MGWCC #309

crossword 2:48
meta 0:00 (approx.) 

mgwcc309hello and welcome to week #309 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Sea Creature”. the instructions for this week 1 puzzle ask us to determine what kind of sea creature occupies the center of this crossword grid. it’s an unusual-looking grid, for sure—four completely cut-off little corners and lots of strange bands of black squares.

probably from the grid itself, even before filling it in, you might be able to guess octopus, just because those bands of black squares look not unlike eight tentacles connecting to the “body” of the sea creature in the center. well, you would be right. but just as extra evidence, there are eight ARMs in the solved grid (circled in the screencap above), along each of the eight cardinal and intercardinal directions. four of them are parts of clued entries:

  • {Be a net negative} clues DO HARM. not the loveliest answer, is it? doesn’t really feel to me like it hangs together as a phrase.
  • {Full of moving creatures} is ASWARM.
  • {Feared Spanish navy} is the spanish ARMADA.
  • {Fashion designer whose net worth in 2013 was estimated at $8.5 billion} is giorgio ARMANI.

and four more are in unclued words along the main diagonals: PREARM, DISARM, ARMPIT, and ARMORS. it’s a nice touch that these are all actual words. since matt did not have to write clues for them, it could just as easily have been (any three letters) + ARM and ARM + (any three letters).

that said, the diagonal entries, along with the unusual grid shape, make for some less-than-stellar fill. TO PEE in the northeast is such a ridiculous partial (on a number of levels) that the clue actually apologized for it. can’t say i’ve seen that before. apology accepted, matt.

that said, the most unfamiliar entries were clued extra-easy, in accordance with the week 1 scheduling of the puzzle. some noteworthy bits:

  • {Linguistics pioneer Edward (anagram of PAIRS)} is SAPIR, of the sapir-whorf hypothesis. i knew him.
  • {Cairo suburb ___ City (anagram of RANS)} is NASR. i did not know this, and solvers who didn’t know running back ARIAN foster will be grateful for the anagram clue.
  • {Not your Dad} MY MOM is probably my least favorite entry in the grid. all three M’s were enforced by the theme, but the clue just makes it seem so arbitrary. there’s probably a way of cluing this as a partial via some kind of humorous quote. there’s {“Date ___” (MTV reality show)}, which i only know of because byron walden put it in a NYT themeless once. and there are probably funnier options. anyway, mothers’ day (or perhaps mother’s day) is next week, so don’t forget to send a card.
  • {Popular puzzle poem} is an ODE. what’s puzzling about an ode? nothing in particular—the clue is just alluding to the fact that ODE is popular fill for crosswords due to its short voweliciousness.
  • {Vice president who shot a guy (not Cheney, a different one)} is aaron BURR. okay, the clue made me laugh. (too soon, for you alexander hamilton fans?)
  • {“Cruising for Bruising” pop singer} is apparently someone named BASIA. i did not know this, and a couple of the crossings were tough.
  • {Crossword constructor Andrew} RIES has been busting out with a couple of online subscription puzzles. his latest rows garden slayed me, but they’ve all been good.
  • {Caapitaal of Yemen} is SANA’A, and this clue also made me laugh. and it is sometimes spelled just SANA, so it actually disambiguated the transliteration somewhat (though not more than looking at the grid for the answer length would have).

that’s all for me. see you in the comment thread.

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21 Responses to MGWCC #309

  1. Jason says:

    TO PEE or not TO PEE, that was the question.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    Week 1 puzzles don’t usually inspire much interest in commenting, but I thought this was a pearl, a real treasure of the deep. Matt not only executed the meta to perfection, but as Joon notes, his grid art suggests the answer, too. My granddaughter thought the picture was really cute, so she drew an octopus face in the middle, with the ? for a nose. Five stars.

    By the way, following up on last week’s brilliant raven, an octopus is at the pinnacle of intelligence for the cephalopoda, too. Though they’re in the same phylum as molluscs such as clams, they engage in advanced communication and some types have pack hunting strategies. Another interesting thing — while the commonly used plural octopuses is clearly wrong, the latinized octopi is also incorrect. Since its name is Greek for eight-footed, the proper plural is octopodes. One question, Matt – is there a reason why the arms on the grid’s SW to N lead inward, while those on the NE to S lead outward, or did it just work out this way?

