MGWCC #235

crossword 4:56
meta 1 minute 

hello, and welcome to episode #235 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Family Reunion”. this week, matt challenges us to name a French-born Nobel Prize winner. there are five grid-spanning goofy theme answers, each ending in the full name of a famous person:

  • {Punch the singer on “Seven Nation Army”?} STRIKE JACK WHITE of the white stripes.
  • {Keep away from a former presidential candidate?} EVADE MITT ROMNEY.
  • {Kick the ball through a country icon’s legs?} NUTMEG DALE EVANS.
  • {Queen-like “Tommy” actress?} ROYAL TINA TURNER.
  • {Made a dictator persona non grata?} BANNED JUAN PERON.

the mechanism here is pretty simple, and hinges on the “family” relationships hinted at by the title. each of these five people has or had (i think it’s complicated with the whites) a spouse with a three-letter name: MEG white, ANN romney, ROY rogers (husband of dale evans), IKE turner, and EVA peron. and each of those names is hidden within the first word of one of the other theme answers: strIKE, EVAde, nutMEG, ROYal, bANNed.

okay, so then what? well, the five spouses taken in clue order (MEG ANN ROY IKE EVA) form an acrostic for MARIE, which is the name of a famous french nobel prize winner, marie curie née sklodowska. but! there’s a catch: marie wasn’t french-born; she was polish-born. her husband, pierre curie, shared one of her nobel prizes, and is the correct contest answer.

interestingly, marie & pierre’s daughter, irène, is also a french-born nobel prize winner along with her husband! yes, irène and frédéric joliot-curie shared the 1935 chemistry nobel for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. irene (or frédéric) isn’t the answer because the theme clearly hinges on spouses, not just any old family relations, but it’s a nice coincidence that the key family has the most nobel prizes of any family (five: two for marie, and one each for pierre, irène, and frédéric). off the top of my head, i can’t think of another family with three. the linus pauling “family” has two, as does the john bardeen “family”, by virtue of those individual scientists garnering two each. the bohrs (niels and aage) each have one in physics. same with j.j. & george thomson. there are prominent nobel families, including one i’d forgotten (gunnar & alva myrdal, gunnar in economics and alva in peace) and a few others i didn’t know about. interesting stuff.

so, did this feel like a week 5 puzzle? not in the least, and that’s okay because last week was tough enough, thank you. if anything, it was a refreshing change of pace to have a relatively modest difficulty meta for the 5th week.

not much to say about the fill this week. SNEERY is unfortunate, but not SNEERworthY. UNPIN gets a fun chess clue: {Make a knight more effective, often}. i did not know that BOM meant {…good in Recife}, i.e. in portuguese, as recife is one of the many enormous brazilian cities that americans are largely unfamiliar with. i also did not know MALEV, {Hungary’s national airline, 1946-2012}. never heard of it, but apparently it went belly-up this february. MALEV, we hardly knew you.

that’s all for me. see you in the comment box!

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25 Responses to MGWCC #235

  1. Matt says:

    236 correct entries this week. Most common incorrect entries were MARIE CURIE, of course, with 24 entries, and IRENE JOLIOT-CURIE, with 6.

    Weeks 4 and 5 were definitely “switched at birth,” as one solver put it.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    Week after week, we’re dazzled by Matt’s brilliance. Unfortunately, this strikes me as one of his less convincing metas. He’s set the bar so high with impeccably consistent gems, anything but sheer genius in a Week 5 doesn’t seem to do, does it? The idea was good and the hidden names technique solid if not particularly tricky, but for me, this meta fell down with the solution. First, it was too obvious. Yes, there are many prominent French born Nobel laureates – Camus, Gide, Anatole France, and Sartre (who famously refused) come to mind. However, asking for a French-born person instead of simply French screams out, “Not Madame Curie!” Who else then but Pierre? I suspect this caveat was put in at the recommendation of Matt’s panel. Without it, M.C. would be at the top of everyone’s short list. After Marie emerged (actually, she spelled her name Maria, but those darned French insisted on calling her Marie,) I was ready to submit Pierre at the ten minute mark. Had this been Week 2 or 3, I would have done so. But opting for the better part of valor, I spent several hours searching for secondary proof. For me, this was the meta’s other major flaw — it forced a great deal of needless searching for confirmation because P.C. failed to sell himself as definitive. Was anyone else bothered by the logic of his presence or lack thereof? Or am I being overly hard on poor Pierre because he shares my politically correct initials from the Pedant’s Corner? I was convinced it had to be more than just spelling Marie by lining up the hidden spouses with their partners. Yes, I accept that the meta’s telling us to identify the missing half of a famous couple, but a Gaffney aha moment almost always sparkles, the answer shouting, “Voila! Mais oui, c’est moi sans doute!” Once Marie emerged from hiding, shouldn’t Pierre be present in some form? No, not overtly like the other spouses, but lurking like atomic radiation in the grid or clues.

