MGWCC #413

crossword 4:01 
meta 10 minutes 


mgwcc413hello and welcome to episode #413 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Back to Blood”. for this week 5 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a famous American athlete who would have made a good sixth theme entry in this puzzle. who are the five theme answers in the grid?

  • {She’ll turn 100 on February 6th, 2017} ZSA ZSA GABOR. things i did not know: zsa zsa gabor is still alive. but it’s true, at least as of this writing.
  • {“I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise” speaker} GEORGE GERSHWIN.
  • {Actress with three Oscar nominations by the age of 25} NATALIE WOOD. JENNIFER LAWRENCE also fits this clue (but not the grid).
  • {“The Usual Suspects” actor} STEPHEN BALDWIN. he was pretty good in that! i have not seen any of his other films, to my knowledge.
  • {Guitarist on “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” and “These Dreams”} NANCY WILSON. i’m guessing those are heart songs.

what do these five people have in common? i think it’s fairly evident that they all have famous siblings. eva and magda gabor, ira gershwin, alec/danny/billy baldwin, and ann wilson. i didn’t know about actress lana wood, natalie’s younger sister, but she’s real; her biggest role seems to have been as bond girl plenty o’toole in diamonds are forever.

well, there’s gotta be more to it than that, right? there are plenty of famous american athletes with siblings who are also famous. so let’s dig a little deeper. a lot of those implied siblings are borderline crosswordese due to their short, grid-friendly names: lyricist IRA gershwin shows up a lot more than composer GEORGE despite the latter’s greater claim to fame, for example. likewise EVA gabor over ZSA ZSA (or even ZSA, her “half-sister”). ALEC is by far the crosswordiest baldwin brother (but he’s also the most accomplished actor among them, so it doesn’t stand out as much). i don’t know that ANN wilson gets a lot of grid love among the many other ways to clue ANN, although i do remember a very clever lat puzzle by dan naddor that used the NNW hidden in ANN WILSON as part of a compass theme. likewise, LANA wood seems to lose out to turner and lang and now del rey for most of the LANA clues.

anyway, let’s look at the title a little closer, shall we? the “blood” part is hinting at the sibling relationships, but what’s “back” doing in there? “back to blood” is apparently the name of a 2012 tom wolfe novel (didn’t know that, but 21st century literature is a pretty vast unknown to me). could it be that there’s some reverse action going on?

why yes, it could, and there is. all five of the siblings (or rather, one sibling each of all five theme answers) are hidden backwards in the grid:

  • {French city often painted by Van Gogh} PARIS.
  • {Year’s events} ANNAL. this was the first one that caught my eye, although i wanted to reverse it to LANA with an extra N.
  • {Northeastern trains} ACELAS.
  • {Waterways of Venezia} CANALI. this is an italian word i did not know, but it’s a clear cognate and italian plurals do tend to end with -i, so it just filled itself in. i’m pretty sure the word for canal (singular) in italian is just canal, because that’s the real name of the great venetian painter known more commonly as canaletto.
  • {Black bird} RAVEN.

in an extra bit of tightness, each name is the reverse of an entire grid entry with the first and last letters truncated. i don’t know if that has extra significance, but it’s nice.

so who are we looking for as the meta answer? well, cutting off the first and last letters of the various fill answers and reversing them produces a lot of garbage, mostly, but {Contractor, often} TILER at 65-across gives us ELI, the first name of a famous guy with a famous athlete sibling. and that sibling is recently retired (and controversy-embroiled) quarterback peyton manning.

this is actually the second time in my memory that he has been the answer to a mgwcc meta, but the first one was mgwcc #28, way back in 2008. (that’s the third link to 2008 diary of a crossword fiend i’ve made in this post. throwback tuesday!) in that puzzle, you had to spell out his first name from three canadian postal abbreviations: PE + YT + ON. in researching this week’s puzzle, i learned that by some coincidence (at least i assume it’s coincidence), lana wood’s breakout role was in peyton place.

this is a deceptively simple meta, but the construction is really top-notch. there are big chunks of black squares in the grid, sure, but that is tough to avoid with a central 11. meanwhile, matt has seamlessly incorporated five long theme answers and six short theme answers into a 74-word grid. does the fill suffer? i didn’t like NANNER but that’s about it. well done.

judging from the leaderboard, week 5 played easier than week 3 or 4. i didn’t mind, though. how’d this month treat you?

