MGWCC #354

crossword 4:01
meta 0:30 

mgwcc354hello and welcome to episode #354 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “That Would Be Proper”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt asks us to identify a profession. what are the theme answers? well, there’s only one long answer that looks like it might be related to the theme: across the middle of the grid, {Term I coined in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crossword Puzzles & Word Games for a certain trick involving the first letter of a crossword clue} clues MASKED CAPITAL. i haven’t read that book, but damascus my favorite masked capital.

anyway, the trick has to do with putting a proper noun or adjective at the start of a clue. since the first letter is capitalized anyway, solvers can’t tell whether the word is supposed to be read as a common or proper word, and hilarity ensues. to wit:

  • {Supreme being} clues DIANA ROSS, lead singer of the supremes.
  • {United front} is a COCKPIT at the front of a jet operated by united airlines. this is my favorite clue in the puzzle.
  • {Rice paper} is a THESIS you might write for an assignment at rice university. another great clue—3/3 so far.
  • {Goofy place} is EPCOT center, where goofy is a dog. maybe mickey’s dog, or maybe that’s pluto. i don’t know and don’t care. this is the only masked capital among the down clues, and it goes in the middle of the grid, crossing MASKED CAPITAL itself at the C.
  • {Earl with high legal ranking} is earl WARREN, former chief justice of the united states.
  • {Oracle man} is pervis ELLISON, former #1 nba draft pick nicknamed “the oracle of basketball”. (okay, not really.)
  • {Nice food} is a CASSOULET because it is probably some french dish that they might eat in nice, france.

anyway, it’s fairly clear what to do with these seven masked capitals: in grid order, the masked capital letters themselves spell out SURGEON, the answer to the meta. there are other clues that begin with a proper name, but they’re not masked because e.g. strahan and hitchcock aren’t common words.

this was a cool puzzle, taking a common crossword constructor’s cluing contrivance and turning it into a meta. i don’t think he had to do this, but the theme answers are all symmetrically placed, making it easy to spot them (it’s only week 2, after all). the nice/nice trick is a little stale for me—nice seems to get wheeled out any time any french word or name is in the grid, which is pretty often—but the others ranged from good to outstanding. that COCKPIT clue was particularly great. the title was nice, too, although i think something like “properly interpreted” would have been a little smoother.


  • {No fan of Novocaine} SADIST. yeesh, what a way to start at 1-down.
  • {Bodily sextet} ABS. whose body are we talking about here?
  • {Corazon Aquino or Lea Salonga} FILIPINA. i didn’t know lea salonga was filipina. (one assumes, actually, that she’s filipino-american.)
  • {What Seth Rogen and James Franco try to assassinate Kim Jong-un with, in “The Interview”} RICIN. not rice paper.
  • {World Series champions of the year — well, never} ASTROS. wow, way to rub it in, matt. they made their lone world series appearance in 2005, getting swept by the white sox, and have been recently awful, although hope is on the horizon after a run of 100-loss seasons.
  • {Hail seizer?} CAB. i dunno what’s what with this clue. you hail a cab, sure. who is seizing what, though?

good puzzle. i’d give it 4.2 stars.

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26 Responses to MGWCC #354

  1. Scott says:

    I almost sent in NURSE until I got the other letters.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    For me, this was a perfect week 2 puzzle. Ideal for speed solving, but the meta’s answer took a bit of thought. All of the masked capitals were well done, making it very enjoyable as I checked them off to spell SURE ON. (I had to go back to find Goofy at the central Down clue.) If it weren’t for the very friendly middle line – say, we had only the title for a hint – this would have made a great Week 4. And I think it’s a nice indication of Matt’s constructing chops that he could place all the theme material symmetrically. 5 stars from me.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 346 right answers this week. Note also that the meta answer isn’t arbitrary, since a SURGEON is him/her-self masked.

  4. Jason says:

    Wonderful, I DID submit NURSE.

  5. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I had to carefully consider if 18D might be a theme entry, such that the capitals would spell STURGEON, cluing “author” (although it seems like “politician” might be better-known outside my particular experience).

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      But “Throw” isn’t a proper noun (not one I’m familiar with at least), and certainly not one relevant to the clue here. Or am I not following your point correctly?

