MGWCC #138

 crossword 5:45 (paper)
puzzle 0:05 (to, um, get it wrong) 


hello, fellow solvers, and welcome to the 138th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Three-Piece Suite.” in this week’s contest, we are looking for the two grid entries which, when combined, would complete this puzzle’s theme pattern. okay, then, what’s the theme?

  • {Gunk that builds up on a musical instrument?} is SITAR TARTAR. eww.
  • {Stylish person at the 2014 Olympics?} is a SOCHI CHICHI. the MGWCC continues to be the only place i have even heard of this city which will be hosting the olympics in 3 years. in other news, i didn’t know that CHICHI was a noun, unless we’re talking about the golfer.
  • {Single math puzzle thrown in with all the sudoku?} is a TOKEN KENKEN. hey, sudoku has math, too. there’s no arithmetic involved, but nevertheless quite a bit of mathematical content. it’s really fascinzzz… oh, sorry, where was i?
  • {Candy from an African nation?} is a GABON BONBON.

so, the meta. i took the aforementioned five seconds to spot {Repetitive dance, so to speak} CANCAN at 5a and its partner {“Yes, ___!” (2009 Ben & Jerry’s flavor)} PECAN (nice clue, btw) in the center of the grid, and dashed off PECAN CANCAN as my answer. in so doing i flagrantly disregarded matt’s advice accompanying his new “one entrant, one answer” rule to please think twice before submitting my answer. oops?

anyway, the right answer is actually FEMUR MURMUR, because of the “completes the theme pattern” wording of the instructions, and because the four theme answers use the vowels A, E, I, and O in their repeated trigrams. i didn’t even notice that there were two possible answers lurking—a devious trick, but the rule change was definitely fair warning. but unlike in MGWCC #94, there was no warning in the grid itself. if i had spotted both, would i have chosen correctly? i suspect so, but i’m going to say right now, and i hope it doesn’t sound like sour grapes, that in retrospect, i think it’s a bit weak. the theme is really about the presence of the repeated trigram, the second and third as a single 6-letter word. the vowel seems pretty incidental to the whole thing. i might be more convinced if the theme answers had all been acrosses, and therefore had a well-defined order so that the vowel progression could have been in sequence. but arranging them in pinwheel fashion made it much easier, i’m sure, for matt to include the extra short answers for both the actual answer and the red herring.

so—i blew the meta, and i’m going to chalk it up as a careless error, like the meta back in #100 where i miscounted the letters in the grid and sent in the wrong scrabble tile. more troubling, actually, is the sensation i’ve had since about 1 minute into the puzzle, that i’ve seen this theme before, and it was from matt. it’s not from a previous MGWCC, thankfully, but there’s this onion puzzle, which is similar but even more ambitious, with answers like KEN, KENKEN KENYAN. but still, it’s largely the same, and with many of the same words (KENKEN, TARTAR, CANCAN… oh wait). so that was kind of disappointing.

okay, okay, i know what you’re saying, because matt is also saying it to me at 42a: {Quit whining} = BUCK UP. quick fill roundup:

  • {___ Bean Co. (Mexican restaurant in Staunton, Va.)} is BAJA, and that is not a punny restaurant name, unfortunately. but i guess if ben tausig can clue his grandpa’s patent, matt gaffney can clue the mexican joint in his hometown.
  • speaking of self-referential, {MGWCC, e.g.} is a BLOG.
  • {Ceded for some time} LOANED and {Got back} RETOOK form a nice pair of consecutive entries. makes having RETOOK in the grid at all somewhat palatable.
  • {JPEG alternative} is EPS, but no, not really. has anybody ever used eps files except when formatting latex?
  • {Pole vaulting to prominence, in the 1980s} is notable pole lech WALESA. tortured clue, yes (necessary to put “vaulting” in the present tense), but it had me going for a second there.
  • {Puzzling Martin} is HERBACH, of {Puzzle-loving group, with “The”} CRU.
  • {Word on many crossword book covers} is EASY. not the ones i dig, even though they’re by far the best sellers, according to will shortz (who would know).
  • {Fur-covered place} is a CAT BED. does everybody still remember the name of matt’s new cat? sure. and the model of his new car? okay, but how about his middle name? and his cell phone number? (should i be checking my mail for that restraining order?)
  • {Turns in} is NARCS ON. good answer.
  • {“You get it!”} is a very auction-specific clue for “SOLD!” but it’s much livelier than, say, {Vended}.

that’s it from me. time to start a new streak next week, i guess.

