crossword 9:01 (paper)
puzzle about 15 minutes, while watching basketball

mgwcc79hi folks. the 79th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Crazy Xword,” was a tough puzzle with a really cool meta lurking. it’s the first december puzzle, but we’re in a time warp this month (or maybe it’s like memento), so this is ostensibly the toughest puzzle of the month. the idea this week was to explain what’s going on with the four theme answers. what were those answers?

  • [Doesn’t give any rest] clues PUTS RIGHT TO WORK.
  • “UPON MY WORD!” is a [Posh exclamation].
  • [B.S.], the verb, is roughly synonymous with TALK JIVE TO, though i can assure you i’ve never used the latter phrase.
  • and STUFFED CABBAGES? [Ukrainians call them “holubtsi”]. oh-kay, then. my knowledge of ukrainian cuisine is decidedly unimpressive, but i’m guessing i wasn’t the only one who needed most of the crosses for this one.

so what’s going on? i tried looking at the first word in each phrase, the last word, slang terms for money, … nothing. it has nothing to do with the meanings of any of the words. so then i started looking for words hidden across word breaks in the answers. i didn’t find any, but i did notice that STUFFED CABBAGES contains FFEDCABBAGE, which is ten consecutive letters taken from the first seven letters in the alphabet. do the other answers have anything like that? well, … no. PUTS RIGHT TO WORK has a whole bunch from the late-middle part of the alphabet, though. hang on, we may be onto something here! each of the theme answers contains four consecutive letters taken from the backwards alphabet: PUTS RIGHT TO WORK, UPON MY WORD, TALK JIVE TO, and STUFFED CABBAGES. when i noticed that, i thought something funny was going on with the last one, as the next two letters are A and B, but in the wrong order. there’s nothing like that in the others, though. i thought the P in PUTS might be part of it, but we skipped Q.

anyway, that’s all. that’s the theme. it’s really neat, i think. the title, by the way, contains yet another example, featuring the extremely unlikely combination ZYXW. of course, “xword” isn’t really a word in general, but it’s certainly an abbreviation we’re all familiar with here, isn’t it?

as befits a fourthfirst-week puzzle, there was some pretty tough fill and clues. let’s have a look:

  • [Worker, in Mumbai] is a WALLAH. i do not know this word.
  • [It only has eyes for view] is a HIJAB, the veil worn by some muslim women. this is a word that, until recently, i could never remember. i have it now, but that seems like an unnecessarily tough clue for a somewhat uncommon word.
  • JERBOA is a word i learned from crosswords, but i was not expecting it to come up again. it’s a [Desert jumper], in the sense that it’s a jumping rat that lives in the desert.
  • there’s almost always some good geography in the MGWCC, and this week was no exception. the ABC powers of south america are argentina, brazil, and … chile? yes, chile (it was never going to be colombia). [Germany’s ___-Havel Canal] is not VACLAV (who’s czech), but ELBE. [Capital city of 60,000 people] is a very unhelpful way to clue APIA, the capital of samoa. the other capitals of oceania are jealous of APIA’s crosswordese status. especially nuku’alofa and funafuti, which could definitely stand to get more grid play.
  • the geographical crown jewel, of course, is [Person from Pohang]. you all got KOREAN immediately, right? i actually don’t know very much about pohang, but their K-league soccer team, the pohang steelers, are currently AFC champions league titleholders, making them (in some sense) the top club team in asia.
  • speaking of sports, WHITEY ford and MEL OTT (full name!) grace the grid this week, giving it an old-time baseball feel.
  • hidden mythology clue: [Python killer] is not a predator of giant snakes (do pythons have any predators? i’d guess no), but APOLLO, who slew the delphic dragon named python in greek mythology. loved this clue.
  • speaking of python, the [Famously difficult equipment to program] is a VCR. (python, by contrast, is a really easy language to program in.) this clue didn’t sit perfectly well with me because i feel like “equipment” by itself is plural, and “piece of equipment” is necessary to describe a singular VCR unit.
  • WEED and COKE are in close proximity in the grid, but they wouldn’t get drug clues, would they? of course not. WEED is [Bud] and COKE is [Snow]. hey, wait a minute. i’m not up on my drug slang, but i think these may be drug-related.
  • my favorite clue is a tie between [Cruise issue] for young SURI cruise and [Bring change to one’s church, say] for TITHE. although now that i think about it, if you can donate one-tenth of your income in the form of loose change, you’re probably not doing so hot. even in this economy.

that’s all for me this week. how did this puzzle treat you?

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11 Responses to MGWCC #79

  1. mlpdyer says:

    Wow – what a head banger – I went down the same path(s) in my search, but had not gotten to the solution!!! Good job! I kept wanting all of these to be cryptic crossword clues (crazy indeed!) but they just wouldn’t parse!

    Mary Lou

  2. Hugh says:

    One other feature of this puzzle: the order of the four consecutive letter groupings (and the title, too) were in reverse alphabetical order. Quite a trick.

  3. Karen says:

    My experience: lots of googling on this puzzle. Little solving of the meta. I was annoyed that I could figure out the gist of the Cruise clue, but couldn’t remember the child’s name. I remember the clue for RSVP was very tricky too.

  4. Meg says:

    I finally saw the alphabetic nature of the clues and for awhile went off on a Scrabble tangent having to do with values of certain tiles and the lack of Q, X, and Y in the grid. Then I pondered phone keypad numbers. No luck.

    After a few hours I saw the pattern, but was still not sure until I looked at the title, which clinched it! Great meta and hard grid. Being from Florida, I knew about manatee calves, but not the other way to say El Nino. We so often have Ott, but rarely Mel Ott. That was a groaner! I also liked the clue for HAS OUT because it could have been a noun or a verb.

    Onto the next!

  5. Jordan says:

    I would parse it a little more and say the 4-letter strings span the first and second words of the entries.

  6. Alex says:

    Also, notice that none of the four-letter strings overlap! Impressive, given five four-letter strings in a 26-letter alphabet.

    Does anyone care for these unlock codes? This week, it’s 5812.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    I was amazed at the high # of solvers who got this one — about 150. My guess was fewer than 100.

  8. nanpilla says:

    I’m surprised that I got this one right. It seemed too obvious to me, and since I frequently can’t get the hard metas, I figured there must be more to it. Can’t believe I didn’t notice the string in the title- D’oh!

  9. Abide says:

    Great puzzle, and got my first “tough” meta. Great SURI clue, I’ll be on the lookout for “Cruise charge” next time.

    Knew WALLAH from Slumdog’s “chai-wallah” (tea server).

    The MELOTT clue (Athlete killed in car accident in New Orleans) is incorrect–along with the Wikipedia page. Master Melvin’s car accident was in Bay St. Louis, MS (about 30 miles from me). After a few days in a local hospital, he was transferred to a New Orleans hospital, where he died.

  10. Pat says:

    I used PUTS THINGS IN ORDER as tying the theme entries together, since with a Crazy X-word with weird letter groups, Put’s things (i.e. letters) were put in order as the first letters of the theme entries, just what a Crazy X-word needs!

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    It took me so long to see the meta, but at last it crumbled. Good Saturdayesque crossword, too.

    I think I learned the word WALLAH when looking into the name of an Indian restaurant, Tiffin. A tiffin wallah delivers your tiffin, or boxed-up lunch.

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