The Nerfracker #3

High on grandpa's bud (10)

When we introduced The Nerfracker, we described these puzzles as "1½ stars in difficulty — usually (but not explicitly) only one wordplay device per clue and only garden-variety deviousness." So let's spoil some clues from the first puzzle and talk about what we're getting from that bonus half-star.

Brown pea is gross (5)

This clue is about as "straightforward" (scare quotes because, I mean, we're talking about cryptics) as it gets: a definition ("Brown" for SEPIA), fodder ("pea is"), and an indicator ("gross" as an adjective meaning wrong) that applies to that fodder: SEPIA (=) PEAIS wrong.

Comes across as married during dates (5)

Also relatively straightforward — "Comes across as" for SEEMS, "during" as an insertion indicator, and "dates" for SEES — but it relies on the solver knowing that m. is a common abbreviation for married, as you might see in a family tree or on Wikipedia. Such abbreviations are rife in cryptics and we only use ones we can defend, but if you don't strike upon our examples, they can feel somewhat esoteric — and despite what you might think, that's not how we want a cryptic clue to feel. Further, "dates" is equivalent to SEES as a verb, but in the surface, "dates" is a noun — a confounding bit of interpretation that the solver has to work through.

Lavish living obscures bottomless ruin (11)

In fairness, this is not a 1½-star clue — we're safely in 2-star if not 3-star territory, because it uses multiple wordplay devices and is very deceptive besides, but it builds on the same principles. "Living" here clues EXTANT, which falls into the "hard but fair" realm of substitutions, and "ruin" clues RAVAGE as in "to devastate," another case of a verb in the cryptic grammar that's a noun in the surface. So EXTANT hides, or "obscures," a RAVAGE made bottomless by removing the bottom letter ... and this was a down clue, so in this case it can be literally considered the bottom. This gets us to EXT(RAVAG[e])ANT. We would only put one such "extra credit" clue in a puzzle, but we do like presenting solvers with a boss battle to tackle on their way to completion. (If you've read this far, we'd guess that 7 Down is the boss battle in #3.)

Thanks to joeadultman for the test solve and constant nudges to think about the solver who is new. Reminder that the linked PDF is for the no-aids version, but that the Crossword Nexus solver at the end of each of those buttons offers a solid print option.

Header image by Rebecca Freeman on Unsplash

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