MGWCC #355

Crossword: 10:49
Meta: half an hour or so? 

mgwcc355Good afternoon! Neville here with puzzle #354 of Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest, which is titled “Hollywood Ending, or Be Sure to Look at the Instructions”. Our prompt: This week’s contest answer is a Renee Zellweger motion picture. Well straight away there’s something off; who says “motion picture” when “film” or (probably more appropriately) “movie” will suffice? What game are you playing, Gaffney?

Actually, in fairness, I had lunch with Matt on Thursday, and he seemed a little excited about this puzzle. And after seeing it, I can see why. I solemnly swear that I received no spoilers!

So there’s no doubt about it: Matt’s starred four of the clues in an effort to give us a little help. Let’s take a look.

  • [Hostage rescue team’s tool*] – TACTICAL WEAPON
  • [They have to listen*] – CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. So I always thought that this meant the same thing as a “captivated audience,” but apparently that’s not the case at all. I guess my students are a captive audience, and when they laugh at my terrible math puns, that’s Stockholm syndrome?
  • [, e.g*] – INTERNET ADDRESS (and that particular Internet address gets a thumbs up from me)
  • [Best Director winner for “Forrest Gump”*] – ROBERT ZEMECKIS

So what’s going on? My first thought was that the starred clues might all relate to rhyming phrases, since that could play off “Hollywood Endings.” You know, like the tactical weapon STUN GUN and, well… that was that. Next! Maybe something to do with the fact that there are four theme entries? Can we add the same letters somewhere? Nope. Nothing’s making any sense. (Not that the feeling is unusual.)

Robert Zemeckis was a producer on Real Steel (or so Wikipedia tells me)… and was Renee Zellweger in Steel Magnolias? She was not. There goes a shot at chaining together related words. Hey, wait a second… Robert Zemeckis… Renee Zellweger… RZ… something’s going on here.

And indeed, that’s the mystery here. Let’s follow Matt’s directions and be sure to look at the instructions to create a Hollywood ending:


So we need a Renee Zellweger movie motion picture with the initials MP, which would be Miss Potter. Very clever to use the standard “This week’s contest answer is…” format to hide the primary clue for the answer! And now the use of “motion picture” in the prompt makes sense, because otherwise we wouldn’t have the symmetry of looking for another two-word phrase.

Here are some other thoughts about clues/answers in this grid, because that’s how we roll around here.

  • [It pluralizes to the same word as 22-Down/24-Across] – AXE/AXIS… or maybe AVE/AVIS? AVES has been clued in crosswords frequently as the Latin word for “birds” as well as the plural of “ave” as in Ave Maria or “Ave.” as in Lexington Ave. It’s rare that a puzzle can unintentionally have multiple correct solutions (though it’s happened to me before), but I know which one Matt was going for. I hope.
  • [Many were baked on 3/14/15] – PIES. Mmm… Pi Day! I celebrated by wearing this shirt to a comic convention; what did you do to mark the occasion?
  • [He wrote: “Death, thou shalt die”] – DONNE. Well, I can firmly say that I do not understand poetry. Someone please explain this to me like I’m five.
  • [Farrar’s successor] – WENG. Those are Margaret Farrar and Will Weng, the first two editors of the New York Times crossword puzzle. In my mind, everything crossword-related these days is post-Farrarian.
  • [Marshal law?] – FIRE CODE is just a really cute clue that couldn’t go unmentioned.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. How’d you manage?

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55 Responses to MGWCC #355

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Neville — 109 right answers this week.

  2. joon says:

    oh gosh, that is good. kicking myself for having missed it.

    thanks a ton to neville for filling in for me. i was incapacitated last night (and i didn’t have this anyway, not even close). anyway, i hope to see lots of you at acpt this weekend!

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever hidden the meta in the instructions before, so I was indeed a little excited about doing so. Thought the double-weirdness of the RZ-RZ connection plus “motion picture” instead of “movie” would point people to the idea, but when no one (not even Jangler) had it after three hours I realized we needed another nudge.

    • Mutman says:

      Matt — Let’s not forget “The Hunt for Food October” week 4 when the meta was hidden in your manifesto written in the instructions! That was sub-30 week, if I recall correctly (too lazy to look it up). It was funny though!

