MGWCC #97

crossword 4:02 (across lite)
puzzle 15 minutes or 2 days, depending on how you count

mgwcc97greetings, and welcome to the 97th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Friday Fruit.” this one had a pretty easy crossword and a meta that i both loved and hated. what’s up with that? read on.

the overt theme of the puzzle was ten pieces of fruit, scattered across three long entries:

  • 17a, LEMON PEACH GRAPE
  • 38a, BANANA DATE APPLE
  • 61a, PLUM FIG PEAR KIWI

straightforward enough. what’s the meta answer? well, the instructions this week tell us that This puzzle’s three long theme entries contain ten pieces of fruit. One of those ten is missing something, though — which one is it? apparently, that wasn’t enough to lead anybody to the answer within the first hour of the contest being posted, so matt added a BONUS HINT: It may look like this puzzle has only three theme entries (17-a, 38-a, 61-a), but in fact there are a total of twelve entries relating to the theme.

now then. the first thing i thought when i read the bonus hint was: “okay, there are two extra theme entries i need to find in addition to the ten obvious fruits.” 1a jumped out at me: {Worst if its kind, with “the”} is the PITS. PITS are parts of some fruits: drupes, to be specific. PLUM, DATE and PEACH are drupes; others may be too but i’m not 100% sure how these things are classified. so is one of those the meta answer? or is there something else going on? i didn’t see any overt fruit tie-in for any of the other fill answers. EAT AT came closest, but that doesn’t refer to any fruit in particular (in fact, it doesn’t refer to fruit in particular).

then i read the bonus hint again: it says explicitly that there are only three overt theme entries, even though they contain ten pieces of fruit. so really, we’re looking for another nine theme-related answers? that can’t be right, can it? and then the scales fell from my eyes. holy crap, there really were nine more theme answers in the grid. PITS is one of them: it goes with PEACH to form the two-word phrase PEACH PITS. i quickly found the other seven:

  • {Up in the air} is FLYING, but “i don’t give a FLYING FIG” is a nice alliterative euphemism.
  • {Tough to get along with} is PRICKLY, as a person. but PRICKLY PEAR is a kind of cactus.
  • {Arenas in arenas} is suspended NBA star GILBERT. but what’s eating GILBERT GRAPE is the early 90s johnny depp movie that i sometimes confuse with benny & joon, even though i’m a title character of only one of them (but i’ve seen neither).
  • {Cruiser, e.g.} is a BOAT. but not a BANANA BOAT, which has several different meanings. i guess i know it best as a sunscreen brand and second-best as the subtitle of the song “day-o.”
  • {Imagine in bed} is a deliciously risqué clue for DREAM. who’s in bed, the subject or the object of the imagining? (surely not both? and surely not together?) DREAM as an adjective goes with several desirable nouns, like dream job, dream house, and DREAM DATE: the plumpest, juiciest drupe you’ve ever imagined eating, in bed or elsewhere.
  • {“___ Rib”} is a clue for ADAMS, or really ADAM’S, that i did not like at first. i mean, yeah, that’s a movie, but why clue it as the awkward possessive instead of as either of two presidents, an iconic first lady, a member of the algonquin round table, etc.? well, there was a good reason after all: it’s ADAM’S, not ADAMS, that goes with APPLE.
  • {Statehouse output} is (are) LAWS, possibly including the LEMON LAWS that offer protection against buying really bad iced tea.

“but joon,” you say, “that’s only eight. what about the ninth theme-related answer?” ah, what indeed? there must be one more fill word that makes a phrase with either PLUM or KIWI… and i couldn’t find it. the closest i could come up with was PLUM POSITION, but that’s not really a two-word phrase so much as two words stuck together. yes, people say it, but PLUM is just an adjective meaning desirable, modifying the noun POSITION. PLUM POSITION doesn’t have its own dictionary entry, nor should it.

that’s where i stood about 15 minutes after starting to work on the meta. over the course of two days, i kept coming back to it, but couldn’t make any progress. i was always leaning towards PLUM, as the two-word phrase options involving kiwi are scant at best. eventually i just sort of gave up and sent in KIWI as my answer, and i guess it’s right. but i’m not happy with this part of the meta at all, because it took a lot of work to imagine all of the possibilities for famous people named PLUM that i don’t know (IKE? NOLAN? LANA? ANNE?), PLUM-flavored STOGIEs, NILE PLUM, etc. it turns out that if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s really easy not to find it. i’ll also dock a point for PEACH PITS, which is both kind of arbitrary and distinctly fruit-related, which is an inelegance for this type of theme. so while i admire the feat of construction of hiding nine extra theme answers in a grid that already has three long theme answers (a big “wow”), i ultimately spent a lot of time on this meta not having fun, even though those first 15 minutes were pretty exciting.

somebody explain the APPS clue {iPhone 99-centers} to me in the comments, because i don’t get it at all. oh wait, i get it now. “center” isn’t the english word “center” meaning “middle” or “hub”; it’s “thing that costs ___ cents.” do people say that?

i’m really tired, so instead of doing a fill rundown i’ll just point out my favorite clue: {Letters in a box} for MAIL. you weren’t thinking about block letters in a crossword puzzle, were you?

