Sunday, January 17, 2016

House of Cards - January 2016

January 2016 | House of Cards | Harper's puzzle solution

Welcome to the New Year, Dear Readers! US election years are leap years. That's because US electoral politics make us want to leap off a cliff. Just kidding. Kindof.

For those interested, we posted our 2016 Resolutions [Fantasies]. Though, we still believe that the most important goal is “fuck goals.” Freedom up here [taps forehead].

To the Puzzle!

There was an error in the grid structure, cf red marks above. Getting sloppy, boys.

In the leather‑bound study of an Upper East Side brownstone Maltby shakes awake, dangerously jostling the tumbler of scotch balanced between his thighs. There it is again: a knock at the door, young and proud.

“It's Zander, of The Listener!” He's early. How irritating. Xavier of The Whisper, and Maurice of Le Mot: they know not to wake him. Cornjulian of Das Aegis, and Patrick of Flemish Gavot: same. Because they understand patience. Command of thineself.

“Door's open!” shouts Maltby, and Zander struggles at the knob.

“I can't—it's locked!” says Zander, muffled behind the oak. Maltby chuckles. The scotch trembles.

“No, it's unlocked. Try again.” And Zander of The Listener struggles, and Maltby watches, and sips.

The Theme!

It's “House of Cards,” as in a pun on “funny people.” The first unclued is the category (“FUNNY BUSINESS”) and the seven unclueds are names of jesters and stuff, generally archaic or Euro medieval or antiquated.
Harley Quinn | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Image courtesy DeviantArt user Picolo‑kun
  • 19A) JESTER
  • 27A) ZANY
ZANY qua noun? K, fine.
noun za•ny    Popularity: Bottom 50% of words

: a subordinate clown or acrobat in old comedies who mimics ludicrously the tricks of the principal :

Source: Merry-am Webster

Shout out to National Republic Radio!
The Motley Fool | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
merry-andrew (n.)
"a buffoon; a zany; a jack-pudding" [Johnson], originally "mountebank's assistant," 1670s, from merry + masc. proper name Andrew, but there is no certain identification with an individual.

Source: Etymonline

  • 28D) MUMMER
We've only heard of “mummer” in the context of our mom's Loreena McKennitt CDs, phase. Our impression from the cover art was that a mummer is like one of the ghost kings in Return of the King. Cuz, look. Right?
The Mummers' Dance | Loreena McKennitt | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
an actor in a traditional masked mime, especially of a type associated with Christmas and popular in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
a pantomimist.

Source: The Goog


  • 12A) She might make you a tuna melt! (4)
    TUNA * anagram = AUNT
Delicious! Clean! Natural language! Mwa! Kicking off the puzzle with such a tight tasty snack!
  • 13A) Chewing gum, a base occupation for Americans (4)
    GUM A * anagram = GUAM
Shout out to Guam, shout out to our old friend Dr Ramos. Shout out to drawing attention to American occupation.
  • 23A) Sets aside skins? By the sound of it! (6)
    (skins = DEFURS) * homophone = DEFERS
We liked this one! Probably mainly because it invokes fur and thus invokes furries.
  • 28A) Upper-class, but I'm back on the outside. Lanai is the closest thing to it (4)
    (Upper-class = U) ((I'M = I AM) back = MAI) on the outside = MAUI
Fresh use of LANAI. What's up geography! Frowning at I'M =>I AM, tho. Dear Readers invited to supply alternate logic on this answer in th'commentz.
  • 30A) Whip up a canapé that serves everyone (7)
    A CANAPE * anagram = PANACEA
Mwa. Delicious anagrama. Dear Readers, did you know that our senior year we starred as Pseudolus in our high school's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? Believe. We had been hoping for the part of the whoremistress. Our being cast as the lead caused some stress with our high school sweetheart, who very fairly believed that he was the clear choice for Pseudolus. And that, Dear Readers, was the last time we dated someone with whom we were in direct competition.

Anyway we bring this up because one of the harem girls is named “Panacea,” and Forum was the first time we eva-eva heard that word.
  • 32A) Aid in digesting a negative review, certain to be corrected (10)
    ((negative review = PAN) + CERTAIN) * anagram = PANCREATIN
Initially thought this was PANCREATIC. Nice to have a big medical word in the puzz.
  • 39A) Case study? It gives little weight to damage (7)
    (little weight = GRAM) + (damage = MAR) = GRAMMAR
Delightful! Currently we are studying Romanian using Pimsleur's excellent conversation training. Having studied French, German, and Japanese, Pimsleur's method is by far the fastest method of spoken language study we've ever used. But, as we discover when we take our new skills out for a spin with our Romanian husband, the speed sacrifices depth of grammatical/syntactic understanding. Which, such understanding Sweet V assures us can only be learned by rote in a classroom setting over the course of years. Then he mentions “declensions” and our brain shuts off.

