crossword 5:48
puzzle about 10 minutes, spread over 2 days

hello everybody, and happy holidays. this will be brief, as i’m still not quite fully healthy, and i’ve also got a ton of other stuff to do today. so this post will be rheme-only (heh), and you can discuss the fill in the comments. i’ll check back in later if i can. this week’s episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Your Secret, Santa?”, had a very clever meta and a holiday-appropriate solution. the instructions say only that This week’s contest answer is a two-word phrase. the three-part hint in the grid reads:


well, german for 11 is ELF. i knew this from watching the 2006 world cup in germany; there are 11 men on a side, and a penalty kick (from 12 yards) is referred to as an “elfmeter” try. so i went looking through the grid for the five ELFs (elves?), and … i only found four. this was yesterday. i didn’t have much time, so this morning i woke up and had another look, and yes, there was the fifth one. all five were hiding backwards in a longer answer, two across and three down:

  • {Bloodletting tools of old} are FLEAMS. i do not know this word, but i’m squeamish enough that i’m okay with that.
  • {Think (upon)} is REFLECT.
  • {Meat} is FLESH.
  • {Lang. of Belgium} is FLEM., as in flemish. this is fairly weak as abbreviations go, but i’ll give it a pass because it can’t be all that easy to hide ELF in a longer answer with the necessary constraints (as we’ll see below).
  • finally, {Shooting skill} is RIFLERY.

so then. what to make of USE HIDING PLACES? the ELFs are hidden in 10d, 23a, 31d, 38d, and 55a. that doesn’t look too promising. but what about the other letters in the hiding places? now we’re onto something: with the AMS from FLEAMS, RECT from REFLECT, SH from FLESH, M from FLEM, and RIRY from RIFLERY, you can jumble them all together to get the following two-word phrase: MERRY CHRISTMAS! a fitting answer to a puzzle that was posted on 12/25, and also my message to you in this final MGWCC blog post of 2009.

hope you’re all well. i’ll catch up when i’m back to health and home.

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16 Responses to MGWCC #82

  1. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Thanks for blogging-while-ill (that’s a BWI), Joon.

    I had to give up on the meta. I wasn’t getting anywhere. In retrospect, I should have looked at the non-FLE portions of the hidden-elf answers, because there’d have to be a compelling reason for Matt to include an entry like FLEAMS or FLEM. Given the availability of possible entries like FLEW IN and FLENSE, FLEE and FLEW and FLEA—why these lame entries? Because their non-ELF letters were key.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    It wasn’t INNER ELF?


  3. Brian says:

    My main struggle with the meta was that the ‘places’ where the ELFs were hidden were consistent. They were always at the top of the down entries, and centered in the across entries. That, to me, explained the use of the strange RIFLERY, and the absence of some more common words like WAFFLE or SHUFFLE. So I spent much time trying to make NORTH POLE make sense (with the tops of the down entries representing the NORTH part). Could POLE, in its myriad definitions, possibly mean ‘center’? Apparently not.

    Early on I considered anagramming the extra letters, but my favorite web-based anagram solver tool (blush) doesn’t include CHRISTMAS in its dictionary. I suppose that’s what I get for attempting to cheat…

  4. Alex says:

    Okay, someone has to come clean and admit they submitted “Merry Christmas” without figuring out what was going on. (Not me – I actually figured it out)

    This is another pretty amazing feat of construction. We can forgive FLEAMS and FLEM this time.

  5. Hugh says:

    I echo Alex’s observation about the construction of the puzzle and congratulated Matt this way:

    Another feat of construction: Find (a) five words, (b) totaling 29 letters, (c) each with consecutive string F-L-E in them, (d) have the remaining 14 letters anagram to your appropriate message, and (e) then fit these babies and three hints into an entertaining grid. Bravo!

    I was a little surprised that Matt did not use the Faulkner trilogy character FLEM Snopes but had no problem with the Flemish abbreviation.

