MGWCC #141

 crossword 4:31 (paper)
puzzle 1:04 


greetings and welcome to the 141th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “HA-HA-HA-HA!” this week, the second of literary february, we have a truly literary theme on display, with four literature-related theme clues and the task of identifying a well-known character from American literature. well, what have we got, then?

  • {First edition copies} of a book are its INITIAL PRINT RUN.
  • {The fourth of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels} is PHINEAS REDUX. whoa, never heard of this one. i’m vaguely aware of the barsetshire novels and i could probably name a few if pressed (the warden, barchester towers, and … okay, does two count as “a few”?), but the palliser novels are beyond my ken.
  • {Baltimore-born poet} is ADRIENNE RICH. you weren’t tricked into trying EDGAR ALLAN POE here, were you? although he’s the bard of baltimore, he was actually born here in boston. (and also, his name is too long to be the answer.)
  • {“That book is hardly worth finishing!”} clues “DON’T READ THE REST,” which is slightly flimsy as a crossword answer.

so who’s the famous character, and what does the title have to do with anything? it’s none other than harry angstrom, protagonist of john updike’s “rabbit” tetralogy: rabbit, RUN; rabbit REDUX; rabbit is RICH; and rabbit at REST. (i assume matt will also accept rabbit as a correct answer.) i haven’t read the books, but i’ve definitely heard of all of them*, and knew the character name. it took me a minute to realize where to look since INITIAL PRINT RUN had me looking at consecutive initials of things, but as soon as i noticed that each theme answer ended with an R word, the RUN/REDUX/RICH/REST connection jumped out at me. and what if you weren’t familiar with this character or these books? well, luckily, this is another meta that google could have solved for you, if you noticed the RRRR thing.

*: except for the 2001 novella rabbit remembered, which is kind of a sequel to the series, occurring after harry’s death. i’d never heard of that one until sitting down to write this post.

i think i’m supposed to feel more of a connection to updike than i actually do because he and i lived in the same harvard house. (by a surprising coincidence—or not, if i’ve inadvertently stumbled upon this month’s supermeta, assuming this month even has a supermeta—so did michael crichton.) but i read the centaur and it was only okay. has anybody read the rabbit books? are they worthwhile? i’m trying to do more serious reading this year and am open to recommendations.

one note on the grid: there are only 70 answers and 31 blocks, both low enough for a freestyle grid. not too many constructors would think to do that given 54 theme squares, and yet the fill is remarkably clean. there were only a handful of entries that made me wince; IN A WAR is not great, and F-TWO is remarkably arbitrary, even with matt’s souped-up chess clue {Square the white king’s bishop pawn starts a chess game on}.

on the plus side, i liked the related POWER SET and FELT IT. also, there were a ton of literary clues to enhance the monthly theme:

  • {Language in which novelist Shahriyar Mandanipour writes} is FARSI. did not recognize the name, but with the F in place, this wasn’t hard.
  • {Asimov characters, often} are ROBOTS.
  • {Book features} are SPINES. as much as i love books, though, it’s gotta have more than a spine to get me interested.
  • {She created Sula} is TONI morrison, author of sula.
  • {First word of a Hardy title} is FAR, as in far from the madding crowd. i’ve read that one, but i didn’t particularly enjoy it.
  • {Bert Bobbsey’s twin sister} is NAN.
  • {Paperback, in Britain} is LIMP. unfamiliar term for me.
  • {“Homage to Clio” poet, 1960} is w(ystan) h(ugh) AUDEN. this doesn’t sound like a poem i know.
  • {It was it was to Ovid} is ERAT. no QED clue this time? i didn’t mind at all. hey, it was what it was.

overall, it was a pretty easy crossword for me. i’m expecting a sharp uptick in difficulty for the last two weeks. how’d this one treat you all?

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32 Responses to MGWCC #141

  1. tabstop says:

    I submitted “Rabbit Angstrom” but I’m a little worried now because I had ignored the title. Hope he’s not requiring an answer that fits the HA initials.

