MGWCC #298

crossword 4:11*
meta about 1 minute 

mgwcc298hello and welcome to week #298 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Mountain Rangers”. i apologize for completely flaking out last week and forgetting to blog. i won’t blame it on being demoralized by the previous two metas; i just plain forgot. anyway, thanks to matt for filling in for me and offering the constructors’-eye view of his own puzzle.

on to this week! with the winter olympics in full swing, the instructions tell us that this week’s contest answer is a nine-letter, two-word phrase found in many reports on the Sochi Olympics. there are seven entries in the grid that don’t quite make sense because they are missing some letters which have vanished off the edge of the grid:

  • {Sandwiches made with chickpeas} are (FALA)FEL BURGERS, but the FALA has to go outside the grid.
  • {Classic Judy Garland film} is (A STA)R IS BORN.
  • if you’re {Not the star of the show}, then you’re PLAYING SECOND BA(NANA).
  • {One of many in a lot} is a PARKING (SPOT). without paying attention to the part of speech here, it’s easy to think that the answer is just PARKING. in fact, that’s exactly what i did when i first noticed this clue. but looking over the completed puzzle, it’s the symmetric partner in the grid of (A STA)R IS BORN, so we should be on the lookout for another theme answer here.
  • {Tasteless bumper sticker seen after John Hinckley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan} is I DID IT FOR J(ODIE). hinckley famously shot reagan in an attempt to impress actress jodie foster. i haven’t seen these bumper stickers, but i figured this out without too much difficulty anyway.
  • {Coney Island pizzeria since 1924, famous for using a coal-fired oven} is, apparently, (TOTO)NNO’S. this one i definitely needed to google.
  • {Stringed instrument mentioned in “Back in the U.S.S.R.”} is the BALA(LAIKA), the russian equivalent of the samisen. an appropriate answer for the sochi games, especially since LAIKA is the soviet dog sent to space aboard sputnik 2.

anyway, with all these dogs hanging off the edge of the grid, it wasn’t too difficulty to come up with STRAY DOGS as the answer to the meta.

i thought this was an excellent week 2 puzzle. timely, clever, fresh, and still easy to grasp. it was also fun to see “classic crosswordese dogs” FALA (FDR’s dog), NANA (the darlings’ dog in peter pan), ASTA (the charles’ dog in the thin man), ODIE (jon arbuckle’s dog in garfield without garfield), TOTO (dorothy’s dog in the wizard of oz), and LAIKA elevated to higher theme status, along with the rather more generic SPOT (not often clued as a dog, but yes, SPOT is also a specific iconic dog, belonging to dick & jane in the children’s primers).

fill that caught my eye:

  • {1980s Oscar winner ___ S. Ngor} HAING. i learned this tidbit from a previous MGWCC, but this guy is pretty famous. i read somewhere (probably when i looked him up after solving that earlier MGWCC) that he was the only winner of an acting oscar who wasn’t actually an actor by profession, but it turns out that harold russell also managed it for the best years of our lives.
  • {Fish smoked by the Dutch (not like you smoke a cigarette, like you smoke salmon)} EEL. now that is not your usual clue for a very common fill answer!
  • {Organ that doesn’t make music, but does detect it} EAR. cute.
  • {Reach} GO UP TO. parsing!
  • {“How did you do that?” reply} clues “IT’S MAGIC.” great fill. i would also have taken the clue {“Who’s the all-time NBA leader in assists per game?” reply}.
  • {Pop star whose surname reverses to a famous inventor’s} is simon LE BON of duran^2. the inventor is alfred nobel, who was, as they say, dy-no-mite.
  • {Yesterday, for example} was the IDES of february, at the time this puzzle was released. i used to think the IDES just meant the 15th, but it depends on the number of days in the month. it was usually the 13th, but the 15th of march, may, july (then called quintilis), and october, those being the only months with 31 days in the original pre-julian calendar.

it’s good to be back. how’d you all like this puzzle?

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22 Responses to MGWCC #298

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    The puzzle itself started a bit slowly for me, and I readily accepted there was a frozen brand called FEL-BURGER, ala BOCABURGER. Then the penny dropped with the missing ASTA, and I enjoyed the rest. As a dog lover, I thought the theme of missing pups was very timely. My dad used to do a song about a cruel butcher – the refrain went something like, “Dunderbeck, oh Dunderbeck how could you be so mean? The alley cats and long-tailed rats are nowhere to be seen… They’ve all been ground to sausage meat in Dunderbeck’s machine.” Over all, a very apt early-month meta – 4.5 stars from me.

    Matt, thanks also for some very pleasant memories of my celebratory (or commiserative, in the case of freshman Physics) treats at the falafel truck after a tough test at MIT. Coming from a small Southern town in the 70s, this was my idea of exotic food. After the meta, I googled the recipe, bought the ingredients, and made some for breakfast on Saturday morning. My granddaughter thought they were delicious, but of course, Genna doesn’t know they’re supposed to be golden orbs inside the pita sandwich, not brown scraps that have fallen apart. The tahini sauce I bought was excellent, at least. Joon, is there still a falafel truck that comes to Mass Ave?

    • Bob Kerfuffle says:

      Paul, these lyrics, lifted from the Web, are very close to what we used to sing at Scout camp:

      Johnny Verbeck

      Once there was a Dutchman
      His name was Johnny Verbeck
      He made the finest sausages and sauerkraut and speck.
      He made the finest sausages that’ll evermore be seen,
      Till one day he invented a sausage makin machine.

