MGWCC #206

crossword 5:29
meta 3 or 4 minutes 

hello and welcome to episode #206 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “You CAN Go Back Again!”. this week, matt asks us to name a well-known actress. uh-oh, says i. well, let’s just take a look anyway. there are five goofy theme answers:

  • {System that detects threats to Canada’s 13th-largest city?} is LAVAL SONAR. LAVAL is a suburb of montreal; i would certainly be unfamiliar with it were it not the hometown of a friend of mine from my bridge-playing days.
  • {Woman so beloved by Ethiopians that she’s named for their capital city?} is MADAM ADDIS.
  • split across two entries in the middle, we have the {Famous American billionaire who donates to community causes?} CIVIC/GATES.
  • {Native American boat used to ship anti-anxiety pills?} is a XANAX CANOE. i really, really wanted “umiaq” (or umiak) to be part of this answer.
  • {Completely crush the youngest tennis player to ever win the French Open?} is to LEVEL CHANG, in reference to michael chang, winner of (if memory serves) the 1989 french open at age 18. (wikipedia check: right year, but he was only 17. yikes!) one demerit for {Level} being the clue to the very next answer in the grid, TIER.

so these are all two-word phrases with each word being five letters. with a nod from the title, it’s pretty obvious that the first word is always a palindrome. but what else is going on? doesn’t it kind of maybe seem like both words should be palindromes? most obviously, ADDIS isn’t the capital of ethiopia; ADDIS ABABA is, so maybe that one is just missing its ABABA. and a five-letter palindromic detection system is RADAR, not SONAR. in fact, each of the five theme answers has a “hidden” palindrome along these lines:

  • CIVIC SOROS (yeah, i learned about george SOROS from MGWCC long ago… this isn’t even the second time he’s come up, i think)
  • LEVEL SELES (as monica seles won the 1990 french at age 16)

so what do we do with this? well, i looked at RASKS first but that doesn’t seem to be anything useful. only a short while later, though, i noticed that the middle letters, the “pivots” of each of the hidden palindromes, spell out DARYL, which is a first name, and an unusual one at that. since we’re looking for an actress and it’s a palindrome theme, the correct answer must be daryl hannah. so there’s a slightly odd extraction mechanism for this puzzle; i don’t think we’ve ever had to do something like this before. but to compensate, there was a nice “click” when i saw the palindromic hannah leaping off the page at me.

as for the crossword, well, it was pretty straightforward except for that SW corner, where unknown-to-me {Bed: Sp.} CAMA, {Chef Ducasse} ALAIN, and {The Briefs song “Getting Hit ___ the Bank”} ON AT were lurking. good thing i knew ALEPPO and NEMEA.

best clue: {Idle rich in England} is ERIC idle of monty python.

nice puzzle. it seemed hard to me for a week 2. how did you feel about it?

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38 Responses to MGWCC #206

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    The meta was outstanding, but I’m with Joon – I’d guess the number of correct answers was low for a week two. The theme was immediately apparent, but the subsequent steps quite difficult. Before I saw the substitutions, then the middle letters forming Daryl, I thought it was probably a five letter name, possibly beginning and ending with a Roman numeral like the others. But I, V, and D weren’t working, and neither were the 5s. There are numerous actresses with 3 and 4 letter palindromatic first names, and I found another last name aside from Hannah – Amrita Arora from Bollywood. This one was a 5, but hardly famous here. Then I learned the movie Palindromes is about a character named Aviva. She’s played at one point by HANNAH Freiman!

    For our cryptic fans, here’s another classic from the setter Paul in this week’s Guardian Prize puzzle, a version of which appeared in the Everyman puzzle, too: Foolishly cash lost in ’em? (4,8) The answer’s fairly obvious, but if anyone would like some crossing letters, just ask.

  2. J. T. Williams says:

    I thought it was another absolute gem. There was a great aha moment with the realization that both ABABA and RADAR are “missing” palindromes, and then another great aha moment when trying to do something with RASKS and having DARYL leap off the page at me. This one reminded me a bit of the OBLADI puzzle, a meta I was not so fortunate as to grok. I think having had that previous experience helped figure out what to do here.

