Cryptic Puzzle

’tis the damn season

’tis the damn season

By Tom Toce

Twelve of the across answers in this puzzle are one letter too long, so leave them out. You’ll still have valid entries after the omissions; that’s the way I roll. The twelve omitted letters in clue order will yield a seasonal message.

Because of the deletions, as well as the existence of some double definition clues, where one definition is a proper noun but the other isn’t, it’s difficult to give a proper noun count that doesn’t create more confusion than it clears up. So let’s just say that there are a handful of proper nouns, both in the grid entries and in the words before entry. Everything else is playable in Scrabble. Ignore punctuation, which is intended to deceive.

Thanks to Bob Fink, Eric Klis, and Jerry Miccolis for test-solving and editorial suggestions.

Across Clues

 1Worse off, but lucky to experience average loss
 4Let unsaid designs be protected
10Misappropriation of funds when leaders of restructuring corporate entities go between LA and New York
11Treats monopolies with no left-leaning old liberal dismissals (two words)
12Rats! Misfortune follows inadequate application of SPF
13Imprisoned one party, right, Grant? 
15No vote over any feature with steep sides
16Clever English dogs, Nick
17Virgil led him over dangerous route!
19Horrible tales of very little importance
21Surrounded by pyramids near the Eastern border 
22Heroes married? Guess what are the odds? 
25Annie’s big song? It certainly isn’t “Yesterday”
17Amasses tips
30Rocky and Holly in Palestine (two words)
31Crushing in gradient maneuvers 
32Hit it, Candide—as promised
33Some evidence of quiet communists

Down Clues

 1He shrugged, “What lasagna?” contentedly
 2Diptych by Warhol decorated in mylar
 3Arranging the debut of demonstrably poor singers 
 5None dominated on the frontier chosen for the general
 6Eden is out, unfortunately, and starts to pontificate idiotically on The Scarlet Letter 
 7California’s coming after a number of people from a Manhattan neighborhood
 8Escritoire hidden in Lorde’s kitchen 
 9NYC’s renovated square 
14Outside of legal troubles, lucky breaks for actors?
15Mobile is close, it sounds like
16Disk with the first six episodes of Bridgerton for William
18Better bless Ian and many members of the LGBTQ+ community
20Ruined after taking power and then again ruined
23Real trouble: engine turns over unconvincingly at first
24Pattern of tiles representing Miriam’s brother
26Including width, excluding depth
28Hearing functions as foreshadowing
29Head of the committee ends early to have some tea

TOM TOCE is an FCAS and a senior manager at EY. He is a member of the Jeopardy Hall of Fame. Solutions may be emailed to In order to make the solver list, you should send him your solutions by February 1, 2023.

Solution to Previous Issue’s Puzzle—Declassification

Across Clues

1POLKA—POLK (“former president”) + A (“leader of Antifa”)
 4MAIM—Homophone of MAME (“a musical”)
 8RICH—Double definition
11SPEC—Homophone of SPECK (“a little bit”)
13RECALL—REL (“a little cousin”) around CAL (“California”) 
14SODA—Reverse ADS around O (“orange”) 
15OIL—O (“Leonardo’s last”) + I (“one”) + L (“learns at the outset”)
16MILKY WAY/MY WAY/ILK—MILKY (“Cloudy”) WAY (“to a great degree”) and “where we live”/MY WAY (“the alternative to the highway”)
18BORDERLAND/BLAND/ORDER—Anagram of “bladder, Ron” and “an uncertain condition”/BLAND (“of no interest to anyone”)
19WED—Double definition
21COMPLETELY—Anagram of “empty cello” 
24PROPAGANDA—PROP (“A gun, maybe”) + AG (“silver”) + AND + A 
28FAB—First letters in “four amazing Beatles”
19AVATAR—A + VA + TAR (“cadet, sometimes”)
30SPREAD—Anagram of “parsed”
33KID—Double definition 
34HATRACKS/HAS/TRACK—Anagram of “art hacks’” and “wall installations”/HAS (“Acquires”)
37DISMALLY/DALLY/ISM—SMALL inside DIY (“home-repair practices“) and “in the worst way”/DALLY (“Waste time”) 
38ELLE—Double definition
40EYES—Homophone of AYES (“certainly again and again”)
41DANCE—D (“down”) + A + N (“new”) + CE (“Common Era”)

Down Clues

 2LACERATED/LACED/RATE—“Aggrieved” and anagram of “Al reacted”/LACED (“Fortified with liquor”)
 3ALLOWS—Anagram of “slow LA”
 5ASS—Punning double definition (“When this is backwards, things are screwed up”)
 6IPOD—DO (“Determine”) + PI (“3.1415 . . . “) reversed
 7MED—M (“Married”) + ED (“actor burns”)
 9ISOLATES—Anagram of “’Lassie’ to” 
10HOLIDAYS—Double definition 
12CASSETTE/CASTE/SET—Hidden in “Maracas set tempo” and “tape”/CASTE (“class”)
16MET – ***Hooked up with Casey Stengel, once*** Double definition and possibly my favorite clue of all time 
17YEOMAN—Anagram of “one may”
20SPADES—Anagram of “Passed”
23COWARDLY—CO (“company”) + WARD (“division”) + ONLY – ON
25APACHE—Anagram of “A cheap”
26SAD—Double definition and literally, with reference to Seasonal Affective Disorder 
27TRISECTED/TRIED/SECT—“made a couple of cuts” and anagram of “ET credits”/TRIED (“Held a hearing”)
28FALLEN—ALL inside FEN (“swamp”)
31FRANKLY/FLY/RANK—Punning double definition (“like Sinatra” and “with no nonsense”)/FLY (“Career”)
32TYPE—Hidden in “university pedant”
36SEE—Homophone of SEA (“ocean”) 


Steve Alpert, Dean Apps, Bob Campbell, Lois Cappellano, Todd Dashoff, Mick Diede, Bob Fink, Pete Hepokoski, Max Jackson, Ruth Johnson, Eric Klis, Paul Kolell, Mike Kosciuk , Ken Kudrak, Ben Lynch, Mathew Marchione and Marika Brown, Dave McGarry, Mike McLaughlin, Jerry Miccolis, Jon Michelson, Jim Muza, David and Corinne Promislow, Jay Ripps, Bill Scott, Zig Swistunowicz, T. O. C. E. (Josh DenHartog and Sean Donohoe), Betsy and James Uzzell

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