MGWCC #233

crossword 3:30
meta 0:45 

hello, and welcome to episode #233 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Mountains of Money”. this week, matt challenges us to name a well-known American billionaire. what are the theme answers? well, there were three long answers in the grid:

  • {Heated gypsum mixed with water, familiarly} is PLASTER OF PARIS.
  • {New York-to-Paris flyer} is lucky lindy’s SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS.
  • {Business since 1688} is the insurance giant, LLOYD’S OF LONDON.

additionally, there were four starred clues, corresponding to symmetrically placed 3-letter answers:

  • {“We need help!”*} SOS.
  • {Really stand out, like a shirt*} POP. thank goodness for crossings—i would never have gotten this from the clue.
  • {Triumphant tic-tac-toe trio*} OOO.
  • {“hahaha!!!”*} LOL.

the pieces came together pretty quickly on this one. the long answers are all of the form “___ of ___”, where both blanks start with the same letter, and the second one is a city. each one has a corresponding shorter theme answer, a 3-letter palindrome with O in the middle. the only one unaccounted for was OOO, so for completeness, the theme needs a phrase “O___ of O___” where that last blank is a city. since we’re looking for a famous billionaire, “oracle of omaha” immediately came to mind; it’s the nickname of warren buffett, who is the contest answer.

i thought this was an elegant meta. the starred clues made it pretty hard to miss what was happening there, so really, the meta was there for anybody familiar with buffett’s nickname. if you didn’t know the nickname, you could actually still get the answer pretty easily with some web assistance, working from either direction: either search for O___ of O___ terms, or just think of billionaires who might be the answer (how many famous american billionaires are there? gates, buffett, soros, zuckerberg, oprah, perot, the waltons, … it’s not a long list) and look them up. actually, buffett was my first thought when i read the contest instructions prior to starting the crossword.

as a week 3 of 5, this felt pretty gentle. i think it’s solvable without the *s (since OOO SOS POP and LOL are in symmetric locations), but it would have been a lot tougher, definitely an end-of-month challenge.

fill roundup:

  • {___ day (midweek)} HUMP. ever have trouble remembering which kind of camel has one hump and which has two? this week i learned a useful mnemonic: a B has two humps, as does a bactrian camel; a D has one hump, like a dromedary.
  • {Initialism popularized by Rachael Ray} EVOO. extra-virgin olive oil.
  • {The A of EAP} ALLAN. edgar allan poe. i have to say i’ve never seen him referred to as EAP outside of a crossword clue.
  • {“___ don’t fail me now!”} FEETS? is this what people say (jocularly, i suppose)? i’ve heard it as “feet”, which you have to admit is more good grammatical.
  • {Bed-In for Peace participant, 1969} YOKO. not tough, but it feels like the clue should probably indicate the first name somehow.
  • {He played Hutch on “Starsky and Hutch”} DAVID SOUL. never heard of him, but i like that the clue tells me who he is.
  • {Not taking the audience into account} TONE-DEAF. very nice clue, and good fill too.

before i sign off, one last plug for the puzzle event in burlington MA tonight. free and open to the public! games! prizes! witty banter! pleasant company! how can you resist? join in the fun. also don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to me.

that’s all for me. have a happy thanksgiving, everyone!

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51 Responses to MGWCC #233

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    Aargh, another one bites the dust. Serves me right for ignoring my granddaughter’s warning not to race against the leader board. I was aware of the unpartnered OOO, but convinced myself the symmetric Os in Soros made it a valid answer. I wasn’t really satisfied with him, especially since Matt used Soros recently as part of another meta. An hour after entering, Oracle of Omaha came to me while bicycling in our college gym. At least it didn’t turn out to be something terrible like Oprah of O! as I’d feared when my name dropped off the streak list, but I should have known Matt better. I agree with Joon this was a solid Week 3, but made a little gentle by the asterisks. By the way, it would be cool if others share where they went wrong as they drop from contention.
    ANFSCD: Ever since the new version of PuzzleSocial launched, I haven’t been able to get it to fully load. Clearing my cache as everyone keeps saying doesn’t help. I’ve tried everything my tech-savvy friends have recommended, including changing browsers. Has anyone else had this trouble, and if so, did you come up with a fix that works?

    • Ken / Cazique says:

      Same exact – EXACT – first paragraph, everything except I wish my five-year-old had told me not to race the leaderboard. (And the gym. I didn’t go to the gym.)

