MGWCC #228

crossword 3:09
meta 3:25 

hello, and welcome to episode #228 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “That’s an Order!”. this week, matt challenges us to name a U.S. president. what are the theme answers? well, none of them are explicitly marked, but the four long ones (and one more medium-length one in the center) are:

  • {Oscar-winner for “Chicago”} is catherine ZETA-JONES. did you know that ZELLWEGER is also 9 letters starting with ZE? but she didn’t win the oscar.
  • {Big beetle} is a JUNE BUG.
  • {GM model, 2003-07} is a SATURN ION. i have used this as a base phrase for a punny theme answer before. five points to anybody who remembers it.
  • {Folk duo who appeared in “Wordplay”} is the INDIGO GIRLS. lovely clue.
  • {Old-school copy maker} is CARBON PAPER.

so, what’s the theme? it took me a while to cotton on to it because i was distracted by the scrabbly Z and J of ZETA-JONES and J of JUNE BUG. but look at those first words: ZETA, JUNE, SATURN, INDIGO, CARBON. they’re all the sixth elements of well-known ordered lists: the greek alphabet, months, planets, colors*, and chemical elements. with a hint from the title (“order”), it’s a lock that we want the 6th U.S. president, john quincy adams. he wasn’t a great president, but he was 6th, and that’s all that counts here. also, he is (so far) the only person to serve in congress after being president, which is a curious distinction.

i thought this was an elegant meta. matt definitely chose six lists with a canonical ordering, rather than going by (say) U.S. states in alphabetical order, order of admission to the union, size, etc. notice that the presidents had to be the answer to the meta, rather than one of the theme answers, because ADAMS is the name of the 2nd president as well as the 6th. actually, i don’t know if matt would accept “adams” as an answer with no qualifier. if this were jeopardy, trebek would definitely go back and ask, “be more specific”—but this isn’t jeopardy and maybe matt will just let it slide. or maybe it won’t matter.

the fill was pretty good. lots of scrabbliness in the theme, as i already mentioned, plus a couple more Xs and a J in non-theme entries. only one utter unknown for me: {“How to Frame a ___” (1971 Don Knotts comedy)} FIGG. i’d have clued this as {Arabella ___, neighbor of Harry Potter}. but that’s just me.

favorite clue: {Plural of a 2-letter, 3-letter, or 4-letter word} AXES. that’s ax, axe, and axis.

most meta clue that had nothing to do with the meta: {This and others} CLUES.

your thoughts?

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27 Responses to MGWCC #228

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    A solid meta for Week 2 – lately, Matt’s hit his stride with gauging the difficulty levels. Readily solvable for everyone, but not an obvious walkover for the veterans. I actually solved this in an alternative way – taking the pangrammatic cue from the XYZ and NOP corners, I checked the grid and only Q was missing. Made me think of John Q. Adams, then checking a list of presidents, I found that Q appears in none of the other full names. Surely Q’s omission in the grid couldn’t have been by accident? If intentional, a very nice subsidiary nudge, Matt! But it didn’t seem like something he’d do as the entire meta in Week 2, so I rechecked the themers. As a biologist, carbon’s atomic no. 6 is very familiar to me, and reciting my Greek alpha beta, I confirmed that zeta was also 6th. Then of course there’s ROY G. BIV, and my granddaughter supplied this handy aid for remembering the solar system – My very extravagant mother just sent us ninety parakeets. I’m glad her teacher included poor, exiled Pluto, who I feel was shafted in a very raw deal. I’m curious, do others remember learning a different mnemonic for the planets’ order? Great fun as always, Matt.

  2. pannonica says:

    Cyoot image.

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    My planetary mnemonic is the very inelegant (but Roy G. Biv related) M. Vema J. Sunp. Looks horrible in print, but once committed to memory works well.

    I was totally stumped by this one (should learn the Greek alphabet), but since I also noticed the absence of a Q, sent in John Adams as my answer. (Didn’t hurt that he was, I believe, President during the (1 Down) XYZ Affair.)

    Of course, the absence of a Q could have pointed either way regarding John Adams vs. John Q. Adams.

  4. *David* says:

    Why did we get this meta, this week, obviously because it was the 6th week of NFL action, what a game last night!

  5. davidb says:

    I was briefly led astray by the letters in “Order” at the corners – XYZ & NOP, which by following the order suggested W and M, or the only president with those initials – William McKinley. After seeing no other evidence in the puzzle to support that answer, however, I soon discovered the sixth in a sequence pattern, and the correct answer to the meta.

