MGWCC #93

crossword 4:07
puzzle about 2 hours
mgwcc93
hi there, and welcome to the 93rd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Namegame.” this week’s puzzle has the following four people as theme answers:

  • starting off with a bang: the {Baroque Era painter of Florence (surname is one letter off from a pasta sauce)} is somebody i’d neeeever heard of, ONORIO MARINARI. i’m no art history major, but i know my share of famous painters, and this guy isn’t one of them.
  • {Rival of P.T. Barnum (who later bought his circus)} is JOHN RINGLING. now, i’ve never heard of him either, but at least i know of the ringling brothers, and john is a perfectly common name, so this one was fine.
  • {“The Facts of Life” actress} isn’t, for once, charlotte RAE. it’s LISA WHELCHEL, dropping me to 0-for-3 on having heard of the theme answers. i’m actually old enough to have watched this show, but i certainly don’t remember who was in it.
  • whew, 1 for 4: i knew the {Dickens title character}, SAMUEL PICKWICK of the pickwick papers. i haven’t read it, but there are no dickens title characters i’ve never heard of. (well, if you only count his novels. i don’t know anything in sketches by boz or if he has other shorter serialized work.)

what do these four people have in common? they all have eight-letter surnames in which letters 2-4 are repeated as 6-8 (but 1 is not repeated as 5): MARINARI, RINGLING, WHELCHEL, and PICKWICK. the same pattern holds for the puzzle title, Namegame (it’s a pretty strong hint that there’s no space in the title).

okay, so what’s the meta answer? the contest instructions this week are straightforward: This week’s contest answer is one of the most famous American authors of the 20th century. okay, so we’re looking for another 8-letter surname that fits the pattern. did anybody come up with a good system for doing this? my method was:

  1. try to think of famous 20th-century american authors.
  2. look through lists of ” ” ” “. this is the step where i found jack LONDON, and was really hoping that he wasn’t the answer, because he’s only 6 letters.
  3. do something else for a couple of hours.
  4. try to think of 3-letter strings that might plausibly be repeated as part of somebody’s name.

step 4 was the one that did it for me: thinking about jewish (or, if you prefer, german) names, i tried _EIN_EIN and immediately thought of sci-fi titan robert a. HEINLEIN, and sent it in.

anyway, i wonder if there’s a more systematic approach. i could certainly construct a regular expression to match names of the desired form, but i’d have to have a good list of 20th-century american authors to match it against. alex, is that how you did it? (if you did it?)

one more thing: can you come up with any other people for this theme? there aren’t any in my wordlist. there are plenty of answers that fit the pattern: MARS BARS, HOLY MOLY, HONG KONG, BACKPACK, DOWNTOWN, FINE LINE, MAINTAIN, POTSHOTS, HOT SPOTS, WINGDING, to name a few. and some real surprises that don’t rhyme, like COME HOME, SENTIENT, TINGLING, and ZESTIEST. but no surnames.

okay, the crossword: in a word, easy. no mean feat, what with the 2 totally unfamiliar theme answers. but i didn’t run into any trouble and finished it faster than i was expecting. noteworthy clues and answers:

  • {Frater’s sibling} is SOROR, latin for “sister.” at least, i think. frater is certainly brother, as in catullus’s “frater, ave atque wale” (“brother, hail and farewell”). i don’t actually know latin, but these root words obviously carry down to lots of english words… including fraternity and sorority, which are collectively known as “greek” life. but they have latin names!
  • {Gandhi helped end it} clues THE RAJ. how does everybody feel about the definite article in this one? i think THE RAJ should be roger federer’s nickname. i mean, isn’t it weird that he doesn’t even have a nickname? this is not a usual crossword answer; THE HAJ is plenty common, but matt couldn’t use that one here, as the R was part of a theme answer.
  • two chess clues: {Throws in the towel, in chess} is RESIGNS, and {“The king is in danger”} is “CHECK.” “the king is in danger, and no, i don’t want to look at a dessert menu.”
  • lots of french and spanish: {Color on half of Hispaniola} is AZUL in the dominican republic, and {Color, on the other half of Hispaniola} is AZUR, intersecting at the Z. i don’t know haitian creole but it’s quite close to french, so this is probably true. NOCHE is clued as {En la ___ (at night)}, and {Grandes ___ (France’s Ivy Leagues)} are the grandes ÉCOLES. {France’s fourth-largest city} is LILLE, and the {Eminent Emile} is french novelist ZOLA, he of the stark and richly detailed writing style.
  • lightning geography roundup: MESA, OREM, RAPA nui, RIGEL (okay, that’s astrography), WSU, PAGO (x2), IRAN, ZIMbabwe. joining PAGO (x2) is its tautonymic buddy {Walla Walla sch.}, cluing WSU. except that washington state university is in pullman. ah well, close enough, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.
  • {“Just What I Needed” band} is THE CARS. i know the song, but i needed the crossings for the band name, which i only recognize from RIC ocasek clues.
  • {Short-___ (played an old-school prank on)} is a good way to liven up an awkward word, SHEETED.

that’s all for me. see you next week.

