MGWCC #270

crossword 3:30
meta about 3 minutes 

hello and welcome to episode #270 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. it’s august, but this week we’re doing week “5” of guest constructor “month”, “july”, at MGWCC. and this week dave sullivan brings us a nifty puzzle called “Star Swap”. the instructions ask us for the two grid entries that, when combined, would make an excellent fifth theme entry.. well, what are the other four? these are the long entries in the grid:

  • {Sleep, metaphorically} is the LAND OF NOD.
  • {Cheated on or lied to} clues SINNED AGAINST.
  • {Cubic zirconia, for one} is an ARTIFICIAL GEM.
  • {Scout leader} is a DEN MOTHER.

i noticed immediately that SINNED is DENNIS backwards. (not sure why this was the first thing to occur to me, but maybe because of the palindrome “dennis sinned”.) so it kind of fits the “star swap” title… if there’s a famous DENNIS lurking somewhere. likewise, GEM is MEG backwards, and hey, look—meg ryan is the most famous meg, right? and there’s “ryan” in the clue for 33d. in fact, all four of the theme answers have something similar going on:

  • {Ho Chi Minh Trail locale} is LAOS, which crosses LAND OF at the O. don ho.
  • {Fable hopper} is the HARE, which crosses the first A of AGAINST. dennis hopper.
  • {Ryan of “Love Story”} is O’NEAL, crossing ARTIFICIAL at the first A. meg ryan.
  • {“In Flanders Fields,” for one} is a POEM (a WWI poem by john mccrae), crossing MOTHER at the O. ned flanders.

so that’s a pretty nifty theme. what’s the answer, then? i started looking for entries that are reversed first names, and quickly found LIEN. what could go with it? well, there are a couple of famous neils: simon, armstrong, diamond, young, … those are probably the four most famous. but we are also looking for another word that could go with LIEN to make a two-word phrase “in the language”. and here it is, TAX LIEN. as an extra check, TAX crosses TEN in the grid, clued as {It’s a young age}. this is consistent with the other four theme answers, each of which refers to a clue for an entry crossing a word in the theme answer other than the reversed name.

okay. i thought this meta was very cool, but i don’t have much more time for this writeup. tomorrow morning i’ll be winging my way around the world, and by the time you read this on tuesday i’ll be in seoul, korea. next week, matt will be back at the helm of MGWCC after the end of guest constructor “month”, but i won’t be around to blog it. you’ll be treated to the bloggerific stylings of young wizard andy kravis for the next two weeks while i’m away. andy is a funny guy and wicked smart, so i’m leaving you in very capable hands.

one more thing before i go: this coming weekend (!) is lollapuzzoola 6, the best crossword tournament in manhattan. it’s on a saturday in august, namely this saturday. it is with great regret that i will be missing the tournament myself, but i’ll be there in spirit, and also sort of in a slightly more concrete way, since i constructed one of the tournament puzzles. i’ve test-solved all the others, and you are in for a treat. if you haven’t already registered, what are you waiting for?

that’s all for me. thanks to all of the MGWCC guest constructors, and thanks to all of you for reading. see you in a few weeks.

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33 Responses to MGWCC #270

  1. Pete Rimkus says:

    Did anyone else combine 48D and 43A to come up with the phrase “IMAMETA” ?

