MGWCC #252

crossword 6:07
meta DNF 

hello and welcome to episode #252 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “False Start”. in this killer week 5 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a European capital. well, what are the theme answers? uh, i actually don’t know, but here are the six longest answers in the grid:

  • {Doesn’t just sting} HURTS SO BAD.
  • {Pac-12 squad} UTAH UTES.
  • {Kid kin} are YOUNG UNS.
  • {It’s on the flag of the proposed nation of Cascadia} DOUGLAS FIR. never heard of cascadia before, but it sounds very crunchy.
  • {Text about sex (and other things, too)} KAMA SUTRA. not that kind of text. (yes, that kind of sex.)
  • {LOLcat sound} NOM NOM NOM.

so… it certainly seems likely that HURTS SO BAD and DOUGLAS FIR are theme answers, since they are the two longest answers in the grid (10 each). almost certainly KAMA SUTRA and NOM NOM NOM too (9). then it’s less clear about UTAH UTES and YOUNG UNS, but i suspect that they are theme answers, just because 38 theme squares isn’t much for a constructor like matt, and i doubt we’d have a full 78-word grid if that were the case. so i’m going to work under the assumption that all six of these are themers.

what does that buy us? let me tell you: i got nothing. absolutely zilch. HURTS and SUTRA both contain the four consecutive letters of the alphabet RSTU, and NOM NOM NOM has OMN (suggesting, perhaps, reykjavik, with the unusual ijk cluster). but that doesn’t explain DOUGLAS FIR or YOUNG UNS or UTAH UTES.

let’s think about the title: “false start” could mean the letter F. it could mean the prefix “pseudo-”. it could be a reference to prefixes more generally, perhaps deceptive ones. i tried thinking of prefixes that could be attached to words like BAD, UTES, UNS, and FIR, but i ran into problems when i got to SUTRA (not really much of a root, as english goes). or it could have nothing to do with any of the above, making this whole line of inquiry… yes, a false start.

okay, casting about semi-randomly. URBAN is the central down answer, clued as {___ VII (Giovanni Battista Castagna)}. i certainly don’t know anything about this pope, but it caught my eye because it is adjacent to another pope clue, {Appropriate name for a pope} PIUS. anyway, looking up URBAN VII, i found that he was pope for only 13 days in 1590, the shortest pontificate on record. and in fact, he died (of malaria) after being named pope but before being officially installed as pontiff—that certainly sounds like a “false start”. hmm. and, of course, URBAN is a loaded name when considering cities, which is what the answer is going to be (i assume; there seems to be no reason here to try the old “capital”-as-currency trick).

okay, so where is this going? i’m not sure. it seems important—why clue URBAN with this particular guy (or even as a name at all, instead of a common adjective) unless that mattered for the meta? even among popes named URBAN, the only historically significant one is URBAN II, who launched the first crusade at the 1095 council of clermont. and it’s a central entry, making it more likely to be meta-related. but on the other hand, it would seem weird to me to run two consecutive metas hinging on papal history. but vatican city is now standing out as a reasonable wild guess candidate, both because it contains the word “city” (to go with URBAN) and because of the whole pope angle.

disconnected thought: {Short line} clues EM DASH, but in fact, the en dash is shorter. elsewhere, {Sister of Charlotte} clues ANNE, a reference to the brontë sisters; but the third sister, emily, was considerably more famous than ANNE. and emily begins with EM. is this a “false start”? or just a false start?

hmm. EM is also an AUNT, in the wizard of oz, and AUNT is in the grid at 56d. should i be looking for entries that start with letters? or letter homophones? there’s a lot of them. DIA, BEMUSE, ONO, OH SO, ASIA, IPODS, OBEYS, UTAH UTES, PETA (?), ARTY, OTIS, PEAT, IOWA, AYES, ENVY, plus initialisms like KFCS, UPS, and PBS. (also PIUS, which starts with a homophone of a greek letter.) this doesn’t look like it spells anything though. probably too many letters.

another disconnected thought: a bunch of clues have numbers in them, some of them seemingly unnecessarily like {There are eight in Louisville} for KFCS. other than the 1970 in the PBS clue {National Educational Television, since 1970}, all of the numbers are in the grid. but extracting the corresponding letters gave me RRNIUPOD, with a possible S from square 9 if i count NUEVE which is actually in the grid at 49d, and perhaps another U if i count the ONE from ONE-L’S. that doesn’t spell out a european capital, nor is there any indication really that numbers are what we should be looking at.

okay, we’re now running up against the deadline, and i still have yet to put more than one thing together towards a solution. i don’t think i’ve ever been so stymied by a MGWCC meta. i’m punting with vatican city. anybody who wants to let us know in the the comments what the hell was going on here, please do.

