Saturday, November 6, 2021

Saturday, November 6, 2021 — Not Natural


When tackling today's puzzle from Cox & Rathvon, the solver need not stray from the black keys of the piano.

I, like many of those who have commented on their experience with the puzzle, found it quite a bit more of a challenge than usual.

I invite you to leave a comment to let us know how you fared with the puzzle.

Solution to Today's Puzzle

Falcon's experience
- solved without assistance
- incorrect prior to use of puzzle solving tools
- solved with assistance from puzzle solving tools
- solved with aid of checking letters provided by puzzle solving tools
- solved but without fully parsing the clue
- yet to be solved

Symbols and Markup Conventions
  •  "*" - anagram
  • "~" - sounds like
  • "<" - indicates the preceding letters are reversed
  • "( )" - encloses contained letters
  • "_" - replaces letters that have been deleted
  •  "†" - indicates that the word is present in the clue
  • "//" - marks the boundary between wordplay and definition when no link word or link phrase is present
  • "/[link word or phrase]/" - marks the boundary between wordplay and definition when a link word or link phrase is present
  • "solid underline" - precise definition
  • "dotted underline" - cryptic definition
  • "dashed underline" - wordplay
  • "wavy underline" - whimsical and inferred definitions
Click here for further explanation and usage examples of the symbols and markup conventions used on this blog.


1a Smart // dancing act has a spark (5,2,1,4)

{SHARP AS A TACK}* — anagram of (dancing) ACT HAS A SPARK

9a Concerning // a boxing match (5)

A|BOUT — A (†) + BOUT (boxing match)

10a Pile buttery spread on Nova Scotia // pastries (9)

NAP|OLEO|NS — NAP (pile) + OLEO (buttery spread) + NS (Nova Scotia)

11a Cats // chase the horses around (8)

CHEETAHS* — anagram of (horses around) CHASE THE

12a Attended // Tom’s debut in small role (4,2)

CAME (T)O — T (Tom's debut [initial letter]) contained in (in) CAMEO (small role)

14a Japanese drama involving a // flood survivor (4)

NO(A)H — NOH (Japanese drama) containing (involving) A (†)

15aState when surrounded by rubbish?? (10)

DRO(OPINE)SS — OPINE (state) contained in (surrounded by) DROSS (rubbish)

The double question marks tell us there is something highly unusual about  the clue. The entire clue is both wordplay and definition.

Droopiness[3,11] denotes a state of sagging in dejection, disheartenment or exhaustion. I suppose being surrounded by rubbish might make one feel disheartened—especially if it were one's responsibility to clean up the mess.

Heather offers an interesting suggestion in the comments below—namely, the setters may have used rubbish[5] in an informal British sense meaning to criticize severely and reject as worthless ⇒ he rubbished the idea of a European Community-wide carbon tax. As she puts it, "we wilt after criticism from all sides". However, it would be most unusual for C&R to employ such a blatantly British usage.

18a A sort of corporal’s collecting base // payments (10)

A|L(LOW)ANCE|S — A (†) + {LANCE (sort of corporal) + S ('s)} containing (collecting) LOW (base)

In the British army, a lance corporal[4] is a noncommissioned officer of the lowest rank. In the US Marine Corps, a lance corporal[3] is a noncommissioned rank that is above private first class and below corporal. The rank of lance corporal existed in the Canadian army up to 1968.

19a Supported by // 8/13 of the alphabet? (4)

A|TO|P — the letters A TO P constitute 8/13 of the alphabet or 16 out of 26 letters.

22a Small-town // hoodlum takes overdose (6)

P(OD)UNK — PUNK (hoodlum) containing (takes) OD (overdose)

 Podunk[11] (noun or adjective*) denotes a small, insignificant, or inaccessible town.

Origin: generic use of Podunk, either of two villages, one near Worcester, Massachusetts, the other near Hartford, Connecticut
* dictionaries define Podunk as a noun[3,11,12,15], a noun usually used as a modifier[5], both a noun and an adjective[1] and podunk as an adjective[4,10]

24a Mr. Young copies // twisters (8)

CY|CLONE — CY (Mr. Young) + CLONES (copies)

Cy Young[7] (1867–1955) was an American Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher who played from 1890 to 1911. Each season, the Cy Young Award honors the best pitcher in each league.

Although a meteorologist would frown on the usage, cyclone is—according to some US dictionaries—"loosely"[12] or "not in technical use"[11] another name for a tornado.

26a Beginning // in August, range through western Russia (9)

INAUGURAL — IN (†) + AUG (August) +URAL ([mountain] range through western Russia)

27a Dispute about large // tomato’s impact (5)

SP(L)AT — SPAT (dispute) containing (about) L(arge)

28a Level // of salad bar at ground (4,2,1,5)

{FLAT AS A BOARD}* — anagram of (ground) OF SALAD BAR AT

As an anagram indicator, ground is used as the past tense or past participle of the verb grind[5]. An anagram indicator is typically a word that denotes movement or transformation. Grind denotes transformation, for example, in the sense of grain being ground into flour.


