MGWCC #363

crossword 3:24
meta 5 minutes 

mgwcc363hello and welcome to episode #363 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Jersey? Sure!”. for this week 3 puzzle, we told that This week’s contest answer is a 12-letter, two-word phrase that completes this puzzle’s theme pattern. The second word of the phrase is an entry in the grid’s fill. interesting. what are the theme answers?

  • {Winner of three World Cup finals} is WEST GERMANY, in 1954, 1974, and 1990.
  • {1990 Goldie Hawn/Mel Gibson comedy} is BIRD ON A WIRE.
  • {Big 12 Conference team} is the BAYLOR BEARS. this clue appears to be correct as of today, may 18, 2015. the way things are going, i wouldn’t bet on it continuing to be true next year.
  • {Underperformer of 1948} is THOMAS DEWEY, loser of the u.s. presidential election for the second time running.

i recognized the first word of every theme answer as being a basketball hall of famer. (not by coincidence, i think, the central across clue was {Org. with many prominent members enshrined in Springfield, Mass.} NBA.) jerry WEST, larry BIRD, elgin BAYLOR, and isiah THOMAS. with a nudge from the title, i started thinking about their jersey numbers. bird and thomas were active during my basketball-viewing lifetime, so i knew their jersey numbers, 33 and 11 respectively. i had to look up west and baylor, but they turned out to be 44 and 22. so the pattern goes 44, 33, 22, 11, and then to complete the pattern (key word) we must be looking for a 00. that can only be bird’s longtime teammate in boston, robert PARISH. as verification, basketball reference has records of historical jersey numbers, and parish is the only hall of famer (marked with an *) on that page.

so what’s the meta answer? per the instructions, we’re looking for a 6-letter word from the fill that goes after “parish” to make a two-word phrase. it’s right at 46d: {El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, notably} PRIEST. (there are a couple more possible 6-letter answers to that clue, including BISHOP and MARTYR, but PRIEST is what fit in the grid.) so the answer is parish priest.

i really liked this meta. partly it’s because i’m a huge nba fan and this puzzle fell right in the middle of the nba playoffs, so i definitely had basketball on the brain. but it’s very well constructed, tight, and elegant. it’s not jump-off-the-page obvious because there are several steps you have to take, but the steps are all laid out nicely and there’s pretty strong hinting about what to do next. it was just about perfect for a week 3 meta. with a clean, 74-word fill to boot, i’m rating this one five stars.


  • {Quivers before a microphone} ROBIN. yeah, okay. not the best disguised masked capital i’ve seen, but this was all right.
  • {Long range} ANDES. it really is.
  • {Director of “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Midnight Run,” and “Scent of a Woman”} is apparently somebody named martin BREST. never heard of him, though the french city by that name is familiar.
  • {Daniel who’s produced albums for Neil Young, U2, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson} LANOIS. never seen his name in a puzzle before (unlike brian ENO, who produced some other u2 albums and has been in a zillion crosswords), but i knew him! u2 used to be my favorite band and i had all their albums at one point. i guess technically i still do, but i’ve never listened to songs of innocence.
  • {A little help in the loo} LAXATIVE. yes, i giggle that this was stacked with {#2 in order of preference} NEXT BEST.
  • {Visible part of the moon} is the NEAR SIDE. the side you can’t see is the far side, although yes, people call it the dark side.
  • {Big sea, with “The”} MED. does anybody ever call it that? i guess club MED is short for club mediterranée, but that’s still a stretch.

that’s all for me. how’d you all like this puzzle?

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35 Responses to MGWCC #363

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks joon — 250 right answers this week. Which is exactly the number i’d been aiming for for week 3 of 5!

  2. Justin Weinbaum says:

    Well, that explains why I had no clue, it was about basketball. I think my mind just automatically blocks out everything from that sport (despite that I’m from Cleveland and the Cavs have done well). Certainly a fair puzzle!

    • Matthew G. says:

      Same here. Basketball is the one major sport I do not follow, and those names did not register with me. But yes, a fair puzzle.

  3. Flinty Steve says:

    I completely missed the jersey numbers, but with two guards and two forwards I figured we were looking for a center (in addition: the nudge from the NBA centered in the puzzle). Phew – happy ending.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      Oh – plus the forwards and guards are symmetrically arranged. Nice puzzle, Matt!

    • pgw says:

      I never saw the jersey numbers or the positions – just scanned the grid and a list of hall-of-famers and it had to be parish priest. I should have cottoned to the jersey-number thing, since his 00 number was well known to me even before it was mentioned just a few weeks ago in this very space.

