MGWCC #143

 crossword 5:55 (paper)
puzzle either 5 seconds, or 24 hours 


greetings, fellow solvers. the 143rd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, and finale to literary february, was last week’s “Un-freakin’-believable!,” in which we were challenged to identify a six-letter literary term. i hope you’re up on your literary vocabulary, because this was a challenging meta. in impressive fashion, matt managed to work six very long theme answers into the grid:

  • {Self-evident phrase about unwarranted criticism} is “HATERS GONNA HATE.” tyler hinman put this into an excellent onion puzzle just a few months ago. i wonder if it inspired matt’s puzzle?
  • {1991 Tom Cochrane hit covered for the 2006 Disney/Pixar movie “Cars”} is LIFE IS A HIGHWAY. i haven’t seen the movie, but i know the song and it was pretty guessable.
  • {Words indicating that an author has omitted a portion of events} are “MANY YEARS LATER…”
  • {Phrase you might say after yet another bad thing happens} is “THAT’S JUST GREAT.”
  • {What a 98-year-old man did after winning the lottery, in a song} is DIED THE NEXT DAY. on the other hand, i have no idea what song this is from. it’s not “ironic,” is it? oh god, it is. isn’t that ironic?
  • finally, {Unflappable} is COOL AS A CUCUMBER.

okay, so the meta. let me first say this: when i saw the title and instructions, i immediately thought to myself, “i wonder if it’s going to be tmesis?” after solving the crossword, i had no idea what was going on with the theme, but i still thought it was going to be tmesis. what’s tmesis, you ask? wikipedia knows everything, but in short, tmesis is interrupting a word to insert another one for effect, as in the puzzle’s title. i actually think of it as more of a linguistic term than a literary one, although you could certainly argue that tmesis is an example of a figure of speech. if you’ll forgive a slight digression, i’ve often wanted to use tmesis as my word of the day in guess my word, but i’ve decided not to because i don’t think that many people know the word, and they would quickly realize that there’s a word between tizzy and to that they just don’t know, and that would be pretty unfun. then again, this is coming from the guy who recently used tatterdemalion and autochthonous, to a chorus of “WTF?”s.

okay, back to the puzzle: why is the answer tmesis? it took me a few passes to work it out. i noticed very early on that there were 6 theme answers, and we wanted a 6-letter term, so it was looking like we would get one letter from each theme answer, but how? even “knowing” the answer, i couldn’t backsolve it. there’s only one M (MANY YEARS LATER), but the other letters of tmesis are all over the place, and i thought it would be pretty unlikely that we’d have to anagram. also, i was amazed at the sheer volume of theme material. who the hell puts 6 grid-spanning theme answers into a 15×15 crossword? you’d either have to be very lucky to have it all work out, or suffer severe compromises in the fill, or (and this is the only way i’ve seen it done before) you’d have to have a very wide range of possible theme answers to choose from. and that’s what’s going on: each of matt’s theme answers is an instance of a particular literary trope:

  • HATERS GONNA HATE is, as you already know if you’ve done tyler’s puzzle, a tautology.
  • LIFE IS A HIGHWAY is, of course, metaphor.
  • MANY YEARS LATER is an example of ellipsis. no, not the punctuation kind. the kind where an author leaves out some of the story to allow the reader to fill in the gaps.
  • THAT’S JUST GREAT is sarcasm, at least as clued. so is 12-down: {“Right!”} “MY EYE!”
  • DIED THE NEXT DAY is irony. or is it? everybody seems to have their own opinion on the matter, but this is the authoritative source.
  • and finally, COOL AS A CUCUMBER is plain old simile.

there you have it: tmesis. if you haven’t started already, say this word a few times out loud today. it’ll make you feel better. tmesis tmesis tmesis!

what else? the crossword, as dan feyer noted, was shockingly easy. okay, no, i didn’t solve it in 3 minutes, but it was a damn sight easier than last week’s beast. there were some uglinesses, yes (including the particularly awkward partials WAGS A, I HERE, and ONCE I), but overall it was pretty smooth and the cluing wasn’t that tough. by far my favorite clue was {Deep Prussian}. i can’t be the only one thinking about shades of dark blue, right? but instead it was immanuel kant, who was as deep a prussian as you’re ever going to come across (but hopefully not have to read).

so: did you survive literary february? and more importantly, did you enjoy it as much as i did?

