MGWCC #158

crossword 4:25
puzzle 3 days 

welcome to the 158th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Cut the Deck”. this week, the instructions state that the answer is a four-letter word. well, i came reasonably close to wanting to send in a choice oath, but i worked it out in the end, i think. what were the theme answers?

  • {Work area for your assistants?} is a SPACE OF AIDES.
  • {She lays eggs, then bakes pastries with them?} clues the HEN OF TARTS. how do you guys feel about a clue which is syntactically a complete sentence, but still ends with a question mark? i wouldn’t do it myself, and i don’t see such clues in the NYT, but i’ve seen patrick berry do it, so evidently not everybody thinks it’s awkward.
  • {English county with many people like Le Bon and Cowell?} is the extremely forced-sounding clue for DEVON OF SIMONS.
  • {U-boat noises?} are CLICKS OF SUBS.

what’s going on here is card spoonerisms: ace of spades, ten of hearts, seven of diamonds, and six of clubs. matt isn’t going to like this, but … i’ve seen this theme before, in a NYS puzzle by joe dipietro 3 years ago. of course, that puzzle’s payoff was SPOONERISM as the last theme answer, rather than a meta. so what’s going on with the meta? well, there are three other overt theme answers that weren’t spoonerisms:

  • 44a is {Magician’s secret, or what you need to find in the grid} is a HIDDEN CARD.
  • {You don’t need it for 44-across} clues SUIT.
  • {Count it as 13, for the meta} is the clue for ACE.

so we are looking for a card, without a particular suit. we know from the instructions that the card is four letters long, so probably FOUR, FIVE, NINE, JACK, or KING (but conceivably TREY, or something really outside the box like SKIP or VISA). what are we to make of “count it as 13″? well, we should obviously look at the numbers on the cards. the theme has given us an ace, 10, 7, and 6. so that’s 13, 10, 7, and 6. the first thing i did was add them up to get 36. 36a is the DEVON OF SIMONS, which is already a theme answer, but there is a 36d: DOME, clued as {Stadium or cathedral feature}. it’s four letters. could it be the answer? i didn’t think so, but i wasn’t sure. (tangent: try my new sporcle quiz. it’s not really related to anything here, but if it were, it would be related to this 36d clue.)

at this point i put the puzzle down (friday) and came back to it today (monday) after a very busy, largely puzzle-free weekend. the next thing i tried was words in the grid that were potentially spoonerisms of cards. the only one i found outside of the obvious theme answers was {Oscar winner for “A Fish Called Wanda”} kevin KLINE, who could be the KLINE of NUBS if you spoonerized the nine of clubs. except that NUBS wasn’t in the grid, and we didn’t want a suit anyway, and KLINE isn’t four letters long.

back to the card numbers from the actual theme: 13, 10, 7 and 6 are all numbers in the top row of the grid. the down answers (none of them has an across answer) there are KEN, CLOSER TO, AGFA, and JIFF, which don’t look very useful (even the four-letter ones). but aha! if you look at just the letters in those squares (circled in my screencap), you see KCAJ. or, reading from left to right (or in reverse order of theme answer, or in ascending suit order clubs-diamonds-hearts-spades), you get JACK. and that (i think) is the contest answer this week. but as they say, i don’t know jack.

if JACK is indeed the correct answer, then i have one quibble with the meta, which could easily have been fixed: why 13? does anybody know a card game in which ace = 13? if every card gets its own number, then ace would be 14. in blackjack, ace is either 1 or 11, and it would have been a trivial matter for the ACE clue to read {Count it as 11, for the meta}. everything else would work the exact same way, because square 11 is also a K (the other K of HICKOK).

quibble aside, this is a fairly ingenious meta with several layers—working out the spoonerisms, realizing that it’s a card theme, seeing that you need to find a hidden card, and then finding that card by reading the letters in the square numbers alluded to by the theme answers. that’s excellent.

the fill this week was pretty straightforward. only a few clues gave me any trouble:

  • {Best Actor nominee for “Pollock”} is HARRIS. ed? emmylou? franco? i’m guessing ed.
  • {“___ Letter Blues” (2010 “Simpsons” episode)} is MOE. not too hard to guess, but i don’t really understand the title. i assume it’s a reference to something, but i can’t figure out what.
  • {“Napoleon Dynamite” dork} is KIP. i’ve actually seen this movie, but i don’t remember KIP. there’s napoleon, and deb, and pedro. apparently KIP is the older brother. yikes.

that’s all from me. howe’s bayou?

