MGWCC #416

crossword 3:15 
meta ~3 minutes 


mgwcc416hello and welcome to episode #416 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “It’s a Sex Thing”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt gives us the unusual instruction to Fill in the blank: [FLAG OF ___] with the name of a country in order to form a good final theme entry for this puzzle. what’s the theme? five clues get asterisks:

  • {Villain whose given name is Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot*} THE PENGUIN.
  • {Buster Olney writes for it*} ESPN THE MAGAZINE.
  • {Craig Alexander of Australia or Andreas Raelert of Germany, notably*} IRONMAN.
  • {Who song sometimes referenced in crosswords due to its useful third word*} LOVE REIGN O’ER ME. anybody wanna guess where i first learned about this song? no? well it was from mgwcc #009, back before i even started blogging the puzzle weekly.
  • {Defense Secretary, 2013-2015*} CHUCK HAGEL.

what do these five have in common? nothing that i could tell at first, so i googled the one i basically know nothing about: the who song. turns out it’s from the album quadrophenia, and that was all i needed to break open the meta:

  • THE PENGUIN wears a monocle.
  • ESPN THE MAGAZINE is issued biweekly, i.e. every two weeks. there doesn’t seem to be a word for things that occur twice a week, maybe because there aren’t very many things like that. BEQ’s blog puzzles, i guess, and i really can’t think of anything else.
  • IRONMAN competitions are also known as triathlons.
  • LOVE REIGN O’ER ME, as i said, is from quadrophenia.
  • and of course CHUCK HAGEL worked in the pentagon, both literally and metaphorically.

there is a mixture of latin and greek here with the prefixes, and that’s hinted at again by the title; “sex-” is the latin prefix for six, but we’re looking for something hex-. and it’s the flag of israel, which prominently features the star of david, notably a hexagram.
flag of israel
curiously, the other definition of hexagram comes extremely close to describing the lines in the four corners of the flag of south korea:
flag of south korea
but they’re trigrams, not hexagrams, so this is definitely not the right answer. still, i wonder if anybody was misled. (probably not, and i don’t expect this was a deliberate trap.)

other stuff:

  • {Much of Russia, Scandinavia, and Canada} TAIGA. probably the best biome name. it’s a far northern coniferous forest.
  • {Man’s name that becomes a woman’s name if you put a Y at the end} EMIL. i don’t believe i have ever associated these two names in my mind, so i enjoyed this clue.
  • {Enrique Pena ___ (Mexico’s president)} NIETO. dang, i have never seen this name in a crossword, and i’m adding it to my wordlist right now. i know who he is, of course, but that’s a pretty useful collection of letters.
  • {Most noteworthy feature of a sphynx cat (more or less)} NO HAIR. eh, this is kind of a roll-your-own entry, but it’s constrained by three theme answers, and i can’t think of anything else fitting N_H__R, so i’ll give it a pass.

that’s all i got this week. based on the leaderboard, it looks like this one’s playing unusually tough for a week 3. how’d it treat you?

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71 Responses to MGWCC #416

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 119 right answers this week. Tough for a Week 3, and tougher than I thought it’d be.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    I didn’t come close on any of my paths, but this was brilliant. Five stars from me.

  3. ajk says:

    Didn’t get how the magazine stood for two, but got the monacle/triathlon/quadrophenia/pentagon set, and that was enough (after many, many blind alleys).

    The wiki entry for hexagram also mentions that the Latin form is sexagram, which clinched it for me.

  4. Pete Rimkus says:

    According to Wikipedia (hey … its on the internet so its gotta be true) the Star of David is “…A hexagram (Greek) or sexagram (Latin)…”.

    (edited – a minute late with that tidbit…)

    What’s up with the asymmetry?
    I figured that HAD to play into the meta, but not that I can see.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I thought a lot about this, too, but mostly figured Matt really wanted both LOVEREIGNOERME and ESPNTHEMAGAZINE to be in there, enough to overrule perfectionism.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Right. There were very few options for QUADRI- and Quadrophenia was by far the best. Same with ESPN THE MAGAZINE.