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    D’oh! Very hard for me; that is, total fail. I sent in DANA DELANY, and included my second choices, ALI LARTER and RENE RUSSO, in the body of my submission. Did not look for so many layers of meta in a Week 2!

  4. oeuftete says:

    The meta was brutal.

    (EDIT: OK, the connections are not too indirect… I only sort of grokked the meta with the crossword not in front of me today at work. The clues (which I’d last read on Friday) fairly pointed to the “hidden” ones. Doh!)

    Days of percolation finally made the connection to ABABA begin relevant, then RADAR and KAYAK fell quickly. I might have had to think for a very long time before making the connections to SOROS and SELES. I’d say those two connections were too indirect, but obviously making the connection with 5 letters isn’t easy. With what I did have, I was looking at RA_K_ and DA_Y_ as maybe being what I needed… that probably would have given me the answer first.

  5. Aaron says:

    I noticed KAYAK, RADAR, and ABABA, and knew the answer couldn’t be AVA GARDNER (since it didn’t really fit the theme). I wish DARYL HANNAH had come to mind, as that would’ve helped me piece everything together, but very lovely puzzle/meta. Totally fair, even for a Week 2.

  6. sps says:

    Pfffffffft! That’s the sound of me striking out on this one. I think the problem was that I kept staring at the pairs of words apart from the clues. I think the first and last time I actually looked at the clues was when I solved the puzzle. The meta was totally fair…I shoulda made the leap easily given that you don’t see ADDIS without ABABA very often and it’s obviously a palindrome. It shoulda clicked that we were looking for words that could fulfill the clues and were also palindromes. Yes, finding the middle letter might have been a bit tricky, but they’re in order and HANNAH is pretty easy to get from DARYL…

    I just whiffed on this one, that’s all.

  7. Matthew G. says:

    Took me a day or so of pondering, but I picked up the trick via KAYAK, mainly because I found myself asking why Matt hadn’t put XANAX KAYAK instead of XANAX CANOE, given that the former looks so much cooler. Then thought of RADAR, and from there it was a snap.

    I got the right meta answer quickly once I had the five palindromes, but I didn’t notice the additional elegance of Ms. Hannah’s palindromic surname. That’s a nice aftertaste of panache.

  8. Dan F says:

    Aw crap, I wrote down four shadow answers but forgot about CIVIC/GATES. Hazard of solving the meta several days after the crossword.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    167 right answers this week, any of whom might win NATAN Last’s new book :)

  10. bob says:

    I spent a while re-arranging letters and then decided there must be more to the five theme answers becasue they just made no sense (Xanax Canoe??). Since I had wanted Kayak there the secodn palindrome was made plain, Ababa and Radar fell immediately, Soros and Seles (youngest female to win French Open) I had to Google.
    Very fun puzzle

  11. Themutman says:

    Excellent meta this week, though it felt more like a week 3 since I couldn’t piece it together until about 9 this morning. Was trying to justify Eve Arden, when Ababa and Kayak jumped out. Radar and Soros weee next and I was trying to figure out who that Rask* person was!? Noticed the center then Seles fell

    I expect a sub 200 count this week.

    Great job Matt!

  12. Charles Montpetit says:

    Got Daryl, but not without noting the HANNAH/AVIVA connection, like Paul Coulter. True, she’s lesser-known, but fame is relative (we’ve been through this before). Then again, Daryl HANNAH played ELLE in “Kill Bill”, so HANNAH/ELLE even matches the ten-letter theme entries, confirming its status as a better choice.

    This said, the way Matt phrased his instructions, I doubt he actually got a single winning entry, as he actually asked “This week’s contest answer is a well-known actress. E-mail HER to me!” (A strange request from someone purportedly enjoying newfound wedded bliss, but, hey, some people’s appetites are insatiable.)

    Congratulations to the groom nevertheless!

    EDIT: I nearly forgot. Since Matt was good enough to publish the two errata that I pointed out in recent installments, I now feel that I must continue the job. This week: As a French-Canadian, I did appreciate the two Quebec references (LAVAL being one of them), but in 66-across, RENE Levesque should have been clued as an EX-premier of Quebec, as we do not abide by the U.S. tradition of conferring titles for life on our leaders. You’re welcome.

