MGWCC #402

crossword 3:17 
meta 2 minutes, with some
uncertainty without instructions 


mgwcc402hello and welcome to episode #402 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Space Oddity”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt asks us: What is the answer to this puzzle’s riddle? the five-part riddle is spelled out in the grid’s theme answers: WHICH JAMES / BOND NOVEL / IS THE FAVORITE OF / VALENTINA / TERESHKOVA?

this is not a serious riddle (if that’s even a thing). i mean, tereshkova (the cosmonaut who was the first woman in space, for those not familiar with her) was certainly alive at the time ian fleming was writing, although she is unlikely to have consumed much in the way of western spy fiction. rather, it’s a pun—a timely one, i guess. tereshkova was a soviet and her first name was valentina (february 14 was this sunday, in case you’d already forgotten), so we’re looking for from russia with love. and that’s all there is to it.

i gotta say i was a little thrown by this meta. in the first place, it had nothing to do with tereshkova’s actual claim to fame; in the second, the title was also unrelated, since it was a reference to tereshkova’s historic achievements (and david bowie) rather than the actual riddle. in the third place, the instructions didn’t quite convey that we were looking for a punny interpretation to what was presented as a straightforward question. if there had been a james bond novel involving a pioneering woman going into orbit (and, frankly, i don’t know that there isn’t, although i checked the plot of moonraker because it seemed like the most plausible candidate and there didn’t seem to be anything like that), wouldn’t that be a better answer?

other than that, it’s a perfectly fine wordplay to base a meta on. i just wish it had been pinned a little more tightly in the instructions.

your thoughts?

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76 Responses to MGWCC #402

  1. Gideon says:

    One of those metas I got in ten seconds and then spent days looking for a deeper layer I missed. Grrr.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Ugh. This causes me almost physical pain to hear. Should not happen.

    • Tom says:

      Same. I sat on my submission for two days because it didn’t feel certain. I got the Love/Valentina connection, but Valentine derives from the Latin for strong/healthy, so that gave me pause.

    • Andy says:

      Yep. I got the answer right away, but there was no satisfaction to it. More of a…this must be it, I guess?

  2. Norm H says:

    Maybe it’s just sour grapes on my part, having guessed Moonraker, but unless I have missed something other than what Joon wrote up, I have to say this is the weakest MGWCC meta I can remember. I mean, she is only a “Space Oddity” because she was the first woman to be sent into orbit — thus “raking” the moon (a stretch, I grant) — not because she was Russian. Given the number of people who submitted correctly, From Russia With Love is obviously valid, but the whole thing doesn’t feel very tight.

    • KZCondor says:

      I dithered for a looong time before finally going with FRWL. What tipped the balance for me was that the riddle specified “novel”, and in the novel version Moonraker was a missile – the story was entirely terrestrial. Still, seems a little unfair to have such a seductive trap answer.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      So you did or did not see the Valentine’s Day weekend connection when submitting?

      • Norm H says:

        Matt, I did not make a connection to Valentine’s Day. To me, Valentine’s Day is a day, not a weekend, even when it falls on a Sunday. The puzzle dropped on the 12th, so any tie-in to two days hence was lost on me. It appears I was in the minority in that regard.

        I was also amused by the NONONO entry. When the idea of turning Dr. No into the first Bond film was cooking, Ian Fleming supposedly cabled Noel Coward to gauge his interest in the title role. Coward famously cabled back, “No No No!”

        • Joe says:

          so many no’s all over the puzzle, ahh all the no’s, I over thought it. I thought about “From Russia with love” :), it happens

      • hibob says:

        I thought Moonraker then FRWL after deciding Valentina was too close to Valentine’s day to be a coincidence .

      • Wayne says:

        Saw the Valentine’s Day connection, and in the end that is what tipped me in favor of FRWL. But there was no click. If the title had a VD reference, it would have helped things.

      • Garrett says:

        Did not see a Valentine’s Day connection as being valid. I finished the grid Friday, thought about Valentine’s Day, and Valentina is Russian, so FRWL seemed like the obvious answer. Too obvious. Where is the connection to the title? Where is the lock? The fact that Valentina is similar to Valentine could be another of those really weird coincidences that we see all the time in these puzzles.

