MGWCC #387

crossword 6:51 
meta 1 day 


mgwcc387hello and welcome to episode #386 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Dead Man’s Switch”. for this week 5 puzzle in honor of pioneering and iconoclastic puzzlemaker henry hook, who died last week, matt challenges us to find a 10-letter descriptor of the late Henry Hook. what are the theme answers? well, it’s highly unclear. there’s only one long answer in the grid. but the title and some of the clues led me to the conclusion that there are pairs of clues and answers that can work even if you switch them. to wit:

  • {One of the “six main cocktail garnishes,” according to} OLIVE and {Green shade} LIME, but LIME is also a common cocktail garnish (i was too lazy to check the website) and OLIVE is also a shade of green.
  • {Soap brand} COAST and {Half an African nation} IVORY. but IVORY is also a soap brand, and of course COAST is the other half of that african nation. (by some coincidence, at trivia last night, there was a question to the effect of “what african country’s name can be formed by combining two soap brands?” yeah, we got that one.) if memory serves, byron walden’s meta at the 2014 crosswords LA had something to do with this curiosity as well. hell of a find, anyway.
  • {Mozart, Gandhi, and Muhammad Ali, e.g.} are ICONS, and {Some on-screen representations} are DRAMATIC ROLES, but mozart, gandhi and ali are also DRAMATIC ROLES (most famously for tom hulce, ben kingsley and will smith), and in a very different sense ICONS are on-screen representations of files or apps.
  • {Food in the teacher’s lounge} is an APPLE and {Cook’s concern} is LUNCH, but there may also be LUNCH in the teacher’s lounge, and (tim) cook’s concern (i.e. company) is APPLE.
  • {David Justice or Tim Hudson, once} clues BRAVE and {Like a good soldier} ATHLETIC, but good soldiers are also BRAVE and both justice (less famously, at the tail end of his career) and hudson (more famously, at the start of his) were ATHLETICs. in fact, they were teammates on the 2002 A’s team chronicled in moneyball.

that’s five pairs, and we’re looking for a ten-letter answer. i am not 100% sure how this comes about, but the pairs of letters are O/L, C/I, I/D, A/L, and B/A. it’s not quite a random 10-letter anagram, but you can get DIABOLICAL by putting the five pairs in the right order and then putting the letters in the right order within each pair. if there is a logic behind the ordering, i don’t know it. i wanted it to be something like “order by length of the longer word in the pair and put the longer word first in the pair”, which gets you DIAB-, but then the others are all tied for 5 and there’s no logic that i can see for putting OLIVE/LIME before the others (nor for putting IVORY before COAST within that pair). so… i dunno. i’m going to conclude that it’s a purely arbitrary ordering of those words, but i’m hoping i’m wrong. somebody will definitely let me know in the comments if i missed something, right? in the meantime, i’m going to refrain from putting a rating on this puzzle.

other than the possible inelegance of arbitrary ordering of the letters, this is a fantastic mechanism for a meta. the ICONS/DRAMATIC ROLES pairing was particularly brilliant, and the repurposing of “cook” for APPLE was also a nice touch. (i admit that on my first reading, i thought, “well yeah, a cook might be concerned about an APPLE but that’s kinda lame.”) and the final answer is certainly an apt descriptor of h.h. and his work.

by the way, i spent some time wondering if {Small dog?} LAB and {Another small dog?} POM were supposed to be theme answers. apparently not, i guess because it wouldn’t make sense to have {Another small dog?} first? i’m not sure.

that’s all for me this week. rest in peace, henry.

