MGWCC #238

crossword 5:45
meta 10-20 minutes, maybe 

happy holidays, and welcome to episode #238 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “You Don’t Know Jack”. this week, matt challenges us to name a Jack Nicholson role. what are the theme answers? well, there seem to be only four, although there is definitely something odd going on with them—they are double-clued, and only one of the clues fits the entry in the grid. not only that, but it doesn’t all fit. what am i talking about? take a look:

  • {“The Empire Strikes Back,” casually; her books have been made into movies starring Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley and Gwyneth Paltrow} is, apparently, EPISODE. now, the first half of the clue is EPISODE 5; the second is JANE AUSTEN, which doesn’t seem to be in the grid.
  • {Jim Carrey role; with “The,” movie where a character has Münchausen syndrome by proxy} is VENTURA, actually ACE VENTURA. the second part of the clue seems to be the SIXTH SENSE.
  • {“Papillon” actor; movie with songs by Elton John} is STEVE MC(queen). the movie with songs by elton john is THE LION KING, not in the grid.
  • {1999 Matthew Perry/Neve Campbell romcom; Tarantino movie that opens with Pam Grier riding an airport people mover} is THREE TO TANGO, which i definitely had to look up (and the clue makes it seem like it ought to be TWO TO TANGO, doesn’t it?). the tarantino movie in the second part of the clue is JACKIE BROWN.

so the first thing to notice is that each of the four clues is short by a playing card, which could go in the middle black square: episode FIVE, ACE ventura, steve mcQUEEN, and THREE to tango. not only that, but the four “extra” clues also begin or end with a playing card: jane ausTEN, SIXth sense, the lion KING, and JACKie brown. so there’s definitely something playing card-y going on, in addition to the overt movie-related theme (even novelist jane austen is clued in relation to the cinematizations of her books).

now, four 7-letter theme answers does not ordinarily necessitate an 80-word grid with subpar fill like JKLM and max EUWE (although matt does love his chess clues, even he acknowledged EUWE’s obscurity by cluing him as {World chess champion, 1935-37 (hidden in ADIEU, WENDY)}). eventually, i noticed that the entries for those four extra clues are actually in the grid also, along the diagonals (except for the missing playing cards): THE LION (king) along the NW diagonal, (6)TH SENSE in the NE, JANE AUS(ten) in the SW, and (jack)IE BROWN in the SE.

so there is something very unusual going on in this puzzle: not only are there four diagonal entries, but 8 different playing cards are hiding under that central black square. does this unambiguously point to a jack nicholson role? well, it didn’t suggest one to me, but when i perused his imdb page, one role jumped out at me: the joker, in the 1989 michael keaton batman. the joker is the perfect explanation for all the playing card wackiness in the central square, because jokers are wild. the eight theme answers are all using that wild card to stand for something else to complete their titles.

this is a lovely meta, really, with many elegant layers. 8 theme answers, each movie-related, is already a lot. sticking four of them along diagonals, leading to heavily constrained fill, is a step up. each of them is exactly seven letters plus a playing card (at the beginning or end), whoa. and then to have the “joker’s wild” idea tying it all together—that’s a real tour de force. definitely a nice christmas present from puzzlemaster matt!

hope you and your families are enjoying a lovely holiday. there’s one more MGWCC in 2012, but it won’t get blogged until 2013, so happy new year!

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57 Responses to MGWCC #238

  1. Patrick L says:

    What? That can’t be it. There’s no explanation for why those cards were chosen? I have to run to a lunch meeting, but my answer used those specific cards. I’ll come back and explain it later – hopefully I’m not the only one.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    It was fairly obvious that Matt was going for the Joker, the only card that can be put in the central black square to satisfy all the clues, but I actually felt glad this week that I’d dropped from the leaders’ table. I would have appalled my family by spending half of Christmas break searching for more conclusive evidence. That’s probably why so many of the leaders delayed submitting their entries. A rousing three cheers for a wonderful year of metas. Well done, Matt! Happy New Year back at you, Joon. And everyone else, too.

  3. Barbara Hartwell says:

    Came up,with Joker right away with the card theme, but spent a long time thinking that was too easy for a late in the month meta and spent a lot of time trying to find something more complicated. Sent in the Joker as my answer but I was sure it was wrong!

  4. CY Hollander says:

    I wondered about those diagonal entries: definitely an impressive addition to the puzzle, but they didn’t seem to have much connection to the theme. I guess one possibility is that Matt wanted to pack in as many theme entries as possible using only one “Joker”, but really 4 would have been plenty to reveal the playing card theme.