We have a much stronger appreciation now of English as a robust and comprehensible language. English: impossible to spell, but simple to speak and understand. For instance, if we said to you, “we loves you,” you'd notice the conjugation error, but you wouldn't be, like, confused. Whereas the equivalent error in Romanian would obliterate meaning. “Who loves whom? And when? I don't understand …”

On the other hand, Romanian: easy to spell. Each word spelled like how it sounds. Like Arabic. Funny to think about languages where a spelling contest would be moot. Languages where the letters don't play any tricky tricks!
  • 41A) Be venial—thrashing leaves much to be desired! (8)
    BE VENIAL * anagram = ENVIABLE
Was long caught up on this one thinking that the anagram ground up LEAVES. V nice :)
  • 1D) Initially popularity of uprising turns out just dandy (3)
    (Initially popularity = P) (OF uprising = FO) turns out = FOP
This was so nice. Another nice natural lingo clue.
  • 3D) Cologne I distributed—it's a matter of coins! (8)
    COLOGNE I * anagram = NEOLOGIC
“coins” as in coining words. Lovely! More anagrams! More anagrams! Really, we should invest in a Super Jumble book. Why are we digging through the trail mix of the cryptic, when what we really want is a bag of MnMs? Ah but see, the hunting and pecking for anagram treats is part of the fun :)
  • 5D) Even contributors to our name, I extend, like early recordings (7)
    o U r  N a M e  I  e X t E n D = UNMIXED
A daring letter modulus clue! Long for its kind!
  • 7D) Office worker in Kerry's first plane (3‑3)
    IN (Kerry's first = K) + (plane = JET) = INK‑JET
Does INK‑JET really need the hyphen? The big box mongers of inkjet cartridges (Bestest Buy, Staplers, &c) say “no.”

But enjoyed the Kerry reference. In summer 2014 we traveled to Germany and Romania with Sweet V. Up on the telly screen at Frankfurt airport there was news of Secretariat of State John Kerry's travel. And as the screen showed Kerry talking quietly off‑mic with a foreign political luminary, Vlad gave his own sotto voce narration:

“Did you see the pictures with the lacy ones?”
“Yes, I brought more if you want to see. I brought the whole set!”

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, right, speaks to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
  • 9D) Sandwiches, sandwiches—gripping take‑out items? (12)
    (Sandwiches, sandwiches = SUBS) + (gripping = TRACTION) = SUBTRACTION
Fun! Always love a daring doubling of words in the clue. Are they both indicators? Or both definitions? Or is one an indicator and the other a definition? Are they identical twins or fraternal?
  • 11D) Fences—the goal of the 1 Across? (5)
    HAHAS (double synonym)
Was certain initially that it was SPARS but nay, “ha‑ha funny”? Or “ha‑ha fence”?
Ha‑ha fence
A ha-ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier whilst preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond. The design includes a turfed incline which slopes downward to a sharply vertical face, typically a masonry retaining wall.

Source: Wikipedia, none other than

Personally we don't think “hahas” and “laughs” are the goals of comedy … we think it's more like: rappelling into the darkest depths of truth to draw up a little relief from the irritating and excruciating experiences of life itself, that we might tolerate such indignities but a little longer.

Also do you feel the restraint exercised in this clue at not going for “fences = epee”? We feel it.
  • 20D) Announces, in the vernacular, sleaze's starting to come back (3)
    SLEAZE'S (starting) to come back = starting SEZEALS = SEZ
Love this. It reminds us of how our mom communicates over electronic media (text, email), where brevity is necessary to make the communication form palatable, possible. Like: each byte of information is expensive in terms of emotional energy cost. So we get texts from her like, “Wher r u?”

We're observing how our parents interact with technology carefully. Right now we're a savvy computer programmer and web developer, but soon enough we'll age out of technological savvy. #dread
  • 21D) Aerobes floating around north may the be this (8)
    AEROBES floating around (north = N) = SEABORNE
Anagrama! Lova lova.
  • 22D) Caesarean section? (4)
    Caesarean = AREA
What to call it when the indicator is also the definition? Like: it works a double shift. Flexi‑cluework. We'll think more on this, get back to you. Normally we're philosophically opposed to such shenanigans. “One word, one cryptic function.” But embedding a fresh clue within American medical idiom!! So strong.
  • 34D) Castle, for example—gunfire never protects it (5)
    gunfIRE NEver = IRENE
As in Irene Castle, aka this cutie:
Irene Castle ball gown
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Irene Castle and her husband Vernon Castle (born Vernon Blyth) were the best known ballroom dancers of the early 20th C. Beginning about 1914 they operated several clubs and studios in the NYC area, toured the country dancing, and were able to charge as much as a thousand dollars an hour for lessons.

Source: iMDB

  • 38D) Sign a submarine captain has surfaced (4)
    (submarine captain = NEMO) has surfaced = OMEN
Nice reference to notre frére Verne. Here's a Did You Know: Captain Nemo is Indian!
In The Mysterious Island, Captain Nemo identifies himself as Prince Dakkar, son of the Hindu Raja of Bundelkund, and also a descendant of the Muslim Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu of the Kingdom of Mysore, famous for the Anglo-Mysore Wars.

