MGWCC #377

crossword 4:03
meta DNF3 days 
mgwcc377hello and welcome to episode #377 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Part Five”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt asks us: What novel title describes this puzzle’s theme mechanism? well, what is that theme mechanism? the clues to the four longest answers get parenthetical numbers:

  • {Book of the future (1)} MANUSCRIPT.
  • {Drilling field (2)} DENTISTRY.
  • {Like urns, usually (3)} PEDESTALED.
  • {One-word letter closing (4)} CORDIALLY.

there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on here—these are unusually dry one-word theme answers, although the clues are a little tricky. i noticed fairly quickly that each of them is derived from a latin body part: MANUSCRIPT from hand, DENTISTRY from tooth (obviously), PEDESTALED from foot, and CORDIALLY from heart.

having noticed that, i got very stuck, because a novel title did not come to mind to describe this mechanism. given the puzzle title, i thought we might be looking for a 5th body part, but if hand/tooth/foot/heart makes up four fifths of a canonical set, i don’t know what that set is. furthermore, the theme clues are numbered, not merely *ed, so the ordering must be relevant somehow. but i don’t know how. it is true that the parenthetical numbering is also increasing order of clue number, but that is not a canonical way to order theme answers when some go across and some go down, so yes, the ordering should matter.

putting on my constructor hat: two 10s and two 9s is a very small amount of theme material. yet this puzzle has 80 words, a very high word count for a 15×15. matt knows what he is doing, so there must be more (a lot more, if i had to wager) theme material in the grid itself. where is it?

i started looking through the fill for other body-part-related answers. IRISES, strikingly, is in the grid, clued non-anatomically as {Record-setting Van Gogh}. there’s also TRIDELTS, which i don’t think is a muscle (but DELTS certainly are), clued as {Sorority members in an “SNL” sketch}. finally, there’s a bunch of verbs that relate to things you do with specific body parts: HEARS, SITS IN, … uh, SHAG … yeah, i’m thinking that’s not it.

HEARS, though, is only one letter off from HEART. could that be it? hmm. maybe? yes, i think so. TROTH is one letter off from TOOTH. both ROOT and MOOT are one letter off from FOOT. HANA (mandlikova) is one letter off from HAND. so that is promising. what letters do we have here? the letters replaced from the body parts (in order) are D, O, F, and T; the replacement letters are A, R, R/M, and S. aha, i think it’s ARMS and the novel title we want is a farewell to arms. i hope you didn’t submit arms and the man, because that’s a play, not a novel. but also, “farewell” works in the sense that if you take these entries from the grid (HANA, TROTH, MOOT, HEARS) and say “farewell” to the A, R, M, and S, you can cause the relevant body parts to appear in the correct order.

i don’t love the presence of the distracting ROOT in the fill, as it seems inelegant to me. (it could be GOAT; RAIN would become GAIN and TOM’S would become TAMS.) counterbalancing that inelegance is the fact that the theme answers, both long and short, intersect each other in the grid in four symmetric pairs: HEARS/HANA is symmetrical with TROTH/MOOT in the opposite corner, so if you follow the rule that the theme answers ought to be symmetrically positioned, that disambiguates which word turns into FOOT. finally, the central answer STARMAP contains ARM dead-center in the grid, just as a kicker (or whatever the arm equivalent of a kicker is). overall, i liked this puzzle quite a bit (and certainly more than last week’s, which appears to have just been a bit of a clunker)—4.4 stars.

veteran crossworders know that A FAREWELL TO ARMS is 15 letters, just like ERNEST HEMINGWAY and THE SUN ALSO RISES, for the stalest, laziest 15×15 crossword theme you’ve ever seen. then again, i like to imagine that merl reagle (rip!) clued A FAREWELL TO ARMS as {Book about the Venus de Milo?}. did merl (or anybody) ever do that? it would not surprise me to find out that the answer was yes.

fill tidbits:

  • {Tech companies, once} DOT-COMS. aren’t they still? i mean, this must be literally true.
  • {Tennis star Ernests Gulbis and chess star Alexei Shirov, for two} is a fancy clue for a fancy answer, LATVIANS. never seen that in the puzzle before. i’ve heard of gulbis but not shirov.
  • {Shortest Swiss canton (well, it’s tied with Zug)} URI. shortest in terms of name length, not elevation (i assume).
  • {Nisan event} SEDER. whereas a {Nissan event} would be a CAR SALE.
  • {Barnes and LeBlanc} MATTS. leblanc is way more famous, but technically, the clue works with just {Barnes}, maybe, because there are (at least) two american pro athletes right now named matt barnes: one nba player (recently of the clippers but now on the memphis grizzlies, making him a new teammate of {Pau Gasol’s brother} MARC) and one baseball player (a pitcher for the red sox). also, one of my friends is married to a guy named matthew barnes so i often joke with her about the other MATTS barnes.
  • {Fey Fey} TINA. this was a striking clue. to me, “fey” means clairvoyant and/or insane. apparently it can also mean “otherworldly” or “quaintly unconventional”, which i guess is a reasonable descriptor of TINA fey.

seemed like a tough but fair week 3. what’d you all think?