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55 Responses to MGWCC #138

  1. otis says:

    I finished the puzzle happily turning in Pecancancan and went to close the browser page that I loaded the puzzle from and saw the warning about being careful about it being week 3 and knew that I had just submitted the wrong answer. Nerts.

  2. Al Sanders says:

    I saw both answers, but couldn’t figure out which fit the pattern, so I took a 50/50 shot and sent in PECAN CANCAN. Oh well.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    I saw MURMUR but didn’t notice FEMUR so I knew PECAN CANCAN was the right choice, or my name isn’t Crosscan.


  4. Barbara says:

    Arrghh! I chose CATBED EBBED because I had Otis on my mind. I was purr-fectly wrong.

  5. mitchs says:

    That’s nothing. I sent in WECANCANCAN. WOKE? Where in God’s name did I come up with that? Don’t Facebook, but sheesh, you gotta guess better than that!

  6. SethG says:

    I got it right, but I only picked FEMUR because it was less obvious than PECAN, not because I found the pattern.

  7. Eric Maddy says:

    KENKEN and CANCAN — gotta love a constructor who can have a sense of humor about the comment-thread abuse he took last week.

    Martin HERBACH had me going for a minute — he must be another one of those players waived by Mark Cuban….

  8. Michael M says:

    I submitted PECAN CANCAN without a second thought. Damn.

  9. Neville says:

    Here’s what tipped me off to CANCAN being wrong – the clue mentions that it is repetitive! That would be far to obvious for Matt Gaffney. :)

  10. Dan F says:

    I got lucky because I noticed MURMUR toward the end of the solve, when I knew what the theme was. Didn’t scour the grid, or think about why a Week 3 meta would be so simple.

    Heh, that was the first Martin I thought of too!

  11. Dave White says:

    No real aha! moment here on picking this vs. FEMUR-MURMUR, except that the PE in PECAN matches the other two letter theme starts of SI-TO-GA-SO in that all can be three letter words with the addition of a “P” (SIP-TOP-GAP-SOP-PEP) and the title of the puzzle is Three-Piece Suits, so I took the third letter P as three-“piece” and submitted PECAN-CANCAN.

  12. Karen says:

    Ditto Michael M.

    I’ve think the last I heard of Sochi was a report on the Russian curling team trying to get in shape for the Olympics. I’ve been referring it to as ‘that Russian city’ myself.

  13. Evad says:

    Another PECAN here as well. Like Dan F., I first started to work with MURMUR since it was one of my last entries, but in looking for its pair, found CANCAN first, and changed my search for a -CAN. I think having FEMUR as a down entry where everything else was across made it harder to see. I wish I had seen it, since I would’ve enjoyed the struggle of trying to figure out which pair to submit.

  14. Charles Montpetit says:

    Didn’t spot the AEIOU pattern, but since CANCAN was in the top row and PECAN dead center, I thought those were way too obvious to be anything but decoys. I toyed with the idea of sending in PECANCANCAN and FEMURMURMUR as single entries (just like HEAVENCANWAIT was considered a single theme answer last week, even though it was split in two in the grid), but in the end, I chose FEMUR and MURMUR simply because I figured that was Matt’s way of getting back at those who sent their answers with an incomplete grid last October to prove that they had cleverly figured out the meta without doing the whole puzzle (I’m looking at you, Delfin and Reynaldo).

  15. Alex says:

    i hope it doesn’t sound like sour grapes, that in retrospect, i think it’s a bit weak. the theme is really about the presence of the repeated trigram, the second and third as a single 6-letter word. the vowel seems pretty incidental to the whole thing.

