

This was an excellent, straightforward offering, and maddeningly clean. Still, we review. Yes still.

Variety this month! Six unclued entries that yielded sweet homophones mostly inferred from the fill. Loved every single one:
  • a) Queen Elizabeth's staff? = palace aids = PALISADES
  • b) Subsidies in the Corn Belt? = farm assists = PHARMICISTS
  • c) Waterway, home of killer whales? = orca's straight = ORCHESTRATE
    Tried a couple SEA WORLD and SHAMU variants, but wrote down ORCA early. First thought (best thought).
  • d) Hold auditions for emcees? = seek hosts = SEACOASTS
    Reminded me of Sam Amidon's character "Ryan Seek Rest."
Sam Amidon | Ryan Seek Rest
  • e) Setting for play about Milk? = drama dairy = DROMEDARY
    Dromedary! In contrast to Bactrian.
  • f) What Octomom must do with child seats? = fasten eight = FASCINATE
    Referencing "Octomom" ... a little tacky? A little? Maybe? Hm. Maybe we did too many Maleska NYTimes puzzles at the start of our puzzling career.
  • 15A) Isopropyl? Hmm! That's odd. Must be appearing in different forms (12)
    So pretty. So so pretty.
  • 37A) Not that Olympic skater! (4)
    (Not that = OH NO) = OHNO
    As in Apollo Anton. More modern references! Tried to force HENI for several rounds (as in Sonja). (Googles ... ) Ok it's actually HENIE. Moving on!
Apollo Anton Ohno
  • 2D) Bit of hickory or round piece of any kind of wood English used to make clock (8)
    (Bit of hickory = H) + OR + (round = O) + (piece of any kind of wood = LOG) + (English = E) = HOROLOGE
    The instructions called out this clue as particularly obscure. But it was so paint-by-numbers that it was one of the first ones we nailed.
  • 8) Something irrational a right-winger sent around—is this what shaped Bush? (7)
    (Something irrational = PI) + A + (right-winger = TORY) * sent around = TOPIARY
    Topiary! First learned about this from, we wanna say, either Highlights or Ranger Rick. Or maybe one of the Boxcar Children books. Classic.
  • 17D) Computer geek's term for anything not quite enough for sustenance (3)
    (sustenance = FOOD) * (not quite enough) = FOO
    Foo! Wouldn't know about foo (and fiz and faz) but for our long collusion with masters of the deep computer arts. Surprised to see it here. 
  • 21D) Good luck adding docks—creates backwater area (4)
    BOON + DOCKS = BOONDOCKS = backwater area. Thus: BOON
    Shout out to Boondocks and Aaron McGruder. And shout out to my all time favorite Boondocks comic below:
  • 32D) Remove half of what you're wearing? It contributes to bad blood (4)
    (what you're wearing = CLOTHING) - half = CLOT
    Lovely. Also, as the whispered voice says in Aladdin when Rajah jumps on Aladdin at Jasmine's balcony, take off your clothes!

  • 35D) Female running wild gets money for speaking (3)
    ((money) * (for speaking = homophone) = dough) = DOE
    Related: Bambi's Aunt Ena is a frequent cameo in the NYTimes crossword. Pro-tip for crossover readers.
Aunt Ena

  • 11A) They are charged for decapitating animals (4)
    (animals = LIONS) + decapitating = IONS
    We hate the guessagrams. That's what we're calling them now. Too lossy. We want an injective map directly from clue to fill: one-to-one correspondance. animals ⊃ lions but animals ≠ lions.
  • 16D) Briar patch, initially providing lining for cobbler (4)
    (patch initially = P) + (cobbler = PIE) * (lining = anagram) = PIPE
    A "Briar" is a kind of pipe? Never heard of it. And we read a lot of Sherlock Holmes growing up. A lot.
Is not real Sherlock Holmes
[Russian accent] “Is not real Sherlock Holmes!”
  • 31D) Old people from northern California love to support mop-up (4)
    [(love = O) + (MOP)] * up = POMO
    The Pomo are a tribe from northern California. We're calling this a lowlight for missing the opportunity to say anything interesting about post-modernism.
Semper DWF
As a sidenote, we had this one co-worker back at our true-life blogjob in Brooklyn who was deeply wrapped up in his post-modern Künstlerroman, which is a German word for "I'm a jerk." He would write long rhapsodic fake blog posts (for chandeliers, kosher wine, support socks, etc.) about the glory of post-modernism, without ever revealing any depth of understanding as to what that word means. To quote BikeSnobNYC, we're pretty sure "post-modern" means whatever the f*ck you want it to mean.