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52 Responses to MGWCC #143

  1. AngelSong says:

    A word from Saturday’s NYT comes to mind… PFFT!!!!!

    (To clarify, I think the puzzle is brilliant, not a dud. The PFFT is completely on me.)

  2. kirsten says:

    I thought the T theme answer might be a truism, and the E an epilogue, but I nonetheless came up with the same result – but not until early this morning!

    Great puzzle!

  3. jimmy d says:

    Whew… I made it!! Three solved metas and one lucky guess… I’ll take it!

    Thanks for explaining this meta, Joon… had to smack my head, since I did notice the metaphor, irony and simile… never heard of tautology, though

  4. Neville says:

    I agree – an unbelievably easy puzzle for a killer month with mega-prizes at stake. Like you, I also had TMESIS right off the bat, and it took me a few minutes to backsolve as well.

    Definitely enjoyed the month of puzzles & surviving it!

    OHHH, how many Hs would we allow before completely disallowing this? OHHHH? OHHHHH? OHHHHHH?


  5. sps says:

    I was running along the same wavelength but didn’t think I could get a word out of what I had (I wanted it to be my grandmother’s famous tsimmes, even if I was a few letters short…). Excellent puzzle, Matt, and excellent write-up, Joon, despite my meta-fail…

  6. Howard B says:

    Great puzzle, and another PFFT on me. I did not know of tmesis or ellipsis, and would not have known tautology in the grammatical sense. Knowing TMESIS beforehand might have helped significantly here.

    So, even if I had found the 6 tropes and letters, I would have tried to anagram them into SMITES, called that plan off, and then tried to look for other hidden thingies.
    So while sad that I went 3-for-4, I know I did not have the tools in the toolbox to solve this one. Ignorance is no excuse though, and I promise I will never forget TMESIS from here on. (I hate TMESIS… to peeces!).

    And yet I admire this puzzle’s construction and theme – it’s an amazing piece of work with fun theme answers, and I enjoyed solving it.

  7. Aaron says:

    Originally I had “irony” for THAT’S JUST GREAT and hyperbole for DIED THE NEXT DAY.

    However, when I learned via google that the lyric comes from the song “ironic” I switched my first irony for sarcasm, despite my personal feelings about the misuse and overuse of the term.

    I thought I would need to scramble the initials, but it wasn’t necessary

  8. Tyler says:

    Pulled out the victory last night. Not a big fan of the title apparently giving it away to a significant number of people, though.

  9. jimmy d says:

    ^^haters gonna hate^^

  10. Abby says:

    Argh! I’d forgotten the word tmesis and couldn’t recall it (I knew there was a word for that). My main problem was a big time crunch this weekend (and moreso today). Hate, hate, hate that I blew the month, though. :-( I’m never going to make it through one of these.

  11. Karen says:

    I’m just really happy that joon hasn’t used TMESIS as the word of the day. I’m at 1/4 for the month, but the metas get 4 stars from me.

  12. Matt Gaffney says:

    82 correct entries this week.

    I haven’t calculated exactly yet, but the number of Literary February winners is, like the temperature in Staunton as I type this, in the low 50s.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    I have never heard of the word TMESIS. You are all making it up. Yay, March!

  14. Al says:

    Thanks, Joon, for putting me out of my misery. Never having heard the word tmesis and its not appearing on the Wikipedia index of literary terms gave me basically no shot on this one. I did wonder if there was a term for inserting a word inside of another. I should have googled that phrase as I see in retrospect that might have gotten me there. Anyway, very elegant meta and my congratulations to all that came up with it. I’m sure this satisfied Matt’s goal of reducing the number of prizes he had to award :-)!

  15. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I learned the word tmesis a few years ago, and think it’s fascinating that there are right and wrong ways to do it. “Abso-f*cking-lutely” works but saying “ab-f*cking-solutely” would get you weird looks from people. (Especially if you pronounce the asterisk’s name.)

    I figured it out from the title after having zero idea what to do with the theme entries for days, and didn’t take the time to try to back-solve the meta. I’m already out of the running after last week’s failure, so I don’t feel guilty about getting the answer the easy way. (Sorry, Tyler.)

