MGWCC #254

crossword 3:53
meta 1:45 

hello and welcome to episode #254 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Hey, Watch the Language!”. in this week 2 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a group of people skilled in language. well, what are the theme answers? here are the six long answers in the grid:

  • {Soup made with lobster and tea?} CHAI BISQUE.
  • {Wanting all the nice bedsheets for yourself?} SATIN GREED.
  • {Female deer’s rod-and-reel catch?} HIND’S FIN FISH.
  • {Pee-wee’s second shot at making beer?} HERMAN REBREW.
  • {Aioli, essentially?} GARLIC MAYO. this feels like an actual phrase, unlike all of the other theme answers.
  • {“Mr. Cassidy, please meet Raquel”?} BUTCH WELCH.

with all the nudges towards language, it didn’t take me long to see that each of these phrases can be turned into a pair of languages by changing two letters (circled in the screencap):

  • SATIN GREED -> LATIN GREEK, a nice classical pair.
  • HIND’S FIN FISH -> HINDI FINNISH. i don’t think “finfish” is one word, so this also requires the deletion of a space.
  • GARLIC MAYO -> GAELIC MAYA. a lovely find. i’m wondering if this was the seed of the theme.

you can read the meta answer right off the boldfaced letters: talking heads. they’re sufficiently skilled in language that they can casually toss out foreign phrases like qu’est-ce que c’est.

speaking of psycho killers, though, the tragedy in boston has left me in a contemplative but somewhat maudlin mood, one probably not best suited to blogging. so i’ll be terse here. this is a really fine puzzle. six theme answers is no cakewalk, and to have the changed letters (in order!) spell out a relevant phrase is quite a coup. with all that going on, i can readily forgive certain infelicities in the grid like USP (the university of sao paulo—cross-referenced with SAO at 52a, but also kind of a dupe with st PAULI girl at 8d) and IN RIO. there’s also plenty to like about the fill, such as CS LEWIS and the lower-right stack of CRINKLES, KENTUCKY, and SWOOSHES.

hope you’re all well.

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20 Responses to MGWCC #254

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 431 right answers this week.

    I was intending “talking heads” to indicate the TV folk, but the band works, too.

    Finfish is one word:

    With USP I was completely shocked on Thursday evening to discover that USP is…not much. But at that point I couldn’t change it so had to punt. Almost put a “sorry” in the clue! I think I mixed USPS and ISP in my head.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Would someone please explain why 6 D, CMS, are incorrect? Thank you.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      The plural of cm is just cm, not cms

      • CY Hollander says:

        Hmm, considering the crossword convention of recklessly S’ing any abbreviation at all (e.g. “LOLS”), I’d say cluing CMS as “incorrect” is a little dubious. That is, cms. is arguably an incorrect abbreviation for the plural of centimeter, but “cm”s is a crossword-typical plural for the abbreviation of centimeter, if you follow my somewhat convoluted point.

  3. DannyBoy says:

    This was another speedracer meta for me. It was easily possible to solve long before finishing the grid. Maybe the directions shouldn’t have included the word language, which made the trick obvious. Asking for something like entertainment personalities might have been better.

  4. Noam D. Elkies says:

    I think I’ve seen the band’s name split into two-letter chunks TA LK IN GH EA DS, so I was sure that Matt was referring to this too. Apparently not, though it didn’t matter for this metapuzzle.

    USP = United States Pharmacopoeia, often seen on generic pill bottles, like “vitamin C 1000 g USP”. Anyway the clue for 14A:USP seems wrong: there is an “Universidade de São Paulo” known as USP, but of course it’s a school in São Paulo, not in “São” (or is that a common abbreviation for the city, like “Rio” for Rio de Janeiro?).

    • joon says:

      i assume that the meta referred to talking heads in general, not just the band. the video link was a little joke.

      the USP clue is loose, but not wrong. it certainly seems to me that “52-across” can refer to the clue, the answer, or both taken together as a pair.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    I answered “wine tasters.” I think I’m done with metas.

  6. RFreeland says:

    I’ve come across USP as standing for Unique Selling Point, in the business world – is that not as commonly used as I thought?

  7. icdogg says:

    My wife did the puzzle also this week, her first meta. I think she may be hooked now

  8. Matthew G. says:

    USP also stands for United States Penitentiary, and is part of the formal name of many federal prisons. So while it would probably be reserved for a pretty hard puzzle, you could try something like {___ Florence (year-round Colorado residence of the worst federal felons)}.

  9. DebbieK says:

    41A brought Harmon Killebrew to mind, and I thought the meta would turn out to be something like ‘baseball announcers’. Luckily, I didn’t follow that path for too long. Another excellent puzzle, Matt. Praying for all those involved in the Boston tragedy.

  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Wish I’d had the time to spend gazing at the puzzle until the meta cracked. I thought about Hindi and I thought about Hebrew, but I wasn’t sure how to get other languages from the other theme answers and was missing half of the point in the theme answers that were yielding. Ah, me.

  11. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    Mr. Stein is a wonderful teacher. Apropos the meta, you may enjoy this:

  12. I found all 10 languages but stupidly read the wrong letters and got gibberish. I sent in BILINGUALISTS, which are certainly a group of people skilled in language, but it doesn’t quite account for the changed letters in any way.

    I was traveling over the weekend and solving on my phone; that’s what I get for jumping the gun and not waiting until I got home to think harder about the puzzle. Oh well, at least last month’s week 5 already broke my streak so I didn’t lose much.

  13. Elaine says:

    Darn it, I had this amazing streak of getting the first two meta-puzzles of each month. I mean, it was a streak at least two months long! And now it’s busted. I had Hebrew and German. Ashkenazim? But that could not explain the other weirdness, so that’s that.

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