MGWCC #142

 crossword 12:23 (paper)
puzzle 3 days or maybe not at all 


greetings and welcome to the 142nd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, and week 3 of literary february, “Light Reading.” this week’s crossword was wicked hard, and the meta, which asks us to identify the title of a well-known literary work.… well, i haven’t solved it yet, and it’s been a few days. so i’ll call it hard, too. but time is running out, and maybe blogging will help me see something i’d missed. (hey, it’s been known to happen.)

there are four long answers of 10 letters in the grid, and they might well be theme answers:

  • {Interstate entertainment} is a pretty vague clue for AUDIO BOOKS. actually, a lot of the clues were pretty vague, which is perhaps one reason this crossword felt so tough, in a saturday stumperish sort of way.
  • {Kalamazoo-born novelist} is EDNA FERBER, who is more notable for other things than being a kalamazoolander.
  • {Architect also known for his contributions to stage design} is INIGO JONES. this isn’t really a literary answer, but the clue seems like it’s stretching to make it into one. but staging a play isn’t literature, even if writing one is. and in honor of jones’s first name and the not-quite-literariness of this clue, i’ll give you this soundbyte.
  • {Nice words to hear} are ORAL POETRY. gasp! this clue started with “nice” but had nothing to do with french. i’m dumbfounded.

okay, so what’s up with these? the first thing i noticed was AUDIO and ORAL, which screamed “homophone” at me. but that didn’t go anywhere. (maybe i’ve been doing too many cryptics?) the second thing i noticed was that INIGO is one letter off from INDIGO, which is part of the light spectrum. given the puzzle’s title, i spent a while casting about for others (maybe hoping for gravity’s rainbow? perhaps gravity caused the D to “fall” out of INDIGO into the next row?). but that next row has RED right there in plain sight (as part of REDEYE), and there was no sign of the other colors. (how would you do something like that with VIOLET, anyway?)

the third thing i noticed was that each two-word phrase has initials that are consecutive in the alphabet: AB, EF, IJ, and OP. (each one starts with an “odd” letter of the alphabet, too.) that’s very suggestive, and can hardly be a coincidence. but where is that going, and what does it have to do with “light reading”? ay, there’s the rub. the first three seem like they’re following a pattern of skipping over one pair (CD and then GH), but there are two pairs missing between the last two (KL and MN). UV for ultraviolet is maybe related to light. but there’s no UV in the grid, and there’s no well-known literary work called ultraviolet that i know of.

curiously, 9d BEST OF crosses both AUDIO BOOKS and EDNA FERBER, and the clue is {Kind of CD}. so it’s a bridge, if you will, between AB and EF. but there’s no such bridge containing GH, and i don’t even know what it would have to consist of for the last pair. certainly there’s nothing with KLMN.

once i started looking for consecutive letters, a few oddly-worded clues jumped out at me. {Vitus Bering for the Bering Sea et al.} for EPONYMS was one. “vitus” contains the consecutive letters STUV, although not in order. (i may be still thinking about the very first puzzle of the 2011 mystery hunt.) 1a, CLAW, has the odd clue {Fight (back)}, with both FGHI and ABC sequences. i circled a bunch of these but wasn’t able to discern any particular pattern, although the title also has GHI in “light.”

okay, just noticed this: there are two perhaps bonus theme answers: MARE {___ Nostrum (the Mediterranean Sea, in Latin)}, and SLEPT {___ through (missed, in a way)}. both odd FITB clues for common words, but MARE NOSTRUM and SLEPT THROUGH fit the theme pattern.

okay, it’s 1 am and i haven’t figured it out yet. if i’m not struck by inspiration during the next 11 hours, i’m going to send in anton chekhov’s uncle vanya, for the following reasons:

  • it fits the theme pattern.
  • it’s 10 letters long, like all the other theme answers (not counting MARE and SLEPT).
  • UV is related to the title. this gives it an edge over things like american buffalo, king lear, or infinite jest.
  • i like chekhov and i enjoyed that play when i read it in college.

is that convincing? maybe. i wish i were more convinced myself. i’m hoping it’s right, but i’m hoping even more that there’s something i’ve failed to notice that would make it obviously, definitely right. (hey, it’s been known to happen.) i would feel a lot better if the instructions had said something like “would have made a good theme answer,” because then i would know that i’m looking for something that fits the pattern, rather than something that explains the pattern. a great meta has an “aha” moment; this one was more like a “hmm, could be” moment for me. which might just mean that i didn’t see it.

what’d you all think?