      Why I was in such a hurry to submit on Friday night, I will never know, but the perfect-score leaderboard lost two people this week, it looks like, and I was the other one. Dammit.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Ken, if it’s any consolation, I believe four of the leaders missed this, since there were 43 with 9 and now there are 39 with 10.

  2. Matt says:

    346 correct answers this week. The most common incorrect answers were George Soros and Oprah, both of which have that “looks like it could be right, though I’m not sure precisely why” quality to them (Soros because he’s a palindrome like the four starred answers, Oprah because of O magazine, and the one unaccounted-for starred entry is OOO). Oprah got 28 entries, Soros 21.

  3. Zifmia says:

    I really wanted to find an Olympic Games connection, after discovering that Paris, St Louis, and London hosted the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th modern Olympic games.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      That was an intriguing and unintentional red herring. Another one was that several solvers noticed that all three cities have famous arches (Acr de Triomphe, Gateway Arch, Marble Arch).

  4. I got to the point where I knew the answer would be revealed by a “O_____ of O_____” phrase pretty quickly. Then… nothing. I knew it had to be a city, but all I could come up with were things like “out of order,” “oath of office,” “Oil of Olay.”

    I guess I just wasn’t familiar with “Oracle of Omaha.” Thankfully, Wikipedia saved the day.

    • Joel says:

      I got stuck on “Oil of Olay” too. I even went to the trouble of looking up who created the brand. (It escapes me offhand, but I remember he’s dead.) It wasn’t until I looked at the puzzle again the next day that I twigged to the cities in the theme entries.

  5. rmac says:

    Oprah has enough houses that at first I thought “Oprah of [someplace starting with ‘O’]” would be a pretty safe bet. Maybe Orem or Ocala for us crossword geeks? But no.

    To continue with Paul’s ANFSCD theme, I’m not seeing either MGWCC #232 or #233 on this blog when I click the “Matt Gaffney” link at the end of joon’s post. #231 and earlier show up as they always have. I had the same problem last week, and thought at the time that clearing the browser cache fixed it. Today that doesn’t seem to work with either Firefox 16.0.3 or 17.0.0. Any hints? Is something broken?

    — Russ

  6. Scott says:

    I read that Bill Gates wrote an early computer program that played tic-tac-toe so with the definition for OOO, that is who I sent in. Fortunately my wife figured out that it was O___ of O___ and she entered correctly. At least we kept the family streak going!

  7. Blanche says:

    I was sure it was Oprah: WOW, Woman of the World, with the triple O as confirmation.

  8. Wayne says:

    Easiest week 3 in a while. Not that I’m complaining.

    I briefly wondered if Richard Hilton’s other children might be named Louis and Lloyd. But Wikipedia quickly disabused me of that. Then it was smooth sailing.

  9. Lois says:

    Joon, on another topic, A Christmas Story, a new musical based on the film discussed on this blog last year (remember screenwriter Jean Shepherd), has just opened on Broadway:

  10. I was not familiar with the nickname Oracle of Omaha, but I got it pretty quickly after grepping my list of all Wikipedia page titles for “O… of O…” phrases, and that one was the only reasonable answer that popped up.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Since the second O had to be an American city, you could also have done a Google search on the biggest US cities that start with O: [“of Orlando” + billionaire], [“of Omaha” + billionaire], etc.

      • Matthew G. says:

        I don’t see how it obviously had to be an American city, since until you’ve solved the meta it’s not clear the city names in the grid will be direct clues or part of some cryptic wordplay. Nevertheless, I solved this one very quickly after looking at a list of notable cities worldwide that start with O, and Omaha leapt right off the page at me.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          The instructions asked for an American billionaire

          • Matthew G. says:

            Yes, I know, but the fact that the answer had to be an American person did not preclude the possibility that the fifth city could have been a non-U.S. city that clued the answer via wordplay. After all, London and Paris are in the grid. But in any event, it was easy to find Omaha either way.

          • The nerve of Matt, telling us how we can and can’t solve his own meta!

    • Abide says:

      How do you grep a Wikipedia page list? Or is that a typo?

      I didnt notice the cities, so I used onelook for “o* of o*”.

  11. Laura E-D says:

    Luckily the Forbes list mentioned Omaha in Buffett’s blurb. I knew it had to involve a city with an O somehow.