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14 Responses to MGWCC #413

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 262 right answers this week. Too many for a Week 5, so now I’ll need to restore my rep on July 29th.

  2. ajk says:

    First 5-for-5. :)

  3. Amy L says:

    When I saw the celebrities and the BACK TO BLOOD title, I thought of the Korean hallyu (entertainment) fan sites that list actors’ and actresses’ blood types. (It’s similar to Hollywood fan sites listing astrological signs, as a hint to personality and character.) I actually wondered if I could find the five theme entries’ blood types on Google. Fortunately, I didn’t pursue that line of inquiry, but it would make an interesting meta!

  4. mpstable says:

    i got this one with my last second guess, so i’m very glad to have a rare for me 5-5 month. maybe it’s splitting hairs, but the wording of the instructions got me. i never examined the grid after solving. “would made a good nth theme entry” suggests to me that the theme answers in and of themselves are a discernible set (e.g. the recent zebra zinger). “would complete the theme” instructions are a signal that there’s something going on in the grid or the clues (e.g. the guest constructor lebron james hidden river meta from a while back).
    maybe i’m off base, because a ton of people got this one. thanks as ever, Matt, for the puzzles, and my apologies if this is too small a nit to pick

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I did consider phrasing it as “complete this puzzle’s theme,” but I didn’t like that these six are not a precise, well-defined set like the Seven Dwarfs or continents. On the other hand, “would have made a good sixth theme entry” doesn’t hint that there’s something in the grid (as you say), but it also doesn’t preclude it, so I went with that one. Bit of a tough call.

  5. Jim S says:

    Nice puzzle indeed! Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from Matt, but I half expected to come here and find that the reversed sibling names were in answers whose clue numbers were somehow meaningful to the theme answer or sibling. Too much to ask for, I think – it’s not like jersey numbers or other numerical were common across the theme answers… Happy to be able to claim I got a Week 5 even if it was far easier than normal :)

  6. Wayne says:

    I submitted the right answer, but I knew I hadn’t solved it, since I never heard the “click”. I flipped a coin to decide between the Mannings and the Williams. Then I went with Peyton because the *only* thing I could see that the five theme entries had in common was that the sibling in the grid had the longer first name. None of them had the same length name, so I couldn’t rule that out as the relevant criteria. But as I said…no “click”. I feel so dirty.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Ditto, ditto, and ditto, except that I chose the wrong side of the coin and went with Serena Williams–again, on the longer-name connection. I saw the siblings connection before I had the grid even half-full, but searched in vain for the next insight. And as soon as I gave up this morning and submitted Serena, I said aloud to my wife, “Now I’m sure it’ll be Peyton Manning.” No joke.

  7. Paul Coulter says:

    For me, the title immediately suggested looking for a word reversal, since “back to” is a common indicator in cryptics. As Joon says, the link between the theme celebrities was fairly obvious, so this played like a mid month meta much more than a Week 5. Solid work, but not particularly memorable. I wonder if anyone who saw the technique submitted anything other than Peyton Manning?

    • jps says:

      Yes. Much more in my wheelhouse with the clear reversal indicator. Unlike last week’s “mixed” sending me looking for anagrams.

  8. I’m curious, did anyone send in Lou Banach as their answer? Lou and his brother Ed (hidden backwards in ADEW) aren’t nearly as notable as the Manning brothers, but a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics is nothing to scoff at, so I’d argue that Lou Banach would be an acceptable alternate answer.

    • pgw says:

      I submitted Peyton, but mentioned ’90s college basketball star Billy McCaffrey, whose brother Ed was a receiver for the Broncos, in my comment.

  9. Scott says:

    I got the answer the same way Wayne did as referenced above. When submitting my answer, I called it a Hail Mary pass…and it ended up connecting!

  10. Norm says:

    Okay, I can’t complain since my answer totally missed the BACK part of the title, but the title is not always dispositive. I went with the number of siblings, and three were needed for symmetry, so JOE DIMAGGIO was the obvious choice and he’s hecka more famous than either of those Manning kids. I still like my answer better. So there.

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