  2. ImFromJersey says:

    My first week 5 that I’ve solved! Too bad I totally missed week 4 :(. I also noticed Sinned was Dennis and was off to the races from there.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    Many thanks to Dave for all the fine work he’s done to make MGWCC such a treat. His meta was outstanding. With quality this excellent, we look for many more. I saw the reversed theme names easily enough, but then went starstruck trying to find anything that Don (Johnson or Cheadle,) Dennis (Quaid or Hopper,) Meg (Ryan or Tilly,) and Ned (Beatty or ?) were in together. I’m sure many of us wore out IMDb until we were seeing STARS. There were no movies in common, then I started looking for other connections with Neil (Young or Diamond) or with Liam (Gallagher and many others,) the two overtly reversed names in the grid. Until Matt changed the instructions, I actually thought the strongest cases were for Nas, with the name reversed in part of the phrase San Remo, like the themers, or for Lio (Oil Lamp,) a Europop star from the 80s. These two happened to be symmetrically placed, but the meta only called for one singer. Eventually, I checked the crossers, found the surname trick described by Joon and submitted TAX LIEN. I also liked Liam, thus FAN MAIL, since we were no longer looking for a singer. Neeson and Hemsworth are certainly famous enough to join the other stars, but fortunately their names didn’t pop up in the clues. RATS – did anyone’s PAWS get stepped on by submitting Neil Young before the instructions changed? I’m sure Matt will give you credit.

  4. Charles Montpetit says:

    I unfortunately never noticed that the instructions had been changed, so all I found was that LANDO, SINN and DEN are all first names from Star Wars, and I assumed that ART was short for Artoo (!). I therefore went for ANI di franco, who shares her first name with a certain Skywalker.

    • BrainBoggler says:

      Nice! I recognized LANDO right away when I was trying to find some use of the title, but I didn’t see any other characters in the other entries, other than the incomplete ART you mentioned. I like the ANI connection, though — clever!

  5. *David* says:

    In order to figure out the second step of the meta, the constructor put in an alternate answer FAN MAIL on the bottom that required you to find the last name included in the wording of the clue. Therefore if you only grokked part of the meta, you still had a 50/50 chance of getting the answer correct.

  6. Wayne says:

    My problem with this meta is that it was too easy to get it without fully getting it.
    I spotted the reversed first names quickly. Found the only other entry in the grid that
    reverses to a first name. Found the only other word in the grid that combines with LIEN
    to form a familiar phrase. 1, 2, 3. Done.

    Stars? What stars?

    Knowing that I was missing something, I looked for the steps that I’d missed. I saw the “Ryan” in 33D, and figured that was not a coincidence. I didn’t know if DENNIS was Hopper or Quaid, so I was looking for both. Never would have thought to look for Don Ho; I was fixated on Cheadle. I’m calling shenanigans on Ned Flanders. That is not a star. Stars are real people. (I was looking for Ned Beatty.)

    I wasn’t sure if I was looking for Neil Young, Diamond or Sedaka. But since I was pretty sure I already had the right answer, I stopped looking.

    If the acceptable answer was NEIL YOUNG instead of TAX LIEN (which I gather was the original intent, but was changed at the last minute), it would have forced us to grok the whole meta
    in order to get credit.

    • mrbreen says:

      As David says above, “Fan Mail” was put in the grid to create ambiguity about which was correct, as Liam Gallagher is also a famous singer. I knew it had to be either Fan Mail or Tax Lien right off the bat, but it took some time to uncover the correct answer. Very satisfying once I did. This was a great Meta! Thanks Dave.

      • Wayne says:

        Another stunning victory for my patented slip-shod puzzle-solving technique. (Why be thorough, when you can be lucky :-)

  7. Alexander Miller says:

    I missed the second layer and said FAN MAIL (Liam [Neeson] backwards)

    Anyone else turn in “fan mail”? I considered “tax lien” but thought Liam was a bigger star name than Niel.

    Foiled again!

    • Howard B says:

      I turned in FAN MAIL because it seemed legit enough for Liam, and otherwise had no idea what was going on here.
      That pretty much leaves me zero-for-all on celebrity/famous name-themed metas.

    • Joe says:

      Hand up for “Fan Mail” here. Knew it was either that or tax lien. *shakes hand at the heavens*

    • Garrett Hildebrand says:

      I, too, submitted FAN MAIL. It seemed like such a perfect answer, because I did not see the second layer either. Although, I wondered about the Ryan clue briefly, then said, “naw…”.

  8. Evan says:

    Nowhere close. I went with FAN MAIL.

