MGWCC #408

crossword 4:38 
meta 2 days 


mgwcc408hello and welcome to episode #408 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Little League”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a bird that would have made a good sixth theme entry in this puzzle. okay. what are the five theme answers?

  • {One of two in a corner} BLACK ROOK. matt probably views this differently, but for me, this was kind of a “green paint” answer. but i suppose if you consume as much chess content as matt does, these kinds of phrases are very much in-the-language.
  • {Marmalade base} BITTER ORANGE.
  • {Burning} PUTTING A TORCH TO.
  • {Way better now} MUCH-IMPROVED.
  • {Grove product} MICROCHIP. tough clue! never heard of grove microchips.

so it took me only a couple of minutes to notice that each of these phrases contains the shortened form of an animal name: (kanga)ROO, ORANG(utan), (alli)GATOR, CHIMP(anzee), and CROC(odile). that seems to be all that’s going on in the theme (which makes it seem even stranger to me that of all the 9-letter words and phrases containing ROO, matt chose this one). so we’re looking for a bird that contains another shortened animal name.

there aren’t a lot to choose from, but this is a tough meta to forward-solve. i spent a couple of days trying to think about it and came up empty; literally the only other animal i could think of that is “commonly” (…) known by a shortened form of its full name is the coati, aka coatimundi. but mostly, that animal is not commonly known at all. i mean, it is commonly known to my family because we saw a bunch of them scampering about iguazu park when we went to brazil in 2014, and brought back a stuffed coati for our then-one-year-old daughter. anyway, i couldn’t find a bird with COATI in the name, although i thought maybe there was something like REDCOAT IBIS that i didn’t know about. but that would be pretty obscure on both sides—the bird side and the animal side—for a meta answer, so i was pretty relieved that wasn’t it.

so i put the puzzle aside during easter weekend and came back to it last night. this time i decided to go about things more systematically, using all the internet tools at my disposal. my first approach was to look at lists of birds and see if anything jumped out at me. this … was not a success.

my second approach was to see if i could think of any other animals commonly known by a short name. i was totally unable to do this on my own, but eventually googling for things like “short names of animals roo gator chimp croc” led me to this interesting blog entry, where both HIPPO and RHINO quickly jumped out at me as obvious candidates. and in fact, both of them made me feel kind of dumb for not thinking of them myself. there’s also ROACH, which technically fits the theme but for some reason feels different to me.

anyway, RHINO and ROACH didn’t lead to a bird as the meta answer, but the HIPPO is hiding in WHIPPOORWILL, which is a lovely name with all kinds of fascinating properties: it’s three four-letter words concatenated together, and it also has three doubled letters. so that’s the answer.

i thought this was a highly unusual meta: its week-4 toughness comes not from figuring out the theme, which is fairly apparent, but from the fact that it’s just not obvious how to get from there to the desired meta answer. it’s kind of like one of those NPR puzzlers: you just need to think of the right answer (or perhaps, like alex boisvert, cleverly figure out how to use a computer search to help you). i thought it was an interesting challenge, but i’m glad most mgwcc metas aren’t like this.

fill roundup:

  • {Capital on the Niger River} NIAMEY. that’s the capital of niger, and i would not have thought of it as being famous enough to be in a crossword. but i guess any world capital is famous enough (see: APIA, SUVA, etc.).
  • {Comcast property} NBC and {Walk like a peacock} STRUT are consecutive down clues, but the peacock has nothing to do with the meta.
  • {Chinese invention of roughly 2,500 years ago} is a curiously circuitous clue for KITE, which is also a bird that has nothing to do with the meta. similarly, MULE and PIKE and APED are just there as fill.
  • {Gilead Sciences’ field} BIOTECH. never heard of gilead, but this is a hot fill answer that i don’t remember having seen in a puzzle before.

hey! the acpt is literally three days away. see you in stamford!

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

63 Responses to MGWCC #408

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 232 right answers this week, so very high for Week 4.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Those of us who are so-so at Week 4 solving probably benefited from the unusual qualities that joon remarked on here. The hardest part of most late-month metas is pattern-spotting. Here, the pattern is in plain sight, so it remains only to spend time thinking about what else might fit the pattern. In other words, this meta rewarded brute force.

      • Dave C says:

        Agree on the pattern-spotting, though this week I went too far with it, and thus missed out. I grouped CHIMP-ORANG and GATOR-CROC together, and spent all my time looking for an Australian marsupial (say, Wallaby) to pair with ROO.

        • Matthew G. says:

          Yes, I initially went down the path of looking for other animals that were Australian and/or marsupials. But once I realized that we weren’t just looking for animal nicknames but animal nicknames that are strict curtailments of the full name with no other letters added, I had the answer in minutes.