That's all for now this month, readers! Hopefully next month will be a tacky return to form, and we can tee 'em high and let fly.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lost and Found - September 2012

Harpers Sept 2012
Hello, TackyHarpersCrypticClues.BlogSpot.Com readers. This month's puzzle: not tacky.  Tons of good clean fun, all the way through.

We're still reviewing it! Buckle up!

This month's theme: gods. Italicized clues either had the name of a god redacted before one could enter it in the puzzle, or was a concatenation of the three missing god names. Hence meta-clue 1A) GODFORSAKEN. Kaboom.

Theme answers, name of the god in bold:
  • 28D) Unexpected loather of disgusting digs? (7)
    LOATHER (anagram) = RATHOLE
    Per Harper's style, the remainder word entered in the puzzle was/is itself a word. So what's a THOLE? Thole? Thole as a noun means a pin for oars; as a verb, "to endure [pain]."
  • 38D) Statesmen of a sort break in as an underlying elected Democrat (9)
    IN AS AN + (elected = IN) + (Democrat = D) anagram = INDIANANS
    Mwa! Loved!  
  • 30A) Eastern elements can be less remote than anything (7)
    EASTERN anagram = NEAREST
  • 6D) Large portions of insects burrowing into oxhearts (8)
    Isn't it thoraci? Maybe? Maybe not!
  • 3D) Wetting the floor of loo: dingy? Limitlessly! (8)
    Maaaaaaaybe almost tacky for the scatological bent? Maybe? If we at Tackyharperscrypticclues.Blogspot.Com were really on the witch hunt, this would be the clue we would tie to the stake. In semi-related news, here's an episode of Mop Men, which is a spinoff of hilarious web series Ped Crossing. Get involved!
Mop Men
  • 39A) Uproar when no garlic is spread around a bit of manicotti (9)
    NO GARLIC + (big of manicotti = M) anagram = CLAMORING
  • 33D) Grade-A school marms to get schoolbooks (8)
    (Grade = G) + S + MARMS (anagram) = GRAMMARS
    Maybe a little gauche to feature both Mars and Ares in the themes. Unrelatedly: we think "marm" is one of the greatest words out there, especially when used to describe a style of dress.
  • 15A) Dress designer, American, a small maker of big scenes (8)
    (Dress designer = DIOR)+ (American = AM) + A + (small = S) = DIORAMAS
  • 20D) Operas, moving, expert—something really far-out! (9)
    OPERAS (anagram) + (expert = ACE) = AEROSPACE
  • 13A) Steroid perhaps extracted from moorhen (7)
    MOORHEN anagram = HORMONE
    We just love "moorhen." Moorhen moorhen!
  • 7D) Kid comedian, finally entering less mean—greater, in a funny way (14)
    (comedian finally = N) + (less mean = KINDER) + GREATER anagram = KINDERGARTENER
    Mwa! Superb!
  • 25D) Making things run smoothly when following CBS, either winding up really hot or making things dirty! (6)
    OILING, where COILING = winding up, BOILING = really hot, SOLING = making things dirty
    Such innovative cluing! Don't believe we've ever seen it before! Loved it!
  • 29D) For me, is my French turning up first-rate, or cleaner? (7)
    (For me = AM) + (my French =  MON) + ((first-rate = A1 = AI) turned up = IA) = AMMONIA
  • 11A) The biggest dress mother put on (7)
    (dress = MAXI) + (mother = MUM) = MAXIMUM
    Crosswords and puzzles insist that people say "maxi." Eh! We don't! Do you say it, Richard E. Maltby? Have you ever said to a woman or man, "you look very pretty in that maxi?" You haven't. We know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. The only time anyone says "maxi" is to refer to a pad. sidenote: MARMS wear MAXIS.
Marms wear Maxis
  • 35A) Woman distributing our mail (7)
    OUR MAIL anagram = MARILOU
    Marilou = woman? Just kinda dum, and out there. Too vague. What about Henner? Evening Shade. Did you watch that show? We watched that show. Keep the faith.
Marilou Henner
  • 5D) Uplifting, good, filling—nothing like starchy food (4)
    (nothing = O) + (good = G) + (like = AS) reversed = SAGO
    What's "sago"? A starch made from palm stems, popular in New Guinea. Tried to make "taco" work for several rounds.
And that's it, faithful solvers! Hopefully something juicy awaits us next month? Until then, tally ho :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sixes and Sevens (and Twelves) - August 2012

