MGWCC #295

crossword 6:14
meta DNF 

mgwcc295hello and welcome to week #295 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “What’s It Like?”. i have no idea what is going on with this week’s puzzle, but i’m here to blog it anyway, intrepid weekly blogger that i am. the instructions tell us that this week’s contest answer is a famous author whose surname is five letters long. so what are the theme entries? well, see, i have no idea. here are the four longest answers in the grid:

  • {“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” actor} is BURL IVES.
  • {When the Caesars reigned} is the ROMAN ERA.
  • {Oman and Yemen and so on} are ARAB NATIONS.
  • {Singer who ran for president of Panama in 1994} is RUBEN BLADES. did not know about this guy, but his wikipedia page is fascinating.

i think, but don’t really know, that these are probably theme answers. i also have a hunch about one more answer, the central across: {“Just play along”} HUMOR ME. there are plenty of other 7s, both across and down, but the fact that this is in the middle makes me think it might be a themer.

as to what that theme is? well, there you have me. i got nothing. BURL and RUBEN have BUR/RUB, and ARAB has some of the same letters, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in particular going on there. in fact there are just a lot of B’s in the entire grid (BEDAUB, EBB, HOBNOB, NABBED, etc.) but that’s not a theme and i can’t see anything else going on with those.

what about the title? well, it put me in mind of similes. i thought maybe jonathan SWIFT might be the answer, because his name is an adjective and there are expressions like “as swift as a deer”. and maybe BLADES fits into this because of … i dunno, sharp as a knife or something. but i couldn’t get anything else to work.

i googled BURL IVES and discovered that his full name is burl icle ivanhoe ives. well, that’s something! ivanhoe, of course, is a novel by sir walter scott, who has five letters in his surname. (also, “icle” is a fantastic name.) i was hopeful of finding other connections to walter scott’s oeuvre: waverly, lammermoor, rob roy, … something. but if there’s anything else to be found, i haven’t found it.

there are a couple of other noteworthy aspects of the puzzle that so far have not led me anywhere in particular. two clues are reused: {Deify} clues both IDOLIZE at 20a and EXALT at 32a, and {Say no to} clues both DEFY at 73a and PASS ON at 48d. and of course, DEFY and deify only differ by one letter. but i couldn’t make anything of this. maybe if {Passion} had been a clue somewhere, that would have been interesting… but it wasn’t. there were a few other answers that differed by one letter (EVE/EVEN, DESI/DES), but that’s not anything out of the ordinary.

the SW corner of the grid has OLE ELO stacked on top of NISSIN, two palindromic answers. but that didn’t seem to be pointing to anything, either.

this probably amounts to nothing, but i just noticed that the three first names alluded to but unmentioned in across clues are all 5 letters long: {He was on the 5000-escudo note} is vasco DA GAMA, {Home country of the world’s current #2 chess player} is ARMENIA (home of levon aronian), and {Highest-ranking female politician in American history} is nancy PELOSI. but among the down clues, there’s ruth BADER ginsburg, adrien BRODY, and george MEADE, so there goes that.

edit: well, i meant to come back to this tuesday morning, but now it’s after 12 and i’ve not only forgotten to publish this post, i didn’t even send in my longshot SCOTT guess. matt announced on twitter that the answer is KAFKA: BURLESQUE, ARABESQUE, RUBENESQUE, HUMORESQUE, ROMANESQUE, so KAFKAESQUE.

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49 Responses to MGWCC #295

  1. Pat Coffin says:

    Ugh! I was a German major and didn’t even have Kafka on my list! Nice one. It’s surprising that there were not more correct answers.

    • Evan says:

      It’s not surprising to me at all — I thought this was brutal. I had no clue what to make of any of the theme answers or the title.

      The only things that stuck out to me were all those B’s and the ELO OLE/NISSIN palindrome combo, because why NISSIN, when the more well-known NISSAN would have fit there?

      I guessed DAVE BARRY, only because he’s a HUMOR writer.

      • Barb says:

        I guessed Robert Burns, because of My love is lak (like) a red, red, rose.

