MGWCC #297

crossword about 5 hours to write

Matt here, self-blogging this week since the joonmeister is otherwise occupied (three kids, job, residual “Jeopardy!” celebrity — hey, there’s a lot to get done).


672 solvers found the late PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN as last week’s meta answer. Three squares in the grid contained the rebus letters PSH, all clued with movie references:

17-A ["Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" actress, who later married Steven Spielberg] = KATE CA(PSH)AW, crossing RA(P SH)EET

31-D/38-A [1984 Jodie Foster/Rob Lowe movie] = THE HOTEL NEW HAM(PSH)IRE, crossing JUM(P SH)IP

60-A [Focus on the face, often] = CLOSE-U(P SH)OT, crossing CO(P SH)OW

Which could only lead to the late Mr. Hoffman. I rewatched “The Talented Mr. Ripley” last night, which gave this puzzle its title and in which Hoffman had a small but memorable role. It holds up well, and Hoffman is nice and hateable in it. RIP, PSH.

Here’s a NSFW clip of outtakes from “The Master” with Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. Very funny. The crossword I self-give 4.00 stars.

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28 Responses to MGWCC #297

  1. Jeff G. says:

    Excellent puzzle. Very nice tribute. Thanks Matt!

  2. Evan says:

    Wait, it took you five hours to build the grid and write the clues? Or five hours for just the grid? Because I could never imagine doing both that fast. (Of course, it usually takes me longer to write clues than build the puzzle itself.)

    Nice, easy meta — didn’t expect a rebus in Week 1!

    • Matt says:

      An hour to come up with the idea and find the best theme entries (wanted both the long rebus answers and the short crossers to all be movie-related but that wasn’t happening, so I settled for just the long ones); 90-120 minutes on the grid; an hour on the clues; and hour to edit and test-solve

  3. Matt says:

    These rage votes (1.5 stars? OK) with no explanation are so annoying. If you want to know why more constructors don’t hang out here, that’s why.

  4. Brucenm says:

    Matt — Superb tribute to a superb actor and tragic human being. A meta that even I was able to solve, but got to too late to send in. A wonderfully constructive ( !? ) use of your talents. (Of course, if you could devise a chess opening and call it the PSH — a variant of the Sicilian, perhaps?) :-)

  5. lorraine says:

    i initially started searching for an actor with a “***PSH***” in his name. Then i remembered we were in week one, slapped my head and got it.

    I was impressed Matt could pull together a topical puzzle so quickly. Bravo!

  6. abide says:

    I think this was my fastest meta, about 40 seconds in with Kate Capshaw. Liked it a lot–I just rarely vote. Ignore the di***its.

    • joon says:

      Ignore the di***its.

      i see what you did there. ;)

      hey, sorry i totally spaced out and forgot to blog this. life has been a little hectic for the last couple days and i’m a bit behind on crosswords. in fact i only just now (weds 6 pm) even realized that i had forgotten. great puzzle though! certainly wasn’t expecting a rebus in week 1. the theme answers were all outstanding entries in their own right.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        joon, take a week off whenever you need it. I and I’m sure others here appreciate your commentary, which contains the wisdom, insight and forbearance of 1,000 suns.

  7. mitchs says:

    I’d be surprised if it’s true that some constructors avoid this blog because of ridiculous votes. Seems to me the critiques and comments would make it worth the visit. Though I suppose it’s true that there could be some real resentment, given the buzz created by achieving the highest vote totals, particularly at the year end roundup.

    While I’m not sure that @Matt is often a victim of the capricious scorers given his consistently high scores, (if anything, other constructors might cry foul for being compared to metas) maybe some sort of system where the bottom (1) score and the top (1) score – or some such – are thrown out should be considered.

    • Lois P. says:

      I don’t agree with throwing out any ratings. Not enough is at stake; we’re not talking about bribed judges affecting an outcome. There were 43 votes, most of which were favorable, and the minority opinions have the satisfaction of expressing themselves. One can speculate about the reason for the low scores. It was clearly a nice first-week puzzle, but a couple of people might have found it too playful as a tribute. I also can’t imagine that many constructors are so put off by extreme votes as to avoid this site. The voting results are one of the pleasures of the site.

    • Bencoe says:

      In my opinion, he gets the benefit of capricious scoring, given all the people who automatically rate every puzzle here highly, no matter what the quality. There doesn’t seem to be the same rigorous scrutiny applied to the fill and solve here as there is to virtually every other puzzle. No list of (some good, but mostly bad) fill in the review. Not the dissection of the fill and solve given every other puzzle in the comments…hardly any mention of them at all. It seems that fill isn’t even a criterion for evaluation of meta-themes, which doesn’t strike me as fair to other constructors. If this puzzle had been published in a major venue under a different name, I honestly don’t believe I would be the only one turned off by the clunky fill, flat theme answers, and dull, unimaginative use of “PSH” in a rebus three times. This doesn’t strike me as a puzzle which was long in the construction, but one which was rushed through to be timely. Why shouldn’t we apply the same standards as elsewhere?

      • Matt Gaffney says:


        There was no discussion of the fill this week because I wrote the review myself quickly since it turned out joon had forgotten. So I wrote it at 12:05 in about 15 minutes. Joon normally does go into fill and other questions in his weekly review.