August 2012
Hello! We skipped last month's puzzle in the blog. The only semi-tacky clue in July 2012 was
  • 30D. Unnamed person appearing in Big River? Big mistake.
    (Big = B) + (Unnamed person = ONE) + (River = R) = BONER
... and BONER as a synonym for "big mistake"? We love it. Both in the sense of "oh, that was a real bone-head move. My head doesn't contain brains, just bones. What a boner of an error." But also in the sense of, "I have an erection before a major presentation; this is a big mistake."

<sidenote> In the summer of 2010 we sat in on some calls for an 8-bit video game collective, with the possibility that we might do some art for them. One member of the collective had just gotten his digital hands on a zero-gravity engine, and we brainstormed ways to use it for a game. 

Sidenote to this sidenote: the way this collective talked about the zero-gravity engine was as if they'd acquired plans to the Death Star.

So the guy who'd actually personally acquired the engine, his big idea was to make a game starring a female astronaut who needs to go pee very badly. The longer she's unable to find a bathroom, the more her spacesuit fills with urine.

We bit our tongue from suggesting that we use menstruation instead of urination, and her spacesuit could fill with blood. Jason suggested instead that the character be male and have an increasingly large and embarrassing erection that he had to hide from the other astronauts. Like Frogger but with boners. 

That's the callback to boner. Ok we're done now. </sidenote>

July 2012 also marked yet another puzzle in our hot streak of Harper's cryptics conquered in one session, lying down, with only half our brain present. 

"We've done it!" we thought. "We've mastered the Harper's cryptic. We're like a pylon under a bridge. We're like Juggarnaut in X-Men. We're the unmovable rock. Just try to shake us, irresistible force! Because we would love it!"

But taunt not, lest Richard E. Maltby Jr. send you your reckoning.

August's puzzle killed us! We were in great danger of not even completing it in due time to mail it in and vie for the coveted Harper's cryptic prize of seeing our name in tiny print in the footer of the puzzle two months hence! We haven't used dictionary wildcard search in some time for the Harper's. You better believe we were using it this month.

  • 29A) Old king's sackful partially emptied (4)
    SACKFUL - (the middle) = SAUL
    Sweet, elegant, proper. Love it.
  • 7D) Half in pain, I stab Montoya in The Princess Bride (5)
    (half in pain = IN) + I + (stab = GO) = INIGO
    Knew immediately it would be INIGO or MANDY. Took a while to parse "stab" as in "have a stab at" or "have a go at." Our old manager used to tell us to "take a stab at" tasks. He knew that he was inviting us to imagine stabbing him. He was testing us. 
  • c) Friar has signs of depression, perhaps (6)
    (Friar = FR) + (has = OWNS) = FROWNS
    Kept trying to force TUCK, or ABBE. Loved the simplicity.
  • d) Batman's end: after hip replacement, found in South by the Riddler (6)
    (South = S) + (hip replacement = PHI) +  (Batman's end = N) + (by = X) = SPHINX
    Great Batman clue. Great sphinx clue! Great clue. 
  • k) Perhaps an Arab's eastern newspaper is to be sent north (6)
    (eastern = E) + (newspaper = TIMES) (is to be sent north = backwards) = SEMITE
    Arab's are Semites! Loved it. A refreshing, literal, historical take. It's so good when Richard E. Maltby Jr. bucks convention for precision like this.
  • b) New, raw, sculpted and 50 percent unfinished, it is, in the main, a unicorn (7)
    (New = N) + RAW + (50 percent = HALF (unfinished) = HAL) = NARWHAL
    What an incredible beast of nature! "In the main" for "the ocean." Mm! Love.
  • g) Siemens generates opposition that cannot be overcome (7)
    SIEMENS anagram = NEMESIS
    We forced variations on ENEMIES for a couple rounds. NEMESIS! Loved.
Oh, and then all four of the twelvers were majestic:
  • a) The Gift of the Magi is open in feel, you might say (12)
    (open = FRANK) + IN + (feel = SENSE homophone = CENSE) = FRANKINCENSE
  • b) Confusing matter with Keeler? She has a lot of hang-ups! (12)
    Yes! She does get hung up on a lot! Much love to our brothers and sisters in the canvassing arts. We know your struggle, and the enmity you face.
  • c) Kind of do the whole dictionary, entering before long entry in passage bound for reproduction (12)
    (Kind of do = PERM) + (the whole dictionary = A TO Z) (inside (before long = SOON)) = SPERMATAZOON
    The most majestic of them all! Had to look up the singular of spermatazoa. ZOON. Check the specs on that suffix. Don't see that one so oft. Unless perhaps you play the BAZOON. (*cough*)
  • d) Distinctly spoken? (12)
    (double synonym) PRONOUNCEDLY 
Oh, but there were some lows to this puzzle as well. 