    • Matt says:


      The idea I was going for was to reunite married (or previously married) couples, but I’m not sure than came across clearly. MARIE is spelled out if you just take the three-letter spouses in order, but my idea was that you have to reunite them, e.g. move MEG up to the top to be with JACK, move ANN up to be with MITT, etc. to spell out MARIE.

      Then I hoped it was obvious that MARIE would need to be reunited with PIERRE. I originally had “male Nobel Prize winner” to guard against MARIE CURIE answers, but test-solvers said that that screamed “Curies” right off the bat so Amy R. suggested the “French-born” idea, which I liked.

  3. Alex says:

    Wow, I wasn’t even close. All the spouses had three-letter names so I discounted Pierre/Marie immediately. I tried to do something with the leftover letters from the first words but that went nowhere. Looking too hard for a week five, maybe.

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt, I felt all but certain you going with the famous couples theme. Yes, the reunion aspect comes across and I did exactly what you suggest by moving the names up on my paper, but I feel the logic was a bit off since the first five spouses are present, and Pierre has to materialize out of nothing. I did notice the 3 letter/4 letter couples, but this is largely irrelevant to the meta, other than that Marie is one letter less than Pierre. I actually awoke on Saturday at 4 am. with the idea that Family Reunion refers to an unrepresented relative. I’d remembered a clue for ARE that was something like “French son.” This turned out to be from another puzzle I’d done recently. Nonetheless, since one purpose of dreaming is to organize acquired knowlege, I got up and searched your clues. Sure enough, the central Down entry is TELAMON clued by Father of Ajax. EVE is clued by “The Mother of all living.” One of the Curies’ two daughters was named Eve. The other was Irene, who as Joon has noted, was a Nobel laureate, herself. Since Irene Curie isn’t represented in the puzzle, and she was born in France, you could almost make a case for her.

  5. Doug P says:

    I found the spouses, but I missed the MARIE acrostic. I just figured the Curies were a French married couple who both won Nobel Prizes. Marie was born in Poland, so I guessed Pierre.

    • sps says:

      I second that line of reasoning. I missed the acrostic, too. In fact, before I even started solving, I Googled French Nobel Prize winners and noticed that M. Curie was born in Poland. When it became I noticed the pairs of spouses, Pierre seemed obvious. Didn’t feel like a week 5 to me, either (but than, I swung and missed last week)…

  6. klew archer says:

    Did exactly the same as Doug P

  7. Matthew G. says:

    Wow. I did not _remotely_ notice that the three-letter spouses names were actually hidden in the seemingly unused words of the other theme answers! That adds an elegance I totally missed. I simply noticed that three people in the grid with four-letter first names — MITT ROMNEY, TINA TURNER, and JUAN PERON — had well-known spouses with three-letter first names. At that point I had -A-IE, and I saw pretty clearly where this was headed. Had to Google JACK WHITE (who I’d never heard of, ditto Meg) and DALE EVANS (who I had, although I didn’t know she was married to Roy Rogers) to confirm, but it was pretty clear.

    Pierre Curie was my guess from even before I started filling in the grid, given the word “Family” in the title and since “French-born Nobel Prize winner” immediately brings the Curies to mind–and why use “-born” if not to distinguish Pierre from Marie?

    Great meta, just very oddly scheduled for Week 5.

  8. Dave C says:

    I thought I was on my way to an all-time quick Week 5 meta solve when I saw the 5 spouse names immediately after solving. But then I went down the horrible path of trying to anagram the non-spouse letters (eg BANNED – ANN = BED, times 5 names). The 13 resulting letters had names like ALBERT woven in, but nothing fit. Frustrated, I finally just wrote down the names in a couple of different ways (which has helped me solve at least a few other metas). The first letters IEMRA quickly unraveled to MARIE, and I applied the puzzle theme and title for Pierre (didn’t hurt that I learned that Marie Curie wasn’t French-born).

