Cryptic Puzzle



By Tom Toce

Puzzles are a good distraction during the COVID quarantine. We’re ten months in, as I write this. The solution to this puzzle involves a three-word phrase, which you will need in order to arrive at a completed grid. If you find the phrase helpful otherwise, that would be a plus!

Each of the across clues leads to an answer that’s one letter short. For the grid, you’ll need to borrow a letter from the three-word phrase to make a new word. There is no reordering; the first letter of the phrase is added to the first across answer, the second letter to the second across answer, and so on. There is also no reordering going from answer to grid entry, just a simple insertion of the additional letter.

Including both sets of across words and all the down answers, there are six proper nouns and two more words that don’t have to be proper nouns but are as clued. There is one hyphenated entry. Unusual words occur at 15D and 22D. Everything else is playable in Scrabble. Ignore punctuation, which is intended to confuse. Thanks to Bob Fink, Eric Klis, and Jerry Miccolis for test-solving and editorial suggest1ions.

1. Mandibles found in research insects1. User data on wafers
4. Broken rattle might be a second choice2. Nightclub with a square energy
8. Man-to-man alternative offered by unknown person3. “Can’t help but” denotes out-of-control (5, 2)
9. Smallest teen’s tie is knotted4. Michelangelo’s work made by hollowing out Piedmont terracotta
11. Those opposed to prisoners5. So much melancholy for Mideast ruler
12. Order pa’s new medicine6. Going in there, Lou visited briefly a Paris attraction (3, 6)
13. Senators erupting at Mexican men7. Stats sit uncomfortably with those who believe in a strong central government
16. Counts Whoppers twice?10. What big teeth displayed by Tuscaloosa’s razorbacks!
18. Except from the get-go those having antagonistic natures14. Community receives arrangement of yarn
19. Produces formidable bacteriophages on the carapace15. Starting a measure late on “Free Bird”
20. They masquerade as alien spores16. A speeder recklessly becomes a source of oil
23. Erratic reversal by Penelope and some others17. Ideal lover turned record producer
26. Calculate speed19. Feats ordered by weavers
28. Mis-adjusted, you said? And others shot back, “Fake”?21. Recording artist takes a sip of whiskey from someone for whom one is never enough
29. Nobelist treating griddle oddly22. Sit around constantly with a dose of radiation
30. Angels playing positions24. Fundamentally, Elaine qualifies as nonpartisan
31. Struts all over the place with entitlement25. Tests, but none before noon!
27. Celia thrown by tart girl

TOM TOCE is a senior manager for actuarial services with Ernst & Young in New York and is a member of the Jeopardy Hall of Fame. Solutions may be emailed to him at In order to make the solver list, your solutions must be received by January 31, 2021.

Previous Issue’s Puzzle—And the Winner Is . . .

It’s nice that so many of you picked either JOSEPH BIDEN (or less often DONALD TRUMP) as the answer to 17A. You must really think I have superpowers. And you must think I’m brazen. Others submitted a hybrid, usually DONALD BIDEN (and sometimes DOCTOR BIDEN), which is a little closer to what I was going for. The real trick of the puzzle is that either JOSEPH BIDEN or DONALD TRUMP can fit 17A, as long as a few down clues do double duty. The double duty clues were tough to build, and I allowed myself more leeway than usual on them. Is “it accompanies” a good definition of SPINET? Well, spinets do accompany, often. How about PLANET? So-called exo-planets notwithstanding, one of the characteristics of a planet is that it revolves around a star. It accompanies a star, in the same way a moon accompanies a planet. I’m giving credit to all the solvers who only submitted one or other, as well as those who came up with DONALD BIDEN and DOCTOR BIDEN. Those solutions are not wrong, exactly, just incomplete.


1. WISDOM—Anagram of “do swim”

5. BAR—Double definition

8. FESTIVE—Anagram of “if Steve”

 11. AGE—(S)AGE (“herb pruned”)

13. FANATIC—Anagram of “fact, Ian”

14. TYPE—Double definition (and pun)

15. TOLEDO—Pun

17. Inferred

19. MERINO—Anagram of “in Rome”

24. TERM—Hidden in “Letterman”

27. PLACEBO—PLACE (“Put”) + BO (“Jackson or Derek”)

29. USE—Anagram of “Sue”

30. EIDETIC—CITE (“Remember”) + DIE (“fall”) reversed

31. DAS—German article (“To Marx, the”) and reversal of SAD (“less fortunate”)

32. TALONS—Anagram of “Salt on”


1. WHAT—W (“White”) + HAT

2. SEEP—S(T)EEP (“Strongly inclined with no time”)

3. OFF—Double definition

4. MEAT—Homophone of MEET (“fitting”)

5. BITE—Homophone of BIGHT (“loop”)

6. DIVA—Reversal of AVID (“enthusiastic”)

7a. RECOUP—RECO “(“core reorganized”) + UP (“close”)

7b. RECOIN—RECO “(“core reorganized”) + IN (“close”)

9a. SNOOTY—OT (“a little shot”) inside SNOY (“nosy stranger”)

9b. SNOBBY—BB (“a little shot”) inside SNOY (“nosy stranger”)

10. TAL—Foreign word. Last letters of “Amobarbital”

12. GYRO—Anagram of “Gory”

PLANET—PLA (alternate first letters of “Stravinsky, Poulenc, Penderecki, Liszt, Ives, and”) + NET (“Hook”)

SPINET—SPI (alternate first letters of “Stravinsky, Poulenc, Penderecki, Liszt, Ives”) + NET (“Hook”)

DUMPED—J(D) (“half of a law degree”) + UMPED (“decided”)

JUMPED—(J)D (“half of a law degree”) + UMPED (“decided”)

18a. MARS—Double definition

18b. EARS—Anagram of “Ares”
 20) ELIA—Anagram of “a lie”

21. RADS—Double definition

22. ICE—Double definition

23. OBIT—OBI (anagram of “Bio”) + T (“Tuesday”)

25. EURO—Anagram of “Roue”


28. OCA—O(R)CA (“Killer whale”)


Team AALO (Kristen Bischoff, Danny Clark, Kristen Detwiler, Alec Pirritano, Zach Gerth); Steve Alpert; Anthony Amodeo; Dean Apps; Jack Brauner; Jan Brown; Bob Camp; Bob Campbell; Lois Cappellano; Laura Cremerius; Todd Dashoff; Mick Diede; Bob Fink; Phil Gollance; Jason Helbraun; Pete Hepokoski; Catharine Hornby; Max Jackson; Ruth Johnson; Eric Klis; Paul Kolell; Mike Kosciuk; Ken Kudrak; Ben Lynch; Michael Manos; Dave McGarry; Jon Michelson; Becky Moody; Jim Muza; David and Corinne Promislow; Daniel Rhodes; Jay Ripps; Bill Scott; Chris Shatto; Andrew Shewan; Zig Swistunowicz; T. O. C. E. (Josh DenHartog and Sean Donohoe); Betsy and James Uzzell; Jim Wickwire; Christian Wolfe

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