Saturday, July 22, 2017

Identity Crisis - July 2017

answers to the July 2017 Harper's cryptic crossword puzzle | Identity Crisis | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

The Theme!

Five unclued acrosses, with the hint that unclued 40A describes the other four. 40A turns out to be SELF‑DESCRIBED. Early on when we had just SE———— for 40A we hoped it might be something like SEX———. Like, SEX‑CRIMMINALS, with two Ms to fill the grid. Nay, though. And the others:
  • 34A) UNAMBIGUOUS    what??
Kinda sorta feels like this whole dang theme was built around MISPELLED hahahahha ahhAHHAhahah [chokes] [dies] but then, because it's the only rule breaker non‑word it seems incongruous. Forgivable though in a way that wuttttt UNAMBIGUOUS is just rip ranklingly irritating. Perhaps “unambiguous” implies black/white clear‑cut certainty to you.

thinks a moment ...

Ok yeah we guess so FINE yah UNAMBIGUOUS does imply certainty. Thank you for coming with us on this journey that proves it's possible to have evolving thoughtful impressions.

Anyway, the "net" (as we say in corporate office settings): this was not a great theme. It was fine. Only one blockbuster thirteener anagram (1D) so, obv, not our favorite puzzle. Boring stuff, including, we swear to Gorn, SNORE (16A). Sume puzzlese. And then a rull bad tacky.

There was also another error in the grid layout: a missing horizontal bar between TACET and SELF‑DESCRIBED in the lower left. What's goin on at Harper's puzzle HQ, buds?

Maltby sits in a giant bath of hot salt water. The tub side is lit by candles, the water glows with rare bioluminescent sea creatures. Suddenly a figure rises to the surface (how deep is this tub??), gasping for air, dark hair whipping water over the candles and on Maltby's face, still serene despite the choked noises of a half-drowned human. It is the Puzzle Minion.

"Did you find my contact lens?" asks Maltby. His voice is barely louder than a whisper. The Puzzle Minion doesn't even bother to shake his head no. Back down he goes.


  • 16A) Small type, fancy, dapper, one glued to a book (8)
    (Small type = EN) fancy (DAPPER) = ENDPAPER
Very nice! Automatic Highlight for book esoterica!
photo of endpaper | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 20A) A yoga exercise is one thing you don't want to get carried away by! (9)
    A yoga exercise = thing you don't want to get carried away by = STRETCHER
In the screenplay we're working on about our mother and grandmother (title: SMOTHER) the grandmother makes fun of the mother's yoga practice and calls it “stretching.”

“That's not exercise, dear. That's stretching.”

Fun to imagine Maltby in league with our grandma.
photo of my grandma and grandpa | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 26A) Retro depilatory of a certain age (4)
    Retro (depilatory = NEET) = TEEN
MmmmMMmmmmmm mwa GLORIOUS! Wonderful! Such excellent consonance. We were stuck for a while working NAIR, only vaguely heard of old school NEET, such lovely delivery in this clue!
  • 38A) Trifle with Conservative Party, lose the right (3)
    (Conservative Party = TORY) lose the (right = R) = TOY
A nice one for our sister blog!
  • 37A) Guards on watches turned off pretty much by nonsense (4)
    (turned (OFF pretty much = OF) = FO) by (nonsense = BS) = FOBS
  • 38A) Don't play your top card between times (5)
    (top card = ACE) between (times = T T) = TACET
Mmmmmmm v nice! Musical! The white space of notes you don't play!
  • 39A) Cutlets pounded in sink (7)
    CUTLETS pounded = SCUTTLE
verb   scut•tle