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38 Responses to MGWCC #93

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    A solver found MIKE SHANAHAN via a database search, a great entry I’m kicking myself for missing.

  2. Karen says:

    I got the meta from step 2 (way down the page on wikipedia for 20th century in literature). I was worried about London too.
    I just looked up Lisa Welchel–she played the golden girl Blair Warner on FoL. From her website it looks like she was married right after the show, and since then has been a mother who writes books on homeschooling and bible study.

  3. Nick W says:

    I was also hoping Jack London was not the answer but was too tired (and had an early flght) to keep looking. Partial credit?

  4. jimmy d says:

    From MGWCC #92: 28-Down – Robert Heinlein-coined word meaning “to understand deeply” – GROK…. pretty sneaky, Matt!!

  5. Rob says:

    *headdesk*

    I got the form of the name that Matt wanted… but drew a blank on Robert Heinlein.

    *headdesk*

    *headdesk*

  6. Meg says:

    Apparently I missed the 8-letter constraint and sent in Jack London. Sometimes things are just too tricky…..

  7. Anne E says:

    Here was my procedure:

    (1) Laziest thing first: Try to think of author fitting pattern. Nope.

    (2) Get out of chair. Look on bookshelves for author fitting pattern. Find Jack London. Decide Matt wouldn’t do that. Keep looking. Nope. (I used to own tons of Heinlein books when was in high school, but don’t have any now. Where did they all go?)

    (3) Try to think of 3-letter strings that might appear in names – consider things like AND, ONE, etc. Nope.

    (4) Google author lists. Nope. Wonder if Matt might mean “author” to refer to some other kind of authorship — songwriting etc. Nope.

    (5) Contemplate giving up. Then contemplate sending in Jack London. Review puzzle title to remind myself Matt wouldn’t do this. Nope.

    (6) Contemplate writing a little program to find author. Realize this requires good author database, which I don’t have. Nope.

    (7) Randomly Google using weird combinations that don’t even really make sense. Stumble on Heinlein. Kick self for not remembering tons of Heinlein books read in high school. Done.

    I was fine with THE RAJ, by the way. That’s always how I think of it, and it’s almost like one word in my brain somehow. I can see the argument against it, though.

  8. Cole says:

    I also pondered EDNA FERBER in addition to LONDON before getting to HEINLEIN.

  9. annette says:

    no worries, I was in the same boat sending in Edna Ferber, haha.

  10. DaveH says:

    Although HEINLEIN was my first thought, I also thought EINSTEIN might fit … he was certainly very famous, and an author, just not famed as an author, primarily!? 8 letters, but not split 4 and 4.

  11. Sam Donaldson says:

    My experience was the same as Rob’s – complete with the bruised forehead.

  12. Tony says:

    I used Wikipedia as well, but didn’t find Heinlein until yesterday afternoon after getting on the train leaving work. I finished the puzzle Saturday morning and then tried in vain the next two days. It didn’t help that I was exhausted from not sleeping much before Sunday night. I was also looking at very broad lists since I was looking at authors in general and didn’t search specifically for novelists until the very end. I finally found the answer on a site that listed on Random House’s website’s Modern Library section that lists among other things 100 novels to read.

    In my email to Matt, I told him I felt like “Jeopardy!” contestants who have a Final Jeopardy question that either pops into your head almost immediately or not at all. I think this is one is the latest I’ve ever come up with an answer to a week 2 meta.

  13. Jordan says:

    Yet another meta that becomes an Internet search for many or most solvers. :(

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    So Tony, you “tried in vain” and then “vied in train”?

  15. Alex says:

    Joon – I didn’t attempt this week’s meta. I figured out what needed to be done but couldn’t be bothered to do it. However, I am running such a script now through the Wikipedia database, and what’s the very first name it spit out? Why, Robert A. Heinlein, of course. If it gets any other notable names that haven’t yet been mentioned I’ll post them here.

  16. Tony says:

    LOL, Matt!!

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    162 correct entries this week, BTW.

    Jimmy D — glad you noticed that, and thanks for your positive comments — always upbeat which I appreciate.

  18. Jeffrey says:

    Solved puzzle, knew what to look for , checked internet databases, didn’t find answer, sent in nothing.

