MGWCC #186

crossword 4:08
puzzle about 5 minutes 

happy holidays, everyone, and welcome to the 186th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “English Lesson”. this week matt challenges us to identify a well-known U.S. mayor, past or present. what are the theme clues? the five long answers:

  • {How many human civilisations have gained power} is through SLAVE LABOR.
  • {Person who covers many thousands of kilometres} is a WORLD TRAVELER.
  • {Defence against root canal pain} is a LOCAL ANESTHETIC.
  • {It helped fulfil a JFK dream} is the APOLLO PROGRAM.
  • {“You’ve been marvellous!”} clues “THANKS A TON”.

so i have a confession to make: i didn’t even notice until just sitting down to write this post that each clue contains a british spelling: civilisations, kilometres, defence, fulfil, and marvellous. but i did notice that each of the answers included a word that the british spell differently: laboUr, travelLer, anAesthetic, programME, and tonNE. the title is also a hint in that direction, although i don’t think i was particularly aware of the title when i noticed the spellings. anyway, the extra letters that have been lost in the american spellings are ULAMENE, which spells … nothing. i kind of wanted former NYC mayor ABE BEAME to emerge just based on the A and ME, but no.

anyway, after thinking about this for a few minutes, i tried going about the meta from the opposite angle: what mayors might be famous enough to be the answer? almost immediately, chicago mayor rahm EMANUEL came to mind, and lo, there are all the letters of his name. some people consider it inelegant when you have to do some anagramming to get the meta answer, and i guess i’m one of them (to an extent, anyway). well, no big deal. today it’s emanuel, and that’s that. a very suitable meta answer for christmas, i might add, even though emanuel himself is jewish. happy hanukkah, by the way.

since it is christmas as i write this, dear readers, and it’s a busy weekend (i’ll be traveling all day monday), i’ll sign off here. one more MGWCC this year, and it’s a 5th-of-the-month special. i’m looking forward to it! hope you and your families are all well.

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31 Responses to MGWCC #186

  1. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Came here feeling pretty good, having gotten the meta without much trouble. Severely deflated noticing for the first time as I read Joon’s listing of the theme clue/answer sets that I had not previously seen the British spellings in the clues!

    But a great puzzle with, as Joon also points out, a seasonal theme!

  2. Tony says:

    Had the letters, but couldn’t unscramble to Emanuel to save my life, which is a shame because that’s my father’s (and several other Greeks I know) name, but he goes by simply Manuel or Manny. Mega Mega fail for this week.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    190 correct answers this week.

    Interestingly EMANUEL is by far the best meta answer for this trick, and the selection is extremely limited (even with the random anagram). The available letters are all the vowels (A and U as in the puzzle, plus O in moustache, I in aluminium and E in annexe, furore, etc.) plus L as in the puzzle and ME and NE as in the puzzle. That’s all I could find.

    Almost had MENELAUS as the meta answer which would have been cool because I could have done it in order (note the M and N need their E as in programme and tonne) but there’s no British spelling I could find that adds an S (biassed was close, but biased is much preferred now in Britain it seems).

    Also, two solvers sent in current D.C. mayor Vincent Gray with the reasoning that he’d be “Grey” in England. Might have to accept that one as well.

  4. JanglerNPL says:

    Matt Gaffney: guessing “math” doesn’t count :)

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle. I deal with British spellings daily and noticed at once. Perhaps there might have been better choices than fulfil and marvellous, as these were rather glaring signals. Even if civilisation, kilometres, and defence slipped by, I imagine many solvers spotted these quite quickly. But I thought the next step lovely, since it required converting the theme answers in the opposite direction. I’d guess nearly everyone knows labour, and perhaps anaesthetic, but how many knew programme and tonne? Personally, I confess I had to check my Chambers (the cryptic setter’s bible) for traveller. Happy New Year to all, though I fear this Sunday we’ll still be struggling with Friday’s threatened labyrinth.

  6. Bruce S. says:


    Don’t know that many mayors. Saw that the clues were British spellings and the answers were American spellings and wondered if there were any famous mayors who had been born in Britain and then came to America. Lo and Behold Jerry Springer fit the bill… so that was my answer.

    Oh well.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Paul — interestingly, the magazine “Conde Nast Traveler” is printed as “Conde Nast Traveller” in the U.K.

    Google image search: Conde Nast Traveller

  8. I Before E says:

    Wow, I got all the letters for the right reasons, but couldn’t anagram them right. I even went to an anagram web site and it didn’t give me that combination (why not?). I might have figured it out eventually but with Christmas and then the Monday holiday, I got back to it this morning and realized it was Tuesday already.

