MGWCC #286

crossword 5:25
meta about 15 minutes 

hello and welcome to week #286 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Title Search”. this week, we crowned a new world chess champion, magnus carlsen of norway, who defeated incumbent vishy anand to take the title. matt’s instructions for this third and final week of chess metas inform us that This week’s contest answer is one of Carlsen’s predecessors. what are the theme answers? well, five clues get asterisks:

  • {Frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s show*} is comedian RICH LITTLE, famed for his impersonations.
  • {Featuring much detail*} is GRAPHIC.
  • {They’re kept on their toes*} clues BALLERINAS.
  • {1842 short story with great influence on Russian literature*} is THE OVERCOAT, by nikolai gogol. great story, and the clue is very apt—dostoyevsky himself said of himself and his generation of writers, “we all came out from under gogol’s overcoat.”
  • {Perseus portrayer, 1981*} is actor HARRY HAMLIN, a name i didn’t know. i suspected (and later confirmed via google) that this was clash of the titans.

i really didn’t know where to go with this meta. the five answers seem to have nothing in common—not even part of speech; the only thing i latched onto is that seemingly relevant information had been omitted from the clues for THE OVERCOAT (nikolai gogol) and HARRY HAMLIN (clash of the titans).

so i did some research on hamlin, and quickly discovered that he was in the cast of l.a. law. aha! that has the same cryptogram pattern as gogol. and, among the several past world champions, exactly one of them shares it: anand himself (in fact, he’s the only one whose name is five letters). so i was pretty sure that was going to be the answer, but of course, there were three other theme answers to consider. and consider them i did.

the next to fall was BALLERINAS. what do they wear? why, tutus, of course. check. GRAPHIC is a tough one, but i eventually settled on vivid as a synonym. finally, i came back to RICH LITTLE, and then it was obvious—not impersonator but mimic.

interesting meta—five words that are strongly, but indirectly, related to the theme answers, all fitting the same cryptogram pattern XYXYZ. i can dig it. i like this meta considerably more than the last one that attempted to use cryptogram patterns (can you believe that was more than three years ago?). this one was well-executed and very fair (although it seems to be a pretty challenging meta so far, with only a few dozen correct responses as i type this monday night).

from the fill:

  • {Highlight reel goal, often} HEADER. well, sure, sometimes. other times, though, you get this, courtesy of southampton goalkeeper artur boric. um, oops?
  • {Watergate figure with almost 10,000 followers on Twitter} is JOHN DEAN. i’m guessing he hasn’t been clued that way before. speaking of twitter followers, any idea why blue jays slugger jose bautista has decided to follow me and a bunch of other crossword people? it’s not just crossword people, either—he’s following 132,000 people in his feed!
  • {Barinholtz of “MADtv”} IKE? never heard of him.
  • {Mediterranean boat} XEBEC and {Mediterranean port} JAFFA are nicely matched consecutive (scrabbly) answers. elsewhere, EZPASS was fun, too.
  • {Awesome, to Rastafarians} IRIE? whoa, never seen this.

so the chess metas are over (for now), but there’s one more meta in this 5-week november. what does matt have in store? can’t wait to find out. have a great thanksgiving, everybody!

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47 Responses to MGWCC #286

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks Joon. 63 right answers this week. Seemed like a good idea to give Vishy an attaboy about now.

  2. Evan says:

    Did. Not. Solve.

    I went with TIGRAN PETROSIAN because he was the only one (I think) for whom every letter of his name could be found in the theme answers. No K’s or Z’s or X’s in them, so that took out many of the Eastern European champions, and no W either, so no Viswanathan Anand.

    Never had a chance with this one.

  3. BrainBoggler says:

    Kicking myself for not going with my first instinct on ANAND. When I first read the title and checked out the handy-dandy champions reference page, I was thinking that the answer’s last name would literally come before CARLSEN alphabetically, whch greatly narrowed the field of choices. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t making any sense of the theme entries and fell into the “ov” line of thinking to submit the random guess of KASPAROV based on loose connections to “clash of chess titans”. Nice puzzle, Matt.

