MGWCC #342

crossword 4:51
meta DNF3 days, 11 hours, 59 minutes 

mgwcc342hello and welcome to episode #342 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Bugging Out”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt asks us to identify a historical American political figure. what the theme answers? i’m not 100% sure, but i think they’re these, the four longest across answers:

  • {They’ve seen “Casablanca” and “Pulp Fiction” a dozen times, maybe} clues FILM LOVER. matt clarified that the clue/answer subject mismatch isn’t related to the theme.
  • {Dismissive phrase} THAT’S NONSENSE.
  • {Spur to action} KICK IN THE REAR. both the clue and the answer work as a verb phrase or a noun.
  • {“Hollywood Reporter” subject} OSCAR TALK.

so what’s going on? i don’t have any idea. let’s see if i can figure it out as i write this post. the first thing that i noticed while solving was that i struggled mightily with the actual crossword, which is unusual. in particular, there seemed to be lots of places where there were little traps, like words that didn’t quite fit or alternate answers to the clues that didn’t end up being correct. sometimes that’s an indicator of a “same clue works for multiple answers” theme, but i don’t think that’s what’s going on here. besides, matt just dipped into that well fairly recently and i suspect he wouldn’t go back again. sometimes he just likes to lay traps for the sake of laying traps, à la his idol henry hook. for example, {“___ I!” (phrase of denial)} clues NOR, not NOT.

the second thing i noticed was that the first words of the theme answers spell out FILM THAT (seems promising!) KICK OSCAR. well that fizzled.

what about the title? i can’t for the life of me figure out what it has to do with anything. i didn’t notice any bugs or bug-related things while solving, but maybe that’s the point. if i were going to write a meta with that title, i’d probably stock the fill with answers that could be a type of FLY, like HOUSE or BUTTER or FRUIT. but that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.

wait, wait. HOUSE actually is in the grid, at 56a, clued as {Cape Cod, for example}. hmm. are there others? no. still, that’s interesting. maybe there are other things (besides FLY) that have been “out”ed.

my next thought was to consider the instructions, which made me think first and foremost of presidents. OSCAR TALK suggests oscar madison (of the odd couple), so maybe we are talking about james madison (or dolley madison). but there is nothing else to go on there. OSCAR TALK and FILM LOVER and presidents suggests lincoln, which was a best picture nominee two years ago (and won best actor for daniel day lewis). but this also has nothing to do with the title or the two longest theme answers.

all right, how about this: can we change a word in the theme answer to still satisfy the clue? like OSCAR TALK could be OSCAR BUZZ (which is related to flies). KICK IN THE REAR could be KICK IN THE … various other things. PANTS, ASS, BUTT, BEHIND, etc. FILM LOVER could be FILM BUFF or MOVIE LOVER or various other things (FAN, ENTHUSIAST, etc.). THAT’S NONSENSE could be so many things, e.g. just NONSENSE or THAT’S CRAZY (and CRAZY is even in the grid, right below THAT’S). hmm. it would be great if the other three had one-word substitutes from the fill, but i don’t see them.

{“What a pity!”} ALAS, i don’t think i’m any closer to a solution than when i started, despite numerous promising-seeming avenues. i am going to try aaron BURR, just in case i was onto something with (FILM) BUFF and (OSCAR) BUZZ. oh, and (KICK IN THE) BUTT. hey, that might even be the right answer. (THAT’S) BULL seems to fit, too. wow. uhh. yeah, let’s do that. 11:59, could be my record for latest solve.

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30 Responses to MGWCC #342

  1. Evad says:

    4 stars for the puzzle, 5 to joon for his last minute save, so I’ll average that out to 4.5.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah joon that was epic. 153 right answers, yours being the last received of course.

      • Scout says:

        Great puzzle even if I didn’t have a clue. Speaking of clues, the tribe mentioned in 20 across spells the name Yakama. It was changed in the mid 90’s. Yakima is the name of the town and the river, but no longer the tribe.

