MGWCC #174

crossword 10 or 11 minutes (i … fell asleep)
puzzle 2 days 

hello friends, and welcome to the 174th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Mean Mr. Meta”. this week, matt challenges us to identify a well-known Beatles song. there are six theme clues:

  • {Symbol of peace (5,6)} is DOVES FLYING. okay, slightly awkward—more two words than a real lexical chunk.
  • {One of the ten largest cities in the U.S. (3,7)} is SAN ANTONIO.
  • {Visiting briefly (8,2)} is STOPPING BY.
  • {Occult “game equipment” (5,5)} clues TAROT CARDS.
  • {Cause of a sprinter’s leg pain (6,4)} is a MUSCLE TEAR. ouch! i was thinking something like a cramp.
  • {“Harlem Nights” actor, 1989 (5,6)} is EDDIE MURPHY.

i had significant difficulty putting each one of these into the grid, especially that first one. (it didn’t help that i was dead tired when i tried to solve this; hence the falling asleep. not a statement about the liveliness of the puzzle!) but once they finally went in, i couldn’t figure out what on earth to do with them. i knew these were the six theme answers because they each got their enumeration in the clue. and i figured they were the only six theme answers, because who the hell puts six long theme answers into a grid and then finds a way to squeeze more in?

since staring at the theme answers led nowhere, i started looking through beatles songs (all of which are in my iTunes library). i figured i was probably looking at six- or twelve-letter song titles, or maybe six words. that didn’t go anywhere, though. neville posted similar frustrations on facebook. my best find was noticing that “twist and shout” could be a cryptic-style clue for THOUSAND (“and shout” anag.).

eventually i got back to looking at the theme clues and wondering: why did he give us the enumerations? he could have just starred them. or even not marked them at all, since they’re the only six long across answers. (there are two 9-letter downs, LOVE STORY (ugh) and the WORLD OPEN chess tournament.) so why did we get the enumerations? that’s when it hit me—there are alternate answers to each of the six theme clues, that don’t go into the grid, but have the same enumerations. without the enumerations, it’d be just about impossible to solve them. but here they are:

  • {Symbol of peace (5,6)} is an OLIVE BRANCH. much more “in the language” than DOVES FLYING.
  • {One of the ten largest cities in the U.S. (3,7)} is LOS ANGELES. noticing this (and the conspicuously nonspecific clue for SAN ANTONIO) broke the meta open for me. i tried OLIVE BRANCH next and knew the meta answer.
  • {Visiting briefly (8,2)} is DROPPING IN.
  • {Occult “game equipment” (5,5)} clues OUIJA BOARD.
  • {Cause of a sprinter’s leg pain (6,4)} is LACTIC ACID, which is what builds up in muscles during anaerobic respiration. this one took some thinking (after i had solved the meta); i started out trying ARCH and ACHE.
  • {“Harlem Nights” actor, 1989 (5,6)} is, apparently, DANNY AIELLO. i had no chance to get this one unassisted, really. i would’ve just gone and looked it up on imdb before writing this up, but brendan told me so i wouldn’t have to. and i trust him so much that i won’t even go to imdb and look it up.

so there you have it. taking the first letter of each word of the alternate answers gives OB-LA-DI, OB-LA-DA, which is of course a well-known beatles song. (although they’re all well-known, right? i mean, ish? not that i expected the meta answer to be “savoy truffle” or “sea of time”, but … it’s the beatles. people know this stuff.)

i loved this meta. just when you think matt has gone to the well once too often (the old “this clue can also be the clue for …” trick), he pulls out an elegant wrinkle like this enumeration business. kudos.

the crossword itself was very hard, i think, even allowing for tiredness. it took me forever to light upon stanley MILGRAM for {Psychologist who wrote “Obedience to Authority,” 1974} at 1a. man, the 1970s were crazy times for psychologists. milgram’s button-pushers, the stanford prison experiment, … seriously, wtf? the clue for IN ONE, {Self-contained}, is a clever attempt to spin this as a standalone answer rather than a partial. i guess it kind of works.

most interesting clue: {Word whose letters spell a phrase of comprehension} for ICY (“i see why”).

alex, i don’t think i embarrassed the family.

well, this was a great month of metas. what did you all think?

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32 Responses to MGWCC #174

  1. Nearly gave up, finally cracked it at 2am last night. Joon, you continue to impress me with how similar your thought process is to mine. Agreed, a great month of metas with 3 real toughies.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    103 correct entries. That’s $279.61, when divided into Joon’s winnings last night.

  3. Eric LeVasseur says:

    I didn’t see the meta, so I picked a random 12-letter Beatles title, and somehow managed to hit the right one. That’s the second time in as many months that I’ve gotten that lucky.

    (Okay – maybe not so random. I knew I was looking for six pairs of letters to spell something, and that song seemed the most likely candidate, rejecting other options such as “Polythene Pam”, “Ticket to Ride” and “Come Together”, among others.)

  4. Scott says:

    I did not get this one. But I must admit that it is a very cool and well constructed meta.

  5. Matthew G. says:

    My first successful Week 5! I started grinning like a fool on the subway this morning when I finally figured it out — I probably worried some people.