        And then, Space Oddities strongly suggests some kind of David Bowie tie. What is that about? Someone going into orbit in a rocket, right? What James bond Novel is about that? None. But the movie Moonraker based on that novel is.


        You can find all the letters you need to spell Moonraker in this riddle, with the ‘rake’ part of it in TERESHKOVA. So, that is why I submitted Moonraker. FRWL was just too easy.

        • 10 miles north of Clute says:

          I concluded that Valentina Tereshkova was a Bond aficionado and had a favorite novel. That would leave any door open. Wasted a lot of time researching.

  3. Seth C says:

    Struggled between “from Russia with love” and “Moonraker”. Decided on Moonraker because there is a crater on the moon named after her. Seems just as valid?

    • Seth C says:

      For what its worth, I did see the Valentine’s day connection, but thought it was too simple or a red herring. The moon connection + space oddity made me decide to go with Moonraker.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    385 right answers which is just about right for a Week 2 of 4, but many solvers did not report getting the “aha” click so it’s hard to argue that I didn’t miscalibrate.

    The idea was: 1) she’s from Russia, 2) her name is “Valentina,” so “love”, and 3) if there was any doubt, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend.

    I briefly considered that someone might submit MOONRAKER, but I don’t really see the logic there since she didn’t go to the moon. If it had been Neil Armstrong’s favorite Bond novel then sure. Some solvers mentioned that there is a crater on the moon named for her, but there are craters on the moon named for over 1,000 people, so that doesn’t really work.

    Anyway, I am going to ask the panel about the 75 or so entrants who sent in MOONRAKER and let you know theor decision on Friday. The new, expanded panel has 5 members on it, so we’ll get a very solid ruling.

    Apologies to those who spent time looking for another level — for the third time in maybe 4 months, what I thought would be a completely non-controversial meta has turned into a hassle for many solvers. That’s not good.

    • ConvolutED says:

      Can I get a check on the post-film novelization of ‘The World Is Not Enough’? I went with that because of the title, and because she’s been in the news a lot recently for applying to go to Mars on a one-way mission. (Some reports say that she said Mars is her favourite planet, and she would be happy to go there, even if it meant not coming back.)
      I dismissed the Moonraker novel as not being related to her mission, and From Russia With Love as not being related to the title.

    • chris says:

      for what it’s worth, i think that, although moonraker caused me consternation, the meta did ask for a novel, and as joon pointed out, that probably disqualifies moonraker. hence why i went with FRWL, though i had to look up the plot of moonraker to convince myself.

      still not the most elegant though.

    • Gideon says:

      I can’t see any connection whatsoever to the title though.

      Unless it was ‘words intended to deceive’?

      • chris says:

        also, matt, for what it’s worth, i am not a fan of the puzzles whose major clue is “hey, look what time of the year it is!” (see: the twELFth night one from last december). to me, the puzzle should contain enough hints to specify the meta.

  5. Evan says:

    I guessed MOONRAKER within ten minutes of the puzzle being released because of the title and there’s a crater on the moon named Tereshkova, named after Valentina (edit: I see Matt and Seth C posted that info above).

    Imagine my shock when I found out it wasn’t right! I wonder if I’m in the running for “fastest wrong answer on a Week 1 or 2 MGWCC.”

  6. jimmy d says:

    Had to briefly deliberate between the two answers.. But Valentina on Valentine’s weekend sealed it for me.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      That’s what I intended as the clincher for anyone who had doubt, but I’m wondering now how many of those who missed it or struggled with it made the Valentine’s Day connection at all? I can’t tell.

      • Jason T says:

        For what it’s worth, Matt, I totally saw the Valentine’s Day connection to her name and From Russia with Love… but it just seemed like a weak connection to me, especially with the title having no connection to that angle… and sorry, it just didn’t seem like much of a joke. That’s why I submitted Solo, a post-Ian-Fleming James Bond novel, since Tereshkova is, apparently, the only woman who has manned a solo space mission – a genuine “Space Oddity.” Clearly I overthought things, as From Russia with Love was the very first thing that occurred to me. But I was also thrown off by the wording of “Which James Bond novel,” when “Which James Bond movie” would have fit just as well. I figured that indicated we were looking for a novel that was never turned into a movie. Again, overthought. Sigh…

      • Ben Johnston says:

        Missed the Valentine’s Day connection completely.

