crossword 11:47 (paper)
puzzle negative 1 day

mgwcc83hello friends, and welcome to the 83rd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, a 21×21 special called “Merlin’ the Wizard.” it’s easily the best MGWCC of the decade. it’s a tribute puzzle, and matt explains the super-sized grid by saying, “If you’re going to stylistically imitate an artist, better use his preferred canvas.” the instructions are straightforward enough: This week’s contest answer is ten letters long, the first and last name of this puzzle’s honoree. based on that and the title, i strongly suspected that the answer was merl reagle, and then when i saw the happy birthday message at the top of the post right below this one, i knew it was right. of course, then i went ahead and did the puzzle this morning, and it’s definitely a worthy homage. matt has squeezed eight tortured puns (one of them split across two theme answers) into the grid, each relating to merl in some way:

  • {What a smart “Simpsons” character is when she sits down with one of Merl’s crosswords?} is LISA LIKELY / TO SUCCEED. merl, of course, constructed the special NYT sunday puzzle that went with the simpsons crossword episode.
  • {Airport P.A. announcement when Merl reaches his destination?} is THE REAGLE HAS LANDED. i liked this one.
  • {Like people who don’t want to move to Merl’s hometown?} is TAMPA-RESISTANT. this one was probably my favorite of the puns.
  • {How Merl had a TV host, while cracking jokes on her show?} is OPRAH CRYIN’ OUT LOUD. was merl on oprah? i did not know.
  • {How Merl proposed to his wife?} is by asking, “WILL YOU MARIE ME?”. for all i know, this may actually be true.
  • {Nickname for Merl’s barber?} is CHAIRMAN OF THE BEARD.
  • {Like Merl’s crossword grids?} is WIDE OH-PUN. good grief, that’s … well, let’s be charitable and call it reaglesque.
  • and finally, the {Movie with Ben Kingsley as Merl, after his birthday this coming Tuesday?} (that’s today) is SIXTY BEAST. happy birthday, merl!

there’s a few other touches in the grid that aren’t overtly theme-related, but that reminded me of merl:

  • {Documentary by the guy who directed “Wordplay”} is patrick creadon’s IOUSA, about the spiraling national debt. merl, of course, was one of the stars of wordplay.
  • {Huge Dakotas lake one letter off from a Hawaiian island} is OAHE. i did not know that, but i’ve noticed that when merl has to include an obscure proper name in the grid, he’ll often add a little something extra to the clue to hint at the letters, like {Former Turkish president (anagram of UNION)} for INONU. i’m not sure why nobody else does this, but it’s kind of neat that matt did it here. a few entries away, he partners it with {Section of Manhattan one letter off from another section of Manhattan} for NOHO.

the grid was a fairly typical sunday-sized solve for me, with a couple of trouble areas. one of them was in the bay area region of the grid, where LOW A with the vague clue {90%, say} and AGIT {Word form with “prop”} were reasonably difficult entries, especially crossed by former cleveland indians {Pitcher Chad} OGEA. i’m lucky i knew the latter, because LOW A, while a reasonable phrase, is not in my mental cache of four-letter crossword answers, and half of agitprop isn’t necessarily the most familiar crossword answer either. OGEA, by the way, is pronounced OJ. there’s a great story (possibly apocryphal, like many great stories) about how manny ramirez (legendary for being something of an idiot savant when it comes to hitting a baseball) was with the indians and walked into a clubhouse while everybody else was gathered around a TV watching the oj simpson chase, was confused into thinking that it was his teammate chad ogea who was the subject of the chase, instead of the NFL star/comic actor/murderer oj simpson. but that’s neither here nor there.

couple of other unfamiliar names in the grid: {1980s-90- NBA player Mark} ALARIE. who? what? apparently this guy played for five years in the NBA, and in his best season he averaged 10 points and 4 rebounds, mostly coming off the bench. he even played for the bullets, my hometown team, and i have no memory of him. wow. likewise, {William of “The Greatest American Hero”}, william KATT, is somebody i don’t remember at all despite watching that show fairly regularly as a (very) young child.

other clues that caught my eye:

  • {Like the walls at Harvard} is apparently IVIED. this may be true in metaphor, but it’s not literally so, at least not any of the walls that i’ve seen. i guess it is literally so if you’re one of the people that uses “literally” to mean “figuratively.” but i’m not, and judging from one of his puzzles from last year, neither is merl.
  • there’s a pair of adjacent phrases that don’t necessarily strike me as crossworthy: {How many pandas are housed} is IN A ZOO, and {Where some watch internet TV} is ON HULU. i feel like these are really just ZOO and HULU with some prepositions thrown in, rather than legit standalone phrases.
  • geography dose: {Uppsala resident} is a SWEDE. upsala with one p is in minnesota. a {Reindeer-herding Finn} is a LAPP, i guess, but i’m told that at least some of them find that term derogatory and prefer to be called sami. {Ending of many Asian countries} is STAN; i admit that i normally think of east asia when i see “asian.” several of the STANs were part of the USSR, the {Country many world chess champs represented}. by my count, there were six: tal, botvinnik, petrosian, spassky, karpov, and kasparov. am i missing somebody? probably. let’s see … yep, according to this sporcle quiz, i forgot smyslov. i always forget smyslov, but apparently so do 85.9% of other quiz-takers.
  • one more simpsons tie-in: the {Mesoamerican tribe noted for sculptures of large stone heads} is the OLMECS. okay, it’s not really a simpsons reference, but i can’t help but think of the enormous olmec head that mr. burns gives to bart as a thank-you present for his blood transfusion.

that’s all from me this week. happy birthday to merl and anybody else whose birthday is today.

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7 Responses to MGWCC #83

  1. Jan (danjan) says:

    Happy Birthday, Merl!

    Merl and Will Shorz were both on Oprah, a couple of years ago. Merl made a special puzzle for her, shaped like an O.

  2. Sam Donaldson says:

    Nice write-up of a really fun tribute puzzle, Joon. If I recall correctly, another crossword personality–one who diligently blogs weekly about a certain puzzle even though his keyboard has a temperamental shift key–celebrated his birthday this past weekend. If so, Happy Birthday!

  3. Meg says:

    I went with the obvious though the thought did cross my mind that Matt might be doing something tricky. Thanks for the link to propagit. Never heard of it.

    I don’t get COVER for “song you didn’t write”. Explanation anyone? This puzzle went nicely with Merl’s own construction celebrating turning 60. He’s a funny guy!

  4. Evad says:

    A cover is exactly that, a song performed by someone else that you are “covering,” or rereleasing (with your own unique “spin” on it).

    Last night on Jeopardy there was a whole category devoted to these called “Second Time Around.” The hardest clue was about a Dusty Springfield song whose name eludes me…happily before my time.

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Yes, happy mildly belated birthday to Joon, too!

    I greatly enjoyed this Reaglesque puzzle. It was far more Merly than any of Matt’s other work. The puns even landed in Merl territory.

  6. abide says:

    I got a kick out of TRLS as I seem to recall Merl was anti-TRL a few years back:

  7. John Farmer says:

    I’m late to the show, but this was as cool a tribute puzzle as I remember seeing anywhere. Well done!

    And Happy B-Day to Merl.

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