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89 Responses to MGWCC #252

  1. Matt says:

    The six longest entries in the grid each contain a word that anagrams to a day of the week minus -DAY. So SUTRA anagrams to SATURday, FIR to FRIday, etc. The missing day is WEDNESday, making Stockholm, SWEDEN the meta answer.

    • Matt says:

      29 right answers, including 6 of the 13 perfect streak holders.

      • Debbie says:

        Will the last man standing from that group get some sort of prize? I almost feel like he/she should as it’s a pretty damn admirable feat.

        • ===Dan says:

          Only 748 puzzles to go!

          • Debbie says:

            I will be 777x more impressed if someone actually makes it to puzzle 1000 without a single miss. That person deserves a Nobel Prize in Crosswords. Or something.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    I’ve been asking for a hard one, and Matt beat me fair and square. It was brilliant – so simple whenyou see it. Three points of attack stood out for me – 1, putting an F in front of words – the best I could do was FUR BAN from URBAN, which had possibilities because of PETA. 2, the wording of kid kin to clue YOUNG UNS seemed suspicious. If you double the g, you get young guns, or the gang of Billy the KID. You could do this for B-Ball also, which is a far more common slang usage than just ball for basketball, but I couldn’t get another themer to cooperate. And 3, the Douglas Fir is really a pine with the scientific name pseudotsuga, so I looked for other “false” starts. I came up with NOT SO bad, WRONG uns, and ERSATZ fir (the cell phone tower, not fake fur.) But nothing worked in front of Utes. At the eleventh hour, I took a stab with WIEN, the Austrian name of Vienna, hoping Matt had something good for I.

  3. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Neat. Another FAlse start: the symmetrically placed SI+DEBEt and SOL+EDAD each starts with a note name that’s followed by four notes, as “false start” begins with FA, but I couldn’t piece together a national anthem or other recognizable tune (nor did I find anything to do with UTah UTes and DOugLAs fir).

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Well, I learned that DOUGLAS is the capital of the Isle of Man. Nothing beyond that. But the fact that 29 people solved it is proof against any complaints, I guess.

  5. Pete Rimkus says:

    I got bogged down in the answers which were abbreviations but weren’t tagged as such – USSR, UPS, PBS, and PETA… (KFC I could handle because they did change their name so that customer don’t know their food is fried) … what was up with that?
    And can you tell us exactly how the title works?

    • Matt says:

      Those are acronyms, not abbrevs.

      • jonesy says:

        i think they are abbreviations (USSR, UPS and PBS are specifically initialisms but thats just a subset of abbreviations) but not really acronyms (apart from PETA which is)… all that being said, acronyms and initialisms are all abbrevs? no?

        talk about semantics though and not to mention i didn’t blink an eye at them anyway.

        i saw EMDASH and UTAH UTES and BEMUSE (“M” dash, “U” tah utes, and “B” muse) and though it was weak, submitted “V”enna just hoping to get lucky.

    • joon says:

      i like this meta, but i agree with pete that an explanation of the title would be nice. as it stands, it seems like the title is just a big “f you”.

      • Matt says:

        Sorry, I think he added the title question in after I’d responded. Or I just missed it.

        “False Start” in the sense that the start of the -DAY words are false, i.e anagrammed.

        Not real helpful for the solve and wasn’t meant to be, but I wouldn’t characterize it as above.

        • Eric Prestemon says:

          The title was key to my solve… I was looking at NOM/UNS/UTES (as the most “this has to be important” meta fragments) and “false” made me want to anagram… I saw TUES, and the rest fell into place.

          “False Starts” would have been more helpful, as would HURTS being last in its answer. I spent a lot of time looking at BAD

        • joon says:

          “Not real helpful for the solve and wasn’t meant to be” is, more or less, why i described it as a big eff you. so i’m going to stick with my characterization of it. i’m incredibly dissatisfied by the title, because the meta itself was fine—better than fine, even. but the fact that i could not understand the title even after having the meta explained to me (and, now even having had the title also explained to me, i’m still not buying it) is pretty much ruining the whole thing for me. what, then, were we supposed to base our solve on?

          i do a lot of cryptics, but unlike eric prestemon, i do not really feel that “false” suggests anagramming.

          • Abide says:

            I think the title is fine. Some of the synonyms for “false” include “incorrect”, “mistaken”, and “off”, which pretty much describe the “start” of each day.

            Or you could take it literal as most Week 5 puzzles have “a deliberate intent to deceive”(i.e. eff you!).

          • Paul Coulter says:

            I’ve been solving and setting (mostly British) cryptics for almost thirty years. For anagram indicators, I’ve seen innumerable tenuous connections to the sense of mixture. On that scale, “false” rates about 9 of 10, I’d say. So I think we can certainly give Matt a pass on his title. Hard, but fair.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Well, two solvers who got it have now stated here that the title broke it open for them, so it can’t be viewed as completely useless (much less malevolent).