  4. Clint Hepner says:

    I took a wild guess and submitted Love and a .45 for no reason other than a .45 could be considered a tactical weapon. I almost guessed Miss Potter; although I no longer remember my tenuous reasoning for doing so (it had two words like all the theme answers?), it certainly had no relation to the actual meta.

  5. Pete Muller says:

    I got stuck on the clue for TACTICAL WEAPON [HostaGE REscue team’s tool]
    Slightly unusual clue and includes Richard GERE….

    Matt – was this an intentional red herring?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Not intentional, just a little tough to clue it without using “tactical” or “weapon.” Like my original clue had the double-fault “SWAT” in it.

      • John says:

        I got hung up big-time on the “HOSTAGE” clue too, but because it linked to CAPTIVE in the second grid theme. i was sure i was looking for a thread that would lead from clue to grid and back, ending in a movie… er, motion picture. Luckily i finally looked hard at the “instructions”, but those are more a hint since they don’t instruct you to do anything so i wasn’t sold on their importance. That and the double RZ finally turned the (somewhat rusty) tumblers.

  6. Rachel says:

    As I pointed out to Matt, Renee Zellweger has very few screen credits. Renée Zellweger, on the other hand? Many. Since Matt pointed out that we should be sure to look at the instructions, I assumed he meant that the typo (mistake?) was intentional. I spent way too long trying to shoehorn the theme answers to apply to one of the four or five films early in her career (when Renée was credited as Renee). I feel a little….. meh.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I don’t normally use diacritics in clues. That would be a weak thing to hang a meta on, especially since it’s so often left out of her name anyway in the various media.

      • Evad says:

        I have to admit I spent a long time that dead-end road myself. I also thought the alternate title was adding emphasis to the lack of accent in her name in the instructions. It was the RZ-RZ connection that finally brought on the head slap!

        • Mac says:

          Count me one of those misled by the Renee. The fact that “various media” ignore the distinction does not sway me. MGWCC is not various media. It is a puzzle that requires attention to detail and frequently finding small clues. That, plus “Hollywood Endings” (the ee is at the end of her name) and the later focus on the Instructions had me convinced it had to mean something. Oh well.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            I mean, I don’t normally put red herrings in on purpose, but red herrings will crop up from time to time no matter what I do. If I had put the accent on Renee that could’ve been a red herring as well, since I don’t use accents like that normally.

  7. Evan says:

    Damn! I had the “Miss Potter” Wiki page open for a long time trying to convince myself it was right (because there were animated sequences in it, so in a way it’s kind of like moving pictures?), but to no avail. I never had a clue on this one, so I submitted CINDERELLA MAN, just ’cause.

    I wonder if anyone tried TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION because: it involves a weapon, captives, captives held at a mysterious address (yeah, real stretch there), and Renee’s character’s name is Jenny just like in “Forrest Gump.”

    • Rachel says:

      That’s what I ended up with. The Internet address was for The Next Generation of meta constructors. That was my light bulb moment, lol. The release year was the same as Forrest Gump.

  8. Scott says:

    Even though I did not get it, I’ll give it 5 stars. Nice construction.

  9. bunella says:

    I got the right answer but not because of the instructions. I saw that Renee had produced this movie and I thought “now that is A Renee Zellweger motion picture”.
    I also thought that Beatrix Potter wrote about animals and woods and there were a lot of “wood” and “forest” clues.

    I do feel a little guilty arriving at the correct answer in the wrong way, but a win is a win.

    Great puzzle!

    • Matthew G. says:

      I actually put Miss Potter on my short list for the reason you say (her credit as a producer), and a few moments later that allowed me to see the correct reason for the meta. I was staring at “a Renee Zellweger motion picture” in one window and “Miss Potter” in the other, and then saw the Robert Zemeckis connection, and it was off to the races.

  10. MeanMrMustard says:

    I got this one, which is rare for me on a week 3. It took me probably 30 minutes to pick up on the RZ connection and then it was all downhill.

    …maybe after a couple years now and a couple of Matt’s books I’m starting to get the hang of this meta stuff….or at least until Friday.