      • Dave C says:

        I tried palindromes as well (heck, I had nothing else). ALA at 45-D felt like it meshed with the “What’s It Like” title, so I jotted down the other palindromes in the grid (EVE, BUB, and notably, OLEELO and NISSIN). But all I could figure out was to extract the middle letter(s) in each palindrome, which gave me VULES. Mixing those letters around gave me zippo, so I just entered Mark TWAIN.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    This strikes me as an almost perfect meta for a Week 4 of 5. Difficult to crack, but wonderfully simple once you see it. I had so many notes covering my sheet, I had to print out a new puzzle twice. Which turned out to be a good idea. On Monday, once I took another fresh look, I finally saw how to interpret the title, then the rest was quick. My only quibble is that the answer’s not unique. While Kafkaesque is the only five letter author-esque word that OneLook recognizes as common, there are others such as Ortonesque. Even Palinesque and Oprahesque should count in my view, since they are indeed authors and famous, though not so much for their books. Dantesque would be more problematic, since it only adds sque to the name. Which wasn’t his surname, anyway. 4.5 stars from me.

    • Garrett says:

      Agree with and love this comment: “This strikes me as an almost perfect meta for a Week 4 of 5. Difficult to crack, but wonderfully simple once you see it.”

  3. Bunella says:

    I could have worked on that for another week and would never have gotten it.
    Good one though!

  4. DannyBoy says:

    I got Kafka, but I also did a search for *esque to see what other authors would qualify, if we weren’t limited to five letters. There were many, and I thought Bunyanesque was pretty interesting. It has two different meanings, applying to both the folk figure Paul Bunyan and the Pilgrim’s Progress guy John Bunyan.

    Way to go, J and Vraal! Were those truly last minute solves or were you having a little fun with us?

    • Vraal says:

      My ability to compete in a timely fashion is hindered by two things:

      a) I work at a client site that blocks the Gaffney site as a “game” site, and I have to go off-campus to download or submit anything.
      b) On occasion, when I submit via iPhone, my entry doesn’t “stick” and I have to submit a second time, from a computer (or sometimes it does work from the iPhone).

      In partial resolution to this, my thanks to Veep for showing me how to get the puzzle on Friday without having to go through the main webpage! And while I’m at it, I should also thank Matt for indulging frantic emails from me every once in awhile :D.

  5. GP says:

    After I got the meta, I also couldn’t help but wonder about a certain other -ESQUE that has a bit of relevance to crossword fans. Maybe if Matt had asked for a four-letter surname instead of a five-letter surname, but alas.

  6. Gwinns says:

    Wasn’t ZOLAESQUE an answer at the ACPT? Only 4 letters, but still, this seems pretty vague. Don’t know that it’s common knowledge that Kafka owns the -ESQUE suffix.
    I never even came close. Especially since this is the first time I’ve ever seen HUMORESQUE in my life.

    • GP says:

      Several dictionaries on a Google search (ones with clout and not just wikitionary) do make reference to the term as an example of -esque words. The word also has enough references in culture to make it the most famous author example, if not necessarily the only one.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Yeah, I’ve never seen HUMORESQUE before either. “A short, lively piece of music”? You don’t say.

  7. ===Dan says:

    Nice one, in retrospect. DNF. EEYORE near MAA made me think of (AA)Milne. EBB made me think of (EB)White, but there was no mouse or pig or spider to be found. “What’s it like” is the punchline of a Python sketch NOT written by Michael PALIN.

    • Matthew G. says:

      That punchline is the first thing I thought of when I saw the puzzle title, although I doubted it would prove relevant, given the sauciness of the sketch in question.

      Got nowhere close on this meta. Count me among those who have never heard of HUMORESQUE, although that was hardly what tripped me up.

  8. Ale M says:

    This is one of those weeks when I wish there would be half-points given for wrong answers with credible explanations. Aaargh! I was so sure I had this!! My answer was C.S. Lewis. Consider:

    - 7 animals mentioned in the clues. All play roles in the Chronicles of Narnia. (Author = LEWIS)
    - If you highlight the corresponding animal answers in the grid, it forms the shape of a gun in the lower right, plus two other shaded answers forming a V shape. A gun that steadies itself on a V-shape like that is called …. a LEWIS gun. (From World War I).
    - C.S. Lewis’s first name is Clive. The top shaded answer from an animal clue is BURLIVES. Now, a “bur” is a hook, or C-shape. So I thought: [C-shape]+LIVE + S. + [Lewis gun shape]

    Anyone else think it was C.S. Lewis?