    • pgw says:

      Looks like Matt couldn’t find bi- and quad- things with the same number of letters so he added a cheater square. That certainly has to do with the meta, but not in any interesting or revealing way.

    • Ale M says:

      I was stuck on that for a while. Because the clue for LOVE REIGN O’ER ME points out the third word, which has been SHORTENED BY ONE LETTER! Therefore (I thought) the asymmetrical black square had to be the way in to find the meta answer.

  5. Scott says:

    Interesting and fun puzzle, but I failed to get the meta. I was stuck on the title suggesting a sex connection. I saw rhymes as follows…
    Hagel – Kegel exercises
    O’er Me – Ovary
    Magazine – Gamine
    …and never got any further!

    • Raygirl says:

      For a while I was stuck on the (ahem) descending testes in the first column….

    • Kaille says:

      Scott, I was misled by the “sex thing” as well and meandered down all sorts of wrong paths, all having to do with male/female as opposed to numerical prefixes. I finally had to give up. It makes so much sense now, but I just could not find a unifying theme here. A very clever puzzle!

      • Scott says:

        Hello Kaille. You are from the WSJ thread, right?

      • Matthew G. says:

        I saw that IRON MAN could be a rebus for FEMALE (IRON = FE, MAN = MALE, and so FE+MALE = FEMALE), but I won’t blame my failure for that as I decided pretty quickly it was a red herring.

        I googled the Who song, but unfortunately didn’t pay attention to the name of the album it was from. I might have gotten this if I had. As it was, it’s hard to remember a Week 3 meta that felt as much of a brick wall to me as this one did. I got absolutely Nowhere. I did strongly suspect that the “sex” in the title referred to the Latin six, but was never able to make the connection to the theme entries.

      • Lise says:

        Hi, Kaille and Scott. Jumping in from WSJ site….
        Sex in the title threw me, too. First noticed that all the metas could be preceded by “THE” in some way:
        The Penguin
        The Magazine
        The Ironman Competition
        The Who
        The Cabinet, or The Hag[u]e in chuckHAGEl
        So I thought THE NETHERLANDS (close to the euphemism for sexual parts). Too inelegant, though.

        Then, from the EMIL/Y fill, I thought I should add or substitute a Y (as in chromosome) to some set of letters in the metas. Or XY.

        Finally sent in FRANCE at the eleventh hour (and 59 minutes) because the French Open started on Sunday, and I could twist some of the metas to meet the theory (the [O]PEN guin, iRONman Lo[A]VER), and French women have been up in arms (maybe a reference to Defense Secretary?) about sexual harassment…. Knew it couldn’t be right, but what the hey?

  6. Raygirl says:

    Matt– did you intend monocle or DC Uni-verse?

  7. Jim S. says:

    Argh! Got stuck on an ear worm of sorts – cruciworm, perhaps? – by the proliferation of D names and unique vowel followers associated with the theme answers. To me, The Penguin is most associated with Danny DEvito. ESPN The Magazine is run by Walt DIsney. Ironman is played by Robert DOwney Jr. The Who’s front man is Roger DAltrey. Chuck Hagle’s wife’s maiden name is DUnn. Too much to be a coincidence, right? WRONG! It was a coincidence. Doesn’t tie back to the title at all, and there aren’t any world leaders whose names start with “DY” – the title suggested a confined set of 6 theme answers, so I considered a, e, I, o, u, and y as my D-following vowels.

    Once I got it in my head, there was no getting rid of it.

