MGWCC #200

crossword 4:43, with one google
meta 5 minutes 

hello and welcome to episode #200 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Game of the Century”. for this week 5 puzzle, matt asks us for the answer to the question “Who’s on first?”. what does this mean? there are no explicitly marked theme clues, but this is a rebus puzzle with five unusual rebus squares:

  • in the top-left corner, we have ROBINSON jammed into a single square where the {Fictional character based on Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk} (ROBINSON) CRUSOE meets the {Missing Swiss} (ROBINSON) FAMILY. it helped to know the clue for 1a right off the bat, and one glance at 1d told me what was going on rebus-wise.
  • in the top right, {Was a pioneer} CAME (FIRST) meets the {Target usually overrun}, (FIRST) BASE.
  • Dead-center, the indian {Rice dishes} BI(RYAN)IS meet {NBA MVP, 2007-2008} kobe B(RYAN)T.
  • in the lower left, {“The Brew That Grew With the Great Northwest”} is (SCHMIDT) BEER and {Google’s CEO, 2001-2011} is ERIC (SCHMIDT). i knew i knew neither of these, so i had to google for the name that goes in box 65. in retrospect i’ve heard both names before but no way was i pulling either one.
  • finally in the lower right, a {Pew} is a CHURCH (BENCH) and {Furniture often grunted upon} is a quite vivid (but somewhat gross) clue for WEIGHT (BENCH).

in contrast to the last two weeks, when matt has attacked 1980s movies and elton john songs (both areas of vast ignorance for me), this week’s baseball meta is a nice fat pitch right over the plate. except for the square with FIRST in it, the other four rebus squares are names of various hall-of-fame baseball players, correctly located at the positions that they play (if you tilt the grid so that the lower right becomes home plate): johnny BENCH catching, nolan RYAN pitching, jackie ROBINSON playing second, and mike SCHMIDT at the hot corner. (since the names don’t fit into the screencap, i put the position abbreviations in the grid in their place.) so who’s on first?

with a gentle nudge from the title, i was reminded of the MLB All-Century Team, selected in 1999. sure enough, the four players in the grid were all the starting players at their positions on the all-century team.

(aside: ryan was a terrible choice for pitcher of the century. walter johnson seems like a no-brainer, but you see what happens when you leave the voting up to the fans. but hey, water under the bridge, right? also, don’t tell nolan i said that, lest he come beat the crap out of me like he did to robin ventura.)

the answer to “who’s on first”, therefore, must be the starting first baseman on the all-century team: none other than lou gehrig, the iron horse. gehrig actually led all players at all positions in fan balloting, and i can’t say it was a bad choice. the gap between gehrig and the next-best first baseman is pretty vast. curiously, gehrig was the subject of some discussion here over the weekend when barry silk put wally PIPP into his saturday LAT puzzle.

what did you all think of this one? overall i found it to be easy for a week 5, but perhaps that’s just because i know baseball. the one part that slowed me down, actually, was ROBINSON at 2B, since i associate that name first with outfielder frank and second with 3B brooks, both hall-of-famers in their own right. jackie, of course, is even more famous, especially to non-baseball fans.

did you notice that the grid is slightly asymmetric? i didn’t either until evad pointed it out to me. the black square next to FRANKLY doesn’t have a symmetric counterpart on the bottom of the grid. it doesn’t really matter to me, though. it’s pretty challenging to fill the corners with these specific rebus squares.