    Kudos to jimmy d. for pointing “haters gonna hate” at Tyler’s comment!

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Speaking of haters…I’ve just received my first 1-star rating on Crossword Fiend!

    I guess it’s some kind of tmetic revenge…

  17. Mike says:

    I was on this track but thought it might be THESIS and gave up when I couldn’t find any synonyms for “metaphor” starting with H. Though to be fair, I also missed “ellipsis” (couldn’t produce the term). So close, and yet so far.

    I must remember this TMESIS for Scrabble.

  18. Toby says:

    Well, I’ll be gol-frickin-durned! I had Tautology, Metaphor, [oops, didn’t get Ellipsis… ;-], Sarcasm, Irony, and Simile, in BOLD FACE, in my notes. I even lined up the first letters, but decided there couldn’t possibly be a word that starts with “TM”…

    So I guessed “cliche”, without much confidence that it was correct. And I was still in the running last week… boo-hiccup-hoo!

  19. Scott says:

    I am really humbled. To know that 82 people figured this out and I did not is very humbling. I used to think I was smart but … I guess I will tear up my Mensa membership card! Meta-fail.

    Matt – I do thank you for stretching our brains. If nothing else, I do learn some new things each week!

  20. joon says:

    i probably should have mentioned this in the writeup, but al is right: if you looked at the title and wondered to yourself, what’s it called when you put a word inside another word?, then google had the answer. you might also run across “infixation” or “expletive infixation,” but i think tmesis is the better answer (for various uninteresting technical reasons).

    amy’s example raises another interesting point: i’ve seen it claimed (including in the wikipedia article on tmesis) that you can only put the inner word before a stressed syllable. but “un-freakin’-believable” is a clear-cut counterexample to that, and to my ear it sounds much righter than “unbe-freakin’-lievable.”

    will nediger (or any other linguist), care to weigh in?

    oh, and: jimmy 1, tyler 0. well played, sir. i might add that for the legions who weren’t familiar with the word tmesis, the title hint was almost the only way they could ever have solved this, even if they had correctly identified all or most of the first letters (like mike or toby). TMESIS just doesn’t look like it should be a word.

  21. cybergoober says:

    I hang my little head, 1-for-4 in February. A great meta this week, wish I had known the secret word.

  22. Cole says:

    Count me as one who recognized the solution from the title of the puzzle but then was absorbed by doubt as to why; eventually I got five of the initials (I did not see SARCASM as a literary term) and the solution.

    Thanks to my 10th grade Greek teacher whose name I have long forgotten (or was it my 11th grade Latin teacher?) for the solution oh those many years ago.

  23. Howard B says:

    TMESIS sounds more like a cell phone company, now that I think about it.
    One that has a lot of mid-conversation signal interference, perhaps.

  24. I figured out the metaphor, irony and simile after staring at the answers for about half an hour and thought that the meta answer was some form of _M__IS. But as Al pointed out, TMESIS does not appear on Wikipedia’s literary forms list. For some inexplicable reason I entered TMESIS into Wikipedia separately — it seemed like a word but I didn’t know what it meant — and saw clearly an example similar to the puzzle theme. Bingo.

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Howard, T-Mesis is undoubtedly the cell phone carrier Rahm Emanuel would use.

  26. Doug P. says:

    Ditto Crosscan! Literary Month left me feeling like I’d been crushed under a bookcase full of encyclopedias.

    That said, tmesis (despite being completely made-up) is a cool word to learn.

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    Joon wrote:

    “{Self-evident phrase about unwarranted criticism} is “HATERS GONNA HATE.” tyler hinman put this into an excellent onion puzzle just a few months ago. i wonder if it inspired matt’s puzzle?”

    I did steal Tyler’s excellent grid entry here (and you’re right Joon, that was a nifty Onion puzzle he wrote). Amy specifically pegged it as a tautology in her writeup, so I figured that alone would give a few extra solvers a path to the meta.

  28. Abby says:

    Toby- I was about in the same boat as you. Worst part is, I knew I knew the word but couldn’t cough it up and thought it started with “p”, so I abandoned that track and moved onto other wrong paths. If I could’ve remembered it (or Googled it), I would’ve got it for sure.