1d Obstruct // booth containing nothing new (9)

ST(O|NEW)ALL — STALL (booth) containing (†) {O (nothing; letter that looks like a zero) + NEW (†)}

2d Quick // pickup Down Under with a street ahead (6)

A|ST|UTE — UTE (pickup Down Under; Australian term for a pickup truck) following (with ... ahead) {A (†) + ST (street)}

3d Inebriated // doctor in joke bit (5-5)

PUN|CH-(DR)UNK — DR (doctor) contained in (in) {PUN (joke) + CHUNK (bit)}

Punch-drunk[5] means dazed or stupefied by or as if by* a series of heavy blows to the head.

* I didn't know that punch-drunk could mean inebriated in addition to meaning dazed from being pummelled by blows to the head; the key phrase in the definition is "or as if by".

4d Drains // springs the wrong way (4)

SAPS< — reversal of (the wrong way) SPAS (springs)

5d Some thought old alien // was deceitful (4,1,3)

_T|OLD| A LIE_ — hidden in (some) thoughT OLD ALIEn

6d Finish // neck-and-neck (5)

CLOSE — double definition

7d Two times, is able to // dance (6)

CANCAN — CAN (is able to) repeated (two times)

8d A Highlander’s // ties (6)

A|SCOT|S — A (†) + SCOT (Highlander) + S (†)

13d YMCA could be losing a renovated // place for entertainment (6,4)

{COMEDY CLUB}* — anagram of (renovated) {YMC[A] COULD BE after removing (losing) A}

16d Caught // Tolkien creature and tried to catch fish (9)

ENT|ANGLED — ENT (Tolkien creature) + (and) ANGLED (tried to catch fish)

Ents[7] are a species of beings in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world Middle-earth who closely resemble trees.

17d Victory in hard-fought // sort of doubleheader (3-5)

T(WI-N)IGHT — WIN (victory) contained in (in) TIGHT (hard-fought)

Twi-night[11] is an adjective denoting a baseball doubleheader begun late in the afternoon and continued into the evening.

Origin: twi(light) + night

18d Household helper // happy in first-class atmosphere (2,4)

A(U P)AIR — UP (happy) contained in (in) {A (first-class) + AIR (atmosphere)}

20d Former Spanish coin // rendered in shade of green (6)

PE(SET)A — SET (rendered) contained in (in) PEA (shade of green)

I was unable to find a source giving render and set as synonyms. However, I suppose the words can each mean create in their own specific contexts (but I can't think of an instance where they are synonyms in the same context). For example, a compiler sets a crossword puzzle and render[5] can mean to represent or depict artistically.

21d State, // “That’s a shame, Kay,” without finishing (6)

ALAS|KA_ — ALAS (That's a shame) + KA[Y] with the Y removed (without finishing)

23d Southerner’s speech // left following sketch (5)

DRAW|L — L(eft) following (†) DRAW (sketch)

25d Greek god // shows boldness after introduction (4)

_ARES — [D]ARES (shows boldness) with the initial letter removed (after introduction)

In Greek mythology, Ares[5] is the war god, son of Zeus and Hera.


In music, natural[5] (noun) is another name for natural note; that is, a note that is neither sharp nor flat. As an adjective, natural[3] denotes having no sharps or flats—thus this puzzle is Not Natural as it has one of each. Sharps and flats are played on the black keys on a piano.

Key to Reference Sources: 

  [1]   - The Chambers Dictionary, 11th Edition
  [2]   - Search Chambers - (Chambers 21st Century Dictionary)
  [3]   - (American Heritage Dictionary)
  [4]   - TheFreeDictionarycom (Collins English Dictionary)
  [5]   - Lexico (formerly Oxford Dictionaries Online) (Oxford Dictionary of English)
  [6]   - Lexico (formerly Oxford Dictionaries Online) (Oxford Advanced American Dictionary)
  [7]   - Wikipedia
  [8]   - Reverso Online Dictionary (Collins French-English Dictionary)
  [9]   - Infoplease (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
[10]   - (Collins English Dictionary)
[11]   - (Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary)
[12]   - (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)
[13]   - (Macmillan Dictionary)
[14]   - (COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary)
[15]   - (Penguin Random House LLC/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd )

Signing off for today — Falcon


  1. Good morning,

    I'm sorry I missed last Saturday's monster mash. I was off the grid on sick smile ache. I think I would have preferred to miss today's offering. I'm having trouble parsing what must be the answers to some of today's clues. I don't see what the definition is in 15a. I think the definition in 19a must be "supported by" but I don't think it fits with what must be the answer. I think the answer to 18d is a household helper but the parsing is defeating me. I was vaguely aware of the answer to 22a but had to look it up to be sure. And I've never heard of the answer to 17d. I might not be 1a but, for me, this puzzle came close to being 28a. Have a good weekend!!