            It’s a very straightforward idea — anagrams of an extremely familiar set (OK, parts of an extremely familiar set, but still) — so any title nudge is going to open the floodgates.

            Peter’s puzzle referenced above also had a title that was not in any way useful until after you’d solved the meta. I don’t think a title is *required* to nudge the solve on a very difficult meta — as with Peter’s, the whole game was to look at the grid, with no real hints, and figure out what’s going on. That’s a completely legitimate framework for a Week 5 meta as I see it, or even a Week 4 out of 4.

            Maybe it’s not descriptive enough to add much (or any) click to the aha moment, but that’s not critical from a solving standpoint since anyone who saw the idea would know 100% that they had it from the entries alone.

          • John says:

            Tyler Hinman and Joon Pahk didn’t think false=anagram, so i feel i’m on pretty solid ground this association is bunk, cryptics-crazy solvers notwithstanding. When something that is always true is suddenly false, it’s not a neutral event, it becomes a negative, a false pointer, i.e. somewhat malevolent. That said, there is nothing wrong with this puzzle. It was great and nearly 30 people sussed this meta. Its a nit to pick and I thought a little mean, but as you said, even a small clue may have opened the floodgates. Thanks, Matt for doing these and being man enough to hear a few gripes.

          • Jason T says:

            For what it’s worth, as one of the apparently very few people on Earth to have solved both the Fireball meta in question and “False Start” (never again will I perhaps find myself in such an elite group!), I can say that for me, the Fireball title “Capital Capital” was somewhat more helpful, in that it did suggest something to do with letters – and once I found the Greek letters, there was a very nice “aha” moment when I realized that they had to be written in capital-letter format in order to find the capital-city answer. “False Start” as a title didn’t click in as satisfyingly – indeed, given the number of (appropriate) false starts that it set me off on, it was, at first, probably worse than having no title at all. However, having said that, after all of my frustrating false starts, I think part of me was twigged by “False Start” into trying anagrams of the starting words – not quite what was intended, but that got me to notice HURTS/THURS and NOM/MON – and from there I excitedly found the rest. Really, though, in the end, both puzzles clicked into place for me because I just started noodling around with anagrams mostly out of desperation.

            So I guess the Fireball title was, even if not helpful as such, more cleverly perfect in retrospect. But I had no problem with the title “False Start” – it seemed fair enough to me, and, well, as misleading as it was, somehow it still got me to where I needed to be. Or at least didn’t get in the way totally.

            A tremendous puzzle, Matt! I think my favourite aspect is how you’ve taken something that we puzzlers have all run into a million times – the good ol’ days of the week. How many puzzles have we all done where we immediately spotted the familiar three-letter abbreviations hidden in larger words? But by using the all-but-the-day parts of the words, you made an old chestnut challengingly new again: who knew that the Sutra in Kama Sutra was such a perfect anagram for the “Satur” in “Saturday”?

            Of course it’s also nice to have solved it. :) I shall bask in the glory all week!

          • Vraal says:

            Hey Joon. I solved it after 4 or 5 unsuccessful stares.

            My first problem was seeing KAMA SUTRA ended in AUSTRIA – I. That was a red herring that quickly led me to being sure of Ph’NOMNOMNOM Penh (go on, say it aloud, it’s fun) and OuagaDOUGou, finding a false way to use the starts that seemed in line with the puzzle theme.

            So I had a lot of unthinking to do before simply settling on the right answer.

            What really helped was that the answer breaks are the parts that anagram – HURTS, SUTRA, FIR… it explains why it was YOUNG UNS not YOUNG GUNS, too.

            What I don’t get though, Matt, is why you made all of them end in the false start except HURTS, which you chose to begin an answer. Why didn’t you go for something like TRUTH HURTS vs. HURST SO BAD?

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Now that I know the answer, I’m interpreting the title as “anagram the starts of a familiar set.”

  6. Evan says:

    Wow, this was hard. I went with MADRID because the first four letters appear at the ends (the “false starts”) of NOMNOMNOM, KAMA SUTRA, HURTS SO BAD, and DOUGLAS FIR. Could not think of where the remaining I and D letters were, though.

  7. pannonica says:

    I flailed, and failed, only reëxamining it in the final minutes before the deadline. Decided on COPENHAGEN, riffing off of DOUGLAS (FIR) Coupland and UTA(H UTES) Hagen, thinking perhaps the EN (and DENMARK?) were to be suggested among the other supposed themers.

  8. Matthew G. says:

    Completely fair and straightforward, and nevertheless brutally hard to see. Congrats to the 29 and A+ to Matt.

