MGWCC #347

crossword 5:49
meta about 5 minutes 

mgwcc347hello and welcome to episode #347 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Nature Study”. first, thanks to matt for filling in for me last week, and i’m sorry to have missed it. i’m not going to make excuses, but it was a combination of post-hunt hangover (even with the extra day) combined with i didn’t actually figure out what was going on with the meta. i was planning to give it one last go on wednesday morning, but then i ran out of time. anyway, that was then; this is now. for this week 4 puzzle, matt informs us that This puzzle’s six theme entries and five pieces of its fill are starred. Which sixth piece of fill should also be starred?. what the theme answers? first, there are five long answers with starred clues, all of them two words long:

  • {Frequent interceptor of passes and recoverer of fumbles*} STRONG SAFETY.
  • {Food purchase that currently comes with a kids’ book*} HAPPY MEAL.
  • {John Fogerty song covered by Tina Turner*} PROUD MARY.
  • {Comedy Central show with an episode where Chris Parnell plays Benedict Arnold*} DRUNK HISTORY.
  • {Increasingly rare sound*} BUSY SIGNAL.
  • {“No Rain” band*} BLIND MELON.

then there are the five extra starred clues:

  • {Inactive*} RESTING.
  • {Have faith in*} TRUST.
  • {Word before Angels, Kitchen or Bells*} HELL’S.
  • {Playground fun*} SWING.
  • {“___-doke!”*} OKEY.

finally, there’s one more clue that overtly relates to the meta:

  • {Taken together, or how you should view this puzzle’s six theme entries? (well, one’s got an extra “n”)} AS A SET.

even without considering the answers themselves, six long theme answers plus five extra starred clues (and one more that should be starred) strongly suggests a one-to-one pairing between starred fill and theme answers. the six long themers start with STRONG, HAPPY, PROUD, DRUNK, BUSY, and BLIND, which are all adjective used in animal similes:

  • STRONG as an OX
  • HAPPY as a CLAM (or lark, but it turns out not to be lark here)
  • DRUNK as a SKUNK
  • BUSY as a BEE (or beaver, but again, not this time)
  • BLIND as a BAT

the title, “nature study”, suggests animals as a theme; and the extra AS A SET clue, if parsed “AS A” SET, hints at the similes. (one of them is “as an”; hence the extra “n”.)

so that much was pretty obvious from the start. how do they relate to the *ed fill? my first thought was those weird animal collective nouns: you know, pride of lions (i actually thought this might be related to PROUD), murder of crows, etc. so i started looking up collective nouns for these animals. i found that a group of OXen can be called a YOKE, which is an anagram of OKEY, one of the *ed answers. so that got me excited… but only briefly, because i couldn’t make it work with any of the other pairings.

but that’s okay. once i started anagramming the other *ed answers, the whole thing fell rather quickly. WINGS can hardly be anything but SWING, which pairs nicely with BAT. similarly, TRUST, with only one vowel, has to be STRUT, which evokes a PEACOCK, and HELL’S => SHELL => CLAM (not lark). RESTING becomes STINGER, for the BEE (not beaver), leaving only the SKUNK unpaired. what words do you associate with a skunk? ODOR, of course, and there’s DOOR in the grid at 80-across.

this is a pretty intricate meta, but all of the steps fairly well jump out at you, so it felt very easy to me, like an easy week 3 or toughish week 2. i guess that’s what matt was going for after the unexpectedly tough week 3 last time. the construction is very nice—with all that theme material (6 long and 7 short theme answers), matt had to go to 17×17 for the grid, but it’s a nice grid. one six-letter partial, which will bother the folks who don’t like six-letter partials, but i don’t really care so i won’t even point it out.