    However, it occurred to me that if you highlight all the theme answers, diagonals included, you’ll have drawn an asterisk—which is commonly used as a “wildcard” character in textual contexts. Coincidence or intentional?

  5. davidb says:

    Similar experience that I thought I was missing something and that though I submitted the Joker, I was expecting to be wrong.

    I assume the puzzle’s title refers to the Joker’s alter ego – JACK Napier.

  6. Laura E-D says:

    Ohhh. I didn’t notice the diagonals or the “joker’s wild” thing. I just guessed JOKER because it was related to cards. I was trying to make something out of the missing card numbers – did you know that the last letters of clues 2, 4, 7, 8, and 9 almost spell OSCAR when rearranged?

  7. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Such complex and beautiful construction! But silly nits like me wonder, where were the two, four, seven, eight, and nine?, thinking they were needed to complete the deck! (But not really needed, as joon points out.)

    Took me awhile to see the diagonal entries, but having NEWB in the grid screamed, “Hey, there’s got to be a good reason for this to be in the grid!”

    Another beauty, Matt!

  8. Matthew G. says:

    I thought of the Joker immediately (before the grid was even full), but that seems way too easy for Week 3, so I kept puzzling over it for days, looking for an additional pattern. And family Christmas chaos caused me to forget about sending an entry until just now — ten minutes after the deadline. Bleh. Really hope it wasn’t the Joker!

  9. Mutman says:

    I wasn’t so sure Joker was correct because I couldn’t find the point of the secondary clues. Once I found them on the diagonals, I loved the puzzle and rested comfortably that there was no red herring.

    A lovely puzzle and meta!

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    357 correct entries this week, so on the easy side for week 3.

    I had admired Merl Reagle’s 3-way rebus (the FINGERP(R/A/O)INTING one) and Patrick Blindauer’s (the s’mores one) so I wondered: is there a way to do 8-way? Obviously using a group of exactly 8 would have been perfect, like planets or Santa’s reindeer, but they would have to work with the other radial themers so there was no way that was going to happen. But the joker idea worked, and I liked the idea of tying them together with movies and the Nicholson JOKER reveal.

  11. hibob says:

    I missed the diagonals completely. the puzzle was way too hard and I didn’t finish most of the east side. I did get the playing card thing but figured the second part was a hidden card. I sent in “the Joker; Jack Napier” figuring the Joker was the obvious answer and JACK Napier was the hidden card.

  12. Todd dashoff says:

    I didn’t notice the diagonals, but did get the rest, and at first thought of the Joker, but thought that was too obvious for a third week meta. Going through the Nicholson roles via Google, I found the blackjack scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Since each answer had two cards, and one pair was a queen and a king, which matched the dialog in the scene (You got twenty showing!), I went with R.P. McMurphy.

    • Scott Rogoff says:

      My logic was the same as this (although I misread the prompt and accidentally submitted the name of the movie instead of the character). But the correlation between the cards dealt in that scene and those in this puzzle was uncanny. Most, if not all, of the cards mentioned (or those implied by the totals he mentioned) line up perfectly with the ones in the grid. Clip:

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    Sorry so many spent time looking for a nonexistent deeper level, but flattered that you all thought an eight-way themed rebus was too *simplistic* and there had to be more to it…!

    • Matthew G. says:

      I’m sure it wasn’t simple to *construct*!

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        My question is: how could it not have been THE JOKER? Eight different cards meet in the middle, and there happens to be a Nicholson role that’s the precise term for the card that can be any other card. I don’t like it when people feel obliged to look for more when it’s not there, but how did that happen here? The click seems loud and clear to me.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          I mean, that would be an all-time evil red herring if it wasn’t THE JOKER, right? I can see spending a couple of minutes making sure the unused cards didn’t spell something out, but I didn’t foresee 1) solvers spending a lot of time looking for more than the JOKER and 2) solvers submitting something much less convincing solely on the basis that it seemed easy for Week 3.

          • Patrick L says:

            No, it would have been an appropriate red herring for Week 3 – just like WASH CAR was an appropriate red herring for WASH HONDA. Anyone could have guessed JOKER from the loose association with cards, but there’s no click while there’s an unexplained pattern out there like 3 5 6 10, etc.

        • Wayne says:

          First of all, let me say that I’m not arguing. This was a clever meta and a beautifully constructed grid. You warn us every week to “be not led astray”, yet many of us–myself included–failed to get the meta solely due to too much meta-thinking.

          My one quibble is in the cluing. It was reasonable to assume that there *had* to be significance to the pairing of the theme clues, beyond radial adjacency in the grid. I spent a bunch of time adding and subtracting the pairs of cards, or using the number from one to index into the clue or answer for the other.