    I got stuck on initials, mainly by starting with initial Print Run and then Phineas Redux and I was off looking for PR’s, or famous characters with those initials, or Puerto Rico, or something. Didn’t start looking at the R’s by themselves until about 9 this morning.

  2. abide says:

    Meta — 5 minutes, Title — another 5 minutes ( was thinking HA+RE at first)

    I tried to read one of the books years ago and never got through it.

    The link above is for the 1970 Rabbit movie featuring James Caan dominating a bunch of 4th graders in playground basketball.

  3. joon says:

    the instructions asked for the character, who is known as rabbit, harry, angstrom, harry angstrom, or rabbit angstrom, or even harry “rabbit” angstrom. i think you’re fine.

  4. Greggo says:

    Well, I feel stupid. I definitely noticed the RRRR thing, but didn’t even bother googling the 4 words. Clearly I am unfamiliar with the John Updike series of rabbit books. I can’t blame Gaff for this one. It was an easy xwd and apparently a very doable meta.

  5. Charles Montpetit says:

    As a foreigner, I’m sorry to say I’m not at all familiar with the Rabbit series. Instead, the beginning and the end of the theme answers (INITIAL and DON’T READ THE REST) jumped out at me. I was therefore tempted to go with IPAD (Initial, Phineas, Adrienne, Don’t), assuming that this was yet another case of product placement in American literature, but since an above-average number of authors were mentioned in both the grid and the clues, I took the initial letter of each name (Anthony Trollope, Adrienne Rich, Shahriyar Mandanipour, Asimov, Toni, Hardy, Auden). This gave me ATARSMATHA, where A was the sole vowel, appearing four times (which I guessed was what the title “HA HA HA HA” hinted at). I then ran ATARSMATHA through an anagram server and I too, tried to “let Google solve it for me” by checking out the results which looked like a character’s moniker. I got “Art Thamasa” (3 results), “Marsha Tata” (81), “Martha Sata” (38), “Matt Sahara” (435), “Sara Tatham” (1160), “Sarah Tatam” (1240), “Tamara Hats” (3700) and “Tara Asthma” (30). Ah but wait! In the grand tradition of Indiana Jones and Mississippi Jack, inverting the fourth one to “Sahara Matt” produced 12200 results, so it HAD to be the right answer, even though it was a bit, um, self-indulgent. So that’s what I sent in. Dammit.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    202 correct entries this week. Any variation of “Harry Angstrom” or “Rabbit Angstrom” or even just “Rabbit” was fine. But not “Peter Rabbit,” which three entrants submitted.

    Several solvers mentioned not grokking the title: HA = Harry Angstrom, x4 for the four novels. My original title was “Dear John,” but I thought that gave too much away and wound up changing it at the last minute.

    I messed up the other chess clue, though no one caught it. LEONID Stein was Ukrainian, not Russian. If a Soviet player wasn’t obviously from the the Baltics (Tal, Keres) or the Caucasus (Petrosian, Kasparov) during the Soviet Era I just lump them all under “Russian,” which wasn’t correct here.

  7. Jim Horne says:

    As it happens, I recently reread these books. What an amazing journey. Rabbit is like no other protagonist I’ve encountered. He’s hard to like, but at the end of the third (and best) of the set, you have come to admire him despite his many flaws — none of which you will recognize in yourself, of course.

    There’s about a decade gap between each book’s publication so you get to watch Rabbit and America evolve in more or less real time. More interestingly, you get to watch Updike’s writing style and ability evolve. He was so young when he wrote the first one! And so utterly accomplished by the end.

  8. Al Sanders says:

    Enjoyed the meta this week. Joon, I thought Rabbit, Run was very good, a true classic. Rabbit, Redux has a very dated 70’s feel and I really struggled to get through it. I haven’t read the last two, but they each won the Pulitzer for Fiction, so they are very well-regarded. They’re both on my list to read some day.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    I was focused on the beginning of the theme answers and PHINEAS led to Flynn led to Francis X Flynn. Epic Google related fail.