  8. Amy L says:

    Did anyone else notice that there is not one F (the sixth letter in the alphabet) in this puzzle? That’s as close as I came to cracking this week 3 puzzle that played like a week 6.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I played around a lot with changing M’s and Ns (for neuter) to F’s or to each other, after noticing NOHAIR could be MOHAIR, or maybe somehow to NOFAIR if H was involved. Nope. Same with adding M, F, or N, as in OERME (block) to (M)ERME(N)

    • Garrett says:

      None of these: F, J, Q, or X. And there was an unusual percentage of Gs — about 4.7%, which is double the norm.

  9. Jeff M says:

    A few too many logical links for my taste. Had monocle, triathlon and quadrophenia; would have liked it better if Matt had stuck to either Greek or Latin. Guessed Serbia because the flag seems to have all of the elements of the themers (black/white birds, characters that looks like Es, a crown “reigning” on top…and then I guessed.

  10. Dan Seidman says:

    Semiweekly refers to something that occurs twice a week.

  11. aoboboa says:

    Can I get a ruling on France?
    Known as The Hexagon for its shape.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      You’d have a good case if the flag, itself, were called L’Hexagone, but that’s the country’s shape. The flag is known in French as Le Tricolor, of course. But maybe you have a reference citing the flag as L’Hexagone?

      • aoboboa says:

        Grasping at straws a bit here, but the flag of France represents the hexagonal country, just as Chuck Hegel represents the Pentagon. Not as elegant an answer as Israel, but still viable.

        • Ale M says:

          Then why wouldn’t Matt ask for a simpler meta answer?

          i.e. — This week’s meta answer is a country.

          Why would the meta answer need to be “FLAG OF ____” if the flag has nothing to do with it?

  12. Jason says:

    I was focusing too much on sex this week.

  13. Abide says:

    This was a perfect title, with the answer staring you in the face and providing high misdirection at the same time. Not sure I knew “sex” means “six” in Latin, but of course… sextuple.

    My original flag was Nepal, with the two pennants stuck together. Glad I thought things out a bit more.

  14. PuzzleCraig says:

    My thinking involved the Pittsburgh Penguins reinforced by ESPN the Magazine and Pete’s Theme (see mascot). Carl Hagelin was one of the players referred to as an ironman in an article (though not in that magazine) last season (despite not being a 500 appearance one) before he was traded to the Penguins, and Chuck Hagel’s name is basically a calque of his name. As Hagelin’s from Sweden, that’s the flag I went with. Sweden’s two-letter code se was close enough to sex to make the whole thing hang together for me.

    In reading the explanation, I find the mix of Latin and Greek offputting, and I note that the Penguin is not always depicted/portrayed with a monocle.

  15. John says:

    Sorry, but i have to call you on the asymmetry. One of the great puzzle makers of our time does not just do this. Ergo, within minutes of hunting for the meta, I concluded that this was integral to the meta. It was a complete distraction as everything i came upon was filtered with, but how does that fit with the asymmetry? I likely wasn’t getting this but i briefly noted Quadrophenia and Triathalon but was stuck on the meaning of the missing square. This needed to be pointed out in your blog, IMO.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Point taken. I won’t make a habit of it and the meta deserves a ding there, especially since I almost never use asymmetrical grids.

      • Garrett says:

        Yes, and when you do I think it always tied to the meta.

      • John says:

        Its sad to ding such a beautiful effort. The concept and realization are very high, even for Gaffney standards. Also, i don’t think it would have given any kind of help or hint to have said in the blog that the asymmetry was due to constraints and not part of the solve. All the themes were starred anyway. Oh well, wanted to end with a note of appreciation for a very impressive meta idea and construction.

  16. Bret says:

    Taking the initialism of Chuck Hagel and Rein Oer Me, I had chrom and I beat the thing silly trying to get the osome.

  17. KZ Condor says:

    Finally got this one Monday night but was hung up for the longest time on the central entry – I kept reading “Iron Man” as “Fe-male” and thinking the title suggested somehow reversing the sex of the theme entries. Seemed to be tons of red herrings. Very satisfying to get the solve.

    • Garrett says:

      Aha, so I am not the only one who saw FEMALE!