  9. ===Dan says:

    I couldn’t derive the answer, but I saw FOOT+BALL. YOUNG could be Steve, and DOUG (las) could be Flutie…. but that’s stretching. Still, I noticed that Dan Marino with a FALSE START yields SAN MARINO. I seemed to find a lot of U’s in the theme answers, but that got me nothing. PIUS next to URBAN made me think of Vatican City, but there’s no way that could have been it.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      It’s funny you mention this, Dan. The first meta-crosswords I ever solved were Eric Albert’s crossword contests in Dell Champion Crossword Puzzles in the 1990s. I was a big fan of them — and then one day I suddenly because Eric’s replacement (for one issue). The editor said they’d run into a last-minute problem with Eric’s contest for that month, so they scoured the regular crosswords they had on file for one that would work as a contest. Lo and behold, I had sent them one where grid entries spelled out the puzzle (doing this from memory so not verbatim): WHAT FAMOUS QUARTERBACK BECOMES A EUROPEAN COUNTRY WHEN YOU CHANGE THE FIRST LETTER OF HIS FIRST NAME?

  10. Giovanni P. says:

    Ack. I’ve done a puzzle somewhere where we had anagrammed words and pictures hinting at trees, and the next word in sequence was an anagram of FRI, or FIR. This could have been gettable for me, but I was with family and honestly didn’t work on the meta, so I’m okay with that. I do wonder why the answer couldn’t have just been SWEDEN though–getting Stockholm seems unnecessary.

    • Matt says:

      to complete the pattern of a phrase where on of the words is an anagram of a day minus -DAY. If it was just SWEDEN then that’s not quite the same, so I made it the capital.

      • Giovanni P. says:

        Okay, that makes sense. So the full answer might be STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN for instance. Cool touch/meta Matt.

        Also, congrats to the 6 with a perfect streak. That’s not an easy feat to keep, although I have to wonder if Matt will keep making the 5th weeks harder and harder until all the streaks break :S

        • Jason T says:

          I actually tried to submit my entry as “Stockholm, Sweden” precisely because of the pattern, but the site wouldn’t let me enter a comma, so then I chickened out and just entered Stockholm to be sure it went through.

  11. Debbie says:

    Also, this just reminded me of an Encyclopedia Brown mystery that also used days of the week and UTES/TUES and FIR/FRI (and possibly HURTS/THURS), which makes me doubly mad I didn’t see that. In fact, every time I see the answer UTES in the crossword, I always think of that mystery.

    • Garrett Hildebrand says:

      Every time I see “UTES” I remember this exchange between Joe Pesci and Fred Gwynne in “My Cousin Vinney”:

      Vinny Gambini:
      It is possible that the two utes…

      Judge Chamberlain Haller:
      …Ah, the two what? Uh… uh, what was that word?

      Vinny Gambini:
      Uh… what word?

      Judge Chamberlain Haller:
      Two what?

      Vinny Gambini:

      Judge Chamberlain Haller:
      Uh… did you say “utes”?

      Vinny Gambini:
      Yeah, two utes.

      Judge Chamberlain Haller:
      What is a ute?

  12. Cyrano says:

    Fantastic. I too found absolutely nothing concrete and based on a perceived/desired/made-up preponderance of the letters A, U, S and T in the theme answers guessed Vienna. I also saw the musical notes in several of the theme answers but got no where with them. Agree with Paul Coulter, so simple when you see it. Excellent meta Matt.

  13. ===Dan says:

    UTAHutes made me think of UTA Hagen.

  14. Amy L says:

    Like Evan, I checked out the last letters and couldn’t find the final two to make MADRID. I also was stuck on the (Hoops) clue, thinking that the answer should be BBALL or BASKETBALL, and looked for the missing B or BASKET. I tried a lot of what Joon did, but didn’t go so far into papal history. Never found what seems so simple now.

    Matt and the 29 solvers are amazing. The rest of us should treat them to dinner at a KFC in Louisville. It would be nomnomnom.

  15. Alex V. says:

    I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t show up on the list of Best Puzzles of 2013 here on Fiend. Props to you, Matt… I knew something hard was coming this week. I knew it from the moment you wrote “We’ll fix that later on this month, which has five Fridays” right below the picture of the Estonian kroon, but I had no idea that it would be this tricky. I had fun, though.

  16. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    Masterful puzzle, Matt.

    Joon — I too focused on the Popes. It turns out that all the Pius Popes are born in what is the geographical area of modern Italy, and the last Pius precedes John XXIII. I could not pass on that coincidence with the tie to last weeks meta. The Pope preceding Pius I was born in Athens, Greece. It took that as the “false start.” I continued working on the meta when I did not see myself on the leaderboard.