  11. Paul Coulter says:

    I was sure it had to do with the missing accent mark in Renee that appeared in the directions, especially after the hint. Then in the clues, there was also a missing acute accent over the first e in Cezanne. No wonder I couldn’t find another, or perhaps words that could take an accent to change their meaning. I guessed Cold Mountain, hoping there was an M I’d missed to match the C of Cezanne. I thought it likely also had to do with Zellweger’s generally acclaimed skill at accents. I would have preferred if Matt had written these names accurately – after all, he was able to put in the umlaut for Peter Agnefjall of Ikea – but fair play, it was another inventive way to hide the meta’s key material. Four stars from me.

  12. J Bowzer says:

    This one was driving me nuts before an Aha! insight late last night. I went down 2 dark, deep rabbit holes:


    ROBERT ZEMECKIS – attended USC

    couldn’t figure out a U** pattern for CAPTIVE AUDIENCE, but if I did I was going to submit “Monsters vs. Aliens” where Renee Zellweger had a small role (with the UFO connection).


    Similar to Rachel, I got hung up on Renee not having an accent, and then also noticing clue 2D with “Cezanne” was missing the same accent. Hyundai (clue 1A) makes an Accent, and italicized text (clue 2A) is accented. Surely this could not be unintentional!

    • Lance says:

      Yeah, I had not only UZI but also URI, which is a more general name for URLs. This led me down various Jerry Maguire (U/I = “You complete me”?) or Me, Myself & Irene (for similar reasons) paths.

    • abide says:

      Similar rabbit trails, plus Zemeckis directed Contact (UFO). I thought the original title was particularly unhelpful…”Hollywood Debuts” would have been better but still tough. After the second title, I was leaning to Miss Potter because of the Executive Producer and Zemeckis’ Roger Rabbit.

      On Sunday, Gaffney Standardized Spacing Gimmick(can’t link, but see MG’s Nov. 2014 review of Muller Meta) revealed the magic trick .

      • Evad says:

        Another entry on that list would be FBI for Hostage Rescue Team (the only reference in Wikipedia for it is in the FBI).

  13. AK37 says:

    I eventually figured out and submitted the correct answer but went way down a path I was convinced was right before reconsidering. I took the hint to mean “look at” a poster associated with a motion picture. Then the title “Hollywood Ending” had me looking at the end of each themer.

    In the poster for “Cinderella Man” I saw a WEAPON (Crowe’s raised fist in the ring), AUDIENCE, DRESS, and a real stretch in KIS (Crowe and Zellweger about to kiss).

    But I knew that wasn’t tight enough.

  14. Giovanni P. says:

    You know, I was talking with a couple of people about this meta, and one of them had commented on the RZ/RZ connection between the grid and the instructions. I didn’t think it would go that far. Dammit, are “first letters of answers” themes becoming my new white whale after “anagram part of the answer” themes? I’ve gotta make it up in Week 4 it seems.

    Kudos Matt. Now do one using your sign-off next week :P.

  15. Margaret says:

    Not sure I would have been so confident about filling in WENG with no crosses if it hadn’t been for the recent mention of Will Weng when everyone was discussing the Galba puzzle. Speaking of which, I think someone recently used the clue Galba’s successor for Otho (or maybe it was Galba’s predecessor for Nero?) in a puzzle, maybe Peter Gordon? Anyway, I wondered if it was a little bit of an inside joke. I was amused even if it was a coincidence.

  16. Justin Weinbaum says:

    I was never close… But I’ll write anyways to say this was a great idea for a meta.

  17. Thomas says:

    I tried to find a way to make one of her titles descriptive of the grid. Maybe LOVE going down, maybe something on the edge relating to “reason.” I half convinced myself that “motion picture” must be avoiding duplication with BEE MOVIE, but could find no support for that.

    So it was only Zellweger because she shares uncommon initials with another Hollywood notable?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yes. Since TWCAIA doesn’t tip you off much, I figured the last entries had to include a rare letter. So I needed someone famous with a rare letter in their name and a large body of work, and settled on Zellweger. Frank Zappa was my other idea.

  18. David R says:

    Further evidence that my mind works completely different from everyone else. The moment I got the alternate title for the puzzle, I immediately solved the meta. I then sent a ribbing comment to Matt regarding his clue that to me made the meta seem like a gimme.

    • Dele says:

      This, more or less, for me as well. I didn’t open the puzzle until Saturday, but spent a little bit of time seeing if I could’ve gotten it without using the hint. Took a few cursory swipes at trying to link the theme answers; didn’t see much, but fortunately one of those tries was first letters (“TW, CA, IA, RZ. Nope, no pattern there.”).