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26 Responses to MGWCC #387

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    HH once described his personality as “Doesn’t play well with others,” but this tribute played very well with me. HH would approve very much of Matt’s fine work, though he’d no doubt have some bitingly on-point comment. The device came early from the IVORY COAST pair, then three more quickly followed. However, I mistakenly thought the fifth would also come from an Across pairing. RUN/DART was my early candidate, but “Skedaddle” doesn’t really work for dart. Then I settled on LAB/POM, though like Joon, it bothered me that “Another…” would be out of order. I couldn’t make anything cooperate for those letters, anyway — my best anagram was “A cold pill, I.” Trying the Downs, I had OMIGOD/OLE – same problems. I felt like the village idiot again, until I finally realized it could be a Down and Across.
    Now a word from the Pedant’s Corner – it may be accurate to say ATHLETIC is “Like a good soldier” but who would? Maybe a better choice would have been “Like a cliff diver” or some other adventuresome type who has to be both brave and athletic. Some of the non-thematic clues were pretty strange, too, i.e. “Ferdinand’s queen, briefly” for ISA, but maybe Matt did that so the theme clues wouldn’t stand out too much? And was BEANEDAT really the only entry that could work out in its slot? A pitcher can throw at the batter, or bean him, but not bean at him. So let’s call it 5 for the tribute, 4.5 for the meta, but only 3 for the puzzle, itself, and an overall 4 from me.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    159 right answers this week.

    This theme was based on an early 1990s meta of Henry’s in one of the “Hooked on Puzzles” books. The instructions told you explicitly to find the two answers whose clues could be switched and still work; they were LACES and SPIKES, clued as [Shoe parts] and something like [Adulterates, as a drink].

    I don’t have the exact cluing because I can’t locate the book in my apartment (boxes everywhere), but if anyone can find the puzzles (I think it’s in the book with the orange cover) and can post those exact clues here I’d be appreciative.

  3. Jim S. says:

    Ugh, so close! I found all of those, but I found others too! I found the first four noted by Joon, but the fifth stubbornly held out until I had uncovered RUN / DART, determined that it must be a “cross-em-out and the remaining letters give the answer”, then lumped in a bunch of others in an effort to make that work (OMIGOD / OLE, LAB / POM, …). By the time I stumbled upon BRAVE / ATHLETIC, I had at least 8 pairs of reasonable options for switching…

    Drat! My longest ever streak (8 or 9) comes to an end…

  4. Dave C says:

    I found 3 of the 5 pretty quickly, but so completely fixated on the IC of Ivory Coast needing to be the last two letters of the answer that I stopped myself cold. That and not gathering the final two pairings in time. I was a long way from the APPLE LUNCH connection.

    Wonderful tribute…..

  5. pgw says:

    Great meta, pretty well hidden in my opinion (though in retrospect Ivory/Coast should have stuck out.) I was also a little bothered by the lab/pom pairing – especially since there are plenty of ways to clue lab that wouldn’t also clue pom. Didn’t notice the run/dart pairing but that too is a little bothersome (and likewise fixable by cluing dart in some completely unrelated way.) The five actual theme pairs were sufficiently identifiable that those are very minor nits. But yeah – “beaned at” is not great fill.

    The tribute made me curious about Hook’s original idea – did he publish a puzzle with a similar mechanism, and if so where can we find it?

  6. Dan Seidman says:

    I was also wondering if ONES and IDS formed a pair. The wallet clue certainly applied to both, and I was thinking maybe 1D was a rating of some sort. Then I realized if the O were a D I would have diabolical, so I kept looking.

    • Jim S. says:

      That was another one that I found – weak, I realize, since it requires turning the I to a 1, but 1D is indeed a low rating for investments.

  7. Giovanni P. says:

    See, I caught that the men in the ICONS clue were also DRAMATIC ROLES, but the Dead Men in the title and the central placement of DRAMATIC ROLES sent me looking for other potential dramatic roles int he clues. Couldn’t find any.

    Ah well, I’ll be back next week, bright and ready to build my streak. First I’ve got to deal with SUMS though…

    • pgw says:

      I found a few other dramatic roles – Elizabeth, Caesar, JFK, Washington … but it never seemed like that promising a rabbit hole.