          This could have been avoided if the “missing” clues were listed separately, perhaps in the Puzzle Note or–heaven forbid–as Acrosslite-incompatible unnumbered clues.

          [And, no, I will neither divulge nor defend the tortured, fuzzy thinking that caused me to submit JJ GITTES. This was a good puzzle and it beat me fair and square.]

        • Alex says:

          I didn’t submit anything, certain there was more to it that I was missing. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why 5 was used for EPISODE 5 when any number of other numbers would have worked there. I was also confused by the cluing in pairs, thinking each pair of cards would lead to the answer (maybe via hold’em starting hand nicknames)

          But mostly, I didn’t see any rationale for submitting JOKER other than it being a playing card.

  14. Wayne says:

    Count me as another who discarded the JOKER out of hand. Since the playing card theme was so obvious, I was sure that there had to be more for a week 3 meta.

    Spotting the “missing” answers on the diagonals didn’t provide any additional information, since I’d already written them in the margin. It just made me think, “Geez, that Matt is a talented constructor.” But I already knew that.

  15. Tony says:

    I had Joker in my mind when I first read the instructions for the puzzle on the site and once I hit on the playing card theme, I was certain of it, but I never thought of looking at the diagonals.

  16. Jeffrey says:

    Thought of JOKER immediately, got the cards, got the diagonals, and still kept looking for something more week 3-ish. Finally sent in JOKER this morning.

  17. klew archer says:

    I had completely forgotten that role- I guess I have a lot in common with the guy described here,469/ – so I just went with JAKE GITTES, imagining some kind of card game or fortune teller in Chinatown that probably isn’t there. I sent it in early knowing it was probably wrong, but no hard feelings, I’m still ramping up and I didn’t want to get too distracted and end up doing something like missing my plane out of town as a result.

  18. Mark M. says:

    Had the answer, but like most folks was convinced it was not that easy. Looked at the leaderboard on Matt’s page, saw the number of correct entries and decided it might be that easy. If there had only been a handful of correct entries it would have been easy to out think this one.

  19. joel a says:

    I did not even notice the diagonals so really knew I was missing something. Answered correct at the last minute just because of the card theme. Got lucky on that one. Well done Matt!

  20. Erich says:

    Loved the elegant construction, but was definitely worried it was something else besides The Joker. Since it came out on the 21st, I spent a good deal of time trying to make the blackjack/ cuckoo’s nest connection work. Then I was trying to make The Shining work, as the 8 theme answers could graphically represent a (shining) star and 1a was TORR(ance) and 74a was STAN(ley) – pointing towards the role and the director…

  21. Patrick L says:

    Ok here’s what I did:

    1) Noticed that the cards were paired up in the clues. Going counterclockwise from 7-d:

    7-d: Q + K
    40-a: 5 + 10
    47-d: 3 + J
    42-a: A + 6

    2) Figured these pairs were like blackJACK hands – so I added their values (using a 1 for the Ace):

    20, 15, 13, 7

    3) These corresponded to letters of the alphabet:

    T O M G

    4) Browsed the list of Nicholson films and found three with ‘card’ names in them: FIVE Easy Pieces, The TWO Jakes, and The KING of Marvin Gardens.

    5) Noticed that removing the ‘King’ from The King of Marvin Gardens (just like the entries had the card name missing) left The _ Of Marvin Gardens, which can be represented with the initials T O M G. Thus I entered the name of Jack Nicholson’s character in that movie: David Staebler.

    So my solution utilizes the the actual card selection and their blackjack values. Otherwise, why just randomly have all the face cards plus 3, 5, 6 and 10? Matt has taught us so well that the little oddities mean something – it just doesn’t seem fair for these particular cards to mean nothing, especially in a Week 3 puzzle.

    In any event, if anyone thinks I have a case for an alternate answer please feel free to let me know. Though I’m guessing alternate answers need to be found by a lot of people to be considered. I spent a lot of time on this puzzle and am feeling a bit disappointed right now.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      You were one of two people who submitted David Staebler, and the only one who used the logic you described. So there’s that. 357 people got THE JOKER, though.

      • Patrick L says:

        And what about my logic? Does it have any merit?

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          It’s highly clever, I admit. But I wonder tactically, considering how intricate and recondite that logic is and that you knew hundreds of solvers had already gotten the correct answer, why you would have chosen David Staebler over The Joker? Not that I would ever require solvers to notice how many other solvers had already gotten the meta in choosing an answer, but you mentioned that you’d noticed the 100s of right answers in your note, so it seems like you’d go with the Joker if you weren’t sure.

