MGWCC #119

crossword 5:16 (paper)
puzzle 0:13

brief post this week, as i’m terribly busy with work, life, etc. this week’s puzzle, “Stuck in the Middle With U,” asks us to identify a word meaning “unknown factor.” here are the hints from the grid in the form of five long theme answers with parenthetical numbers in the clues:

  • {“Back to the Future” star (1)} is MICHAEL FOX. i’ve still seen this movie more times than any other, i think. although eventually, one of these silly movies that i watch every year (1776, or it’s a wonderful life maybe) is going to catch up. in related news, this was the first movie i ever owned on vhs. i won it from a radio station. actually, i won a pair of tickets to go see the sequel, but they never got mailed to me, so the station sent me the video instead. still never seen back to the future 2, actually. but i digress! michael J fox pretty much never goes anywhere without his middle initial, so this is a little bit suggestive.
  • {Reporter during the London Blitz (5)} is EDWARD MURROW. is this the “good night and good luck” guy? is that even the right quote? anyway, he’s without his R.
  • {“Gone With the Wind” producer (2)} is DAVID (O.) SELZNICK, of whom i had never heard before doing this puzzle. but the very next day, when i was reading the wordplay blog post about the second sunday acrostic, the first comment was a lengthy but fascinating bit about the sometimes-frosty relationship between selznick (who apparently invented the middle initial O, which doesn’t stand for anything) and alfred hitchcock, of whom i have heard. and then, just this morning, selznick showed up again in this sporcle quiz.
  • {“Mad” dork (4)} is ALFRED (E) NEUMAN. what, him a dork?
  • {“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” and “Minority Report” were based on his stories (3)} clues sci-fi titan PHILIP (K) DICK. some genius producer thought blade runner would be a better movie title than do androids dream of electric sheep?. go figure!

well, with the middle initials known and the order indicated by the numbers in parentheses, this isn’t that tough a meta to piece together: J-O-K-E-R spells JOKER, which is indeed a word meaning unknown factor. the meta was easy enough that i could solve it without knowing david selznick’s made-up middle initial. but i confess i’m still not 100% sure what the title is trying to tell us. sure, there’s “middle,” suggesting the middle initial thing. but U? why U? yeah, it’s just one letter, but it’s also not a letter that is relevant to the theme. and why that … ohhh, it just hit me. clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here i am… gotcha. great title! but for god’s sake, don’t click that link if you’re at all squeamish.

hey, speaking of which, i just watched the djoker play the US open men’s final. he didn’t win, but he played some phenomenal tennis in the 2nd and 3rd sets. ultimately, nadal was just too much for him, but i can fairly confidently say that djokovic is going to win another major… that is, assuming rafa decides to let somebody else win one some day. anyway, djokovic is seriously good. fun to watch, too.

favorite fill answer this week: {Cry of anguish} = “NOOO!” don’t think i’ve ever seen that in a puzzle before, but i love it. goofy, but spot-on. i mean, this is something i actually say. facetiously, of course, but then, pretty much everything i say is facetious, including this.

obligatory chess clueclues of the week: the KING is a {Checked piece}, but not of luggage. and the A FILE is the {Leftmost part of the chessboard, to the white player}. in algebraic notation, the files go a through h, from white’s left to right; the ranks go 1 (white end) to 8 (black end).

how’d you all like this one?

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12 Responses to MGWCC #119

  1. I got “Joker”, but I had never heard it used in the context of “unknown factor”, so I figured there was a meta beyond that and just went back to doing homework. Oh well.

  2. john farmer says:

    Yes, MURROW is the “good night and good luck” guy. Musta stole the line from Olbermann. You’ll find him here, somewhere.

  3. Tony says:


    Yes, the quote is correct and it was MURROW who said it. I’d heard of both DAVID (O) SELZNICK and PHILIP (K) DICK, but didn’t know their associations with movies.

    The puzzle was fun, but the meta was a bit on the easy side as I figured out quite early what was going on.

    As for the title, it’s from the Stealers Wheels song “Stuck in the Middle With You” and has the lyric “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.”

  4. cheryl says:

    I also have never heard of Joker meaning “unknown factor” so I went with Wildcard, which is sometimes what the joker is and it does sometimes mean “unknown factor”.

  5. joon says:

    ouch. well, the meta leads directly to JOKER and only JOKER, so it’s definitely a stretch to call anything else the answer. if you were in doubt about the meaning, you could always look it up (def 3c).

  6. S says:

    Yeah, I went with WILDCARD for the exact same reason.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    314 correct answers this week. Eight entrants submitted WILDCARD — I see the logic but can’t count it as correct, with the letter order in parentheses the meta is very specific.

  8. otis says:

    I got the meta but after I tried to overthink it like probably many people did from the comments, I think I would have been more sure if none of the clues had numbers after them both indicating they were part of the meta and which order the initial needed to go in to form the answer. It’s just like working out, if I didn’t struggle to get to the end then it didn’t accomplish the goal. I guess that’s what weeks 3 and 4 are all about.

  9. jimmy d says:

    If you know that a joker is sometimes a wildcard… and a wildcard is sometimes an unknown factor…. Have you really never heard of a joker as an unknown factor?? That is my riddle of the day =)

    Plus, I’d like to play poker for money with all of you!!

  10. Tony says:

    Regarding the joker/wildcard debate, I personally think of “wildcard” as a single word the way it is used in on-line dictionary searches and the like. To me, a joker is a wild card, which is two words, not one.

  11. Al Sanders says:

    Oops, I sent in WILDCARD as well, for all the reasons mentioned above. Seemed like Joker and “unknown factor” were two different ways of defining WILDCARD which seemed pretty elegant, so I actually didn’t think twice about sending that in. That’s what I get for overthinking the meta. I missed the Stealers Wheel reference, even though I’m a big Gerry Rafferty fan. Oh well, pressure’s off for this month :-)!

  12. kirsten says:

    If you play poker at all, the joker definitely is an “unknown factor”. Pretty much any card can sometimes be wild, but a joker always has something unpredictable in store.

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