    So, this morning I had another idea, and I wonder if anybody entertained it. Five of the six them answers has the letter U. NOMNOMNOM is thus an outlier. False start is “NO”. I took this as a direction, as in “no M”. Crossing CWM, drop the M, and you have CW. Interestingly, the origin of CWM is Welsh! Ergo, Cardiff, Wales.

    • Jim Schooler says:

      I knew we were in trouble when I did not see Joon’s name on the Leaderboard. In retrospect, this puzzle was brutal in it’s simplicity and elegance. All hail Matt!

  17. Abide says:

    I went down the same routes as Paul Coulter, thinking the addition of a B in B-BALL and G in YOUNGUNS had to mean something. Those would point to Zagreb, but I took a stab with Copenhagen (only 400 miles off).

    This is pretty close to the Fireball meta with anagrammed Greek letters that also gave everyone trouble.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yes, that meta was the inspiration for this one. I was amazed at how few people (9) got that one. I solved it in about two minutes since I happened to have fiddled around with that same theme myself a few times (but never did it), but I’d always pictured Week 5 metas as necessarily being these intricate things in order to stump solvers. So I isolated what I thought were the key points of that one: 1) unhelpful title (“Capital Capital”), 2) anagrams to something very familiar but a little unusual (Peter’s had some two-letter “anagrams” like UN for the Greek letter nu) and 3) the big one, leaving the solver unsure of what’s theme and what’s fill. One quibble I had with Peter’s (read my writeup here: was that there was theme longer than fill, which is technically kosher but I thought slightly mean. So I made the grid with no 8′s in it to confuse the issue with UTAH UTES and YOUNG ‘UNS (which explains the 78 words, too). And solvers did seem to correctly identify the theme entries a little easier (like Joon above).

      • Abide says:

        Very cool. The clarity of the theme entries was offset by shifting most of the anagramees to the end. I did consider the Fireball puzzle but couldn’t see anything to be formed with YOUNG, DOUGLAS, or UTAH.

      • Andy says:

        The unclear theme/fill distinction was a large part of what did me in this week. The last puzzle that really gave me trouble was #239 (the Roaring ’20s one), because I spent so long looking at the 6 longest entries before finally exploring the rest of the grid more carefully. This time, I was determined not to fall into the same trap. I spent a little time looking at the 10s and 9s, and wondering if I should include the 8s, but when I didn’t see anything there, I decided to defocus and try to look at the whole grid, and I never found my way back.

  18. jimmy d says:

    After a day of flailing at all of the abstract red herrings (ANNE & ANNEE, two SO’s in the grid, a lot of Ts & Os, etc)…. I took a deep breath and had a moment of zen: Matt is a brilliant constructor, and I am a good puzzle solver… what is he trying to tell me?? So I focused on NOM… it’s either French for “name,” or the abbreviation for Monday backwards… then I saw HURTS as Thurs. and SUTRA as Satur., and then I enjoyed a relaxing remainder of my weekend! Thanks, Matt!!

  19. Matt smokes (almost) us all with another masterpiece. I was semi-convinced that the theme answers were not theme answers and that the answer lay elsewhere within the fill, but I was clearly wrong.

    One thing that caught my eye was the SOLE in SOLEDAD as was as the SOLE in the clue “Sole proprietor?”, but I couldn’t find any more interesting connections like that.

    • Garrett Hildebrand says:

      I noticed this, too. I caught one other thing, which is the DIA in “Bom ___!” was part of the INDIA fill. But that was it for that line of thought.

    • Maggie W. says:

      I spent far too long trying to ride with this. There was also “Kid KIN” and KINSEY, as well as U.S./U.S.S.R., NO/NOMNOMNOM, TO/TORII, IN/INDIA, etc. etc. etc. Once I noticed that both IT and IT’S worked for IT’S OKAY I should have stopped.

  20. Pj says:

    Great puzzle, Matt. Was anyone else bothered by the clue, KID KIN? Since it wasn’t plural, I was thrown by the plural answer, YOUNGUNS. Thus, I figured that had to be part of the meta. Voila! The UNS anagrammed to SUN. Anyone else bothered by that?

    • Matthew G. says:

      I think the clue works because “kin” can function as an irregular plural. As in, “you and all your kin.”

    • Garrett Hildebrand says:

      I was at first bothered by that, but after some thought “kith and kin” popped into my head, and they imply plurality to me (friends and family).

  21. Alexander Miller says:

    Wow! Great puzzle. I was wrong with my answer, but I have never been more certain of my wrong answer (which was Minsk) when I submitted it. Check this out:

    The Belarus flag is two-thirds red on top and one-third green on bottom, with a red and white border along the left.

