MGWCC #390

crossword 7.5 hours to construct  


Matt here, pinch- and self-blogging for joon this week because Thanksgiving. Before we get started, check out this article in The Observer about meta-crosswords:

Unusual instructions for last week’s meta:

This puzzle’s fifth theme entry has the correct writers — but it’s the wrong play! Which Rodgers & Hammerstein play, which may or may not fit in those nine squares, should go at 57-Across instead of the one that’s there?

Curious! Let’s see what our our five (starred, so unambiguous) theme entries were:

18-A [Willa Cather novel set in Nebraska*] = O PIONEERS! If you entered MY ANTONIA don’t feel bad, since that fits the clue in 9 letters as well. Interesting, but didn’t have anything to do with the meta.

29-A [Travel book that made Bruce Chatwin famous*] = IN PATAGONIA

36-A [Noel Coward play with characters named Bunty Mainwaring and Pauncefort Quentin*] = THE VORTEX.

47-A [1933 James Hilton novel which became a Frank Capra film of the same name*] = LOST HORIZON

And the “wrong play” at 57-A: [Rodgers & Hammerstein musical with the song “It Might as Well Be Spring”*] = STATE FAIR.

What’s going on here? You may have noticed the 1,2,3,4,5 progression of the first-word lengths in the theme entries. That alone is not enough to hang a meta on, but it might have unlocked the real idea for you! Turns out that each of the four first theme entries displays a curious property: its clue number is also the enumeration of its answer.

So the clue number for O PIONEERS is 18, and O is 1 letter long and PIONEERS is 8. Similarly IN is 2 letters long and PATAGONIA 9, and its clue number is 29; THE VORTEX is (3,6) and 36-Across; and LOST HORIZON is (4,7) and located at 47-Across.

So we need a Rodgers & Hammerstein play that’s enumerated (5,7), which would be SOUTH PACIFIC, found by 205 solvers as I type this with 50 minutes left before deadline.

Constructor notes:

*** The odd placement of O PIONEERS (normally you’d expect it at the front of the third row, not at the back) was necessary because you can’t get a number higher than 17 into the third square of the first column in a 15×15. I didn’t want an 8-letter theme entry and O PIONEERS was a great (1,8) so I scooched it across the third row. Robert Graves’ I, CLAUDIUS was another good (1,8) but my wife is a Cather fan, plus my novelist cousin named one of her daughters Willa after her, so easy call.

*** It took quite a while to come up with a suitable meta answer. I needed an author with a large oeuvre to hinder guessers, plus they needed one book of (5,7) enumeration and then another totaling 9 letters. The 5,7 in particular was tough to find, surprisingly, but I thought I had finally found an answer when I hit upon James Michener. His big first book was South Pacific, on which the musical was based, and Caribbean would’ve made a nice 9 for 57-Across.

But oops — Michener’s book was Tales of the South Pacific. Grrr! Completely crestfallen, but then I said, wait a sec, Rodgers and Hammerstein — SOUTH PACIFIC + STATE FAIR! Hello.

That’s all from me. How’d you do? And Happy Thanksgiving!

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42 Responses to MGWCC #390

  1. Todd Dashoff says:

    Correct, but no one wants to know how – a combination of completely wrong trails that somehow led to the right choice. Just call me a blind squirrel with an acorn this time.

    • Margaret says:

      Count me in with a lucky guess as well. I saw the 1 2 3 4 5 pattern, so went to a list of R&H musicals and picked one that started with a five letter word. Almost went with Sound of Music before a friend pointed out it was THE Sound of Music. Told her I was going with South Pacific as a Hail Mary guess and she let me know why it turned out to be the right answer.

  2. pannonica says:

    Phooey. Seeing the numeric progression I discounted SOUTH PACIFIC as an obvious red herring, because I didn’t appreciate the second part of the meta and thus couldn’t find grounds for dismissing STATE FAIR. O in the lost was I.

  3. Jed says:

    Nebraska is in N. America
    Patagonia is in S. America
    London is in Europe
    Tibet is in Asia

    South Pacific is in Oceania.

    That was one lucky Hail Mary. (And sorry, Africa and Antarctica)

    Happy Thanksgiving, Matt.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Make that Hail, Bloody Mary. And make mine a bloody Mary, too.

      • Slow guy says:

        Same reasoning here. Add the GONORTH through the middle, and I was sure it had to to with filling up the corners of the globe somehow.
        Also tried forever to have the Cather/Chatwin/Coward/Capra pattern go somewhere, which it didn’t. Tough puzzle because of all the possibilities.

    • Todd Dashoff says:

      OK, I’m not as crazy as I thought…

    • Laura says:

      I also noticed that, if you rotate the grid 90 degrees counter clockwise, the locations of the answers in the grid are roughly where they would be in a world map. Not that that explains “Numbered Pages”…

    • austin says:

      same here!

