MGWCC #395

crossword untimed
meta 20 mins or so 


Evad here filling in for joon today….


MGWCC #395 – “Begin at the End”

Welcome to the final Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest puzzle of the year, entitled “Begin at the End.” (A title he used just a couple of weeks ago in a WSJ meta.) Today is all about endings and beginnings as we bid a fond farewell to 2015 and usher in the new year. The changing of the year always makes me reflect on what I’m grateful for, and Matt’s weekly brain teasers are high on that list. I think what impresses me most about his prolific output is how varied it is, even with 394 metas behind him (and a half-dozen or so recently for the WSJ), it’s rare that a solver knows exactly what steps to follow to solve a puzzle’s meta challenge. (Well, rare for this inveterate solver anyway.) In other words, Matt has one of the biggest bag of tricks in the business, and just when you thought he’s exhausted every creative way solving a puzzle can lead to an overarching concept that brings order to apparent chaos, he brings forth yet again a new perspective on finding patterns in wordplay.

Today, we are asked for a living, Oscar-nominated actress who would’ve made a good sixth theme entry in this puzzle. From that I took two things: first, that there were five theme entries in the puzzle and second, that the actress in question probably never won an Oscar despite being nominated (perhaps multiple times). So what are these five theme entries? Well, they’re all a bit zany (<== hint there) in their surface sense:

  • 16a. [“Femur or tibia, doesn’t matter which”?], EITHER BONE – at first, I was thinking we might be adding a B to phrases such as “either one”
  • 19a. [“Who lives in the African capital of Banjul?” response?], MANY GAMBIANS – The Gambia’s capital Banjul is on an island separate from the African mainland
  • 31a. [Unpleasant newspaper headline for Netflix’s CEO to read?], HULU BOOMING – the name “Hulu” comes to us from Mandarin, both in its sense of “interactive recording” and a “gourd,” used to hold precious content
  • 49a. [Creature who notices that others have better stretches of river to relax in than he does?], JEALOUS HIPPO
  • 53a. [Customer who leaves 100% of the bill for their server?], HERO TIPPER – even 30% would make most servers very grateful I imagine

So, the presence of HERO and HULU put me in the mind of the NATO alphabet, even though (as I see now) H is HOTEL, but I knew Z was ZULU and very close to HULU. That Z idea then led me on a path of thinking HERO could become ZERO with a Z and HIPPO could become ZIPPO similarly, so are we looking at words that mean nothing?

Well, not exactly. Thinking more about the title, if you parse it as “begin [words with the letter] at the end [of the alphabet],” I began to wonder if more of these words could become words that begin with Z. And in each case they can: ZITHER and ZONE, ZANY and ZAMBIANS, ZULU and ZOOMING, ZEALOUS and ZIPPO, and ZERO and ZIPPER. I definitely felt I was on the meta scent at that point. All that was left was to find an actress whose first and last name could become Z-words when substituting their first letters with Z. Even without looking at a list of Oscar-nominated actresses, Debra Winger came swiftly to mind, who becomes Zebra and Zinger with some of the aforementioned zed treatment.

I enjoyed this meta (or should I call it “zeta”?) quite a bit; not the least in that it gave up its secrets pretty easily when I had resigned myself to a holiday weekend struggling over a meta advertised last week as a “crusher.” I’ll finish with a couple of clues of note:

  • 15a. [Patronized American] had me thinking of famous Americans that we patronize, but instead it’s the verb form and American, an airline, is the object, so we have FLEW. That one almost flew by me!
  • That crossed at the F, writer Betty FRIEDAN of “The Feminine Mystique” and the first president of NOW.
  • I’m not a big fan of entries like ONE ACT and TWO SET, particularly the latter which seems pretty arbitrary to me (even with a contemporary Serena Williams clue).
  • Nice tie-in between the 10th and 18th highest-grossing movies of 2011, THOR and RIO, but their success had nothing to do with me as I saw neither.
  • If you haven’t visited crossword blogger LENA Webb’s site yet, get on over there and enjoy her commentary on the new “indie” puzzle scene.

Hope you’ve signed up for another year of battles of wit with the best in the business!

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to MGWCC #395

  1. Matthew G. says:

    I thought this was much easier than Week 3, although the leaderboard suggests it was slightly harder. Was Matt teasing us when he promised a Week 4 crusher, or did he overestimate the difficulty? I’m assuming he was teasing, since this feels like a pretty conventional Week 3 to me.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I think it was Matt’s Christmas present to the gang. Time-wise, there was no Big Lag for me, because there was no tortuous Zig Zag path to follow. Four stars from me, and Happy Holidays to all.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Dave — 196 right answers this week.

      I thought this one would be more like 125-150 than 196, but also that it might snap a few streaks since it’s one of those metas where some very good solvers might miss it, even if it has a relatively high number of correct answers. Sort of so hidden in plain sight that it’s possible to look past.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Leaves me with one question: Is there a non-living Oscar-nominated actress who would have also fit the theme?

  3. According to Box Office Mojo (an IMDB company), Rio and Thor were 13th and 15th, not 10th and 18th. That confused me at first, but I figured it was unrelated to the meta. I just realized now though that Matt probably should have specified that they were 10th and 18th in the U.S., vs. world-wide.