  4. Mutman says:

    Satisfying meta for me. I kept misplacing my puzzle and had to do it three times. Not sure if the fresh perspectives helped me. But I researched and had Gogol in my brain and am old enough to have watched and associate HH with LaLaw. I then thought of tutus and saw the connection. Eventually got mimic and vivid after submitting.

    I really thought at first that the meta would be a Russian based on Overcoat and Ballerina and the large choice of champs.

    Nice job again Matt!

  5. Stribbs says:

    LA Law can also be spelled with knight moves in the grid, as can (Max) Euwe. But I came up with a ton of interesting words with knight moves, and there was a meta with that device not too long ago, so I figured that was wrong (and didn’t even guess it)… Not that I would have seen it otherwise, but I got bogged down by the title “Title Search;” what does that have to do with the answer?

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    Like Joon, I guessed from the first it would be Anand because he’s the only chess champ with five letters. But I couldn’t find the justification with any of my paths. The most promising seemed to be book titles because of the meta’s “titled” title and BOOK in the fill. The Gogol short story, Stuart Little, The Pied Pier of Hamlin, and a Ballerina’s Graphic Novel were taking me in this direction, too. I couldn’t make a title however from clues, fill, etc. In the end, I guessed Kasparov, because he’s written many chess books, and is generally acknowledged to be among the all time greats. Kudos to those who solved this – the necessary analysis went right over my head. And it happened to be irrelevant that there were 5 themers.

    • Shawn P says:

      I took the same path once I hit multiple meta dead ends and followed the puzzle title “Title Search” and the instruction of being “one of Carlsen’s predecessors”. Ended up with Kasparov since he had written a series of books called My Great Predecessors. My initial guess was Karpov since he won the championship in 1981 (the HARRY HAMLIN clue) and THE OVERCOAT being part of Russian Literature, which followed a recent MGWCC in which Matt used the starred clues themselves as the meta hints.

      All in all, great puzzle Matt as usual, and congratulations to the solvers!

  7. John says:

    Wow, got this but did not grok in any way, shape, or form. I could see getting the pattern in Gogol and matching with Anand, but from there its only applying the solution in reverse. It requires a crytpo enthusiast’s eye to catch this (or luck) and i don’t count myself in that group. I had a very different (wrong) though nearly complete solution involving “titles” of the themes: actor, novelist, actor, ?, dancers. Weak, and totally missed the brilliance of the actual meta.

    Huge congrats to the brainy types who actually grokked this instead of falling backward into it.

  8. Pete Rimkus says:

    Argghh!! I was THIS close!!!
    With 1/2 an hour to go, I had MIMIC and LALAW, as well as AKAKY (the main character in The OverCoat)….the repeated letters MI, LA, AK are 6 of the 10 letters in Mikhail Tal … so I must be headed in the right direction!
    But I couldn’t find similar repeats in the other two theme answers (and, yes, I disregarded TUTUS because of the U), and I didn’t connect GRAPHIC & VIVID.

  9. icdogg says:

    Not even close for me this week. Kudos to those who got it.

  10. Abide says:

    Couldn’t justify anything here. I saw tOPALov up top and sPASSky down below. I was leaning towards ANAND because it was five letters, but I went with Bobby because of “Title Search” and the movie ” Searching for Bobby Fischer”. I never did find him but it seemed like a good guess.

    I did write GOGOL in the margin, and I knew LALAW, but I still don’t feel like this would have ever come to me like some of the others I’ve missed.

  11. Peggy Johnson says:

    Brilliant meta, Matt! I figured Gogol had something to do with it and knew LA LAW, but completely missed the word pattern. As a literacy teacher who has studied word patterns, I should have recognized it. I submitted Capablanca because his name means “white coat” in Spanish; thus there was a connection to the Gogol story, and Jose Raul was involved with a Russian ballerina. I knew it was lame, but I always guess.

  12. Christopher Jablonski says:

    Some suspiciously low ratings for a late-month Matt meta. Some of it could be sour grapes.

    This had all the elements of a stumper for me: completely unrelated title, disparate connections between the theme entries and their targets, multiple interpretations of the theme entries (Harry Hamlin may be best known for his L.A. Law performance, but to me it’s not a 1:1 connection).