      Then, upon seeing the hint I went to reread the instructions… “This week’s contest answer… Wait. T, w, c… — Aha!” even before getting to the RZ. But I’m not sure that I would ever have gotten there without the hint.

      Thanks, Matt!

  19. jefe says:

    Aw man, no luck here. Guessed Chicago, which featured a weapon and a captive audience (inmates); a dress or outfit she wore had some relevance per Wikipedia, and Zemeckis is from Chicago.

  20. Mutman says:

    Motion picture?? In my browser it said ‘classic movie’ so I submitted Cold Mountain.

  21. Mutman says:

    Funny. I was actually kidding. Now I think I should get credit for he coincidence!

  22. Mutman says:

    You were tormented for 60 minutes. I was tormented for about 60 hours!

    Iced coffee is on me at our next meeting, whenever fate shall allow it.

  23. Cole says:

    Hmmm; I looked at the endings of the four them entries, saw NESS and thought of the RZ movie CHICAGO.

    • Garrett says:

      I hit on the NESS thing too, and also immediately thought of Chicago. But when I read the plot I realized that could not be it.

  24. Dbardolph says:

    Brilliant. I saw the RZ thing, but didn’t see the rest of it. Shame on me.

  25. pannonica says:

    The superfluous asterisks at the end of each theme clue drove me to distraction. Saw the RZ connection early on, but it went no further (successfully).

  26. John Lampkin says:

    Add me to the “got the RZ thing” pile. Drove me nuts before giving up. In retrospect that was still a wise decision. And here I thought I was a bright boy.

  27. Jeff G. says:

    Brilliant idea for a meta! Nicely done.

  28. joon says:

    i haven’t seen it mentioned by anybody else, but i took a shot at bee movie because “movie” in the title offered an explanation of why matt might have used the strikingly formal “motion picture” wording in the instructions. plus, the title itself offers plenty of wordplay possibilities, although i could not find any connection to the actual theme answers.

    a couple other rabbit holes: based on “hollywood ending”, i wondered if renee zellweger were the last person alphabetically to win a best supporting actress. nope; her chicago co-star catherine zeta-jones has that distinction. neither is robert zemeckis the last best director winner (it’s two-time winner fred zinnemann).

    “hostage” was in the clue for TACTICAL WEAPON, and its synonym CAPTIVE was in another theme answer, but that went nowhere.

    and here’s the wildest one. the INTERNET ADDRESS clue referenced the crossword website of chris king, who was the winner of last week’s mgwcc. how’s that for reading the instructions? the previous week’s winner, announced only as e.a., is surely erik agard, another guy whose crossword blog is on matt’s blogroll. (the winner the week before that was never announced; i wonder if matt has even chosen one yet.) but i couldn’t make anything out of this, either.

    • Dele says:

      Just so he doesn’t feel like chopped liver, I’ll point out that Thomas (11:39 am) was the first to mention Bee Movie in this thread.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Oops — I did pick a winner for Week #352, but never announced her name on the site. Will do so this week. Thanks for the nudge.

  29. wobbith says:

    After going down many of the Peter Rabbit holes mentioned here (Bee MOVIE, missing accent acute, etc), I finally cracked this one Monday night – because I solved on paper using the pdf. I never would have seen it if I’d solved in Across Lite or Solver. The .pdf has the instructions right there on the page, just a above the clues. My brain finally connected the TW I’d written in the margin next to TACTICAL WEAPON with “This Week’s…” just 6 inches away.

  30. JohnBeck says:

    Ha, Joon! I didn’t submit “Bee Movie” but my thinking was similar when I couldn’t figure out what else to do…

    “Why ‘motion picture’ instead of ‘film’ or ‘movie’?”

  31. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I ignored the text “This week’s contest answer is a” because it’s the same as every other puzzle, and surely Matt didn’t choose it years ago to make this puzzle possible. Wasn’t until I saw the answer that I realized this logic doesn’t quite hold. I did check whether there was a movie starring TW, CA, IA, and RZ, but that didn’t help.

  32. Jim Q says:

    I love it when the explanation to a meta I didn’t get is as equally as good an AHA moment. This puzzle was excellent- even though I totally missed it.

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