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34 Responses to MGWCC #97

  1. Steve says:

    But, Joon, POSITION should have been your only option, really, because it’s the only P___ answer that makes any *alliterative* two-word phrase with PLUM.

  2. Eric Maddy says:

    Also need to mention that all of the two-word phrases are alliterative (as is the puzzle title). I initially came up with “Apple iPad”, but when I realized that every other “phrase” had two words starting with the same letter, I completely missed “Adam’s Apple” and decided that “Apple Apps” must be what Matt was looking for.

    In any case, there was no entry in the grid starting with K [fixed: there was one, KUKLA], so KIWI had to be the right answer regardless of my apple confusion.

  3. Cole says:

    Note to Eric: the only alliterative K word was KUKLA, and KUKLA KIWI means even less than PLUM POSITION.

  4. joon says:

    thanks everybody (in unison!). looks like i totally missed the alliterative part of the meta. that makes it a lot, lot better. i feel dumb now.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Don’t, Joon — quite a few solvers missed it, even among those who got KIWI. I’d say around 15%, judging by e-mails.

  6. Evad says:

    Wow, missed the alliteration, thanks for the heads up! (Guess that’s why the somewhat easier to hide TOP wasn’t in there for BANANA.) Shame on me for not reading more into the title….when will I ever learn?

    I did look up PLUM POSITION in onelook.com to no avail, so that was the one I was most unsure of as well, but I went through a similar process as joon and felt KIWI was the outlier.

    Excellent meta as usual! Thanks MG!

  7. Nick W says:

    Ended up with KIWI, but since Adam’s Fig and Gala Apples are both real things, I missed the (banana?) boat on the alliteration.

  8. *David* says:

    The key for me knowing I had it right was the alliteration otherwise I was in the same boat as Joon. By the second alliteration I was pretty certain KIWI was the answer since there aren’t any phrases that I know that are with KIWI period AND it also had to start with the Special K. I got PEACH PITS as my starting off point as well.

    Very nice meta and Winter Olympics fill to obfuscate some odd abbreviations. :)

  9. SethG says:

    I followed the exact process as you, with the same feelings. And…despite my intuition that KIWI would be a better submission, I sent in FIG.

    I did the ones that made sense and was left with PLUM/FIG/KIWI/PEACH. I went with PEACH PITS, and complained for the same reason you did. There’s apparently a daylily called NILE PLUM, and I missed the alliteration too so I assumed that was it. (Of course, NILE PLUM actually exists, PLUM POSITION…?)

    Finally, I’m not familiar with the FLYING FIG euphemism. FLYING KIWI (an adventure tour company, a guy who goes to airshows, an online game) had as much google support as FLYING FIG (a restaurant in Cleveland, a defunct theater company), and I’d heard of FLYING KIWI and assumed Cleveland’s FLYING FIG was a takeoff of Cincy’s flying pig so I chose wrong. Ugh.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    SethG –

    A solver e-mailed me that FLYING FIG lives in a weird Google no man’s land: if you just type in “flying fig” you get only about 25K hits, mostly referencing the Cleveland restaurant etc. But if you type the whole phrase “give a flying fig” in, you get 100K hits, all of which reference the euphemism.

  11. SethG says:

    Of course, that only makes me think about the classic New Yorker back page, which I’ve maybe even linked to before…:

    Mr. Cheney wasted no time in informing Mr. Leahy that he should feel free to perform yet another anatomical impossibility—this one involving aviation, a standard sexual act, and a rolling doughnut.

    Vonnegut!

  12. Howard B says:

    I missed the entire BANANA BOAT on this one; Even with the extra clue help and the alliterative title, I never, ever would have found this out :(.
    Hadn’t heard of FLYING FIG or PLUM POSITION, but even so, I could have logically worked them out had I grokked the meta.
    Very clever theme concept though. It’s subtle and yet once explained, rather clear.

    These “Find the meta in the grid” visual puzzles just kill me, though. I think I’m perhaps 1-for-7 or 8 at best in this category, as best I can tell. I just can hardly ever figure what I’m looking for, or once past that stage I can’t find it.
    It’s like trying to see those 3-D stereograms that were a fad for a while. Either you would reveal the image in seconds, or not at all. Ah well. Better luck next week. Love the execution, but this category frustrates the hell out of me, and that’s not easy to do. No knock on the puzzle, Matt. It’s just my own weakness.