  • 23D) He's ... he's soft at heart, pirouetting! (5)
    (he's soft at heart = hE'S SOFt) (pirouetting = backwards) = FOSSE
    Ok but "He's ... " is the synonym for Fosse? Is it? Is it really? Like "Sheeeeee's thhhhhhhhe one!" from "One" from A Chorus Line? Maybe a musical-savvy dear reader can explain this to us. Maybe Richard E. Maltby Jr. can explain this to us. He loves musicals
  • a) Seniors found in woods (6)
    (double synonym) ELDERS
    Haven't we seen another ELDERS clue in recent memory? I'll look it up. 
  • d) Only ego can encompass this creative activity (7)
    ONLY EGO (anagram) = NEOLOGY
    "Neology" is a synonym for "creative activity"? Weak. Such a tiny sliver of the spectrum of creativity. Hardly a synonym. Like "Audrey Hepburn" as a synonym for "collection of atoms."
  • f) Here's a liqueur—hugs and kisses—and something to carry it in (7)
    (liqueur = B AND B) + (hugs and kisses = OX) = BANDBOX
    Long suspected that hugs and kisses would sub out to OX, and that there'd be a five-letter liqueur ending in B to yield the suffix BOX. But what five letter words even end in B? PLUMB? PLUMBOX? No ... SCRUB? SCRUBOX? No way! KABOB? KABOBOX? Nopers. Turns out it's B&B, and BANDBOX. Bandbox? It looks like a hatbox to us. Ok cool. Bandbox. Learning.
  • c) Crafty about the beginning or end of harassment spelled out in brief (7)
    Um. So we put down USELESS as the answer. Not sure if it's correct. Confirmed cross-letters are _SE_ESS. S'gotta be USELESS, right? But what's the synonym? "in brief"? "crafty"? Hate to finish without knowing. Blame it on poor cluing in the puzzle :)
And now we come to the tacky matter of this month's tacky Harpers cryptic clue. One and a half this month.

First, the halfsy: 
  • i) Cats has long New York run back before gender-switching (6)
    (long = L) (New York run back = YN) (gender switching = SEX anagram = XES) = LYNXES
    Ok so getting uptight about confounding sex and gender makes a lot of people, even intelligent, modern people, roll their eyes. G'head and roll them, intelligent modern dear readers of We know who you are. You're the kind who would rather become vegetarians than ever be accused of being a feminist. Yeah. You. Sex and gender are different. One is biological, one is cultural. And confounding the two has caused real problems for people we love
After the correctness of Semite, it was disappointing to see such a predictable, usual, imprecision here. Meh, but this clue was just annoying and picking at one of our old bones. The real tacky clue for the month:
  • b) Bush shows extraordinary zeal getting in with a bunch of drunks (6)
    (extraordinary zeal = ZALE) + (bunch of drunks = AA (surrounding)) = AZALEA
    This one only works if the synonym for "bunch of drunks" is "Alcoholics Anonymous." 
And while we appreciate the symmetry of referencing W Bush's chemical history, found it tacky to dismiss the organization as a "bunch of drunks."

S'like, "well ... they're not drunk anymore!" Or maybe that's exactly what Maltby means: there'll never be transcendence. Sigh. 

Here's what we think of when we think "bunch of drunks":
further insight into why this resonates in a bad way
Our two guys (in the sense of "he's my guy!") are Marc Maron and Mike Doughty, both of whom have recovered from addiction and logged time in the meetings. Are they a "bunch of drunks"? 

And in between Maron and Doughty, our guy was also the late David Foster Wallace as manifest in Infinite Jest, where Alcoholics Anonymous is an important setting and character. Would you say "you're a bunch of drunks!" to the face of any of IJ's Crocodiles? Would you say it to any real human in recovery? Would you?

We have to believe: that you would not.