    Top two-thirds of the puzzle had all these “red” words and red-colored things: USSR, TORII, HURTS SO BAD (it turns red), PAPRIKA, UTAH UTES (red jerseys), TEA, RUST, IMPS (little devils, in the clue)

    The bottom third had “green” words DOUGLAS FIR (which is all green on the Cascadia flag), ENVY, LYME, GINGER, and possibly a few others, depending on how far you wanted to take it.

    And the KFC logo running down the left side is about half red and half white. I was so sure I had it! Aargh. Anyway, it was a LOT of fun. Just wondering if anyone else followed this line of thinking?

    Thanks, Matt!

  22. Meg says:

    The “what’s-missing-from-this-familiar-set” is certainly a ploy Matt has used before. My question is what, for the solvers, pointed at days of the week? Or was it just a Zen thing where the answer simply arose out of the hodge-podge?

    • jefe says:

      After I decided that NOMNOMNOM and KAMASUTRA were in fact theme answers, and nudged by the title into looking for anagrams, I saw MON and THURS, and the rest fell from there.

      Honestly, I’m shocked that the top solvers (of which I unmistakably am not) didn’t get it.

  23. Tyler says:

    I hereby submit my entry for Luckiest MGWCC Solve in Recorded History:

    I focused, probably too much, on the title, and noticed that several entries would still make sense if the first letter were changed or deleted or had another letter put in front of it.

    ___ contracts = (M)ORAL
    Hoops = (B)BALL

    Dullsville = (T/L)AME
    Sole proprietor? = (F/B)OOT
    Gabriel or Sebastian = (S/M)AN

    Old country = [U]SSR
    Short line = [E]MDASH
    Bind = [S]TRAP
    LOLcat sound = [N]OMNOMNOM

    These letters yield… nothing, of course, whether you take the original first letter or the new one. So I fidgeted a bit, found a few more extremely tenuous additions ((K)IOWA and (C)UPS, the latter referring to an athletic cup, natch), decided I had at least some justification for six or seven letters of, yes, STOCKHOLM, and submitted it with a sigh. KING OF THE WORLD.

    • Garrett Hildebrand says:

      Personally, I think that is brilliant!

    • Bob J says:

      I also over-focused on the title, saw most of what you pointed out except for the (S/M)AN change, settled on the additions of M and B, and went with Minsk, Belarus. Not quite so lucky here.

    • Noam D. Elkies says:

      I saw T/L-AME and F/B-OOT too; didn’t think of S/M-AN, but thought 1A could be U/S-SSR. I abandoned this line when I figured Matt would draw the line well before making 56D:AUNT part of such a theme.

    • Richie says:

      I support your candidacy, but would like to submit mine for (a distant) second place:

      I was trying to use the False Start as a reference to the penalty called in football when an offensive lineman moves prior to the snap. Linemen are designated as C, T, G, E; so I was trying to move the “linemen”, as the T in Hurts to its start, and got Thurs; then I moved the T in Utes and got Tues; I gave up on this technique when nothing much worked with the other theme answers (also I didn’t think Matt would rely on such an obscure reference), but when I noticed Mon and Fri, everything else fell relatively quickly. So, a little luck, and a little skill…

  24. John says:

    I suppose its not a cheat exactly, but i am definitely disappointed in the meaninglessness of the title. With nothing at all pointing to the 6 “themes” (there have been hundreds of MGWCC puzzles where these 6 would not all have been considered as such), and nothing else to go on, the title is nearly always the sole clue. For there to be nothing at all useful in the title is, as joon pointed out, something of an eff-u. I spent waaay too much time trying to figure the “click” behind “False Start”: words meaning ‘false’, opposites of words, words beginning with F. Its kind of like running back a kick-off to the endzone, only to be told after the fact, “For this game your endzone is on the other side.”

    Didn’t bother 29 others so i guess that’s just what it takes to get to the best. Sadly, looking at joon’s write-up, the anagrams seem like they might have been get-able if i had written them out like that. Seeing them squished together in the grid makes it tougher to see.

  25. mrbreen says:

    Always impressed just how deceptively simple the ones I DNF turn out to be. Pretty cool puzzle.

    Hey Matt: What range of correct solves were you shooting for this week? Just curious.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I didn’t have a specific range for this one that I can recall, but I was worried it might be over 100.

  26. Pete Mitchell says:

    I got this one just from NOM NOM NOM and DOUGLAS FIR, but granted I was half-asleep on an airplane, so that may have helped me not overthink it. I do think the HURTS SO BAD entry is slightly inelegant, as all the others have the anagram at the end (including NOM NOM NOM, which has it on both ends). But I was a little surprised it was such a stumper. I would have put this one as a week 4 and put last week’s (minus the asterisks) as week 5. I was also not bothered by the title, as I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “false” as an anagram indicator in cryptics before.