  13. Bobby says:

    I was surprised how quickly and easily this one came to me. Noticed the alliteration right away and then it was off to the races. Fun puzzle and meta just the same.

  14. peechy says:

    I missed the alliteration too, but Googled “plum” and found a “plum teat” match that left me with Kiwi.

  15. Abby says:

    Title tipped my meta solving, so I instantly mailed Matt an answer. But (brainfart) missed matching “Adam’s Apple” substituting similar Apple Apps. Still scores.

  16. Howard B says:

    Awesome, Abby. Too true, Gaffney got several solvers, although Apple didn’t detour you. Yahoo!

  17. Mike L says:

    I missed the alliteration as well – there’s always an extra level of wordplay in these metas that I fail to pick up on – see the PUTZ/YUTZ puzzle, for example. I did, however, find all the matches and submitted KIWI, so I guess I’m in the 15% that Matt referenced.

  18. mlpdyer says:

    Oh Boy – this one just eluded me entirely! I figured out that 9 out of the 10 fruits somehow matched words in the fill…but were there names of fruit types, like Gala Apples, or movie references, like Lana Peach and Gilbert Grape…

    There were too many things I did not think of and too little time! Ouch!

    Of course, now that I know the answer, it seems simple! lol

  19. Jordan says:

    Awesome meta!!!!!

  20. joecab says:

    Duh. I missed the alliteration too. I shoulda known.

  21. BrianGoodBeat says:

    I was about ten seconds away from sending in GRAPE (because every other fruit grows on trees, but grapes grow on vines, thus “missing” the tree aspect) when Matt sent his maybe too helpful Bonus Hint.

    I was almost duped again by the too-simple-to-be-true-but-still-must-be syndrome (see PUTZ/YUTZ).

    Loved the meta in the end, though. Another great idea from Matt Gaffney.

  22. Jan (danjan) says:

    I was going to send in KIWI, because I got far enough to figure there wasn’t a phrase with it. Missed the alliteration; Gala apples threw me off as well. Now that I understand the whole thing, I’m impressed that Matt got all those words in there!

  23. Hahaha lord, so I sent in KIWI as well, but my solution to the meta came out totally ass backwards I don’t even know where to begin.

    I noticed that all of the fruits (except KIWI) had a letter that was touching the same letter in a neighboring square (the “a” in APPLE and the “a” in the upper right square, for example). I figured the locations of those matching letters signified stems and seeds or something, so I simply looked at all of the fruit and noticed that KIWI didn’t have a neighboring square with one of the same letters. Nevermind the fact that a kiwi DOES have seeds and would have a stem as well, I was really tired when I found it and I figured it made perfect sense. What is wrong with me haha.

  24. Jeffrey says:

    Got everything but the alliteration. Perhaps that 15% number should be revised?

  25. Meg says:

    Ben: After the way I totally overthought the SNOWSTORM puzzle last week, I can sympathize. New motto: Keep it simple. The alliteration was the final piece of the puzzle because it allowed for only one match for each fruit (except APPLE APPS, I guess). I honestly Googled Kukla Kiwi just to be safe.

  26. Amy Reynaldo says:

    ‘Nother non-alliterator here. Hey!

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    Not sure, Jeffrey — maybe perception bias skewing the results here!

  28. Spencer says:

    OHHH. I totally missed ADAMS APPLE! And I found a New Zealand sports figure (Google is NOT my friend!) named KUKLA, so KIWI KUKLA made a warped sort of sense.

  29. John Reid says:

    I missed the alliteration too – now that I see it, it makes what I already thought was an impressive puzzle that much more so. Nice one, Matt!

  30. Jeffrey says:

    Wednesday’s NYT will be a bit late tonight. Amy is unavailable but one of the Fiend Team will get something up this evening.

  31. Matt Gaffney says:

    OK, maybe 25%. Or 26%.

  32. Margaret says:

    I got PEACH PITS and PRICKLY PEAR right off the bat, and worked my way from there. After getting GILBERT GRAPE, I was pretty sure it was alliterative. I didn’t even think of APPLE APPS, since I saw ADAMS first. It did take me a while to decide that FLYING FIG was legit, but it seemed a lot more likely than KUKLA KIWI (Which I also looked up…), so KIWI it was! Had we not had the extra hint I’m not sure how far I would have gotten. “PITS” jumped out at me, though, so I can always pretend I would have gotten it anyway!

  33. abide says:

    Ugh…I totally misread the bonus hint as only needing to find two more theme entries (plus the ten fruits). All ten fruits have seeds except the BANANA, so NINE/PITS made perfect sense.

    Very nice multi-layered puzzle Matt!

  34. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I can’t believe no one else has mentioned the DATE naPALM I thought was one of the pairings.

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