      Oh, Mr. Johnny Verbeck how could you be so mean,
      I told you, you’d be sorry for inventin’ that machine
      now all the neighbors cats and dogs will nevermore be seen
      For they’ll be ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine.

      One day a boy came walkin’ a walkin’ thru the door.
      He bought a pound of sausages and laid them on the floor.
      The boy began to whistle, He whistled up a tune.
      And all the little sausages went dancin’ round the room.


      One day the machine got busted the darn thing wouldn’t go,
      So Johnny Verbeck he climbed inside to see what made it so.
      His wife she had a nightmare, went walkin’ in her sleep
      She gave it a yank a deuce of crank and Johnny Verbeck was meat!

      • Noam D. Elkies says:

        MRS. LOVETT: Seems a downright shame…

        TODD: Shame?

        LOVETT: Seems an awful waste…
        Such a nice, plump frame
        Wot’s ‘is name has… Had… Has! Nor it can’t be traced…
        Bus’ness needs a lift,
        Debts to be erased…
        Think of it as thrift,
        As a gift,
        If you get my drift!


        Seems an awful waste…
        I mean, with the price of meat
        What it is,
        When you get it,
        If you get it…

        TODD: HAH!

        LOVETT: Good, you got it!

        Take, for instance, Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop!
        Bus’ness never better using only pussycats and toast!
        And a pussy’s good for maybe six or seven at the most!
        And I’m sure they can’t compare as far as taste!

        TODD: Mrs. Lovett, what a charming notion!

        LOVETT: Well, it does seem a waste…

        (Introduction to “A Little Priest” from _Sweeney Todd_ by Stephen Sondheim)

    • abide says:

      @Paul Coulter: Now there’s a potential trivia question: Name two veggie burgers that begin with presidential dog names?

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Noam and Bob and Abide – got a chuckle from all your posts. When you think about it, how many days go by without one good laugh? Thanks!

  2. joon says:

    oh, i just forgot that i meant to go back and put in a screenshot but never did. lemme whip one up now.

  3. lorraine says:

    SMH. I went in a completely different direction. Even though there was only one President’s dog named (FALA), I was certain we had to find a phrase with BO in it (or, at a minimum, another dog’s name), hence my entry BOB SLEIGH (which is what a bunch of sports sites call bob sled). Once I got that in my head, there was no dislodging it. Sigh,

  4. Wayne says:

    The Laika reference reminded me that it had been years since I’d watched the wonderful movie, My Life as a Dog.

  5. Jeffrey K says:

    “Nine-letter, two-word phrase found in many reports on the Sochi Olympics. ” – HURRY HARD! Fortunately, I decided to solve the puzzle first before submitting.

  6. genefaba says:

    Seeing Laika made me look up his story. It seems that he was actually a stray dog from Moscow. I guess the most famous Russian Stray Dog.

  7. Bencoe says:

    Great theme. One of the best uses of off-the-grid lettering that I’ve seen. I’m a dog lover, though, and may be prejudiced.
    Regarding Dutch-smoked eels: I came home one night in Amsterdam to a street party centered around a flaming steel garbage can. Tons of smoke filled the street. My neighbors came up to me enthusiastically, “We caught an eel! We are smoking it. You must have some.”
    Now, eels live in the canals through and around Amsterdam, but the water is disgusting. I was glad to be able to smile and say, “Sorry, I’m a vegetarian.”

    • Bencoe says:

      This is one of those rare themes which is so strongly executed and based on such a common phrase that it seems like someone should have thought of it a long time ago. Puzzle deserves high marks just based on that, in my opinion.

  8. Clay says:

    This was a funny one for me – I picked up the theme pretty fast, but for the life of me I did not see dogs names. and Laika really threw me for a loop as the only extension with 5 letters, all the rest had 4. I was searching for common letters, anagrams – you name it – finally put the puzzle down and said I’d come back in 24 hours. The brain is a funny thing – I look at it again and it took all of 2.5 seconds to see dogs. It’s funny how Matt really makes you think laterally, and I have a hard time once I get my teeth into something and view it one way and just can’t seem to drop it when it doesn’t work and convince my brain to look at it differently.

    Not only that, the puzzle was a real winner as well. Kudos Matt

  9. Jeff G. says:

    Favorite meta of the year for me. I had “playing second fiddle” for a while instead of banana which threw things off. When I googled Nana to confirm the name was from Peter Pan, I stumbled across Nana the Wonder Dog. She does lots of great tricks if any dog lovers want to check out some of her clips on YouTube.

  10. Makfan says:

    I did get it, but I started out by very cleverly noting that gold medal is a two-word, nine-letter phrase and spent a lot of time trying to get things to point that way. I thought maybe I missed some off grid word when I only had seven. Like Clay, I set it aside and finally the idea of looking at the off-grid letters on their own merit occurred to me.

  11. AaronB says:

    The food trucks, which include a felafel one, are now on Carleton St, near the Kendall Square T Stop.

    I was looking for something sports related, haven’t watched the coverage, and didn’t make the right connection. The puzzle reminded me of the song “Who let the dogs out?”

  12. Scott says:

    Got it but I still don’t understand why it is called Mountain Rangers.

    • TimM says:

      The closest I could come with the title was Sochi is on the Western Caucasus mountains, and any stray dogs would be ranging around those mountains. I hope there’s something better, because even I’ll admit this seems like a stretch.

      • Clay says:

        I made the leap for Mountain Rangers as Saint Bernards – and that was actually the trigger to finally see Dogs in the meta.

        Now I want a hot Rum Toddy!

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