MGWCC #281

crossword 3:20
meta 2 days 

hello and welcome to episode #281 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Missing in Action”. this week’s instructions ask us for a U.S. senator, past or present. what are the theme answers? well, there are six long answers in the grid:

  • {No fan of Pan} is CAPTAIN HOOK, and we’re talking about peter pan, of course.
  • {Man with a parrot} is LONG JOHN SILVER, from treasure island.
  • {He died in a plane crash along with Will Rogers} is WILEY POST.
  • {Egyptian attraction, casually} is THE SPHINX.
  • {“Bedroom in Arles” painter} is VINCENT VAN GOGH.
  • {“You never let a serious crisis go to waste” speaker} is RAHM EMANUEL.

it’s clear what this sextuplet has in common: missing body parts. captain hook, of course, has a hook in place of his missing hand; long john silver has a wooden leg; wiley post lost an eye (i had to look this one up); the sphinx is missing its nose (often blamed on napoleon’s forces but it may have been lost much earlier, to a 14th-century sufi vandal); van gogh severed his own ear; and emanuel apparently lost a finger, or part of a finger, in a high school accident (i had to look this one up too).

then there are the six entries in the grid with starred clues:

  • {*”Eeny, meeny, miny ___…”} MOE.
  • {*”Glee” song by Jordin Sparks “No ___”} AIR.
  • {*Foreign capital, to non-Qataris} DOHA.
  • {*Eosin, e.g.} DYE.
  • {*Haydn musical genre — not!} SKA.
  • {*Auer the actor died in this country in 1967} ITALY.

this is probably a 5-minute meta, but the reason it took me two days is that on my first pass, i missed the last starred clue, so i thought there were only five. and, as it turns out, most of these answers are one letter off (plus anagramming, in some cases) from a body part! AIR-EAR; DOHA-HAND; DYE-EYE. MOE is close to TOE, but we don’t have a TOE, which sent me off to google “sphinx toe”. (pro tip: don’t do that.) SKA? well it’s one letter from ASS, but we don’t have ASS either. (more things not to google…)

what i wanted to do was pair each of these answers with a body part, and then have one body part unaccounted for, but anagramming (with a one-letter change) to a famous US senator. but it wouldn’t work out. i was well and truly stuck, so i set the puzzle aside for a couple of days.

when i came back to it, the sixth *ed clue jumped out at me and then the meta practically solved itself. ITALY definitely wasn’t any kind of body part (TAIL + Y??), but look at these weird clues. the SKA clue is the weirdest, but the DOHA clue is also strange and it’s not clear why the AIR clue mentions “glee” at all. and the ITALY clue, now that it had finally revealed itself, is awfully tortured.

what’s going on, of course, is that the first words of those clues (not the answers!) could be anagrammed into a relevant body part, plus one letter:

  • EENY = EYE + N
  • GLEE = LEG + E
  • EOSIN = NOSE + I
  • HAYDN = HAND + Y
  • AUER = EAR + U

that’s why the clues were so tortured. now, i don’t know why exactly SKA had to be the clue to reference haydn (i’m betting matt tried pretty hard to work PAPA into the grid but didn’t manage it), but anyway, we can rearrange the six extra letters to spell INOUYE, the answer to the meta. daniel inouye of hawaii, who was president pro tem of the senate when he passed away in 2012, was the second-longest serving US senator in history after robert byrd of west virginia. one thing i didn’t know about him until after solving this puzzle was that he lost his right arm while serving in WWII, making this puzzle a rather appropriate way of honoring him. you can read about his remarkable valor in battle here (NSFW due to goriness and also foul language).

is this a great puzzle or what? not for the squeamish, i suppose, but it’s a tremendous meta. the grid is jam-packed with theme material: six long answers, plus six shorter ones with a bit more freedom (but they still needed to be amenable to clues with a particular first word). the fill contains a few unfamiliar entries (SEGNA, ARNA) and a couple of awkward ones (ONE’S GOURD, TWO ONE) but overall it’s pretty darn clean. five stars from me.

how’d you like it?

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34 Responses to MGWCC #281

  1. Bunella says:

    Didn’t even get the connection of the words eeny glee etc. What I did find was that he was in Italy and his life was saved by two silver coins that I believe deflected a bullet plus that ‘arm’ was the only body part not mentioned. Silver being another clue answer with Long John.

    Whether those two were meant to be hints or not, they did it for me.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 253 right answers this week.

    The reason for the weird SKA clue is that at eleventh hour I noticed that my “anagram” plus a letter for HAND was …Handy. Oops. So Haydn had to be summoned into the clues someplace.