  10. Tony says:

    I initially looked at the initials of the theme answers thanks to the title and the first entry. When I couldn’t make anything out of it, I saw REDUX and thought Rabbit REDUX and had my AHA moment.

  11. sandirhodes says:

    Last week I posted that I thought I would never get through the month. It IS nice being right occasionally! Being dyslexic, I’ve never been much of a novel reader, although I am familiar with most of the classics, even if I’ve never read them. But I’ve never heard of this series. I HAVE heard of Updike, but not his works.


    Initial Print Run and Don’t Read the Rest was an awesome misdirection.

    [And I bet Matt knows that *I* knew about Stein’s origins (and I happen to have won a tournament named the Leonid Stein Memorial just a few months after his death). Hey, when did you change the introductory blurb on your site — you don’t like Ivanchuck anymore? :)]

  12. KW says:

    I never got to this, which makes me feel dumb. I knew Phineas Redux immediately (thanks, useless PhD in Victorian literature!) but the HAs sent me looking for a way that Horatio Alger could be the answer (uh, no thanks to that useless PhD) and I couldn’t back-engineer anything for that. Had I studied up more on contemporary American literature, I might have remembered Harry Angstrom. (I also did a whole blind-alley thing based on “don’t read the rest” and the HAs in the answers–trying to anagram something–and got stuck on the two identical blocks of six letters each in the top rows. Desperation at work.)

  13. Karen says:

    I took about three days to spot this one, being fooled by ‘initial’ and ‘don’t read the rest’ at first. Finally I remembered joon’s previous suggestion to look around the most forced clues, which in this puzzle i judged was LAE and POSADA. And I noticed RUN and REDUX. I’d also like to say I don’t consider Angstrom a famous character; I mean, I’ve never seen him on a collectible card, and how can you be famous without being on a collectible card? :)

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    Karen —

    To be precise the instructions asked for a “well-known” character. And LAE was certainly suboptimal, but Jorge POSADA is very famous! (to anyone who follows baseball, that is). Although I felt a little bad about all the sports in that corner.

  15. Peedee says:

    I thought this was a fine puzzle and the meta took me a comfortable 20 minutes or so. I’ve never read any of the series myself, but in 10th grade, my best friend took one of them off the library shelf and started reading aloud what was up to then the most explicit sex I had ever seen in a literary work, much less in the high school library. Ah, we were more innocent in 1975. I’m sure today’s 10th graders would think it quaint.

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Peedee, there’s an even more explicit sex scene in “Rabbit is Rich,” which can’t have been the book you read since it was published in 1980 or 1981. Let’s just say it puts “Last Tango in Paris” to shame…

  17. Scott says:

    I sent in Hester Prynne based on “initial” giving me a letter (A), “don’t read the rest” giving me scarlet as in don’t read the rest of redux – just the red part. And I seem to remember someone in the book being “rich.” Meta fail.

  18. Abby says:

    I don’t even want to admit the dead ends I ran down- especially since “Rabbit Redux” was what I thought when I wrote in 26A (either that or Apocalypse Now, right?). But, luckily, I got back on track to be two for two. (Of course, I have a bad habit of missing the penultimate one, so I’m hoping for the best next time.)

    I did waste a lot of time trying to find some connection to Adrienne Rich’s work I could use. I only knew of her as a poet and lesbian, though, so characters didn’t seem likely. Maybe if I found “up” in there too, somewhere…

    (Yeah, you can tell my girlfriend to slap me for that one.)

  19. Spencer says:

    Argh. I thought of Rabbit, but didn’t make the connection. I got stuck on Phineas (A Separate Peace by Knowles) but couldn’t make him fit the rest of the meta.

  20. sps says:

    Reread Rabbit is Rich for a book group last year and was surprised how much I enjoyed it, mainly b/c like Al, Redux was a slog. Jim is spot on about how you get to see Rabbit and the US grow through the three books. It’s not an encouraging or optimistic picture; in fact, it’s rather bleak and depressing how Rabbit is unable to control his impulses and ever achieve his dreams. What’s that say about us and our society?