  19. *David* says:

    I thought sci-fi but didn’t get to HEINLEIN quickly, he’s one of those dudes that I just didn’t get much into when I was reading the genre. Asimov, Clarke, Farmer, and Dick were what I read.

  20. Matt Gaffney says:

    I’m a little perplexed by the list-scouring and especially by those who turned to database searches — I didn’t use any lists while coming up with the meta and certainly not any databases.

    I thought HEINLEIN was highly gettable by brainpower alone — very well-known author, gave his nationality and century, first and last parts of name rhyme, solver knows it’s an eight-letter surname…plus I mentioned him by full name in the clues last week…so I’m a little stumped by the implications by some here that this meta was tedious/unfair/required database searches or list-scouring, etc.

  21. Howard B says:

    Used the ol’ brain-database search this week, and found it after a few mental alphabetic passes through and head-desk “memory jogging”. See *David* above, rather similar experience here.

    Internet search would be helpful if you’re not familiar with the author, but was gettable either way since a custom script wasn’t necessary to dig out his name (thankfully).

  22. Mary Lou says:

    Well, I went with Ferber since this was advertised as one of the most famous authors…I have never even, ever, heard of Heinlein…

    I did look at some lists and missed London…also missed the 4 letter idea, while getting the rhyming, 2 syllable thing…

    I even tried looking at the Name Game song to see if Banana-Fanna-Fo-Onorio was any help at all – NOT!

    Mary Lou

  23. Ben says:

    Maybe it’s my age – or not watching much sci-fi past Firefly or whatever Star Trek repeat is on – but I’ve never heard of Heinlein in my life, and I couldn’t find him on any list I checked. Oh well.

  24. SethG says:

    I found the Shanahan. Once I decided to look at a list, I realized that the letter pattern would be more restrictive than the fact that it was an author so I went straight to the census list of the most common 90K or so last names.

    One minute in Excel got me: {BACHRACH, BONADONA, CANDLAND, HANOHANO, HEINLEIN, HINELINE, KINIKINI, MICHLICH, MUSHRUSH, SAGAYAGA, SANDLAND, SCIASCIA, SHANAHAN, TURYBURY, WHELCHEL, YINGLING}. Total meta time was about 4 minutes, plus a few spent looking up to see if Mike or Brendan Shanahan had written a book. I feel no shame.

    Note that the list includes Gaffney, Pahk and Reynaldo, but not my G, Pickwick, Ringling, or Marinari.

  25. Alex says:

    Okay, I’m done going through my master list. It’s slim pickings aside from what Matt found + Shanahan.

    If we count Chinese names (debatable because of the last name/first name confusion) there’s New Jersey Net Yi Jianlian and Chinese ex-president Li Xiannian. Otherwise, we have mathematician Aleksandr Khinchin and Kiwi rugby player Josevata Rokocoko. Gianni Schicchi is a one-act Puccini opera. And … that’s pretty much it. Great job, Matt!

  26. joon says:

    stranger in a strange land, while technically sci-fi, was a major literary achievement period, and a sort of generational marker for the hippie/counterculture movement of the 1960s. several editions of the book boast “the most famous science fiction novel of all time” on the cover, and while that may be a stretch (1984 or 20,000 leagues under the sea probably qualifies), it’s certainly in the very very small percentage which is widely known outside of sci-fi circles. and yes, it’s the source of the word GROK. so i’d say heinlein is a big deal. (plus, starship troopers! everybody saw that movie, right? … )

    on the other hand, i can certainly sympathize with those who didn’t get the meta. i don’t know how, exactly, one is supposed to go about solving it other than by just thinking about it. if it doesn’t occur to you, what then? sethG’s list of names is awesome (and a resource i’ll certainly be bookmarking), but not too many people are handy with grep. i think the old “grep your brain” approach works best here, but again, it’s not foolproof.

    alex: gianni SCHICCHI! awesome. would never have thought of that in a million years. yi jianlian i probably would have thought of, although as you say, his “surname” (family name) is yi. never heard of khinchin or rokocoko, although josevata rokocoko is getting close to “coolest name ever” territory.

    matt, the meta was quite solvable, but there’s a big difference between a meta where the answer is suggested by the puzzle (no matter how obliquely), and a meta where the answer is something you have to think of more or less independently. i’m not complaining, but this week’s meta falls into the latter category, which seems to be less popular among your solvership.

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    Alex –

    Awesome, thanks for doing that. I spent a lot of time looking at Chinese, Japanese and Italian surnames since their cadences lend themselves to the letter pattern I was looking for. Besides MARINARI (which from the clue you can tell I wasn’t thrilled with) the only one I found was TAKANAKA, a fairly common surname in Japan but without anyone famous enough I could use.