  8. AK37 says:

    Before I saw the light, I was fixated on assassinations for a bit, being Halloween and all. The presence of Caesar, JFK, Ferdinand, and Gandhi in the clues had me way down a rabbit hole.

  9. xyzabc174 says:

    So what’s the reason behind the ordering of the pairs, and of the letters inside the pairs? I got the answer by anagraming the right letters, but I thought anagraming is frowned upon, and there’s always a good reason behind the ordering?

  10. Garrett says:

    I worked this grid without googling anything until I got stopped in my tracks by the mid-top. I could not figure-out what the {Dynamite, really} clue meant, nor {ne’ertheless}, nor what was being looked-for by {Did bouncing work}, and the actual answers to {“That was so good!”} and {Like a good soldier} were so far out there that I had no intuition. I finally remembered Matt using “Napoleon Dynamite” before and googled it to get HEDER, and then SHEAR came, then COAST and TOMB, and so-on. The point being, that the difficulty of this area of the puzzle kept pulling me back to it as I failed to get any grip on the meta.

    So as I was thinking about switching things, I wondered if there was a way to substitute IVORY for COAST, but that did not pan-out (no, duh!). But because of that when I ran across IVORY in the grid (I had forgotten about it between grid-solving and meta-solving) I realized the clue for it and for COAST worked for either, and I was off and running.

    Next came OLIVE and LIME, then BRAVE and ATHLETIC, then having shared this with JJL he spotted APPLE & LUNCH, then I got ICONS & DRAMATICROLES, and then that made 5 pairs for 10 letters and so done with that part. I first looked at the first letter of the clues, and that led nowhere. Then the first letter of the pairs, and I wrote them down in the across number order, which gave me the same pairs as Joon wrote down, in that order. At first nothing clicked, but then I started to reorder them by combined pair-length (longest to shortest), and saw ID and AB, and thought DIABOLICAL, verified the letters, and submitted it. It turns out that JJL beat me by 7 minutes.

    Looking at Joon’s comment, “i’m going to conclude that it’s a purely arbitrary ordering of those words, but i’m hoping i’m wrong,” I was hoping so, too. I looked again this morning and I can’t see anything that puts them in the correct order except one’s wetware. However, it is way cool that you can assort the word pairs and have the word DIABOLICAL with only some minor flipping of the first two letters — as opposed to a total anagram of them. That itself took some doing!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      At first I had the letters paired off in order, and in fact they wound up that way in the final meta (DI/AB/OL/IC/AL). Which doesn’t really help while you’re solving, since the five pairs could be in any order, as could the two letters in each individual pair.

      My original idea was to have the first word of each be in order in the grid, but I couldn’t make that happen (and again, it would have only been helpful in retrospect, not while solving the meta). So I dropped that idea; wish there had been a good way to make this work out without randogramming but even now I don’t see it. Too may restrictions.

      I don’t think the LAB/POM or IDS/ONES pairs work (or DART/RUN), but I would have taken them out for clarity’s sake if I’d noticed them. I was under a lot of time pressure, and wound up re-doing the whole grid Friday night / Saturday morning after two of the test-solvers got it in 5 and 15 minutes. My original pair for AB was AGGRAVATION/BALDERDASH clued as [Irritating nonsense] and [Classic board game] but those stuck out too much; both testers used that as their in to the meta.

      So under those time constraints I didn’t think to check for possibly switchable pairs though again I think none of those three really works. None uses a secondary meaning like the five other pairs, and “Skedaddle” can’t really mean “Dart.”

      • Garrett says:

        Though I briefly considered LAB/POM *after* I got Ivory Coast, I discarded them because they were too obvious. The clues were virtually identical, and they were right next to each other in the grid. They were just not subtle enough. So I don’t think there was any harm in them being there, personally.