  12. Mutman says:

    After a suitable amount of time spent thinking about this, I remembered Buffet was from Omaha and verified the answer. I was not as familiar with the monicker as most.

    Also, let’s not get too confident solvers — this is a 5-meta month. Week 3 was a littler gentler than usual because of this, I believe :)

  13. Ben Bass says:

    I liked it. Elegant meta. My solving a non-obvious one for a change didn’t hurt either.

  14. Bernie Cosell says:

    I didn’t know the “oracle of omaha” phrase, and it turns out there are >400 American billionaires[*]. I was hoping to find some kind of ‘O’ related one but couldn’t psyche out ‘Omaha” for the ‘O’. Sigh.

    [*] Yes, there’s a wikipedia page for this kind of thing:

  15. Spencer says:

    What I thought of for 61A: “Feats don’t fail me now” by Little Feat.

  16. Lynne Higgins says:

    After looking at the Forbes list, I thought it might be Larry Ellison, Owner Of Oracle. Knew it had to be 3 Os. But also figured out that the third O needed to be the name of a city. Ergo, Buffett of Omaha – BOO!

  17. CY Hollander says:

    Lots of good ways posted here for the uninformed to get at the answer. Joon’s OneLook suggestion is a clever idea that would not have occurred to me, though it’s a pity that OneLook’s search tools aren’t just slightly more sophisticated. Adam’s Wikipedia-grep technique is more sophisticated, albeit geekier, and I commend him for it. Then, of course, Matt drops in with the revelation that I have once again missed a layer of his theme and offers a third way to get at the answer.

    With so many solutions offered, I may as well toss my more pedestrian hat in the ring: a speculative Google search does the job as well. Actually the first result or two I get for that (courtesy of the wretchedly pabulous Huffington Post and its bloated GoogleRank) are for a Mexican billionaire known as the King of Tacos, but the next result is for Buffett.

    But, being blessed with the wonderfully winning combination of ‘ignorant’ and ‘American’, I expect things like this to just fall into my lap, and indeed, my familiarity with American celebrities and complete obliviousness to the existence of everyone else in the world made this puzzle a cinch.

  18. John says:

    I immediately figured the O_of_O was the crux of the meta, but when tons of searching yielded zilch and nothing but Oil of Olay came to mind, I thought the title’s ‘Mountains of Money’ seemed to imply that the city may not be significant, especially since foreign cities were in the grid clues – cue: multiple wasted hours. Not knowing’ Oracle Of Omaha’ from squat, I tried to Google ‘O of O’ and got exactly nothing. Incredibly, after deciding the city was indeed significant I googled ‘O of Omaha’ and likewise got nothing! When Google’s “Did you mean?” doesn’t work, I’m at a loss.

    Being an intrepid solver i continued with the ‘O_for’ train and finally entered ‘O of Oracle’ (yes, there is a city named Oracle and i thought it interesting enough to try), and lo and behold about 5 entries down ‘Oracle of Omaha’ caught my eye. What a back-a$$ed way to stumble into that.

    Guess i have to up my game for searches beyond google. Adam, you are such a pathetic geek for having a list of all Wikipedia pages to grep! Where might I go about accessing that?? :v)

  19. Dave Taube says:

    Spencer, that would have been Feats, not feets, and the first letters would have been capitalized. The tune also immediately came to my mind, being that Little Feat is one of my favorite below the radar groups. Rock and Roll Doctor contains one of the coolest lines in all of rock and roll, “Two degrees in bebop, a Ph.D. in swing, he’s the master of rhythm, he’s a rock and roll king.”

    Great puzzle, Matt. My instinct was to go with arches, since St. Louis, London and Paris have famous arches, as you mentioned. Then I realized that the four starred clues were starred for a reason, but didn’t see how they fit with the long answers. As soon as I got that connection, OOO was the odd man out, so the meta had to be O of O. Being an investor, Oracle of Omaha immediately jumped out at me.

    I’m pretty stoked since this is the first time that I’ve solved the first three puzzles.

  20. Les Wagner says:

    My son got the “X of X” right away and the answer followed shortly after. Neither of us noticed the starred clues; a failing we’ve had often in the past. I’d say about half the times we don’t notice the asterisks at the end of the clues. As the font’s get smaller and smaller on the bigger screens and my eyes get worse and worse – do they make quadfocals? – those pesky little stars escape my notice more and more.