    In the future, I keep at it Friday until I’m done. Putting it aside for “later” hasn’t been panning out for me.

  29. sandirhodes says:

    Check this out …

    I knew there was a name for the unbe-*-lievable construct, but had no idea what it was called, nor had I considered looking for it (busy weekend, and out of the monthly contest anyway!).

    TODAY — this morning(!), I am at work looking through some old files and come upon the name TMESYS (which is/was a pharmacy/insurance entity). I had heard of them before, but wanted to know if they were still in business. So I googled them. I spelled it wrong, and accidently googled ‘tmesis.’ Never did finish looking up TMESYS. LOL!

    It was after the time limit expired. Never woulda *proved* tmesis, but woulda guessed it.


  30. Barbara says:

    I did the puzzle, but I was “tsemisht” (yiddish for befuddled) with the meta. You all have mega-phenomenal-flabber-f*ing-gasting minds and Matt and Joon are bright stars in this galaxy. I chose the literary term “rhythm” … and was obviously out of it and into my own.

    Thanks, all, for your humor and your fierce enthusiasm.

  31. Tyler says:

    To clarify, my quibble is with the title itself, not the solvers who took advantage of it. I think it provided an unfair edge to those who did know the word. If a bunch of people are getting an answer without even looking at the puzzle, you don’t think that’s a flaw?

    I stress that the puzzle itself was very good.

  32. Karen says:

    Enough people mentioned the wikipedia list (and because I’m paranoid), I checked the history of the literary terms to see if TMESIS had been edited out. I’m happy to report it wasn’t. (But perhaps someone should add a link)

  33. Jeffrey says:

    I once solved one of these contests before doing the puzzle. The title was “And still champion”. The solution was TYLER HINMAN.

  34. Matt Gaffney says:

    It is at least flawish, Tyler, I agree. Completely surprised me how many people identified the title as tmetic. But the overall number of correct entries (82) and the overall number of litfeb winners (about 50) were both acceptable to me so alls well that ends well. Sometimes in crosswordland you get bonus points for knowing weird words well!

  35. Anne E says:

    Count me in as someone who had never heard of “tmesis” before this week’s contest, and who didn’t get it from the title. I identified most of the letters from the theme entries, then entered the ones I had into OneLook (which I had also never heard of before last week! Thanks, Matt!). That gave me five possibilities, one of which was “tmesis”, which I didn’t believe was a word at first! But then yes, after I had the five possibilities from OneLook, the title was helpful.

  36. john farmer says:

    This was a forward-solve all the way for me. Got the T-M-E-S-I-S from the theme answers, which vaguely seemed to ring a bell. I looked up the word — indeed, a literary term — then sent in the answer. Only later I noticed the title, which confirmed I had it right. I agree the title was a giveaway — assuming someone, unlike me, (a) knew what TMESIS meant, and (b) actually read the title.

    Kudos to Matt on the clever construction. An out-freaking-standing month of puzzles!

  37. abide says:

    Never heard of TMESIS and missed out on my second notebook. I was on the right track at one time– I did Onelook ?A?SIS (had ANALOGY instead of METAPHOR), but only came up with CASSIS. I should have Onelooked ???SIS, but I doubt I would have even clicked on TMESIS.

    Anyone else notice the rhyme scheme of the theme entries–ABCABC ? Ok, the Cs are a little iffy. But that’s why I submitted SESTET. Knew it was wrong because I couldn’t reconcile it with the title.

  38. Wittgenstein's nephew says:

    Solved it off the title. Kudos to anyone who didn’t know the word tmesis but was able to extract it from the clues.
    Reading from 6 across – WAPS I AM (WAPS = smites = tmesis)

    On p.175 of The Language Instinct Steven Pinker claims that the infix is “always in front of a stressed foot.” As Joon points out it’s more complicated. In the case of “Un-freakin’-believable” perhaps the ability of “believable” to stand on its own, apart from “Un”, is enough to override the “precede a stressed syllable” rule.

  39. Myron says:

    “Tmesis” does appear in wikipedia’s “Figure of speech” list.

    Count me among those who got a BIG hint from the title.

    Bonus trivia: name a VERY common example of tmesis which does not include an expletive or profanity.