          • Shuka says:

            Me too – in the end I settled on the tasmanian devil, which are commonly referred to as “devils”. Hence devilbird, which has its own wiki- page, and seems to satisfy the requirements of the meta. But this wasn’t accepted.
            Ah well.

          • Joe says:

            Shuka, I think your answer is the best. I noticed that we had two apes, two reptiles, and one marsupial. I thought we needed a second marsupial to make the theme complete. Like you, I thought of Tasmanian devil. Unlike you, I was looking for the shortened name “taz.” I couldn’t find that in any bird names. I like what you found and can’t think of any reason why it isn’t a valid answer.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Shuka — I’ll send DEVILBIRD to the panel today and report back here with their decision. I will be surprised with a yes, though — I’ve never heard of Tasmanian devils being called “devils,” and that’s not a shortening of one longer word like the rest of the theme entries are, and I’ve never heard of a devilbird.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Shuka — panel voted 4-0 against DEVILBIRD.

  2. tabstop says:

    Thought of rhino, didn’t think of hippo, found a list of birds and went past whippoorwill without seeing it, so eh.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I only found 7 good examples of this animal-shortening — the five used in the grid, plus HIPPO and RHINO. I was surprised it was so few.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    It seemed pretty easy for Week 4. Hippo occurred to me fourth, after I tried *coon*, *rhino*, and *possum* I agree with Joon that the choice for ROO could have been better, especially since it was hidden in a bird (another meaning for rook) and the others didn’t work that way. Coati didn’t occur to me, though pard for leopard did. Did anyone find an alternate answer with a short form of an animal’s name hidden in a bird? Three stars from me.

    • golod says:

      Chick-adee? (shortened form chicken is one definition)

    • Abide says:

      Hippo and rhino in ten minutes, over the next day found coon, roach, possum, touched all the bases. Then two days to find the bird. Hyphens made it tougher.

      My earlier efforts:


      HUMAN—>MAN—>scarlet breasted MANgo or herMANn’s gull.

      (Can you tell I spent my weekend on Wiki’s bird page?)

      • Abide says:

        Afterthought: since words inside other words are known in the cryptic world as “kangaroo words”, I wonder if puzzle could have been designed to make ROOk the meta answer.

      • Ale M says:

        I think cASSowary should be a 100% accepted theme answer. It’s a shortened animal name, and it fits INSIDE a bird’s name (not just a first or second portion of it). Having letters concealing it on either end is critical to it being a legit theme answer.

        • joon says:

          the big strike against it is that ass isn’t a shortened form of jackass. ass is the animal’s full name; jackass is a male ass.

  4. Rob says:

    “Grove product” presumably a reference to recently deceased Andy Grove, who founded chip-maker Intel?

  5. ajk says:

    Thought there had to be some way to narrow down the options, so figured since CROC and GATOR were linked, and CHIMP and ORANG were (admittedly less well) linked, we needed a bird that had another short form for Kangaroo.

    Not a lot of great options, but males are apparently referred to as ‘jacks,’ and with enough frequency to apparently inspire the 2003 animated film Kangaroo Jack’s title. Still thought it was thin, but the existence of the movie (which was well known enough that I’d heard of it) and the commonness of JACKDAWs (a bird that came to mind even without Googling) led me to submit that. Oh well. Got close(ish). :)

    ETA: At least I see I was not totally alone :)

    • Joe says:

      Google “define jack” and you’ll find:

      14. short for jackrabbit.

      I think your answer should be accepted, along with others.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        ajk — I’ll send JACKDAW to the panel today and report back here. I’ll be surprised with a yes, though, since shortening “jackrabbit” to “jack” isn’t something I’ve heard of.

        • ajk says:

          No worries, I wasn’t arguing for clemency. :)
          Besides, I wasn’t smart enough to base it on jackrabbit. :)

  6. Flinty Steve says:

    What was the title – “Little League” – all about? Is it little as in shortened (names) and league as in group? I solved the meta, but the title baffled me.

    • Matthew G. says:

      That’s what I assume it was. Also, since the MLB season begins this weekend, there was some nice misdirection to make one wonder whether baseball would be involved.

  7. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Step 1 – only animals that came to mind were oPOSSUM and racCOON.

    Step 2 – looked at list of birds on Wikipedia, almost 10,000 on the list – forget it!

    Step 3 – subconscious went to work, came up with rhino and hippo, but no bird.

    Step 4 – subconscious continues to churn, eventually says, “Hey! Whippoorwill!”