          • John says:

            The fact two people grokked to the point of TOMG and that the removal of KING (as in all the themes) leads to THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS is simply stunning. Hopefully Patrick will take solace in the fact that he will be raising the victory banner on the most difficult metas while folks like me will only shake our heads. These puzzles are all about the fun for me, so i’m not inclined to think that hard.

        • Aaron says:

          Only flaw I see with this logic is, why use the value of 1 for the Ace? Why not make it 11? 20, 15, 13, and 18 gives you TOMR, which doesn’t fit, so perhaps there’s a little too much squeezing. Like you, I’d initially been considering blackjack combinations (since I saw two answers/card values for each clue set), but because of the variance on A, I didn’t pursue it nearly as far as you.

          Then again, I’ll agree that I too thought JOKER was too easy (and missed the beautiful diagonals!). Still submitted it, though, especially after seeing how many people’d gotten it right.

          • Patrick L says:

            You make a good point Aaron. But there is a precedent for this – think about the puzzle involving the eBay and Google logos. Matt used SEA to clue a color – and it really could have been BLUE or GREEN, but only GREEN led to the right answer.

            And I still think that it was a much greater logic leap to ignore the missing cards. So my TOMG might have been a relatively soft click, but at least it accounted for the theme entries in two ways – 1) using the totals suggested by the pairings and 2) reiterating the idea of taking the card name out of a phrase.

  22. klew archer says:

    Flirted with Five Easy Pieces for a second myself, especially since the character has a very xwordy middle name, ROBERT EROICA DUPEA.

  23. Don Lloyd says:

    Like a lot of others, I came up with THE JOKER early on but waited to submit because the *click* wasn’t loud enough. Spent some time trying to make sense of the cards not included in the center square (9,8,7,4,2) or alternatively, cards in the center square but not in the ace-high straight (6,5,3). For a while I was sure it was going to be J.J. GITTES when I came across Jack’s full name (John Joseph Nicholson). When I started trying to make a sudoku puzzle out of the center square, it occurred to me I might be overthinking just a wee bit.

  24. Garrett says:

    I too was bothered by the missing cards. After spending some fruitless time looking for them in the grid, I decided they could be explained-away by doing math with the cards used, and let it go. I had already decided to submit The Joker, but like many others was looking for a stronger lock. Wasn’t there!

    After submitting I kept looking for my name on the leader board Friday afternoon. Didn’t see it, so I spent the last four days thinking that the Joker idea was, indeed, a red herring. I started thinking then that the five missing cards might be an indirection to Nicholson’s role in “Five Easy Pieces.” But I did not submit again.

  25. klew archer says:

    All 357 happy solvers are alike, each unhappy solver missolved in his own way.

  26. Dave C says:

    Kind of happy to see that so many folks wrestled with the missing 2, 4, 7, 8 and 9. I did too, and thus briefly even considered Five Easy Pieces to account for the five numbers. But that’s a Nicholson movie, not role, so it was an extremely fleeting thought.

    Even that was well after my mostly aha moment of seeing the “missing” theme answers magically appear in the diagonals. The remaining letters, all forming numbers, assured me that The Joker was the best answer out there, even though it wasn’t submitted with a heckuva lot of confidence.

  27. Jim Schooler says:

    I submitted Robert Eroica Dupea from “Five Easy Pieces” , thinking of the five missing cards from the grid. I did love the construction, double cluing and the diagonal elegance, though! Very fun!

  28. Matt Gaffney says:

    I’m being Nathan Thurm defensive on this meta:

  29. Jeff Chen says:

    I immediately thought of bridge layouts, trying to figure out if there was a squeeze or end play or something. Then realized no normal person would think that.

    Fun puzzle, thanks Matt!

  30. abide says:

    I lost track of my days with the holidays, and I remember thinking this morning “I need to submit Joker since that’s the only answer related to cards” but I never did. Never saw the diagonals!

  31. cscottclay says:

    Matt, this was a great puzzle and obviously required a lot of effort to construct. Thank you for that. It is fun reading all of the comments today… both the supportive and challenging ones. Today’s blog is only topped by the fact that I am reading them in Honolulu avoiding the East Coast storm!

  32. Yoyomonster says:

    Great puzzle and meta, Matt and nice write up, Joon. Submitted The Joker based on eight playing cards but missed the diagonals. If I saw them, there wouldn’t have been any doubt on the answer. Looking forward to week 4.

  33. Toby Berla says:

    Once again, I am deeply impressed by Matt’s crossword construction abilities. I too came up with “The Joker” early in the meta solving phase, but felt that it was just too obvious and that I must be missing something deeper in a Week 3 meta. So I put off submitting an answer, and then got busy with the holidays. Long story short: I didn’t end up submitting any answer.