  • a couple of thematic fillips in the grid: {The Rays and the Jays, et al.} are the AL EAST. to {Try for a hit} is to BAT. but no such treatment for ACE, former red sox outfielder troy O’LEARY, pee wee REESE, or YOGIS. the latter is pretty understandable, i guess, since it might be distracting—berra was actually the #2 catcher behind bench on the all-century team.
  • {Eponymous 1990s media magazine founder Steven ___} BRILL. who the? what? a cursory google turned up no evidence of any such magazine, and i didn’t care enough to do a supercursory google search.
  • {“First-time” person} is a CALLER, as in “long-time listener, first-time caller”. cute. if this were another kind of puzzle, the same clue would yield quite a different 6-letter answer.
  • {NBA MVP, 2004-2005 & 2005-2006} is STEVE NASH. (canadian content!) love him. it’s also cute that this clue echoes the similar clue for B(RYAN)T just a couple before it.
  • {Policemen and women, for short} are LEOS. i learned this from evad right here in this space a couple weeks back. thanks, evad!
  • favorite clue: {Brief words?} for VOCAB.

so, how did march treat you? i’m guessing we’ll have a lot of 5-for-5ers.

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45 Responses to MGWCC #200

  1. David says:

    Easiest Gaffney month ever, I think. Beautiful puzzle, though. And Joon, you are right about Walter Johnson. Travesty of justice…

  2. Matthew G. says:

    This was a shockingly easy Week 5 if you’re a baseball fan. I’m curious how it played for those who aren’t. I managed to do both the puzzle and the meta on my lunch break last Friday.

    I don’t want to brag too much, though — I was completely stymied by the Week 4 this month, which most people also found supereasy. I do know my baseball much better than I know my television. So I went 4-for-5 this month.

    Joon is right on about Nolan Ryan — deservedly a Hall of Famer, but not even in the top five when it comes to the question of Best Pitcher of the 20th Century. He walked way, way, way too many people for that. And I’m glad Matt found a way to sneak YOGI into the grid — as good as BENCH was, Berra is too-often recalled for his malapropisms and not often enough credited with being one of the two greatest catchers of all time (which he was).

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Don’t know much about baseball, but the title and other info made it very easy to Google to the correct answer.

    And learned a new word in the process: Was walking in New York City on Sunday, friend noticed one of those omnipresent food carts offering “biryanis”, I was pleased to know for the first time what they are.

    5 for 5 this month; not much to brag about.

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    Overall, I thought this excellent fun, but I do have a slight quibble from the Pedant’s Corner. I thought Amy would have knocked off half a star for fill like cruising off and lo carb. As for the meta, I quite enjoyed it, but I agree with Joon, the month was surprisingly easy, by far the least challenging to finish in the year I’ve played. I also think many will have found this puzzle harder to solve than the meta answer, itself. On the all-time list of baseball greats, some have argued McGuire ahead of Gehrig at 1st base, despite the steroids, but the meta answer of Gehrig is clear, since he like the others is in the Hall of Fame, which McGuire isn’t and likely never will be. AL East and possibly Yogi (Berra) seem to point to the Yankees, too. Also, I’d like to thank Matt for the tip of the cap to Mike Schmidt from a lifelong Phillies fan.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    I’m too embarrassed to tell you how many correct entries came in this week. Maybe by Friday I’ll get over it. But the first digit is a 3.

  6. Cyrano says:

    Brill’s Content ( was a short-lived media magazine, and actually a pretty decent one. Shut shop in 2001. I agree with David, that this month was surprisingly simple. I like/respect all the puzzles, just surprised at how quickly I got all the metas.

  7. Matt says:

    Gehrig was a logical guess, but I can’t believe Ryan is ranked first on any list of pitchers. Chicks dig the strikeouts (and no-hitters), I guess.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Yeah, Ryan was barely over .500 in W-L % career. But hey, 7 no-hitters.

    I wrote the monthly crossword for Brill’s Content!

  9. Matthew G. says:

    @Paul Coulter, @Matt11:14 am:

    Just to be clear, Matt wasn’t exercising any personal discretion with the players he chose. He went with the top vote-getter at each position on MLB’s official All-Century Team (linked in Joon’s post). Some of those fan selections were wise (Gehrig), while others were not (Ryan).

  10. Robin says:

    I thought maybe 25D SCLEROTIC was also a hint to Lou Gehrig since his illness was Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

  11. Cyrano says:

    @MGaffney – Really?! that is great. I was in grad school for journalism when the magazine debuted. It garnered a lot of discussion. I confess I only read article bylines back then, not puzzle constructors. If you have any of the puzzles in .puz format, I’d love to relive them.

