MGWCC #185

crossword 4:32
puzzle 3 days* 

hello friends, and welcome to the 185th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Nine Down Is Like Five Across”. this week, we’re looking for an eight-letter world capital. what are the theme clues? well, this isn’t exactly clear, but here are the five long across answers:

  • {Incredibly cheesy #5 song of 1982, inspired by the movie “E.T.”} is HEARTLIGHT. no idea on this one.
  • {NCAA championship-winning coach of 1966 and 1973} is ARA PARSEGHIAN. love it! we see ARA in the crossword all the time, but i’ve never seen PARSEGHIAN, let alone the full name.
  • {2004 movie line barked by a taekwondo instructor} is “BOW TO YOUR SENSEI!”. needed the crossings here too. i haven’t seen the karate kid remake, which i thought this might be from. but that probably doesn’t have tae kwon do in it, right?
  • {2004 reincarnation of a beloved children’s book series} is GIRL DETECTIVE. nope, never heard of it.
  • {It’s downriver from Winnipeg} is GRAND FORKS. i don’t know where this is.

so those answers were pretty tough to discern, but the rest of the crossword was quite easy. i had no idea where to go for the meta, though. obviously, i looked at 9-down (SCATHE) and 5-across (EBAY), but i didn’t really expect to find anything there, and indeed i didn’t. i tried looking at those “five across” answers to see if there might be any down answers (nine of them, say) that shared something in common, like initials or possibly shared clues. nothing. 4 of the 5 have years in the clue, but then there’s GRAND FORKS. i noticed that 4-down, {Word on packs of cigarettes} TAR, and 5-down, {Wood used in the “Lord of the Rings” movies} ELIJAH could both also perhaps clue 7-down, ASH. but that seemed to be just a weird coincidence, as there was nothing like that elsewhere.

eventually it came down to monday night, and i sat down to write this blog post despite my failure to solve the meta. the first thing i did was google the crap out of the theme answers; lo and behold, the scales dropped from my eyes immediately. (thanks, google!) et voilà:

  • HEARTLIGHT is apparently a neil diamond song. i just listened to it, and … yes, it’s cheesy. i guess i’ve heard this song before, because i’ve seen E.T. (in theaters, even—it was my very first movie). but not in the last few decades.
  • ARA PARSEGHIAN was, of course, the coach at notre dame. i knew that.
  • “BOW TO YOUR SENSEI!” is a line from napoleon dynamite. i’ve seen that movie but it made almost no impression on me, and to this day i still can’t figure out why people liked it. tina majorino was in it, but it turned out to have nothing else in common with veronica mars, which i kinda liked.
  • GIRL DETECTIVE is apparently a reboot of the nancy drew mysteries. this was the first thing i googled and i had my suspicions immediately. i wrote “nancy drew” next to it on my grid and was off to the races.
  • and GRAND FORKS is in north dakota. also, according to wikipedia, the clue is wrong: the red river of the north, on which both grand forks and winnipeg are situated, flows from south to north, so winnipeg is actually the downriver one.

anyway, plenty obvious now, isn’t it? they all have the initials ND. very cleverly, the ND phrase is in neither the clue nor the answer; it’s just implicit in every case. but since i only knew one of the 4, i would have had no chance to solve this meta on my own. (maybe, just maybe, i could have figured out north dakota.) and the title can be interpreted as: the phrase “nine down” has the initials ND, just like phrases implicit from the five longest across clues.

oh, so what’s the meta answer? i’m not going to lie to you: upon seeing those NDs, my immediate thought was n’djamena, the capital of chad. it’s certainly the only world capital to start with ND, and it has 8 letters. luckily, before sending it in, i thought of new delhi, which is obviously the right answer. those other phrases don’t start with ND, after all; they’re two-word phrases with the initials ND, just like new delhi. also, as a world capital, new delhi is (approximately) infinitely more famous than n’djamena. so it has that going for it, too. i don’t know if n’ counts as its own word there (i’m guessing no?), but if it does, it should be an acceptable alternate answer.

i kind of love and hate this meta. i love the fact that matt has found yet a new place to hide the meta: it’s not in the grid, or the clues, or the blog post, or in fact anywhere—it’s entirely implicit, and yet completely fair, as the theme points to it unambiguously. but i hate the fact that i needed google to solve it. even one slightly more obvious ND would have given me at least a puncher’s chance (SWEET CAROLINE instead of HEARTLIGHT, VOTE FOR PEDRO instead of BOW TO YOUR SENSEI, or CAROLYN KEENE instead of GIRL DETECTIVE, not that the lengths would necessarily work out at all). but google is a legit solving aid, and this one had a pretty darn satisfying aha moment when i did crack it, so i’m giving it 5 stars.

what else?