1 to cut a hole through the bottom, deck, or side of (a ship); specifically : to sink or attempt to sink by making holes through the bottom
Didn't know this definition of SCUTTLE before, just knew it as, like, “scuttle that decision.” And then that there was a vaguely beachy meaning as well.
  • 1D) Writing without lyrics, stylizer worked for promoters of The Book of Mormon, for example (13)
    (Writing without lyrics = PROSE) STYLIZER worked = PROSELYTIZERS
Wow. SUccchhhHHh glorious anagramer! Is it unfair to call Mormons specifically promoting the book “proselytizers”? Isn't that more or less the mission of missions? More‑mons?
  • 3D) Enologist's final pairings sadly going all over the place ... (9)
    (Enologist's final = T) PAIRINGS sadly = TRAIPSING
  • 5D) Rip Torn, initially from South Carolina, might receive this! (6)
    RIP (Torn initially = T) from (South Carolina = SC) = SCRIPT
Glorious consonance between Rip Torn the acteur and scripts! Lovely! Plenny of times we've critiqued the that must be read both as whole and as parts. But not this time. This time we like it. It's ok to like different things at different times. It's ok to contain multitudes and be inconsistent. That's just part of the human experience.
photo of Rip Torn | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 11D) Strike obliquely comes from having good arm (6)
    Strike obliquely = good arm = LANCE
Was sure this involved GLANCE in the sense of “strike obliquely” but maybe not? Maybe when you lance a boil you do it from the side?

Who is the best Lance? Correct! Lance Reddick! This month's Nerd Hot Guy:
photo of Lance Reddick | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 12D) Negative number of Italians make the French possessive (5)
    (Negative = NO) (number of Italians = TRE) = NOTRE
A little paint by nombres but some fun narrative! The Italians leave and those moody French get antsy! Also always fun to whip out our middle school/high school French study.
  • 17D) Rhyming fool on a talk series (9)
    (fool = ASS) ON A (talk series = TED) = ASSONATED
Assonance is ... not quite a rhyme. It's like a bastard cousin of rhyme, non? But this is an automatic Highlight for the subtle burn on TED, the home of talk.
  • 22D) Damsel in distress takes a big turn, producing a stony look! (7)
    DAMSEL in distress takes (a big turn = U) = MEDUSA
Very nice! “Stony look” indeed! Only qualm is that this isn't pritically uncommon. Maybe the instructions had a misprint and meant to indicate that 21D ELEGIAC was the uncommon word?
  • 23D) Promise is becoming switched to advance (7)
    PROMISE (IS becoming (switched TO = OT)) = PROMOTED
OhhhHhh this was very excellent. Very wonderful. Also implies a sortof “this deal gets worse and worse” narrative. What a fantastic clue!
still of Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian from The Empire Strikes Back | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 25D) Just a taste of this European bread gets you upset (7)
    (Just a taste of THIS = T) (European bread = ROUBLE) = TROUBLE
We like this but ... isn't it usually transliterated RUBLE?
  • 29D) Oral spray needed (6)
    Oral (spray = MIST) = MISSED
Oh YESSS! Tight and neat! Kept working variations of SPIT.

So at our local gym there's this one class instructor who goes by Sarge. The rumor is that he was in the military so perhaps he was once fit and firm. These days he is paunchy with a gut that looks full of water weight and ego. He teaches boot camp classes. We went to one, once, but left after fifteen minutes. We're not sure why we thought “boot camp” would be something different from an overweight man yelling at us to do pushups. But we did. We thought it would be something different.

The rumor is that he made a pregnant woman in his class cry.

Anyway so obviously we avoid Sarge. The other morning before Zumba class though the normal instructor wasn't there, and Sarge was just around, giving us the eye. Sarge came over to where we were working on the Harper's puzzle and explained that if the substitute instructor didn't show up that he, Sarge, would teach a class.

“But I won't be teaching Zumba,” he said, with like this anticipatory smile. ”I don't teach Zumba.” Flecks of his spittle misted onto our copy of the Harper's puzzle.

“You're Sarge. You teach boot camp,” we said. And he took that as his cue to leave us alone. Had he not, our next lines were: “your reputation precedes you. Is it true that you made a pregnant woman cry?”

Fearsome oral spray need not be a mist. Sometimes it can be words.
  • 31D) Nick in a picture frame left with mark (5)
    frame (left = L) with (mark = NOTE) = NOLTE
Very nice! Multi‑meaning “nick” and “mark” which are both proper names, too. Tip top, as Notorious Marcel would say.
  • 32D) Baby's store clothes: Gap, with big outlet (5)
    BABY'S Store clothes = ABYSS
Automatic Highlight for associating the GAP and especially Baby GAP with the abyss.
collage photo of Cthulhu in a Baby GAP | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues


  • 10A) Titular rube, rich, all detailed (8)
    Titular RUBe RICh ALl = RUBRICAL
Is “all but the last letter” the title of something? Is it? Is it really? Really is it?
  • 13A) Tackle boxes—excellent with a fish (4)
    boxes (excellent = D) with a (fish = GAR) = GEAR
GAR is the sound we make when we see this fish in the puzzle.
photo of a gar fish | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 16A) Sleep soundly, restless senor! (5)
    restless SENOR = SNORE
SNORE is the sound we make you know the rest of the joke we don't have to finish.
  • 30D) Independent country, in poems (3)
    (country = INDIA) in poems = IND
One poem, please. One poem with INDIA as IND. We're gonna look for one right now. Is it going to be Kipling? Did Kipling do it?

