MGWCC #229

crossword 4:08
meta 1 day 

hello, and welcome to episode #229 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “X is for Xword”. this week, matt challenges us to identify a literary genre. what are the clues? well, there are five long answers in the grid:

  • {Zombie movie “extra”} ROTTING CADAVER.
  • {Cases where fire comes back towards the shooter} REBOUND EFFECTS.
  • {Amanda Knox was one, as it turned out} IMMACULATE WOMAN.
  • {Forgive and forget} BEAR NO MEANNESS.
  • {Presented the facts of the case in court} SHOWED EXHIBITS.

now, these all feel a little off—they’re not quite “in the language” phrases. so i thought they might be constructed so as to contain interesting strings across the word breaks, but “undef” (which isn’t actually a word, even though i use it pretty often) is about the best i could find. IMMACULATE WOMAN strongly suggests the virgin mary or madonna or whatever you want to call her, but i couldn’t see what to do with that.

there’s also this striking clue right at 1a: {Grafton who wrote “D Is for Derelict” and “P Is for Pitfall”} SUE. it’s suggestive because it echoes the title. i went looking for other “_ is for ___” clues (or even initials of things) but couldn’t find them. after about 10 minutes i put the puzzle away unsolved.

the next day, it came to me immediately: i should really do something with that SUE grafton clue. so i looked up the list of “alphabet” mysteries (a.k.a. the kinsey millhone series), and what do you know? D isn’t for derelict after all; it’s for deadbeat. and P is for peril, not pitfall. (also, book X hasn’t been written yet, but i’m assuming it won’t be for xword. x-ray? xenophobia? xylem? x-onerate?)

aha, i thought—i should go looking for other factually inaccurate clues. well, no. i didn’t find any others. that ramones song really is called judy IS A punk, ben HOGAN really did win the masters in 1951 and 53, etc. but of course, i probably shouldn’t have been looking there—i mean, there are five answers in the grid of 14+ letters, and that doesn’t happen by accident.

so back to those answers. the reason they felt off is that they’re actually phrases where a word has been replaced by a synonym starting with the same letter—in exactly the same way as the D and P in the SUE grafton clue. to wit:

  • BEAR NO MALICE (not MEANNESS). this one should have been glaringly obvious to me, since “bear no malice” is actually a pretty familiar phrase, and “bear no meanness” really isn’t.

what do these words have in common? they’re right in the list of kinsey millhone mysteries: C is for CORPSE, R is for RICOCHET, I is for INNOCENT, M is for MALICE, and E is for EVIDENCE. put these together and you get the CRIME genre, which is a fitting answer to this puzzle.

look how tightly woven this theme is: not only the title and SUE grafton clue, but each of the five theme clues is at least tangentially related to crime. the alphabet mysteries themselves are of course examples of crime fiction (but with mystery as a terrifically plausible wrong answer, along with other related ideas like whodunnit, detective, legal, noir, hard-boiled, etc.). and in the theme answers, matt has managed to find synonyms starting with the right letter, in order, to spell out the meta answer. bravo.

odds & ends:

  • {Prize for David Wineland or Shinya Yamanaka} is the NOBEL. wineland is an absolute titan in the field of atomic physics; he could easily have won a few nobels. (trivia question: only one person has actually won multiple nobel prizes in physics. who is it?) wineland’s research has resulted in both the world’s most stable atomic clocks, and the most practical quantum computers. same guy! incredible stuff. (i don’t know anything about yamanaka, who just won the nobel in medicine and physiology.)
  • {Sloth of cruciverbal infamy (hidden in UNAUTHORIZED)} is UNAU, a word i know from learning vowel dumps (words with 75%+ vowels) for scrabble purposes. the alternate spelling UNAI is also useful. for that matter, it’s not the only useful sloth; i am not really sure why the two-toed sloth is called UNAI and the three-toed sloth is called AI, but AI is a crucial word to know in scrabble, too. now, i know not all crossword enthusiasts play scrabble (although some do), but UNAU has been known to come up in (old) crosswords, too; hence the “cruciverbal infamy” part of the clue. have you seen jim horne’s hardcore maleskan crosswordese quiz?
  • {Device that was famously difficult to program} is the VCR. note the past tense. feels appropriate.
  • {Mexican restaurant order, for short} CHIMI. not seen this short form before, but chimichangas are familiar.
  • {Second function of an angle, in a trig textbook question} is SINEB? what’s this about? is this supposed to be SINE B? if so, the clue should probably say “function of a second angle” rather than “second function of an angle”.
  • {Cilantro or basil} POTHERB. yeah, sure, it’s just cilantro. we believe you, matt.
  • {One of many conflicts in a George Lucas universe’s history} is a CLONE WAR. i’ll give this a pass since they’re mentioned in the original series, but i must insist that those prequels never happened. you hear me?
  • {“Civilization ___ Discontents” (Freud book)} clues the 6-letter partial AND ITS. not the world’s loveliest entry, but i didn’t mind at all because i knew the clue.
  • {City in the middle of Czechoslovakia?} is a cute clue for OSLO.

that’s all for me. how’d you like this puzzle?

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32 Responses to MGWCC #229

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    163 right answers this week, so I’m having a perfect month (i.e. the number of entries is decreasing by ~25% each week). Most common wrong answer was indeed MYSTERY with 21.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt’s on a roll! (No, I’m not calling him a hotdog – that would be Matt’s on a bun!) As I solved, I thought he might be spelling something with the eff of effects, ess of meanness, and ex of exhibits. I also noticed “Mason material” in the clue for grout, which was below Showed Exhibits, clued by …facts of the case – leading me to think of Perry Mason, whose material might be a case. Neither path led anywhere, of course. Like Joon, I then looked up Sue Grafton’s bibliography, which was probably one of the most popular Wikipedia searches this weekend. I took my cue from the puzzle’s title, but also Bear No Meanness was crying out for malice. Similarly, Immaculate Woman wanted Innocent instead. My only slight quibble is that the number of theme entries is often the number of letters in the answer, and the list of these is pretty short for literary genres – only crime, humor, and possibly drama come to mind. An educated guess of CRIME was quite possible without twigging to the substitutions. But all in all, a solid meta for Week 3. Here are 5 additional non-Graftonian titles:
    M is for Machiavellian
    G is for Guileful
    W is for Wily
    C is for Cunning
    C is for Crafty

  3. Mutman says:

    I thought this was a perfect week 3 meta. I bumbled around for a day or two looking up literary genres (yawn!), but then realized that Sue Grafton clue had to mean a lot more than it appeared. Once I looked at her title list, the grokking occurred.

    Well done Matt!

  4. sps says:

    The answer came to me last night near the end of the Giants’ drubbing of the Cards for the NL title. I knew it had to be CRIME but didn’t fully get why until the write-up. Never thought of looking up the Grafton books, but I had the same synonyms as Joon, and went thru nearly the exact same process.

  5. bob says:

    I too got the synonyms but instead of malice I chose to bear no ILL WILL. This lead me to believe that since all the other synonyms had the same letter as their replacement that ‘M’ was important. And of course M is for Mystery.

    Oh well, It didn’t really feel right and I wasn’t surprised to not see my name on the leader board. The real answer is pretty amazing!

  6. Matthew G. says:

    Nice one. I figured it out mainly because of the sheer not-in-the-languageness of BEAR NO MEANNESS. Initially, I wanted it to be BEAR NO ILL WILL, since I think that’s actually a more common phrase than BEAR NO MALICE. Still, after I went back and found the other substitute words, I saw that I had C-R-I-I-E, and I found MALICE quickly enough.

    I never thought to check whether the Sue Grafton titles in 1A were wrong, too. That’s a nice additional hint, although not needed in order to be confident of the meta answer–fixing the colloquialisms felt correct enough.