  4. Amy L says:

    I give myself a big ZIPPO ZERO this week. Thinking back to the WSJ Anna Karenina puzzle, I looked at the last letters of the 5 theme words: ESGOR. This anagrams to GORE and sure enough, Tipper and Al show up in JeALoushippo and HeroTIPPER. The founder of Hulu left the company to work for Al Gore. I saw this wasn’t going anywhere but I was so stuck on it, it was hard to look elsewhere.

    Great puzzle, except for the big head slap I just did.

    • Jeff M says:

      I [sadly] went through the same thought process.

    • CC says:

      I went down the same route.

    • Dave C says:

      me four. That and the EITHER BONE/ONE angle. Strangely, I briefly considered DEBRA WINGER as a total Hail Mary. Would’ve been a very hollow win, even if I then won the monthly prize….

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I don’t think I’m following here. Did the GORES line of thought just lead down a total rabbit hole, or was there a logical actress at the end?

        • CC says:

          Rabbit hole, at least for me. Still a really fun puzzle though. Perfect non-solve, as in you want to slap yourself when you see the answer, and not just say “PFFF! I NEVER would have gotten that one.”

        • Amy L says:

          Rabbit hole. I haven’t heard rumors about Al hooking up with any actresses, but it’s interesting to speculate. Do you think he and Zebra Zinger would make a good couple?

  5. Scott says:

    I failed to get this final 2015 puZZle. I too fell in the Gore line of thought and never escaped.

  6. Abby B says:

    I ran the problem with my biggest wordlist and the actress lists and got other answers (two living, two dead) not as good as Debra Winger, but with Zambians and Zulu in there, proper nouns were fair game. Those’d be “Lena Olin” and “Jane Fonda” (Oscar winner). Yes, Zlin is a Czech city!

  7. Jim S. says:

    I got stuck on the Tipper Gore thing as well, though I noticed that “HERO” can become “GORE” if you reverse the final 3 letters and back-up one in the alphabet to get from the H to the G. With the title, it seemed possible for a difficult week 4. However, what the heck could “JEALOUS HIPPO” turn into following that logic? Nothing! I did somehow turn “HULU BOOMING” into “HUGO WEAVING”, which didn’t help matters.

    Very fair meta, just never headed down the right path.

  8. Shuka says:

    I was distracted by Gore, but luckily initially thought that leaving 100% of a bill leaves zero for the tip… After a while thinking that all the clues worked both ways (with or without the z), the second word exchange finally clicked – fun!

  9. David R says:

    My last MGWCC puzzle forever or at least for a while and got Zip. Going to take a break from the meta puzzles in 2016, have gotten a bit of a burnout. Hopefully will come back soon, be rejuvenated, and ready for more knotty mind ticklers.

  10. pgw says:

    @Abby B, I actually submitted Jane Fonda – combed the Oscar nominees lists twice and somehow never noticed the far better Debra Winger. I really should not have submitted when the obscurity of Zonda was still making me so uncertain. Once I saw that I hadn’t made the leaderboard, I found the right answer on my next search. Ugh, not a good end to the year.

    • Slow guy says:

      I also searched the Oscar lists for waaaaayyy too long, like 90 minutes of combing up and down the ‘leading role’ and ‘supporting’ categories, first twice up and down for post-1950, then with increasing frustration twice through the pre-1950s, then finally while composing a note to MG in my head (…. I have grokked this, it’s Z/Z etc. but I cannot find the actress! ….. I have to be up early on Tuesday, dahhhhhh), I took a last pass at the recent nominees, and finally stopped saying “zebb-rah” in my head, since I was unconsciously rhyming the z-name with the actual name I’d skipped past the answer twice. Ahhhh. Should have been much easier after I realized what I was doing.

  11. Dele says:

    Thanks for a fantastic 52 weeks of intriguingly diverting metas, Matt! See you in 2016!

  12. dbardolph says:

    Brilliant. And I’m a moron.

    Jealous Hippo is my new favorite crossword entry ever.

  13. Music Man says:

    I’m new to these metas, so when this one finally clicked after about 2-3 days of pulling my hair out, I was ecstatic! I too was thinking it might be an “add a B” theme for a while, especially after putting that down with no crosses, only to soon find that didn’t work out.

  14. Tim H. says:

    Sheesh. I noticed that the first 3/4 of JEALOUSHIPPO anagrams to JAILHOUSE, and the leftovers to POP, and never got off that train.

  15. Mike says:

    I noticed the second word of each theme entry had a pattern number of letters, 4 (bone), 5 (hippo), 6 (tipper), etc., so figured it must be an actress with last name 9 letters. That wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked a friend to look at the words. “They seem faintly African, don’t they?” she said. I said, “I think you’re thinking of ZULU, not HULU. Uh, wait a minute…”

  16. Garrett says:

    Ah, Debra Winger. Excellent! I love the meta. I missed it, though. Here is what I found. If you begin at the end of the five you have five letters that anagram to OGRES. Plural for ogre, but if you add an S you have OGRESS — which evoked Fiona for me (In “Shrek”). Now we all know that Cameron Diaz did Fiona’s voice, but did you know that Holly Fields did, too? And she has been nominated! Adding her as a sixth completes OGRESS.

Comments are closed.