  12. Howard B says:

    Easy Week 5, but Week 4 did me in this month too. No regrets.
    Also had to double-Google SCHMIDT (then again, how else are you going to ‘rebify’ that), and was mystified by BRILL. So a lot of common solving ground this week.

  13. Aaron Brandes says:

    I thought GEHRIG was too obvious to be a week 5 answer.
    I also thought the cheater square had to be important.
    At first base that could be Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro

    I was distracted by all the other players there on a first name basis ROD Carew (a very good first baseman) sliding into third, CAL Ripkin, playing way too close to third, FRANK Thomas taking a very small lead off of second, YOGI Berra caught up between bases and MEL Ott hanging out next to the cheater square.

    The combo of ACE and BAT could only describe the BABE, but he’s in the outfield.

    I also see a talented shortstop and team mate of ROBINSON present by last name, on his way to first (REESE).

    If I were going for best STEVE in baseball, I’d go with Carlton.

    If this were a week 2 I would have submitted GEHRIG, but I went for CAREW, knowing it was wrong.
    Oh well, there’s always next season.

  14. Blanche says:

    Not a baseball fan. At all. Watching a bunch of grown men chase a ball around is not my thing. Still, I, too, as did Matthew G., found this one shockingly easy, having tanked on weeks 3 and 4.

  15. joon says:

    if you google bench robinson schmidt ryan, the first hit (at least for me) is, believe it or not, this page right here. #3 is the wikipedia article for the all-century team. so yeah, i guess it’s not a hard meta even for non-baseball fans.

  16. Dave Taube says:

    I submitted Eddie Murray, which I think is an equally plausible answer. Like the others (Ryan, Bench, Robinson and Schmidt), Murray was a first ballot Hall of Famer who, unlike Gehrig, waited the requisite five years before he was inducted into the Hall. Willie McCovey is the only other HOF first baseman who fits these criteria, but I submitted Murray because Ryan has four letters in his name, Bench five, Schmidt seven and Robinson eight. Murray would have fit right in the middle with six. I used to be a big baseball fan, so I probably over-thought this one.

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    Dave Taube — I’m second to no one in Eddie Murray fan-dom (the greatest baseball player non-baseball fans have never heard of), but 1) there are other 1st-ballot HOFers who aren’t in this puzzle, and 2) EM doesn’t address the title, so that answer doesn’t quite work.

    Man, I’m getting junked on difficulty level the past two weeks! Well if they didn’t care they wouldn’t 2-star me, I tell myself. Not that I totally disagree, since difficulty level expectation is part of the solving experience.

  18. Mike L says:

    Like Dave, I over-thought this one too, in the belief that it was impossible to overthink a Week 5.

    I submitted Harmon Killebrew. Add up the jersey numbers for each of the players in the grid, and it comes to 97. “Century” told me we wanted them to add up to 100. A Hall-of-Fame-level 1B who wore the number 3? Killebrew fit the bill.

  19. Laura says:

    As a baseball non-fan, I went down two false paths before noticing the “All-Century” link on the Wiki: (1) The three outside names all played for one major league team, and Ryan played for four; I figured that there was a correspondence of some kind. (2) The grid contains “AL East” and “In red,” which made me think the answer would be a member of the Red Sox. Forgot about the title until Monday night.

    But yay, 5 for 5! I’ll take it…

  20. Noam D. Elkies says:

    As a non-b*seball fan(*) I also found this puzzle shockingly easy for a fifth-Friday puzzle. I also found it something of a letdown, but not nearly as much as the NYTimes Sunday puzzle, where I was expecting a unique out-of-the-box April Fool’s experience and instead quit out of boredom when all I saw was a tired theme of puns on g*lf terms. Ah well, on to April.


