MGWCC #359

crossword 6:43
meta -6:43 or 10 minutes 

mgwcc359hello and welcome to episode #359 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Take the Short Way”. for this week 3 puzzle, we are told that we are looking for a famous writer/producer/director of TV and film. here’s the thing: when i read those instructions, i thought, “well, if this isn’t joss whedon, i don’t know who it is.” hold that thought, and let’s talk about the puzzle. what are the theme answers? we had a super-size grid this week, checking in at 19×19, for these seven celebrities:

  • {Guitar hero} ANDRES SEGOVIA.
  • {He was once in a duo with Michael Stipe called Community Trolls} MATTHEW SWEET.
  • {“Gilligan’s Island” star who was 1959’s Miss Nevada} DAWN WELLS.
  • {He sang three hit duets with Linda Ronstadt} AARON NEVILLE. second time in the past year he’s been a mgwcc theme answer.
  • {Original “SNL” cast member} LARAINE NEWMAN.
  • {“The Office” actor} RAINN WILSON.
  • {“Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” star} JANE SEYMOUR.

it took me a while to see it, even though i was really looking for a way to make the answer joss whedon, but the answer is joss whedon. each of the seven theme answers contains one of the crosswordese abbreviations for the 8 tertiary directions (SSE for south-southeast, etc.), which i’ve bolded in the list above. they’re all gently nestled in the break between the celebrities’ first and last names. all eight directions are used except for SSW, which in fact does appear in joss whedon, so there you have it.

on the face of it, this is a pretty good meta. i like the subversion of crosswordese for theme purposes. (i’ll add that i have seen two previous puzzles with themes that used these cruddy little tla’s, but both were many years ago. the one i can track down right now is this 2008 puzzle by the late, great, dan naddor in the LAT.) it was a little weird to me that it relied on this specific instruction, of which i could literally think of no examples other than the actual correct answer. (i’m sure somebody will pipe in with other super-famous people it could have been; i admit that i am no connoisseur of tv and film writer/director/producers.) for a week 3, would it have been better to make the instruction a little vaguer? i’m not sure. you sort of need a fairly circumscribed list; otherwise it is pretty tough to go from “i need a name containing SSW” to the actual answer. so matt probably did the right thing here.

were there other alternatives? whedon is certainly the only famous person i could find who fits the bill. (poet algernon charles swinburne is 2nd best, and he’s not especially close; everybody else in the theme was strictly first & last name only.) and he doesn’t match any of the other answers for length, so the only alternative to making him the answer would have been to put JOSS WHEDON across the center of the grid and then make DAWN WELLS (or SHAWN WAYANS, the only other WNW i could find, but he’s definitely only the fourth most famous acting wayans brother) the answer.

i liked the grid quite a bit. lots of good stuff, like DIE HARD and HAND-PICK and AWKWARD (WKW! too bad that’s not a direction). i’ll deduct a few tenths for long partial A SHREW and the unsightly OLD CARS, which both dupes the OLD of OLD COOT and also isn’t really a phrase. it’s a big grid, though, and there are really impressively few of these eyesores in it, so overall the fill is a plus.

fun puzzle. 4.1 stars.

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48 Responses to MGWCC #359

  1. Mutman says:

    I was directionless on this meta :(

  2. Jim S. says:

    Grrrrr. I spotted the theme, looked at several lists of famous folks meeting these qualifications but those must have been the wrong lists. One of them contained Chris Columbus – given the compass directions and the title specifically calling out “the short way” it seemed possible enough to me – he was trying to find the short way to India, after all. Had my lists included Joss Whedon, I would have gotten it. Crap! Good puzzle, good meta, just couldn’t uncover a name I’m not too familiar with – reviewing his IMDB history, I’ve only seen Toy Story and his role as a writer isn’t very memorable for a 20 year old movie.

    I was just mentioning to my wife the other day that I must be one of the few guys to not be into the superhero craze – looks like it would have really helped in this case. I also think the fact that I DVR everything and skip commercials leads to my not seeing specific details about blockbuster movies. His stuff just isn’t in my wheelhouse. Oh well.

  3. BrainBoggler says:

    Wow…missed the mark on this one…caught onto the directions, but I somehow stopped at NNW, thinking NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Submitted ERNEST LEHMAN. Nice puzzle.

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I briefly toyed with the idea that we were somehow expected to start at some point (which I couldn’t guess at) and follow the three letter directions in some imitation of the Knight’s Tour puzzle (about which I was totally clueless) to get an answer.