  40. pannonica says:

    Abide: The rhyme scheme to sestet was the route I took, but I didn’t even bother submitting because (a) the Cs were far too tenuous, (b) sestet as describing an ABCABC scheme was also tenuous, and (c) any connection to the title was un-tenu-believable.

    Count me among those who were previously unfamiliar with the term and who will never, never forget it.

  41. pannonica says:

    Myron: “A-whole-nother,” though the tmetic process—depending on your prnunciation—creates a sanitized abridgment of an expletive.

  42. wobbith says:

    @Myron – Hot-diggity-dog

    This is kind of ironic (or not, LOL)…
    A while back I made a little list of words that might be useful for zeroing in on the answer to joon’s “guess my word” game. I looked for words that began with unusual consonant pairings, and discovered the word TMESIS.
    Being a word geek, I looked it up.
    So it was somewhere in the back of brain.

    Figured out how the meta was going to work, and ran to my computer thinking “TMESIS, TMESIS!, (or is that some horrible skin condition?!)”.

    Feeling just a little smug, sorry.

  43. Myron says:

    “Hot-diggity-dog” is a great example, one which I hadn’t thought of. I’d say a-hole-nother is more popular, but I may be wrong.


  44. Jeff Louie says:

    Ned Flanders uses a lot of tmesis (e.g. “Hi-diddly-ho”). And he starts using more tmeses (tmesises?) the more upset he gets.

  45. Toby says:

    To add to the gnawing sense of regret, I now realize that instead of ruling out an answer that started with “TM”, I could have found the answer quite readily using (search: “tm?sis”), which was hinted at in the previous week’s MGWCC puzzle…

    Gaffney, yer makin’ me VEWWY flustrated” !!

  46. Abby says:

    Wait! My brain is itching. Haven’t we seen a very similar meta before?! Argh. Does this ring anyone else’s bell or am I hallucinating again?

  47. Will Nediger says:

    My guess for why “unbelievable” doesn’t follow the usual pattern is that morpheme boundaries (if they’re not opaque) are more important than stress in this case. But for what it’s worth, un-f*cking-believable is also fine in my dialect. It’s possible that morphology and phonology interact in a somewhat complex way here, but exactly how depends on what framework you’re working in.

  48. Meg says:

    Well, I’m feeling a bit better. I was not the only one who submitted SESTET. I broke one of my cardinal Matt rules by not checking to make sure my answer in some way was reflected in the title of the puzzle. Sigh. I am curious if the (albeit tenuous) ABC ABC scheme was a coincidence or a trap. Either way, I am an impressed contestant. On to March!

  49. joon says:

    abby: it did not ring any of my bells, and i have a pretty good memory for these things. even setting aside the literary terms, i don’t think we’ve had a MGWCC meta yet that goes like “identify these things and the first letter from each one spells out the answer,” although of course that’s a very common format for mystery hunt-type puzzles.

    meg: coincidence, i would think. although to me, it’s not even much of an incidence, let alone co-. HIGHWAY and DAY don’t rhyme to my ear (in exactly the same way that UNIX and SIX don’t), and LATER/CUCUMBER don’t even come close… in fact, i’ll go ahead and suggest that no english word rhymes with CUCUMBER. but i’ve come to accept the fact that not everybody has the same standards for rhyme that i do.

  50. Vlasical Poetry says:

    You can’t build a house without some lumber
    You can’t make a pickle without a cucumber

  51. joon says:

    yeah, i don’t think lumber (or number, encumber, etc.) rhyme with cucumber, because to me, CUcumber is an dactyl, and there’s no other word that ends with an “OOcumber” sound. vlasic’s poem only rhymes if you say “cuCUMber,” which is not how i’ve ever heard anybody say it.

  52. Dunn Miller says:

    I submitted without looking at the grid because I get Anu Garg’s A Word A Day email and TMESIS showed up in December. It was such a great word that it stuck in my usually feeble brain and I had given a gift subscription to the newsletter on the day that word was sent out. My friend, who is trying to expand her vocabulary, talked to me about this weird word and, really, is this what it’s going to be like? I assured her that it was a bit of an oddball and to hang in there.

    I was surprised that other word people were not enjoying AWAD.

    Thanks for a great, tho humbling, month, Matt.

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