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39 Responses to MGWCC #158

  1. Couldn’t figure it out this week. I assume you and I were uttering that same choice oath.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    198 correct answers this week.

    The reason ace = 13 in this puzzle is because…I miscounted. I play a lot of cards, yet somehow the idea that an ace is numerically 13 came into my head and I never challenged it. Especially annoying since, as you point out, there already happened to be a K at 11, so the clue at 59-d could simply have referenced that one.

    Several solvers pointed out an idea I really really wish I’d thought of: use both the K at 11 and put a K at the 1 square (KITSCH/FRAPPE/CPAS does it), then you have either blackjack value for the ace covered.

    The only saving grace of my A=13 gaffe is that it didn’t really affect the play of the meta since the clue at 59-d was so specific, but rather just left people thinking the ace’s value was strange.

    Simpsons title “MOE Letter Blues” is a play on the Spike Lee movie title “Mo’ Better Blues.”

  3. Phoebe McBee says:

    Mo’ Better Blues is a Spike Lee film – assume the Simpsons title is a takeoff on that.
    I got stuck on this week’s meta – got as far as Joon did up to the point of looking at the referenced squares. Good one, Matt.

  4. Scott says:

    Wow. I am a mathematician and I never questioned the A=13. I guess I was thinking 13 cards in a suit and the Ace is the highest…but obviously that is only one way to look at it. Thanks Matt for a nice puzzle. Meta solved.

  5. Matt S. says:

    This is a really good one, and one of those ones that gets a “d’oh!” for not getting the meta. Very logical in retrospect. I even had the #s 13, 10, 7, and 6 written on my printout. Very frustrating…

  6. *David* says:

    I got it but skipped the first step by missing the spoonerism. I instead noticed the 13 consecutive downs which would match 13 cards. I then looked for a card in the first letters of each of the fill and JACK popped out. I knew I had missed something as far as the connectivity to the themes and the ACE reference but had run out of time late on a Monday evening. I also relied on the first K, which gives us a HI between the JACK, as in I hijacked a meta I had no business solving correctly.

  7. Al Sanders says:

    Boy, I got this for completely wrong reasons. I saw the title was Cut the Deck and I saw the DE of DEJA and the CK in HICKOK and the letters JACK were sort of in there, cutting the word DECK. I knew that couldn’t be the right reason because it didn’t utilize the A = 13 hint, plus the CK of JACK and DECK overlap, so that’s not really “cutting” the word, but it was a last minute submission and I was desperate. Pure luck that it worked out.

  8. Scott says:

    I think Matt should start publishing the “Most Convoluted Way to Successfully Solve the Meta” each Friday and so far *David*’s method and Al Sander’s method both seem to fit the bill.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Scott —

    Aha, that must have been it! I’ve been trying to figure out why I had ace = 13 since a solver pointed out on Friday afternoon that I’d messed it up. But 13 cards, ace is highest in most games, so ace = 13. Now I see.

  10. Tony says:

    Sent in JACK only because all I could think of was the ACE is 13 in blackJACK. I saw the letters in the top, but didn’t associate the values of the cards.

    Scratch that. The ACE is not 13 in blackjack, so I basically had no idea and went with the correct guess.

  11. jimmy d says:

    shoot! I had a nice streak going… and then an epic fail on a second week meta!! Nice one, Matt!

  12. Eric Maddy says:

    I followed the Al Sanders method and was fortunate enough to stumble across the correct answer in the process.

  13. Karen says:

    I found the meta fairly quickly, and like Scott didn’t question the A=13 point, especially since that was my entry point to finding the answer.

  14. Peedee says:

    ARRRGH!! This puzzle drove me crazy. I thought the whole grid looked like a facecard and with the K in the upper right corner, I thought the answer to the meta had to be KING. After I sent it in, I realized if that were the right answer the ACE counting as 13 wouldn’t mean anything.

  15. Abby says:

    Argh! Had a meeting this morning and completely forgot to enter! :-( Just remembered it now. Hate to lose the month so early. If I’d been more sure, I would’ve entered yesterday, but I was still wavering.

    The ace as 13 thing totally threw me. Shouldn’t have, probably, but did. I would’ve been much more sure without it.