  9. J. T. Williams says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t get any Jerry Springers, which was my first guess until I figured out the anagramming trick. Oh, I see Bruce S. went through the same train tunnel. I didn’t stop there because it seemed like there was another step missing or something, as Springer didn’t give me the perfect click I look for in Matt’s puzzles, but I certainly didn’t find any other famous British-born mayors.

  10. Bruce S. says:


    I agree that there wasn’t the satisfying click, but since I didn’t know any other mayors and looked at the anagram and nothing jumped out. Although I can’t say the D.C. mayor Grey reasoning would have given me a click either so who knows…

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Five people submitted Jerry Springer, but I don’t think that’s solid enough to count.

  12. Jamie says:

    Well, blast it. I sat staring at this puzzle for ages. I didn’t notice a single English-English spelling in the clues.

  13. Jeff says:

    I refused to separate the ME and the NE and couldn’t get past MENELAUS, even when I looked at a picture of Rahm Emanuel when I typed “mayor” into Google. UGH!

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I believe the anagram tool at doesn’t generate names, just lowercased words. Wasn’t there another anagrammed-name meta in the last two or three months? One that I failed to get because I tried that anagram server and it didn’t yield any names?

    As a Chicagoan, EMANUEL wasn’t too far from my mind when thinking about mayors.

  15. Jeffrey says:

    No idea. Didn’t notice the British/american thingy as they read perfectly normal to a Canadian.

  16. Barbara Hartwell says:

    As one of the two people submitting Gray I thought it must be a word that had a different British spelling. Do me a favour and accept it.

  17. abide says:

    Call me a Grinch, but I can’t see any basis for accepting Gray. Jane Byrne would be just as plausible.

  18. rebecca says:

    I think math/maths would be an acceptable “add an S” for the british version as every brit I know (many) only refers to it in the plural form.

  19. Matt Gaffney says:

    Yes but rebecca (and Jangler) “maths” and “math” are pronounced differently (a reason I was reluctant to use alumin(i)um).

  20. Karen says:

    I got it by a completely lucky guess, ie there aren’t that many well known mayors (Koch and Eastwood are the ones that spring to mind). No notice of any spelling tricks…I was looking at how many repeat letters were in each theme answer.

  21. pannonica says:

    Did anyone solve it, as was suggested in the e-mail, without looking at the instructions?

  22. Jamie says:

    @pannonica, @matt gaffney: If the answer to that is yes, please do not publish it.

    There’s no way on earth.

  23. Howard B says:

    I also submitted Gray for the same reason.
    My first attempt was to obtain the missing British spelling letters and attempt to find a solution, so I was on the right track, but could not obtain anything from it. Rahm Emanuel is definitely a famous mayor, but he doesn’t appear in headlines much around here, so it did not stand out for me, and I just missed the boat there – mea meta culpa. So I then tried a different approach and actually found exactly one reasonable answer which matched the meta theme.
    I can understand the reasoning for its acceptability or not, either way.

  24. Jamie says:

    @Howard B: I am stealing mea meta culpa.

  25. Matt Gaffney says:

    Howard & Barbara — let me submit it to the panel. I’m torn so I’ll punt.

  26. Lois says:

    I don’t think anyone here has specifically mentioned the cute pun in the title of the puzzle, “English Lesson [Lessen],” although everyone might be taking it for granted. Joon has mentioned the extra letters and it has been noted that the American-spelled theme answers are all shorter than the British spellings, and that the extra letters are the source of the theme answer. In the British-English-spelled clues, there is no total difference in number of letters from the American spellings (fulfil has one letter less than the American version and marvellous has one letter more).

  27. Joel B says:

    I vote in favor of accepting the questionable entries. It’s obviously a Gray area, but it’s the giving season, so let’s give them a break.

    Some odd maths is (are?) afoot though. I also submitted “Gray” which make me number three to do so, though Matt said there were two.

  28. Matt Gaffney says:

    Sorry Joel, you were the third GRAY entrant. I did a quick search for VINCENT GRAY entries, which is what the other two sent in, and therefore I missed your entry which was just GRAY (which is fine).

  29. Gary Levin says:

    Flipping the letters around, I found EMANUEL, but wondered about the anagramming. Then I thought about the title and justified it by ENGLISH ~ SPIN. Good enough indicator for me. Looking forward to the final puzzle of the year. Thanks for the fun Matt.

  30. I got ULAMENE without looking at the instructions. But after not being able to get anywhere with that, I looked at them to find out we were looking for a famous mayor, and after some pondering and anagramming, I came upon the answer.

    It’s much more elegant when the meta can be solved without the instructions. This one can be (though it’s rather difficult), but last week’s, say, would be impossible. All you’d have is ND, and without knowing a priori that you’re looking for an 8-letter world capital, it’s impossible to arrive at NEW DELHI.

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