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34 Responses to MGWCC #377

  1. Al says:

    Another aspect that disambiguates MOOT from ROOT is that each altered body part completes the row or column of its corresponding theme entry. That goes along with the symmetry, but makes for a slightly stronger connection, I think.

    • joon says:

      oh, that is good—i didn’t even notice that. DENTISTRY/TROTH, HEARS/CORDIALLY, MANUSCRIPT/HANA, MOOT/PEDESTALED. very nice.

  2. jps says:

    I, too, was thrown a bit off by ROOT. I saw that before MOOT and spent a bit looking for a novel of the pattern A* R* R* S*.

    But, the key is that DENTISTRY and TROTH and the other three theme entries with their counterparts line up in the grid.

  3. Matthew G. says:

    I initially thought the answer would be “Roots,” by Alex Haley, because the theme mechanism was, in part, the use of root words that shared a unifying characteristic. I probably would have submitted that as my answer if not for the title, “Part Five.” It took me another two days after getting that far to finally find the next step–even though “A Farewell to Arms” was the very first novel that came to mind when I started thinking of books with body parts in the title.

  4. Jim S says:

    I’m just not good at week 3 and 4 metas. I saw ‘mmm’, ‘aaa’, and ‘iii’ and figured there’s no way that it was a coincidence. Alas, it was because it led nowhere close to anything. Argh!

  5. Wayne says:

    So good! Didn’t get it. So sad.

  6. Cole says:

    Had to run home for an errand at 11:30 am today so took one more look at the puzzle. Saw the Latin body parts and wondered if there was some body part childrens books (one foot two foot); at around 11:55 I spotted the adjacent body parts and a quick substitution found the missing ARMS which I imagine are (body) Part 5…

  7. Mac says:

    Thought of FTA but did not summit because it does not, in fact, describe the mechanism, in my opinion. If all you did was say farewell to arms, you would have han, tooth, lot, and hear. Not up to Matt’s usual standard (unless, of course, I am missing something).

    • mnemonica says:

      I’m with you on this. Maybe we’re both missing something. I considered “A Farewell to Arms” but didn’t see how it answered the instructions. (I went with “Roots”)

      • Dave says:

        Me too. I still meant to submit A Farewell To Arms this morning since it was a much better guess than anything else I could think of, but I got busy and forgot.

        I liked the meta, but to me the answer didn’t really click with the mechanism. If only Hemingway had written a novel called “Changing the letters of arms to other letters to make words spell body parts that match up with the Latin roots of the theme entries.”

        • Travis H. says:

          I’m in this camp too. Spent a long time after getting ARMS (a) looking for some hint towards “farewell” or other words for goodbye that would confirm A Farewell to Arms, and (b) looking for another book that fit (you mainly get a lot of romance novels when you search for books with “Arms” in the title).

          Eventually submitted the correct answer since I’ve learned the hard way in the past to always submit my best guess, even if I don’t believe in it…

    • Al says:

      I think the idea is that you have to replace the “a”, “r”, “m”, “s” respectively in each theme entry’s companion in order to get the referenced body part. So, you have to say “farewell” to those letters. I think that communicates the theme mechanism in an indirect way. Can’t be too straightforward, since it’s week 3 after all :-) !

  8. mps says:

    Didn’t start on the meta until ten to noon. The first word that stood out as being one letter away from a body part was ROOT. When I saw it was symmetrical with WITS it looked like were taking a risqué turn with this puzzle. Thankfully I quickly saw that the relevant words were extended from the theme clues and got a very last minute right answer in.

  9. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I stared at the set of numbered answers for ages before I realized that I probably ought to take another look at the grid. First thing I tried at that point was looking for the English names of the body parts, and saw HEARS. Next thing I noticed was that it was next to CORDIALLY. I never noticed ROOT, because when I went looking for the rest of the body parts, I was looking across the black square from the numbered answer.

    The biggest distraction I had in this one was that I read the title as saying that theme answers were a body part plus 5 letters, and I was trying to find some romance language where MANUS, DENT, PEDES, and CORD were the actual words, rather than a mix of different inflected forms and stems.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    Nice save, Joon — 157 right answers this week.

    No one believes me when these things crop up, but I didn’t notice ARM in the very center until a solver pointed it out.

  11. jefe says:

    Augh! I was about to submit AFTA, then changed it to Frankenstein.

  12. bananarchy says:

    Assuming we were looking for the fifth book in a series (and frankly not having a clue what was going on here) I submitted MOSTLY HARMLESS as a hail mary answer. That’s…strangely close to the actual answer.