  4. Jim S says:

    Very nice puzzle. I went down the “team” rabbit hole for awhile – Lakers, Celtics, Lakers, Pistons. I haven’t looked to confirm, but I only know those players as having played for one team. So while Parish came to mind immediately when I noted the double zero requirement, I was wondering if I should instead be looking for a double zero Laker.

    I also flirted with the second theme word being a homonym of something else based on the title: sure -> shore. Dewey -> “do we”; bears -> bares. It died with Germany and “on a wire”, though.

    • Margaret says:

      I also went there with the second word homonym, thinking “wire” could be “why’re” (Why are we doing that? Why’re we doing that?) but Germany put the kibosh on that.

  5. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    What a coincidence! My interest/knowledge of basketball exactly match Robert PARISH’s jersey number: 00.

    But I got the right answer. Took me several days before it struck me that I had heard all of the first words of the theme entries in reference to basketball. Then I started googling to see if they were all on the same team, if they all had the highest scores in the sport, if they had all won some of the same awards, but nothing panned out.

    So I just looked at Google’s list of basketball players, looking for a word that might combine to form a two-word phrase, and luckily stumbled on PARISH.

    (And before I had the aha moment regarding basketball, I had looked at the Wikipedia entry on “Jersey Shore” – something else with which I have no acquaintance – you know, because of “Jersey? Sure!”)

    Once again, better for me to be lucky than not!

    • Tamara says:

      I also considered the Jersey Shore aspect – having totally inadequate knowledge of the show led me to reading articles I hope I can forget in the near future. I may need that space in my brain for something useful!

  6. Bret says:

    Didn’t catch the jersey numbers angle and had to use brute force to get the correct answer. I knew it wasn’t right, but I wanted the answer to be Lloyd Center. Earl Lloyd was the league’s first African-American player.

  7. Katiedid says:

    Wow. I got the meta, but totally missed the jersey numbers. I just looked at lists of hall-of-famers, and the top 50 list. The four players in the grid played their whole career for one team, and were also team executives later. Robert Parish didn’t match that, but parish priest had to be the answer.

  8. Mutman says:

    Nice job Matt! Very elegant for week 3.

    As one who got the answer but did not fully grok the jersey numbers, perhaps having ‘Sparks’ in the grid would have elicited a number of Jordan Sparks answers. And I probably would have been one of them!

  9. Mac says:

    I, too, saw the last names and – without noticing positions, team affiliation, exec office careers, or jersey numbers – looked through the grid for words that might end a two-word phrase in which the first word is an NBAer. Took about one minute to see Parish Priest. In my humble opinion, one should not be able to get a Week 3 so easy while skipping a step.

  10. Joe says:

    Meh. Sports. I didn’t have a chance.

    • joon says:

      this is far from true. if you google “west bird baylor thomas” (without quotes), the first couple of hits are about baylor university, and then the rest of the top 10 are about great basketball players.

      you don’t have to be interested in the subject; you just have to be sufficiently interested in solving the meta to actually try looking stuff up.

      • hibob says:

        I was sufficiently interested in meta solving. I blew my longest streak ever. I spent hours reading about West Germany , Thomas Dewey, etc. I googled what type of jersey Thomas Dewey might have worn, looked at all the different jersey’s the West German soccer team has worn, was thrilled at the origin story of the colors of the Baylor Bears and so on…
        but even though the first words of phrases have been the key to so many metas and I have found answers before using them I never thought to do that this time.

      • Amy L says:

        I wanted to google basketball players. Isiah Thomas has been in crosswords because of his uniquely spelled name. I also thought of jersey numbers after thinking of Jersey Shore. But I’ve been away from home with limited access to a computer. I think I could have figured it out, but it would have been a total googled answer.

        I tried to reverse solve by finding a phrase in the fill. There weren’t too many words that could be used. All I came up with was “Mother Teresa.”

        • Amy P says:

          I spent quite a while on this, but know nothing about basketball and just didn’t catch on. I, too, guessed Mother Teresa!

      • Joe says:

        Yes, I know. I was sufficiently interested and I actually tried looking stuff up. I did Google “west bird baylor thomas” at about 11:40 this morning (after Googling “germany wire bears dewey”) and got the basketball angle. If I had a little more time I probably would have put the jersey thing together. If I had any knowledge at all about basketball those first words might have meant something to me. But I don’t, so they didn’t. It’s a fair meta. I just didn’t have *much* of a chance.