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50 Responses to MGWCC #142

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Just wake me up when March arrives.

  2. Sam says:

    As soon as I noticed the vowels I was able to get that the title need to have UV. I submitted Under the Volcano but I like Uncle Vanya

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Can’t wait to hear from Matt.

    I also submitted Uncle Vanya, but as I noted to Matt, I would have been more confident if it had been a comedy, and hence “Light Reading” in a second sense.

  4. nanpilla says:

    I figured the four theme answers started with a vowel, followed by a word starting with the next letter. A,E,I, and O are all represented. That just leaves U, which would require a two word answer starting with U then V. That’s how I came up with Uncle Vanya. Thank goodness I forgot to look at the title of the puzzle, because I think it would have sent me in a million wrong directions! After sending in my answer, I remembered to look at the title, and thought “oh, no” I must be wrong. Then the (UV) lightbulb went off.

  5. Michael M says:

    I feel vindicated for not submitting anything.

  6. Evad says:

    I sent in Uncle Vanya after noticing the vowel pattern as well. Had no idea how the title fit the missing entry, but shrugged it off. Matt did reply to me and said UV is short for ultraviolet, a type of “Light”…and then the lightbulb went on for me!

  7. Neil B says:

    I could only think of King Lear with the 2 consecutive letters but did not know how it fit with light reading and uncle vanya better as it starts with vowel

  8. pgw says:

    I submitted King Lear, but having read this I’m now convinced Uncle Vanya must be right. I’m dismayed I did not notice the vowel starts; the four-out-of-five-vowels thing hearkens back to #138, not very long ago. And of course they are all ten letters. I think if I’d realized the thing about the vowels, it would have been sufficiently aha enough for me.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    UNCLE VANYA is correct — the other two-word theme entries began with a vowel and the letter following that vowel:

    INIGO JONES (Joon is right, I had to stretch this clue to make it literary-ish.)

    Which means we need a well-known literary work with the initials U.V., and UNCLE VANYA it must be. They’re all 10 letters, too, BTW, though if someone had found a non-10-letter U.V. I would have accepted it.

    113 correct entries this week.

  10. I guess I should start reading, huh? I haven’t even heard of any aspect of the answers from the past two puzzles, haha.

  11. zifmia says:

    Well, I saw none of that. OTOH, even if I had realized I should be looking for a literary work “U…. V….” I am sufficiently unread to not recognize the name Uncle Vanya, and have no idea how I could have coerced a google search to come up with it given only the initials.

  12. Matt Gaffney says:

    PS — the “Light Reading” title does indeed refer to ultraviolet. My original title ideas were “Drama Series” and “Series Finale” but I thought those gave too much away.

    Zifmia — have you visited 42-down?

  13. joon says:

    vowels again! i’ll never learn, apparently. well, it’s better to be lucky than good, isn’t it?

    anyway, that’s exactly the sort of thing i had hoped i was missing. good one, matt.

  14. Eric LeVasseur says:

    Grrr… I forgot to do the puzzle till this morning, and didn’t have a lot of time to spend on the meta. Noticed two minutes before the deadline that EDNA FERBER had written AMERICAN BEAUTY – and sent that in as a Hail Mary pass.

  15. mitchs says:

    When the puzzle requires 500 googles the International Meta Association bars any attempts at further solving.

  16. Howard B says:

    Had the experience of looking too hard for literary references, then eventually stepping back to take a longer meta-look at the answers – it was then I was able to see first the consecutive letters (AB, EF, etc.), and then the vowel progression. It then took me longer to come up with a literary work that fit the U**** V**** pattern, actually. I did some checking up afterwards to make sure I didn’t miss something else in there, but it fit. Pretty clever.
    It’s almost as easy on these to overthink a metapuzzle as it is to underthink it, and I have done plenty of both before :).