  • i loved the snarky portmanteau SHEOPLE, clued as {The easily-led masses}. (though i did try to spell it SHEEPLE, which feels righter to me.)
  • {Dollar rival} almost always clues AVIS, but this time it’s the YEN. oh that dollar.
  • two simpsons references, always welcome here: “MEH” and BEER clued as {“The cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems,” according to Homer Simpson}.
  • {It begins the game in front of the queen’s rook} is the A-PAWN. (or really a pawn, since algebraic notation uses lowercase letters for files and uppercase for piece names.) this is arbitrary, but legit, and i think i like it better than a partial.
  • {Enticing ___ (Ohio wedding cake company)} ICINGS is a mellifluous way to hide a pretty hideous plural.
  • {Four-time champion of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament} is david ROSEN. a while back i noticed that all the multiple-time champions of the ACPT had different numbers of wins, so i’m pretty sure this clue is uniquely identifying. can you name the 7-, 6-, 5-, 3-, and 2-time champs?

that’s all from me. two more fridays this month—are you ready?

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37 Responses to MGWCC #185

  1. Andrew Greene says:

    This one drove me nuts. I wrote a longish post, “Life Lessons Learned from Overthinking the Meta”, at

  2. Matthew G. says:

    Brilliant. I knew what four out of the five theme entries referred to (all except HEARTLIGHT), but never noticed the ND connection.

    I failed and sent in THE HAGUE as a wild guess.

  3. Scott says:

    I failed on week 3. I sent in DJIBOUTI in a desperate attempt to submit something for reasons that are so convoluted that I will skip sharing them.

    Nice one Matt!

  4. Matthew G. says:

    I just read your post, Andrew. I did the exact same overthink as you with respect to the nine Down entries that were similar to 5-Across (eBay). Spent waaay too long trying to make something of that.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    172 correct answers this week (162 with NEW DELHI, 10 with N’DJAMENA). Yes, I’m accepting N’DJAMENA — it’s not quite two words, but it’s eight letters and the apostrophe could be argued to muddy the situation enough.

    The clue for GRAND FORKS is indeed wrong — I had assumed that the Red River (which forms most of the border between Minnesota and North Dakota) flowed south like everything else in that area, but it turns out that it’s one of the not-very-many rivers in the US that does go north (to Lake Winnipeg).

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    I quickly saw the N.D. connections to the theme answers, confirmed by Matt’s title hint about Nine Down, but other than Football Association or (sweet) Fanny Adams – that’s “F*** All” here in the U.S. – I couldn’t see what he was signifying with Five Across. I like Joon’s interpretation, but I spent more time trying to suss this out than the actual meta. I also wondered if anyone sent in N’Djamena, but it is definitely one word.

  7. sharkonfire says:

    I went with N’Djamena. I parsed the title as “ND is like eBay,” e.g. having a single letter out front. {e}bay is to {N}Djamena. Perhaps I overthought it a bit.

  8. Janette says:

    I came up with the ND’s and submitted New Dehli without ever picking up the Nine Down refernce from the title. I was immediately aware that Grand Forks was upriver of Winnipeg (living about 150 miles from each of them) and was briefly thinking that I may need to look for other errors in clues. Of the rest of the meta I too had to Google Heart Light and Come to you SenSei having never heard the song or seen the movie. Overall good puzzle.

  9. abide says:

    Foiled again. Closest I got was Napoleon and Nancy…French misdirection.

  10. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Sent in the/a right answer with half an hour to go before committing a palindromic DNF ND. So “Like Five Across” is “like five Across clues”, rather than an assertion that New Delhi (or N’Djamena) is like a bazaar? OK, I guess so, though — unlike those Across Clues — the phrase “Nine Down” does have an explicit ND in it.

