crossword 10:30
puzzle about 24 hours

mgwcc94greetings, earthlings! welcome to the 94th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “What Kind of An Idiot…?” this was a very tough crossword with a very oblique meta that took me several viewings (spaced out over the course of a day or so) to crack. the instructions were quite simple: This week’s contest answer is the four-letter entry at 76-across. okay, so why did the meta take me an extra day to solve after i “finished” the crossword?

  • 76-across was clued as {See 43-across*}. i had _UTZ.
  • 43-across was {Synonym for 76-across}, and the crossings straightforwardly revealed the answer MORON.
  • what was the crossing answer for the first letter of 76-across? 70-down: {Dreidel, e.g.*} = TO_.

well, a dreidel is both a TOP and a TOY, and both PUTZ and YUTZ are yiddish-derived words roughly synonymous with MORON. so we have a deliberate ambiguity here! how to resolve it? well, one plausible explanation is that either answer is okay. but i figured that this wasn’t the case, for two reasons:

  1. the postscript on matt’s instructions: NOTE: in the past I’ve been lenient about accepting second answers from solvers who’ve had a sudden revelation after submitting an incorrect first answer. This week, each solver is strictly permitted only one entry, so make sure you’re right before you send yours in! sounds like he means business.
  2. this is a very unusual grid. there are only two long answers, neither of which appears to have anything to do with the theme (PUFF ADDERS and AMOUNTED TO). the word count is very high (82, which is 4 higher than the usual limit on a quality 15×15 puzzle). and there appear to be only 11 theme squares, waaaay under the usual minimum. in case you hadn’t noticed, matt has got some serious constructing creds, so when he makes an 82-word grid to fit in what appears to be a paltry 11 theme squares… you’re missing something.

so, what are we missing? it took me a long time to see it. i checked the first letters of the clues, the diagonals, all that stuff. i didn’t see it. what did catch my eye were the following two things:

  1. there are some weird words in the grid. INTERJ, ROSTOV, URBAN V, SONANT, MARROU, NEAS, BABU, URA, UNK. odd/awkward, all of them.
  2. there’s a vaguely alphabetic thing going on in the top, with As and Bs in the NW, C and D in the upper middle, EFG in the NE, … but the pattern doesn’t really continue.

in the end, it was this combination that ultimately led to me noticing the pattern. INTERJ is weird because it ends with a J. is the puzzle a pangram? very nearly so. it’s got every letter except for Y … and Y is one of the possibilities for the missing square. but does that mean it should be a Y or not? unclear. remember Y Not from the very early days of MGWCC? if not, give it a whirl… a good tough crossword, and a really tough meta that remains the only one i didn’t get, although i was on the right track.

but now we’re really close to cracking the meta. INTERJ ends with a J, and starts with an I. and up top, we have ARAB, COD, and ENGULF. we’ve already noted the quasi-alphabetic thing going on there, but look at the outside letters: A__B, C_D, and E____F. could it be? yes! G____H is a little further down, and it keeps going:

  • a {Cairene, usually} is an ARAB. tough clue! in retrospect, i can tell that “cairene” means “cairo inhabitant,” but it didn’t jump out at me until after i’d solved it.
  • {___ Wars (U.K.-Iceland conflicts over fishing rights)} is an obscure but cool (and guessable) clue for COD.
  • {Overwhelm} means ENGULF, or close to it. honestly, this clue struck me as being a bit loose, but i suppose it works figuratively.
  • {Showy} is GARISH.
  • {“Aaaargh!” e.g.} is an INTERJection. i’m whistling a foul here: “e.g.” is not sufficient to signal that the answer is an abbreviation.
  • {Clark, once} is KAL-EL, the given name of superman back on krypton.
  • we’ve already covered the MORON in the center of the grid.
  • {Winning, barely} is a weird clue for ONE UP. i guess so, but i’d call it UP ONE, and ONE-UP is eminently clueable in another way.
  • {Luminous entity} is a very nonspecific clue for QUASAR. i had PULSAR here first, perhaps because i used to study pulsars. hey, what ever happened with the double-pulsar binary, anyway? that thing was really cool. but i digress.
  • {Tone-related} is SONANT. a rarely-used word, but its derivative consonant is quite common.
  • {French-born pope}? that’s the clue for URBAN V? admittedly, i don’t know anything about him (perhaps he’s known for his suave business dealings?), but even a vague chronological reference might help. the only famous pope URBAN is URBAN II, who convened the first crusade in 1095. a college quizbowl teammate of mine once joked that “Urban II: No More Papal Bull” would be a good name for an action movie sequel. i really have to agree.
  • to {Increase in size} is to WAX. can anything other than the moon wax? you can wax poetic, and i suppose an emotion can wax (although waning is much more common). i should start using this in other contexts. “man, my inbox is waxing like crazy. i really need to answer some of this mail.”