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    I was also a guesser, based on the 1,2,3,4… pattern of the first words. Since State is also five, I couldn’t see the reason to replace State Fair but it was all I had in the end, so I went with South Pacific. I suspect the high number of correct answers means that Todd and I weren’t alone. Pannonica, I got a good chuckle from your “O in the lost was I.” Despite the guessableness, it’s a very good idea from Matt and 4.5 stars from me. Happy Thanksgiving to all! BTW, did anyone else spend a long time trying to suss out GONORTH as a potential part of the meta?

  5. pannonica says:

    And now, reviewing the completed grid, it is so blatantly staring me in the face. The numbers are written out right there, in unforgiving black and white.

  6. dbardolph says:

    Really liked it, Matt, and got there pretty much as you suggested. I had the 1,2,3,4,5 thing fairly early on, and knew there needed to be a reason that State Fair was wrong. After a lot of time spent chasing bad ideas, it dawned on me to look at the length of the second words.

  7. Pat Coffin says:

    Argh! Didn’t have much time to look at this, but at first glance it seemed to be all about prime numbers … O Pioneers has 5 parts, In Patagonia has 97 sections, The Vortex has 3 acts, Lost Horizon has 11 chapters. Carousel is the only R and H original Broadway play with a prime number of musical numbers, 13.

    • Todd Dashoff says:

      And there’s my second reason… although my rationale was that Michener’s book, the source material (as with the Cather, Chatwin and Hilton) had 19 chapters.

      • Lorraine says:

        Yes! That was exactly the path/reasoning I took to get South Pacific. Given how blindingly clear the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 progression is (blindingly clear to everyone who got the answer the legitimate way), in retrospect, it’s clear why i can rarely get past the 2nd meta in a month. : (

        Happy to get a 3rd week meta, not thrilled that the reasoning was completely bogus.

    • jefe says:

      That’s the path I went on, then I indexed those numbers in the grid. 5 is S, 9&7 are P&R, 3 is E, 11 is E, spelling SPREE. Didn’t associate that with any play; wasn’t sure if I was supposed to extract anything from STATEFAIR. I hoped I was partially on the right track and was supposed to get SPEED, so I submitted Allegro.

  8. Garrett says:

    That’s a clever meta. I did not get it, but I like it. :-)

    • Jim Schooler says:

      I sent in South Pacific on a wisp of a whim–both State Fair and South Pacific have songs about Spring…

  9. Jason T says:

    Such a beautiful case of “hidden in plain sight”! Took me forever to abandon all my complicated theories and discover this bit of simple brilliance!

  10. ajk says:

    lol so easy after the fact. Went down the same path as Jed but dismissed it as not clever enough, noticed the 1 to 5 progression and considered South Pacific again but couldn’t justify ditching State Fair that way. Spent a fair chunk of time playing with the clue numbers, such that I think this is about the only way I *didn’t* parse them. :D

    In the end just didn’t submit, on the grounds that I didn’t deserve it. :)

  11. J Bowzer says:

    Total Hail Mary for me this week:

    The 18-A clue has 29 letters, and the 29-A clue has 36 letters. I thought this *had* to be more than a coincidence. Unfortunately the trail stopped at 36-A.

    Then I started indexing clue letters — the 18th letter in the clue for 18-A, etc., and curiously enough all the 5 starred clues had enough letters for this to work. Surely Matt would not choose such long clues arbitrarily! Unfortunately this spelled out a random 5-letter word that meant nothing.

    Then I wondered if I had to look at the numbered boxes for each starred answer. For instance, OPIONEERS uses both the 18 and 19 boxes, so I indexed letters 18 and 19 of the 18-A clue. I think this process ended up spelling some random word like “ETINFNTYOFING” which made no sense, although I did spend awhile trying to anagram it into something useful. But then I focused on the ING from 57-A and found if you replaced the song “It Might as Well Be Spring” with “Some Enchanted Evening” (a song from South Pacific) the same ING characters popped out based on the indexing scheme.

    So I went with South Pacific, realizing that in no way could this be the key to the meta.

  12. Mike W says:

    What a challenging construction! In honor of the feasting associated with Thanksgiving, how about this alternative to 57-Across – “Condiment sold by an American company formed in a July 2015 merger”. The nine letter wrong answer is Kraft Mayo. The “correct” answer (with bonus significance) is?

  13. David R says:

    I figured something had to do with each theme being two words but didn’t grok the letter/number connection. It did help me narrow down my choice to a two word entry however and make the right guess.

    • Wayne says:

      +1. South Pacific is the only other R&H play with a two word title, so I had my eye on that from the start.

      In working the meta, I did notice a couple of Frank Capra movies that I have managed to avoid seeing. Added to my AmazonPrime queue for viewing over the long weekend.

  14. Amy L says:

    Another 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 guesser here. I kept wondering why the meta didn’t ask for a possible R&H play as a sixth entry, which would have been Flower Drum Song. Now I know!