    But I’m *not* complaining (whinging? kvetching? carping? beefing? bellyaching? griping? — suggests a possible future theme!), as I am quite grateful for the weekly frisson of excitement I get each Friday when I receive the email from MGWCC. Far and away the best $10/year (where *is* the Tip Jar, Matt?) of entertainment value EVER!!!!!!!!!


  34. pannonica says:

    Count me as another who:

    (2) immediately thought JOKER was too easy.
    (4) appreciated the diagonal fills and the skill required to construct them, but
    (7) didn’t think they enhanced or strengthened the meta itself (i.e., provided that ‘click’).
    (8) was discomfited by the ‘missing’ five cards.
    (9) went meta on the meta, only submitting JOKER—begrudgingly— after seeing so many successful submissions, and also branched meta another way, thinking it was some sort of holiday ‘gift.’

  35. Julian says:

    Submitted JOKER too, at the last minute, but also spent ages overthinking it. I was convinced that the paired nature of the card clues meant that the meta was something to do with blackJACK, and went down a similar path as Patrick L thinking about the hand values. Almost, for that matter, sent in JERRY BLACK (his role in ‘The Pledge”) thinking the grid might just represent a blackjack table.

  36. Maggie W. says:

    I actually went far enough down Patrick L.’s route to come up with “TOMG” as the letters corresponding to the four blackjack hands. I dead-ended there. And, like others, I noticed the many early solves, looked through Jack’s imdb page, and thought, “oh, it’s got to be a ‘Joker’s wild’ theme.”

  37. Cyrano says:

    I thought the puzzle was great Matt. I certainly have been guilty of overthinking a meta in the past, but this seemed to be a pretty solid a-ha moment for me. The only doubt I had was whether to submit Jack Napier or The Joker. I’d be a bit defensive too. So what if it was Week 3? We have certainly seen that occasionally the meta-difficulty doesn’t conform exactly to the week of the month. I think that infrequent incongruity can easily be forgiven gracefully. Thanks for another (almost complete) great year of puzzles.

  38. pgw says:

    It was all but obvious to me pretty early on that the answer was going to be The Joker; and while I agree with those that have said there wasn’t a loud ‘click’ of realization, grokking more of what was going on did, to me, confirm the answer. Good enough for me. We can afford, once in a while, to let Matt impress us with his construction even if it means a less-than-perfect solving experience.

    My only question for Matt is how on Earth he could have left Deuce Bigalow out of this puzzle.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Great question, pgw. I tried hard to get both ACE VENTURA and DEUCE BIGALOW in! Serendipity that deuce is a nice alt-name for a card, and that it’s seven letters. Unfortunately the right squares around the central joker were about as constrained as eight crossword squares can be, and it didn’t work out. Also wanted to get TREY PARKER in but, alas, Parker is only six letters long.

  39. Howard B says:

    Wow – I completely missed the diagonals. I’m lousy at the visual aspects of metas at times, but knew there was something I missed in the secondary clues.
    That said, seeing that there were secondary answers including various cards (in some manner) in addition to the center black square, I reasoned that the only role that fit well was the Joker. Although a logical leap was required to overcome my solving gap, the requisite meta ‘click’ still happened.
    Now that I finally see the diagonals, I fully appreciate the theme.

  40. Axonguy says:

    I too solved the meta very easily while missing the beautiful diagonals. The concerns about the answer being too easy reminds me of an adage I learned in medical school: when you are out in the western prairies and you hear thundering hoofbeats, don’t assume that you are near a herd of zebras.

  41. Ale M says:

    I did submit Joker in the end, but for several days I thought it was the character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was sure the pairing of the clues had to be relevant, that they were pairs of cards. (Otherwise, why wasn’t THE LION KING clued at #1 down or across? etc.)

    There is a long scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where he is teaching other inmates to play blackjack (“You don’t know jack” etc., and because the center square is black, that made it “You don’t know blackjack,” and that would have been the aha moment.) Still, I knew it didn’t feel right. No single dealer card, which was a 3 all by itself in that scene.

    In the end, I used the lesson I (correctly) surmised from the “Mixing It Up” puzzle (Secondary Colors was the answer there) where I reasoned there had to be a SINGLE thing occupying a single black square. In this case, it had to be Joker.

    I thought it was perfect for Week 3 because of the competing theories.

  42. Michael Morse says:

    I too thought the Joker was two easy for a third Friday. I figured that there had to be just something more indicating that was the answer, but I couldn’t find it. But, I’ve been burned in the past for not submitting what I thought was a weak answer only to find that I was correct all along, so I’m happy to claim my first third Friday prize!

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