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Another week when I was saved by a WAG. Knew about all the missing body parts except Wiley Post (and he was a pilot!), including Sen. Inouye, but never got the idea of the words in the clues. Just sent in what happened to be the right answer so I could get on with life!

  4. Evan says:

    Agreed on the meta being really elegant. Some of those non-theme answers were bizarre (I’d add EPHAH to that list too), but as always with these metas — they might torture you for days (like this one did for me) but when you figure them out, it’s a thing of beauty.

    I also tried the DOHA/HAND route, only to be stymied by Italy. I also went way far astray with pairing the body parts to the entire starred clues — i.e. if you’re missing a finger, you can’t do “eeny meeny miney MOE”; if you’re missing a nose, you can’t inhale AIR through your nose. When that didn’t work, I almost gave up. I’m so glad I figured it out at the last minute. No wonder those starred clues were so odd!

    An interesting coincidence: Alexander WILEY, the senator from Wisconsin, died in 1967 just like Mischa Auer.

  5. Evan says:

    Oh and joon, I hate to be the Grammar Police from last week, but here’s a small typo:

    what’s going on, of course, is that the first letters of those clues (not the answers!) could be anagrammed into a relevant body part, plus one letter:

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    I like this one a lot. The only reason I give it a 4 instead of a 5 is that it’s quite guessable without grokking the full meta. I knew about Senator Inouye’s arm. That plus the six theme answers and six starred clues led me early in my solve to think of him. But it took two hours and numerous blind alleys quite different from Joon’s before I could confirm it.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      Same here — was sure it was Inouye, but it took a lot of staring and trying things to confirm it.

  7. aaaargh. 2nd week 3 in a row i should have gotten but didnt. once again i figured out almost exactly how the mechanics of the meta were going to work, but i was just missing one crucial connection that all those people/things were missing a body part.

    i even thought about hook’s missing hand and silver’s missing leg at one point, but none of the others obviously fit the pattern, so i didnt spend more time on that idea.

  8. mps says:

    never even noticed the missing body parts. the closest i got was that it had to be a 6-letter name, and figuring out that the initial words of the starred clues meant something because they were so forced. never came close. but as usual it makes perfect sense once laid out. i’m amazed how matt keeps coming up with new ways to hurt my brain and my pride.

  9. Mutman says:

    I got crushed this week! I knew those clues had strange starting words, but could not put it together.

    I think for an edgier answer than ‘foreign’, you could have referrenced John Wayne Bobbit and had a clue starting with ‘Ponies’.

    Well done Matt!

  10. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I don’t feel so great about only getting this one by luck. I was thinking McCain, but mom tried that yesterday and it wasn’t correct. This morning I picked a notable example from Wiki’s list of disabled politicians, and it turned out to be correct.

  11. Jeff G. says:

    Loved the meta this week. Excellent misdirection with some of the starred clues answers being one letter off from the body part. 5 stars.

  12. Jeff Chen says:

    I’ve cleared my plate for week 4 (shuddering re: Matt’s earlier comment that it would be a doozy).

  13. Norm H says:

    Similar solving experience to some others here. Got the missing body parts element right away, and assumed it would be Inouye because of the six theme answers and six starred clues. (The only other Senator I could think of with a similar condition was Max Cleland, whose last name was too long. I realized later that my incomplete logic could have led me to Bob Kerrey as well.)

    But I didn’t want to submit an answer until I figured out the tie-in to the asterisks, and that eluded me for two days. Most of those clues are obviously very awkward, so I knew they held the key, not the answers. I finally figured it out during an early jog this morning. My pace quickened considerably from the adrenaline.

    A bit macabre but I suppose appropriate for Halloween season.

  14. Michael Rigney says:

    Not sure why asterisked clues are included. I solved off the missing body part theme. I couldn’t find another Senator with a missing body part. Is there one?

    What did keep me from submitting for a while was the singular “stye” for the plural “unpleasant bumps” at 21A. Thought there had to be an “s” outside the grid because I could not find a definition of stye that allowed for multiple bumps (like, e.g., “acne” could be multiple zits). Combined with other strange answers mentioned by others, I kept looking for other letters outside the grid.

    • joon says:

      frankly, i’d have been unsatisfied if “missing body part + senator = inouye” had been the entire puzzle. for a puzzlemaker of matt’s quality, there has to be something direct and specific that leads you to the meta answer, and a general sense of missing body parts doesn’t cut it. i think you are right not to submit until you figure out the specific connection (or until time runs out and you might as well try something).

      i interpreted the STYE clue to mean that one STYE could manifest itself as multiple bumps. i don’t know whether that’s true, but perhaps it was just a typo.