  7. Patrick L says:

    I ran right up to the finish line, but instead of crossing it I decided to sit down and take a nap. I got all the Grafton same-letter synonyms, then hastily submitted Mystery. After my name didn’t appear on the Leaderboard I realized I missed something, then found the C-R-I-M-E. I liked this puzzle but I’m giving it 4 stars, since the correct answer doesn’t seem to appear on lists of ‘literary genres’ when Googled.

  8. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Neat meta — and so tightly constructed that I guess most solvers solved it without fully “grokking” the construction. In my case, I noticed MALICE and CORPSE (after first trying CARCASS from ROTTING CA_____), then EVIDENCE and INNOCENT (ah, it’s not always the last word), and that clearly indicated CRIME though I couldn’t figure out RICOCHET (I guessed “ripple effect” but that doesn’t quite work). Only while writing my comment with the puzzle entry did I think to check for actual Sue Grafton titles, and even then I didn’t notice until coming here that the examples in the 1A clue were (deliberately) wrong!

    While I’m at it: I had no idea of Amanda Knox; the Wikipedia page says she’s innocent of murder but still guilty of “calunnia” (~ calumny = accusing another innocent person of the crime). “Capital of CzechOSLOvakia” is a standard cryptic-Xword dodge. Yes, 30D:SINE_B is rather desperate (at least he didn’t clue it as the ratio of side-length AC to the circumdiameter). I can’t believe anybody really cares that the partial 49D:AND_ITS is as long as 6 letters, especially as it’s easy to infer, unlike the letter-dump 10D:DEVOE. Cute to recall the previous puzzle’s 29D:HOP on Pop, and clue 30A:SAUL as “Bellow in a library”. Not so nice to clue 62A:NADA via Nadal; and I’d avoid cluing 6D:EGG as “ovoid object”: it’s not just ovoid, it *is* an ovum.

    –NDE is for Noam D.[avid] Elkies

  9. ===Dan says:

    I didn’t think to verify the titles in 1A or look at the list of books in the series. I noticed very quickly that the theme answers were off, but I got lost in the jungle of possible alternatives. I found a lot of R-words: Rotting remains, immaculate reception, rebound relationship, bear no resemblance. Brick wall. Also disguising the pattern was the fact that different words in the theme answers had to change.
    Very neat puzzle.

  10. Norm says:

    Another fail. I know the Grafton book s by heart (almost) so the clue 1A jumped out at me, and I tried entering ROTTING CORPSE (but there weren’t enough letters) and I never made the connection. This is why I’m a week 1 & 2 meta solver at best. So close; yet so far,

  11. tabstop says:

    Definitely a good puzzle, which I wasn’t particularly close to. Was also thinking ILL WILL, and had no idea where the Knox clue was going (I was trying to think of somehow getting a pardon/exonerated made you “immaculate” again, but no). Also was trying to find places where the clue and the answer started with the same letter, although in retrospect I don’t know why I parsed “X is for Xword” that way.

  12. Howard B says:

    That’s a pretty cool meta.
    Also one where, no way in hell could I have solved it. Didn’t get one step of this meta, and given a year never would have come close. So small comfort there. Respect to Matt for coming up with such a tight, solvable, actually fair meta that I can look at and simply *know* I could not solve, and for no specific reason. Happened not to have heard the phrase “BEAR NO MALICE”, I’m only familiar with Grafton through crossword clues, and didn’t connect the phrases.
    So sometimes you can just miss the boat, yet still appreciate the art of the puzzle.
    And that’s OK.

  13. Ephraim says:

    I figured out CRIME for what seemed like the wrong reason, so I didn’t submit it. Trying to anagram the initials of the theme answers, I quickly got CRIME and … some scattered letters. The leftover letters made me think there was a crime category, maybe CRIME NEWS (which almost works). I started thinking about the awkward phrases this morning, got busy with work and didn’t watch the clock.

    As Matt predicted, I’m singing a different song this week. It’s a sad one.

  14. Dave Taube says:

    I totally agree with you, Howard. I couldn’t have solved this one in a year either.

