More Crossword Cleverness

I read recently that the editor of the NYT crosswords changes, on average, half the clues provided by crossword creators, before they’re allowed to be published. From what I’ve seen, that has not improved them. The editors tend to be old, white, top caste males who arbitrarily disallow words and phrases that they don’t know personally, even if they’ve made their way into the popular vernacular. Having to change one long “theme” answer can be almost as difficult as creating a new puzzle from scratch, so it’s pretty discouraging, especially if you’re a seasoned creator. On top of that, the puzzle “old guard” tend to change clues, particularly for longer “theme” answers, to better suit their own demographic. There has been some pressure to open up the ranks of both creators and editors to younger, more gender-balanced and diverse puzzlers, but it’s slow going.

As I mentioned in a post two years ago, I like coming up with alternative clues to some puzzles after I’ve solved them, alternatives that are a bit trickier (and hopefully cleverer) than the “straight” ones, while still being fair. This is especially fun, and challenging, for shorter words. I’m including a few examples below, but first, here are some of what I thought were some of the cleverest clues I’ve come across since that earlier post.

CLEVER CLUES (often with a “?” at the end of the clue to prompt the solver that there’s wordplay involved):

  1. “Something” can be heard on it:  ABBEYROAD
  2. Mine field?:  PERSONALSPACE
  3. “Becoming” someone:  MICHELLEOBAMA
  4. Workers making preparations to retire:  PITCREW
  5. Possible effect of doping: ROIDRAGE
  6. Invasive plant:  SPY
  7. Big drop of water:  FALLS
  8. What the answers to should be clear:  EYETEST
  9. Health care coverage providers:  SCRUBS
  10. It’s no six-pack, ironically:  BEERBELLY
  11. One who arrives around Hallowe’en:  SCORPIO
  12. Support staff:  CANE
  13. Store that should have a spokesperson?: BIKESHOP
  14. Opening of an account:  ASIRECALL
  15. Mass movement:  AGNUSDEI
  16. Who says “I found this on the Web”:  SIRI
  17. They often fall apart when the stakes are raised:  TENTS
  18. Local leader:  UNIONREP
  19. One who gives a lot of orders:  DAYTRADER
  20. Heavy metal shortage:  ANEMIA
  21. First set of choices:  MAINMENU
  22. One who won’t give kids a shot?:  ANTIVAXXER
  23. Noah’s predecessor:  STEWART
  24. Character raised in Rosemary’s Baby:  APOSTROPHE
  25. One who makes a living pushing drugs:  PHARMAREP
  26. Type least likely to show up in a hospital:  ABNEGATIVE
  27. Mobile home:  PHONECASE
  28. Reason for going out a lot?:  NARCOLEPSY
  29. Locks that might not be secure?:  TOUPEES
  30. Important thing to know, if you will:  ESTATELAW  (love that one)
  31. Not right, sarcastically:  YOUROTHERLEFT
  32. Drill setting:  BOOTCAMP
  33. Situation with no up side:  TIE
  34. Classified key to success:  SECRETSAUCE
  35. Company with striking footwear?:  TAPDANCERS
  36. Investments associated with CDs:  STEREOS
  37. Dimensions without planes?:  NOFLYZONES
  38. Part of a club:  MAYO
  39. Flight destination:  UPSTAIRS
  40. What some caddies carry:  LOOSETEA
  41. Get through lines quickly:  SPEEDREAD
  42. Party animal?:  PINATA
  43. They come out of many mouths:  WISDOMTEETH
  44. It can be found beneath the lower crust:  PIETIN
  45. It’s around a cup:  BRIM
  46. Dover soul?:  BRIT
  47. Tip used for icing:  SILENCER
  48. Vacancy clause?:  NOBODYSHOME
  49. Soup line?:  MMMMGOOD
  50. Pole star?  SANTA
  51. Make a little lower?:  CALVE
  52. Rock singer?:  LORELEI
  53. Flat bottom:  SOLE
  54. Stocking-up time?:  YULETIDE
  55. Where following a star might lead you:  FOOTNOTE
  56. Round-trip flight?:  SPIRALSTAIRCASE

INTERESTING CLUES (things I didn’t know, but was intrigued to learn):

  1. 60s-70s band named for an Aldous Huxley novel:  THEDOORS
  2. Notable feature of David Foster Wallace books:  ENDNOTES
  3. Headgear for Eminem: DORAG (or DURAG)
  4. Rice used in rice pudding:  ARBORIO
  5. Official cocktail of New Orleans:  SAZERAC
  6. Breakout entertainment: ESCAPEROOM
  7. In Australia her name is Karen:  SIRI
  8. Fictional land named in real-life law cases:  RURITANIA
  9. Large monitors:  KOMODODRAGONS
  10. Recess for a joint:  MORTISE
  11. Dirt, to some:  SCHMUTZ
  12. Mission, often:  HOMELESSSHELTER
  13. World’s tallest building:  BULJKHALIFA
  14. Cousin of tartar sauce:  REMOULADE
  15. “i” dot:  TITTLE
  16. Jewelled headwear:  DIADEMS
  17. Smallest infinite cardinal number:  ALEPHNULL

So here are the original clues for 14 crossword answers, the original answer provided, and, in italics, my own preferred and hopefully-cleverer or more interesting clue:

  1. Bronze producer:  SPRAYONTAN —  Trump’s false veneer?
  2. A mandible is part of it:  SKULL —  Head home?
  3. Wagner’s oeuvre:  OPERA —  Horse or comic follower
  4. System of unspoken words, abbr.:  ASL —  Silent conveyance vehicle, abbr.
  5. “Automatic for the people” band:  REM —  It sometimes comes right before “sleep”
  6. Gruelling grilling:  ORALEXAM —  Doctor looking down in the mouth?
  7. Mountain home:  AERIE —  Gang hangout?
  8. Pipe sellers:  HEADSHOPS —  Psychiatrists’ offices?
  9. Country:  RUSTIC —  Real estate’s euphemism for homely
  10. Embarrassed:  SHEEPISH —  Ovine?
  11. Organization that Helen Keller helped found:  ACLU —  US defender of last resort, too often
  12. Eats before a meal?:  APPETIZER —  Entrée, outside America
  13. Largest sesamoid bone in the body:  KNEECAP — Hit below the belt?
  14. Quiet:  SILENCE —  What we’ll often remember about our friends, sadly, per MLK
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