    I kind of feel the same way. Even when I learned that FEMUR MURMUR was right, I didn’t see why.

  16. Aaron says:

    I’m still hoping mine’ll be accepted on account of my reasoning and neurosis for always picking (what turns out to be) the wrong answer anyway:

    “Each answer fits a different pattern; the CAN in CANCAN sounds different from the CAN in PECAN (like all the other entries do, though SITAR TARTAR actually has three different sounds…). Then again, FEMUR MURMUR uses a “U”, whereas TARTAR, KENKEN, CHICHI, and BONBON have used the other four vowels . . .”

    Considering that the vowels weren’t in the same place in each theme answer (CHICHI), nor in order, and that the previous puzzle had used sounds, I’m sort of bummed out that I talked myself into going with PECAN CANCAN after all.

  17. *David* says:

    Matt warned us all, which was the give away for me that I had to do a double take. I first saw MURMUR as I completed the puzzle and then remembered CANCAN on top. The fact remains that you need to find some logic for why one answer takes precedence over the other. The AEIOU theme was pretty evident eliminating the nut.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Exactly, *David*.

  19. Thomas says:

    My tortured rationale for sending in PECAN CANCAN was that TAR, BON, KEN, CHI, and CAN are all common fill entries, whereas MUR isn’t.

  20. Matt Gaffney says:

    What “theme pattern” is “completed” by PECAN CANCAN? AEIO + U completes a pattern. PECAN CANCAN does not.

    Not understanding this puzzle’s reception here at all. This was Week 3, I gave a couple of warnings to look twice, etc.

    Oh well.

  21. jllaf says:

    I chose CANCAN, but it may have been subliminal – I solved the puzzle while on a plane on the way back from CANCUN. (Really.) Maybe I shoulda gone to BURMA instead.

  22. Aaron says:

    My confusion was that PECAN CANCAN completed a different pattern (as I mentioned above and in my entry), one that seemed stronger than the A, E, I, O, U one. In each of the theme entries, the repeated three-letter word was pronounced differently in the first word (on its own) than in the second word (with itself). The CAN in PECAN and in CANCAN sound different; the MUR in FEMUR and MURMUR sound the same. That’s an audible pattern, especially coming after last week’s audible pattern.

    I’m not asking for a recount, though, just explaining where I’m at least coming from.

  23. Jeffrey says:

    “The CAN in PECAN and in CANCAN sound different”.

    Not to me, but that was last weeks debate.

  24. sandirhodes says:

    Matt, I think the most important aspect of this is that you took last week’s abuse and just threw it right back in our faces.

    “Here ya go! can & ken AGAIN! Go ahead, SUBMIT it! I DARE you!!”

    Gotta LOVE it. You are rapidly either becoming the best, or distancing yourself from the rest. I’m not qualified to choose.

    (Oh, and for the rest of you, yes, I submitted it without even LOOKING for another candidate. FAIL!!!)

  25. Aaron says:

    Jeffrey, that’s why I carefully went through Merriam Webster this week and had *it* pronounce each of the words for me, and why I thought that this *was* the logic for selling PECAN CANCAN over FEMUR MURMUR — if not for last week’s puzzle, I’d have never considered the sounds of the words. There is a very distinct difference in sound to each of the theme entries.

  26. hirschho says:

    Solving the meta that joon got wrong – priceless.

    It may never happen again.


  27. sandirhodes says:


    I’ve heard (and used) them all.

    This much debate can only be a feather in Matt’s cap.

  28. Matt Gaffney says:

    Aaron — that pronunciation similarity doesn’t “complete this puzzle’s theme pattern,” though. I chose the word “complete” carefully — A E I O U is a well-known set of five, so by adding the U to A E I O you clearly “complete a pattern.”

  29. Aaron says:

    That’s true, I was thinking of “complete” in the sense of “continue,” because I don’t consider a pattern to “complete.” But that’s a semantic misreading on my part; again, I’m not arguing the answer — still loving the puzzles — just kicking myself for noticing both possibilities, giving arguments for both, and then still choosing the wrong one.

