MGWCC #211

crossword 4:10
meta 2 days 

hello, and welcome to episode 211 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Gimme Five!”. this week, matt asks us for the missing member of a certain set. so … what set? well, i figured there would be four theme answers. there are two 13s that are obviously theme answers. there are also 9s across, and two 10s down. so, which is it? i figured the 9s across, just because that’s slightly more normal, and for one reason i’ll mention in a bit. my supposed theme answers:

  • {Flawlessly} is WITHOUT A HITCH.
  • {Ad in or ad out} is GAME POINT.
  • {“The Hick from French Lick”} is NBA legend LARRY BIRD.
  • {Like it’s going out of style} clues TO BEAT THE BAND, an expression i’m not too familiar with.

the two long downs are MEDIA MOGUL and CINCINNATI, the latter of which doesn’t look like a theme answer because it’s only one word. anyway, looking at the four i’ve listed, i immediately gravitated toward the last word in each phrase, because the first words (WITHOUT, GAME, LARRY, TO) don’t look like they could mean much. but i didn’t know what to do with HITCH POINT BIRD BAND either. i thought about it on my own for a while, then tried to see if google could solve this meta for me… nope.

so i put it down and occasionally came back to it a few times over the course of the weekend. sunday night, i started getting serious, so i cracked open a dictionary and started going through possible definitions for HITCH. lo and behold (from

transitive verb
1 : to move by jerks or with a tug
2 a : to catch or fasten by or as if by a hook or knot <hitched his horse to the fence post> b (1) : to connect (a vehicle or implement) with a source of motive power <hitch a rake to a tractor> (2) : to attach (a source of motive power) to a vehicle or instrument <hitch the horses to the wagon> c : to join in marriage <got hitched>

that last one did it for me. “HITCH a ride… thumb a ride. oh!” similarly, it is customary to POINT with your index finger, flip someone the BIRD with your middle finger, and wear a BAND on your ring finger. the missing member of this fivesome, of course, is … jermaine. wait, no, pinky. yes, that’s it.

i thought this was a delightfully simple but still subtle meta. i love that google can’t solve it. a perfect 3rd-week meta, i think.

the crossword itself was easier than the last two weeks, at least for me. with relatively light theme requirements, matt goes 74 words on the grid, and it’s got some good stuff. the aforementioned 10s were both nice, plus funky SALUKI and funky-looking GO OUT that looks like GOOUT in the grid. iconoclastic architect antonio GAUDÍ is probably the most unfamiliar thing in the grid, and he’s pretty great. well, maybe peter TOSH or actor antonio SABATO, jr is less famous.

clue that got my attention: {President whose surname is often mispronounced} for POLK. i rhyme it with “yolk”. should it be “poke”? i’d hate to have been doing it wrong all these years.

what did you think of the puzzle?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to MGWCC #211

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    141 right answers, oddly enough (since that was the meta answer last week). I counted twice, and it’s 141 on the dot. Though I will have to add stragglers into the total (they can’t win a prize, but they can ruin our peculiar total!).

  2. Mark N says:

    Glad I got this week’s meta. Was the repeated UTAH (11-down and hiding in 19-across) an intentional red herring, Matt?

  3. Andrew Greene says:

    Wait… for you, “yolk” and “poke” don’t rhyme?

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Didn’t see it until you just pointed it out to me, Mark! Wild. A solver also pointed out the supervocality of MEDIA MOGUL, which I didn’t notice either.

    Also, I should have starred the four theme entries because there’s fill longer than theme and that’s what I’ve done in the past.

  5. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Was interesting to see that Gaudi was killed by a cable car, though Wikipedia says tram or street car – not sure what the difference or similarity is.

    And speaking of similarity, if I say Polk as yolk or poke, they sound the same to me!

  6. tabstop says:

    I started with hitch = wedding = ring finger and that left me stumped at the bottom entry for a while. Eventually got there. The “fingers are in order” bit helped solidify the thunk when it landed.

  7. Charles Montpetit says:

    Before I got to the right answer (spelled PINKIE in my book), I actually considered an admittedly weaker alternate set, in which 46a and 51a led to:

    “Bird ring” (
    “Pinkie band” ( or,

    which would have left me no choice but to give Matt the, uh, middle finger as an answer. But I think that the above set is more elegant.

  8. joon says:

    i pronounce “yolk” with an L, unlike “yoke”. it’s maybe not a full-fledged L, but it’s definitely there. same with “folk”, although i’m pretty sure i say “folks” as if it were “fokes”. here, let’s make a list.

    contains L sound:

    does not contain L sound:
    folks (?!?)

  9. Mark M. says:

    Favorite kind of meta, just love the “aha” moment. Like Joon it took me several revisits before it all fell into place. The title of the puzzle helped, it felt like a more than subtle clue.