      • Anne E says:

        Oh please joon, it wasn’t that straightforward. I did try Googling exactly what you said, first being pretty darned impressed with myself that I was able to ID the four as basketball players in the first place, since I know almost nothing about basketball and since those are pretty common names for the most part. :-) What came up was that they had all played their careers with a single team. (I had no idea that meant they would always have the same jersey number – that wouldn’t even have occurred to me.) The list of players who had done that wasn’t really all that long, so I examined it with an eye to whether or not any could form a phrase with any grid fill. (Short answer: no, at which point I stopped, having already gone way past my non-existent interest in basketball.) “Parish” didn’t show up in my level-one Googling, nor have I ever heard of the guy, nor did “Hall of Fame” ever occur to me, so I wasn’t going to be getting this one. Not that I don’t think it was elegant, I do, just not in my wheelhouse at all. Some weeks are like that. :-)

  11. Jim Q says:

    Picked up on the theme and jersey number thing quickly, but man- I have no knowledge of basketball players and thought I was either looking for jersey #1 or jersey #55. Finally just went through (literally) every basketball player in hall of fame. Head slap when I saw jersey #00. Great puzzle, Matt!

  12. Dan Seidman says:

    For a while I was looking for someone on the New Jersey Nets, and then a two-word phrase with a NJ connection. Once I realized the title could refer to what the players wore, I saw the numbers right away (didn’t know Baylor, but knew the rest). I think people with basketball knowledge have a big advantage here — it was a lot easier to get it knowing the pattern led to Robert Parish than cross-referencing all the words in the grid with all the HOFers — but clearly it was solvable if either you didn’t know the numbers or didn’t notice them.

  13. Dave says:

    I don’t think anyone has pointed out yet that these players have all had their jersey numbers retired, and Parish is the only one with a retired 00. (I didn’t notice the descending pattern and 00 didn’t occur to me, so I spent some time trying to find a 55. There are no retired 55 jerseys, and it’s hard to make a two-word phrase with Mutombo.) Not being a big basketball fan, I found this to be harder than usual for a week three. West and bird are such common words and Thomas is such a common first name that they didn’t jump out at me right away.

  14. Pete M. says:

    All kudos for centering (pun intended) a puzzle around Robert Parish are cancelled out by the lame-ass “Deflate-y Brady” clue…

  15. Norm says:

    Solved it exactly the same way as Bob Kerfuffle & then tried to make sense of the title. Looked for New Jersey connections first and then went, oh, yeah, that kind of jersey and looked up their numbers. Very cool.

    • Bob Kerfuffle says:

      Actually, I never looked at jersey numbers; never thought about it.

      But seeing the pattern that is there, I really should have said Wow! What are the chances that the holders of 00, 11, 22, 33, and 44 would all have last names that could find there way into acceptable crossword entries?!?

      Can anyone suggest other players whose names would be so accommodating? Let alone being consecutive double digits!

      • Norm says:

        I meant I didn’t figure out the jersey angle until after I’d sent in my answer. Like you, I thought parish priest had to be it, no matter what else I was missing. ;-)

      • Bob Kerfuffle says:

        “…their way …”

  16. Jason T says:

    As one who also has meager knowledge of sports (heard of Bird and Thomas, not the other two), I can attest that it was solvable without intimate basketball knowledge – with some major help from Google, of course. But it took me till yesterday, and almost didn’t happen! I should have known when 200 people got it and I was still struggling that it must have been a sports question. But how fun it was when the penny drop and my research uncovered 44, 33, 22, 11! The elegance of the meta helped confirm I was on the right track. So it was still fun – just more like a scavenger hunt for me!

  17. Bret says:

    Here’s an alternate answer: King Laxative. Bernard King, No. 55, is a hall of famer, and played for the New Jersey Nets as well. Plus I love the idea of a King Laxative

  18. mathdanmom says:

    I’m so frustrated at missing this one. I had a nice 7-week streak going, and spent hours on this. Besides reading up on the likely theme entries, I also read about the TV show “Jersey Shore” and the island of Jersey. I thought it might have to do with sports team logos, and wondered what logo looks like a bird on a wire. It really never occurred to me to separate the first words out and study them instead, so I was nowhere near basketball players. I think if all four theme entries had been just two words, I might have hit the right idea. But it could be that I was never going to see the word “Baylor” as anything other than the university, because my son will attend there next year! Anyway it was an elegant meta, congrats to those who got it, and thanks Matt for continuing to deliver high quality puzzles.

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