  16. cheryl says:

    HERE’S convoluted:
    I discovered a missing card trick involving 5 cards invented by Cheney. This is how it applied to the puzzle: the cards were dealt in order as Ace of spades, 10 of hearts, 7 of diamonds, the hidden card, and 6 of clubs. The trick is done with an assistant who identifies the hidden (turned-over) card by having had an agreement with the magician about the placement of cards. One way to do it is to put the hidden card last, to the right of the card that would tell the assistant the suit. The puzzle didn’t need a suit, so I looked for the number. With the fourth card, the 6, going from last to first the order was 6C,AS, 10H, 7D, hidden card. If the Ace was 13 points, then the first three cards were lower, higher, medium, which, in the trick tells the chooser to add 2 to the last number, which was 7, and therefore the hidden card was n-i-n-e (of diamonds).


  17. Cole says:

    I got locked into the KLINE/NINE corner, thinking KLINE OF NUBS (if one could clue such a phrase) would fit the theme.

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    All I could see was the KLINE/NINE bit, but there was nothing to tell me “yes, this is the elegant meta answer” so I sent in nothing. Ah, well.

  19. Jeffrey says:

    I got this fairly quickly and for the right reasons, but thought there might be more to it (some JACK spoonerism?) so considered it over the weekend. Nothing further came to me so I sent in JACK.

    The A=13 issue never occurred to me.

  20. Barbara says:

    I came to JACK at first (along with the Al Sanders method) by also considering that Ace would be 13 if the Jack or King would be removed, thereby making them one of the hidden cards … and then over-thought it and chose WILD. Aaarrrgh! And I took all kinds of combinations of letters left after splitting the long answers with SPADES, HEARTS, CLUBS, and DIMONS (eek!) because of Matt’s “Cut the Deck” title and tried rearranging them. This meta really had me flummoxed and I over-thought it. Matt amazes me that he comes up with these challenges each week (and Joon for his parsing).

  21. JackedDunn says:

    I am also an Al Sanders solver after spending way too much time considering the SEA/MER option in addition to all other blind alleys already mentioned. I didn’t understand the Ace is 13 thing at all but never thought to actually think about why it made no sense.

    I never get tired of your puzzles and metas, Matt. This was a week two guess that paid off but, gorgeous, is your week two radar stuck 13? Eek.


  22. sandirhodes says:

    Acorns and blind squirrels come to mind this week!

    Channelling Al Sanders, I also got JACK because by cutting the DE-CK you rearrange into JA-CK, with no clue about Ace/13.

    Is there a theme this month? B-52s and a 52 card deck?

  23. Matthew G. says:

    I submitted KING, alas. Got hung up on ACE = 13 and never found a satisfactory pattern. I chose KING solely because EMIR was right next to HIDDEN CARD in the grid (even though I knew that wouldn’t be the reason it was right if it was, which it wasn’t).

    But Matt gets the Clean Mind award for one of the theme clues this week. I say that because this is not the first puzzle I have ever done that uses one of the Spoonerisms here. Christopher Manson, who has made several nice illustrated puzzle books — including Maze and the Practical Alchemist — did a book a while back called “The Rails I Tote,” a book of illustrated spoonerisms to decipher. One of them is a picture of a number of, ahem, ladies of the night, getting ready to go out and solicit their customers for the evening. But first they need to get some eggs for dinner from their sole animal companion, if only they can coax it to lay them. That’s right … the HEN OF TARTS.

  24. Lois says:


    I think you can put a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence to indicate a twist. What other option is there? You wouldn’t want “Does she lay eggs, then bake pastries with them?” That would be a real question, but no clue.

    I think I was in a class 40 years ago that touched on this topic, but I can’t remember much. I think the class was about different ways of forming questions, and the possibility of converting a declarative sentence into a question without changing words and word order and so on.

    Thank you and Matt for your brilliant analysis of his brilliant crossword, although I did not get the meta.

  25. abide says:

    Ace=13 seemed perfectly logical to me. The 36th card down in a new deck is the FIVE, but I couldn’t find any other support for that.

    I saw the jack sorta up there but went with NINE because 9 square is between DE and CK, 9 Down reads 9INE, and the numbers total 36, and 3+6 = 9.

  26. reid says:

    Am i the only one who noticed the trey/tray card-shaped rectangle on the right middle of the grid? I couldn’t stop staring at it and wanting it to be part of the answer, even though it had nothing to do with the clues. A fail for me…

  27. Gnarbles says:

    My first try was to index the card numbers against the alphabet and then anagram the letters (A=1, B=2, etc.) That made gibberish so I next moved to the grid letters. I play a lot of bridge so calling the Ace the 13th card in a suit makes perfect sense to me.