  10. ant says:

    Glad to see it took Joon as long to figure out the meta as it took me. In hindsight, it’s amazingly simple. Gotta give you a hand on this one, Matt!

    Gaudi is very familiar to me, thanks to The Alan Parsons Project…

  11. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt’s title gave quite a large hint, but I didn’t get this immediately. I initially tried the five senses (ear band, bird’s eye, etc.) or maybe the pentathalon events (point for fencing, bird for discus?) but when they didn’t work, I noticed the title. Point, bird, and band can go with many words, but as Joon noted, hitch was the giveaway. I was sure Matt was going to metaphorically give us the finger, but he was elegant as ever and built his hand in order. I agree it was just right for mid-month.

  12. Dave C says:

    The title of the puzzle was instrumental in solving the meta this week. While driving home a couple hours after solving the puzzle I recalled the phrase Gimme Five all of a sudden, and immediately thought of slapping hands. 5 fingers/digits on a hand – yes! I remembered 3 of the theme answers from short-term memory and got all excited, but had to wait to get home to note “To beat the BAND”, which was icing on the cake. Fun meta, as always!

  13. jefe says:

    Argh, to think the answer was so close at hand!

    @joon: Wikipedia says Polk is indeed pronounced Poke. I’ve been doing it wrong too!
    @Andrew: Yolk can be pronounced both with and without the L.

    Survey time! How do you pronounce “yolk”, and where are you from? I do it with; Baltimore-area.

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    I only use vulgarities in a puzzle when there’s no alternative, and it turns out there’s not much the middle finger is strongly associated with except for that one indelicate gesture.

  15. Andrew Greene says:

    I’m a Nyawker; not only are “yolk” and “yoke” homophones, but there’s a “hyoo” sound at the beginning of “huge”, “Houston” (the city, not the street), “humid”, and words like that. Never occurred to me to pronounce the “l” in “yolk” even a smidge.

  16. Jeffrey says:

    Gave up on it, returned yesterday for a last look, finally got it through the title and hitch.

  17. Wayne says:

    The authorities on Polk, They Might Be Giants, pronounce it with a definite “L”.
    So that’s that.

    Matt: With the title giving such a big hint, I’m glad you didn’t star the theme answers.
    Week 3 is not for the weak-kneed.

  18. John says:

    My FIRST thought was fingers of the hand! But nothing seemed to support that. I had lots of trouble deciding what the theme answers actually were. If I had done what Joon did, and actually saw HITCH defined as hitchhike, i may have sussed it out… or maybe not.

  19. Not even close on this one. Starred theme answers would definitely have helped, since I really wasn’t sure which they were.

    I got distracted by the TBS (one of the stations owned by MEDIA MOGUL Ted Turner) and POLK (a president, like Taft, mentioned in the clue for CINCINNATI), so I thought there was some “word related to a word in the clue for each theme answer” thing going on. But after that, the other connections I found were pretty tenous: LABRADOR to SALUKI (both dogs, but this time the relation is answer > answer instead of clue > answer), BEAR MEAT > Inuit > HOPI (native Americans).

    I was sure that the Rocky in the clue for 14D would relate to something, given the weird wording of the clue, but I couldn’t find anything relating to the movie.

  20. Neville says:

    Joon, I’m glad you say WHELK often enough to know how you pronounce it off the top of your head. How much emphasis do you give the H, though?

  21. jimmy d says:

    Got the meta instantly off of WITHOUT A HITCH… finally feeling smart again after a dreadful month of May!

    And I can vouch as a NYer that we say ‘egg yokes’ and ‘hi fokes’… and we’re the best city in the world, so we must be right!

    At my fantasy football draft last fall, someone drafted QB Kevin Kolb (pronounced Cobb) by saying it like the first syllable in Colbert… we teased him all season!!

  22. joon says:

    neville, that wasn’t off the top of my head… i just grepped all four- and five-letter words ending in LK. in general, though, i don’t pronounce the h in wh- combinations, with obvious exceptions like “who” and its derivatives, “whole”, and … uh … “whore”? what’s with that?

    jimmy: did your friend respond by saying “it’s french, b**ch!”?

  23. Pete M says:

    Didn’t solve the meta until this morning, and it was BIRD that finally clicked. Maybe that says something about me…

  24. Dan Seidman says:

    Once I figured out from the title that the five things were fingers, I thought MEDIA could refer to the middle finger. Of course, there was nothing for CINCINNATI (Red-handed?), so I soon found the correct set of theme answers.

  25. Gareth says:

    Got the right set of 4 answers… although considered CINCINNATI being one as CINQ = FIVE. Just couldn’t get any further. I dunno; I use two fingers to swear with and I’m a bachelor, I never remember which finger is supposed to be ringed… I wasn’t getting this one in a year… Not that it isn’t a fantastic meta…

  26. Pete M says:

    Interestingly, the letter ‘I’ is signed in ASL by the little finger, so maybe Cincinnati has merit, although the I is not standalone, so it would be inelegant.