        • Paul Coulter says:

          They caused me a long delay, because I was convinced Matt wanted all five pairs to come from Across entries. And for me, IVORY COAST was a very obvious in. It’s not a coincidence that they’re both soaps. P&G named Coast to go along with Ivory, I’m pretty sure.

      • Robert Hutchinson says:

        For the record, I am evidence against the letter pairings not being helpful. After getting three of them and doing a little staring, I saw the potential for DIABOLICAL, and that helped me find the last two pairs of answers.

    • Debbie says:

      I also had a lot of trouble with the mid top! Until one night at around 3 a.m., I sat straight up in bed and yelled ‘carded’!!! Immediately picked up my iPad and finished the puzzle. (Luckily my husband is used to these late night revelations. I still didn’t get the meta, though.)

  11. Ale M says:

    I got my list of ten words almost right away, but I spent the whole weekend with those little dogs LAB and POM as part of my solving, sending me down some crazy rabbit holes.

    I thought the trick was going to be doing a second “switch” once the words were settled upon, in a kind of “either/or” choice. I had the following, and most seem pretty natural:

    OLIVE / TWIST (common martini choice)
    LAB / LECTURE (balancing college class credits)
    POM / CHEER (the two main types of H.S. pep squads)

    I played around with possible combinations for days, until I came back and considered other combinations and saw the Athletic / Brave combo. At first I got rid of LUNCH / APPLE because that seemed less strong than LAB / POM. Anyway, I finally got it, but this was a long haul!

    • Paul Coulter says:

      For a bit, I thought the second switch might be within the puzzle. APPLE is also a shade of green, LOGOS and ICONS, though not the same, are pretty close, MARIA and IGOR for DRAMATICROLES.

  12. Jared Dashoff says:

    I put APPLE in the bottom right before I had any crosses and when I came back around to it and deleted and put in LUNCH, I said “That is some awkward cluing.” I also caught note of on-screen representations without looking at where it went in the grid and wanted it to be ICONS. Once I had those two pairs (and the rest of the grid) I found OLIVE/LIME and IVORY/COAST. I did get caught in the LAB/POM and DART/RUN loop, but when I couldn’t get a good anagram I kept looking until my 90s baseball knowledge dug me out with the Justice reference. Great puzzle.

  13. Bret says:

    This is the first week five I’ve ever gotten. One thing that would, for me, have made this a little tougher would have been to reverse the Athletic/Brave clues and maybe drop out Justice. Having a soldier clued as Athletic set off an alarm as I put it in.

    I also was thinking for a bit that carded and ids were somehow tied together. Abandoned that pretty quickly but it kept me on the right path.

  14. IVORY/COAST was my a-ha moment. I found 4 of the pairs after not too long but had trouble identifying the 5th; I wrote down DART/RUN but didn’t like it since it didn’t quite work, and it didn’t involve any cleverness at all like the other pairs. I didn’t even consider LAB/POM, that seemed obviously not part of the meta to me.

    Eventually I decided to anagram OLCIALBA?? and found the answer, which then let me backsolve my missing pair (ICONS/DRAMATICROLES).

  15. Slow Stumper Solver says:

    Too bad that the title had me researching security devices and failsafes for 2 days (combined with redphone/icbm it seemed like too much of a good coincidence). Also played with “man’s witch” for Warlock, (war and lock appear in a few clues). Then “man” appears in 5 clues, and i put that with ‘dramaticroles’= leading men to go looking for whatever the letters were in those 5 clues “before the ‘man’ in them”. Nothing. Played around with the 5 world leaders in the clues as ‘leading men’ also, nothing. Over on the side of my paper with all these attempts is and aborted list of “food things” = olive, pom, lime, apple …… which I left behind and never got the meta. Dang. Should have been all over Ivory/Coast, but the only thing floating in my head with the clue for Ivory (half a country) was the Francophone (?) COTE d IVOIRE which is how I keep seeing it during Olympics and International Soccer broadcasts. Oh well.

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