  • {Possible contender in 2016} BUSH. jeb, this time. or maybe jenna, who knows?
  • {Mr. Sharansky} NATAN. never heard of this guy. last is my go-to NATAN, of course.
  • {Oscar nominee of 2015, and probably of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, etc.} STREEP. my preference is to refer to the current oscar year as the 2014 oscars, since they’re awarded for 2014 films. so i’d move 2015 to the “probably” group.
  • {Sven Magnus ___ Carlsen (current world chess champion’s full name)} OEN. ha ha. no.
  • {Rival of Roger and Andy} RAFAEL. whoa whoa whoa. andy? andy’s yesterday’s news (literally, as it turns out). novak is furious that he is not in this clue. bulletin board material, folks.
  • {Believed, when texting} THOT. never seen this, and eep, it is hideous.

that’s all for me. i’m hunkering down for the blizzard. if you don’t hear from me next week… well, it probably just means i forgot to blog the puzzle again.

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31 Responses to MGWCC #347

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    The title made it pretty easy to see the animal similes. From there, I stalled for a while, thinking that it was a deletion/insertion game. I had CLAM(S)HELLS, taking the S from BATsWING. I could also see BEEreSTING, but couldn’t move the RE anywhere. I also thought we’d need to take O from OKEY to have some animal pair with KEY, and a T from TRUST for RUST. Then, as Joon notes, there was the question of which animal to choose — Busy as a bee or beaver? Happy as a clam or lark? Also, it’s not only strong as an ox, but many people say horse or bull. If I’d been racing, I might have entered EDAM – there seemed a good chance this answer would result from an E deletion to make Beaver Dam. Finally, after about an hour of playing with it, I found the correct anagram technique. I guess after my find of the CRIMEA/SOUTHERN anagrams last week, I was subconsciously convinced Matt wouldn’t use anagrams again. But the way he did it this time is thoroughly convincing. I particularly like the ASASET hint, which I didn’t parse as “AS A” set until after I’d solved the meta. 4.5 stars from me.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 251 right answers this week.

    Here’s a Korean question for you. Should I accept SEOUL (36-D) as an alternate answer, since a detestable person might be either a “louse” or a “skunk”? Four solvers submitted it.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Sounds perfectly acceptable to me. Louse associates nearly as well to skunk as odor does. And it’s not as if there’s great consistency with the starred fill – we have traits and parts and accoutrement, etc.

      • pannonica says:

        Not to me. ‘Louse’ refers to the character of a person, thematic similes notwithstanding. So in my mind it’s down to lice, and lice (in general) don’t have a greater affinity for mephitids than for other animals (read: mammals).

        As to why skunks are exemplars of drunkenness, I can only assume it’s for rhyming convenience.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      To me there would have to be a common connection between the words, and “skunk” and “louse” don’t naturally go together.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Skunk and louse are synonyms, but that’s not how the theme works. Peacock ≠ strut, bat ≠ wings. No SEOUL.

  3. Scott says:

    Got it after working on it for far too long. But a completely fair puzzle for the week. I didn’t get the “extra N” part until reading above since I missed the overt “As A” clue.

  4. Scott says:

    I would think Louse/Seoul is a stretch.

  5. Jim S says:

    Took me far too long as well – I saw 199 people had it correct so I knew I was missing something somewhat basic, and finally got the anagrams. I followed a similar path as Paul.

    I also think “louse” is a stretch. For me, the animal phrases can show ownership – ox’s yoke, bee’s stinger, bat’s wings, peacock’s strut, and clam’s shell. Skunk’s odor follows that pattern while louse obviously doesn’t.

    • jimaquaman says:

      I agree re: “louse.” Good logical progression. I had a lot of fun with this meta, I’ll give it a 5.

  6. chnest says:

    How about “Drunk as a fish”? That’s the phrase that I’ve always heard of, coming from someone drinking like a fish. I submitted “abit,” because that can be anagrammed to “bait,” which of course pairs perfectly with fish.

  7. Evan says:

    Just curious: when others got what was going on, did anyone else initially think of Mr. Burns describing Smithers as “drunk as a lemur” in the 138th episode special where they showed an alternate ending to the “Who Shot Mr. Burns” mystery?

