MGWCC #134

crossword 6:02 (paper)
puzzle –0:10

mgwcc134merry christmas to all, and welcome to the 134th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Chorus Line.” in this week’s puzzle, we are asked to find the name of a Christmas carol. there are no overtly labeled theme answers, but the five longest entries in the grid are:

  • {Decent draw hand} is a PAIR OF NINES. fairly arbitrary, isn’t it? PAIR OF JACKS at least has some relevance (as it’s the minimum hand required to open the betting in some versions of draw), but it’s much less grid-friendly.
  • {Grapevine} is the RUMOR MILL. great entry.
  • {Fall spread out on a table} is PUMPKIN BUTTER. the clue is oddly worded. anyone else reminded of “the love song of j. alfred prufrock”? you know, “… the evening is spread out across the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table.”
  • {Severe defeat} is a PUMMELING, like the one … uh, i can’t cite a recent sports example, since i’ve been pretty much out of the loop since friday.
  • {Sole rubber} is PUMICE STONE. nice misdirection here, as you might be thinking of the bottom of your galoshes. i guess that’s one way to skin a fish.

there’s one more hint to the meta this week, which is that META itself appears in the grid, with the clue {It’s not very tough this week}. and indeed it isn’t. the “chorus line” of the little drummer boy, “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum,” is echoed in the first letters of the five long answers. so there you go.

i thought the crossword was pretty tough—tougher than either of the weekend NYT “themelesses.” but i don’t have a ton of time to blog it in detail because it’s already wednesday morning (!). here’s just a few of my favorite things:

  • {Wade-Giles alternative} is PINYIN, two different ways to romanize chinese characters. i always get them mixed up. which one is the one with Q and X for ch and sh?
  • {1970s environmentalist} is a nasty clue for dr. seuss’s LORAX. i mean, the book might have been written in the 70s, but it’s still just as popular today, so i don’t associate it with a time period.
  • {Atari 2600 rival, for short} is the NES, which kicked the 2600’s ass six ways to sunday. where was it that somebody was recently complaining about SNES as a crossword answer?
  • {Uncouth expression of surprise} is OMFG. indeed, it could be rather more couth.
  • {Chummy sentiment} is “I LIKE YOU.” aw, i’m touched, matt, but you didn’t have to go build this entire crossword around it just to tell me.
  • {Slack} is LAXNESS. i would have enjoyed seeing a clue about icelandic literature nobelist halldor LAXNESS. but maybe i’m the only one?
  • {Wore a mask to work, perhaps} is UMPIRED. nice clue.

and a few others:

  • {Walter Berndt comic strip, 1922-73} is SMITTY, and i’ve never heard of it.
  • {A la a Corkonian} is IRISHLY. seriously, is this a word? what would it mean, specifically? can one do something koreanly?
  • {Of earthquakes} is SEISMAL. i’m always kinda bummed when this turns out not to be SEISMIC, which is the word people actually use for this.
  • {NE African nation’s Olympic abbr.} is ERI. i had ETH. either way, yuck.

okay, that’s all for me. see you all in 2011!

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15 Responses to MGWCC #134

  1. Jason Feng says:

    This meta would have been a whole lot easier if I’d started on the top part of the grid, but I found myself filling in most of the bottom. As a result I had three “PUM” answers and assumed that the other two started “PUM” too.

  2. Blanche says:

    I think “fall spread out on a table” is a nicely precise clue that attempts to deceive, “spread” in this case being a noun.

    I am four for four this month, but only because the puzzles and metas have all been unusually easy. I shudder to think what the final one will do to me.

  3. Mitchs says:

    This is only my second try at these…they are great puzzles! My only “meh” was Irishly. Small price to pay for the rest.

  4. Neville says:

    4for4 so far this month.

    I know there’s often talk of ‘You see it once, and then it pops right back up’ around here. I complained to Matt last week that I wasn’t familiar with ‘how’s by you’ as a real phrase, so finding the pun was rather tricky. Well, I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone last night in which Bill Shatner goes into a fast-talking diatribe that ends with ‘how’s by you.’ Couldn’t believe it.

    Scary that I knew PINYIN right away. Never took a lesson of Chinese.

  5. sandirhodes says:

    Actually, I might have had a bigger problem with ‘Corkonian’ rather than ‘irishly.’ But I didn’t look either up, and shall assume Matt has a suitable reference or provenance.

  6. Mitchs says:

    First known use of Irishly – 1571. Next known use: 2010. KIDDING!

  7. pannonica says:

    I would never have gotten this in a million years. Always assumed the chorus of that execrable carol—really, among the worst Christmas songs out there—was something more like “ba rumpa-bum-bum.”

    And it hasn’t been around all that long. Written in 1941 and popularized in 1958 by the Harry Simeone Chorale. Coincidentally, 1958 is the year that Pinyin was published after being developed by a Chinese government committee. I felt a little weird and guilty seeing it in Matt’s puzzle since I had mentioned both it and Wade-Giles in a comment here just a few hours before he released the puzzle. (psst It’s the one with X for sh.)

  8. joon says:

    it’s definitely “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum,” as you can see here (among other places). i can’t really argue with you about the other part—it really is bad. i am at an utter loss to explain its popularity.

  9. pannonica says:

    Yes, I did a little e-checking before I posted the comment. Although there are some variations out there, the overwhelming consensus is “pa rum pum pum pum.”

    Apropos of your link, joon, according to, “At the last minute, however, Bowie read the script and objected to singing “Little Drummer Boy,” stating “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman and Buz Kohan (the show’s producers and songwriters in their own right) adjourned to the studio’s basement and in less than 90 minutes came up with the “Peace on Earth” bit that Bowie agreed to interweave with Crosby’s rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.””

    All this talk about it makes me want to reach for the rum pun-pun-punch.

  10. Jed says:

    “themelesses?” Don’t you mean, “freestyles?” :-)

  11. sbmanion says:

    Irishly: Who among you would not think some or all of these: rage, humor, wit, blarney, drunk? Is there any other ethnic group that is so stereotyped?

    As an Irishman, I find it more humorous than offensive.

    Tough puzzle.


  12. sandirhodes says:

    Then again, if not ‘Corkonian,’ er, what? Corkite? Corkaner? Corkasian?

    Lol, I amuse myself.

  13. Mitchs says:

    I thought the clue was “pair of rum pum pum pums”.

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