      • Michael A. says:

        I did not process the Valentine’s Day connection. And, like Jason T., I submitted Solo. I actually think it’s the better answer. It’s the only one that fits with Tereshkova’s unique accomplishment, which is being the only woman to do a solo space flight. Even hearing the “correct” answer, I’m treating this week’s meta as under protest.

  7. david says:

    There’s another connection to Moonraker but it’s with the film, not the novel. The character Dr. Holly Goodhead is a female astronaut, just as Valentina Tereshkova was.

  8. Mutman says:

    My first thought was Moonraker but a little deeper thought gave me a second choice of FRWL. (There are other space related Bond movie themes, but they didn’t seem plausible).

    When I saw the Valentina/Valentine’s Day connection, I felt pretty certain.

    I think it was a fair meta. Nice job Matt.

  9. Jon says:

    This level of pun riddle is really bad. The connection between the riddle and the answer is rather tenuous and not clever. If you wanted to point to “From Russia With Love”, a better pun clue would have been something like “a tennis player from Moscow lost & never scored a point in her match. what is she?” Also, the title Space Oddity would be better used for a puzzle that has to do with odd spacing of clues or answers. I’m surprised these things even passed Matt’s sniff test because his standards are usually quite high. Definitely a disappointment in the riddle department.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Jon — you did or did not notice the Valentina — Valentine’s Day connection before submitting?

      • Jon says:

        I saw it and that’s why I submitted FRWL but overall the zeroing in on FRWL from the riddle & crossword title doesn’t click. It’s not From Russia with Cupid or From Russia with Valentine’s. Overall I think the confusion is that picking Valentina specifically points that something specific about her or what made her famous would lead to the solution of the riddle. Her being from Russia or that her name is associated with Valentine’s Day isn’t what makes her special, being the 1st woman in space does. And then “Space Oddity” doesn’t work because it’s not really odd for women to be in space. Nor is the crossword spaced in a weird way (perhaps asymmetrical?).

        And as someone above has mentioned, the crossword came out 2 days before Valentine’s Day, not the actual day.

        The riddle just doesn’t click, sorry.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Right, but last week’s Super Bowl was on Sunday and the puzzle came out on a Friday. If a major event/holiday doesn’t happen to fall on a Friday it can still have something to do with the puzzle.

          • Jon says:

            Yeah but your question pointed directly to the Super Bowl. So you solved it that way. Also, 2 years ago Valentine’s Day was on a Friday so there was your opportunity.

            But I think you’re missing the point. Getting FRWL from a “blank person’s favorite James Bond novel” could work for ANY Russian person on VDay. VT is Russian, sure, but just because she’s Russian doesn’t mean her favorite JB novel is FRWL as Moonraker is more apt for her since she was in space. But as someone mentioned above, she went to space as a Soviet citizen as the USSR was in charge of Russia. And the connection between the word valentine and love is dubious as others have noted. Where’s the pun? Where is the play on words. “From Russia with Nul” is more of a pun as Love in tennis is zero and nul is Russian for zero.

          • John says:

            As others have pointed out, Matt’s bar is so high, he’s kind of a victim of it here IMO. I saw the Valentina/Love thing, but since no other parts of the “themes” had anything to do with it, it seemed like the millions of coincidences i have fumbled with over the years. Did no one else note LOVE was anagrammed in NOVEL? I thought that may be a second confirmation but then saw the other 2 themes were barren. Being a Bowie-phile, I don’t like the throw-away of using that title so near his passing without referencing him (shoutout to great Grammy’s tribute last night) . Ah well, so easy to complain, isn’t it?

          • Jon says:

            I think trying to point to FRWL for VDay is fine, I think the construction of the riddle tripped you up. “Sharapova’s least favorite JB novel” might has worked as she identifies as Russian and love is a tennis term that she wouldn’t have to have because it would mean she’s have zero point. Though as far as character length, it’s probably not suitable for putting into a crossword puzzle but then again I’m thinking of this in terms of a riddle that uses words with double meanings.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Jon — I follow you, really I do, and I understand the difference between this meta and the Super Bowl one. I was speaking to this one specific point, namely that I don’t want to set a precedent wherein an event referenced in the meta has to fall on the Friday of that meta’s publication instead of over the weekend.

