meta 20 mins or so
Evad here filling in for joon today….
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!