  30. Matt Gaffney says:

    OK, no sweat. I think I’m still sensitive from last week’s brouhaha.

  31. pannonica says:

    Brouha haha?

  32. Anne E says:

    Two weeks in a row I get the right answer for the totally wrong reason. Finished the CANCAN area first, vaguely noticed that CANCAN looked like it would relate to the theme entries, and thought to myself, “Remember this CANCAN entry for later”, then continued on and finished the MURMUR area. Then saw FEMUR nearby and sent in FEMUR MURMUR, totally forgetting I had seen CANCAN earlier (and not that much earlier, either, sigh – like only about two minutes). I also had the same thought that this was an awfully easy week 3 meta, a comment I almost made with my entry and then was very glad I didn’t! Young ‘uns, this is what happens when you’re my age… your ability to remember anything doesn’t, apparently, last even two minutes.

    After he questioned me on what I had and hadn’t seen (very embarrassing), Matt ended up having to explain the theme to me in words of one syllable. :-) I told him he should eliminate my name from both last week’s and this week’s list of correct solvers, since I had no idea what I was doing either time and backed into the correct solutions completely by accident!

    I’m mad I didn’t see them both at the same time, though – I would have enjoyed trying to figure out which one was correct.

  33. pannonica says:

    Repeated the initial (non-repeated) components, in each case yielding a recognizable word, name, or phrase: sí sí, Toto, so-so, and gaga. Using this approach, Pepe was good but “fefe” was not. Concern that this didn’t seem to address the specifically-worded instructions to complete the pattern turned out to be justified.

  34. rmac says:

    I came *this* close to getting all smarty-pants and submitting PECAN CANCAN before completely filling in the grid. Fortunately, I took the “one entry per person” admonition to heart and decided I’d better look for an incomplete pattern first. When I did that, I saw the A-E-I-O and the completing MURMUR right away, but had a strangely hard time finding FEMUR (I guess because it went down instead of across).

    Anyway, the “aha” was real satisfying and I’ve been patting myself on the back ever since. Too bad about that “pride comes before the fall” thing, which will surely bite me in the butt next week.

    — Russ

  35. Joanna says:

    I went all smarty-pants and submitted PECAN CANCAN before finishing the grid :(

  36. abide says:

    I considered both PECAN and FEMUR for 2 days before submitting PECAN. There is a slight pronunciation difference but I knew I was flipping a coin.

    I did consider vowels on the left side of entries but must have been blinded by the offcenter I of SOCHICHICHI. Had Matt used the more elegant SATINTINTIN, I’m sure I would have seen it. ;-)

  37. SHAW says:

    Diabolical! I was fooled too, and missed the hint buried in the new rule. That teaches me to ever think anything in a Gaffney post could possibly be a coincidence. And there goes my perfect 2011.

  38. Mike says:

    Surprised that no one has mentioned this yet: There is, in fact, an order to the theme entries, if you start with 17A and proceed clockwise.

    I myself noticed both CANCAN and MURMUR and struggled mightily all weekend trying to gather evidence for either choice. CANCAN was winning until I noticed the vowels and had the telltale MGWCC head-slap moment.

  39. Jason Feng says:

    I got TOKENKENKEN and SITARTARTAR early and while the answer wasn’t apparent at first, I saw the letters TO and SI and was convinced the answer had to do with Matt’s cats. But GA and SO didn’t go with FE or PE (or does Matt have a pet tarantula named PEGASO?). I love it / hate it when his crosswords reference something from the last week or month….

  40. John says:

    Aaron, that’s hilarious. I did *exactly* the same thing, right down to the pronunciations. The “complete” bugged me but I was prepared to punt at that point and play the 50/50 odds.

  41. Aaron says:

    John, I’m glad I wasn’t alone on this one. I’ve spent so long talking myself into solutions for Matt’s puzzles (even when they’re very clearly the right answer) that I was worried that I was, to some extent, able to convince myself that either one would correctly be part of a pattern. To those who merely fell into the trap of picking the first one they saw, consider this the equivalent of seeing the trap, dodging it, finding another, jumping over it, and then walking back over to investigate and falling in.