    • Christopher Jablonski says:

      Ooh, good thinking, Dave. While it obviously wasn’t a factor in this meta, that’s an angle of attack I wouldn’t have considered. I’ll have to add it to my repertoire for future metas. :)

  9. I stupidly sent in Marie Curie after finding the hidden names & the acrostic without bothering to check if she was French-born (she has a French name, so clearly she must be French-born, right?). And I stupidly forgot she had a husband who also won a Nobel.

    As much as I think I deserve credit for figuring out how the meta worked, I don’t think Marie should be accepted since the instructions clearly specified French-born, and she clearly is not (and given the lack of discussion of that so far, I’m guessing nobody disagrees). Given that last week broke my streak already, I’m not too heart-broken.

  10. Abby says:

    If this had been switched with last week, when I (and probably many others) were under time crunch from travel and stuff, this month would’ve gone better, I’m guessing. :-(

    Ann Romney had been in another puzzle lately, so I remembered how she spells it (though, of course, there’s an extra E there anyway). Had IKE catch my eye first, and I knew all of them so that was pretty easy. It did require knowledge and not just wordplay/vocabulary, so (like the OoO one earlier this month), it was probably harder for others.

  11. VU-Prof says:

    I actually thought there was even more to this meta — you can (almost) get CURIE, too. If you look for synonyms for the first word in each long answer, in order:

    strike = Cut
    evade = Un(something) (never did get this one, but figured it was my fault)
    nutmeg = Roll (nutmeg is defined as rolling through an opponent’s legs)
    royal = Imperial
    banned = Exiled

    Was this part of the meta, or coincidental?

  12. CY Hollander says:

    So, I got the reunite-spouses-to-spell-”Marie” part. From there it was a question of how “Marie” was a reference to a French-born Nobel-prize winner. I went with the French-born Nobel-prize winner named Marie, which IMHO is at least as legitimate an answer as Pierre Curie.

    • Gnarbles says:

      I did the same as you Cy. In fact there is another Jean-Marie Nobel Prize winner: Jean-Marie Le Clezio. Both wrong answers, but not completely illogical.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      It would have been really random to have the meta center on a person who isn’t widely-known outside of chemistry circles, and his name isn’t even “Marie” (which is a woman’s name), it’s “Jean-Marie” (which is a man’s name).

      I’m running this by the panel, which has so far voted 2-0 against. Not looking good, since it’s a three-person panel. Only two people sent in Lehn as their answer (CY Hollander and Gnarbles, obviously).

      • Gnarbles says:

        No need to poll folks for me. Jean-Marie is not a good answer, just explaining what my brain did. Pierre is clearly the one and only correct answer.

  13. pannonica says:

    Spent some time trying to work with NED ( → Maude? Something about Flanders? Kelly?) before seeing ANN. Somehow thought that unpaired Romney was indicative of a continuing sequence.

    The fact that Marie’s consort PIERRE isn’t three letters long is a bit inelegant, but only because of the high standards M Gaffney has established.

  14. Mark N says:

    8D is ALCOTT, “novelist of Jo’s Boys“. Each of the 5 theme entries contains a character from Little Men, of which Jo’s Boy’s is the sequel: JACK, DEMI, MEG, NAT and NED. (Little Men in turn follows Alcott’s most-known work, Little Women, about Jo March and her family.)

    So was this entirely coincidental? Or a subconscious working in overdrive?

    Along with the hidden spouses (though I missed the MARIE acrostic), this made me think that PIERRE CURIE was a decoy, and that FREDERIC JOLIOT would be the answer — for being a French-born Nobel laureate with a famous spouse, and whose name also contained a character from Little Men (JO, who is in all 3 novels of the Little Women trilogy).

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I’ve never read “Little Men” (or “Little Women,”) but I have to admit that’s a pretty crazy coincidence. They all do indeed appear to be major characters in the book.

      • sandirhodes says:

        WoW! You might have to give Mark some credit there, Matt!

        • Mark N says:

          Ha ha! It is a week 5 puzzle, so complexity was expected. And once found, all the Alcott-related items just seemed too deliberate to dismiss. Even the title, “Family Reunion”, seemed fitting, with the trilogy’s focus on Jo’s family that grew to include the titular “Little Men”/”Jo’s Boys”. :-)

  15. Bernie Cosell says:

    I, along with everyone, immediately thought of “marie curie” and I started looking for some connections. the one that killed me is “white” — I have no idea whatsoever who or what the “white stripes” are/were and until I googled it this morning I had no clue why people came up with “meg”.

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