crossword 7:58
puzzle 3:28 (but see below)
mgwcc84hi folks. the 84th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Water You Looking For?” (ugh—matt, the merl tribute puzzle was last week), asked us to identify a well-known body of water. what are we to make of the five mostly-nonsensical theme answers?

  • {“A Doll’s House” protagonist, if she’d married the guy who invented the radio?} is NORA MARCONI, née helmer. wait, no. helmer was her first married name. i don’t remember her maiden name. it may not even be in the play.
  • a {Person who mocks a “Dark Knight” actor?} is a christian BALE PARODIST.
  • {Cholesterol-fighting drug that’s all dressed up?} is SPRUCY LIPITOR. i’m not so sure “sprucy” is a word, but this is a funny answer anyway.
  • {Japanese instrument sitting upright?} is an ERECT SAMISEN. i’ll rise above the opportunity for some juvenile humor here.
  • {Mobs of people who aren’t easily fooled?} are ACUTE HORDES.

after going through the usual possibilities (puns or transformations of well-known base phrases; hidden letters; anagrams), i decided that this was another of matt’s “totally made-up theme answer” specials. in this case, each theme answer takes two places names and anagrams them, then sticks them together. and in fact, each one takes one city and one island, all of which lie on (or in) the mediterranean:

  • NORA MARCONI is ORAN, algeria and the island of MINORCA.
  • BALE PARODIST is the crossworthy island of ELBA, and … uh … i still don’t know. i also don’t know why it wasn’t just ABLE PARODIST, which seems like slightly less far-fetched in terms of surface sense.
  • and ACUTE HORDES? i couldn’t figure out ACUTE either, but HORDES is RHODES, and in fact that was my first tip-off about where this theme was going. after 3:28 i had four of the anagrams and the theme figured out; after about 2 more minutes i had the other four anagrams. but i still haven’t got the last two, and i’m thinking that ACUTE, at least, is likely to be a city  i’m not familiar with, since there aren’t that many possibilities and i’ve thought about it for a while. TECUA seems to be a place in mozambique, but a) holy obscurity, batman, and b) that’s nowhere near the mediterranean. PARODIST is presumably somewhere famous, but there are just too many anagram possibilities to make this problem tractable by brute force, so i’ll have to rely on a flash of inspiration, which has so far been unforthcoming. if i don’t come up with it before noon tuesday, well, i’m sure you lovely readers will fill me in. (okay, after writing the entire post, i just thought of PORT SAID. i’m not 100% sure where that is, but it’s probably the “right” answer. still thinking about ACUTE.)

perhaps matt can explain why he chose to run all the theme answers down instead of across. it doesn’t look to me like there is any necessary ordering of them, and in any event, they’d be in the same order if you flipped the grid across the main diagonal. it’s not a 15×16 grid or anything like that. there is an impressive stack of three theme answers running down the middle of the grid, but it would be equally impressive (and slightly more readable) running across the middle, too. so … i dunno.

quick hits from the fill:

  • more geography! NYACK is the westchester, new york {City on the Tappan Zee}. i once spent two weeks there playing bridge. utah’s BRYCE canyon also makes an appearance; when my brother drove cross-country the summer before college, he visited about twenty national parks and declared that BRYCE was his favorite. OSLO is clued via its patron, st. hallvard. i didn’t know that, but halvard solness is the name of ibsen’s the master builder (yay, more ibsen) so this clue had me in mind of norwegianness.
  • speaking of playwrights i read in english 162, ANTON chekhov is here, clued as {He wrote about Vanya}. that would be uncle vanya, a.k.a. ivan voinitsky.
  • moving on to literary references i didn’t get, the {Roald Dahl title word} is FOX. hmm, let’s see… giant, peach, chocolate, matilda, boy, … nope. anyone?
  • ANN is clued as {Fictional clothing designer Taylor}. i was thinking this might be another literary character, but … no. i guess it’s just a name they made up to put on a label?
  • weird chess names: HIKARU is {2009 U.S. chess champion Nakamura or “Star WarsTrek” character Sulu}. okay. {Soviet-born Israeli chess grandmaster ___ Murey} is YACOV. okay.
  • SIMOLEON is old-time slang i can get behind. it was part of a theme answer in a puzzle of mine that will shortz recently rejected, alas.
  • one other answer had me thoroughly flummoxed: 35d, BHO is clued as {DC inits}. i actually thought this might be a mistake, as 36d is EST and that clue would make some sense with this answer (although it’s a very vague clue). but the clue is right. you guys know what (whom) it stands for, right? i had to post-solve google it. anyway, he’s got nothing on DDE or HST … yet.
  • we’ll end, fittingly, with 1-across: {Late crossword writer Naddor} is DAN, most prolifically of the LAT. rest in peace, dan. it’ll definitely be weird to keep seeing your byline for the next several months, but i think it’ll be even weirder not to see it every week (or so) thereafter.
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21 Responses to MGWCC #84

  1. Matt Gaffney says:


    PORT SAID is right — it’s in Egypt, the main Mediterranean port (I think) for the Suez Canal.