    At least there were no anagrams, not that I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time seeking them!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah, not sure what that’s about. Haven’t heard from anyone here or by e-mail that the meta was unfair, so don’t know what the problem is. If one of the two-star folks would care to elucidate for me (privately or here) I’d be curious to hear it.

  13. Bunella says:

    I didn’t get it either. Not even close and I am a big Harry Hamlin fan and watched L.A. Law religiously. If anyone is a soap fan, he’s married to Lisa Rinna who played on Days of Our Lives.
    Now I wonder how bad next week’s can be.
    Props to those who got it!

  14. pgw says:

    photo finish for me. left for work an hour before Meta deadline, with a 30 minute car ride. was planning to submit Kasparov upon arrival, unless I had an idea on the way. (i had ruled out fischer based on the red herring in the puzzle title and the very large number of incorrect answers.) I think the idea hit me about 2 minutes before I got out of the car. l.a. law was my entry point, and oddly my second thought was akaky (the protagonist of the overcoat) rather than the way-more-obvious gogol. then found tutus, then mimic, finally vivid. I was hung up on the last one, expecting the vowel to be an e to complete the set.

  15. Eric Prestemon says:

    Even with GOGOL/LALAW/TUTUS(?) as one thread I was considering, BALLERINAS seemed more useful by contributing the LINARES anagram at the end, since it’s a major chess tournament.

    With the MILAN anagram at the end of another theme entry (Karpov won a major tourney there), I got stuck on those for too long.

    No sour grapes, but it’s definitely not a meta I’m going to kick myself over, precisely because I got 3/5ths of the way there and it didn’t feel promising.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Eric —

      Once you had GOGOL, L.A. LAW and TUTUS, did you check the list of world champions and see ANAND? That would have cemented the idea that you were on the right track. There are only about 20 people on that list of former champs, and for one of them to have that same 12123 pattern as his surname couldn’t have been a coincidence with GOGOL/L.A. LAW/TUTUS standing there.

  16. - kip - says:

    I never would have gotten this one but kudos to those who did.

    The part I’m not getting is how did those of you who solved it feel satisfied that you were on the right track associating those specific words with the asterisked clues? I wish the 5 associated words (Gogal, LALaw, Tutus, vivid, and mimic) would have had the same relationship to their respective clues – if that were the case, I would be totally kicking myself. As it is, I just can’t wait for the next Friday’s puzzle.

    • DannyBoy says:

      I rated the meta 3 stars. It was okay, but the solution somewhat indirect for me. I had Gogol, but tutu was not among the associations I listed for ballerina, and certainly not vivid for graphic. Mimic and L.A. Law are reasonable, I think. It would have been good if all five words were in clues for crossing entries that intersected theme phrases at A-N-A-N-D, but I suppose that was impossible to pull off. Actually, I thought I was on to something with Aper for Rich Little and Leaper for ballerina. I played with that a long time, trying to do a word pyramid with the others.

    • Abby B says:

      That is exactly why I didn’t get it. I could not make the jump to the words because they do not share a common relationship with the theme words.

      I really wanted the answer to be ANAND and nearly submitted it anyway, but there is nothing here to suggest to me any of those particular pattern words except the other ones or working backward from that solution. It’s a stretch, and I see how to get there, but, no, even with the reduced answer space I don’t really think it’s fair. Pretty sure I wouldn’t if I’d gotten it right either.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I follow you and thanks for the response, but I don’t think there’s a rule that they all need to share the same relationship with the word they’re suggesting, especially since the 12123 letter pattern is so rare.

        Compare this meta (also with an India-related meta answer, coincidentally):

        • joon says:

          yeah, i actually appreciated that the relationships weren’t all the same—but they were all strong associations, nothing forced.

          celebrity -> claim to fame
          word -> synonym
          profession -> uniform
          actor -> tv series he was best known for
          literary work -> author (and, as a lagniappe, protagonist!)

          i’m just not seeing what’s unfair about this, especially since the key information was conspicuous by its absence from the theme clues.

          • Abide says:

            “the key information was conspicuous by its absence from the theme clues”

            I will agree with you on GOGOL, since I was unfamiliar with The Overcoat, but Perseus was HH’s breakout role. With the recent Clash of the Titans remake, that’s probably a fresher clue than a LA Law reference for us oldsters. And I don’t see much “absence” in the other three clues.