      • Daniel Barkalow says:

        Oh, I was certain that 18D wasn’t a theme entry when I reread it. It was just what came up when I thought, “What single mistake might I be making?” Being wrong about that one would still lead to an answer, whereas being wrong about any other entry would mean that it was a huge coincidence that the ones I noticed spelled a 7 letter profession when the full set didn’t spell anything and the correct answer was something completely different.

  6. Stribbs says:

    Ha! I never really understood “Rice paper” and just assumed it was the last name of an essayist I happened not to know. Sad because it’s my alma mater. Then again, the Rice = food jokes wore thin very quickly into my time there.

  7. Bob Johnson says:

    My first take on ‘Rice paper’ was that it referred to famous Ph.D. Condoleezza rather than the university. I agree with Joon, great clue.

    • sps says:

      I got that Rice was a proper noun and meant the university right away. I then turned to my college-aged daughter and asked her if the answer I had was the name of the Rice newspaper, thinking that’s what I was looking for. She informed me that, no, the newspaper was not The Sis.

      She got a good laugh out of that one at my expense. {Blushes with goofy shame}

      • Rachel says:

        This made me laugh. Like my friend who asked me how “dook” was the correct answer for the clue Scrape by…

        Matt, have you come up with a term of art for entries that are two words but look like one (or one word that looks like two)?

        I wonder what an appropriate answer would be for the Masked Capital clue Goofy shame? Goofy seems pretty shameless.

  8. Norm says:

    This one eluded me. I looked for all the proper nouns in the grid and then tried to do something with the first letters of the clues. No dice.

  9. lmillcar says:

    I saw the intersection of the two “MC” clues — Masked Capital and Mail Call — and thought MC = Master of Ceremonies. The “That Would Be Proper” title convinced me that emcee was the right answer, because traditionally, Masters of Ceremonies were responsible for the proper conduct of protocol in the Catholic Church.

  10. Jim C says:

    Again I over complicated things and got nowhere. I thought “masked capital” might mean that some forms of currency are hidden in the theme answers. e.g., DIaNARoss, casSOUlet, MaILcall, etc. Guessed “BANKER” with very little confidence. Good one, Matt.

  11. M R says:

    even though I got the right answer this week….there is an interesting additional twist.

    Each REAL person’s name in the puzzle spells another profession….WARDEN.


  12. Jim S. says:

    I half lucked into this one. I used the “Masked Capitals” clue as part of my solution, which gave me “surteon”. I said, “that’s not a profession, but surgeon is. The ‘G’ must be a reference to ‘Gaffney’ based on the ‘I’ in the clue”. Not a “masked capital” at all in the original sense of the phrase, but could’ve been a play on words (‘I’ masking ‘Gaffney’ in the clue). Solid enough to run with so I threw that in there.

    The puzzle itself was a tough solve for me, tougher than the meta ended up being (or maybe not because I didn’t catch “Goofy” until coming here).

  13. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I don’t think Goofy and other Disney characters have a presence at Epcot. Epcot’s theme is countries of the world, not Disney characters. Can anyone who’s vacationed in Kissimmee more frequently than I confirm?

    • Jeffrey K says:

      When Epcot opened, the characters were excluded to make the park more “serious.” When Michael Eisner became CEO, he brought the characters to Epcot. They are sort of tied to the countries – Belle in France, Pinocchio in Italy. As Abide notes, Future World has a character meet and greet spot which includes Goofy.

  14. Abide says:

    Sounds like a reasonable nit, but all the parks have “character spots”. See

    I remember having to go to a princess breakfast behind the Viking ship in Norway.

    A corollary to the masked capital is where the first word is thought to be a proper noun but actually isn’t . Example “Afghan makeup” for YARN.

  15. Brucenm says:

    Cassoulet is not particularly associated with Nice though you could probably find it there if you wanted it, so to me, the clue was somewhat misleading, (not in a good way), but not imponderable. But I do see (now) that an ‘N’ city was needed. Nice features Mediterranean cuisine, traditional “haute cuisine,” and now some influence of Arab and Middle Eastern cuisine. Cassoulet is equally wonderful regional, “rustic-peasant” food associated with the Languedoc and Haute Garonne regions, well to the west of Nice, especially the city of Toulouse, as well as Montauban, Albi, Carcassonne, et al. In fact “Cassoulet Toulousain” is more the full name of the dish than a variety of it.

  16. Dele says:

    Very nice meta. I agree that the theme clues were great, especially the COCKPIT one.

    PS: Did I miss it, or is joon’s name not up on this week’s leaderboard?

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