    • Abby says:

      What’s wrong with “octopuses”? Hard to pronouce, I guess (you know, like breastesses), but unless you’re going to italicize it or spell it “oktopous”, insisting on a Greek-ish plural is daft. That said, “octopi” works my last nerve. Hate that. Almost as much as people trying to say “peni” or “viri” or some other pseudo-Latin crap.

      • Bencoe says:

        A few weeks ago, the MC at my regular trivia game read a clue containing the word “octopuses”. All these would-be smartasses starting shouting, “It’s octopi! Octopi!” Like he was an uneducated moron.
        I went up to him later and told him, “You were right. Octopuses is the preferred English plural. Octopus is a Greek word, not Latin. They were wrong.”

      • pannonica says:

        The snooty plural of penis is of course penes. See also, vaginae.

    • Shawn P says:

      Hi Paul,

      I think that Matt kept the ARMs moving in the left to right or up to down direction so that they all read “ARM” and not “MRA”.

  3. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Ah, I saw the eight ARMs (and eight tentacles formed by the blocks) but didn’t try to extend the diagonal ones to 6-letter words (which explains why the ARMs went one way on the W/SW side of the grid and the other way in the N/NE). That would explain the heaping dose of subpar fill (now including PREARM), and also the 56 blocks and 12 “cheater” squares(!), since the 8-ARM theme alone had already been done, and much more smoothly.

    Thanks,
    NDE

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Right, I see that now. This makes it an even better puzzle. 5.5 stars from me.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks, Joon — 607 correct answers this week. Was hoping for 888, but not to be.

    I also had to take SQUID, as well as a couple of other eight-armed sea creatures, some of which were submitted in mischief.

  5. Tamz29 says:

    I think the octopus with eight ARMs gimmick was used before in a NYT crossword.
    I vaguely remember it being ran on some Mon/Tues a few years back.

  6. Bencoe says:

    Thought “octopus” as soon as I saw the grid but finished the puzzle before submitting just to make sure.
    Obviously the grid design and the amount of theme material (all those ARMs) necessitates some poor fill, just to get it completed. I feel like this is a hard one to rate, in order to balance the great design and theme entries with the inferior rest of the puzzle. So I will abstain.
    It was a net positive in my opinion, though.

  7. Brucenm says:

    What a sad commentary that the constructor found it necessary to simplify the clue for Edward SAPIR, with an anagram. If someone knows one thing about 20th century linguistics, I imagine it would be the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, more frequently termed the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, even though Sapir was the teacher and Benjamin Whorf the pupil. It’s rather like the clue {Guns and Roses rocker Rose, anagram (LAX).}

  8. Bernie says:

    You mean the answer *was* octopus? Even for week 1 I didn’t think Matt would do a meta that you could get just by looking at the unfilled-in grid, so I just kept looking for something else — not too hard [it is only week 1] but a little hidden…. Sigh…

  9. Bernie says:

    Just to expand my sort-of frustration, why pick octopus over squid, cuttlefish, etc. [or will Matt accept any of them which makes for a bit of a non-deterministic meta?]

    • pannonica says:

      Squid and cuttlefish have eight arms plus two tentacles, but most people don’t realize there’s a distinction. So for the layperson, they have ten appendages. I’m certain that the clever submitters who chose to use those as answers pointed out the technical distinction.

      Nautiluses have undifferentiated appendages—all called tentacles—and there are many more than eight or ten. (Wikipedia says “up to ninety.”)

  10. wobbith says:

    Thought that that spot of INK just under the octopus was an elegant little flourish.

  11. pj says:

    I. have always wondered why constructors use anagram clues in a puzzle, as in the clue for sapir. Perhaps Matt could explain the thinking behind those type of clues.

    • pannonica says:

      It’s an admission that the answer is too obscure for polite company. Clue-cum-apologia.

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