And, gratifyingly, we now imagine Richard E. Maltby Jr. settling down tonight with his favorite RSS feed reader, and sighing at yet another taking-to-task by A short glass filled tall with scotch, neat. A leather armchair. A living room in a Manhattan loft carefully cluttered with the tchochkes of money and taste. An antique toy piano. A useless glass sculpture that sits on a glass shelf in a glass cabinet. WQXR quietly playing from a Bose stereo. Maltby at his iPad 2, reading this blog, sometimes smiling, sometimes murmuring. 

A car alarm from far below startles the small dog at his feet. Maltby barely hears its klaxon. Pets the dog the way you turn a housekey. He contemplates. "What clue shall I drop next month?" Considers referencing poop and rejects it. No, he takes pride in his full maturation to the genital stage of Freudian development. 

Pets the dog again. 

Sip of whiskey. 

PAN AROUND to the giant empty living room. ZOOM OUT through the window to the lonely treetops of Manhattan's skyscrapers.

Turn up to the lonely moon, and Venus nearby. FADE TO BLACK.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sign Language - June 2012

Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues - June, 2012
We're back, loyal readers of! S'gonna be different now; from now on, we're using first person plural pronouns to refer to ourselves.

This month we knocked out the puzzle in an hour while lying in bed in a bad mood. Even given such compromised puzzle-solving state, this cryptic fell apart like a cookie in a washing machine. Like a model airplane in a woodchipper. Like an emotionally unstable person asked the Hard Questions.

Ugh, and this puzzle also frequently employed our least favorite cryptic clue type, the kind where you have to guess the synonym and use it in an anagram or word manipulation. Bleh. If you like this kind, they're all yours.

Our beef is that these clues don't stand on their own. Ya almost always need some crossfill to nail them, and then when you do it's like, "oh." No satisfaction.
  • 12A. Blue inside, seek unlikely cause of tsunami (8)
    (Blue = AQUA) + SEEK (anagram) = SEAQUAKE
    We were so hoping this would be a controversial answer, like that tsunamis are caused by eco-terrorists as Michael Crichton imagines in State of Fear. Did you read that book? We love Michael Cri, but that science fiction book was truly science fictional. Anyway. Did we guess AQUA only because of the cross-Q on EQUAL, yes, obviously that is the only reason we guessed AQUA. Prior to that, forced BLUE SEEK anagram after BLUE SEEK anagram.
  • 28A. Place to walk in ermine when temperature's off (4)
    (ermine = STOAT) - (temperature = T) = STOA
    Blah. That's the sound of us falling asleep with disgust. STOAT and STOA?
  • 6D. Horse rears up to go over something again (5)
    (Horse = PACER) (anagram) = RECAP
    "Pacer" for horse is a stretch. Bleh.
  • 35A. One who cans tomatoes at the outset leaves strainer? (4)
    (tomatoes at the outset = T) + (One who cans = AXER) = TAXER
    Ugh this convention in puzzledry that fired = axed = canned is so hacky and anachronistic. And "TAXER" is one of those words accepted in the ScrabbleTM dictionary, and nowhere else. Like as if every verb can take an ER. Every verb! ARRIVER: One who arrives! Yes, "arriver": a word we know and use. One day we will coldly tell these so-called words: we're not disappointed you're lying to us, we're disappointed you're lying to yourselves."
  • 24A. Name a president who came back as a Mideast leader! (4)
    (Name = N) + (president = ABE) (reversed) = EBAN
    Actually jk, jk, we loved this clue, only because it says, "name a president!" and we immediately think, "Abraham Lincoln!" That man was The President. Boom.
Abe Lincoln

The very best cryptic clues are the ones that read as natural English, with no obvious indicators or handholds. They're smooth, and impenetrable to all but the most skilled. Like a ball bearing, or the sphere in the movie Sphere starring Samuel L. Jackson, based on the book of the same name by Michael Crichton.


