Guest qryptic from Nate Cardin!

Meet guest qryptic constructor Nate Cardin and his absurdly cute pupper, Eero!

A few of you have asked me for an easy cryptic to help you practice the solving skills you’ve gotten through my Decrypting the Cryptic series or #crypticclueaday. And I keep saying “no time for that, sorry…”

Simultaneously, the utterly delightful Nate Cardin has become addicted to cryptic construction and is ready for his puzzles to come out in the world. Well, if that isn’t a happy confluence of interests, I don’t know what is.

So I’m thrilled to bring you one of Nate’s first completed puzzles! Here’s a little about him: Nate is a high school chemistry teacher in Los Angeles, where he lives with his husband and his puppy, Eero.  He is very much into word games, Survivor, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and caring.  Black lives (and experiences, thoughts, contributions, and so much more) very much matter to him. [Those are Nate’s words, but let’s not forget that he’s also the founder and co-editor of Queer Qrosswords, a kickass puzzle diversity initiative that publishes LGBTQ+ constructors. I binge-solved the entirety of Queer Qrosswords 2 on a flight from NYC to Los Angeles last year, and I highly recommend it!]

And here’s a note from Nate (that’s basically a cryptic clue waiting to be written, amirite?): I’m so proud to debut my very first cryptic crossword on Stella’s site, since her #crypticclueaday tweets inspired me to delve into cryptics so earnestly. For this and other cryptics I’ve been working on over the past few months, I’m indebted to the time, advice, wisdom, and feedback of folks like Stella, Andrew Ries, Neville Fogarty, Steve Mossberg, and Joshua Kosman. I am made better by the crossword community and I hope I can give back even a fraction of what they (and you all) have given to me. I hope you enjoy the solve – let me know if you particularly enjoyed (or hated!) any of the clues. You can find me on Twitter @naytnaytnayt.

I think you’re gonna love it: Those of you who’ve already seen Nate’s clues on Twitter know that his take on cryptics is FRESH AF. ENJOY!!!!

Nate Cardin for Tough as Nails Qryptic – Across Lite

Tough as Nails Themeless #21

I’m in a fashionable mood, between yesterday’s #crypticclueaday and reading writeups of the Emmys red carpet at-home awards lewks. So this week you’re getting a puzzle whose central entry relates to fashion. This despite the fact that I’ve been living in sneakers and baseball shirts for the past week, after a couple of months of living in tank tops and flip-flops. God, I miss getting dressed up! (Clearly, so did Tracee Ellis Ross. Get it, woman!)

Hope this puzzle makes you feel a little more fabulous during end times.

Tough as Nails Themeless #21 – Across Lite

Tough as Nails Themeless #20

It’s a brave new Dropbox world! Hopefully this works with everyone able to access the .PUZ files with no issues. (I filed a complaint with Google to try to get my puzzles reinstated because they’re, you know, MY puzzles, but that is going nowhere.)

This puzzle was inspired by, as you might guess, the song at 34-Across. If it gets stuck in your head afterward, I’m not sorry.

Tough as Nails Themeless #20 – Across Lite

Tough as Nails Themeless #19

Another Wednesday, another themeless. Today is a big birthday for Mr. Tough as Nails, so if I’d been thinking ahead I would have built my husband into this grid somehow. Sorry ’bout it, hubby. (He does not, for the most part, do crosswords. This is a good thing. If we were both competitive solvers I don’t think our relationship could have survived; instead, we’ve been together just about 17 years at this point. #old)

Digression over. Solve away!

Tough as Nails Themeless #19 – Across Lite

Decrypting the Cryptic #15: &lit.

Welcome to Decrypting the Cryptic #15! In this series, we’ll be taking apart common cluing conventions used in American cryptic crosswords to build your confidence in solving a puzzle variety that can be, as its name implies, especially challenging. 

This will be the last Decrypting the Cryptic post for a while. Not because I’m tired of writing them, but because I’ve now explained to you almost all of the rules and conventions that I know.

I’ve been waiting and waiting to tell you guys about &lit. clues. Why? Because they’re the most elusive of creatures, the hardest for a constructor to come up with. I have a feeling that one does not sit down and write an &lit. clue; rather, an &lit. clue comes to visit you, like a bird stopping by your bird feeder IF you’ve chased all the squirrels away AND you’ve filled the feeder with the very finest suet AND the weather is perfect AND the bird damn well pleases. I was hoping that by the time I was ready to write a post about them, I’d have come up with one.

…I haven’t. So you’ll all have to be content with examples by other people.

What, then, is this mythical beast? “&lit.” is short for “and literally.” What that means in the context of cryptics is that unlike all other clues, which can be broken into a straight definition portion and a wordplay portion, &lit. clues can be read in their entirety as both at the same time. Often, but not always, an exclamation point at the end of the clue is placed to indicate its &lit.-ness.

Here’s what that looks like:

Example #1: Schmear spread a bit at a time! (5,6) (Clue credit: Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, Out of Left Field #5, by subscription only.)