  2. DBraun91 says:

    I am a fool. I got the FILM BUFF, THATS BULL, KICK IN THE BUTT, and OSCAR BUZZ at the last minute. For some reason I decided to go with FITZGERALD off of the FITZ if you use the L’s from THATS BULL in their lower-case form- “ll” they look somewhat like uppercase II’s. I think if I had figured all of that out earlier I would have had time to look it over before actually submitting. Thats what I get for getting so excited about a potential first ever last minute solve.
    Oh well.

    • DBraun91 says:

      In hindsight, FITZ or FITZGERALD is a terrible answer because that could refer to a number of american historical politicians. Plus, an “L” is not an “I”. Great meta.

  3. CY Hollander says:

    The title, “Bugging Out”, made me think of Richard Nixon, who was thrown out of office as a result of bugging the oppositions’ hotel room. All the award-winning film/Oscar stuff made me think of Al Gore and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” that featured him. Besides those, there seemed to be an awful lot of gratuitous/or awkward numbers in the cluing (e.g. “a dozen times”, “three-point shot master”, “8 athletes” ), which seemed significant, but I couldn’t make anything of it.

    Didn’t submit either of my guesses because besides the fragmentary clues I mentioned, I couldn’t make them work. No doubt by the time I post this, someone will have already posted the answer. Edit: Oh, hadn’t noticed: joon got the answer at the last second.

    • Evan says:

      I went with Nixon for that reason. Just never could connect the dots in this one.

      Three cheers to joon for pulling the right answer out at the last possible minute.

  4. joon says:

    now that the deadline has come and gone, i have a little bit more time to figure out what happened here. i think “bugging out” is supposed to (gently) suggest that something like BUGG has been removed and replaced from each theme answer. i don’t know what specifically ties that to aaron burr, other than the relative dearth of other BU-double-letter options. (BUSS is a word; BUNN is apparently a word; BUDD is a surname.)

    • Evan says:

      Plus the North Carolina senator Richard Burr, although I guess since he’s still serving, he wouldn’t fit under the “historical” description.

    • sandirhodes says:

      I noticed the original post had DNF only (probably done and set to appear at 12:00 sharp), then a couple minutes later the struck (striked?) letters appeared. Now THAT’s close! Good job!

      Of course I failed.

  5. ant says:

    Wow, much easier than the path I went down. I interpreted the title “Bugging Out” to mean we had to take bugs out of the theme answers. If you take TSETSE out of THATSNONSENSE, you’re left with SHANNON. That was more than promising, so I spent all weekend trying to find hidden bugs in the other answers. Ugh.

    • Amy L says:

      I tried that too. There was also an ANT to remove in the same answer. I thought CRACKLES and STRATEGO could also be theme answers, but they didn’t have any insects.

      Other than that, I had no idea where to go with this puzzle. Maybe the trick is to write a blog post and, as you talk it through, the answer will come to you–might be easier than work bathroom visits.

      • joon says:

        in all seriousness, i do think that being “forced” to blog the puzzle does help with the meta. the act of laying out all your ideas in written form is a helpful cognitive exercise, and it also teaches you to be thorough. plus, looking at the puzzle on friday and coming back to blog it monday night or tuesday morning (which is my usual routine) has the benefit of often giving me “fresh eyes” on a puzzle when i get stuck.

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    Nice save at the wire, Joon. My first thought was we were de-“bugging” something, as in removing OS from OSCAR TALK to make CAR TALK. Who knows, maybe the meta was doing a riff on Click and Clack. But the other theme entries wouldn’t cooperate, so I made my usual list, tried associations with each half of the themers, and eventually hit on the BUxx words. But the meta didn’t have much zing for me. Three stars.
    Everyone all set for the subscription era? Maybe for those of us hooked on Matt’s puzzles, Rumination Software should be Ruination.

  7. Jeff M says:

    There is an unusually high correlation between correct solutions to these puzzles and work bathroom visits. Thank goodness I had that extra cup of coffee at 11:40….four minutes later I had the solution.

