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