Source: Wpedai

Ah ok: this is made clear in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Captain Nemo | The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


  • 16A) A good bridge contract is unfortunately bleak when circumvented by West (8)
    (BLEAK * anagram) circumvented by (West = MAE) = MAKEABLE
Shout out to our favorite, Mae West. Did you know she was a playwright? Did you know she did jail time for a play she wrote? They charged her with obscenity. She wore silk underwear in prison. What a badass person.

But boo to bridge slang, and booooo to the word “makeable.” Ew. We deem this clue judgeable. We judge it.

Yah! “judgeable! With that medial “e”! Just like in makeable. So gross.
  • 24A) Edges in, moving back to front, in a kind of rush (5)
    EDGES moving back to front = SEDGE
Minor fresh use of “rush” but buh, EDGES to SEDGE? Buh.
  • 25A) Can doesn't open from heat (3)
    (Can = FIRE) doesn't open = IRE
CAN we AX why these same tired old syns for FIRE always show up?

Below: the glorious finale of Napoleon Dynamite to the exquisite beats of Jamiroquai's “Canned Heat.” So beautiful. So generous. Last night we watched the end of Carrie (1976). The end of Napoleon Dynamite is the exact opposite of the end of Carrie, but just as cathartic.

  • 29A) Sounds like con's kind of instrument (4)
    (con = READ) * homophone = REED
More of this “‘con’ means ‘learn’” stuff, if we're reading it correctly. Also seen in October 2015 - Vicious Circles. Meh.
  • 44A) Once more, run up to plant—once again, gets heard (5)
    (to plant once again = RESOW) gets heard = RESEW
Really. RESOW to RESEW. We wrote “barf” in our margin notes next to this clue.
  • 4D) Displaced American in gym article quit without finishing (6)
    (gym = Y) + (article = AN) + (QUIT without finishing) = YANQUI
Thought at first that the meaning of “displaced American” was Native/First Nations displaced by white genocide. But now that we've looked up yanqui, we're confused. If “Yanqui” is more like Latin American slang synonymous with “gringo,” then the definition “displaced American” reads a little weak for the usual same dead horse this blog beats and beats and beats: US ≠ America
America is not same as the United States | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 8D) Formerly known as “The Joint,” it loses its frontage (3)
    (The Joint = KNEE) loses its frontage = KNEE
Nay to née. Ne'er again, s'il vous plaît et merçi d'avance.
  • 10D) Soupy merchandizing? (5)
    SALES (double synonym)
Here is a photo of Soupy Sales and Frank Sinatra. Which one is Soupy, and which one is Frank? That is a stronger riddle than the one posed by this clue.
Soupy Sales and Frank Sinatra
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

  • 18D) You were announced as the pitcher (4)
    You were * homophone = EWER
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Ewer saying something?
Yes, we were saying, “ewe.”

Farmboy? Hand us that pitcher.
As you wish | Wesley | The Princess Bride
  • 31D) Sue wants a shirt created (5)
    (Sue = BEG) wants A (shirt = T) = BEGAT
Mehhhhh. “sue” => “beg” feels thin, brothers and sisters. The thesaurus supports it but wutevr. Spent a goodly time working an anagram of SHIRT first.
  • 26D) One looking down's not so far away, if you listen closely! (7)
    'S (not so far away = NEARER) * homophone = SNEERER
Gross. S'not good. This is another homophone that hurts our feelings.
“'s nearer” => “sneerer”  No‑hoooooo.

The Tacky

  • 42A) A very good French girl (dark sounding, finally), wearing cotton fabric, almost unused (6)
    (cotton fabric = JEAN) + (almost (unused = NEW) = NE) = JEANNE
Is this a reference to a song? Dear Readers are welcome to comment and correct.

This clue creeps us out. “almost unused” cotton fabric. Just say it. Panties. It's Jeanne's French panties. Her cotton panties are almost unused. Or it's Jeanne who's almost unused. Jk jk obv it's both. She's very good, that Jeanne. And she sounds [licks the lips] dark. Finally, right? Finally: a girl who sounds dark.

Yeah screw this creepy clue.

Tell us how you really feel. Leave a comment.


  1. I don't think 42A was supposed to be creepy, but the image of Jeanne d'Arc being burned at the stake in her white cotton granny-panties sure is. Also I was thinking MUMPER instead of MUMMER.

    1. How one interprets the clue says more about the interpreter than the clue writer :)

      What's a MUMPER?

    2. MUMPER probably isn't a real word, but a British guy I know uses the slang term "mumping" a lot to denote complaining. Mumpers may not be all that funny per se, but I'd never heard of a mummer, and my British friend is a card like none other in the deck. I hope that answers your question!

    3. :) i like the word "mumping."
      Thanks for writing, brother!

  2. I objected to the clue because jeans are made of denim, not "JEAN." Also maybe my cryptic game is weak but I found "almost unused" -> "NE(W)" to be completely obtuse. Only got the answer from the definition and crosses.

    1. i spose if you accept "jean jacket" or "jean shorts" it's fair to also accept "jean" as "cotton fabric." But yah, the equivalency is a little weak.

      i echo your distaste for indicators applying to synonyms. Save the synonyms for the definition portion, geeze! This comes up a lot in Harper's, crosses are thus crucial as you say.