    I figured out several days ago that there were alternative answers to all of the theme entries. I have a tendency when I solve to try to guess theme answers without crosses — even though it hurts my speed-solving, I think it’s more fun. That meant I tried several of the “alternative” answers in this puzzle before the “correct” ones, since the alternatives almost always felt more natural (except DANNY AIELLO). So I had that part of the meta figured out almost immediately.

    But it wasn’t till today that I printed out a blank grid and put the alternative answers in. After about 15 minutes or so of staring at them in that form I noticed the initial letters and got the meta. I never did figure out the alternative answer to MUSCLE TEAR, though — LACTIC ACID makes sense.

    My TV picked this week to break. No Jeopardy Joon for me. :(

  6. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Too late to be the first to congratulate Joon on his initial Jeopardy! appearance, but it was a great show!

    I had the correct answer to the meta about an hour after starting this puzzle, but the truth is I had based it on only five of the six replacement answers, enough to clinch the idea. I drew a complete blank on what would fit beside MUSCLE TEAR; even knowing L_____ A___ yielded nothing. LUMBAR ACHE? Something else I can’t remember now?

    But now I see that in my haste I had multiple overlooked mistakes at 17 A, giving me DOVES PLAINT! But what’s interesting is that “Dove’s Plaint” is a phrase from the Bible or somewhere (I googled it on Friday), and ATP is some tennis thing with an association with Waco. Couldn’t justify AIN as part of Asia, but with Matt, who knows, and without close study I overlooked my “ANTSTY” at 10 D! Still, OLIVE BRANCH was the obvious replacement.

  7. abide says:

    I did this in the last 15 minutes before the deadline and thought it was incredibly hard for the first puzzle of the month. Just took a wild guess.

    Great job, Joon…lol on VISHNUS FISHSTEWS!

  8. *David* says:

    I had an easier time with this crossword then last week, the MILGRAM/GLESS crossing was a pick a letter and the SE was a bit hard but still overall easier.

    The meta had me puzzled for a while but I kept on going back to the numbering and after many blind alleys hit on the San Antonio/Los Angeles connection which I wrote out as LA. I had originally wanted OUIJA BOARD for TAROT CARDS so that came next. I looked up the Harlem Nights movie and there was Danny Aiello and then everything else fell except LACTIC ACID which I never figured out but by then the meta was solved.

    This must’ve been a fun meta to make, a lot of things had to fall Matt’s way to get this to work.

  9. Mike says:

    Dang it, forgot to set my TiVo! joon, is there a video online?

    ETA: Just saw Matt’s link. Thanks, Matt!

  10. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    I did not get this meta. I knew that the numbers had to be significant because they were not needed to solve the grid. But I could not figure out how to use them. But one thing no one has mentioned I’d like to bring up: It seems to me that all of the MGWCC puzzles I have worked have a meaningful tie-in from the puzzle title to the meta answer. I don’t see a tie-in here.

    For me the title in this puzzle was a major distraction because it suggested Mean Mr. Mustard to me, and I kept looking for a way that those numbers somehow pointed to letters in that song. Drove me crazy!

    One thing I noticed is that all the sums added-up to ten except 5,6–which was used twice (first and last). Look at these lines of Mean Mr. Mustard:

    Sleeps in a hole in the road (line 3)
    Saving up to buy some clothes (line 4)
    Such a mean old man (lines 6 and 7)
    His sister Pam works in a shop (line 8)

    The eleventh letter of each yields OBLA (spaces not counted). And the line number in the song is one of the two digits that yields the sum=10 pairs (3, 4, 6 or 7, and 8).

    Wait, this gets better! the 5+6 sums that yield 11–if you take the six and this line:

    Such a dirty old man

    You find yourself looking at a ‘d’ which happens to be followed by an ‘i’. We now have Obla Di. Repeat Obla (hey, the elevens repeat, so why not?) and all we need is the “Da”.

    But alas, I could not find it using these numbers. There is a ‘da’ in “Shaves in the dark trying to save paper” but it is at letter position 12.

    In a moment of desperation I thought I could pull this off by indexing backwards. Note this line:

    keeps a ten mark loAD up his nose

    The ‘D’ is at letter position 10–counting from the end, and the ‘A’ at position 11. But it did not make any sense whatsoever that the DA in Obla Di Obla Da would be the only thing indexed backwards. So I decided I was barking up a wrong tree.

    Wow. Awesome meta.

  11. joon says:

    whoa. that’s … hmm. i never really read much into the title other than “beatles reference”. of course i was not expecting the answer to be mean mr mustard.

    and isn’t it “keeps a 10-bob note up his nose”? bob meaning pound?

  12. Rebecca says:

    On the first go-round, I filled in OUIJA BOARD and then had to erase it to put in TAROT CARDS. Finished the puzzle and was stymied for about a day. Then (amazing what sleeping on it will do), the next morning I woke up knowing the trick, and figured out the alternate forms for almost all the other theme entries (LACTIC ACID remained unsolved but luckily I didn’t need it). Overall a lot of fun, 4/5 for the month! and Yay Joon, very impressive showing!