    But, Kafka is a better answer … Oh, how I love these puzzles! Thank you, Matt. I’m not being “testy” here. Just appreciative!

  9. mps says:

    when i couldn’t get anywhere i wrote down the 5 letter surnamed authors i could think of to get candidates for a wild random guess. kafka was my first one but i didn’t submit him, as he’s already been a meta answer. maybe someday i’ll get 5 in a month…

    • Dan Katz says:

      Similar boat. When it came to guessing, I considered KAFKA but went with IBSEN due to all the B’s in the grid. Just as well, because it’s not very satisfying to get credit on a random stab… (Also, add me to the list of folks who have never seen HUMORESQUE.)

      • pannonica says:

        In before Brucenm. The most well-known humoresques in music are the cycle of eight pieces Antonín Dvořák composed for piano.

      • Abide says:

        IBSEN was on my short list, but due to the excess of Bs I submitted ALBEE.

  10. John says:

    This, for me, was like those pictures that are unconnected patterns until you look just beyond them and suddenly all is clear. Very easily could have missed it because trying to work a puzzle with all thread ends and no connections is frustrating, so i didn’t look at it very much this weekend. Bolt out of the blue late Monday night.

  11. Ephraim says:

    Big red herring: five five-letter proper names form a steep symmetrical diagonal: BADER, ZABAR, BRODY, MEADE, ENRON. It just had to mean something.

  12. anjali says:

    And how does the puzzle title relate to the solution? Thanks.

    • Evad says:

      The -esque suffix is used to imply “something like this,” e.g., if something is picturesque, it’s like a picture.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      -esque = -like

    • pgw says:

      What’s it like? It’s like a [thingy]. It’s [thingy]esque.

      It was mildly disappointing that the theme entries are all two-word phrases in which the -esque word comes first, whereas “Franz Kafka” has its -esque word second – but while this is a fair quibble with the elegance of the puzzle, it doesn’t affect the gettability. Once you hit upon the -esque theme, it is clear that that is the right track to be on. A search for common words ending in -esque reveals surprisingly few, and Kafkaesque is certainly the only one involving an author with a five-letter surname.

      • Vraal says:

        Well to be fair, he didn’t ask for another theme entry bearing a 5-letter author that would fit (e.g. Kafka Award)… that would have been a satisfying way to go, though, if there were a really strong two-word expression starting with “kafka”. I’m not seeing one I love…

        I must note that the dictionary also has “Dantesque”, which is a 5-letter author, but in this case his name would end in -sque not -esque, so I rejected it. Might Matt have accepted that one as an alternative?

        • bwouns says:

          Dante would not be acceptable. The instructions specifically state that he’s looking for a surname.

  13. Maggie W. says:

    Wow, nice. Once I noticed that Burl Ives played “Big Daddy” and one of Ruben Blades’s big songs is “Patria,” I tried to find a father theme. (The Roman Era had the pater familias and Arab Nations are, um, often patriarchal…?) Needless to say, that got me nowhere.

    Starring the theme clues would have made this a bit more Week 4 and less Week 5, but I definitely see why Matt thought this would be easier than it was!

  14. Abide says:

    Never got close but I like it. Among other deadends I answered the question “what’s it like?” by looking at two of clues that included the word “like”. The spanish clue mentioned Gloria ESQUival. That was as close as I got.

  15. SML says:

    The puzzle title, “What’s it Like?” confirms that -ESQUE is the common thread connecting all the theme answers. -ESQUE means “like”.

    I was hoping for more confirmation that Kafka was the 5-letter author intended. Some of the other 5 letters+ESQUE entries in the list I found seemed pretty reasonable, though none as common as “Kafkaesque”.

    • Bob Johnson says:

      I also looked for confirmation that Kafka was correct, plus I was concerned Matt might have been looking for an author whose first name rather than surname could precede -esque, as with the theme entries. One source listed ‘pearlesque’ as a word, but Pearl Buck has too short a surname. Putting ‘META’, ‘MORPH’, and ‘OSIS’ in the grid as confirmation might have made this a week 3…

  16. Dan Seidman says:

    The title was the key. I started with the -Y suffix, which works on three of them: BURLY, ARABY, ROMANY. I thought maybe these tied to other entries in the grid somehow, but couldn’t find any. Finally I noticed that the ESQUE that obviously went with RUBEN also went with the others. I thought there would be more correct answers to this one.