    ACUTE is CEUTA, one of the two “Pillars of Hercules” (the other being Gibraltar).

    I flipped the grid pattern just to give DAN Naddor the seat of honor at 1-across.

  2. treedweller says:

    “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” — movie version has been getting rave reviews, though I personally found it less than fantastic.

  3. *David* says:

    The Fantastic Mr. Fox and now a great movie by Wes Anderson in its own right. I got about four of the anagrams and called it a day. My one spot I couldn’t fill was the BHO/HOLTS. Got 80% of the crossword with no help but needed a nudge of help here and there to finish it.

  4. tabstop says:

    Anagram the words separately! Genius! I got caught by seeing “obvious” words in the middle of each entry (macaroon, leopard, chute) and trying to remove them. In retrospect, lipitor -> tripoli should have been blindingly obvious.

    To embarrass myself further, I ended up settling on the initials spelling out “nbsea” and submitting GULF OF ST LAWRENCE. I know.

  5. Thomas says:

    Fantastic Mr. FOX was the Roald Dahl book that Wes Anderson made into a stop-motion film last year.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Tabstop — you’re not the only one who sent in GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE!

  7. Tony says:

    No wonder! I got Mediterranean Sea rather quickly, but only saw the islands (even though, technically, Rhodes is considered to be in the Aegean (my father’s family is from Rhodes) and Elba is between the Tyrrhenian & Ligurian Seas). Matt replied to me that I indeed got the Meta, but only half. I misread his email to mean that the city/island combo was for a city in each island, which threw me for a loop, because, while there is a Tripoli in Greece (near Sparta) and Libya, there is no Tripoli in Cyrpus.

  8. joon says:

    CEUTA, okay. so i was right! that is, i was right when i said it was likely to be a city i’d never heard of.

    and thanks to all and sundry for the fantastic mr. fox. live and learn.

  9. Toby says:

    BHO = Barack Hussein Obama :-)

    I solved the puzzle, but the META stumped me completely (i was dead MEAT, on the losing TEAM, it was check MATE for m. gaffney, etc.)

  10. Meg says:

    @Tabstop: Well, I wasn’t the only one who saw leopard. I was thinking seals or something. I got all the islands and just knew Matt wouldn’t leave halves of answers with no purpose.

    I found CUETA by typing 3-letter combinations into Google and scanning the suggestions. This technique would only really work with a short word…or a whole lot of time.

    A bit grueling, but fun!

  11. Evad says:

    Same with *David* on the BHO/HOLTS crossing. I was thinking maybe BWI (airport), but IDIST for ODIST did nothing for me. Aren’t WOLDS (as in Cotswolds) British land somethings as well?

  12. Evad says:

    My first clue was MARCONI, which I anagrammed to CRIMONA, confusing it with CREMONA, a town smack dab in the center of Northern Italy.

    Couldn’t TRIPOLI be the Lebanese version as well? That’s on the M. Sea as well, but admittedly less well known than the famous shores of the Marines’ hymn.

  13. abide says:

    January 8 in history

    2006 – A magnitude 6.9 earthquake with its epicenter just off the Greek island of Kythira hits much of the country and is felt throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean Sea.

    I could not get the meta, but came very close to submitting The Med after finding this…

  14. Nick W says:

    Puzzle was fun but manageable. Meta destroyed me immediately after solving. Meant to come back to it Monday but ran out of time, what with school starting again. Not sure if I ever would have anagrammed them separately though. I think I was zoomed in too far trying to find some kind of clue… was going to submit MISSISSIPPI just for the hell of it.

  15. Sam M says:

    Joon, you’re really great on Mediterranean geography. And then you goof on Nyack, which isn’t in Westchester, it’s across the Tappan Zee Bridge in Rockland County! Well, I guess it’s not as famous as all the rest.

  16. Faygelah says:

    This was only my second time trying the Gaffney contest and I totally blew the meta. I, too, kept trying to do something with the middles or to find some kind of spoonerism (cute accords, anyone?). I’m kicking myself for not seeing a single anagram.

  17. marty howard says:

    parodist = port said
    acute = ceuta (just across from Gibraltar

    all you need is to use Google maps and bring up the resolution to about the size where Spain fills the screen, then go around the edges of the Mediterranean

  18. marty howard says:

    sorry, should have read the previous comments. But honest, I found them myself.

  19. Ben says:

    Also whiffed the meta. Feel better about that now.

  20. cybergoober says:

    Nobody posted a comment yet about how these are THE_MED entries? Hmm?

Comments are closed.