    1. I think the question marks at 15a signal that the entire clue is a definition as well as the clue. Time will tell.
      19a definition - you're right - "supported by".
      18d - words or letters for happy and first class are inserted into a word for atmosphere

    2. Peter,

      The cluing in 15a is a bit obscure. As mentioned by Richard, the entire clue is the definition. There is a word that sort of means "to state" inside an uncommon word for "rubbish". Good luck!


    3. Re 15a: I had 'dross' (rubbish) around 'opine' (to state, sort of) to get 'droopiness". Maybe I'm wrong. If I'm right I don't see how this means "State when surrounded by rubbish".

      Re 19a: my answer was atop (a to p, i.e. 8/13 of the alphabet). But I don't think it means 'supported by'.

      Re 18d: Thanks Richard. You are right of course.

    4. Peter,

      I think I might be in a state of dejection if I was surrounded by rubbish, whether it be physical or mental. I would also hazard that the hat atop your head is in fact supported by your head - LOL.


  2. Hello all on the Saturday before marathon Sunday here in NYC. Should be good weather for the runners tomorrow. If you're running, good luck!
    I agree with Peter that this one took some work. No obvious theme comes to mind. LOI was 15A. I think I can explain it and others but C&R had me thinking overtime. 18A was second to last.
    If you're interested in one of their variety cryptics the WSJ has one this weekend at
    These are always a treat and usually a touch harder than their weekly offerings here.
    Enjoy your weekend and upcoming week.
    Thanks for posting Falcon. Much appreciated.

    1. Thank you, Richard, for posting the variety puzzle. They take me ages to do, and at least this weekend, there is an extra hour to wile away and not feel so guilty. So much fun! Heather

  3. Hello Falcon and friends,

    I started off sharp as a uknowhat and then I hit the bottom half of the puzzle! Quite a few head scratchers today. Favourites were 26a and 18d. LOI was 17d as baseball is not quite my thing. Enjoyed today's challenge - always love those aha moments!

    Thank you for posting Falcon. Have a nice weekend everyone.


  4. I was hardly 1a on today's offering from C&H, more like 28a. Sharps and flats - maybe a post reference to a musical smorgasbord?
    It really frustrates me when the answer pops into my head when I read the clue and look at the checking letters, but reject it because I can't see the parsing. Then of course, much later, I figure out what it is. That happened quite a few times this weekend.
    LOI was 9a as I debated which answer best fit the clue. Tried to fit Neil and Apes into 24a.
    Have a great weekend everyone, remembering the past and looking forward to the future!
    Thanks for the post Falcon. Best of luck to all!

  5. Good afternoon, friends of C&R. Hope everyone is doing well.
    The first pass was brutal for me and I too, Henry, was seriously wondering if there was a storm type "neilape." Words did come easier after that, though I never did get 15a. Based on the solution outlined above, the only way it makes sense to me is if rubbish is a verb and we wilt after criticism from all sides. 19a was my very favourite. Besides 15a, LOI was 2d. I am sure the parsing is obvious but after "ast", I don't see it.
    Hope everyone has a great weekend - it is very pleasant here - and a good week ahead.
    Best always, Heather

    1. Hi Heather,

      I guess you are going to have to learn some Australian! Ute is what they call a pickup truck in the land of Oz.


    2. Hi, MG,
      You're right about my not knowing any Australian! You are certainly 2d, for this clue and getting 15a too! Thanks for setting me straight.
      Best, Heather

    3. I like your suggestion regarding 15a. Rubbish does happen to be an informal British term meaning to criticize severely and reject as worthless.

      However, I'm not convinced that is what the setters had in mind. While it is far from unknown for C&R to "borrow" from British puzzles, they rarely -- if ever -- use a term or meaning as blatantly British as this.

    4. Thanks for the posting, Falcon. In addition to the helpful explanations, that was a very creative epilogue, since most of us found the effort required yesterday, not natural.
      My thought on render and set was on rendering fat to allow it to set to lard or tallow. Maybe a stretch, but my brain went there automatically when I was doing the puzzle. Of course, we know that isn't always a sound reason to accept something as fact :-).
      Take care. Best, Heather

    5. I think in your example, render and set are pretty much antonyms. Render means to melt fat and set is to solidify it!

  6. Some good brain teasers here for sure. I was reassured it wasn't just me coming in after several hours of yard clean up. Another glorious day. Looking forward to Richard's offering - Thanks. And to see if anyone comes up with a more comfortable 15a. Have a good week all.

  7. Hi Falcon,

    Minor typo in solution to 3d. And yes chuck can signify bit...


  8. Thank you, MG, typo now corrected.

    I don't know about "chuck can signify bit". I can only think of the chuck being the clamping mechanism on a drill that holds the bit in place.