      • Bunella says:

        Maybe if I’d been doing them for years, I’d be unsatisfied.
        I’ve only just started doing them and I was very satisfied to be correct however I figured it out.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Joon — that was my thinking. Originally I had it as “bump” but then I convinced myself via a (disgusting, don’t try it” Google image search that a STYE can consist of several bumps, so I should clue it that way. I should have left it singular though.

      • Naugahyde says:

        There are several without souls.

    • lorraine says:

      yes, there is another senator with a missing body part (lower leg): bob kerrey.

  15. Michael Rigney says:

    Norm covered point one – how about point 2?

  16. Archie says:

    Was certain it was McCain, because of all of his injuries, he was a Captain in the Navy, an aviator, but again was suckered by red herrings and too easy a conclusion.

  17. Scott says:

    Got it. But as others commented above, I missed the connection with the starred clues. I just sent in a senator that was missing a body part and luckily got the right answer.

  18. Eli says:

    Lucky, educated guess for me. Got the missing body part thing right away (and my mind went to Inouye) and struggled for a long time trying to anagram the starred clues. Finally (too late) realized that cluing SKA as Hadyn and beginning a clue for ITALY with the awkward phrase “Auer the actor” had to be there for a reason, but never got around to figuring out what the reason was. Somehow, I got it in my head that diphthongs were the key (“EOsin”, “AUEr”, “hAYden”) and figured that the Hawaiian alphabet includes diphthongs (though, notably, not the correct ones) and sent in Inouye before the puzzle expired. Not proud of it, but I’ll take it.

  19. CY Hollander says:

    Like many other commenters here, I guessed the answer well before figuring out how the meta was working on the basis of Inouye being the only US Senator who had lost a single body part not missing on any of the Theme Figures. Unlike most of them, I hadn’t known about Senator Inouye’s missing arm, but Wikipedia has a list for everything.

  20. Wayne says:

    I agree with joon: remarkably clean for the amount of thematic material. I convinced myself that the starred clues were so tortured that it had to be the pairing of the first word and the answer that contained the key to unlocking the meta.

    It wasn’t until I finally set that idea aside that I saw the missing parts. That was at 11:58 ET. Doh(a)!

  21. CY Hollander says:

    The puzzle overall was up to Matt’s usual high standards, but, if I might sound a small note of criticism, the clue for 33 down was off the mark. The clue is “What a crazy person is said to be out of”, which would be HIS (rather than “ONE’S”) GOURD. You don’t say “he’s out of one’s gourd”. For the clue to work properly, it would have had to refer to the subject with the pronoun “one”, e.g. “What one goes out of when one goes insane”, clunky as that is.

    • JoeZ says:

      Likewise, you don’t say “she’s out of his gourd.” The use of “one’s” makes it so that the answer is not limited to one gender.

  22. jefe says:

    Oof. Noticed the awkward cluing, but didn’t notice the missing body part connection.

    Rather, I misinterpreted the title as “missing ‘in’ action”, and noticed that the starred clues had some form of “in” in spelling or pronunciation (mINy, jordIN, forEIGN, eosIN, haydN, IN/IN). This led me nowhere, but INOUYE starts with IN too!

    • Michael says:

      I had a different “in” misdirection. In the solution, three of the meta answers include “in” – sphinx, vincent, and captain. Not only that, there are six other answers with an “in” inside and only three i’s without an adjacent n. Compare that to today’s NYT where only 4 of 14 i’s abutted n’s. ed me nowhere but cannot help but think all the ins were “in”tentional.

    • kman23 says:

      Same here. But I thought that “Eeny, meeny, miny…” was the one clue that didn’t have the pronunciation of “in” in it. Therefore, it was the one “missing in” and I thought to take “action” and use that answer to get the senator ROGER MOE.

  23. Abby says:

    Gosh, I’d wondered about mastectomy-related people too. If I see “yobbo” in a future clue, I’ll be sure to get back there…

  24. PJ says:

    Was aware of three senators with missing limbs: Bob Kerrey, Max Cleland and Dan Inouye, so I knew there had to be another connection relating to the starred clues. It was one of those, I know it’s right there, but I just can’t see it. I had even written down the first words of the starred clues. Wham! Lying in bed one morning it just came to me and I could see the body parts in the words. Jumped out of bed, tried it out on paper, and voila! INOUYE. Great puzzle, Matt.

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