and that brings us back to _UTZ. but it’s clear now, right? only YUTZ continues the pattern, and it must be the correct answer this week. tough meta, as there’s nothing to give any indication of what you’re supposed to be looking for, just “stare at this puzzle until something weird jumps out at you.” i suppose it wouldn’t be that tough to answer this one by accident, either because you didn’t think of PUTZ, you wanted the puzzle to be pangrammatic, or you just flipped a coin. but there it is.

and it’s kind of a remarkable theme, isn’t it? there are a whopping 13 theme answers. not only are the all acrosses, and they go in alphabetic order, they’re symmetrically placed in the grid. MORON in the center and YUTZ at the very end is a nice touch. sure, INTERJ is a tad clunky, but how else are you going to do it without resorting to polish?

okay, fill roundup:

  • {“The Facts of Life” role} is TOOTIE. this one i remember. she was played by … um … neither lisa whelchel nor charlotte rae. i don’t remember, though.
  • {Title character of Daniel’s, 1722} is MOLL. that would be daniel defoe and MOLL flanders (insert lengthy subtitle here). something about twelve year a wife and seven year a whore.
  • {Word that reverses to a synonym of itself} is PAT <-> TAP. nifty. a candidate for the next flip answer puzzle, not that there will necessarily ever be another one.
  • {Pop’s bro} is … UNK? i would have spelled it UNC. or actually, UNCLE, since i can’t imagine abbreviating this word.
  • {Ima Hogg’s sister, supposedly} is URA. i think this is the second time i’ve seen this, both in the MGWCC. and i still don’t know who or what these people are from, just that the pun makes sense.
  • ROSTOV {___-on-Don (Russia’s 10th-biggest city)} … man, again with the russian geography. i needed a few crosses to jog my memory, but i have heard of this. and certainly it looks a lot more like a russian city than ROSTOI or ROSTOX. (also, i don’t think there have been ten urbans.)
  • {Charlie’s angel} is a very clever clue for the repeater OONA o’neill chaplin. is that a new one? i haven’t seen it.

stuff i didn’t know (a long list this week):

  • {Shiba ___ (dog breed)} is INU. whoa. how can i never have seen this one before?
  • {Killers of Lord Mountbatten, 1979}? it was his IRA. roth, or traditional? did he forget to roll it over?
  • {Ralph formerly of People for the American Way}? never heard of him (NEAS) or it.
  • nor {1992 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Andre ___} MARROU. hey, i was sentient in 1992. i remember perot, certainly, but not this guy.
  • nor did i know the {Deported Pakistani in a “Seinfeld” episode}, BABU. although actually i think i’ve seen that episode; at least, it sounds vaguely familiar. i never watched this show regularly, but i must’ve seen a dozen or two scattered eps.
  • {African Honeybush, e.g.} is a tough clue for TEA. not one i’ve ever encountered.
  • COQ {___ à la Bière} is unfamiliar, but in retrospect it’s a parallel construction to coq au vin, with beer instead of wine.
  • {1984 movie that got Jeff Bridges a Best Actor nomination} is STARMAN. don’t know it. didn’t he recently get another one? i feel like he won best actor a couple weeks ago.

that’s all from me. did you like this one?

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29 Responses to MGWCC #94

  1. Abby says:

    Ugh. Don’t like it. If I’d actually finished the puzzle before I sent my answer in (J LO took me forever), I might agree with you, and I see how it’s “righter”, but, yuck. And a dreidel’s a perfectly good top, but all tops are lousy toys.

    I was obsessed with all the OOs in the puzzle though.

  2. Rob says:

    I got fooled. I wasn’t looking for the theme, and thus stopped when I got to TOP/PUTZ.

