Peter A. Collins’s Fireball contest crossword, “Grand Finale”—Jenni’s write-up
I am really *not* good at this kind of thing. The question was “What common affliction is hinted at by this puzzle?” I finished the puzzle without a problem, stared it for a long time over several days, and had no idea what the answer was. The title was no help. “Grand Finale” – a deadly illness? Something involving a thousand of something? Not a single clue. This writeup is showing up late because I had to wait for the answer to drop into my Email box this evening.
Turns out that the theme answers are the names that show up in symmetrical locations: ETHAN, OLIVIA, IONE, THOMAS, HORTON, LENA and RALPH. What do they have in common? They are all the first names of people whose last names are a common English word with a silent E on the end – ETHAN Hawek, OLIVIA Wilde, IONE Skye, THOMAS Paine, HORTON Foote, LENA Horne and RALPH Bunche. So if you figured THAT out, you might have noticed that the grid also contains GREEN HORN and WILD BUNCH, using four of the six words in the last names. That leaves the final two names – FOOT PAIN.
Is it because I’m a doctor that I thought an “affliction” would be the name of an actual disease? Maybe. In any case, while I have suffered from FOOT PAIN, I’ve never thought of it that way. And even if I had, there’s no way I would have made the connections to figure it out. Sometimes when I see the solution to a meta that stumped me, I am impressed and amused. Not this time.
There are a lot of theme constraints in this puzzle, which usually means some compromise on fill. The most egregious is ALEAK (“Not showing watertightness”) which is just awful. There’s also REHEMS (which is amusing clued as “Converts to a long jumper, perhaps?”) and IN A PET, which I have never heard or seen outside of crosswords.
On the plus side: one of my favorite FB clues ever – 51D is clued “With 51D, sings”. The answer is NAMES (as in NAMES NAMES). Very nice. I also enjoyed BLOOMIES (happy memories of my adolescence, now shared with my daughter), “Guess again!” for WRONG (the clue gives the answer a specific tone) and NON clued as the “Only spoken word in ‘Silent Movie’.” It’s not Mel Brooks’ best work and it’s still pretty damn funny.
What I learned from this puzzle: that SURINAME is a neighbor of Brazil. Yeah, yeah, my geography knowledge is almost as weak as my meta-solving ability.
I leave you with Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise. A classic.
I decided to go with ANEMIA because, parsed as three words, you can read it as “An E M.I.A.” I thought that made just as much sense as FOOT PAIN. Plus, anemia is one of the signs of Vitamin E deficiency.
Oh well. Maybe “An E M.I.A.” can be a useful mnemonic for med students one day?
Another ANEMIA here for the same reason. Grokked the meta but couldn’t come up with a HORTON or a THOMAS whose last name ended in E.
I saw the 8 names matching with the three two word phrases leaving HORTON and THOMAS. Horton is rare enough that FOOTE seemed pretty clear. Unfortunately instead of just trying to think hard about relevant Thomases, I went down this bad line of thinking:
Surely given a first name, finding a last name with this pattern isn’t going to be unambiguous? That’s why they rubbed it in with the theme answers, explicitly giving the first names. So… Maybe to make this less unambiguous, the two remaining last names are the same? Well, yes, Wikipedia does tell me that there was a Thomas Foote! Ok, so FOOTFOOT surely isn’t the answer. STUBBED FOOT makes sense but really isn’t a thing. There are two FOOTs left out of the grid… Aha! TWO LEFT FEET!
I would love to hear from Peter what the wrong answer distribution looked like (there were more wrong than right answers).
took me a while to grok what the hell was going on. i found the 6 first names that went with the long acrosses and then i was stumped for a while. finally saw the other two first names, and thought of thomas paine pretty quickly. luckily, there’s not a lot of famous hortons and wikipedia told me that one had the last name foote, which gave me the answer.