    (*) Come on, guys, post about the puzzle, not about which retiree should have been elected for what accolade — that’s so last century.

  21. Ed says:

    You want another torturous path? I looked at the first letters of the player’s name and position and noticed B(ench)-C(atcher), S(chmidt)-T(hird), R(obinson)-S(econd), consecutive letters. Of course it falls apart with R(yan)-P(itcher), that, and there’s no Hall of Fame first baseman who’s last name starts with E, but if there had been that would have been my guess. I’d never heard of the All-Century team and for some reason didn’t think to google on the other names. I just took a guess at Gehrig and was right. 4 out of 5 for the month, I blanked on the third week.

  22. Joe says:

    @joon… I am the biggest non-baseball fan you can imagine, but I got the puzzle fairly quickly and the meta in a heartbeat by Googling exactly what you did.

    I thought the month was really easy, too. Am somewhat saddened that everyone else did. I thought I was just getting really good at this!

  23. Gareth says:

    I’m not sure how, but I blundered into this weeks answer. The Wikipedia article was one of a number I had opened while looking up more about the baseballers in the rebus squares… I didn’t even remember opening it! I’ll see your one googled rebus square and raise you another: I thought I had to google B(RYAN)T/BI(RYAN)I, but after googling I realised I didn’t… Although I’d only seen the dish spelled bryani before!

    P.S. Personally, I’m more familiar with the guys on this all-time team:

  24. Tyler says:

    I should have predicted that my first perfect month in six months would be called one of the easiest sets ever. But hell, I’ll take it.

  25. Wayne says:

    I don’t know baseball, but I do know Google. I came up with Gehrig on Friday afternoon, but I figured that was way too easy for a week 5, especially after the abuse our beloved constructor took here for making last week’s too easy.

    So I spent the weekend looking for the missing angle. Is the word “first” in the prompt an oblique reference to April Fool’s Day? Is the “century” in the title a reference to this being the double-century puzzle in the series? And what about that asymmetric black square between first and second base?[*] Could it be hiding the all-time stolen base leader (Rickey Henderson)? And what does “on first” mean? What if it’s referring not–as Lou Costello said–to the first baseman, but to the runner, and therefore to the record holder for the most singles (Pete Rose)? And what about the missing shortstop? The last time I paid attention to baseball Bud Harrelson was starting shortstop for the Mets. (Lou Gehrig==>Lou Costello==>Bud Abbott==>Bud Harrelson?)

    And on and on and on.

    In the end, I submitted the right answer. But by the time I did, I had so thoroughly tied myself in knots, I was sure that I was barking up the wrong ballpark.

    Still…a clever theme, and an enjoyable grid. And the time I spent on this over the weekend kept me from seeing The Hunger Games. So the effort wasn’t totally wasted.

    [*] I may not have noticed the extra square were it not for Joon’s comment about the symmetry in Ben’s offering in last week’s Onion.

  26. Neville says:

    I got the right answer, but not the right way at all. It involved averaging uniform numbers, but it worked. Only with Gehrig at first is the average 21, and this is the 21st century. Yeah, I know.

    FWIW, I tried Googling those four names. The All-Century Team doesn’t show up until the bottom of page 2 for me, which was far too low for me to notice it or take it into account. (This page is link #3.)

  27. *David* says:

    Insultingly easy for a Week 5, I won’t do another week 5 puzzle until June in protest.

  28. Matt Gaffney says:

    Week 4 of next month will be a Week 6, *David*. I’ve learned my lesson and I’m ready to overcompensate.

  29. Abby says:

    I thought the puzzle was maybe tricky enough to make up for the meta being easy, but I still was worried it was >too< easy. I googled as mentioned above and got it right away- which is good because I don't know from baseball.

    I also thought the Lou Gehrig/Costello thing was too good to be wrong. Had to be right, right? I don't know. "Third base!"

  30. J. T. Williams says:

    Neville, that seems really odd to me that the all-century team would be so low for you. It was #3 on the list for me too, which combined with the title of the puzzle was just a dead giveaway. I wonder why your search results would be so different?