  17. icdogg says:

    I didn’t get it, don’t know if I ever would have. Great puzzle, though. Totally fair.

  18. Dolores Yvars says:

    I got every clue but could not tie anything together….totally flummoxed…tough meta!!

  19. I was nowhere close on this. I think it was a very difficult but fair puzzle. I noticed all of the B’s, too, and I also noticed a bunch of words could be word-banked out of the theme answers (RUBENBLADES can be used to make NABBED, BADER, LEARNED, or a bunch of 3-letter answers etc.).

    When doing my fact-checking, I found that ARABNATIONS also contains ARONIAN (hinted at by 26A). What’s more, is that the remaining letters are BAT+S (22A) — ARABNATIONS = ARONIAN + BAT + S. So I thought that each theme answer could be formed as (other answer in grid) + (word related to another clue) + (a letter). Doing that for all 5 theme answers would give a 5-letter answer.

    But it was not to be. I couldn’t find any other (word related to another clue) instances that worked. Plus, HUMORME doesn’t have any other words in the grid which can be letter banked from it. I thought I was really onto something, but it turned out to be a bad coincidence.

  20. Amy L says:

    I noticed three answer words that sound like letters: ARE, AYE, and TEA. I looked for two others to come up with an anagrammed 5-letter name. All I could find was PSIS. I couldn’t anagram RITψψ.

    Now I’m going to sigh when I hear Kafkaesque just like when I hear Zolaesque…….

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I tried this early on, too. My other two letters came from ANY (n,e.) I thought the clue for ARE might be tipping this path, because it contained “like.” But r,i,t,n,e wouldn’t anagram to an author or anything suggesting one. Besides, there was a second clue containing like, which I didn’t think Matt would do, since it contributed nothing to the solution. Interestingly, Matt has once more gone away from his spell-an-answer technique. There were indeed 5 themers and esque is also five letters, but this had nothing to do with the five letter solution.

  21. dave glasser says:

    I spent a while looking into the four humors. You can find LIVER starting in BURLIVES, and the letters of SPLEEN in a blob in the PELOSI area. Didn’t really go anywhere though.

  22. Abby says:

    The twin twin clues of “Deify” and “Say No To” with DEFY as answer led me to TWAIN (twin plus a letter). Wasn’t crazy about it, but the title got me stuck in a rut.

  23. Mutman says:


    I tried the Ivanhoe longshot with Lewis knowing it was a failure.

    Saw connections to Ruben and the deli clue. Nothing. Saw Roman (Polanski), the creep, and Brody (Adrian) merging up for The Pianist, but that went nowhere.

    Nice work Matt. Fair. I just missed it :(

  24. Neville says:

    Took a wild guess with SEUSS. Had I cottoned onto -esque elsewhere, I would’ve recognized “Humoresque” from this classic “I Love Lucy” clip. The tune has other, bawdier lyrics, too. :)

  25. Jason T says:

    The title nudged me into thinking of adjectives – I had “burly”, “Arabian,” “humorous” and “Rubenesque”. Tried doing something with that, and actually got annoyed that every time I looked at “BURLIVES” I couldn’t help thinking of the word “burlesque”… until I noticed the connection between “burlesque” and the already-noticed “Rubenesque”… and then I quickly spotted the other “esques.” My feeling was rather elationesque. Once that was done, it took but a moment to realize which author was called for – the most famous authorial “esque” of all! This one totally worked for me – all the elements steered me where I needed to go, even though it sure wasn’t obvious!

    Of course, a true Kafkaesque puzzle wouldn’t have a solution at all – only the frustrating promise of a solution that never quite comes. Which might describe next week’s Week 5 puzzle!

  26. jefe says:

    Thought there might have been a connection between Oman in the clue for Arab Nations and rOMAN era, but found nothing similar.

    Went with Arthur Conan Doyle since you’d have to be Sherlock Holmes to get it!

    Matt, it’d be interesting to see a tally of whom people guessed!

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