            If the themed clues were closer to “Impressionist on the Tonight Show” and “They wear frilly frocks” (having the clue containing an association to the target word), that would have eliminated some of the gripes. (I’m still not sure I would have gotten it, but I would have kicked myself a little more.)

          • joon says:

            well, i didn’t know hamlin, but i looked him up on imdb. do you know what it says there?

            Harry Hamlin
            Actor, “L.A. Law”

            that seems clear enough to me. of course, the clue itself was not super-conspicuous about l.a. law like the gogol clue, because it referred to a different role. but the connection between the answer and the XYXYZ word is certainly strong enough.

            to address one more point, you really don’t need all five (or even more than 2) to get to ANAND as the answer, just because that letter pattern is quite rare and striking. as i said in my post, gogol + l.a. law did it for me, and the other three were just confirmation.

            you’re right that the meta was very well concealed, and your alternate clues (which i quite like) would have made it clearer and easier, perhaps easy enough for a week 2 or 3. but for a week 4, even a week 4 of 5, i don’t see what’s wrong with this one at all. it’s tough but fair.

          • Alex says:

            I was going to type almost word for word what Abide did above. If anything, what appeared to be missing from the clues were “Clash of the Titans” and “The Tonight Show.” I don’t think the meta was unfair, but saying the missing elements were conspicuously missing from the clues is a stretch.

          • Justin Rinehold says:

            “especially since the key information was conspicuous by its absence”

            It’s too early in the morning to be lol’ing, and yet I am. I don’t have any problem with the meta, but, wow, joon, just… wow

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Justin, Abide and Alex —

            I think Joon meant that “the key information was conspicuous by its absence in the clues” for GOGOL and L.A. LAW, not the other three. Once you’ve got those two following the same pattern as one of the ~20 world chess champions, you realize you’re on the right track and can backsolve MIMIC, TUTUS and VIVID if they don’t jump out at you quickly.

        • Singerdog says:

          After three days of a stomach bug and 10 hour shifts at work I whipped up a quick 18 (crossword-worthy)words with the 12123 pattern. Harry Hamlin’s connection to the meta bothers me, being L.A. Law, not LaLaw. Oh well, a lot of mamas, papas, and dadas have raised dodos. I wouldn’t list this puzzle as one of your no-nos, but as one of your so-sos. I’ll chalk this up on my list of lulus, and say my “Ta-ta”s.

  17. pgw says:

    Kip – with the harder puzzles, I find there is often no sense of being on “the right track” until i’m all the way finished or at least nearly there; i just have to keep taking whatever tracks seem to present themselves until one turns out to have been right.

  18. VU-Prof says:

    I was sure it had something to do with a wordsearch for “title” or one of its synonyms. Five consecutive letters in RICH LITTLE can anagram to “title,” five in THE OVERCOAT to “cover” and five in ballerinas to “LABEL.” I couldn’t find anything in HARRY HAMLIN but thought I was overlooking it. I assumed GRAPHIC was some other kind of pointer to the answer — I found both “LINES” and “POINT” (both in a GRAPH!) anagrammed in consecutive letters of Veselin Topalov, so that’s what I submitted. Very, very far off the mark!

  19. Evad says:

    A true 5-star effort for sure in my humble opinion–when I asked myself why didn’t he mention Gogol in his Overcoat clue and LA Law in his Hamlin clue, I noticed the pattern. I also thought the clue for GRAPHIC was a bit stilted and wondered there as well why Vivid on its own wasn’t used…

  20. Howard B says:

    I think I’m just going to take final week metas off. Haven’t solved one in a year now, and haven’t come close.

  21. Adam N. says:

    I thought with the BALLERINAS, I take away the AA and LL and I get BRINES. I realized that with RICHLITTLE, you take away the TT and you get CHILLIER. I anagrammed that and got TAL, Mikhail TAL. Stupid logic!

  22. Anne E says:

    I saw the MIMIC, GOGOL, and TUTUS ones right away, but “graphic” just about did me in, and I’d never heard of Harry Hamlin (I was wondering if maybe he was nicknamed HaHam). Once I thought of VIVID, I finally got around to Googling Hamlin, and LALAW was one of the first things on the screen. I would have sent in ANAND anyway with just the other three, but it was nice to have confirmation.