          Also, I don’t think I get this statement: “But I think you’re missing the point. Getting FRWL from a “blank person’s favorite James Bond novel” could work for ANY Russian person on VDay.”

          The “From Russia” part is that she’s Russian; the “with Love” part is the Valentina/Valentine’s Day connection. I know you didn’t dig the pun, but this meta couldn’t work for just any Russian. There has to be some explanation of the “with Love” part, as with your Sharapova idea.

          • Jon says:

            Amy L said it best when she phrased it: “Right off the bat I thought it would be “From Russia with Love” but I discussed it with a friend who said any Russian could have been named…”

            Overall, I’m not the only one who didn’t feel a “click” or a-ha moment for the riddle. You’re defending your puzzle multiple times on this comment section rather than listening to us all & absorbing the constructive criticism. I’ll say this as I say to my improv students who argue scene notes after a so-so scene: take the note!

            We nitpick because we love. You’re an amazing meta crossword constructor, Matt, and & a big fan of your talent. I hope you don’t think I’m being too blunt.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            @Jon —

            Yes, your tone does indeed stand out amongst the commenters here, I will admit.

  10. Amy L says:

    Right off the bat I thought it would be “From Russia with Love” but I discussed it with a friend who said any Russian could have been named, so “Moonraker” makes more sense. I kept thinking I was missing something that should point to one or the other.

    I finally chose”Moonraker.” I thought it fit the title “Space Oddity” because it is the only Bond novel where 007 travels into space. (Is VT supposed to be an oddity because she is a female cosmonaut?) Also, there is a crater on the moon named Tereshkova, after her. I think she would really like that. Moreover, VT was really a Soviet cosmonaut, serving the Soviet State not Russia.

    Norm H expressed my feelings quite well.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Amy — did you notice the Valentine’s Day connection when submitting? I can’t tell from comments how many people noticed the Valentina –> Valentine’s Day connection.

      • Amy L says:

        I don’t remember my thinking about Valentine’s Day. I think because it was Friday, 2/12, and not actually Valentine’s day, that there was still some wiggle room.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          OK, thanks. I think this is an important point — with VALENTINA in the grid, I feel a little less bad for those who found it unfair if they didn’t make the jump to Valentine’s Day. I couldn’t put any reference to Love itself in the title because that’s in the novel title. I was specifically trying to do a Valentine’s Day theme that hadn’t been done before.

          • Flinty Steve says:

            Not that I like admitting it, but I never got the Valentine’s Day link. I felt like it was a coin flip between “From Russia . . .” and “Moonraker” and luckily picked the right one.

  11. Jason says:

    I did not see the VD connection, my original guess was going to be MOONRAKER until I went through her bio. I also wondered if THE SPY WHO LOVED ME might be it as it may indicate something hidden in the grid or clues. In the end I took a lucky guess, I guess.

  12. Stribbs says:

    I’m in the camp that saw the Valentina -> Valentine connection right away but thought it seemed too weak. Valentin means “strength”, and love gets associated only with a holiday I had always assumed was uniquely American (although Google says it’s a little more widespread in various forms). I thought the title was pointing towards the space travel / female astronaut references in Moonraker but those are film only, not the novel. It almost seemed like a deliberate trap to make the title point towards the notorious and often loathed decision to go so nuts in the film version.

    The fact that it was timed right on the holiday in question was a little bit confidence-inspiring but I was ready to be wrong when submitting FRWL.

  13. george says:

    I, like many it seems, finished the grid and wavered between FRWL and Moonraker. The title is what threw me off the most. I assumed FRWL was the obvious answer, but did look for the solid connection leading to the “of course, it’s this and can only be this”. I think the name and valentine’s day connection makes FRWL the more obvious guess, and moonraker simply a stretch, but for me it did come to feeling like a guess (and the subsequent refreshing of the leaderboard until I found my name, phew!)