    • Johnny Luau says:

      “Drunk as a rat” was the first thing that popped in my head. But then, I was also sure of “busy as a beaver” until I was able to anagram RESTING…

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Looks like I’m taking SEOUL. A solver points out that Merriam-Webster lists “louse” as a synonym for “skunk.” Hard to argue with this.

    • pannonica says:

      Which other relationships are synonyms?

      • joon says:

        missing the point. PEACOCK pairs with STRUT, even though none of the other relationships are animal:locomotion. the relevant thing is that there is a relationship. SEOUL has to be acceptable.

        • pannonica says:

          I see the relationships as characteristic associations, not as synonyms, and I don’t feel that’s overly restrictive, or putting too fine a point on it.

          • Todd Dashoff says:

            I raised this issue with Matt when I sent in my answer (DOOR); I thought he might have deliberately included SEOUL as a trap. I view the relationships as something to do with the _animal_ ; a bee has a stinger, a peacock struts, an ox (well, a pair of oxen) have a yoke, etc. The relationship of SKUNK and LOUSE is not to the animal; it’s to a human equivalent. The title of the puzzle suggests that we should be thinking of animals (in the broad sense of the word), not a person overly concerned with their appearance or a big, clumsy guy. To me, this is where the comparison fails.

          • pannonica says:

            Todd, you must mean in the narrow sense of the word, yes?

        • pgw says:

          I think the skunk – louse connection is pretty tenuous, and it differs from the others in the way Todd points out – whereas the other anagrammed words relate directly to the animal in the simile, louse only (arguably) relates to skunk in that both are metaphors for some third thing.

          Having said that, I vote for accepting it as an alternate answer since those who submitted it clearly grokked what was going on. Ditto for whoever submitted ABIT.

          Having said that, I think SEOUL is a clearly inferior answer – odor was the first and strongest skunk association that popped into my mind (other candidates: spray and stripe(s)), so much so that before I ever solved the SW I felt sure the answer was going to be DOOR, and when I did start completing the fill to verify the answer and got to the clue for 60-A, my thought was “ah, this must be where DOOR goes.”

          Nice puzzle, but the “AS A SET” thing really threw me off. I never understood it until Matt emailed me the explanation in response to a comment to my submission. As I nit-pickily pointed out to him, while it’s a clever turn of phrase it fails the substitution test for crossword clues.

    • Maggie W. says:

      I’m somewhat agnostic on SEOUL (although I lean toward taking it if the person otherwise got the meta), but I definitely think you should accept chnest’s ABIT, discussed above. “Drunk as a fish” gets a respectable number of google hits, and BAIT works well with fish.

  9. Todd Dashoff says:

    Actually, I was referring to the comparison of birds and beasts versus shellfish and insects, but you are correct, they are all animals. But then again, so are humans. I think this is a case of “I know what it is when I see it” .

  10. pgw says:

    joon writes:

    WINGS can hardly be anything but SWING, which pairs nicely with BAT.

    Was that one of your patented intentional errors? If so, clever – SWING does indeed pair with BAT, albeit of the baseball variety rather than the furry/winged variety.

  11. Scout says:

    I saw all of the fill words as parts of a plane: wings, strut, stinger, yoke, shell. This set of words could include “door”, but not the alternate “louse.”

    • Jason T says:

      Funny, I was hung up for a while on the parts of a plane, too. It was actually my inroad into solving the meta. However, the problem with your point is that all the starred fill words you mention are the anagrammed version of the words, whereas “door” is the un-anagrammed grid entry. But then again, planes can have a particular sort of odor as well…

    • pannonica says:

      Also, which part of a plane is a stinger? I know there’s a model of plane called a Stinger, but that isn’t useful.

  12. Jeff says:

    Dear Joon,

    Why don’t you use capital letters? (At least conventionally, or consistently?) A sentence like “last is my go-to NATAN, of course” is incomprehensible until one realizes that “last” is actually a proper name in this context.

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