  28. Les says:

    I submitted NINE. As was mentioned if you add up the numbers 6,7,10,13 you get 36; if you then add the 3 & 6 you get NINE. Working with 16A, if you move the L to the front, like moving the letters in the spoonerisms, you go from ONLINE to LO NINE. Not great and didn’t feel quite aha right.

    All this after saying to Sam that HICOCK looked like it was put there deliberately and it’s probably part of the answer.

  29. Norm says:

    Seeing as how I managed to read 20A as a spoonerism for “eight” of spades (what’s it called when you get half of a spoonerism wrong?), I was screwed from the get-go and the ace as 13 just added to my miseries. So, I had 6, 7, 8, 10 and wanted 9 to draw to an inside straight (always one of my failings), but that had no apparent connection to the title or 59D. Sigh.

  30. Matt Gaffney says:

    Aha Gnarbles, thanks. Never played bridge but if an ace is 13 in bridge then that saves me.

  31. Pam says:

    I really backed into this one. I saw the word jack in the top row, split in two by the word hi which is what the ace is when it is the high card of a suit. I picked up on high, not ace. And it said it was part of the meta. I’ll take it!

  32. tabstop says:

    abide: I did exactly the same thing, except I didn’t actually have a new deck; however, I “knew” that a new deck went A-KA-KA-KA-K, so that cutting at the 36th card would cut to a JACK hence my submitted answer. (I then just now found a colleague who has some new decks, popped the seal on one, counted 36 cards … and cut to a FOUR, since the deck was packed A-KA-KK-AK-A. Oops.)

  33. Jan (danjan) says:

    I started out with adding the four numbers to get 36, and took the average to get nine, but since I’ve been missing a lot of metas lately, figured I was on the wrong track. Came back to it later, looked at the four numbers I had written down to add, and looked back at the grid and got it. I hope I’m on Matt’s wavelength this month; I want to be more successful on weeks 3 and 4 than I have been in prior months.

  34. pannonica says:

    Ace=13 drove me to distraction, as did hunting for another spoonerism. Looking for split DECKs as well (that first row was tempting). Then wordsearching, including wraparounds. Then boggle. Did the letter-number substitution, math with that. Math with the theme cards too. All the while haunted by another distraction, even more persistent than the A/13; more on this below.

    Next was process of elimination, as on a multiple choice question. King out, because ROI appeared in the grid. Down to four. Nixed NINE because the KLINE thing bugged me.

    And then there were three.

    Now, the other distraction I mentioned previously was the “message” I perceived in Row 1. Arbitrarily ignoring the HI (from hidden [card], I reasoned from desperation) in 8a, PIC DEJA CKOK could be read as “Pick the jack, OK?” This “message” could not, would not be shaken or dislodged once seen. No matter how many other avenues I explored (all dead ends), it kept whispering to me, even though I knew had it no validity.

    Hated to send in a guess, but that little voice wouldn’t be denied. And, what do you know, it had a smidgen of validity after all, since it was taken from the same pool of letters as the correct solution!

  35. HH says:

    “I think you can put a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence to indicate a twist. What other option is there? You wouldn’t want “Does she lay eggs, then bake pastries with them?” That would be a real question, but no clue.”

    The option is “Egg-layer who then bakes…?”

  36. abide says:

    pannonica: “Pic de jack, OK?” is awesome.

    Is there some connection to the title “Cut the Deck” I’m missing? Because all it did was mislead me…

  37. Evad says:

    Funny when I was trying to translate numbers into letters (four numeric theme answers and a four-letter word for the meta seemed to point to this), all I could come up with is counting out the letters of the alphabet. Never thought to look in those squares in the grid. Epic fail for me on this one (shakes fist at sky mumbling Matt’s name)

  38. Gavin says:

    Because of the order in which I solved the theme clues (20A, 28A, 53A, 44A, 36A), I couldn’t get past the fact that only 36 Across didn’t properly spell the suit. The others were perfect: SPA…DES, HE…ARTS, CL…UBS. I got stuck in that rut and spun it deeper.

  39. sandirhodes says:

    As a former blackjack dealer in Vegas, I can tell you that decks are ALWAYS packed A-K,A-K,K-A,K-A. Furthermore, the suits will always be (from the front side) Spades, Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts (SDCH = SanDiegoChildrensHospital is the mnemonic).

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