    SethG’s SHANAHAN I’m especially kicking myself for since I spent a while looking for exactly that kind of letter pattern, where the 1st letter is a consonant but the 5th a vowel, and Mike Shanahan is very familiar to me. Major theming miss, ack.

  28. Anne E says:

    Now c’mon Matt, I see exactly one comment that could be construed as “I really didn’t like this”. I think it’s true that, as joon said, a lot of people prefer metas that you can get directly from the puzzle and nothing else (I do too), but I don’t see a lot of actual complaining going on here. Do I think I should have got Heinlein directly out of my head? Sure, given how many of his books I read as a teenager. Am I upset that I didn’t and that I had to Google about? No. I had already “solved the meta” in my mind, since I knew what I was looking for, and if I hadn’t found it, I wouldn’t have been particularly upset. I stopped working on the state quarters meta using that rationale, and it looked like several people stopped working on this meta for a similar reason, and most of them don’t sound all that upset to me.

    And, just because something is directly in YOUR head doesn’t mean it’s in everyone else’s — some of the commenters here hadn’t heard of Heinlein at all, so no amount of brain-scouring was going to work, obviously — and even these people don’t sound all that upset. I thought the meta was both clever and fair. Are you sure you aren’t curling yourself up like a cornered wombat unnecessarily?

  29. Matt Gaffney says:

    Anne,

    Yeah I see your point — I didn’t mean to come off as “I found HEINLEIN, why couldn’t you?” but I see that’s how I worded it.

    What I meant by the database/list-scouring comment was that I thought a number of solvers had gone directly to lists/databases without thumbing through the brain database first, based on comments here. But again, a re-read of the comments doesn’t support that presumption.

    Signed, Onorio the semi-cornered wombat

  30. Jeffrey says:

    Yeah, what Anne said.

    I should have said:

    Solved puzzle, knew what to look for, COULDN’T THINK OF ANSWER, checked internet databases, STILL didn’t find answer, sent in nothing.

    I have heard of Heinlein, so I consider this a fail on my part. Not the first, not the last.

  31. Jan (danjan) says:

    My attempt to solve the meta was very similar to Anne E. We have lots of scifi books in the house, so I’m familiar with the authors’ names, but didn’t come up with this one on my own, and am surprised it wasn’t in the lists of 20th century authors I perused.

  32. Hugh says:

    A simple Google search for “American authors” quickly lead me to a list of 453 names which I scanned in about two minutes. The only other names beside HEINLEIN, FERBER and LONDON which could be considered was DOS PASSOS.

    http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/alpha.html

  33. Cole says:

    LEONARDO SCIASCIA is a famous Italian author.

  34. abide says:

    (Raising hand for DOS PASSOS!)

    I thought the names just needed to rhyme, and I needed to verify how his name was pronounced. I went to Google Video and the first documentary on Dos Passos was from France. Listened to a lot of French words and then heard the name rhyming perfectly. So that covered the French hint…!

    I have heard of Asimov, Clarke, Dick, but not Heinlein.

  35. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I had Jeffrey’s process, except that among the author lists I perused was a list of American sci-fi authors that DID include Heinlein. I gave up on scanning lists and started thinking of plausible trigrams. *INE*INE was about the fifth one I pondered, which jostled Heinlein out of my head.

  36. John Reid says:

    Interesting to read all the other thoughts posted here. I guess now that I must have been very lucky to just *think* of Heinlein without any outside references, in about 5 minutes or so! (This after discarding London for not having enough letters.) I’m wondering why it came to me so quickly – I’ve never been a big fan of his although I did get about halfway through ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ several years ago. I think that funnily enough it was a name that had struck me at that time as being interesting for just that very reason – for having such an interesting letter pattern! So, when I knew what I was looking for with the meta, I somehow felt that I *knew* the answer and just had to dig it up in my brain (easier said than done of course). I thought it was a great puzzle, although I probably would have given up if it hadn’t come to me in the next few minutes or so. Short attention span for things like that. Thanks Matt!

  37. John says:

    Never heard of the guy!! Read Azimov though. Prefer Mysteries. Spent my College years reading Agatha Cristie.

  38. cybergoober says:

    The real key to having Heinlein on the tip of your brain is the obsessive orientation with words & unusual constructions (palindromes & other fun patterns: “Zion, Illinoiz”). Whelchel has stuck in my head for the same reason as Heinlein. Matt has this orientation.
    Is it a gift or a curse?
    Is it a bug or a feature?

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