    If I’d been guessing, which I refuse to do, I’d have guessed ANAND anyway. I seem to recall Matt saying/writing something about his name way back when. He has AN AN in his first name too, though not adjacent – very cool collection of letters in his name!

  23. Justin Rinehold says:

    Huge thanks to Matt for starring the theme answers! Since two of them were Russian, I narrowed the field to Karpov, Kasparov, and Spassky, then chose the one who was discussed on the Johnny Carson show. And very tricky with the generic XYXYZ. I suspect more people would have noticed the pattern if Anand was spelled Nanad.

    But I’m posting here to ask about the answer “opium” to the clue “den debilitator.” Did anyone manage to get this (without filling in the letters from the across clues)? If so, how? I can’t find a definition for “debilitator” outside of MMORPGs. Is it a word?

    • pgw says:

      opium debilitates, and is often used in a den. debilitator may get a squiggly red line under it from spellcheck, but it’s perfectly cromulent.

      • Justin Rinehold says:

        It occurred to me that the word may simply be misspelled, so I looked up the spelling that better fits the root: Debilitator is in fact not a word. But debilitater is. Even though it sounds like you’re impairing potatoes.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          I’ll go with cromulent. But nice catch. I assumed any long verb with an obvious Latinate root can take an -or to form the “performer of action” noun. Like you can attach -less to anything even if it’s not in the dictionary and get your point across. But I would’ve checked debilitator if it was a grid entry, and then not used it.

          • John says:

            I had no problem with debilitator, but now you’ve got me researching cromulent! I quit watching the Simpsons around ’96 because it was easier than explaining to my 3 year-old daughter why she couldn’t watch this cartoon with daddy. I can’t tell you how many times this has bitten me with Matt’s puzzles. :v)

          • Justin Rinehold says:

            What tipped me off to the possibility was when a scrabble opponent expanded “locate” to “locater”.

  24. jefe says:

    I suppose the meta is fair, but I didn’t find it particularly satisfying. Maybe in part because I didn’t get it, but also maybe I subconsciously expected more than the answer being Carlsen’s immediate predecessor whose name is 5-letters in a 5-themer puzzle. The title was a red herring, as it doesn’t relate to the solving process but you can’t tell by looking it at, and there’s no indication whatsoever that we’re looking at letter patterns, and the keywords are arbitrarily related to the theme entries.

    Thus, I present an alternative solution:

    Rich Little: Voices
    Ballerinas: Pointe (or Dancer/Dances/Prance)
    Harry Hamlin: Cutler (his Mad Men character)
    Graphic: Sexual
    The Overcoat: Shinel (transliteration of original title)

    all of which have 6 non-repeating letters, yielding Karpov (or Lasker) as the meta solution.

    • Evad says:

      jefe, I just don’t see Matt building a meta around what, to me, is a much more common word pattern (6 non-repeating letters) than what must be much rarer, the ABABC pattern. Even at the end of your comment, you realize that 2 champs have that 6-letter pattern.

      I, for one, was happy that this didn’t involve some esoteric chess knowledge, or then I would be here complaining loudly!

      • jefe says:

        Probably true. I said it was fair, but not satisfying, like having a meta in January 2017 asking for a past POTUS and having it be Obama.

  25. BrainBoggler says:

    I always enjoy reading through the different perspectives of solvers and non-solvers (usually as a member of the latter group). Thanks again to Matt for expertly constructing puzzles that generate much conversation!

    Besides…I may not have solved the meta, but I did get the opportunity to add 2 new words to my vocabulary (lagniappe and cromulent)! Now, I just need to remember to use them.

  26. Lundy says:

    I’m usually a dunce at end-of-the-month solutions, but I solved this one in a couple of minutes, because (as has been noted) the GOGOL. LALAW connections, then worked backward to figure out that same pattern for the other three starred clues. But instead of looking fpr chess champs with that letter pattern, I looked at the left0ver letters in the five clues. Nothing. Then tried to combine the ten repeateed letters. Also nothing. Oddly, I’m certainly familiar with the names of past chess champions (TAL is a favorite crossword clue) but I’d never heard the name of ANAND, or it would have taken me only one minute.

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