MGWCC #244

crossword 3:04
meta -2:40 

hello and welcome to episode #244 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Thus Solved Zarathustra”. this was as easy a week 1 puzzle as you could ask for. the instructions tell us that we are seeking a four-legged animal who would feel at home in this grid. well, what are the theme answers?

  • right off the bat at 1-across, we get {With 69-across, play on a familiar phrase that describes how this puzzle’s theme answers run} FROM/Z TO A. i got the FROM rather quickly, and it only took a few more seconds to pick up the first theme answer (see below).
  • {“Avatar” actress} ZOE SALDANA. i always want to call her SALANA, perhaps because i am mentally conflating her somewhat with lola falana. anyway, due to the grid structure, this wasn’t the first theme answer i encountered.
  • {European capital since 1992} is ZAGREB, CROATIA. this one was, and since i already had the Z in place from FELIZ at 1d, i was able to slap down the rest of the answer with only that one crossing. combined with the FROM at 1a, i had the entire theme down and knew what the meta answer was going to be at this point, only 24 seconds after starting. that’s not quite a record for me, but it comes pretty close.
  • {Rage Against the Machine’s lead singer} is ZACK DE LA ROCHA. knew him, although i had my usual hesitation about ZACK vs ZACH.
  • {Holy book for Zoroastrians} is the ZEND AVESTA. the avesta recounts the cosmic struggle between the forces of light and darkness, personified by ahura mazda and ahriman (angra mainyu). ahura mazda is, i think, the only deity of a major world religion to have an automobile make named for him.

what else might have gone in this theme? the title is a reference to the nietzsche book thus spoke zarathustra; zarathustra is the german name of zoroaster, author of parts of the avesta. mystery hunt veterans might have been expecting to see zyzzlvaria. one of my favorite literary devices, the zeugma, isn’t in luck or this puzzle. set theorists would have enjoyed seeing zorn’s lemma, i’m sure. (Q: what’s yellow and equivalent to the axiom of choice?) the paradoxical pre-socratic philosopher, zeno of elea, often appears in crossword puzzles either as ZENO or in a clue for his hometown ELEA, but i’ve never seen the whole thing in the grid. social gaming company zynga made a splash with farmville and words with friends, but seems to be steadily hemorrhaging money, the way so many of these businesses do.

oh, and it hardly needs to be mentioned, but the four-legged animal we want is, of course, the zebra. according to matt, some 6 solvers managed to submit incorrect answers. plot surmised that perhaps scrabble enthusiasts (and/or entomologists) tried zyzzyva, everyone’s favorite Z-TO-A animal, but alas, it fails to meet the “four-legged” stipulation.

many of you know mike nothnagel, crossword constructor par excellence. many of you are also familiar with NPR’s (relatively) new quiz show, ask me another. well, mike was on last week’s episode, competing in a segment that was kind of the inverse of this theme: A to Z, instead of Z to A. i won’t spoil the outcome, but it’s a fun segment. actually, the whole show is fun. i especially enjoyed the “we will rock you” game.


  • {Brand of inflatable mattress} AERO. don’t think i’ve seen this. is it a new clue for AERO?
  • {One of the Fates} CLOTHO. if i remember correctly, she does the spinning, lachesis does the weaving, and atropos does the cutting.
  • {Like the walls of Harvard Yard} IVIED. well, you might think that, but for the most part, they’re not.
  • {American soccer star Claudio ___ (anagram of YEARN)} REYNA. hey, now that football season is over, it’s back to the other kind of football for me. the USA has an important world cup qualifier tomorrow in honduras.
  • {Seemingly vowelless Welsh word for a valley(though its middle letter is in fact a vowel)} CWM! yes! a great scrabble word to play against laypeople, if only to mess with their minds a bit. i’ve played this before, but never had a chance to play CRWTH (a stringed instrument similar to a lyre). for the record, the w is kind of an “oo” vowel.
  • {“Slaves of New York” novelist Tama ___} JANOWITZ. wow, never seen her last name in the grid. (i assume it’s a her, anyway.)
  • {Olivier-Newton-John title?} SIR. hee hee. funny clue. shades of last week’s meta, too.

okay, that’s all for me. hope you all enjoyed this lovely week 1 puzzle…

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37 Responses to MGWCC #244

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    There IS one other answer the qualifies, though I followed the striped herd and went with zebra. The other quadrapod is the zorilla. I know it sounds like a sleepy gorilla, but it’s actually a kind of polecat. The name means little fox in Spanish. Remember, el Zorro was the Fox.