None of this month's clues were quite of that highest light, but there were some beloveds:
  • 10D. A sweep might show what a Ghanaian spends ... (6)
    A SWEEP (anagram) = PESEWA
    Currency of Ghana. Lovely. Daringly asking the puzzler to have specific knowledge of West Africa, i.e. the world as it exists even beyond such cultural eye-openers as high school French and Spanish. Shout out to Ghanaian friends Victor and Felix, and further shout out to Richard E. Maltby Jr. for including not one but two Ghana clues this month!
    Here's the other one—even more fun:
  • 13D. ... in a day around Ghana's surroundings! (6)
    A + (day = FRI) + (around = CA (as in "circa")) = AFRICA
    Ok, so, yuss, this is kinda that clue-type specifically called out earlier, cuz you have to guess/infer that FRI, but whatever! A clue about Ghana! Woohoo!
  • 9D. Cheap furniture store loses a president (3)
    (Cheap furniture store = IKEA) - A = IKE
    Another synonym-guesser, but you know we love any dig against IKEA. Particle board and two-cent screws. Worthless. IKEA furniture is like H&M clothing: some of it lasts forever, but most of it is disposable and won't survive the year. And we also love a second president clue. Ike! We like!
IKEA broken
  • 25D. Price on your head by morning is taken from amount taken in (6)
    AMOUNT - (morning = AM) + BY = BOUNTY
  • 34D. Breathing spaces in which all vie roughly to maintain no score (7)
    ALL VIE + (no score = O) (anagram) = ALVEOLI
    Hoorah! Knew the answer as soon as we saw the word "Breathing" and "vie." That is how strong an impression 6th grade biology with Mr. Wurzberg made. Do you know what we did that year? We dissected a cow lung, right there in the classroom. It was incredible. We also made our own root beer from scratch. Otto Wurzberg was the money.

    So then we'd kept the word "alveoli" locked into longterm memory all these years, believing that one day there would be payoff. This puzzle was the payoff.
In 2004 we spent several hours with Dave "Sparky" Newman's road atlas learning the US state mottos, believing that one day there would be payoff. And then just the other month, one of the rounds at pub trivia was strictly: US state mottos. Kaboom. We nailed that round and doubled the points, and eventually won the night, resulting in a single free shot of whiskey for the entire team. Thus, the payoff for eight years of holding down that rote memory was literally and figuratively distilled: a tiny volume of alcohol.

No regrets, dear readers.

Special magic variety theme this month: the names for various symbols. Hell yes! Loved how many of these we knew, and loved even more the opportunity to learn others:
  • 1A. # = OCTOTHORPE
    Why "octo" when it limns nine spaces? Shouldn't it be "nonothorphe"? DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS JUST BASK IN THE GLORY OF THIS WORD
  • 20A. ¶ = PILCROW
  • 22A. • = INTERPUNCT
  • 37A. «» = GUILLEMETS
    Those French quotes. Love! High school French. Opening my eyes.
  • 51A. ∞ = LEMNISCATE
    Reminded us of "limaçon from calculus.
"limaçon" means "snail"
  • 8D. Quincunx! = QUINCUNX
    What a delightful, filthy-sounding, incredible word!
  • 26D. @ = AMPERSAT
    Always knew this symbol by its alternate name, "amphora."
  • 36D. ÷ = OBELUS
    So much is lost with "/" to indicate division. How beautiful, the noble obelus!
Well there you have it for lowlights, highlights, and theme. Ah, but where is this month's tacky Harper's cryptic clue, you ask? We have one and a half!
To the half!
  • 39D. Female advisor—awkward, I agree (6)
    I AGREE (anagram) = EGERIA
We'd never heard of her either.

Egeria was a mythological Roman nymph and royal consort, and, as Wikipedia assures us, her name is synonymous with "counselor." Presumably Richard E. Maltby Jr. couldn't possibly mean Egeria the French pilgrim and writer of the Dark Ages. side note: how cool to have a legacy as a writer of the Dark Ages?

This clue annoys us. Ha ha female advice is awkward. Ha ha women in positions of authority, how weird. We could write you a full-length legally admissible brief on the awkward, misguided advice conferred unto us by men of a stereotypically male perspective.

Just this morning, some guy told us that the best way to move our web series forward was to "get an agent. That's what I've heard is always the first step." This is literally the dumbest advice anyone has ever given us w/r/t the series. Possibly w/r/t anything. Ugh, this advice annoyed us even more than this clue annoys us.

We must move along, however! The truly tacky clue this month is:
  • 42A. Where women live and are kept by His Majesty (5)
    ARE + H + M = HAREM

This clue only works if you equate "women" with "prostitutes." Great. We do appreciate the tightness in referencing a sultanate in both halves. Rare and excellent cluing, just wish it were put to classy use.

Where are the jokes that target dudes, Richard E. Maltby Jr.? We at would be glad to write them for you. Something like:
  • Where you find immature males, earth-shaking flatulence (4)