  27. jefe says:

    MGWCC#198 previously used the Wednes/Sweden anagram. I hope Matt is not running out of ideas!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Ha, you remembered. As did I, but note that knowing SWEDEN and WEDNESDAY start with the same six letters isn’t useful until *after* you’ve cracked the meta idea.

  28. J. T. Williams says:

    Wow! I got the Sweden part almost immediately, but then spent about 2 days analyzing the grid because I was convinced that “capital of Sweden = Stockholm” was just WAY too easy for week 5, especially given that only 8 people had gotten it right (as of then). I’m glad to see Debbie’s comment because I was very much wondering if Matt reads Encyclopedia Brown. Debbie, you’re half right: the cryptic note in that Encyclopedia Brown story contained four words that pointed to the fifth, which was the location of the stolen loot. Those words were (drum roll) NOM, UTES, SWEDEN, and HURTS, pointing to the loot in the FIR trees. Not sure why I remember that story from at least 25 years ago, but I guess that’s what made the puzzle seem so obvious to me.

    • Matt says:

      I don’t have an active memory of the story but I was a big EB fan so 95% chance I read it. The wordplay one I recall is when a stolen $10 bill is hidden under an ERasER in the classroom, which the guy being bullied sneakily references (the bully, I assume Bugs Meany, was present) by using words like ONiON and TORmenTOR, which also start and end with the same letters. Not sure how a kid reader was supposed to figure that one out…

    • Debbie says:

      I can’t believe all four were the same! (I am also impressed that you remember the entire puzzle. Thanks for saving me the effort of hours of Googling :)) How did they integrate “NOM” into the note? Nom de plume?

      Matt, I too thought sound of the puzzles were too difficult for children. Who would know that geese are only dark meat? I don’t even think we eat geese anymore…not frequently enough, at least.

      • J. T. Williams says:

        As I recall, the note found had only the four words on it: NOM UTES SWEDEN HURTS. When they were discussing at the dinner table, Mrs. Brown, an English teacher, said that NOM is short for nominative. I don’t remember what she said about UTES or SWEDEN, but for some reason I remember that “HURTS is HURTS.”

        I tried Googling just now, and if you Google “NOM UTES SWEDEN HURTS,” you get the Encyclopedia Brown story immediately. You still get it pretty easily if you leave out SWEDEN, whether or not you include FIR. But if you add SUTRA and UNS, you won’t get anything useful. Very clever of Matt to include those!

    • jefe says:

      Oh man, blast from the past! I didn’t recall the EB connection from Debbie’s first post, but I do remember NOM UTES SWEDEN HURTS! (Also, Leroy Brown was an answer on Jeopardy! tonight.)

  29. Brian says:

    I thought that the 4 meta answers all evoked something distinctive about senses:

    HURTSSOBAD – sense of touch
    NOMNOMNOM – sense of taste, sound
    KAMASUTRA – sensuality in general
    DOUGLAS FIR – sense of smell

    And that the “False” in the title could allude to the phrase “False sense”. It was a weak reference to the title, but it was something.

    So I submitted BERN (Switzerland) as a European capital that connoted a sensation (Burn relates to a sense of touch and sense of smell).

    Coincidentally, I then realized that STOCKHOLM would be a much better answer for what I thought the meta was, given that Stockholm Syndrome is like a FALSE SENSE of empathy hostages can feel toward captors. I’d already submitted Bern, but had I waited another hour I would have gotten this one correct for the wrong reason. Oh well, my 12 week streak is over.

  30. Joan says:

    Great puzzle and would have been difficult, so am so glad I didn’t even have time to try it this week. I still like to read all the comments but can’t take the whining that goes along with failure-to-solve. Man up and stop nit-picking! Maybe leave off the eff stuff. Good one Matt!

  31. Mike says:

    Matt, thanks for a clever brain challenge. I tried a world capitals approach – Islamabad for hurts so bad, Kampala for Kama sutra, Phnom Penh for nomnomnom … alas to no avail. Thanks!

  32. PJ says:

    Getting back to kid kin, it is the kid that is a synonym (or kin of) for younguns, not the kin; thus, I was bothered that it wasn’t kids kin: kids=plural (without the apostrophe the Brits tried to jettison), younguns=plural. Or did I totally misread it?

    • Bob Kerfuffle says:

      I would venture that in this case “kid kin” are “those of your relatives who are youngsters”.