  8. Jeff M says:

    Hmm…the nickname thing went right over my head so I submitted, “alBATross.” I guess I am so conditioned to referring to these animals by their shortened names that looking for another animal was as far as I got. Oh well.

  9. Mutman says:

    I liked it! Tough solve. Eventually hippo just came to me.

    Alternate themer:

    Early magi gift?

    Myrrh in october

  10. jefe says:

    I did not see the pattern.

    Saw CHIMP, GATOR, and CROC right away. Didn’t occur to me that they were abbreviated forms – the title made me think I was looking for the words for the young of various animals.

    BITTERORANGE non-consecutively conceals the bird BITTERN, which I remembered from a previous meta, while BLACKROOK similarly hides LARK.

    Just before the deadline I saw ORANG, which pairs with CHIMP, while GATOR pairs with CROC, so my best guess was we were looking for a bird that conceals another bird to match ROOK, and went with MEAD(OWL)ARK.

    Why not use BOARDROOM or BREAKROOM instead?

  11. Amy L says:

    I thought perhaps Matt was throwing a bunch of red herons across the path. Lots of birds appear in the theme answers if you change a letter or two.
    – Rook, no change needed
    – Bittern
    – Puffin, from puttin
    – Plover, from proved
    – Crow, from croc
    But I think it’s just because there are so many birds. Luckily, I thought of hippo, then hoped Whippoorwill was spelled with two Ps.

  12. Giovanni P. says:

    Oh my god, I was WAY off on this one. However–I think I had some argument for my method.

    I found that the first word of each entry could be rhymed (somewhat) with a term for a group of young animals–a “Little League” if you will.

    BLACK-PACK/WRACK of rabbits
    BITTER-LITTER of kittens
    PUTTING-STRING of ponies
    MUCH-CLUTCH of chicks
    MICRO-FARROW of piglets (weakest, but still kind of a rhyme)

    Now, my idiot brain hitched on PACK for the first one, and I spent a ton of time trying to find a rhyme for BROOD or DOWN or HUSK. I finally settled on BLACK VULTURE for BLACK/WRACK. As soon as I submitted, I had a second thought and assumed Matt intended for WRACK on the first one…

    I don’t even know how to describe this sort of solve.

  13. Meg says:

    Is it just a coincidence that all 6 animals are mentioned in the theme song from Dr. Do”little”?

  14. sps says:

    Although I eventually reached the correct answer, the first path I went down was influenced by my expectations of a typical, two-step transformation in week 4. Change one letter of the odd-sounding BLACK ROOK to a B and you’ve got a BLACK BOOK, something which could be modified with the LITTLE from the title. Tried to make it work for the others but hit a wall. It wasn’t until I wrote out the themes that I noticed the pattern.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      This was exactly my thought as I began to solve the grid. I was really expecting Matt to spell out a bird starting with B for book. But it went nowhere with the others. Good idea for a future meta, though.

  15. Garrett says:

    Ooh, didn’t think of possum or coon! So now we have: roo croc coon chimp gator hippo orang rhino possum

    I used the technique of searching bird lists for hippo and rhino. Until today it did not occur to my why I did not find ‘hippo’ as a subset of a bird name (besides the fact that I did not think of it on my own) — most of the lists that contain the intended bird (and not all do) list it as Whip-poor-will, rather than Whippoorwill, so the search fails. Nasty!

    So, what we ideally were looking for is a medium-sized nightjar from North America named onomatopoeically after its song. :-)

  16. dbardolph says:

    I looked for hippo and failed – ack.

    But I did come up with screeCH OWl (Chow Chow). A stretch, I’ll admit, but it seems to fit.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I’m sending this to the panel today, though I will be surprised with a yes since CHOW is a breed of dog, not a separate animal like the others, and CHOW CHOW is two words while all the theme entries are one-word animals who have that one word shortened.

  17. Mike says:

    The grid was tough as hell, but I saw the meta task immediately, and thought of hippo early on. What took me so long (oh the humiliation when the stupid sisters come in before you) was that none of the bird lists I found on the net included whippoorwill, and it took a long time for my subconscious to produce that name.

  18. george says:

    I saw the theme and knew what to do immediately, but could not find a list of short animal names. I googled for it like Joon, set it down and came back, and just couldn’t find anything. At one point I was thinking it might be an NCAA theme, gators, knights, zips (kangaroos), but I ruled out that theme and went back to the original idea. After scrolling through a list of birds the best I could come up with was albatross, even though bat isn’t really a short name, it’s at least an animal hidden inside a bird.

    Side note, there should be a word to describe “abbreviated animal name”. Maybe “Taxoname”. that would have made my googling much more fruitful.