    It takes some self-confidence to cross your own name and puzzle contest with “Meh”, and at 1A/1D at that… (Like calling your movie “less than zero”.)

    To my surprise 13A:EX-LAX has appeared in the NYTimes twice before, breakfast test notwithstanding.

    Re 29A: ever saw it spelled “sheople” before, though Google’s hit-count suggests it’s a healthy minority alternative.

    On to Week 4.

    P.S. One thing an a-pawn cannot do is forks, grand or otherwise (not until it becomes a b-pawn or promotes, anyway).

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    @Noam — You know, I originally had MATTE at 1-across (crossing EXTRA) but with that grid there is no 5-across, so I changed it at the last minute so the newly-minted title made red herring sense.

  12. Mike says:

    How about these “clues” for New Delhi? The word INDIA can be found (in Boggle fashion) starting with the I at 50 down. Also, the word RAJAH can be found with the RAJ answer at 20 across and a right angle down.

  13. rebecca says:

    I wasn’t even close, didn’t think about googling for more data to work with. However, I enjoyed perusing the list of 8-letter world capitals. There’s 33, more than I would have guessed. Some personal favorites based on look and sound: Windhoek, Tashkent, Gaborone, Ashgabat, Kinshasa.

  14. Dan Seidman says:

    I spent three days looking at this with the vague sensation that there was something deliberately left out of the long entry/clue combinations, then finally it crystallized. I knew Neil Diamond and Nancy Drew, and then Notre Dame and North Dakota followed. I never did figure out Napoleon Dynamite, nor did I figure out what 5 Across referenced, but what I had was enough.

    It seemed really hard for a mid-month puzzle, but looking back (as usual) it seems like I should have gotten it a lot more easily.

  15. Jeffrey says:

    HEARTLIGHT was inspired by ET but not featured in the movie as it was written by Neil Diamond after he saw it. That I know.

    No Dice on the meta.

  16. Evad says:

    This was definitely a look at it, put it down, look at it again, sleep, eat, and pray meta…it reminded me (once I figured out the pattern of the theme entries) of an earlier puzzle of Matt’s where all the theme entries were famous septets. It takes looking at the entries in a different way than we normally do. Another great workout!

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    @joon — BTW, BOW TO YOUR SENSEI was the seed for this puzzle. I was looking at “Napoleon Dynamite” clips on YouTube, noticed that “Bow to your sensei” is 15 letters, and wondered if I could make a theme out of it.

  18. Cole says:

    Old enough to remember the 10-10 tie, I immediately thought of Notre Dame; when I googled the others and found Ms. Drew and Mr. Dynamite the answer became obvious.

  19. Neville says:

    Sent in N’DJAMENA for the eBay reason like sharkonfire. Glad it’s still being counted. Thanks Noam for pointing out that “Five Across” can refer to the five long entries – I was wondering what that had to do with it when I saw that NEW DELHI was The correct answer.

  20. Hugh says:

    Sent in New Delhi on Friday afternoon, but added “I still don’t get the meaning of the title.” Five minutes later, I caught on.

  21. *David* says:

    I found the meta pretty quickly. I looked at the theme clues from almost the beginning and said hmm why doesn’t he just say Notre Dame coach or North Dakota city? Trying to make the cluing tricky just didn’t quite do it for me when I noticed it missing by all of them. It was then a matter of Googling the rest and confirming the ND connection. New Delhi came to me right away and appears to be the more elegant/correct answer since it is two words and not one.

  22. John says:

    I love Napoleon Dynamite and got BOWTOYOURSENSEI with about 5 letters. the great part was, i assumed it was some idiotic kung-fu movie and gave up getting the answer except through crosses. when i had the OWTOY, it hit me and i LOVED it. That whole Rex-Kwando scene is one of the funniest in any movie of the 2000’s decade.

  23. Matt Gaffney says:

    *David* — that was a built-in nudge to this meta, cluing five terms that would normally include the relevant ND phrase in their clues if they were crossword answers.

    John — I agree. I’ve probably rewatched that scene about 50 times. Guaranteed laugh.

  24. Charles Montpetit says:

    Unlike Joon, I immediately felt that the theme clues were deliberately withholding a key element, especially 36a (WHAT movie?). Since I did know that “Girl detective” and “Ara Parseghian” are usually mentioned in the same breath as Nancy Drew and Notre-Dame, all I needed to to confirm my suspicions was to make sure that “Bow to your sensei” was *not* from Kung-Fu Panda (which is actually from 2008).