    PS. don’t get me started on the number of times ‘no’ appears all over the puzzle. I went down that rabbit hole. Overall, still a fun puzzle which my significant other and I enjoyed on valentine’s day. Thanks Matt.

    • KZCondor says:

      “No” is a very interesting rabbit hole. We had NONONO and LALALA in grid, and “la” is the Arabic word for “no”. I thought there was going to be HAHAHA as well and if that meant “no” in some language it would have been hard to avoid looking for a Dr. No connection.

      • Justin says:

        Well, there was HARHAR. I did look to see if HARNOLA (or something like that) was a potential answer but no.

  14. Jeff G. says:

    I liked this one. For once, I didn’t over think it. Once I figured out the puzzle (took me a while) I saw she was from Russia with a name one letter off from Valentine. I double checked FRWL on the 007 wiki and submitted. I didn’t think to check the rest of the novels. Thanks Matt!

    • makfan says:

      That’s about the same as my experience. I started to review the whole list of Bond novels and decided to just stop. The Valentina->Valentine connection did stand out to me as important.

  15. Todd Dashoff says:

    I got it correct, and got the Valentine’s Day link, but there was definitely no “aha” moment. I went through the list of novels (Fleming and the succeeding authors) and narrowed it down to From Russia with Love and Moonraker. I also saw Matt’s standard warning, “Solve well and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.” Since FRWL was so easy, I kept looking for something else; after all there was clearly no literal answer to the question, and either novel might be assumed to be her “favorite”.

  16. Jimm says:

    Matt – FWIW, I didn’t get the Valentine’s Day connection. I solved the puzzle easily enough on Friday and just sort of sat on it until the Tuesday deadline. Didn’t even contemplate the puzzle in the context of the 14th.

  17. Shuka says:

    I saw the Valentine’s day connection, but was leery about jumping because of the “space oddity” connection with Moonraker. However, I also saw that all the “V”s in the puzzle, other than in Valentina, connected to L, O, and E, strengthening the case for FRWL. I thought perhaps there was some other factor I was missing..

  18. MM says:

    I thought the Bond title was “To Russia, with Love,” and I convinced myself that “Tereshkova” sounded enough like “to Russia”. So Tereshkova + Valentina = To Russia with Love.

  19. Tony says:

    Wow. A lot of flak for a week 2. I submitted FWTL because that’s the only one that made sense to me, given VALENTINA prominently featured in the grid and Valentine’s day being two days away.

    • Jim S. says:

      I’m in the same boat. I never wavered from FRWL and submitted it right away after seeing the Valentina/Valentine connection. I usually stop here every Tues at 12:01 for the recap, but didn’t even bother today because I didn’t envision any activity. Imagine my shock at seeing 60+ comments tonight! I can see where the Moonraker camp is coming from if the Valentina / Valentine connection wasn’t made, though. It clicked for me right away, so didn’t even enter my mind.

  20. Clint Hepner says:

    I saw the connection as “Space Oddity” being about a one-way trip for Major Tom, while Tereshkova (according to Wikipedia) offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars.

  21. Mike says:

    I was unhappy with FRWL at first because it was too easy for a 2nd week puzzle. But then I figured an answer that fits is an answer that fits, so Matt would have to accept FRWL even if he was thinking of something else. I definitely thought of the Valentine’s day connection. Too bad Valentine’s Day doesn’t come earlier in the month.

  22. Scott says:

    Wow, a lot of discussion here! I quickly submitted MOONRAKER and never considered FRWL. Never thought about Valentine’s Day weekend. I was surprised not to see my name on the board later and then realized that there was another possible answer. For the first time ever, I will give less than five stars. But I will give four stars since it generated such a spirited discussion.

  23. LuckyGuest says:

    Yeah, I’m one of those disgruntled Moonraker submitters. I thought of FRWL within seconds of seeing her last name, but when I read up on her, Moonraker (especially the Holly quote mentioned above) sealed what was a tossup for me. Without a click, I sent it in, and actually I sent it in too early so I could be among the earliest finishers. Had I waited and thought about it, Valentina/Valentines day would have jumped out at me. Am I bummed that I didn’t get it? Sure. But after seeing almost 400 people didn’t have a problem with it — and actually getting the click after I sent it in — I will take my defeat. I kinda hope your staff doesn’t overturn/expand the answer. Kinda.