      • Matthew G. says:

        Me too (as I noted in a reply above before seeing this comment).

        • Coreen says:

          Me, too. Stuck on the Fe-male/Ironman and tried to brute force it for so long I actually dreamt about it; not that I obsess over puzzles or anything. Never cracked it even though I saw Quadrophenia and triathlon and mused over that. *sigh*

  18. Mutman says:

    So what’s up with the ‘____ C.’ Family? [Correct entries 98 thru 103]? Is someone so desperate to win the contest that they submit 6 entries? At least space them out and not look so obvious

    • ajk says:

      But if they’re all on the list, they’re all correct, no? And thus (presumably) all the same?

    • mrbreen says:

      Well they all have the exact same streak, annual solve number and total solve number. Clearly a family that solves together, which seems pretty awesome to me. And it’s not as though there aren’t other collaborative solvers here…

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, I’ve always found it kind of adorable how their names all show up at once. The family that solves together stays together.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Yes they are 100% legit — I met them in person at a tournament a few years back. They solve together sometimes and separately other times, and they all have separate subscriptions.

          • I love seeing their names pop up, too!

            I always imagined that they were all sitting in a kitchen together as a matriarch, a patriarch, a couple of kids old enough to help, and a couple not quite old enough but super excited to send in an answer and name with everyone else.

  19. Brian Kell says:

    Hmm. The theme didn’t seem constrained enough to force an asymmetric grid, so I assumed I was missing something. For example, couldn’t LANCE ARMSTRONG (a famous though disgraced BICYCLIST) have been used instead of ESPN THE MAGAZINE?

    I also didn’t feel that I had a strong enough click for ISRAEL as the answer. Why not NAMIBIA, for instance? The red stripe through the center of Namibia’s flag is a HEXAGON. Why not EQUATORIAL GUINEA, which has a SEXTUPLET of six-pointed stars? Was there something in the puzzle hinting at HEXAGRAM in particular that I missed?

    • Ale M says:

      I am very interested to hear if anyone understood the meta but submitted something besides Flag of Israel for the reasons above. Also, Uganda’s flag has six stripes.

  20. Garrett says:

    I went down so many ratholes this weekend that I was very frustrated. I kept thinking that the extra black square had to be part of the solving of the meta, and here is what I finally latched on: The Penguin is male, and there is HE in The, both there and in the magazine line; Ironman contains MAN; Hagel is a man; and the song ends with ME followed by thy mystery black square, which I assumed concealed the letter N. Thus I figured the answer was MEN. I submitted ArMENia for that reason. It seemed to satisfy the Sex Thing.

    When it eventually became clear that was not the correct answer, I thought that it must somehow refer to female. I started thinking about genes and chromosomes. Women have no Y — they just have X (two). Then I’m thinking the mystery square hides X. Other things: you can make GENE by anagramming letters in The Penguin, and in The Magazine, and you can anagram GENOME out of the letters in …GNOErME. You can anagram GAL out of letters in hAGeL, and GAL is hanging off of the G as well. Then there is IRONMAN. A man is a MALE and Iron’s symbol is FE, so FEMALE. So I figured we must be looking for a flag with an X on it. Of course, this is all moot, as I had already submitted my entry, but it was fun to keep trying to figure it out.

    I was pretty blown away this morning when I saw Joon’s write-up and Matt’s remark that 119 people got this. It is very clever, and it was very hard.

  21. Mutman says:

    Re: ajk

    Yes. They are all correct. Clearly. Just saying they have 6 chances of being drawn this week to my one.

    Just an observation.

    • ajk says:

      Ah, ok. Missed the contest bit. :) Apologies.

    • Dele says:

      If (and I’m obviously only guessing that this is the case) they purchased six subscriptions, why not? Add me to the list for finding it endearing– I wish more of my family members were into these kinds of things.

      Didn’t have much time to work on the meta this week, and might not have gotten there anyway, but I like the concept. Thanks, Matt!