  6. Meg says:

    I struggled a long time with the meta, cursing Matt for a puzzle that was supposed to be the easiest of the month! I thought the answer would be a synonym for “USE HIDING PLACES” in 2 words including ELF, like “___________ yourself” (And I knew it wasn’t the most obvious). I finally took the phrase literally and got the meta.

    Hours later I went back to the title, trying to see how it fit the puzzle. Tried to anagram “YOUR SECRET SANTA” and figured it would have something to do with SATAN. Amazingly those 3 words yield quite a few 2 word phrases, but none seemed appropriate. Maybe someone else has a clue about the title.

    Kudos to Matt for a feat of crossword engineering! And Joon, I hope you feel better soon.

  7. Brian says:

    Amazing construction feat, indeed! For a while I disregarded the possibility of the extra letters being significant because I thought it would be impossible, from a construction standpoint, for Matt to have picked words that included FLE and a magical combination of other letters. He proved me wrong!

    Maybe hidden elves are Santa’s secret?

  8. Aaron says:

    As I mentioned to Matt, I kept trying to make USE HIDING PLACES into something different–as in, what if there were U’s hiding in the word “elf”? Or the word “fle”? I thought I was onto something when I got “FL(U)E,” since one of Santa’s secrets is how he comes down the chimney (i.e., FLUE), and I was even thinking of magic–the Harry Potter kind–before stepping back and deciding to, on a whim, check the other letters. How merry I was then, indeed.

  9. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Bah, Humbug! :)

    Foiled by the old Purloined Letter trick!

    Since this was supposed to be the easiest puzzle of the month, I should have just guessed Merry Christmas without a clue as to how it was arrived at. As it was, my best guess (not good enough to submit) was “Keebler Elves.” figuring they might be hidden in their tree. Ah, for an easy meta like the strings of four letters in reverse order!

    Happy New Year, and a healthy assortment of new puzzles to all!

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks for the notes, I’m glad this one went over well.

    FLEAMS and FLEM. were certainly suboptimal but, as Joon mentioned, ELF-hiding ain’t easy! I wrote out every combination of *FLE* words and their remainder letters, and fitting both M’s and three R’s in was tricky, so I had to go with the ancient bloodletting tools.

  11. Jan (danjan) says:

    I’ll raise my hand for thinking about all the unused letters, taking a look at them (without writing them down), and then not coming up with anything. Oh, well, Merry Christmas!

  12. Evad says:

    I think Peter Abide and Amy are onto something…if you find fill that seems suspicious (the NORI/IRON and CAPUT/TUPAC of a couple of weeks ago and the FLEM and FLEAMS of this week’s), look there for the seeds of the meta. (Then again Matt could just be having an off day with his fill just to mess with our minds.)

    It’s funny, I immediately thought of using the leftover letters with the ELF entries (after quickly dismissing that the entries themselves made some type of picture when colored in), but I had to put them all down before I first got CHRISTMAS and saw that the letters of MERRY were left. Probably the most familiar 2 word phrase in our language, and I was playing Jumble with the letters to the end.

  13. abide says:

    4 for 4 this month-woot!

    I saw the ELFs early on, aided by the mysterious HERMANFORELEVEN ( an elf is peewee, so no problem there), and spent an hour trying to decipher the “hiding places”–this included making a CC grid to black in the ELFs. Getting very weary by this time. I would have just turned in “Merry Christmas” if I hadn’t stumbled into using the other letters. Threw the jumble into OneAcross and “CHRISTMAS MERRY” came up. Whew! Rest my rich arms!

  14. Mary Lou says:

    Argh! An anagram!!!! It must be like hidden answers in crytic crosswords clues – always the last to be figured out.

    And I did not figure this out! I got as far as trying to make words from the rest of the ELF answers…did not go any where with that!

    Thanks! – and Happy New Year.

    Mary Lou

  15. Ben Bass says:

    Too tough for me too. I got the ELF translation, and after that, well… Merry Christmas, everybody!

  16. Spencer says:

    Annoyingly, the internet anagram server does not give back “Merry Christmas” as an anagram for “Merry Christmas”!

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