  25. Noam D. Elkies says:

    @Matt: that’s a novel reason for a “cheater”/helper square! (Not needed for symmetry reasons, surely, as the Across words in the SE corner could be something like ETAIL/RONNY [making Downs INFER/OTO/RAN/KIN/SLY] or, more adventurously, IANAD/XRAYS [INFIX/OAR/RNA/KAY/SDS, including two more 3D:TLA’s and an internet 5LA in 63A].

    @Mike: if you want it to be an oblique cue to India then 20A:RAJ already does it!

  26. Matt Gaffney says:

    Noam — I had ORBIT and REIFY down there originally.

  27. Andrew Greene says:

    So Matt, why was there no year in the clue for GRAND FORKS?

  28. Matt Gaffney says:

    Andrew — I didn’t notice until you pointed it out that 4 of the 5 theme clues contain years. Not an intentional oddity, just a function of needing to clue five terms without using their prominent N.D. connections. The year adds handy information to each.

  29. jefe says:

    For a good while I had 1A as META, thinking of EXE as short for execute and trying to figure out what the heck AAR had to do with cigarettes. Figured that the Five Across referred to the theme entries and hoped that the Nine Down referred to nine crossings of those entries in some way I couldn’t guess and went with Canberra, as Australia is the only 9-letter country with an 8-letter capital.

    @joon: Reading your post and seeing the ND theme made me think of N’Djamena first as well.

    @Matt: Why specify the number of letters in the world capital?

  30. Matt Gaffney says:

    To heighten and certify the aha moment.

  31. Jan (danjan) says:

    I was one of the N’Djamena submitters. What can I say – I’m naturally drawn to names with apostrophes. I was wondering if the people who live there have as hard a time filling in their town on computerized forms as I do with my last name. I was really into Nancy Drew, and we refer to Notre Dame as ND, so the first part of the meta came together pretty quickly for me.

  32. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Just dumb luck, and a bit of dozing in the recliner, and I had the meta rather easily. Maybe age, too, and the fact that my best friend is a real Neil Diamond fan.

    In addition to the title, which I eventually parsed correctly, I thought that Matt’s comment on the notifying email, that this was “the third week of five”, was also a hint toward the 3 – 5 structure of NEW DELHI.

  33. Les Wagner says:

    Missed this one again – had an early aha moment leading me far astray. I noticed that ARAPARSEGHIAN only needs an I to make PARIS and BOWTOYOURSENSEI only needs a K to make TOKYO. I was sure at that point I was on to something-If I could only find 6 more words that contained one letter additions to make a capital I could get 8 letters for the answer. Add an S to MINK to get MINSK (3 down, all 4+1 letters ,only 5 more to go-looking good!). That’s when things started going south. Add a T to QUOI to get QUITO (hmm, rearranging not good). Add an I to TAPE to get TAIPEI. Add another I to ADDS to get ADDIS (looking for the ABABA other half). Likewise a Y to PONG for PYONGyang. Then zilch.

    Girl Detective 2004 led me straight to Judy Moody, which my girls liked better than Nancy Drew.

    I’ve been so busy haven’t been able to post – but I had a interesting, albeit wrong answer for #182 which I’ll try & send tomorrow.

  34. Abby says:

    I had the day off, so I did the puzzle, looked over the theme words for a minute and was going to put it aside to look at later so I could start the Musical Puzzlefest, when I got the ND connection for all the words but one. I didn’t know the movie, but a search of IMDb doesn’t give many ND movies for that year (3 theatrical, 2 video) and and that one sounded right. Came to me a lot faster than they usually do late in the month.

  35. pgw says:

    I knew Notre Dame and North Dakota, and I assumed without checking that Girl Detective was Nancy Drew. Google gave me the others.

    I thought this was a clever meta. Nicely Done.

  36. jefe says:

    It just now occurred to me that if “Nine Down” had referred to nine down entries or letters obtained from crossings, the title would have been “Nine Down ARE Like Five Across” (with the entry for 9D being plural as a red herring, of course). Oh well; lesson learned.

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