MGWCC #187

crossword 5:50 (across lite)
puzzle about 5 minutes 

happy twenty-twelve, everyone, and welcome to episode #187 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Edge of Darkness”. this week’s puzzle, challenging us to identify the last name of a famous athlete, was not too tough for a 5th-week puzzle. there were no explicit theme answers, but there were a few oddly-written clues, and with help from the title, i noticed pretty quickly that there were many places (circled in the screencap) where one letter could be blacked out and the clues for the across and down answers there would still both work. how so? thusly:

  • {Erstwhile holder of dominion in India} is a RAJA (a person), but also more broadly the RAJ (as an institution). the option A crossed {Not much} A LITTLE, which would also work as a clue for the adverb LITTLE.
  • {Put into one’s ears, as music} is HEARD (in the past tense), or HEAR (in the present). the D was elegantly optional in {Gradual movement apart} (D)RIFT.
  • {Utterances often elicited by massage therapists} are (O)OHS, crossing {Frequent roadkill victim} (O)POSSUM, which has two common spelling options.
  • {They may be found near a fisherman} are (R)EELS, either equipment or prey. and apparently {One of Miss Piggy’s two nephews} is (R)ANDY. didn’t know either, but sure.
  • {Word before calendar or hieroglyphs} is MAYA(N), since MAYA can be an adjective, too. this crossed the similar {Costa ___} RICA(N), either a person or her country.
  • {___ sauce} SOY(A) also has two spellings (though i’ve only seen the longer one used in crosswords). crossing at the A is {Nice address in Rio de Janeiro} SENHOR(A), a form of address for either a woman or a man.
  • {Part of a palindrome in paradise} is (M)ADAM, in the well-known palindrome “MADAM, i’m ADAM”. i had to vote last week on my team’s name for the 2012 MIT mystery hunt; it’s always a palindrome. i don’t remember what i voted for or what won, but many of the suggestions were pretty cool. anyway, crossing at that M was {It’s designed for speedy breeding} HARE(M), which is a bit of a stretch both ways. but i’m impressed that matt could even come up with any kind of clue at all to link HARE and HAREM.
  • {A billion years} is an (A)EON, again with two spellings. and a {Business that may serve ouzo} is a TAVERN(A), the greek or, uh, not necessarily greek versions of an establishment for drinking.

many elegant touches here: there are 8 special squares in the grid, and they’re symmetrically located. as the title suggests, they are all on the edge of the grid, and if they were to fall to “darkness” (i.e. be blacked in), the crossword would still “work”, in some sense. anyway, who’s the famous athlete spelled out by these 8 letters? no anagramming required this week, although you do have to figure out where to start and which way to go: clockwise starting from square 66, we get MARADONA, the last name of legendary argentine soccer star diego maradona. and if you do connect those squares in sequence, the grid ends up looking not unlike a soccer ball, actually.

one other thematic hint: the central entry in the grid is CHEATER, clued as {Dishonest gentleman}. in crossword lingo, black squares that don’t affect the word count are sometimes called “cheater squares”, and are frowned upon by some. this grid doesn’t appear to have any, but of course if you blacked out the 8 special squares you’d get a symmetric grid with 8 cheaters. the word count would still be 82 (which is a bit higher than the usual limit, not that it really matters), and the black square count would go from an acceptable 38 to a very high 46.

matt points out that maradona is himself a cheater, having scored the infamous “hand of god” goal against england in the 1986 world cup, which was allowed to stand because the referee thought he had scored it with his head. later in that same match, though, he scored again, this one widely regarded as the goal of the century. behind those two goals, argentina won the match 2-1 and went on to win the world cup.

odds & ends:

  • {Tissue, in anatomy (anagram of LATE)} is TELA. this is pretty ugly fill. i think i have seen this same letter sequence clued as a port city of honduras, which isn’t any better.
  • {Kansas congressman Kevin} YODER? never heard of him.
  • {First city in the world to reach 1 million people} is BAGHDAD? had no idea, but that’s a cool clue.
  • {Rival of Rafael} is jeopardy champion ROGER craig.
  • {Issuers of Form 8697 (Interest Computation Under the Look-Back Method for Completed Long-Term Contracts)} is a ridiculously long-winded clue for the IRS. i guess maybe it’s a metacommentary of some sort.
  • {___ Gay Tibbets (pilot’s mother)} is ENOLA. last week on vacation we visited the steven f. udvar-hazy center of the national air & space museum. (yeah, i know what you’re thinking: “oh, THAT udvar-hazy.”) the original enola gay, a B-29 “superfortress”, is there. cool piece of history. also, “superfortress” is a pretty apt name. that sucker is huge.
  • {Images} are EIDOLA, plural of eidolon. rare word. i only know eidolon from final fantasy X.
  • {___ Myerson (first Jewish winner of the Miss America Pageant, 1945)} BESS? this is not a cool piece of history, i think.
  • {Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent ___} GRAY? i thought it was GREY.

that’s all for me, folks. i hope everybody had a lovely holiday period. happy new year!

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34 Responses to MGWCC #187

  1. Scott says:

    Wow I got all the letters but failed to get the answer. I sent in RODMAN and had AA left over. I never heard of MARADONA!

  2. Mike says:

    Isn’t the rival of Rafael (Nadal) Roger (Federer)?

  3. Cole says:

    And the CHEATER in the center is crossed by the SQUARES vertical, right?

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    Happy New Year, everyone. This puzzle was certainly outstanding work from Matt. At first glance, my hunch was (Christiano) Ronaldo, due to the heavy usage of Os and Rs and Matt’s liking for Portugal, but I couldn’t make it work with the “look-back method” around black squares. Was this an intentional red herring – did anyone else spend hours trying to find something backwards in the grid? Or does it signify an athlete from the past? I did find A-Rod forming an edge of darkness in the bottom left, but that would have been much too slight a meta for our ever elegant host. Then I reread the instructions and saw he wanted a surname. On Sunday, I thought I’d hit on something with George Foreman, since foreran crosses Raye, the clue for which glaringly uses “Martha washing tons…” suggesting George. But there was nothing else like this, so I Googled “Cheater Squares,” which I’d never seen in Cryptic circles, but sounded like a constructor’s term. It was the only thing that looked like a theme, and once I saw the definition, I had the meta cracked. My only quibble is that I included a Y and 2nd R in the anagram fodder for Rand/Oder and Sure/ I can. But when the ten letters couldn’t produce anything, I decided Matt had rejected “I can” as a partial phrase – or maybe reasoned that you couldn’t remove both the R and N from RICAN – then the Maradona fell. I also wonder if anyone found only three of the pairs and submitted Rodman – though I think infamous comes closer to describing him more than famous. Vivo el Mano de Dios siempre!

  5. joon says:

    re: SQUARES: i didn’t even notice that part! another nice touch.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    134 correct entries this week.

    And MARADONA isn’t just a cheater, he’s a monster cheater! Watch this 1-minute clip of his interview with (1986 Golden Boot winner) Gary Lineker. He not only defends his play on the Hand of God goal, but goes on to casually explain that he’d scored goals like that previously in Argentina (!).

  7. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Didn’t notice the connection between MARADONA and cheating. Did notice that the central crossing is CHEATER+SQUARES(!), which makes for an even more specific clue in this remarkably theme-saturated puzzle. It’s a great closer for 2011, though so packed with clues that it felt a bit too easy for week 5, thanks also to some luck: I noticed (O)POSSUM, and then the other seven theme squares, and thus solved the meta-puzzle, before completing the grid (and also a bit before noticing CHEATER SQUARES in the grid and the clue in the title) – and then put away the puzzle overnight, so I can claim to have solved the metapuzzle in something like minus 24 hours, which is way faster than any of the negative times that Joon has reported :-)

    @Mike: presumably “ROGER CRAIG” was Joon’s Rex-style joke.