  24. Abby B says:

    Only one way to settle this: somebody should ask her!

  25. Don Lloyd says:

    Tereshkova was not only the first woman in space, she was also the first civilian. That was a sufficient Space Oddity (factoid) for me. Like many other solvers, I quickly came up with a short list of From Russia, with Love and Moonraker. I tilted in favor of FRWL when I noticed she went into space the same year the movie was released. I didn’t catch the Valentine’s Day connection until just after I clicked Submit.

  26. wobbith says:

    Being uncertain between FRWL and Moonraker, I didn’t submit an answer at first.
    So two days later, when Valentine’s Day rolled around, that’s when I finally got the connection.

  27. Lorraine says:

    I’m one of the “Moonraker” people and I had to choose between that and FRWL. Even though i saw the Valentine’s Day connection, I couldn’t see how “Space Oddity” related to, well, anything other than what she was known for (plus David Bowie of course). If she HADN’T been a cosmonaut, then i would have completely dismissed Moonraker since FRWL would have clearly been the better choice in that instance. Space Oddity was what made my decision to go with Moonraker and not FRWL.

    However, having said all that, I did NOT realize the significant plot difference between Moonraker the novel and Moonraker the movie, so that’s a complete fail on my part.

  28. Jim Curran says:

    Wow, there was a whole lotta overthinking this past weekend. I hope your Valentine’s Day Weekends weren’t spoiled. My only hesitation was that From Russia With Love was too obvious. But that was my answer, with a side comment to Matt re Moonraker.

  29. js says:

    I finally got a chance to dip into the comments; so sorry, Matt.

    While I didn’t feel like the puzzle clicked as well as so many of your puzzles, I was fairly certain that FRWL was the right answer; a quick google convinced me that Moonraker wasn’t as appropriate. Valentina on Feb. 12 was clear enough to me. (I did wait until Tuesday to submit in case I grokked a different solution, but in the end I was pretty confident I wasn’t missing anything.)

    Was it your best puzzle? No. Was it as bad as some of these comments make it seem? No way. 385 right answers tells me you’re doing just fine and that there are no “notes” that you need to take. I do appreciate your willingness to dialogue with people who are upset, disappointed, or angry at you.

    I think 2.24 is too low for this puzzle and am choosing my rating accordingly.

  30. Lynne R Equation says:

    Got the Valentine’s Day connection immediately, and guessed Diamonds Are Forever. Russian Love can’t compete with Diamonds, imo.

  31. J. T. Williams says:

    Sigh, let me add my 2 bits about MOONRAKER over FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. I looked up Tereshkova on Wikipedia and saw that she was into skyjumping. I thought SKYFALL would be the answer. Then when I looked up novels, I found out that it’s not actually a novel. I thought that was the trick, that the question specifically asked for a novel. Otherwise, it seemed that SKYFALL would be perfect. The only novel title I saw that seemed to have anything to do with an astronaut was MOONRAKER, which I guess is some sort of Space Oddity. I briefly considered that she was Russian, but then again so is Vladimir Putin, and so is my best friend from law school, so that seemed like a bit too arbitrary for the meta. Bozhe!

  32. Adam T says:

    I saw Valentina/Valentine’s and it didn’t click for me. Beyond the complaints already given, there’s no indication that the meta was only based on the book’s title. Most Bond novels include romance and Russians. (By the way, Moonraker the novel doesn’t include any manned or womanned space flight — it’s about a missile.)

  33. Amy L says:

    This was so much more fun than if the meta had been cut and dried. Thanks, Matt!

  34. pj says:

    This is a bit after the fact…and a late comment, but an interesting tidbit was that there were 5 Vs in the puzzle and FRWL was the fifth novel to be published. Plus the title includes a V.

  35. Dogpole says:

    The answer to a riddle “what type of X…” or “which X…” is rarely a real X in my experience (my seven year old was quizzing me from book 6 of a riddle collection as I solved. So I was rejecting “From Russia with gloves” and similar options. Settled on “Moon Crater” but thought there should have been better.

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