  21. Howard B says:

    No slapping needed for this one… Nicely done on the meta-solve though :).

    REDUX was also the icebreaker here, leading to Rabbit Redux, leading to a lookup of Updike’s Rabbit series. I also did not make the full connection to the title, but it’s subtly well done. I do like a solvable meta that you can walk away from learning something (and not just in the area of chess!). Think my weakness in the literary arena helped me a bit here, much like a racehorse running naively with blinders on.

  22. pannonica says:

    So unobservant. Didn’t even read the puzzle’s title. But it’s all to the good, as there was no trouble descrying the meta and the additional information might actually have muddled things.

    Surprised no one else has mentioned that we recently saw the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit.

  23. pannonica says:

    joon: I don’t often push recommendations on others, but there’s a certain confluence that’s leading me to make one: Chimera, by John Barth. Your mild solicitation, the mention (albeit lukewarm) of The Centaur, the similarly mythological title, another John, and the notion that it’s metafictional. Besides, it’s one of Barth’s more accessible works, as well as one of his shortest.

    re: LIMP. I’ve encountered a few British paperback editions described explicitly as “limp covers,” but have never heard them—and certainly not the entire class—called “limps.” More information from the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, which seems to, erm, add weight to my observation.

  24. Matt Gaffney says:

    Hmmm…looks like I need to mention the ratings on the blog on Friday. Something’s clearly not computing.

  25. Mike says:

    Total fail on this meta. Never read the Rabbit books, though I’ve heard of them, and didn’t notice the R-words. I went down the wrong track because Phineas Redux had me thinking of Phineas Fogg.

    Yes, it’s PhiLeas Fogg, and Around the World in 80 Days is not American. But once my mind started going down this road, it was hard to get it to see anything else… Ah well.

  26. Will Nediger says:

    Echoing what’s been said above: definitely recommended reading, even though the quality is less than consistent. It’s worth reading them all in quick succession, to get a sense of the progression.

  27. J Berghoff says:

    I also submitted Hester Prynne. The last six letters of DONT READ THE REST plus the “prin” from INITIAL PRINT RUN (very weak, I know). Also, Nathaniel Hawthorne was called out in last weeks puzzle recap.

    I knew it had a high likelihood of being incorrect but it got stuck in my head and I couldn’t get around it.

  28. John Farmer says:

    Got the meta quickly enough, but missed the title reference. I figured it related to the old ’30s song “Run Rabbit Run.” There’s a funny Muppets version w one of the Muppets blasting rabbits with a shotgun. I’d find it but no time between flights.

    I tried a couple of Updike novels a long time ago. I may have been too young. Some of his short stories are v good.

  29. Amy says:

    I love those books- they seem too accessible to be called “literature.” I spent hours anagramming every possible permutation of the many initials in the grid. Only when I googled Redux and discovered a book in the series was called PHineas Finn did I think I had the answer. Not.

  30. Dan F says:

    How’s this for taking “Don’t read the rest” too far? I was off on a tangent with IN + PHIN + AD and Infinite Jest. Also, clues that started with the same letters as their answers. Also, the phrasing of the [Serious series…] clue and possible other words-within-words. Forgot that a second-week meta should be a little simpler, and I never saw it.

  31. Les W says:

    Completely missed this one & (as always) shouldn’t have. I finished reading Rabbit, Run recently. not long after Updike died and thought of it immediately after reading writing the REDUX answer, although not remembering Harry Angstrom’s name as the protagonist; but got totally lost in trying to figure out letter patterns passed on the HA-HA-HA-HA in the title, and using just initials from the answers or clues and never got out of that thought pattern rut.

    I definitely felt that Rabbit, Run was a novel reflective of it’s time and has lost some of its impact and relevancy to today’s America.

    I did however, re-discover that Jules Verne (Phineas Fogg) was French, so not a total loss.

  32. Neil B says:

    When I got rabbit I thought the HA HA Ha Ha alluded to how Bugs Bunny laughed

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