    Fortunately for me, I abandoned that idea, looked at a list of film/tv directors, and found the right answer quickly (started with the Ws!)

    Great meta as usual!

  5. bunella says:

    I got tricked by the red herring double letter theme and sent in Woody Allen.

    I realized the direction link too late. Guess my GPS was off and I got lost.

  6. Clint Hepner says:

    I picked up on the embedded directions, but I only noticed the five horizontal theme answers, not the two vertical ones. I kept poking around in the (roughly) named areas of the grid for letters or short answers that might be used to construct the meta answer.

  7. bananarchy says:

    Consarn it, when I read the title this theme concept immediately leapt into my mind…and then I didn’t get around to solving the puzzle due to a busy weekend.

    • bananarchy says:

      Lest any of you think that I’m bragging, I should point out that this never happens and I almost never figure out week 2+ metas

  8. Paul Coulter says:

    Spotted the path early, but for me, the hard part was finding a famous? writer/director who had SSW in his/her name. Not a movie buff, and if you’ve never heard of Joss Whedon, he was easy to miss on a list of *ss W* or *s *Sw names from onelook. I must have gone past him three times, convinced the name would jump out as recognizable. I also went by him twice on Wikipedia’s list of directors, before looking him up. I think we have to be careful about the definition of famous. A household name within one circle is a Who? to others. In the end, the searching wasn’t fun. Three stars for me.

    • Andy says:

      If films/TV aren’t your strong suit then of course you may not know who he is, but it’s a bit unfair of you to cry foul. He’s the writer/director of The Avengers, the highest grossing film of 2012, and its upcoming sequel which stands a good chance to top the box office this year.

      This in addition to all his TV work; I think he’s fairly well known as the guy behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

      You’re forgiven for not knowing about Cabin in the Woods or Dollhouse, but he’s definitely famous enough to qualify use of the word famous.

  9. Amy L says:

    I had only vaguely heard of Joss Whedon, so I had to google. MikE NEwell is a producer and director of TV and film, but doesn’t seem to be a writer. There were some other really obscure “directional” names but Joss seemed to be the only person to fit the criteria.

    Yesterday, I was watching Gilligan’s Island. I kept thinking they didn’t know they should have gone WNW.

  10. Mark says:

    Anyone else guess Hitchcock, desperately hoping for the North By Northwest connection to be right?

    • David R says:

      Yes we had seven directions. I eliminated each direction with its opposite and was left with NNW thought for sure it was Hitchcock.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Ditto. I hesitated before sending in Hitchcock because I would have expected the omitted direction to be NNW, not SSW, if it was Hitchcock. But then I googled SSW, and I saw that the Wikipedia entry about the South by Southwest Music Festival prominently mentions that the festival was named in honor of the Hitchcock movie. So that sealed it for me.

        I’m not claiming that I should get credit, but I will allow that this is the most surprised I’ve been that a MGWCC answer of mine was wrong.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          If NNW had been the missing one then I would likely have accepted Hitchcock as an alt-answer. But needing to run an extra step after that makes it too arbitrary.

          • Matthew G. says:

            Yep. I agree that Joss Whedon is the clearly better answer. I gave into temptation too quickly. Although frankly I’m not sure I would have ever thought of Whedon, even if I’d kept going, since I’m not very hip. So I’m glad I didn’t kill myself over it.

          • Jesse says:

            I someone convinced myself that I had seen all 8 directions in the puzzle, so I also went with Hitchcock. It was only after submitting that I noticed SSW was missing, but even then I never thought of Whedon.

        • Lynne R Equation says:

          Me too! But I should have known that it wouldn’t be that simple. Imagine my disappointment when I checked the leaderboard! I must be too old to know Joss Whedon – Hitchcock is more my vintage .

    • Rachel says:

      I ultimately got Joss but came thisclose to guessing Alfred Hitchcock. From inside the rabbit hole it is a totally reasonable guess. North by Northwest came out in 1959 (the year Dawn Wells won her pageant). There are towns in Texas named Segovia, Neville, Newman, Seymour and…. Hitchcock. And what about Matthew Sweet? Well someone with that name hosts some Hitchcock BBC thing (not to mention the fact that the toy (community) Troll dolls were patented in 1959). And the title could be a reference to taking a photograph the short way (portrait) and thus it is CLEARLY a nod to Hitchcock’s silhouette at the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Right? Right?