The answer is CREAM CHEESE, which you could say literally is a “schmear spread a bit at a time.” So, the entire clue serves as a way of literally describing the answer. But the clue can also be read as wordplay: SCHMEAR is a letter bank for the phrase CREAM CHEESE; that is, all the letters for CREAM CHEESE are found in the word SCHMEAR. That means that if you “spread” the letters in SCHMEAR “a bit at a time,” you get the phrase CREAM CHEESE.

Note that in this clue, the exclamation point is indeed an indicator for an &lit. clue; “Schmear spread a bit at a time” is just not a phrase one would be expected to shout with emphasis in normal parlance. However, exclamation points are not always indicators for &lit.; if the surface sense of a normal two-part cryptic clue would work with an exclamation point, the constructor may add one.

Let’s try one more &lit. example:

Example #2: I’m a leader of Muslims! (4) (Clue credit: Guardian puzzle #23892 by Rufus; heard through Crossword Unclued)

This brilliantly simple clue leads to the answer IMAM. An IMAM could tell you, literally, “I’m a leader of Muslims” by way of definition. And if you take the first two words in the clue — I’M A — and add the first letter of the word “Muslims” (“leader of Muslims,” get it?), you get IMAM.

Hope you enjoyed these uncommon &lit. sightings, and if you’re a budding cryptic constructor, I wish you an &lit. of your own in the not-too-distant future. Hell, I wish one on myself! Don’t forget to check out #crypticclueaday on Twitter. I post a new clue each day using that hashtag (other constructors have been adding their own as well), and every week on #explanationfriday I give the solutions and a brief explanation of how to derive them. These clues are a great way to hone your cryptic solving skills and build your confidence up to solving a full puzzle.

Decrypting the Cryptic #14: The Cryptic Alphabet

Welcome to Decrypting the Cryptic #14! In this series, we’ll be taking apart common cluing conventions used in American cryptic crosswords to build your confidence in solving a puzzle variety that can be, as its name implies, especially challenging. 

I’m running out of actual rules to explain to you guys — in fact, the only big one I can think of that I haven’t done yet is the &lit. clue, which is a beautiful thing but difficult to achieve for a constructor and therefore not very common. So, we’ll save that one for next week. Instead, we’ll look at something constructors need to do a lot, which is to indicate a single letter of the alphabet in some way. That letter might need to be added to a word, be dropped from a word, play in a game of charades — but no matter what, it’s boring and not very cryptic simply to give the solver that letter. So here are some ways that we do that.

  • If a word has a common single-letter abbreviation, then the whole word might be used in the wordplay to clue that letter. For example, on your bathroom faucet, the hot and cold taps may be marked “H” and “C”; thus, “hot” and “cold” are often used to indicate those letters in cryptic wordplay. Other examples include:
    • “Win” and “loss” for W and L
    • “Runs,” “hits,” or “errors” for R, H, or E
    • “Left” and “right” for L and R
    • “True” or “false” for T or F
    • “Yes” or “no” for Y or N
    • “Male” or “female” for M or F
  • The NATO phonetic alphabet: “Charlie” for C, “tango” for T, etc.
  • Elemental symbols (not limited to single-letter symbols, of course): “oxygen” for O, “potassium” for K, etc.
  • Other common math and science abbreviations and symbols
    • “Speed of light” for C
    • “Time” for T
    • “Force,” “mass” and “acceleration” for F, M, and A
  • “Nothing” and its synonyms (“zero,” “nil,” etc.) for O, since O looks like a zero
    • “Love” is also frequently used in this way, since love is zero in tennis!
  • Letter grades: “good” for B, “average” for C, “poor” for D, etc.
  • Abbreviations for units of measurement
    • “Second” for S
    • “Meter” for M
    • “Gram” for G
  • “Fork” for Y (get it? Ys are shaped like forks!)
  • Roman numerals: “ten” for X, “five” for V, etc.

Now that I’ve thrown a big, but not comprehensive, laundry list at you, here are a couple of examples to practice:

Example #1: Full minimum stream (4)

The answer is FLOW, or “stream” (either in the verb or the noun sense). A “minimum” is a “low,” so the single letter being clued here is F — which is “full” on your gas tank.

Example #2: Opera article comes after terrible cost (5)

The “opera” being clued here is TOSCA. “Terrible cost” leads you to anagram the letters in the word COST to get TOSC. What “comes after” that is the last letter in the word, A, which is an “article,” as in an indefinite article in the grammatical sense. (Thus, “article” can also be used to clue the letter strings AN or THE, just not this time.)

Hope you enjoyed our exploration of the cryptic alphabet, and don’t forget to check out #crypticclueaday on Twitter! I post a new clue each day using that hashtag (other constructors have been adding their own as well), and every week on #explanationfriday I give the solutions and a brief explanation of how to derive them. These clues are a great way to hone your cryptic solving skills and build your confidence up to solving a full puzzle.

Decrypting the Cryptic #13: Drop it!

Welcome to Decrypting the Cryptic #13! In this series, we’ll be taking apart common cluing conventions used in American cryptic crosswords to build your confidence in solving a puzzle variety that can be, as its name implies, especially challenging. 