  13. Anne E says:

    No way for me! I’m not a Beatles fan at all, and as soon as I saw this week’s meta-thing, I knew it wasn’t likely to happen, and it didn’t. (Doesn’t help that I also have no idea who Eddie Murphy is!) Weirdly, however, I dreamed about this meta last night, and I dreamed that the answer was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (one of the few Beatles songs I can name off the top of my head – don’t ask me why). Should have sent it in. :-)

  14. James Schooler says:

    Joon, I cannot remember laughing while watching “Jeopardy” as much as when I heard “VISHNUS FISHSTEWS.” Good luck tonight (even though you know the pre-taped outcome)!

  15. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    @Jim – Yeah, I got a chuckle out of that myself! And Alex sounded vaguely astonished that he knew what it was! I just finished watching it. @Joon – great job!!!

  16. Jeffrey says:

    I sent in “I’M A LOSER”. Because I am, on this meta.

  17. SethG says:

    My first answer was San Antonio. I saw that LA fit the pattern and had the meta figured, if not solved, before I entered my second.

    If only I’d known more blind people…

    Nice work Matt, and nice work Joon!

  18. lexicon fan says:

    Oh, crap (how’s that phrase for someone who calls himself ‘lexicon fan’)!

    I had LOSANGELES, OUIJABOARD, and LACTICACID in the grid. When I had to change each and every one of them, I was so frustrated that the *reason* I had to change them totally escaped me. Geez.

    (Enter paragraph here that uses Beatles tunes names only, and ends with ‘I Should Have Known Better’)

    ‘How Do You Do It?’

  19. Ken / Cazique says:

    Nowhere close (other than noticing the DROPPING IN while solving and never thinking of it again), but a rather stunning meta. Nice work.

  20. lexicon fan says:

    NO WAY! Please tell me they compensated that lady with 2nd place money as well.

    ‘Trafalgar S (with some sort of squiggle)’ is NOT the correct answer? Geez, if that were for the win, I would be P*SSED!!!

  21. Abby says:

    I didn’t like the title of the puzzle either. Should’ve been “Not a Second Time”, maybe, since I’m sure a lot of us thought of the “alternate” answers first.

    Joon, “bob” is a shilling (Chambers, def 2), not a pound, and gets used to code “s” in cryptics all the time for that reason. OK, maybe not all the time, but I see it at least once a month.

  22. Paul Coulter says:

    Failed miserably after spending most of the weekend trying everything from adding the clues’ dates (which produced Mr. ENA across the top – I suppose Matt realizes he had Mr. Meta Bad consecutively) to searching the grid for a long and winding road to trying free association with theme words for anything that goes with SUN for I FOLLOW THE SUN (after veering away from sun, the best I got was ROCK doves/SHOW-stoppping) to endless anagrams of the theme entries to annoying my granddaughter by singing every Beatles song I know (bad voice, good memory for lyrics.) But still, the only thread with any semblance of legs I could produce was the Love Me Do jumping out at 3,7,13 from the top. I thought there was a good chance this was a Lennon song like Imagine from the Doves Flying, which is carved on his monument at Strawberry Fields. The subsidiary indicators of LOVE Story and WORLD Open seemed to go in this direction, too (I took their lack of enumeration to mean they weren’t theme entries, but coming from the world of cryptics where clues are always enumerated except in some specialty puzzles, I suppose I wasn’t as alerted by this oddity as the successful solvers.) I looked hard for A World Without Love (also You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away and We Can Work It Out) as deletion metas, but could find nothing else. Never came close to the real trick, but so many other songs had half chances, I’m sure Matt drove half of us half crazy. But tarot suggested Yoko Ono, and while I only had a half hope Matt was going there, Sean Lennon’s middle name is Taro. Eddie Murphy on SNL did a famous skit about being the Fifth Beatle (yes, I tried looking for fifth letter patterns too.) Murphy claimed to have written Love Me Do, so I settled for this as my desperate guess.

  23. Matt Gaffney says:

    Garrett and Abby —

    for the record I don’t feel an obligation to have the title, every week, point to the meta in some way, no matter how obliquely. For a Week 5 puzzle with a subtle gimmick I felt the title could only hurt and not help, so I decided on non-meta-indicating one.

  24. cybergoober says:

    5 for 5 this month. I can hold my head high again.

  25. Mitchs says:


  26. Dan F says:

    This was one of my finer MGWCC moments – I got the meta in like a minute, because I really wanted the two “O.B.” wrong answers while solving. That pretty much gave it away, even though I didn’t figure out the last two “wrong” theme entries.

  27. Pam says:

    Did you see the true daily double tonight? AWESOME!!!!!!!

  28. joon says:

    well done, dan. is that your top crossword achievement of the day? :)

  29. ===Dan says:

    “Flying” is (what I believe to be) the only Beatles title that appeared in the clear, but I would have been too embarrassed to send it in.

  30. Ben Bass says:

    (shakes fist) Gaffney!

  31. Raleigh says:

    This may be the oddest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’m in pest control, I’ve seen a lot of strange things. How did that whale get so far from the tide?

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