  8. Archie says:

    How’s this for an alternate:
    Theme words: Buff, Bosh, Boot, Buzz>”Bs”>Bees>Nan Honeyman (Look her up).

    Thought of Burr, but couldn’t see the “Bu–” connection.

  9. Dan Seidman says:

    The theme answers were perfectly placed, too. If you count two letters per row, BUFF is on the EF row, BULL is on the KL row, etc. Very impressive.

  10. Abby says:

    I went off on a tangent that nearly derailed me. Got the idea quick that I needed to figure out what the theme was and that it had to do with synonyms. Got Oscar BUZZ immediately. Then tried HUMBUG for nonsense and though from the title there might be some bug connection in the other ones. Couldn’t see how that led to an answer though.

    Came back to it and thought BUZZ was a lot like Aaron BURR. Then got BUTT, then BULL, then… oh, BUFF! The word I’d been straining for since I filled the puzzle in! OK, that worked. If I hadn’t figured it, I was going to guess him anyway, but glad I got it.

    • Reid says:

      I had a similar idea nearly derail me. I saw buzz and tried to turn other words into sounds that insects make, but was struggling.

      I couldn’t get over the idea that buzz was too good to be just a coincidence, but it wasn’t til I came back to it as I went to bed Monday night that I saw the other BUxx words.

  11. Joe says:

    “Over 170 years ago, Jacob Bunn opened his grocery store in a developing Springfield, IL, USA, and a young Abe Lincoln was one of the first customers.” – See more at:

    Sure sounds like an historical American political figure to me. Imagine where America would be today if Abe Lincoln had starved to death as a young man.

    This meta wasn’t satisfying to me. Even after I’d figured it out (with an acknowledged hint from a friend), I didn’t hear that usual “click” that I hear when all of the pieces of a meta fit into place. I’m really hoping that there is more to this meta that we didn’t see, and which Matt will reveal to us on Friday. For example, maybe the “out” in the title does have some meaning.

    • CY Hollander says:

      maybe the “out” in the title does have some meaning

      It does: the BUxx is taken out of each theme entry and replaced with a synonym.

  12. Bencoe says:

    Huh. Ok. I don’t really get this one. Usually when I don’t get the meta and see the solution it makes sense in multiple ways. This one, not so much. I still don’t really understand the title and how it applies to this puzzle, which is probably the main reason I didn’t get it.
    I considered both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton as they were famous historical non-presidents, as well as Benjamin Franklin. But couldn’t back solve any of those.
    I also noticed that FILMLOVER minus the V anagrams to FILLMORE. That kept me busy for a while.
    Based on the title, I also looked for places outside of the grid where bug or a type of bug could be added to extend the grid. I think I would have liked that more.

    • abide says:

      The title is just a nudge to B-U- (double letter), and a neat misdirection that also had me trying to backsolve Nixon into the answer. My other thought was an exterminator gets rid of bugs…so the “Ex-Terminator” would be Ahnold. But I eventually caught the buzz.

      While not exactly a meta, offers up an interesting crossword variant (Pentwords 6) with a nifty “final answer” to be revealed and submitted. I recommend it.

      • Bencoe says:

        I like the thinking on Ex-Terminator.
        I get that the title is a nudge to the BU__, but I just didn’t get that sense of completeness (the famous “click”) that the best Matt Gaffney meta puzzles have provided. As Joe posted above, I felt like I was missing something and hoped there was more to it.
        It’s Matt’s own fault for setting the bar too high with his best puzzles!

  13. ===Dan says:

    I was thinking of changes to the theme answers too. I noticed “That’s nonsense” might be related to “crazy talk,” 32A and 57A. So I was looking for Film ____ with the completion appearing somewhere in the grid, maybe half from a different theme answer. Got me nowhere, slowly.

  14. peedee says:

    I almost never get the fourth week and often strike out on the third. But this week I got it really quickly. Oscar BUZZ seemed obvious, and once I saw BUTT and BULL it just fell into place. Great meta!!

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