    All I got on the right track was that DENNIS, MEG, DON, and NED were backwards in the theme answers. I thought the answer might have had to do with Meg Ryan being married to Dennis Quaid, but didn’t know what to do with the others. I also noticed LIEN was Neil backwards, and that MAIL is Liam backwards. Again, didn’t know what to do. I just reasoned that a FAN MAIL letter is something you might give to one of the celebrities in the themers. And I guess if you take two of the corner answers and read one of them backwards, you get FED-XED, which sounds like mailing a fan mail letter.

    I have no idea how so many people are able to figure out Week 5’s. One day I’ll crack it.

    • jefe says:

      Same thought process for me here. I wish I’d seen that TAX could have gone with LIEN, then I’d at least have a coin flip.

      I did see that the title backwards gives RATS (and PAWS), which made me think of the Rat Pack, of which Lauren Bacall was the DEN MOTHER. This line of thinking obviously led me nowhere.

      I thought that with all the iffy fill, I should have been looking in the grid. Didn’t think to look at the clues again.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    140 correct answers this week. Thanks for the puzzle, Dave!

  10. bananarchy says:

    First ever 5 for 5 for me, so thanks to Dave and Matt for that! Kind of got lucky though, since I didn’t notice the crossing clues and somewhat arbitrarily chose TAX LIEN over FAN MAIL.

    • BrainBoggler says:

      I not only didn’t see the crossing clues, but I also submitted LIEN LIAM simply because I had noticed both could be reversed into names, even though I knew I hadn’t really used the title and that having 2 reversible words wasn’t entirely consistent with the other theme entries (except for DEN MOT HER). Great puzzle and meta!

  11. Stribbs says:

    I wondered if I was missing something because of the “Swap” in the title. It led me on a red herring involving celebrity divorces, with the obvious Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan in the middle… Glad I starred the clunky sounding clues in my mind, and glad Meg didn’t move on with a ton of dudes. But really, what here is a “Swap”? Just curious, thought it was a good one.

    • Evad says:

      Hi, as Paul C. implies above, “Star Swap” reverses to “Rat’s Paws” which was too good for me to pass up as a title, thinking even a cartoon character could be considered a star in some way (I mean the guy has an imdb page, hey-diddly-ho!) and reversing letters is a kind of a swap, at least in a week 5 sense of the word.

      Anyway, it was quite a honor to finish up this year’s Guest Constructor Month and I congratulate all the other constructors this month who shared their talents with us.


  12. Mutman says:

    Like many others, I saw the reversed names and thought the other half of the clues was going to be movies, with perhaps the ‘stars swapped’. “Land of the Lost”, “Against All Odds”, “Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)”. However, this got me nowhere, especially when “Mother” didn’t reveal anything and no matching stars were found.

    Eventually I got back to clues and saw ‘hopper’ connecting on the ‘Dennis’ answer; then Ryan for Meg. Loved the hiding of Ho, and then Flanders.

    Still took me a while to connect it all and get ‘young’, probably because I was convinced that (FAN) MAIL–LIAM was going to be the answer.

    I also liked how ‘hopper’ was lower case (the others were upper) giving legitimacy to the ‘young’ in lower case.

    Great work Dave! This was my first time grokking a week 4 and 5.

  13. erichp says:

    I noticed that 6A could be MEDAL or METAL, 22A could be OSU or PSU and 43A could be ETA or ETD. if you take the letters that work in the grid, those are DOA, which is a 1988 remake of the 1950 classic. The remake stars….Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.

    Got stuck down that rabbit hole for quite some time…

  14. chnest says:

    Oddly enough, there are movies in common with Don Cheadle and Dennis Quaid, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, Meg Ryan and Ned Beatty, leaving (before I knew about the change in instructions), one cog to go share with both Ned Beatty and Don Cheadle. That cog would have been Mark Wahlberg, who would have satisfied the original instructions, but not really. So I kept focusing on the words. Land of . . . leading to Land of the Lost. Against . . . leading to Against All Odds. Artificial . . . leading to Artificial Intelligence. And, Mother . . . leading to ‘night Mother. Then I tried to find common actors between those films. Way too much time spinning wheels. Overthinking will be the death of me.

