MGWCC #129

crossword 8:48 (paper)
puzzle 3:44

mgwcc129greetings, friends, and welcome to the 129th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Our True Enemy Has Yet to Reveal Himself.” this puzzle has four goofy theme entries:

  • {Cold War balalaika player?} is a KGB MUSICIAN. let me hear your balalaikas ringing out, m’kay?
  • {What Aussie students eat in their Cambridge dorm rooms?} is HARVARD VEGEMITE. i am trying to remember if i knew any aussies at harvard. i think the answer is no. also, vegemite is totally gross.
  • {Boxing fan who always roots for Joe?} is a FRAZIER LOYALIST.
  • {Buddhists watching movies on tape?} are VHS TIBETANS. somebody tell those guys it’s 2010.

what do these have in common? my first thought was it was something to do with the letters in them, because of KGB and VHS. but that didn’t go anywhere. and besides, HARVARD and FRAZIER aren’t initialisms. anagramming seemed a little random and not very likely, so i didn’t bother. then i re-checked the title: what’s this about “our true enemy”? it hit me pretty quickly: the antagonist/opponent/rival of the first word is hidden in the second word of each theme phrase. so the CIA is lurking in MUSICIAN to foil the KGB; MIT is inside VEGEMITE to (attempt to) rival harvard; frazier’s great foe ALI is bobbing and weaving inside LOYALIST; and BETA(max) is within TIBETANS, crying out, “hey! remember me?” i found it personally hilarious that matt made harvard’s rival MIT, rather than yale, on the weekend of the harvard-yale football game (which nobody cares about, as established last week).

so what is the meta answer? the instructions tell us that This week’s contest answer is an eleven-letter phrase comprised of two fill entries in this grid. When combined they make an excellent fifth theme entry. inspired by KGB and VHS, i found this quickly: IBM at 19a, clued as {Co. that turns 100 next summer}, and SNAPPLES at 38d, clued {Drinks “Made From The Best Stuff On Earth”}. awkward plural, but it works. anyway, IBM’s rival APPLE is hidden within SNAPPLES. i guess this explains why it had to be plural, so that the enemy would be fully contained—but maybe GRAPPLED would have been a better choice?

i thought this meta was much easier than last week’s. in particular, the title was even more helpful than usual. on the other hand, the crossword was really tough, with some insanely devilish clues. i haven’t done a fill roundup in a while, so here goes:

  • right off the bat at 1a, {Crossword tournament act} got me. i had SOLVING, but none of the crosses worked. fittingly enough, the correct answer was ERASURE, which i was doing a lot of.
  • {Admin} for MOD is a much more modern clue (so to speak) than the usual 1960s reference. i really liked it.
  • {Respectful opening} is the prefix DIS-. i had SIR. {Old finish} for -STER did not have me fooled, though. on the whole there were more suffixes in the grid than i like, with -IDE and -ESE.
  • {“Nacho Libre” actress ___ de la Reguera} ANA? no clue.
  • {Cashew or pecan} is a pretty nasty trap. everybody had NUT, right? me too. only it’s OIL. i can’t say as i’ve ever heard of cashew oil or pecan oil.
  • {Canine covering} is always, always ENAMEL. but this time, it wasn’t. i almost convinced myself it referred to actual dogs… but no, it’s PLAQUE. a dirty triple-cross!
  • {Download site} is CNET. i’ve used this site often, but i’ve never seen it in a crossword. i guess it’s the anti-ETSY.
  • {Grazed on maize} is a clue for ATE that doesn’t rhyme the way i say it (maïze).
  • {Getting people to your website via Google, for short} is SEO, which apparently stands for search engine optimization. i was not fond of this clue, because i had to google it afterwards to see what it stood for. how about korean former MLB pitcher jae SEO? he’s not all that famous, but at least once you get the letters you know what you’re looking at. although you would have to get the letters. this random TLA crossed two things i had no clue about: {“The Godfather” turncoat played by Abe Vigoda} TESSIO at the second S, and {___’s Fruit Bars} EDY at the D. i managed to guess both right, but i was not feeling good about those crossings.
  • {GM (!) held one this week} is an IPO. timely clue, but i didn’t know that. ! indeed.
  • {Stalking fan on “Flight of the Conchords”} is MEL. yeah, no idea. everything i know about this show i’ve learned from crosswords, which is kind of surprising. one of the guys is named jermaine, or maybe jemaine, clement, or maybe clemens. he was in a jonesin’ theme last year.
  • {Where the oceans aren’t wet} is a pretty tough clue for ATLASES. i was thinking MARS.
  • {Late 1990s judge on “The People’s Court”} is ED KOCH. i couldn’t figure out why WAPNER didn’t work with SOLVING. turns out that it’s because both were wrong.
  • {Prairie city} is REGINA. canadian content!
  • {___City (classic computer game)} is SIM, and this was the gimme that finally got me to erase SOLVING.
  • {A small number of gladiators} is UNUS, which must be latin for “one” in some declension. i was kind of dreading/fearing that the answer would be VIII or some such.
  • {Carm, really} is EDIE falco, who plays carm soprano on “nurse jackie.”
  • {___ tais} is just MAI. now, {Mai ___} is pretty much the only way to clue TAIS, but for MAI, why stick the plural in there? just to up the awkwardness?
  • {Webster or Boone, e.g.} is DAN’L.
  • {Cuban concoction} is a DAIQUIRI. i had no idea this was cuban. the name doesn’t look cuban at all, does it?
  • {“You caught me!”} is I’M BUSTED, my favorite entry in the grid. it’s only one letter off from I’M BUSHED, which would also be cool.
  • {Rounds, among friends} are AMMO, although you might look into hanging out with less violent friends.
  • {Company founded by Nolan Bushnell in 1972} is ATARI. i just saw this clue in a patrick berry weekend warrior i was doing the other day from patrick’s puzzle pandemonium.
  • {They’re rarely freshmen: abbr.} is a good clue for RAS. of course, the answer could be lots of other things: MDS, PHDS, RNS, VPS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICES.
  • {Stock pages abbr.} is YLD, for yield. i had YTD for a good long while.
  • {Dubuquers et al.} are IOWANS. dubuquer dubuquer dubuquer.
  • {Torre pendente di ___ (famed landmark)} is, i think, the dodgers manager hanging of PISA. but my italian is a bit rusty.
  • {Dickens heroine} is NELL, of the old curiosity shop. i always want to spell that olde (and shoppe), but it’s not.
  • {Word on Montana’s state quarter} is another trick—i had ORO, because the state motto is “oro y plata.” but it’s just SKY, because the quarter says “big sky country.”