... searches on goog for 30 seconds ...

Ok didn't find one. Dear Readers, you are welcome to bring an India Ind poem to our attention.
  • 4D)... promotes pairs with no entrée (4)
    PAIRS with no entrée = AIRS
This one is meant to have synergy with 3D about the enologist's pairings, ugh, fine, but it's so limp and bland it doesn't seem worth it. Also, why does “entrée” get its diacritic, but not “señor” in 18A?
illustration of a Victorian dinner | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 6D) Baby deer becoming rattled? (8)
    BABY DEER becoming = YABBERED
We were certain there'd be FAWN, then we crossed one of the Bs so we were certain there'd be a BAMBI. Instead it's this nonsense, this yabbered abbered doo doo.
  • 8D) Blessing on completing ticket sales (4)
    ON completing (ticket sales = box office = BO) = BOON
BO is more like ... what this clue smells like OHhhhHhhhh! Here, we'll fix it:
  • Diddley squat is a topsy-turvy godsend (4)
    (Diddley = BO) ((squat = NO) is a topsy-turvy = ON) = BOON
That one's not that great, since “squat” = “no” comes via “diddly‑squat” which is already part of the clue. Ok we'll try again:
  • No mixed up backwards doctor in the birthing room is good (4)
    NO mixed up (backwards (doctor in the birthing room = OB) = BO) = BOON
Better. Any time Harper's puzzle central wants us on staff, give a ring. You have our number.
  • 9D) Change name in secret (7)
    (name = N) in SECRET = CENTERS
    (name = N) in (secret = COVERT) = CONVERT
Centers? As in, loose change, as in coins, as in cents? What kind of cents does that make?

OOPS and many THANKS to Dear Reader Mo below who spotted our error. Sometimes we play ourselves.

DJ Khaled in a shoestore, caption: "Congratulations, you played yourself" | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 21D) Sad member one jailed in English cooler (7)
    (member = LEG) (one = I) jailed in (English = E) (cooler = AC) = ELEGIAC
We were stone cold certain that “English cooler” would yield GAOL. Nyet. Leg qua member is fine. It's fine. All this heat tho in service of antiseptic cough syrup ELEGIAC. Blah.
  • 24D) It's unusual to be holding nothing but upraised dumbbell (4)
    (It's unusual to be = ODD) holding (nothing = O) but upraised = DODO
cover of Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • 28D) Fix this country's difficulty in Britain (6)
    (Fix = RIG) (this country's = OURS) = RIGOURS
Anything smacking of nationalism these days is irritating to us. So. Automatic Lowlight.
  • 33D) Greek character fit awkwardly in a uniform? Just the opposite! (5)
    (Greek character = MU) FIT awkwardly = MUFTI
Boo for puzzlese mufti, boo for this “Just the opposite” bummer indicator nonsense.

The Tacky

photo of a protest against eugenics | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Yall knew i' twould be this one.
  • 2D) Improving the kids brings up movies and heading off chills and fever (7)
    brings up ( (movies = CINE) and (heading off (chills and fever = AGUE) = GUE) = EUGENIC
Cool. If there weren't enough Nazis in the news, now there's Nazi logic in the puzzle. Cool cool cool. Eugenics. For “improving” the kids.

Sure sure blah blah ancient history blah blah. But it always comes down to: who is fit, and who is not. And who determines fitness, and who is ready with the sterile knives, and who goes to the clinic for an employer-mandated checkup and leaves without her uterus. This same shit. Over and over.

Really really truly thought this clue would be about goats (kids). When you breed animals, it's not eugenics, it's “husbandry.”

We do enjoy that frankness in the word “husbandry” tho! “This is what husbands are for.”

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