  21. Patrick L says:

    Well I got this quickly but still didn’t think it was up to Matt’s usual standards. I know it’s desirable to have fewer right answers with each successive week but I feel the increase in difficulty was achieved more with obscurity than elegance. I know that Google is often an valuable ally, but I’ve developed a preference for those metas that hide the answer right in front of us, as opposed to ‘out there’ in the Googleverse.

    After discovering that there was an unpaired OOO, and that the last O was probably a city (and the middle O was probably ‘of’), it’s kind of a dead end, as far as working with the grid / clues. Solvers either know the nickname, or they have to start Googling somewhat arbitrarily. Nothing in the grid or clues hints at ‘oracle’ or ‘Omaha,’ and certainly not ‘Warren Buffett.’ For this puzzle the answer wasn’t too hard to stumble upon, but I still felt lucky when I did. I wasn’t going to Google all 422 billionaires.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I agree that metas should not devolve into arbitrary Googles, but this ain’t that; just Googling “Omaha billionaire” gets you there right away, for example. Only four of the largest 100 cities in the U.S. start with an O (Oklahoma City, Omaha, Orlando, Oakland) so it was highly likely to be one of those four, and was. A solver who was arbitrarily Googling random U.S. billionaires wasn’t using all the information at hand.

      • Patrick L says:

        I tend to agree with Matthew G’s comment above – that we don’t have any reason to believe that it’s an American city. For example Soros was born in Hungary but is still considered an American billionaire – what if he had a nickname like the Banker of Budapest? I suppose the Google path is straightforward if assumptions are made – i.e., American city, large (top 100) American city. I guess those are reasonable in hindsight, but my mind ruled that out just by thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe someone trained at Oxford in England and then came back to the US.’

        Anyway, this probably isn’t the puzzle that I should argue over, since enough pieces fell into place to make it reasonably solvable – and I give you credit for engineering it that way.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree but I find this line of argument highly unpersuasive.

          Sure it’s possible that a US billionaire might have a foreign city in their nickname, but it’s much more likely that it’s a US city. For example, note that Soros is the only one on Joon’s list above (Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg, Oprah, Perot, Walton) not born in the US. So if you’re deciding to choose between starting with US or non-US cities, it seems clear that (assuming you’d noticed the ‘American’ prompt in the instructions) you’d start there instead of abroad.

          Even ceding that, then sure — spend a couple of minutes coming up with Osaka, Oslo, Ottawa, Oxford and Odessa and check them. That’s still a short Google search.

          Also, note that 346 solvers got this meta, which is either a record or close to it for a Week 3. Even the two solvers arguing that the meta search was too much of a Google burden both state that they got it “quickly,” so I’m not sure where the evidence lies to the contrary.

          Again, I think it’s rare that a meta can justify a long, unpleasant, or random set of Google searches, but here you clearly have “O? of O-city” and the list just isn’t that long (assuming you noticed the above pattern).

          The reason I’m arguing this out is that a meta will often require a Google search for those unfamiliar with a certain piece or pieces of information which, like “Oracle of Omaha” here, is commonly but not nearly universally known, and I’m sensitive to solver complaints when it’s not so. But I’m not at all persuaded, by the arguments or the numbers, that this was anywhere close to placing undue Googling burdens on solvers.

          • Matthew G. says:

            Matt, I completely agree that the Google search was easy even if you searched worldwide. The set of notable cities that start with O is small enough for Googleability, even if you’re talking about the whole world. I was merely making (what I intended) as a supremely minor point in response to your first post: based on what you know so far about the meta at the point you get to O___ of O___, you know you’re looking for a city but you don’t know if the city will lead to the meta answer directly or indirectly, so it’s not guaranteed to be a U.S. city.

            But to be clear: that wasn’t a criticism and I don’t think it impeded the meta. If I’d confined my search to U.S. cities I might have solved the meta in three minutes; as it was, I solved it in five.

          • Patrick L says:

            I think I’ve done a poor job of explaining myself and I apologize. When I said I didn’t feel this puzzle was up to Matt’s usual standards, my point is that it was less elegant, not less fair.