that’s all for me this week. leave your best IBM SNAPPLES clue in the comments.

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28 Responses to MGWCC #129

  1. Jeffrey says:

    I got this when FRAZIER made me think of ALI.

    Big Blue bottles?

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    166 correct answers this week. A lot of people mentioned that it took a long time.

    Most popular incorrect answer: EITHER BORER, with 5 entries.

  3. john farmer says:

    Because EITHER and OR are archrivals going way back?

    I bet half the 166 got it from the title. I did.

    WAPNER messed up my NW for a long time.

  4. George says:

    Clueless for two straight weeks. UGH.

    So “IBM Snapples” is an eleven-letter PHRASE?

  5. Evad says:

    I find it very interesting how these metas illustrate what clicks with some people and not others. I didn’t even have to finish last week’s puzzle before I saw the pattern in the theme entries, but this week was not as easy. I probably wouldn’t have gotten it at all if we weren’t told the hidden entries were in total 11 letters and that IBM followed the KGB/VHS pattern (though it didn’t have to). If I were to guess how my brain works (or doesn’t), last week’s puzzle followed a very rigid pattern, whereas this week’s was a bit more free-form (or is that “freestyle”? ;) where the rival of the first word was buried somewhere in the second word.

    It also helped to figure out that the clues couldn’t be part of the meta, since the missing answer would be clueless (not unlike I was for a while there!)

    And, for the record, the title didn’t help me a whit (except for final confirmation).

    Bravo, MG!

  6. joecab says:

    George: Matt didn’t say it was a COMMON phrase ;)

    The title of the puzzle was a big help in coming up with the answer. But I was expecting fewer correct answers than last week.

  7. *David* says:

    The puzzle was what this week was all about. It was a tough bugger to finish. I sat on DEMINED/UNUS/EDIE forever, I even had to walk away and punch the teddy bear (never the wombat).

    The meta: I figured out the general outline when I saw VHS and BETA after finishing the first quarter of the puzzle from the bottom. The title brought it together and I quickly found the remainder of the themes. IBM SNAPPLES was a quick find to conclude the day.

    I guess my only question to the techies is IBM and APPLE really enemies or foes? They seem to be in completely different businesses and are more contrasting tech companies versus enemies like Apple and Microsoft or HP and Oracle.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    The NUT for OIL and ENAMEL for PLAQUE traps were intentional.

    The WAPNER for ED KOCH trap at 1-down was, believe it or not, serendipitous (especially odd since it works with NUT, as many solvers mentioned!).

  9. Hugh says:

    Title led me right to the meta. My feeble fifth clue was: Big Blue’s Real Facts refreshments. Judge Wapner had me for way too long, too.

  10. Matt S. says:

    Can any Australian explain the appeal of vegemite?

  11. Al Sanders says:

    I backsolved this in a way. Before I made the enemy connection, I looked at TLA + 8-letter-word combos that might match KGB MUSICIAN and VHS TIBETANS. IBM SNAPPLES seemed like the most logical choice, for no particular reason. Once I looked at that phrase, I noticed the IBM/APPLE connection, which then led me to notice the enemy pairs in the other theme entries. Geez, talk about taking the long way around to get to the answer.

    I have to note that when I was at MIT, we referred to Harvard as “That little liberal arts school up the river” :-).