        Are you going to tell us the fill you didn’t like, or not? Asked twice now.

  8. Jason T says:

    Now here I thought I’d solved the puzzle as fully as it could be solved — PSH, Philip Seymour Hoffman, good to go! — and then here I read the write-up and learn that there was an extra fillip in the construction, that the three theme entries were all film-related – so even in a Week 1, there was a bonus bit of cleverness that I’d failed to notice. That’s the wonderful sort of care that raises the construction up a notch!

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    There wasn’t any criticism from you to read, Bencoe, which was the whole problem (“with no explanation”). Now there is, so thanks.

    If you want to be really useful next time (or even if you’d care to humor me this time) you could list a few pieces of fill that bothered you the most. I was surprised when guest-blogging for Rex recently how varying some solvers’ views of what consisted “bad fill” could be.

    And Bencoe: if I couldn’t take criticism I wouldn’t have specifically and publicly asked you for it. I do appreciate your responding, and please do feel free to list some fill you felt was terrible. I (and perhaps others here) would be interested to know.

    • Sam Ezersky says:

      Hardly ever comment on this blog, much more of a reader, but I really felt the urge to say that I thought the fill was particularly good! Sure, there’s a bit of crosswordese in OUZO, EL AL, EPEES, etc, but I thought the rest was very smooth, and the PSH entries were all particularly beautiful! The icing on the cake was the two vertical 8s, imo. So I second Matt, and respectfully ask…what’s really “terrible” about this fill? I think it’s very well done!

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I thought the fill was good, too, so I’m curious to have Bencoe tell us what entries he disliked. I did the five-worst-entries test and they’re AN END, SCH, EPEES, MCS and REA, which aren’t bad at all. On the plus side there’s WORN AWAY, PAY RETAIL, GO LOOK, FIND A JOB, IN JEST, NYC, RAP SHEET, JUMP SHIP, STABILIZE and I SAY NO.

        So again, curious to see Bencoe’s list of clunky fill. He seems reluctant to provide it. Could be one of those all-heat-and-no-light situations.

        • Spongeamy says:

          I promised to keep my mouth shut, but I can’t resist. The quality of the fill is utterly beside the point in a meta! You go to the Times puzzle (or some other quality venue) for fill. Any decent solver solves every one of Matt’s crosswords in the blink of an eye. The crossword itself is merely unlocking the door to the fun house. I almost laughed but when I read the criticism, because it is so, um, clueless.

          • pannonica says:

            Then why make the crossword at all if the clues and fill are essentially irrelevant? That would be a different sort of puzzle altogether.

        • Spongeamy says:

          Didn’t say that. By fill, I mean the commonly accepted view that “fill” is the less critical, yet necessary words (sometimes) needed to meet the constraints of the crossword, interconnect theme or more interesting entries. Fill is etui,, Mel Ott, the Alou brothers, olio, oleo, Oreo, Aral, Ural, etc. you know what I mean. I do not mean the clues or all grid entries are unimportant–yes, that would be a different puzzle altogether. My expectation with any meta puzzle is that the fill, as I’m using it, is not “high quality” almost by definition. A lot of times poor quality fill is forced by the meta. Moreover, these are weekly events. To expect the fill to be the quality of a Times crossword that has been beaten to death by the constructor and Will makes no sense to me. And doesn’t detract from the fun had at all.

          • Matt says:


            I appreciate your comments, but can’t agree that the fill is not as important in a meta as it is in a non-meta. Sure, there are times when a meta’s constraints are so severe that there’s no way the fill can be up to the same level as when the constraints are less taxing, but that’s not what we have in this puzzle.

            And unfortunately, I don’t think we can use the New York Times as an exemplar of great fill. I blogged a Monday recently at Rex’s site that had EMEER, OATEN and OLEIC in it, and the Wednesday that week had AMOLE, ENOL, ISOLA, OME, AGIN, OAST and SALA. That’s “clunky fill” in my book, but all too typical of the NYX in recent years.

          • pannonica says:

            I believe we’re witnessing, once again, a discrepancy between fill and filler.

          • Spongeamy says:

            Last comment. It seems rampant that fill is used to mean filler. I virtually never see the term filler and I read a reasonable amount of these blogs. Having said that, I totally agree with your point if you thought I meant fill rather than filler.
            Also, I am not saying that the NYT filler is good, just that our expectations for it should be higher.
            I took Bencoe’s criticism, such as it was, to be criticizing filler. Even if it was fill, it was week one. It was a cinch. We see our name on the board and move on with the knowledge that before the weather gets warm most of us (not JanglerNPL!) will be gnashing our teeth trying to figure out what Matt is up to. I love that challenge, even though meta-fail is often the result. The nitpicking of crosswords, even great achievements like Matt’s, seems a bit out of control to me. I’m probably preaching to the opposite of the choir here. That’s fine.
            And I’m not a constructor–yet.

          • pannonica says:

            Perhaps this semantic distinction is peculiar—though I doubt unique—to me. Wouldn’t be the first time.

          • pannonica says:

            Nevertheless, I believe the prevailing opinion here (including M Gaffney himself) is that the crapfill (aka filler) should always be minimized—in quantity and (negative) quality—to the best that can be managed in all crosswords, including grand[iose] metapuzzles, because it invariably degrades the final product.

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