  31. Amy Reynaldo says:

    My Google search results put the Wikipedia page up pretty high and made the meta gettable in something like 5 minutes for this non-baseball fan. Or maybe 2 minutes. The hardest part for me was realizing there was a rebus square in the middle–I asked my husband the clue for Kobe and his only suggestion was Kobe. Eventually I realized that yes, my favored chicken biryani was a rebused-up answer here.

  32. MountainManZach says:

    I 5-for-5ed before I’ve ever 4-for-4ed! I’m going to say it’s definitely that I’m smart, and couldn’t possibly be because of anything else.

    @Gareth: Why do they all have bumpaddles?

  33. Bananarchy says:

    Bench is a player and not the bench!? Google could have probably helped me here…

  34. Joel Berghoff says:

    I really thought the answer was McGwire and here’s my argument for it:

    * There are two first basemen listed on Wikipedia’s MLB All-Century page – Gehrig and McGwire.
    * Robinson, Bench, Ryan, Schmidt all played in the National League. Not necessarily exclusively, but at least spent some quality time over there. McGwire spent time in the NL, Gehrig did not.
    * I don’t see why being in the HOF is more of a can’t-miss criterion than having played in the NL. There is no reference to HOF or “hall” in the puzzle that I see. Am I missing it?

    Any love for that logic Matt?

  35. jefe says:

    Noticed the asymmetry immediately, then forgot about it when I started finding rebuses. Cracked the lower right first, but had SEAT instead of BENCH. Fixed that after getting ROBINSON. Had to Google for SCHMIDT and RYAN (seeing BRYANT gave me a D’oh! moment). Googled “robinson ryan schmidt bench”, saw only baseball cards, added “team” to the search, and there it was.

    Clever meta, way too easy for week 5, 5/5 easy month, etc.

    @Joel: The criterion isn’t being in the HOF; it’s being on the Century team, as alluded to in the title.

  36. Matthew G. says:

    @Joel: HOF wasn’t the criterion either. It was the number of votes received for the All-Century Team. All of the names in the rebus squares of the grid received the greatest number of votes at their position. That makes Gehrig objectively the right answer.

  37. Karen says:

    Woohoo, 5 for 5! And congrats on the big 200, Matt!

  38. Alex says:

    I sympathize with Joel. Why should it be the top vote-getter at each position? I went with Lou Gehrig because I assumed the AL EAST was a hint, but I definitely noticed the National League connection and almost went with McGwire because of it.

  39. Alan says:

    When I think of Mark McGwire I think more of the Oakland A’s than St. Louis Cardinals. But that’s the AL-er in me…

  40. Elaine says:

    Cruel. I decided that LOU GEHRIG could not be intended due to his poor defense record (so much for Google help) and I just let it go. We’ve had a lot going on, and I did not have the stamina (aside from the fact that I was not in the running for any prizes…as usual for me!)

    But I love that so many people got it and crushed the record. too much coffee, Matt?

  41. sps says:

    I called out answers from the kitchen while I was cooking to my buddies as they were solving the puzzle (two Gaffney newbies). I solved the meta without even seeing the puzzle. I figured it had to Gehrig because there were no other first basemen named Lou that this baseball fan could think of. I wasn’t thinking HOF or the All-Century team. I just figured it had to be Gehrig because of the A&C connection…

  42. Matthew G. says:

    The moral of all of this is that the meta would have been both much harder and much more ambiguous if the puzzle had not been titled “Game of the Century.” Given that title, I don’t think any other answer is as satisfactory as Gehrig.

    Also, the AL EAST did not exist until decades after Gehrig’s death. During his career, there were simply the American League and the National League — no divisions.

  43. Dave Taube says:

    It seems that the non-baseball fans got the correct answer and the baseball fans got the wrong answer because we were looking at the wrong criteria (Hall of Fame as opposed to All-Century Team).

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