    Anyway, it wasn’t a complete stab in the dark. I couldn’t get past the central STARMAP (or, guide to the galaxy) and the (admittedly tenuous) connection between {One-word letter closing (4)} and the title of the 4th book in the series, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

    • Matthew G. says:

      Assuming we were looking for the fifth book in a series

      “A Farewell to Arms” is divided into five parts. That helped steer me toward looking for a way to justify it.

  13. Mutman says:

    I was able to get started with body parts, but couldn’t take the next step.

    Wanted to submit “A Farewell to Thinking I Will Ever Join the Elite Group of Meta Solvers”, but alas, it would not fit :(

  14. Paul Coulter says:

    Like Joon, I noticed the Latin corporeal roots early. My first thought was Body Language, but checking the instructions, we wanted a novel, not just a book. Then I made a list of other body starters from Latin – auri, digit, genu, lingua, os, oculi, pect, sangui, ventri, barba, caput. Barbarians at the Gate is well known, but again, that’s non-fiction. Genu (knee, as in genuflect) seemed to have promise with the novel Genuine Lies. But that didn’t explain why the themers needed to be in order. Also like Joon, ROOT, IRISES, and TRIDELTS distracted me, but they did lead to TROTH. It’s so close to tooth, and such a dated word. I checked the other symmetrical positions and was delighted to find Hana, moot, and hears, and thus the answer. It’s a really neat meta, but one small quibble from the Pedant’s Corner, we’re not so much saying Farewell to Arms as replacing them. Four stars from me.

  15. Shuka says:

    I fell for “irises”, and figured that the 5th word was “eye”; then on to deuteronomy: an eye for an eye …tooth, hand, arm, life (heart); all fit, and so I went with “an eye for an eye” by Trollope. I’m glad there was a whole extra dimension.

  16. Ale M says:

    I eventually got FTA, but early on I was fixed on the notion that all four themes were 3 syllables (Cordially has a diphthong, so it is 3) and that the first syllable was stressed.

    Long-short-short in poetry is a dactyl. Since there were four, it was a dactyl quatrain, or (if on one line) maybe a tera-dactyl. So I was thinking “The Lost World,” which first featured the pterodactyl. It didn’t feel right because of the numbered themes, so I kept looking.

    By the way, I think “farewell” to ARMS perfectly captures the idea of the theme mechanism. Thanks, Matt!

  17. Garrett says:

    I got the Latin corporeal roots, and found body parts all over the grid, as partials of words. But I could not pull it all together.

    I must say, I was greatly distracted by STARMAP in the middle of the grid, because of the tantalizing DENT in DENTISTRY, which immediately reminded me of Arthur Dent of, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which became a “trilogy” of five books. That plus the title of the puzzle — Part Five. I spent some wasted time trying to follow that rat hole.

    So then I thought of the constellation Orion because of the clue for STARMAP [Where to find Betelgeuse], and the five primary components of that constellation (Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix, Mintaka/Alnilam/Alnitak (the three stars in Orion’s belt), and Saiph). You’ve got hands/arms, legs/feet and several references to head (a sixth star, Meissa, forms Orion’s head) — teeth, ears (in HEARS), hair (via ROOT), lips (in PHILLIPS). Plus, Ben Bova wrote a sci-fi novel called “Orion,” and another called, “Vengeance of Orion.” But then, which one? Torn by indecision, I waited until this morning to submit something, but then got enmeshed in something at work and the deadline passed without me even noticing.

    Ah, well, just as well!

  18. J Bowzer says:

    I almost fell for this red herring:

    Each of the 4 clues has a potential alternative answer in the grid (albeit some of them are a stretch)

    1. Book of the future – ELI
    2. Drilling field – PIT
    3. Like urns, usually – ASHY
    4. One-word letter closing – AMEN

    It was hard to get unstuck from this one!

  19. pj says:

    I got stuck on the word, “mechanism” in the solution. So off I went into machines. I kept trying to get the four body parts to be parts of a clock, but foot kept throwing me off. After all,”clockwork” is defined as a mechanism of gears and wheels…, so I thought the answer might be “A Clockwork Orange.” However, the puzzle title argued for a fifth body part. Was able to add all the steps together finally with help from my crossword buddy.
    RIP Merl Reagle. A sad day in the old town squares of puzzledom.

  20. coreen says:

    The Latin major in me hastily submitted Roots. R.I.P. Merl Reagle. :(

  21. Jesse W. says:

    I convinced myself that “Manuscript Dentistry” was a transformation of “Manifest Destiny” and never recovered.

  22. Abby says:

    I was under the weather and pretty foggy this week, but I got the Latin body parts and then got stuck pretty good. I thought of “A Farewell to Arms” as a guess (and a mechanism), but when I took the letters out, I didn’t get anything. I didn’t think to substitute them with new letters. :-( That’s the difference between hitting on all cylinders and not, I guess.

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