    When I realized the change, I came up with Tax Lien and Fan Mail. Then, assuming the other words had to do with film titles, went with The Fan being a film and no real films with Tax in the title. That’s what destroyed my Tax Lien guess from happening.

  15. Abby says:

    I found “tax lien” right off, but then I found “fan mail”. I’d discounted the clues because the combined answer didn’t have one. Shouldn’t have, since, besides being wrong, I saw LAOS and HARE. But…

    Tried to figure if one name was better than the other. Decided that Don & Patrick Swayze, Dennis & Randy Quaid, Meg & Jennifer Tilly, Ned and Warren Beatty (yes, I know they’re not related), and Liam and Chris Hemsworth made an almost perfect set. I was troubled by Neil Connery (brother of Sean), and the non-related Beattys, but I went with it.

    Should’ve hit the clues again, I guess, but there’s not a clue for “TAX LIEN”, so I don’t feel too stupid, but of course, it wasn’t the theme word clues I had to worry about. :-(

  16. BrainBoggler says:

    I’m still learning the tricks behind these metapuzzles, but it’s always interesting to hear about other peoples’ thought processes, even if they weren’t the intended path of thinking. I often find that I can easily overthink or focus on details that appear to be getting me somewhere, but I can’t get myself to pull away when they’re not showing promising signs, such as:

    –running NW/SE through the 1st O of LANDOFNOD and the 2nd S of SINNEDAGAINST is either the name LOUIS (completing the preceding T could lead to ST LOUIS) or LOUISE

    –while noticing DEN as NED backwards, I also saw MOT for TOM, after already noticing GEM for MEG, which got me thinking of “YOU’VE GOT MAIL”, including MAIL for LIAM

    — oddly enough I couldn’t get the combo of 30-d STRATA and GEM out of my head, even though I didn’t readily expect any connection to the meta

    Thanks to the all the constructors who keep our brains going!

  17. Joe says:

    I saw the backwards names immediately. Even noticed the Meg/Ryan/O’Neal thing. Got distracted by Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid. Couldn’t do anything with the non-name parts of each grid entry. Then I decided, somehow, that prefixes and suffixes must be part of the game. “Land of” = -stan, “Mother” = mat-, “Against” = an- (kind of..). These all seemed name-like, so between Fan Mail and Tax Lien, I went with Fan Mail because “Fan” = -phile. Which is kind of name-like. Isn’t it? Sort of? I suck.

  18. Christopher Jablonski says:

    Nobody minds that NED Flanders is fictional, whereas the other four are real people? I thought there would be a bit more grumbling about that. I suppose, however, if you’ve gotten that far in the meta, you’ve pretty much solved it.

  19. Alex says:

    Strictly speaking, FAN MAIL also would have made an excellent fifth theme entry. I realize it didn’t cross a Gallagher or Neeson clue, but had it been in the grid as a theme entry, maybe it would have.

  20. Abide says:

    I never saw LIAM/MAIL, but I did spend an hour or so figuring out how to justify TAX. “Flanders” actually broke it open for me. (Those crossing clues were so natural they were invisible).

    No one has commented on Dave Sullivan’s user name on this site? Evad, appropriately.

  21. Joel Lipman says:

    I had Lil Alfa to go with the clue word Romeo. Also note that tax lien only works if it takes the down word ten with it to get the “young” part. Actually, lilac could be considered a fifth theme entry and tax lien would be the sixth.

  22. Froot salad says:

    Ned Flanders is neither a star nor a real person. He doesn’t fit the theme.

  23. Joan says:

    I had no time and didn’t try (so happy as it would have been futile). I would have been on a totally wrong track as the first thing I saw was that “sinned againSTARtificial gem” contained STAR which would have been my undoing.

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