  27. Howard B says:

    Yep, here in NJ (at least my local regions) it seems that all OLK and ALK words are pronounced as phonetic OAK and AUK. The L gets booted in every case.
    Even renowned Dr. Salk (in my memory) is heard and spoken as ‘Sauk’.
    The ILK and ULK words retain the L, though.
    What have we done?!?

  28. rmac says:

    Wow. I figured from the title that the set had to have five members. Then “hitch” derailed me into thinking about the US military, which happens to have five branches. So “point” became part of “West Point” (Army), “bird” related to flying (Air Force), and “band” just had to be part of Marine Band. But then I couldn’t find an aha-inspring way to identify the Navy or the Coast Guard as the odd man out, and just gave up.

    Sometimes patterns are like statistics … it’s often pretty easy to dredge up either to support any conclusion that you want.

    — Russ

  29. Hugh says:

    I made it harder for myself when I initially read Matt’s instruction as: ” . . . the missing NUMBER of a certain set.” It always helps to go back for a second look. HITCH was my key to the solution, too.

  30. HITCH also had be thinking about knot-tying (specifically the half-hitch, which is used as a building block in lots of other knots), and having TENT PEGS in there didn’t help me out there.

  31. Abby says:

    I got this one instantly, and then doubted myself, but after counting off my fingers a dozen times, and looking at the title, I sent it in.

  32. Peedee says:

    I totally whiffed this one :-(. I was going with CINCINNATI and MEDIAMOGUL as theme answers and never considered the four longest across entries as theme answers. Oh well. I forgot to send in an entry for the first week anyway.

  33. Toby says:

    @Joon –

    I think there are simpler rules for pronouncing words that contain “lk” (in standard American dialect) than listing them individually:

    *alk and *aulk words rhyme with “hawk”
    *olk words rhyme with “poke”
    the “l” is pronounced in *ilk, *elk, and *ulk words

    Perhaps the best demonstration is to add a suffix (“ing” for verbs, “s” for nouns) to each example.

  34. mitchs says:

    Ouch. Since something was “missing” from a set of five (title) and there were four long horizontals, I WAS looking for some set indicated by those four answers. But the key, I’m pretty sure, is to actually FIND that set. Hitchcock, gamecock and bird sent me down a (thankfully) blind alley.

  35. J. T. Williams says:

    I am skeptical of Toby’s rule, as I am hard-pressed to think of any word contained the vowel-l-k sequence in which I do not pronounce the l. Perhaps it’s a regionalism?

  36. Dave Taube says:

    I kept looking for countries in the long answers after realizing that I could change the c to an i in withouTAHITch and the e to an a in INDIe and get Tahiti and India. Still looking for my first monthly sweep.

  37. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    Along with the double UTAH in the grid that Mark N., pointed-out, I also noticed INN in 10D along with INNS in 21D.

    Pete M. pointed-out that the letter ‘I’ is signed with the little finger in ASL. I was working the Sat., June 9, 2012 NYT puzzle by David Quarfoot this last weekend, and it has this clue on 53D:

    What may represent “I” in American Sign Language

    With the answer PINKY.

    I should have locked on Matt’s meta right there. Zoom! (The sound of it going over my head).

  38. Richie says:

    Didn’t anyone else notice the out and out definition for “Pinky” at 13-across?

  39. Debbie says:

    Got as far as hitch = get married, wedding band, and bird = woman in British slang and then was stumped. Clever, but a bit too subtle for me this week

  40. Myron M. says:

    So how do you all pronounce “psalm”? (I pronounce it with a vocal L sound.)

  41. Jeff says:

    In college I was playing Pictionary with a Macedonian partner. I had to draw “yoke” but figured it would be easier to draw an egg. He said “yoLk” with a very strong L, so we didn’t get it before time ran out.

  42. Mark N says:

    Under the category of “Reading way too much into things”… HITCH, BAND and asking for someone’s hand might suggest that the puzzle’s author had marriage on their mind. Look, there’s AMOR even. (One could imagine further what significance CINCINNATI, TENT PEGS and LABRADOR may have. Perhaps an interesting honeymoon?)

  43. Lois says:

    Myron M.: SAHM. I’m from New York, but anyway my Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (which is a few decades old, I’ll grant you) gives only one pronunciation for psalm, that one, and one for Polk. It should be pronounced the same as poke. But don’t forget that the letter ell is sometimes considered a semivowel and has a fluid sound, so you might sort of hear an ell in the word or think you do.

  44. price kopp says:

    matt, nice touch putting SLAP at FIVE across (gimme FIVE). was that intentional?

Comments are closed.