    Happy New Year; on to MGWCC ##188-239 !

  8. Paul Coulter says:

    Wow, Matt, I hadn’t thought of the cheater connection to Maradona – even more impressive. But Ihave to take issue with the monster cheater characterization. Maradona is widely considered one of the best to ever play the game. I’m an enormous England supporter, but I have no problem with Maradona. Having played football all my life, I can tell you a fair play is one the referee doesn’t whistle. Players push the limit just as far as possible. Yes, of course there are some things you don’t do, like continuing play when an opponent’s down with an injury, but I can’t imagine giving back a goal I’d scored for my country, because, say, I was a step offside and the linesman hadn’t flagged me. It goes the other way just as often, and all of us have had legitimate goals taken away by some terrible decision.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Paul — it’s not cheating if you don’t get caught, eh? I would’ve red carded him on the spot once he started celebrating. Instant replay is desperately needed in soccer.

  10. mitchs says:

    Wow. Fantastic puzzle and meta. I only had the three a’s and the o as cheaters, so I was convinced that it was a subtraction solution, particularly after “LITTLE SENHOR” translated so well to the “Bambino”. Ugh. Lazy on my part.

  11. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt – I’m a referee, as well, and you’re right to an extent, it would be a cardable offense (yellow, unless the player’s already on a booking) for unsportsmanlike conduct, HAD it been seen. But it was a very subtle move, missed at full speed by the three officials, which is why it’s called The Hand of God. Once again, outstanding work on this puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed peeling away its many layers.

  12. pannonica says:

    re: EIDOLA. I know it from pareidola and eidos. The latter is also an entertainment software company.

    So, am I the only one who confidently submitted THORPE?

  13. J. T. Williams says:

    I had the same slight snag as Paul with inclusion of the R and Y in the cheater squares. I thought about both of his proposed reconciliations too, but the argument that you can’t remove both could just as easily be applied to exclude the N and R, and I don’t know that I CAN is any worse than SOYA, AEON, or TAVERNA. I like Joon’s explanation, which I think has to be “right” (as in, what Matt intended), that the clue doesn’t change even with inclusion of the cheater square. That elevates the puzzle to another layer of brilliance as far as I’m concerned.

    Not being particularly familiar with pre-2000 soccer (I think that’s when I got hooked on my first World Cup if I remember right), I missed the MARADONA / CHEATER connection. But surely that left middle side is not merely coincidence with its strong allusions to DIEGO. If so, that’s a pretty strong coincidence!

  14. miss k says:

    Never heard of him. I got the cheater square thing quickly and came up with (Hank) Aaron, with an extra a. Never saw the other two letters, nor would that have helped if I had. I guess “famous” is a very subjective term.

  15. Joan says:

    Oh I so wish I had known about cheater squares! Or Maradona…..
    I was working on all those R names–Randy, Riley, Roger, Rafael, Raye–thinking there must be some connection.

  16. ant says:

    Paul/J.T. –
    I, too, considered the R and the Y, but eventually rejected them once I realized the cluing would need to change for the new words. However, this was not before I spent a considerable amount of time trying to anagram those 10 letters.

    I thought the MINI Cooper clue was just brilliant! Even after plugging it in, I was thinking “oh, a model changed her name to the car- how cute!” Duh!

  17. Jed says:


    I solved this weekend at my parents’ house, concurrently with them, and I’m pretty sure BESS was the first answer for BOTH of them — they knew it without thinking. I got it only with crossings, but it was clearly a generational divide.

  18. Nancy S says:

    Ouch — got most of the way through after first noticing ‘cheater squares,’ and identifying their letters.
    Nowhere could I find the name MARADONA in any anagram solver. Never heard of this guy. Must start reading the Sports section in 2012.
    Or, Matt, pull a name out of either Styles, Metropolitan, or Arts. Thanks a lot!