  17. jimmy d says:

    zifmia- I had the same issue… I grokked the U.V. part, but couldn’t think of any books that had those initials. My solution: I googled a list of 500 great literary works in alphabetical order, found it in under two minutes! =)

    Psyched for week 4!!!

  18. Anne E says:

    Ha, I saw the UV thing rather quickly, re-read the title, and promptly submitted “The Color Purple.”

    I thought the instructions were unusually vague… it would have been helpful if Matt had said something like he often does: “this literary work would have made a good 5th theme entry.” But then I suspect he wasn’t trying to be helpful. :-)

  19. Anne E says:

    Oops, just saw that joon said that exact thing about 5th theme entry! Sorry joon, didn’t mean to plagiarize. :-)

  20. kirsten says:

    Well, determining the meta helped me to find Vanya on 42nd Street, which has one of my favorite actors, Wallace Shawn. It was the last film Louis Malle directed.

    Pretty good!

  21. Aaron says:

    Yeah, I submitted Under the Volcano as well, though I knew the “UV” there was a bit of a stretch because of the pesky “the.” For some reason, I didn’t even consider plays — Uncle Vanya is, of course, a better fit. Still, I’m happy to see that I went through the exact same logical leaps (Gravity’s Rainbow and then the letter pattern) as Joon.

  22. rebecca says:

    I wasn’t even able to completely solve the lower right with the 4th theme entry, so never even got close to the meta… I’m 1 of 3 for the month, but still looking forward to #4. (tho kinda relieved there won’t be a #5!!)

  23. zifmia says:

    Actually I did play with onelook a bit after having it pointed out in the crossword. Seems pretty cool.

    I’m still not sure I could manage to extract “Uncle Vanya” from a search starting from something like “U* V*”

  24. john farmer says:

    If you’re looking for a 10-letter, 2-word answer fitting a U___ V___ pattern, you could do a search guessing where the V might fall (probably the 4th, 5th, or 6th spot). For example, search on this:

    u???? v????

    Unfortunately, OneLook doesn’t have “Kalamazoolander.” It really should.

    If there’s anything near 113 solvers still alive, could be a tough one coming up.

  25. Scheherazade says:

    LAMP and ALI BABA sent me on 1001 wrong turns.

  26. john farmer says:

    By the way, for two of the answers, the first two letters in each word are in sequence. EDNA FERBER (EF, DE), INIGO JONES (IJ, NO). Nothing to do with the theme, but I wondered for a bit.

  27. Abby says:

    Made it through! I’ve got a bad habit of stumbling on the penultimate meta in a challenge month and breezing through the last one. Let’s hope I have some wind left for next week.

    So there are obviously no more than 113 of us still alive. Are you going to tell us how many, Matt? Or haven’t you reckoned that yet?

  28. Alex says:

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned that both INIGO and VIZZINI are in the puzzle. It took me forever to get off “The Princess Bride” and on to Chekov.

  29. Matt Gaffney says:

    Abby —

    I haven’t totaled it up yet (a bit cumbersome to do via Gmail, unfortunately). But I’ll have it on Friday; my guess is around 50 people are still in it to win it.

  30. Karen says:

    I picked a good month to tank early. I didn’t finish solving the puzzle, including two of the theme answers (never gave up TEE for LIE, or UNCOUTH for LOUTISH), probably wouldn’t have seen the meta, and I don’t know Uncle Vanya. And the One Look site didn’t help when I just tried, probably because Vanya isn’t an english word.

  31. nanpilla says:

    John Farmer – I noticed the same thing and worried over it for a bit before noticing the vowel sequence.

    Karen – you have to put a space between the words, then it works.

  32. Amy Reynaldo says:


  33. abide says:

    I thought the vowel progression was pretty kind after the same trick last month. I never noticed the common ten-letter theme, so I spent a rough 30 minutes going through a U* V* Onelook search.

    Got tired of that and started looking at book lists (not many plays on those lists).