  2. Blanche Schulz says:

    This puzzle was as easy as the previous one was diabolically difficult. In fact, I hesitated for a long time before sending in ZEBRA, thinking that there must be some clever trick that I was missing. As for vowelless words, the Czech language is notorious for that. Here’s a sentence: Vlk zmrzl, zhltl hrst zrn (the wolf froze, he swallowed a handful of grains).

    • Lois says:

      Not fair to use Czech as an example. Its spelling reform eliminated most schwa sounds, I believe. But, unlike Blanche, I don’t know Czech.

  3. David (AKA Plot) says:

    Thanks for the name-check! I figured a few people would not read the meta carefully and submit zyzzyva in order to be clever; that’s certainly the sort of thing I’m wont to do. I played it safe and went with zebra, but also offered ‘Zenyatta’ as a bonus answer; now I’m wondering if Zenyatta was the source of some of the incorrect responses as well.

  4. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Zeno of Elea did appear in a NYTimes Sunday crossword back in 1995!

    I guessed ZEBRA from ZAGREB before getting outside the 1A corner, which turned out to be correct even though the near-anagram was mostly coincidental…

    —NDE (hidden in MANO A MANO)

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    629 right answers this week, which is a new record (old record was 596). Only 6 incorrect entries.

    Among the correct: 8 ZORILLA entries, 1 ZAMBIAN HYENA (!), and one ZAPODNO-SIBIRSKA LAIKA, which is a beautiful creature indeed:

    • pannonica says:

      I don’t think “Zambian hyena” is legitimate; there are no subspecies of Crocuta crocuta, whose range is much of subsaharan Africa. It’s just a population (individuals of which are apparently slightly heavier and exhibit some differences in behavior); it’s the equivalent of saying something like “Montana coyote.”

      Brown hyenas (Hyaena brunnea) occur in southwest Zambia, but again, no distinct subspecies.

      • SHAW says:

        Maybe not legitimate as a species, but if there are hyenas in Zambia, then it fits the instructions, and maybe even fits the grid better than the zebra, since the theme answers were all two words.

        • pannonica says:

          Then why not Zimbabwean nyala? It’s preposterous and essentially random.

        • pannonica says:

          Or “zippy puma”?

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Well it was an obvious piece of Week 1 humor so we’ll let it slide (the solver mentioned in his note that the hyena had chased the zebra away).

          • SHAW says:

            Both fine! I assume he would have accepted either – anyone who submitted those got the theme.

          • pannonica says:

            That’s reasonable in context then, Matt.

          • pannonica says:

            Just as a here-you-go:

            Zygodontomys brevicauda

            (Both mammals; I’m not as conversant with other quadrupeds.)

        • J. T. Williams says:

          Exactly my process of thinking SHAW. It fits the instructions, there are indeed hyenas in Zambia (Google didn’t like Zimbabwean hyena so much), it has two words, like all the rest of the answers, it demonstrates understanding of the meta, there is no additional portion of the meta that the alternative answer does not take into account, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, the zebra ran away as soon as the Zambian hyena showed up.

  6. Jason says:

    I originally read the instructions as “a four-lettered creature” which allowed me to spend an extra hour on the meta.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    And Joon — don’t think there wasn’t another 3 letters I wanted to start 38-d with

  8. AaronB says:

    I think a ZAPODNO-SIBIRSKA LAIKA is a little big to feel at home in a 15×15 grid.

    • Noam D. Elkies says:

      It would work as a 15-letter partial; also Z-to-A, and two words like the other theme answers (which arguably makes ZAMBIAN HYENA the only correct answer — no, it wasn’t mine). Wikipedia says that LAIKA is Russian for “barker”, which makes sense because this purportedly “beautiful creature” is basically just a Siberian dog.

      —NDE (hidden in MONOAMINE OXIDASE)

  9. Abby says:

    My dictionary (Chambers) besides zebra and zorilla, has zebrula as a zebra/horse hybrid. Those were the only ones I saw that qualified.

  10. Neville says:

    Joon, I vastly prefer your riddle to “What’s purple and commutes?” Of course, that doesn’t say much. I’m also a big fan of zeugmas. But I guess neither of those is week one material.

    Wagers that week one is going to be record breaker for the next few months?

    • Alex says:

      There are tons of those jokes, and they’re all terrible.

      (If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you are lucky.)

  11. jane lewis says:

    i don’t get around much but i know that aero is an inflatable mattress – don’t know how long they’ve been around.

  12. Dannoz says:

    “Thus Solved Zarathustra” led me to look within the title to find “rat,” a four-legged creature. Chalk up another over-thought week one. Zebra came to me a couple of days later. Too late to change my mind.

  13. Mutman says:

    I hope Mary Decker isn’t on this thread. She may have a traumatic flashback to ZOLA Budd, circa 1984.

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