    Were I to argue, and I’m not, I’d say that the dreidel is more of a game than a toy. But I have to concede to the logic and wait to be fooled again next week — so far, i’m 0-for-March. :)

  3. Karen says:

    Good call on Jeff Briges, joon…he won the Oscar this month for Crazy Heart. (I liked the Starman movie, and tv series with a different actor, but I’m not sure it would hold up over twenty years.)

    Kim Fields played Tootie, and according to IMDB she’s been in another sitcom since then, Living Single (never seen it) and bit parts in lots of other shows. She also has her own production company and released a CD. So unlike Lisa Welchel she’s still very much into show business and escaped the curse of the child star.

    I got the correct answer by flipping a coin this week.

  4. Eric Maddy says:

    Didn’t get the A-Z portion of the meta — I googled YUTZ and PUTZ and, after checking some informal dictionary links, decided that YUTZ was a “better” synonym for MORON than PUTZ. So I lucked out.

  5. SethG says:

    I found the theme shortly after solving, and also used it to change UNC/CAL EL to a K and ROSTOI/URBANI to a V. (Bolshoi is Russian, too, and I don’t know my popes. I just looked at a list of Russian cities, and there are other OVs and no OIs.)

    Jeff Bridges also has 3 Supporting Actor nominations.

    I never did figure out why the asterisk on the Dreidel clue.

  6. Aaron says:

    I’d never heard of a YUTZ before, but I knew that PUTZ was too easy to be the right answer, and saw the weird alphabetical fill while filling in the V crossing ROSTOV and URBANV (right next to WAX). Once I found the definition of YUTZ online, I got excited, second-guessed myself for another hour, and then sent it in.

    Were the stars necessary for 76A and 70D?

  7. Howard B says:

    Flipped a coin and guessed PUTZ. As I’ve said before, I just never ‘see’ visual themes, and this one was completely invisible to me, unfortunately. So my only shot was guessing here, since there is no imbedded clue; you just have to ‘see’ the theme to get it.

    And with my luck, of course one out of two was wrong. One of those people who can flip a coin five times and guess all five wrong somehow ;).

    That said, To find 13 symmetrical pairs? Yowza. I like that. Although late to the game, I appreciate the artistry of the theme. Boy, i feel like a yutz now though…

    The asterisk on the dreidel clue is a tip that the answer there is ambiguous as well.

  8. joecab says:

    ohhhhhhhhhhhh! I so did not get it this week. I knew PUTZ was too good to be true :( But dang what does that leave in store for this Friday’s toughie?

  9. John Farmer says:

    One of the best Gaffneys yet. I liked this one a lot.

  10. Hugh says:

    My initial reaction was anger at Matt for some questionable clues. But after finally seeing the bracketed UV WX and YZ across the bottom, I realized it was right out there and doping out the full alphabet wasn’t essential. I didn’t flip a coin on P or Y; I just figured that Matt would take the edgier of the two and chose PUTZ.
    Oh well, ya humbled me again, Matt.

  11. sps says:

    Matt, this was pure and utter brilliance. Couldn’t figger out the meta (did the coin toss thing and ended up with putz) but loved Joon’s explanation—a definite head-slapper. I feel like such a yutz for missing it…

  12. Jan (danjan) says:

    When I solved the puzzle and came down to the P/Y choice, I thought I’d just go with Y and be done with it, since I hadn’t seen any others in the grid (I still had a couple of blanks at that point). But no, I had to overanalyze on and off for a couple of days, and decided YUTZ was slightly more fitting as a synonym for moron. Right answer, but should have listened to my first instinct. Joon, thanks for doing this every Tuesday so we don’t have to wait until Friday!

  13. abide says:

    I’m a putz; knew there was a trick! Never heard of yutz but the U-V-W-X-Z should have clued me in.

  14. Pete M says:

    I have a gut feeling that this is another one of those puzzles that will favor constructors over pure solvers. Just because they’re more conditioned to notice the kinds of things that lead one to the right answer.

    I had PUTZ first, but thought:

    1) this is too easy, especially with the ominous warning; and
    2) why does 70D have an asterisk?

    I finally noticed the almost-pangramminess of the puzzle and worked it from there. Noticed the sequential pangram, but missed that it was the first and last letters of words. Very nice.

  15. Meg says:

    It wasn’t the fact that the letters began and ended words that stood out to me, though in retrospect that is pretty cool. It was the symmetry! Very, very nice!