  19. SteveTheSax says:

    I also came up with chickadee. Whippoorwill is definitely more elegant, but why doesn’t chickadee count?

  20. Joe says:

    I submitted whiskey jack, jack being short for jackrabbit. But Matt didn’t accept it.

    I also considered bee eater, with bee short for bumblebee and eater short for anteater. There are probably a dozen more, all of which are at least as good as roo and orang, which I have never heard anyone use.

    This meta had too many possible valid answers.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      We’ll see what the panel says. I’ll report back here later today. Wouldn’t get your hopes up.

      Bee isn’t short for bumblebee; a bumblebee is a kind of bee. Eater is short for anteater? Come on…I shudder to think what the other dozen ideas were.

  21. LuckyGuest says:

    Man! So close! I saw (after chasing down every Fisher-Price Animal Friends release since Hector was a pup) that they (ROO, ORANG, etc.) were all “apocopations” – shortened version of the real word. I found a good list with hundreds of them, and so I looked down the list for a bird with a shortened name…and there on page 1 — supplemented by a choir of angels I actually heard — was “Budgie,” which is the “shortened version” of the real bird name, Budgerigar. Nailed a Week 4! When I saw that my name didn’t make it to the solvers list, I couldn’t figure out why. Now I see I slightly read the instruction wrong: coming up with a theme entry (a bird) that *contained* another (not necessarily a bird) apocopation. I guess it’d be stretching it to note that my theme entry “BUDGIE” *does* contain (like 100% contain) an apocopation (BUDGIE)… and so I… well, okay, maybe not.

    • george says:

      Thank you. I spent probably half my time to trying to find if a word like this existed, apocopations, awesome.

  22. Don Lloyd says:

    I saw the hidden animals and at first took “little league” to indicate animals with short names. My list included BURROWING OWL (burro), CYGNUS (gnu), FOX SPARROW (ox) and, my favorite, QUAIL (ai – three-toed sloth, very useful in Scrabble).

    My solving technique now includes letting things marinate for a day before submitting and I realized we were being directed toward nick names, not necessarily short names.

  23. CoyoteCreed says:

    Luckily, Matt gave me credit for HIPPOLAIS WARBLER. Not sure how I found that before WHIPPOORWILL.

  24. Chefguymt says:

    With so many answers other than the desired whippoorwill having to be submitted to “the panel” for arbitration, it’s clear this meta is flawed. I submitted chickadee, too.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I don’t “have” to submit CHICKADEE to the panel, I’m doing it as a courtesy. “Chick” is a young chicken, not a shortened form of chicken.

      232 solvers sent in WHIPPOORWILL; 12 sent in your CHICKADEE, 2 sent in DEVILBIRD, and 3 sent in JACKDAW or WHISKEY JACK. And none of those entrants mentioned having seen hippo/whippoorwill and rejecting it.

      I appreciate those of you who’ve commented that they’ll accept my and/or the panel’s decisions instead of obstinately arguing in favor of a not-very-good answer. That I have a panel to adjudicate tough decisions, and am willing to let them judge close (and, as here, not-very-close) calls is a silly thing to mock.

      • ajk says:

        As one who had one submitted, I would have told you not to bother for my own part. For anyone to conclude that you are anything but extremely generous in such situations is difficult for me to understand. And I’ve only been doing this for like 8 months, so I’m sure those with longer experience would have seen it many times over. :)

        Also, for the record, I didn’t consider whippoorwill, and probably would have rejected it–not because it wasn’t a better answer, but because I didn’t get the shortening vs just nickname aspect. My fault, not the meta’s.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Panel voted 4-0 against CHICKADEE.

  25. Gideon says:

    PSA – FTW:

    I got from hippo to whippoorwill in seconds using onelook. Lookie here:*hippo*:bird

    I can hardly imagine working on metas without that site…

  26. Matt Gaffney says:

    The panel voted 2-2 on JACKDAW or WHISKEY JACK, so the three entrants who submitted one of those two will have their entries counted as correct.

  27. dave glasser says:

    I also fell into the “needs to pair with ROO” trap. Tried finding things with EURO (a kind of wallaby??) and eventually submitted ALASKAN GAME HEN, which would be an amazing answer if I hadn’t made it up.

  28. Jeremiahsjohnson says:

    While I submitted the right answer, I admittedly didn’t love it because whip-poor-will usually seems to come with dashes. (But I found nothing better.) Was that a consideration at all?

  29. Jeff says:

    Anyone else spend the entire weekend with Cockeyed Optimist from South Pacific in their head? Thanks Matt….

    “But every whippoorwill is selling me a bill. And telling me it just ain’t so.”

Comments are closed.