  13. ===Dan says:

    I found the five unclued answers fairly quickly but was floundering for a long time after that. I was on the verge of punting with the actress AVIVA (apparently the only actress whose entire name as billed is a palindrome). That was so unsatisfying that I would have waited for 11:59 before sending it in. I did look for something acrosticky but was blind to DARYL for a long time. I had given some thought to LADY R for some reason.

    I also red-herringed myself with the observation that EKE and EYE were palindromes, and that there were some reversals (ripsaPART/speedTRAP placed symmetrically, OVA right over AVOcado, and SCAM and iMACS).

  14. Todd says:

    I followed many of the same steps as Paul, although without the Roman numerals. I did play with may combinations of the “replacement” palindrome letters before finally noticing the middle column ( I kept forgetting the CIVIC/GATES one when thinking about the solution, since it was split across the middle of the puzzle).

    I also came across the Aviva/Hannah/Palindromes info while searching for a five-letter palindromic actress.

    I guess the only thing i didn’t like was the fact that you could jump straight to the answer if all you did was realize that there were palindromes and that, other than Ava Gardner, there really aren’t any other actresses with palindromic names. What held me up was that HANNAH has six letters, and I was looking for a five-letter solution. It was there, and I eventually found it, but not exactly what I thought I was looking for. When i sent in my solution, I asked Matt if he would count responses that had the right actress without any indication that they had gotten the entirety of the meta.

  15. Matthew G. says:

    @Matt Gaffney: Hah, an extra clue via a special weekly prize! Did anyone appear to pick up on that in their submissions? I certainly didn’t.

  16. Wayne says:

    Pretty rough for a week 2. I spent too much time on word association instead of semantic association. If I’d focused on palindromes related to *Bill* Gates, I might have eventually stumbled on SOROS, and had a shot at getting all the way home. But being of the ST:TNG generation, once you start thinking about Gates McFadden, you can think of little else.

    Other dead ends:
    – The first word in each theme answer contained a woman’s name (AVA, ADA, IVI, ANA, EVE).
    – The pairings seemed so bizarre, that I figured it had to be for a reason. But apparently, the first word was there purely to suggest that the second should be a palindrome; any palindrome would have done the job.
    – The title did nothing for me. Was Matt just shouting “CAN” for emphasis, or did the letters C-A-N have some significance?

    Nice puzzle. I was beaten fair and square.
    Now do I repay a period won.

  17. sps says:

    Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.

  18. Laura says:

    Was very stuck, googling for actresses with five-letter palindromic first names ( ?), until I realized the second word of each answer had to mean SOMEthing. Then I googled “palindrome canoe” and everything clicked.

  19. Howard B says:

    Was typing up my incomplete logical steps (possibly for an email of defeated resignation), when the first name of the answer was suddenly spelled out in front of me. It helps to clearly write out all of the steps of your solution logic.

    I briefly considered the centers of the first words (AVA, etc…) until IVI, which did not match a name or a distinguishable pattern. I had trouble figuring out SOROS and SELES for a while since the connection was a bit less clear at first. Also a complete, useless red herring that the first theme words all had terminal Roman numerals.

    @Wayne: I think the title was a nudge to emphasize that you could, indeed, find a second palindrome hiding in the theme answers. That is all I gleaned from it.
    @Joon: 3-4 minutes? Yeesh. It took me 10x that just to discover all of the missing palindromes. Nicely played.

  20. jefe says:

    WHOA! I got the 5 hidden words, but didn’t see DARYL hidden amongst the hidden. I submitted Ms. Hannah based on the palindromicity(?) of her last name alone, because the hidden palindromes all came second. (I decided against lesser known adult film star Darryl Hanah.)

    Thought the fill and meta were a bit challenging for a week two (in the SE, I didn’t know Chang, Mahre, or Orton; NOR could’ve been GER), but incredibly clever.

    I especially liked the paired partial semordnilaps speedTRAP and ripsaPART.

  21. *David* says:

    Great meta didn’t fully grok it but got to the right answer based more on the HANNAH palindrome being the last woman’s name out there that was well-known, then anything else. Did lots of floundering with roman numerals and womens’ names inside the palindromes.