  16. *David* says:

    I was a contrarian and gave in both words. INTERJ bothered me so much I should have realized there was a point to it. This puzzle meta solve is cool beyond belief, just amazing.

  17. Thomas says:

    Wow. I sent in YUTZ to make the pangram and never noticed the rest of it. If these darn trees would get out of my way, I’d tell you what I think of the forest.

  18. Eric Maddy says:

    What do you mean by “there appear to be only 11 theme squares” — I count nine (MORON and YUTZ)?

  19. joon says:

    john: me too. incredible.

    jan: you’re welcome!

    eric: i was counting two more for TO_. it’s the third starred answer, and its ambiguity is essential to the puzzle, a fact which is self-evident even before you figure out if it’s PUTZ or YUTZ.

  20. Jeffrey says:

    Let the record show I got this one correct, and for the right reason.

  21. Matt Gaffney says:

    I went back and forth for a while on whether to include asterisks on the TOY and YUTZ clues.

    As described by Joon above, the only real hint I wanted to give to the meta was sort of an eerie sense that something had to be going on here, like in movies where someone looks around and says “It’s really quiet,” and another person goes “Yeah…a little *too* quiet,” and then 1,000 enemy soldiers suddenly emerge from the trees.

    So I wasn’t sure if the asterisks were 100% necessary there, it’s a close call.

  22. Matt Gaffney says:

    One other thing I just remembered about those asterisks: I was also swayed to use them because I knew some solvers would put PUTZ / TOP in without noticing the YUTZ / TOY possibility.

    Without the asterisks those solvers could have made a case that PUTZ / TOP should be counted as a correct alternative answer, but their presence argues powerfully against that case since PUTZ / TOP doesn’t leave any reasonable explanation for the asterisks.

  23. Aaron says:

    I just wonder what would’ve happened if you *hadn’t* added those asterisks, and if you hadn’t warned people that you wouldn’t accept second guesses. I think far more people would’ve put in their first guess of PUTZ.

  24. Matt Gaffney says:

    Yes, that’s what I was worried about. As it was about 50% of solvers submitted PUTZ even with the asterisks, so the meta was tough enough with them.

  25. anna says:

    I went with the P first, but the asterisk on the down clue made me look at the TOP row… then i noticed the alphabetical symmetry and went the Y!

    I usually print these out on a Friday and email the answer Monday or so, when I can actually get to a computer. This time I didn’t make a note of the contest instructions and kept looking for something exceedingly insane (as if the grid wasn’t a crazy enough feat) until Monday. Tricky, tricky, enjoyable fill, but for some reason I found the meta to be pretty easy — easier than I thought week 3 would be!

  26. Eric LeVasseur says:

    I did exactly the same as Eric Maddy – got the right answer by deciding YUTZ was a more “accurate” synonym than PUTZ, but totally missed the pangram and the A_B, C_D… entries.

  27. Peter says:

    I too went with the pangram explanation and so got the right answer (for the wrong reason, although I was in the ballpark.) I’m annoyed I didn’t see the real meta because I did notice the V W X Y Z along the bottom row … why didn’t I notice the pattern throughout?

    Given Matt’s penchant for pangrams it might have been good to throw a Y into the grid somewhere else, to keep people like me from stopping with the right answer before we actually understood the puzzle. I did feel like there was something I was missing but I had a plausible explanation that allowed me to make a choice so I went with it.

    Oh and someone above griped that “e.g.” isn’t enough to tell you it’s an abbreviation – I disagree. In my experience that’s a common crossword convention.

  28. Ben Bass says:

    For a change, I was with Matt on a tougher meta. I saw the two possible choices… with all the scrabbly fill I realized it would be a pangram with a Y… then realized the letters A thru Z were in the grid alphabetically… and finally realized the A_B, C_D, etc. thing with Y_Z wrapping it all up. And M_N dead center giving the meta clue to boot. Very elegant feat of construction, Matt.

    Now about to tackle the final-week meta, which is usually my Waterloo. We shall see!

  29. Evad says:

    I know I’m a week behind on the meta, but I guess my Yiddish is limited since I’ve never heard or seen the word YUTZ, so with the UTZ in place, PUTZ was the only answer that fit for me. I won’t forget it now, though!

    I’m fairly amazed at the originality and execution of the MGWCC metas, they’re the highlight of my solving week.

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