  22. Daniel Barkalow says:

    The clue “Enero begins it, if you give it a tilde” made me think: “Butt if you don’t…”

  23. Mutman says:

    I think the family solve is awesome! My daughter still has some basic training to get thru before MGWCC. :)

    • Pete Rimkus says:

      Every once in a while my daughter (D Division champ at this years ACPT he added proudly) takes a crack at one of these … but she doesn’t have a subscription so doesn’t submit

  24. Since others have mentioned the “Fe-Male” trap for IRONMAN, I’m wondering if others spent time chasing either of these two gender-related red herrings like I did for a few days:

    1) The O in the logo for The Who has an arrow extending from it, just like the typical symbol for a male.
    2) To date, there hasn’t been a single female U.S. Defense Secretary.

    Couldn’t make anything out of those two facts, but given the title, they did feel like sorta promising leads.

    • John says:

      Yes, i was on to the Who logo, and the Penguin’s closed, somewhat arrow-like, umbrella, and ESPN logo, which looks like an arrow went through it. The Who thing especially though, i got momentarily excited before realizing it was bupkis. Hate that feeling.

    • Dave C says:

      me 3. Spent some time on gender symbols after excitingly noting the Who logo. I never got the SEX as SIX thing either. Kept my head in the gutter….

  25. Jsolomon1999 says:

    I got the meta, off the triathletes and biweekly but did think the penguin is monogamous. Never thought of monocle.

  26. Robert V Hutchinson says:

    I count myself (no pun intended) very fortunate to have immediately noticed that we were asked for a “final” theme entry rather than an “additional” or “appropriate” one. I had triathlon on the brain when I filled in IRONMAN, and seeing that the Who song was on Quadrophenia sealed it for me.

    My biggest challenge was figuring out the Penguin connection! My brain just kept glossing over his monocle.

  27. Joshua Kosman says:

    curiously, the other definition of hexagram comes extremely close to describing the lines in the four corners of the flag of south korea, but they’re trigrams, not hexagrams, so this is definitely not the right answer. still, i wonder if anybody was misled.

    [raises hand] That would be me. I got to “hexagram” in what would’ve been leaderboard-topping time, then faceplanted with South Korea for just the reasons you mention. Grumble.

  28. Wayne says:

    Hands up everyone who confidently entered ESPN instead of AARP in Tuesday’s NYT grid? Great. Now I’m being led astray by MGWCC even when I’m not solving MGWCC.

  29. Abby B says:

    Because of the asymmetry and the user of “o’er” (though I know that’s Townshend’s fault), I assumed the number of letters in the theme answers were important and went after them lexically instead of by meaning. This cause me no end of trouble, and I never fully recovered. Doesn’t help that “flag of Czechoslovakia” makes none of the letters in the theme words unique. :-(

  30. ML Perry says:

    Well – I was so afraid I had the wrong answer because it came to me quickly and I almost never solve any week tougher than week 2! I had triathlete – which didn’t fit into the grid – and Quadrophenia. Then, I looked at the title and I knew!
    Or did I…I had to google “Country” and “Hex” to get the answer. (I know not to google “sex”…ha ha)
    I was very happy to learn that I was correct since I never figured out the “mono”, “bi” or “penta” connections. That type of jumping to conclusions had not served me well in the past, but it did for this puzzle.
    That others found this a hard one gives me hope for my solving ability getting better so that I can actually figure out more of week 3 type puzzles.

    • Garrett says:

      I had to google “Country” and “Hex” to get the answer. (I know not to google “sex”…ha ha);

      That reminds me of a lesson I learned about using Google one time. I was working on a crossword (I do not remember who's it was) and was pretty stumped. I had this one clue, "Wild Asian ass," and I thought it sounded familiar, but I could not put my finger on it (anoa was what I was trying to recall). So I googled "Wild Asian ass," and let me tell you, I was not expecting what came up (most of it images).

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