    Joon, I assume you were joking that Edie Falco played Carmela Soprano on “Nurse Jackie”? LOL. She seemed pretty surprised to win the Best Comedy Actress Emmy Award this year (“I’m not even funny!”).

  12. John says:

    Since when is Harvard a rival of MIT?? When did MIT get a football team???

  13. jimmyd says:

    The title is a quote from the Sopranos where Silvio is doing Godfather impressions… so, of course Matt references both with Carm & Tessio…

    I also like the way each theme clue gives you the milieu for each rivalry: Cold war, Cambridge, boxing, movies on tape… brilliant!

  14. Neville says:

    Another last minute right answer from me – days to solve the contest, but the crossword itself fell easily for me – ENAMEL was my biggest stumbling block.

    This week’s gonna suck.

    Fruit-flavored computers? (Take that, iMac!)

  15. Howard B says:

    I also looked for 3+8 combos, since there were those nicely stacked 8s. IBM stood out as an initialism, so that with the title eventually helped me figure it out. But not without some sweating.

    Oh, SEO(?!?!?!?) + TESSIO was just vicious. I would have known Jae Seo as well as Joon, since he had a cup of coffee with the Mets a few seasons ago, but I’d argue he’s probably just as well-known as the Googly abbreviation, to a non-baseball fan. I’ve seen the Godfather movies and still could not come up with TESSIO though.

    I have a Grand Canyon gap of film/TV knowledge that I try to fill one pebble at a time, as also evidenced by my complete lack of understanding/ken of the EDIE and MEL clues. So far there’s now a small pile of pebbles at the bottom, but the canyon continues to exist :(.

  16. Al Sanders says:

    My comment on Edie Falco’s comedy Emmy above got me thinking about her multiple Best Actress in a Drama Emmys for “The Sopranos”, which leads to an interesting trivia question (and yes, I googled for the answer).

    Who is the only other person to win both Best Lead Comedy and Lead Drama Emmys for acting?

  17. Jeffrey says:

    Didn’t Ed Asner get both for playing Lou Grant?

  18. Charles Montpetit says:

    Though I did get the IBM SNAPPLES thingy, I always try to find something else that Matt might not have thought of (remember the “A TOYOTA” meta of not so long ago? I argued that the Avalon is the only “A” Toyota currently available on the market, and backed it up by incorporating A, V, A, L, O and N into the six theme answers in a way that’s really too complicated to get into here). So on behalf of those five poor souls who sent in EITHER BORER, I say, c’mon Matt, let’s encourage a little creativity out there and admit that those answers are just as valid as the “right” one!

    I wasn’t as clever as they were this time around, for I submitted that the theme really was about “the enemy within”–and since the most famous quote on the subject is Pogo’s “We have met the enemy and he is US” (, then a more introspective solution than despicable product placement might be “eek, i’m bUSted” and damn the antagonistic dichotomies. Isn’t there enough warring in the world already?

  19. Abby says:

    I had tried THEMOON for 72A, briefly. Broke really fast. :-) I like the pair of 12 and 13 down too.

    Figured out the theme putting 64A in on my first pass. Took a couple of tries to get the answer to the puzzle.

    I was thinking “Big Blue breakroom beverage” for the answer clue, but it doesn’t contain the battlefield, so it’d have to be more like “Techies choices for refreshments” or something.

  20. Al Sanders says:

    Jeffrey, Ed Asner won Supporting Comedy for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (3 times) and Lead Drama for Lou Grant (twice), so that’s close. I’m looking for someone who won for both Lead Comedy and Lead Drama.

  21. sandirhodes says:

    Asner was my first choice … then I thought of Kelsey Grammer, whom no one seems to take seriously. My next thought was Betty White, which led me to Jean Stapleton. The next jump was easy. And I know I’m right without looking it up!!!


    Oh, and by the way, i had an email ready to send with IBM Snapples in the subject line, for absolutely no discernable reason. Didn’t send it! Sigh.

  22. Al Sanders says:

    Sandi, you got it!

  23. Zifmia says:


    Not all of these adversarial relationships are current (KGB/CIA, VHS/Beta, Frazier/Ali), and while IBM and Apple may no longer be competitors now, 20-25 years ago they certainly were.

    Now I feel old.


    Is there no form of school rivalry that doesn’t include football? For that matter, weren’t Harvard and Yale rivals before football had been invented?

  24. Karen says:

    I looked at the title, and it led me to a wikipedia page about the sopranos and a fish or a goat named Pussy, and I just couldn’t figure out where to go from there. No soup for me.

  25. joecab says:

    You know that famous “1984” Apple commercial? A lot of people think Apple was showing Microsoft as the enemy, but it was actually IBM. MS Windows didn’t even appear until the following year, and MS Word started out as a Macintosh-only product.

  26. One other pair that crossed my mind was FINEr ioWANs, but the parallelism with the other clues doesn’t hold. And those aren’t really “enemies.”

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    “Can any Australian explain the appeal of vegemite?”

    Explain your Yankee affection for peanur butter, Matt S!

  28. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Peanut butter is RIGHTEOUS, Matt.

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