    I play week after week and I’m still not on to Matt’s tricks.

  15. Jim S says:

    I got it, but not before a big detour related to all the ‘C’ names whose first syllables were words – CATher, CHATwin, COWard, and CAPra. I thought, “why even throw Capra in there if not for the CAP thing?” And off down the road of perusing all R&H works that might have a tie to a ‘C’ name in a revival, movie, etc. Great “AHA” moment, as described in the article :)

  16. joon says:

    thanks for stepping in, matt. i didn’t get a chance to blog this puzzle but i did solve it and i loved it. it’s almost a shame that it was guessable off of the 12345 sequence, but to me that doesn’t diminish the elegance of the actual solution.

    have a happy thanksgiving, everybody!

  17. Also a 1-2-3-4-5 guesser here. I was sure that this meta had something to do with the TV show LOST, but I couldn’t quite make the connection with most of the theme answers. The island from LOST was in the South Pacific, so that made me feel better about sending that in, but I still didn’t love it.

    One false a-ha I got was The Numbers from LOST: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. The letters in those grid spaces don’t spell anything, but if you look at the first letters of the clues with those numbers, they spell out BOGUUS. I thought that that was an intentional red herring, since a few of those clues felt a bit off (and I thought that maybe the word BOGUS was being stretched out because it had to be exactly six letters), but clearly now that must be an unintentional red herring.

  18. Bret says:

    Got a little lucky. With each themer, the number of the clue minus the number of letters in the answer is an ever-increasing multiple of nine. By that logic, answer needed to be 12 letters. I knew that wasn’t the correct method, but did figure correctly that it might inadvertently get me to the right answer.
    One rabbit hole I fell down, the clue on 18 across had 29 letters; the clue on 29 across had 36 letters. The clue on 36 across had 68 letters and 68 across was “reset”. Thought all of that couldn’t be a coincidence, but it was.

  19. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    A long time ago, I was able to solve all levels of Matt’s metas, and I have two pen and pencil sets to prove it. Lately, though, I rarely get past Week 2.

    This week, the only number I saw was #1. Keeping with my bad habit of trying to read significance into the substance of answers rather than their grid numerology, I found that, at least according to Wikipedia, each of the answer works was the first major work or first major success for the author. Which is why I submitted “Oklahoma!” despite realizing that that was much too simple an analysis.

  20. Scott says:

    I got it pretty quickly and for a week 3, that is great for me.

  21. Abide says:

    Before going to bed last night I was focused on chapters and parts of these works (in order: 5, 97, 3, 12. Woke up these morning realizing only 4,6,and 8 were missing. After fiddling with that I finally noticed the numerations were all different (1-8, 2-9, 3-6, 4-7). That meant the play would be 5-10! Except there was only 5-7.

    I would have gone with South Pacific because there were no other possible choices, but then …”like a hit of crack compared to the line of cocaine that is a regular crossword…”

    Since there was such a small sample size, it might have been interesting to use OKLAHOMA! and then force a choice between State Fair and South Pacific.

  22. Tim H. says:

    I can’t be the only one who saw that VORTEX, HORIZON, PIONEERS and PATAGONIA are 6, 7, 8 and 9 letters. Also, R&H wrote the 10-letter CINDERELLA, which would give us every length from 1 to 10… except that replacing STATE FAIR leaves us with no 5-letter word and Matt’s metas are cleaner than that.

    When I couldn’t find a R&H play with two words of five and ten letters (not enough stories in the South Tyrrhenian to justify a musical), it was back to staring at the grid until the answer popped out.

    • pgw says:

      This was my path to the eventual solution as well, as it had me already thinking about the lengths of the second words when I went back to grid-staring. But like others, South Pacific would have been my guess had I been unable to solve, just based on the 1-2-3-4-5 pattern. Maybe a better choice for 57-across would have been Pipe Dream, as that would have forced solvers to choose between two options with five-letter first words. Still, a great puzzle well-executed.

  23. - kip - says:

    Another brilliant meta by Matt that has led people a dozen different interesting directions!

    I entered WHITE CHRISTMAS.

    I saw the 1,2,3,4,5 sequence of the first words of the two-word works, so knew I was looking for a 2-word musical with a 5-letter first word.

    I thought the letter-count in the first word was pointing us to a specific letter in the second word. If you look at the the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th letters of the second word of the five “correct” theme answers in order, you’d get:

    So, I thought this was a tribute to our friends in Paris!

    Thanks for another week of fun, Matt. Happy Thanksgiving!

  24. ML Perry says:

    Well, another (correct) guesser here…I sure couldn’t get the second half, but found some half baked TV/TV channel connection with Pioneer, Vortex, Horizon and (sorta) Patagonia…good enough for a WAG! And, really, my only other choices were “Annie Get Your Gun”, and “Happy Birthday”.
    Thanks – made it somehow to a week 3 solution.

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