    Congrats Matt, tell us how it is going in a year. :)

  22. Jason says:

    Even though Daryl HANNAH was my early guess for the meta I was stuck on the fact that all the theme answers had five letters, and my answer would be five letters.

  23. jimmy d says:

    after recently solving meta-contests from great constructors like BEQ and Peter Gordon and the new Muller music one… I must say that I am absolutely amazed that Matt can churn out these unbelievable meta puzzles week after week, deep on so many levels….WOW!

    My jaw drops every Tuesday where I missed one… usually because I think it would be impossible to construct such a meta… “well, there’s no way Matt found five 5-letter palindromes that are ambiguous with five other 5-letter words, all pointing to a famous actress, whose last name is a palindrome as well… no need to go down that avenue…” SMH!!

    edit- and yes, it was tricky for a week two!

  24. Gareth says:

    Figured out steps one and three, but not step 2. VDVNV didn’t mean much. Also noticed the four women’s names in the middles.

    Congrats on the marriage Matt!

  25. Abby says:

    I’d considered xanax kayak, but didn’t follow through- my usual mistake of not rereading the clues after I had it filled in. I wasn’t expecting so much trouble for week two. :-( If it’d been week three, I probably would’ve got it. Ugh.

  26. Cole says:

    Not much time this w/e and got hung up on palindromic five letter first names with the second letter a vowel and could not find a HANAH who was sufficiently famous.

  27. Giovanni P. says:

    Well this one owned me. Didn’t even get the hidden palindromes you could have in the theme answers, and I almost settled on Aviva myself. I thought we needed a two word actress with five letters in each name!

    Very MIT Mystery Hunt-esque meta, if you ask me. The inclusion of HANNAH as an appropriately themed answer seals the deal, so nice touch Matt. I do agree this one was a bit on the harder side for a week 2 though.

  28. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    I agree with the comments that the puzzle was hard for week two, but I’m getting to the point that the usual 1st/2nd week puzzles are mostly too easy, and really enjoyed this one, which I rate as excellent. When I finally saw the missing palindromes DARYL just leaped right out at me, as I already had the correct answer. I was very impressed that the letters were in order from top to bottom. No anagramming required! Five * IMHO.

    Wayne had under his list of dead ends this comment:

    “The first word in each theme answer contained a woman’s name (AVA, ADA, IVI, ANA, EVE).”

    Actually, these were helpful to me, because I had not stumbled upon the missing palindromes yet. The fact that each of the five palindromes contained palindromic female names seemed significant to me, so I listed them, and by them the letter surrounding them, like so:

    AVA — L
    ADA — M
    IVI — C
    ANA — X
    EVE — L

    And like Paul, I was struck by the Roman Numerals. I realized that they were all there except D, V, and I. But the middle letters of each of these female names provides the D and the V, and IVI contains the I. That struck me as highly unusual. And then it struck me that the only name of the five that did not have a D or V as the middle letter was ANA. And I fixated on that.

    Then I started thinking about “You CAN go back again!”. It could be a way of talking about a palindrome, or it could be something else. Then I noticed to the right of ANA was CAN (XANAXCANOE). It was to me like ANA <-- CAN. Suddenly I realized that CAN back to back was CANNAC, and that got me thinking about HANNAH. I had no trouble remembering Daryl Hannah from Clan of the Cave Bear, and I decided that had to be it. Because of my focus on the middle letters of each palindrome, when I finally was able to see that missing ones it was like someone had lit those letters up with neon! As an aside, I had one dead-end that was kind of interesting. While focusing on ANA but before I got to Hannah, I kept wondering why CIVIC and GATES were not contiguous like the others. It seemed to make GATES significant in some way. Then it hit me that an anagram of GATES yields the beginning of a fairly well-known actresses last name: GASTE - yer. Ana Gasteyer. And the YER are to be found in squares adjacent to GATES. She is a veteran of SNL and has been in a number of movies. She would have been my choice were it not for the fact that all those five-letter words in the theme answers demanded that either the given name or the surname (or both, possibly) had to be five letters.