            The fact that there were so many correct answers doesn’t change my evaluation of the quality of this puzzle. I still appreciate its creativity – I just happen to have more admiration for the Week 3+ puzzles that have most of the hunt on the puzzle page (and many of these have stumped me). I get more of a gratifying ‘aha’ when I finally decipher some mystery or curiosity in the grid or in the clues, as opposed to just finding something on Google. This is all just my opinion – no offense intended. I still love these puzzles.

  22. Donna k says:

    I knew the _o_ but I hate that i do these on across lite and the clues fade out really badly as I miss the starred answers..I will be more careful next time. Or start doing them on ick paper…

    • Aerion says:

      I almost always solve MGWCC on paper for this reason — some puzzles solve easier for me when I can see the whole grid and clues at once, and draw lines or highlight wherever I feel like it.

      Then again, I solve Fireball on paper, too, for no particular reason. Maybe I just like paper better.

  23. bob says:

    I agree with Matt the constructor, having an O* of O*, a city beginning with O and a well known American billionaire, there are just not that many options. Maybe 20 large cities world wide beginning with an O and about a dozen famous american billionaires. It really doesn’t take too long to get to Omaha and Buffett and from there to wikipedia and Oracle of Omaha to get the “click”.
    By the way what is the most used O city in crosswords? Omaha, Osaka, Oslo or that city in Florida I can’t remember?

  24. sandirhodes says:

    I can lay to rest the whole controversy described above. I found Matt’s metas page a couple of years ago, and in that time, I have solved an entire month exactly once. I seldom get week 3, much less week 4, or heavens above, a week 5 (something inside me breathes a sigh of relief that there are no months with at least 36 days!). I certainly seldom get more than one of those later weeks, and if I do, I’ve already missed one of the early ones (I tend to blame a lack of time, but that same voice tries to tell me it’s a lack of comprehension. I counter with a lack of desire, but the voice just pfffts at me like it knows I’m lying. But I digress!).

    My point? I got this meta. I got it in joon time, and thoroughly enjoyed the journey. I did not see the asterisks, but noticed the correlation to the theme answers during the solve. I’ve seen the ‘Oracle of Omaha’ phrase in crossword puzzles SEVERAL TIMES this year, and THAT is how I knew it (ie, NO googling!).

    I’m 3 for three this month. I will have little time to spend on this crossword foolishness before next Tuesday. My streak is doomed!

    The puzzle and meta were fair and a great construction. Out.

  25. dunnderhead says:

    If the “feets don’t fail me now” clue has not been addressed above (I didn’t read every word, I confess), may I chime in with a thanks to Matt for conjuring up my many fond memories of Lincoln Perry who, in his alter ego Stepin Fetchit (, was as famous as Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant in his heyday. His catch phrase became anathema during the civil rights fight and Fetchit was openly disparaged for a kind of collaborationist in an era when a black actor was essentially absent from any Hollywood movie.

    Eventually this phrase faded from our cultural heritage as the result of language cleansing and revisionist historical or artistic evaluation is neatly adjusted for some of our American icons to conform to our current values. Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson come to mind as well as this incredible actor whose now-unacceptable trope became a symbol of American assumptions about African Americans. It is a horrible loss, in my view, that the work of these people has been devalued because of the time in which they lived; as if any of us can possibly be separated from the values of our times.

    Thanks Matt, for reminding me of how wonderful he was.

  26. Toby Berla says:

    Great puzzle, somewhat easy meta for week 3. (I’m trying not to get over-confident, as there are *two* more to go in November!!)

    One quibble: Joon writes, “{Not taking the audience into account} TONE-DEAF. very nice clue, and good fill too.” The phrase “tone deaf” originally refers to someone who cannot distinguish musical pitch, and who therefore sings off key without knowing it. The more recent use of the phrase — denoting a speaker who offends his/her audience members — also refers to someone who is *unintentionally* “off key”. So I think the clue is not quite right.

    For some recent examples of this:

  27. Dave Taube says:

    Well put, Sandirhodes. I could have written your post, but I discovered Matt’s metas only a year ago and I’ve never solved an entire month’s worth of metas. As you mentioned, the Oracle of Omaha is not only an occasional crossword puzzle clue, but anybody who is involved in investing knows who Warren Buffett is and what his nickname is. No googling required.

  28. ===Dan says:

    The second-wealthiest American billionaire residing in Canada is Galen Weston. He’s a member of the Order of Ontario. It’s a namesake of a city in California. I’d still call this answer a near miss. (I didn’t submit it.)

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