      I now realize that with some creative googling I can– and often do– make a square peg fit a round meta hole. But even with the right answer I still don’t understand the title. And I wonder if Matt plants the red herrings or if they are just fortunate/unfortunate coincidences.

      Thanks for the puzzle Matt!

  11. MeanMrMustard says:

    Aha. Nice one. Stared at these for a while after solving the grid and never came back to it. But it could be internal bias over the fact that the only thing I have less tolerance for than “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is the show’s inexplicable army of fans.

  12. Tim H. says:

    I got hung up on LINEMAN crossing LARAINE NEWMAN; knocking out two three-letter strings turns one into the other; “shortening” it ala the title. Couldn’t get past that.

  13. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I have Important Things to do, but I’ll waste some time being a bit nerdy:

    There have been some references to Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest.”

    We should be aware that “North by Northwest” is meaningless in respect to compass directions.

    The abbreviation NNW only stands for North Northwest.

    There is a direction named Northwest by North, (abbreviated NbNW?) which I have only encountered in a crossword, possibly Matt Gaffney or BEQ.

    I’ll spare you the links; you can look it up. :>))

  14. Wayne says:

    Am I the only one that was led astray by the fact that except for NNE, the tertiary directions are all hidden in longer strings of directions (andrESSEgovia, mathEWSWEEt, etc.)? I was sure that they were treasure hunt directions. (Either, “Walk 1 pace East, 2 paces South, …”; or maybe they were references to quadrants of the grid.)

    Matt never goes larger than 15×15 unless he’s hiding something in the grid. I assumed that it was the letters for the meta. I never spotted the DOWN theme answers.

    I won’t even tell you what my hail-mart answer was, because as usual: i gueSS Wrong.

    • pannonica says:

      “Hail-mart” – when, for whatever reasons, you have no choice but to patronize a big box store.

    • pgw says:

      NNW was also without a fourth (or fifth or sixth) direction in the string. I was led astray by the extra directions as well as by being dumb enough to have DAWE WELLS in my grid for a long time (the clue for 40-down also works for WORE as well as WORN). Once the right name [takes off sunglasses] dawned on me it didn’t take too long, although I did not immediately hit upon Joss Whedon as the answer.

      Before I corrected the above mistake, my hail mary would have been Steven Spielberg (which also contains three direction letters across the break between names), who is by far the famousest director/writer/producer I can think of, and has several TV credits (mostly as a producer of cartoons) to go along with his more well-known film work.

      My assumption was Matt had to go to 19×19 to avoid overlap or crowding between the very forced theme entries.

      Lastly – did anyone else notice that Joss was a particularly good choice to be the one singled out as the meta answer because in addition to his name containing SSW, he has been prominently featured at the SXSW film festival more than once?

  15. AboutTheSame says:

    I got the theme (although it took me longer than Joon) but then had to get help from coworkers who are not as pop-culture-challenged as I am, and went with Joss over Miles Swarthout after Googling both to see which one was more famous (since neither one meant diddly to me).

  16. Cole says:

    Much travel this weekend kept me from thinking too much about this, but I did spend a few minutes trying to “take the short way” thinking this had something to do with six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but Segovia’s relative absence from the screen put an end to that.

  17. johnBeck says:

    After being absolutely clueless about panhandles last week, I got this one almost instantly.

    It just shows to go you…

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 256 right answers this week.

    BTW, can anyone name a famous person with 10 letters in their name, and it contains *two* of these eight direction abbreviations? Hint: both directions start with the same two letters.

  19. jae says:

    Saw the compass points and my first thought was the SxSW film festival where Richard Linklater (who fits the description) recently got an award. That seemed too much of a stretch and then Joss popped into my cabeza. No idea how that process works other than stuff you’re trying to come up with sometimes floats to the top of the cesspool.

  20. ML Perry says:

    Bah – I must be old…Josh who???????????

  21. Pete Rimkus says:

    As long as Google and Wikipedia exist, using “that meta answer is someone I’ve never heard of” as a reason for not grokking it just doesn’t hold water. (Galba who????)
    I got the gist of what Matt was looking for based on the 3-letter tertiary directions, went online, found a Wikipedia list of TV & Movie producers, and used the browser’s “search this page” feature.
    I first searched for “S SW” and then “SS W” …. blammo….

  22. ML Perry says:

    Pete – brilliant solution to the “not knowing” problem.

    But, if it were some how Eastwood or Hitchcock or even Pollock, I might have had an easier time! Thanks!

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