Way back in June — doesn’t that feel like years ago? — we talked about containers, in which a letter or word is put inside another word to generate all or part of the answer. Flip that on its head, and you can also take away a letter or word to get to an answer. We’ve already discussed the special cases of the first and/or last letters being removed in beheadings and curtailments, but you can take things out of the middle of a word or phrase too. Let’s dive in with an example!

Example #1: Singer Natalie drops top from hit (4)

The answer is COLE (“Singer Natalie”). If you take the word COLLIDE, which means “hit,” and remove, or “drop,” the letters LID (a synonym for “top”), you get COLE.

Example #2: Composer ace walks out of seaside area (4)

The answer is BACH, who is a “composer.” And if you take BEACH (“seaside area”) and have the letter A (which is the letter for an “ace” in a deck of cards) “walk out of” it, you are left with BACH.

Let’s talk indicators, because letter- and word-drop clues always have them! Here’s a not-at-all-comprehensive list of ways you might realize there are some letters to be dropped in your future:

  • “Remove” and its synonyms; watch out for when “take-out” appears on the surface to be a noun (as in take-out food), because it might not be!
  • “Out,” “away,” or other adverbs that indicate something is being removed
  • “Lose” in all its forms; just to mess with your head, know that “loss” can also stand for the letter L, because on scorecards W is win and L is loss
  • “Missing,” “disappeared,” and the like
  • “Drop” or other verbs that indicate that something is actively being lost

Don’t forget to check out #crypticclueaday on Twitter! I post a new clue each day using that hashtag (other constructors have been adding their own as well), and every week on #explanationfriday I give the solutions and a brief explanation of how to derive them. These clues are a great way to hone your cryptic solving skills and build your confidence up to solving a full puzzle.

Decrypting the Cryptic #12: Beginnings and Endings

Welcome to Decrypting the Cryptic #12! In this series, we’ll be taking apart common cluing conventions used in American cryptic crosswords to build your confidence in solving a puzzle variety that can be, as its name implies, especially challenging. 

A couple of weeks ago, we got into beheadings and curtailments, in which you remove the first or the last letter of a word to get the answer word, or at least to get a string of letters that is found in the answer. Just as you can remove the first or last letter of a word and use what’s left, you can also just…use that letter! Since answer words are never just one letter, this type of wordplay will always be used in combination with some other wordplay type (with an exception we’ll talk about later).

Let’s just dive in with an example:

Example #1: Respectful title: Head of Marketing Driver (5)

The answer is MADAM, which is a “respectful title.” In the wordplay portion of the clue, “Driver” gets you the letters ADAM, as in actor Adam Driver. But what’s “Head of Marketing” doing? The word “head” indicates that you are to take the “head,” or the first letter, of the word “Marketing” and use it to build the answer.

So the wordplay portion of this clue adds up to charades — cluing the first letter in MADAM with “Head of Marketing,” and the rest of the word with “Driver.”

Example #2: Take back micro-bird (3)

The answer is EMU, which is a “bird.” But EMUs are gigantic; they’re hardly micro-sized. What’s going on? As in the first example, the overall pattern of the clue is charades. We’re using the last letter, or the “back,” of the word TAKE. That’s an E. And the Greek letter MU is shorthand for “micro-” in metric measurements. Science! Add E plus MU to get EMU.

There are lots of ways constructors can indicate to you that you’re looking for the first or last letter of a word. Be on the lookout for:

  • Words that relate to the top, bottom, front, or back of something: “head,” “cap,” “end,” etc. (“Top,” “bottom,” “front,” and “back” are of course frequently used as is!)
  • Ordinals: “first” or “last” (And hey, any ordinal works: If you see “third” in a clue, the constructor may be asking you to grab the third letter of the word instead of the first or last.)
  • “Ultimate” (for the last letter)
  • “Beginning” and its synonyms: “start,” “inception,” “origin”
  • “Ending” and its synonyms: “close,” “finale,” “finish”

I promised you I’d talk about an exception to the rule about this type of wordplay always being used in combination with some other type of wordplay, since cryptic crossword answers, just like standard American crossword answers, must be at least three letters long. The exception is when the wordplay in a clue is telling you to take the first or last letters of each word in a phrase. In that case, you don’t need to combine with another type of wordplay because the same trope is being repeated multiple times.

How’s that work? Here’s an example.

Example #3: Forward, as Thandie Newton Hollywood endings (4)

The answer is SEND, which is a synonym for “forward” in its verb sense. (Remember, the definition part of a cryptic clue need not define the answer with the same meaning as the surface sense of the clue; in fact, it’s better and more fun when the two are different!) If you take the last letters, or the “endings,” of the words “as,” “Thandie,” “Newton,” and “Hollywood,” voila! You get SEND.

Now you’re ready to go forth and figure out some first- and last-letter clues. Don’t forget to check out #crypticclueaday on Twitter! I post a new clue each day using that hashtag (other constructors have been adding their own as well), and every week on #explanationfriday I give the solutions and a brief explanation of how to derive them. These clues are a great way to hone your cryptic solving skills and build your confidence up to solving a full puzzle.