  42. sandirhodes says:

    You know, I think we should all be VERY VERY afraid of next week. I’m thinking we haven’t even come close to seeing the end of all this!!!

  43. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I wrestled with many of the same approaches as everyone else. The “want to submit answer before finishing crossword,” the “split off first syllables,” the “compare pronunciations.” Nothing seemed to form a pattern! Nothing! Eventually, after coming back to the puzzle again and again over a period of hours, the pattern bubbled up and I had a passable (but not overly satisfying) reason to submit FEMUR MURMUR.

    Matt, how many entrants submitted the right answer this week?

  44. Ron says:

    I also picked pecan cancan. My reasoning was that the four repeats in the theme entries – tar, chi, bon, and ken are actual words. Since can is also a word but mur is not, I thought femur murmur would not be the right one. I think the fact that the repeats are words, as is can but not mur, is completing a pattern as much as using the 5 vowels is completing a pattern. Why is the vowel pattern more acceptable than the word pattern?

  45. Matt Gaffney says:

    Amy —

    135 got FEMUR MURMUR
    168 sent in PECAN CANCAN

  46. rmac says:

    Ron, one answer to your question is that the vowel pattern is incomplete without the fifth element. The same is not true for the word pattern that you noticed.

    — Russ

  47. Ron says:

    Russ – but it’s still a pattern, right? It could just as well have been Matt’s chosen pattern, no?

  48. pannonica says:

    Ron: I interpret pattern in this context—especially with the admonishment that it requires completion—as meaning something more akin to a sequence than a general characteristic or quality. While it’s true that in examining them as a group, one can see an individual “pattern” that each of them possesses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that together they themselves form a pattern.

    Besides, bon is a stretch to be considered a word on its own. The (still free) OED lists two senses: in one, it’s used as an integral part of several phrases adopted from French (bon apetit, bon mot, bon voyage, et al.), but never alone. In the other, it’s a “Japanese Buddhist festival held annually in August to honour the dead; …[the] Lantern Festival.” In neither sense does it have significant currency as an English word.

  49. rmac says:

    Ron, what pannonica said, especially in her first paragraph. I think the “completion” part is the key.

    — Russ

  50. jimmy d says:

    Meta was great… I seriously considered sending PECANCANCAN with the puzzle about 75% done… but that seemed too easy. So, I finished the puzzle, saw FEMURMURMUR, weighed the options between the two answers, saw the vowel pattern, had a nice a-ha… on to the next one!!!

  51. zifmia says:

    I saw an answer that matched the pattern right away and sent it in.

    Fortunately it was FEMURMURMUR.

    Didn’t know I totally missed half of the theme until reading this. I guess it makes up for being in the TWO camp last week.

  52. Steve says:

    Mitchs, don’t feel bad.
    I too thought the answer might be WE CAN CANCAN.
    Did not even think to Google the clue at 37-across
    to learn the flavor is “Yes, Pecan!” (Guess I had Obama on my mind)

    But the WE CAN did not fit what I thought was the theme pattern:
    it’s two words, instead of one 5-letter word.
    So got lucky by submitting FEMUR MURMUR.


  53. Ben B. says:

    What Dan F and Zifmia said: I was lucky enough to notice MURMUR before CANCAN and never got furfurther thanthan that.

    Also appreciate the KENKEN clue distinguishing sudoku puzzles from math puzzles. Too often sudoku is referred to as a math exercise by casual observers who see numbers and conclude “math.” Au contraire, a sudoku is a logic puzzle; Kenken is part logic, part math (or at least arithmetic).

  54. James Schooler says:

    Mike — Garrett Hildebrand and I have been calling the “MGWCC head-slap moment” the “V8 moment” (remember the old V8 juice commercials?). Perhaps we should change our moments’ name…

  55. Toby says:

    I sent in FEMUR MURMUR, along with the following suggestion:

    “… to truly complete the set, perhaps you should have found room for:

    {Togolese “Toodle-oo”}

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