  33. Karen says:

    This meta was brilliant, and I think it’s totally fair that the title is unhelpful, since it’s a week 5 and meant to be extra tough. My failed attempts included:
    1. Baseball’s opening day, starting pitchers, is Torii Hunter a pitcher? no, so that doesn’t go anywhere. (saw Oral in the grid, but Herscheiser spelled his first name differently)
    2. Torii and Annee symmetrically placed, with Anne nearby…..nope
    3. The start of each theme entry (assuming the downs can be ignored, oops) is an actor’s name. Uta Hagen, William or John Hurt, Sean Young, Michael or Kirk Douglas or Douglas Fairbanks or…So I convinced myself they must have something in common, but IMDB has nothing for several pairs, and I didn’t find anything. One thing I need to get better at in these metas is to give up a failed path and see a totally different pattern. Once I find a pattern like this, I just can’t see any others.

    I chose between CopenHAGEN, Sofia, and SARAjevo for my guess, picking Sarajevo in hopes there was something with the names that I just hadn’t found yet.

    It’s amazing all the different FALSE paths we all followed. I really love the colors of the flag one.

    Thanks Matt, for the brain-bending!

  34. Scout says:

    After many false starts that didn’t pan out, I noticed that there were a number of words in the grid that, when a letter (or two) were added could be anagrammed to a new word, i.e. “Rita” to “raitt”, “mesh”to “emdash”, “arty” to “stray”. When I put all the added letters together, they anagrammed to “I’m stupid, inane”…which is how I often feel by week 5!

  35. bwouns says:

    My “false starts”…

    -Douglas and Hurt. Both best actor winners from the eighties, along with Kinsey (two letters short of another eighties best actor winner)
    - dougLASFir containing a mixed up start of the word false. Admittedly a stretch but less so when considered along side hURTssobad and kamasUTRa containing mixed up starts of the word true.
    -The (B)ball and Young(g)uns thing that others have mentioned.
    -Similar fill entries ANNE/ANNEE and AUNT/ANTI.
    -Alliterative clues: Great gate, Masked men, Kid kin, No fan of furs etc.
    -USSR and NATO in the top left, leading me to consider former soviet states that are now members of NATO – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. I ultimately threw a Hail Mary and guessed RIGA based on the entry RITA replacing the “T”(True) with something false. A big stretch but I had to guess something.

  36. pgw says:

    i think “false=anagram” is fair enough. i got this by considering “hurts so bad” as a cryptic clue, “so bad” indicating anagramming. this should have immediately seemed like a dead end since none of the other theme entries read anything like cryptic clues; luckily, i was a little drunk at the time so i tried it anyway. from there it fell into place.

    i too thought a “___ hurts” phrase – or alternatively, unambiguously starting at least one other with the anagram – would have been more elegant, but there is really only one viable phrase ending with “hurts” (love hurts) and it upsets the symmetry. kama sutra is locked in at 9 letters, and you could change nom nom nom to nom de plume but then you’re back to having just one themer that starts with the anagram. maybe there is a fir that’s only 9 letters, but it’s probably obscure. under the circumstances matt did well.

    • Abide says:

      Author of “The Scarlet Ibis” JAMES HURST

      (And I like RUTHS CHRIS better than HURTS SO BAD)

  37. Patrick L says:

    I’m disappointed in myself for not getting this. I had solved that other Scandinavia-themed meta, and I also solved the one with the scrambled composers’ names – and this was similar. I think I was partially psyched out by the short list on the Leaderboard. I was already expecting a fairly complex hunt, maybe something like the meta with the Wise Shaman or more recently the blood types.

    I convinced myself that the long entries weren’t themers, because they didn’t seem particularly unusual. I also convinced myself that the word ‘False’ was the key to the meta. Since a false start in sports is movement before the official start, I thought this meta would involve metas from earlier in the month. The pope-related entries encouraged this. But I didn’t find much else.

    I tried to backsolve – i.e., look for references to countries or cities. Found things like OHSO, RITA and STRAP being similar to Oslo, Riga and Paris. Also saw ANNE in Vienna (was thinking false start could have something to do with missing letters). Then found ANNE and ANNEE differing by one letter, same with ARTY and STRAY. Another dead end.

    Then I thought ‘false’ might represent a Boolean value. I remembered the meta that used dotted i’s and hyphens for morse code, so I started fixating on all the I’s and O’s in the puzzle. I looked for the binary alphabet. I really thought this somewhere close to the right path, but I found … random letters. Ended up submitting Oslo because it started with ‘zero’ (O). Guess I was close, geographically.

    In the end I’m not too happy with the title, since that was a big factor in leading me astray. But the puzzle and meta are very good, just a bit straightforward for what I hoped would be an epic Week 5.

    Also, I may be alone in this, but I wonder if Matt would consider granting an extra day for Easter weekends. I was traveling and spending time with family, and as much as I wanted to pull this out and work on it, I didn’t want to be disrespectful.

  38. Andy says:

    The sad part is, I was planning to submit Stockholm as a guess if I couldn’t figure it out (which I didn’t)…and I just forgot. :( I think it would have been my first 5/5 month.

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