  29. wobbith says:

    Great meta. Totally snookered me. Noticed that the clue for SONAR was wrong, and that ADDIS alone was odd, but never clicked on the substitutions.

    Figured the actress’ name had to be 5-5 with a palindrome. The only 5 letter palindromic woman’s name I could think of was HANAH, and thought maybe Daryl spelled it with just one N. So I Googled DARYL HANAH and the #1 hit was the Wikipedia entry for DARRYL HANAH. Looked no further. Thought “two Rs, that’s weird, nah, that can’t be it”. Led astray by a porn star.

    I now totally regret my closing in last week’s entry to Matt:
    “I know I’m asking for trouble after April’s brain-crushers, but the meta was too easy. LOL.”
    Congratulations Matt!

  30. rmac says:

    Another correct answer for me without fully grokking the meta.

    I saw the pattern as, “Palindrome minus first and last letters = (still palindromic, of course) woman’s name,” and that was enough to lead me to “Hannah.” I recognized the second parts of the theme answers as way goofy, but failed to figure out what was happening with them.

    — Russ

  31. ===Dan says:

    This occurred to me a little earlier but I ignored it because it had nothing to do with the solving or my appreciation of this great puzzle. This question or quibble does not indicatethat I think any less of it…. So think of my question as being about a technicality:

    Shouldn’t the Gates/Soros clue refer to a nickname? I don’t think the phrase has any meaning, or would ever be uttered, if it were not a fabricated nickname. The other clues don’t need this imposed context; “level Chang,” for instance, is perfectly sensible even though it’s a made-up phrase. “Civic Gates” is equally made-up but not sensible without some tacit assumption that “Civic” alludes to the two men’s civic contributions. But the word’s denotation does not describe _ a person_ who makes public contributions.

  32. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Agreed that this felt on the tricky side of a Week 2 puzzle. Clever concept; I wish Matt hadn’t gone yet again to the brackish well of purportedly famous names for the choice of metapuzzle answer. Not knowing either actress’s name, I Googled “actress Daryl” and found the Daryl Hannah page, with a link to Darryl Hanah (“For the adult film actress, see…”). Sent in the intended answer, but since it’s 5+6 where everything else in the puzzle suggests 5+5 there’s an argument in favor of Matt accepting the 6+5 actress DARRYL HANAH as an alternate solution.

  33. Themutman says:

    Oh please Noam. Let’s not start with the alternate answers again!

    Daryl Hannah is right; Darryl Hanah is wrong — reread the thirty prior posts explaining the meta!

  34. Noam D. Elkies says:

    @Themutan: I understand the metapuzzle (that’s how I solved it), and am not arguing on my own behalf. Since all the theme answers involve 5-letter palindromes it is a reasonable guess that the answer will as well. If you then look for famous actresses with 5-letter palindromic names, and come across this Darryl Hanah woman who seems to be reasonably famous in her domain (she won MILF of the Year twice!) and notice that “Darryl” sounds like the sequence of letters DARYL in the centers of the hidden palindromes, you might plausibly stop there.

  35. Dave Taube says:

    I never got past the four three letter palindromic names. I missed Ivi.

  36. Patrick says:

    I thought the separation of CIVIC and GATES might be to allow some additional clue in the center – i.e., a reference to Blade Runner or Splash or something like that. BIC is kind of blade-related. Or maybe not.

    I then tried to come up with a clever palindrome that Matt might publish in his roundup. But all my ideas were pretty weak.

    Name metas sate me, man.
    Metas peek if I keeps at ’em.
    Doofy meta ate my food!

    Anyway, enjoyed this week, looking forward to a hard one next week.

  37. John L. Wilson says:

    Funny, my copy of the puzzle clued CIVIC/GATES as “Member of George W. Bush’s national security apparatus demonstrating patriotism?”… leading me from Bob to George TENET… and a pivot readout (after some rearrangement, which seemed perfectly acceptable given the theme’s awesome constraints) of LYNDA… Carter–a click-worthy tribute to the new Wonder Woman in Matt’s life!

  38. Kieran says:

    Absolutely missed it. Thought it was Ellen Barkin, best known actress in the film Palindromes.

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