    Did anybody else notice the hidden names in the long answers (rotting caDAVEr, reBOundeffects, imMACulatewoman, bearnomeANNEss, showEDexhibits)? I focused on trying to find a link between the names and didn’t get very far.

  15. Like Paul Coulter, I too was caught up on the letter-pronounciation thing within certain theme entries. There’s an FX hiding in EFFECTS, a Q hiding in IMMACULATE, and if you really squint your ears, you can get letter sounds out of the other theme entries. But I abandoned this path once I discovered the “errors” in 1A.

    Oddly enough, this was the first puzzle where I still was unsure of myself even after I got the meta. I thought the multiple Grafton references broke the “no repetition” rule, and I didn’t like how CRIME was hiding in plain sight; that is, you could fall backwards into the meta just by looking at the initials of the theme entries. Fortunately, there was really no other solution that makes a lick of sense.

  16. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    I noticed the Grafton titles in 1A and having read these novels realized that their being wrong and yet synonyms of the real title must be a clue (like pitfall being similar to the real word in the P title of Peril). So I started substituting synonyms for words in the theme answers and I noticed something interesting that led me astray for a while. Cadaver can be corpse, yes, but it can also be body. Exhibits can be evidence (which we were intended to get) and suddenly I was reminded of a book by another author. Patricia Cornwell wrote “Body of Evidence”. This caused me to take a look at her book list, which wasted some time. But then I got the aha moment of “E is for Evidence” and that went so well with the 1A clue I had no problem doing the others just as Joon has explained.

    Though you get CRIME from those words first letters, technically the term is “crime fiction”, and also a number of people lump her into the “mystery” genre. But crime seems like the “pure” and obvious answer being looked for.

  17. Cole says:

    My solving was prompted by two things that sounded “off” , the 1A clue and the IMMACULATE clue for Ms. Knox. I travel to Italy a bit and the Knox trial was big news and while I have no idea what happened that night in Perugia the idea that “Foxy Knoxy” was immaculate seemed improbable.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Nah, she was completely innocent. Stayed over at her boyfriend’s house, came home and her roommate had been killed by an intruder. The Italian prosecutor was a complete nut who saw Satanic conspiracies where there was zero evidence of such (and not only on this trial). About a year ago I set aside an entire evening to look into the Knox case and make up my own mind. After an hour I was like, where’s the controversy? Obviously she had nothing at all to do with it, and neither did her boyfriend.

  18. Janette says:

    Bummer, I actually had this one figured out but was in a meeting all morning and had no time to submit. Figured this out last night watching the debate but had to be up for a 5 am flight, oh well.

  19. Dave C says:

    Ironically, figured this meta out at the very goofy BEAR NO MEANNESS, though this was the last answer I got right. Like Matthew G., also wrote down ILL WILL. Fortunately I had written down all 5 words, and when C-R-I-I-E stared me down I knew I was home free, and changed over to MALICE.

    Didn’t get RICOCHET EFFECT, I went with RECOIL EFFECT.

    • CY Hollander says:

      I thought it was REVERSE EFFECT (as in “had the reverse effect”). Would have made the fire and shooter metaphorical, though. Ricochet is better.

  20. Jason says:

    Was stuck on the fact that a number of clues were alliterative (ovoid object) and couldn’t get away from that.

  21. abide says:

    Meta took two days for me. I submitted “crime fiction” and explained the Grafton novels in the comments. The judge(s) accepted that. Thought that the genre of “true crime” could also be deemed correct as the “true” novels help you spell C-R-I-M-E.

    I never thought to investigate 1-A , but I like the “desolate trap” hinted there by the D and P.

  22. jefe says:

    Argh, another one that seems so simple in retrospect! Got hung up on looking for X’s – movie eXtra, rebound FX, Amanda KnoX, showed eXhibits. Great concept!

  23. pannonica says:

    Recognized that the long entries were awkward, but rather than seeing the Grafton “is for” connection and seeking synonyms for just one part of the answer, I looked for, erm, holistic ones. So I had corpse/carcass, echoes, Mary, pardon (?), displayed(?), which got me exactly nowhere.

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