crossword 5:56 (paper)
puzzle 0:40
mgwcc85hello and welcome to the 85th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Aenigma Alphabetica.” i thought this was quite a bit easier than last week’s, both the crossword and the meta. but that could well be because last week’s ended up being harder than matt intended. anyway, let’s talk about the puzzle. the five overt theme answers were:

  • {Its mouth is near Mannheim} clues the RUHR RIVER.
  • {Those not yet mentioned} is EVERYONE ELSE.
  • {Higher ketchup sales when french fries become more popular, for example} is DERIVED DEMAND. man, microeconomics was a long time ago.
  • {Actor with starring roles in “Heroes,” “Felicity” and “Alias”} is apparently GREG GRUNBERG. i’ve never heard of him, and in fact when i solved this puzzle on paper i got his name wrong, with an E where the U goes.
  • {“Falcon Crest” actress} is the more familiar (but only because of crosswords) ANA ALICIA. to be honest, i don’t know what falcon crest even is. movie? show? no clue, even though it’s always in the clue for ana alicia (whether it’s her first name, last name, or both in the grid), and FALCON CREST itself was a theme answer in jonah kagan and vic “the gavel” fleming’s NYT “break FAST” puzzle last year.

right then. it’s fairly clear, isn’t it, that these answers all consist of two words (or names) both beginning and ending with the same letter? and the title is both a hint to that (“alphabetica”) and another instance, though i can’t say i’ve ever seen anybody ever use either word in the title. (maybe it’s a latin phrase? although i thought enigma was a greek word, and i know alphabet is.) so what’s the meta answer? well, the instructions this week are: This week’s contest answer is the two clues (note: clues, not grid entries!) in this puzzle that, when combined, would have made an excellent sixth theme entry. this didn’t take long either; first of all, we’re looking for one-word clues (of which there aren’t many—in fact, only four, and interestingly, they all start with S); secondly, they have to begin and end with the same letter; and thirdly, they have to go together to make an in the language phrase. it didn’t take long to find the first one, right at 1-across: {“Success!”} is YEAH. its companion is at 24-down: {Stories} for LORE. so the answer is success stories. did i ever tell you the one about figuring out a metapuzzle in 40 seconds? yeah, i thought i had.

notable entries from the fill:

  • why did i mess up GRUNBERG? the crossing answer, {Comic strip about a girl in high school}, was L_ANN. i put in LEANN without too much thought, because LEANN and GRENBERG are both plausible names. i am not familiar with this LUANN.
  • another unfamiliar answer: SHIVAS are {Week-long mourning periods}. i know shiva the hindu god, all right. he’s part of the trimurti with brahma and vishnu. but he is, sadly, unpluralizable; this SHIVA is a jewish observance lasting seven days starting from the funeral. live and learn.
  • both GREG GRUNBERG and SHIVAS were part of a corner in which i knew precious few of the across answers. the FITB song titles “___ Heart” and “Moments ___ Moments” (by bonnie raitt and stevie wonder, respectively) were of no help to me. (they’re HAVE A and AREN’T, respectively.) luckily, i was saved by knowing the downs, including {Zimbabwe’s capital}, HARARE, and the great clue {Not in any way, shape or form like this particular crossword puzzle clue} for TERSE.
  • speaking of FITB song titles i didn’t know, YER gets the clue {Tom Petty’s “___ So Bad”}. hey, matt? the beatles called, and “YER blues” wants its clue back.
  • hey, i was just telling somebody the other day (uh … yesterday?) on LA crossword confidential that AMEN-RA could sometimes be spelled AMON-RA, and look, here he is, the {Egyptian mega-god} himself. i’m not sure about the use of “mega,” though; sure, he was dualistic in aspect, but “mega” is an overstatement by a factor of 500,000.
  • ARIZONA and ALBERTA aren’t part of the theme (although i imagine that might be why matt was so explicit about the instructions), but it’s still funky to see these two seven-letter starts-and-ends-with-A states touching in the grid. admittedly one gets clued as an {Iced tea brand}, and the other as a generic {Landlocked province}.
  • {Bully’s shout} is NERD, and am i a NERD because i didn’t like the SELENIUM clue, {Element #34}? (and no, i’m not asking about why else i’m a nerd.) tell us something interesting. everybody knows about its use in xerography, right? although maybe that’s out of date already and they’re using something better.
  • where do you stand on ADVISOR versus adviser? i was originally with matt, although once i became aware that some people do it the -er way, i’ve been tempted to turn traitor. for what it’s worth, wordpress thinks ADVISOR is misspelled but adviser is okay.
  • fave clue: {Treatment once used for a serious case of depression} for the NEW DEAL.

that’s all for me. see you in the future.

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8 Responses to MGWCC #85

  1. Evad says:

    Yes, given how the recent metas have been real head-bangers, I kept thinking I was missing something after I submitted (what seemed too obvious to me to be correct) “success stories” to Matt.

    DERIVED DEMAND is a completely alien phrase to me. I mean it makes sense, but definitely nothing I’ve ever heard before.

  2. Karen says:

    NERD alert: don’t you remember that episode of Babylon 5? Commander Ivanova sat shiva for her father for a week on a space station.
    Much easier meta than last weeks, thankfully.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Falcon Crest was a prime time soap opera in the DALLAS/DYNASTY era. You have heard of those?

    Solved it quickly as well.

  4. *David* says:

    I was a bit paranoid giving in the meta answer but I’m in Matt’s head so I had a feeling he was going to overcompensate. I had the exact same incorrect square as Joon with the LUANN/GRUNBERG crossing.

  5. Meg says:

    Certainly lots of people in this puzzle. I suspect age plays a major role in which ones you know. I always knew the scandal as Iran-Contra, though maybe that was a different scandal.

    I didn’t realize for some time that the theme words also ENDED with the same letter. This made the meta seem nigh impossible! Sometimes you just have to stare at the grid until reality jumps out!

  6. Aaron says:

    Goes without saying, but the title is a themed clue, too: “Aenigma Alphabetica.” This go around, I took a page from what I’ve seen success(ful) solvers do in the past and tried to second-guess why Matt would pick such an unwieldy title. Knew GREG GRUNBERG off the bat and immediately picked out SUCCESS STORIES.

    Solving the crossword itself wasn’t any less fun post-meta, though :)

  7. mlpdyer says:

    Well, I over thought this one. The double letters in the 5 theme answers anagramed to GRADE…so I started looking at the grid for fill that began and ended with the letter A…other than the theme answer.

    I found 4 A words – Arizona, Alberta, AKA and Amonra…and then I mis-thought the instructions and came up with “AKA Amonra” as the 6th theme…..rats! The combo clue becomes a bit clunky, I must admit! “Sometimes calling oneself Egyptian mega-god” – but, hey, I’ve seen stranger METAs.

    Mary Lou

  8. Dan F says:

    Oops… I was looking for two clues that, when combined, would have CLUED an excellent theme entry! This way is much easier.

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