    I found Unarmed Victory (Bertrand Russell) on a list of banned books, but it’s not well-known enough to have a Wikipedia entry.

    Somehow after an hour my subconscious pulled up the KAFKA/SAMSA meta I missed last year and from there I made a quick Chekov to VANYA.

  34. Charles Montpetit says:

    @ Eric LeVasseur: You’re not alone! Since Edna Ferber wrote AMERICAN BEAUTY as well as SARATOGA TRUNK (both of which fit the meta pattern if one discounts the vowel angle), and since AMERICAN BEAUTY stars an architect (which explained the INIGO JONES reference), I too submitted that title as my answer. Dammit.

  35. hirschho says:

    @nanpilla: Even if you put a space between u* v* in onelook you get more than 1000 returns. And if you are not familiar with Uncle Vanya it’s even tougher. If you realize the pattern is u**** v****, then you have some hope even if you never heard of Uncle Vanya.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      And @hirschho, given ORAL POETRY, there’s no reason to think the U.V. title would be (5,5) rather than (4,6) or (3,7) or what-have-you.

  36. pannonica says:

    Effing vowels.

  37. sandirhodes says:

    Inigo Jones did work on Show Boat, and it’s an audio book written by Ferber. Guess it was so good, it was considered oral poetry (and, as a musical, it had to be poetic, right?). The symmetrical BEST OF … JEROME (Kern) sealed it for me (I mean, c’mon, who thought it was someone other than George or Elaine????).

    FAIL!! Sigh — Uncle who??

  38. joon says:

    inigo jones was a 17th-century english architect. he may have made contributions to stage design, but it sure as hell didn’t have anything to do with show boat.

    onelook is great, but you need to be a little savvy about what you’re searching for, like farmer john suggested. or you could go high-powered and use NPL’s grep tool, with a pattern like

    ^u[a-z]* v[a-z]*$

    that doesn’t restrict the length, but at least it only includes answers that are two words long. (there are only 21 results, of which only one is a literary work.)

  39. Jeffrey says:

    ^u[a-z]* v[a-z]*$

    Gee, joon, why didn’t I think of that?

  40. pannonica says:

    I thought of @#$%*!

  41. sandirhodes says:

    LOL at joon. Of course it wasn’t *direct* — I’ve been trying to find the reference I saw that mentioned his work in association with Show Boat, but my internet history got erased. I’ll keep looking. Just another reason for my skewed reasoning, maybe?

  42. HH says:

    “When the puzzle requires 500 googles the International Meta Association bars any attempts at further solving.”

    At last. my idea of the perfect puzzle — one for which Google is futile.

  43. Andy says:

    I got as far as the U– V–, but couldn’t come up with a work. Nice to know I was right, anyway.

  44. Matt Gaffney says:

    “At last. my idea of the perfect puzzle — one for which Google is futile.”

    I learned it from you, O Dark Gridmaster.

  45. mitchs says:

    Well, I did finish the puzzle with what I also consider illegal help from Google, it’s the meta that’s google-proof.

  46. Marcie B says:

    I’m a 50-something widow working as a night receptionist at a low-income senior apartment complex. Having completely only 2 years of college at a state school, when I entered last year’s Boston NYT crossword comp, I was mentally crushed by the brainiacs (seeing Joon & Will Shortz were the only bright spots). I’m 3 for 3 this month and got “Uncle Vanya” by deciding that “literary work” phrase pretty much discounted books so I mentally concentrated on poems or plays. Finding out here that solvers actually do computer searches on letter patterns makes me a bit proud that I only rely on my life experience to answer these fabulous weekly challenges. [pat,pat,pat] Thanks, Matt … for the first time for I feel worthy in a long time. Marcie B.

  47. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Well done, Marcie!

  48. LARRY says:

    Thanks Matt for cluing me to “onelook”.com. I’ve been looking for a search engine that accepts wild cards for a long time. I’ll bet it will get a lot of use. t***ks a*a*n.

  49. Matt Gaffney says:

    Nicely done, Marcie! But no shame (and perfectly legal) if you need to Google for #4. It’s a toughie!

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