  6. pannonica says:

    My mnemonic was so boring; I simply remembered their order, picturing the planets, portrait-style, as I’d seen them illustrated. It was kind of easy because there are the four rocky planets, the asteroid belt, the four gas giants, then itty-bitty Pluto. The only remotely tricky part—and I never had a problem anyway—would have been recalling the order after Jupiter, which conveniently spell S-U-N.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      That SUN set is a nice find, but aren’t you ostracizing poor Pluto, too? Could it be his devilish reputation?

  7. Dave C says:


    Nice shout-out to yourself in the completed grid above!!

  8. Wayne says:


  9. Noam D. Elkies says:

    @Bob K.: without Pluto “M. Vema J. Sun” looks better, though you have to remember that Mars is encoded by two letters “ma”. Maybe “M. Vem J. Sun” is better, since “M.” at the start can be an alternative abbreviation for “Mr.”. Also, I never noticed SUN before in that list! The U-N-P sequence is the same as elements 92-94, and nobody is going to kick plutonium off the periodic table. (Likewise the element cerium is named after a minor planet.)

    Oh yes, nice metapuzzle. Too bad “June bug” can’t cross in the center with “F bomb” or even “F sharps”.

  10. Patrick L says:

    Struggled with this for a while – I think it was all the medium-length entries that had me second guessing what was thematic and what wasn’t. For a while I was convinced that WIDE GAP was an unnatural pairing and therefore significant. And I thought that “Order” in the title might indicate that anagrams might be involved. Then I actually had a dream about a CARBON ION and woke up with the number 6 firmly implanted in my mind.

    To me questionable theme entries really increase the difficulty – I found Thrifty last month much more easily because I knew what to look at.

  11. Aaron Brandes says:

    This was one of my fastest metas ever. INDIGO as a theme entry lead me immediately to the rainbow and ROY G. BIV, and with CARBON and JUNE to the number 6. I did have to check my Greek alphabet, and take care with the presidents (which I knew by heart back in the days of LBJ).

  12. jimmy d says:

    Knew it had to do with the order of the theme entries’ first words… but I though Zeta was the last Greek letter and Carbon was the first element… thankfully, Wikipedia staightened me out!! ( and told me who the 6th President was!)

  13. Norm says:

    I was initially thinking Obama based on indigo (blue state), carbon (yeah, I know, he’s far from black), and zeta (falsely thinking it equated to “zed” until I remembered alpha & omega), but fortunately did not waste too much time before Saturn and June put me on the right track. Agree with Paul Coulter (#1) on relative difficulty levels of late. Not expecting to even have a shot this week. Weeks one and two are about all I can hope for, but I love coming here on Tuesday and seeing what I could not see.

  14. Patrick Jordan says:

    The planetary mnemonic that I learned as a child is “Meg’s vamping eyes made Johnny sit up nights pondering.” The ME in “Meg” and the MA in “made” serve as reminders about where MErcury and MArs belong.

  15. Paul Coulter says:

    Mnemonic for the eight planet solar system (boo, hiss) I found by googling:
    Many very educated men just screwed up nature!

  16. MM says:

    Not sure why everyone is sad about Pluto. Pluto isn’t even the ninth-most-massive body orbiting the sun. It seems astronomers’ options were to keep Pluto and add a whole bunch of other planets (e.g. Eris and Ceres), or to formally define “planet”. I say, “Goodbye Pluto, hello scientific progress!”

  17. Mike L says:

    In my day, it was “My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas.”

    These days, it’s “My very excellent mother just served us… nothing.”

    Not so excellent, these modern-day moms.

  18. Mike D. says:

    That’s quite cool what someone found out about Q being the only letter from making the puzzle a pangram, and would be very coincidental if it were not planned. I wonder, Matt, if you’re reading this, if that was a planned move on your part or merely a coincidence?

  19. Ephraim says:

    I’m with MM in regarding Pluto’s exile as progress. (It was cold and lonely even when we called it a planet, so what’s new?) The clinching argument for me was that the definition of “planet” has changed repeatedly through history. The sun and moon used to be planets. In the 1930s, the asteroids were planets until that got to be ridiculous. For Pluto, it was time to concede that it isn’t like any other planet unless you want to include other Oort cloud objects and repeat the asteroid exercise.

    I thought the meta was really nice, a little easy for week two. Matt assures me I’ll “sing a different song” on Friday.

  20. jefe says:

    “My very educated mother just said, ‘Uh-oh, no Pluto.” -Stephen Colbert

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