  19. Joel B says:

    Anyone else think for a moment the meta answer would be Tiger Woods? I saw CHEATER, the “Bag” of BAGHDAD and the “Fore” of FORERAN. PANTIES was even more of a stretch than Bag and Fore, and the “theme” hit a dead end at OFASORT.

    Fortunately “cheater squares” was vaguely familiar as a crossword term and after googling the definition I got the meta in the 11th hour.

  20. tabstop says:

    Re Bess Myerson, I knew of her because I watch too many old game shows, esp. old game shows with Bill Cullen, and Miss America is (to the best of my knowledge) the reason she was famous enough to be on panel shows in the first place.

  21. *David* says:

    Felt easy for a fifth week meta but entertaining nevertheless. It appears difficulty was based more on specific knowledge then the reasoning required.

  22. abide says:

    Great stuff–Matt also worked Diego Maradona’s middle name (ARMANDO) into the cheater squares!

  23. pannonica says:

    Again, no one else with THORPE?

    The grid strongly resembles an octothorpe. There are eight cheater squares. Remove the octo- from octothorpe and you’re left with thorpe, Jim Thorpe.

    What? Don’t look at me like that.

  24. Scott says:

    OK, pannonica, I will grant you that the grid does resemble an #.

  25. Bananarchy says:

    Wow. Never got around to solving this one, but what a stunning puzzle! How does MG do it?!

  26. Gnarbles says:

    Try this site for an anagram solver that has proper nouns/names:

  27. Foggy Brume says:

    So…was there any reason for the weird clue “Martha washing ton’s of her…” clue for RAYE

  28. dunnderhead says:

    I’m in the TIGER WOODS camp for lots of reasons mentioned above but also because his mother’s maiden name was GRAY.

    I didn’t know the term and it never occurred to search for anything once I had Woods in my site. I don’t follow sports very much. I don’t follow soccer at all. While I appreciate the post-fail elegance of the puzzle, it felt like, um, slightly less than a fair play in terms of general knowledge sets. Artists, anyone?

    But, I never fail to enjoy most of the process of pulling my hair out. Thanks for a wonderful years of delight, Mr. Gaffney. Thanks a lot.

  29. Matthew G. says:

    This was a great one. I wish I’d had time to sit down with it.

    December was a crazy month for me, and I haven’t really tried to solve a meta since Week 2 of the month. Looking forward to diving back into MGWCC with gusto in 2012.

  30. Old Geezer says:

    “famous,” when applied to the general population of the world (or a specific subset thereof), must be defined as common recognition to a majority of the populace (not just that subset). Whoever is famous in a particular field may be totally unheard of to that general populace. Name a famous chessplayer: you might know Fischer, possibly sveral others. Golfer? Woods is universally recognized, and few others. Soccer? Well, there was Pele. As a non-soccer fan, he’s the only one I could say.

    That said, it was another great puzzle from Matt.

    And, as an old geezer, BESS Myerson was a total gimme!

  31. Matt Gaffney says:

    Oh and Happy Birthday to Joon!

  32. Noam D. Elkies says:

    In an otherwise spectacular puzzle I want to call unnecessary roughness on the NYRO/RAYE crossing in 55D/64A. It’s true that, as in the other Three corners, two sides of the 4×4 square were forced by the theme, and a third side (here 54A) is part of a seven-letter word; but here Matt had the FOREsight to give himself several options, and one of them, FOREMAN, allows for MOUE/AMMO/NEIN in 55/56/57 Down, making 61A=ROME and 64A=NUMI (purveyors of organic teas, also obscure to some but all the crossings are well-known). I found some other solutions that are heavier on the crosswordese but still usable.


    P.S. Thanks to Joon for the video of Maradona’s one legitimate goal from that World Cup match.

  33. jefe says:

    No one for Muhammad Ali? It is on the edge of darkness:

  34. Evad says:

    ¡Hola jefe! ALI was my thought as well for the exact same reason, but I felt that that left too few (if any) constraints for the rest of the puzzle.

    ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

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