MGWCC #425

crossword 3:51 
meta 1 day 


mgwcc425hello and welcome to episode #425 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “21”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a well-known cable TV channel. what are the theme answers? there are six long answers in the grid with starred clues:

  • {It was created by Executive Order on March 1, 1961*} PEACE CORPS.
  • {Airport 300 miles southeast of McCarran*} is phoenix SKY HARBOR airport.
  • {It’s across the Hudson River from the Big Apple*} is FORT LEE, NJ. fellow hamilton fans may get a kick of out this: fort lee was founded by and named for disgraced continental army general charles lee. (yeah, he’s not the choice i would’ve gone with, either.) nowadays there are plenty of people named lee living there because of its very large korean immigrant population.
  • {Puzzling Hoosier*} WILL SHORTZ. he no longer lives in indiana, but i guess he’ll always be a hoosier.
  • {1950s stalemate whose effects linger to this day*} KOREAN WAR. oof. too soon.
  • {Popular camera introduced in 1959*} CANONFLEX.

this meta took me a little while, and i eventually decided to collaborate with andy kravis. the first thing i noticed (on my own) was that almost all of the theme entries contained OR and the OR sound: CORPS, FORT, KOR/WAR, SHORTZ. SKY HARBOR contains OR but not an OR sound, and CANONFLEX comes nowhere close to either, so… that idea went out the window.

a few minutes later i realized that there are three-letter acronyms that you can associate with each entry. the peace corps was created by the executive order of JFK; sky harbor’s airport code is PHX; fort lee is the western terminus of the GWB, or george washington bridge; will shortz is the crossword editor at the NYT (or NYX) and also puzzlemaster on NPR; the korean war stalemate is famously associated with a DMZ; and the canonflex was an early SLR camera. but that’s where i got stuck; i didn’t know how to proceed, and the next day when i came back to it i was looking at it with andy.

andy had also noticed the 3-letter abbreviations, although he thought fort lee was maybe just NYC. (andy lives in brooklyn but doesn’t have a car; i, on the other hand, drive over the GWB several times a year in driving back & forth between boston and dc or philly. plus, i’ve been listening a lot to in the heights, in which the GWB is so strongly featured, both visually and by mention, that it’s almost a supporting character.) we started tossing ideas about what the title might mean back and forth: blackjack; adele album; maybe split the 3 letters into 2 and 1. my nagging suspicion was that there are 21 consonants (including Y and W), and all of the implied acronyms were all consonants. but i didn’t know how to get from there to a cable channel, since there are plenty that are all consonants.

andy then noticed that if you assign NYT to will shortz, then all six trigrams are non-overlapping, which means we’ve used 18 of the 21 consonants. that leaves three: C, Q, and V. does that point to a particular well-known cable channel? it sure does: home shopping channel QVC. so that’s the answer. (thing i learned just now: QVC stands for “quality, value, convenience”.)

that is a really neat meta. the 3-letter initialisms really are strongly associated with each of those theme entries, and the title is an essential part of the solve, pointing to the 21 consonants in the alphabet. i loved it.

other bits:

  • {Telly, on the telly} is THEO kojak, played by telly savalas. fun clue.
  • {President for whom an African capital is named} is MONROE. monrovia, liberia.
  • {Musical Athenians} REM. athens, georgia.
  • {Country currently with seven chessplayers in the world’s top 100} INDIA. yeah, i can name only one of them. also i don’t think chessplayers is a word.
  • {“Die Dreigroschen Oper” playwright, 1928} is bertolt BRECHT. i didn’t realize until i was looking at the clue again just now that “die dreigroschen oper” is the threepenny opera, which i’ve read. while solving it i just saw a german playwright in 6 letters, and i already had the B.
  • {What the annotation “vide supra” means} SEE ABOVE. hey, what gives? i looked at the preceding clues but i didn’t see anything telling me what vide supra means.
  • {Otto with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry} is otto HAHN. the original version of the puzzle said physics, which is a natural mistake since hahn won for discovering nuclear fission. but as hahn’s collaborator lise meitner put it: “Hahn and Strassmann were able to do this by exceptionally good chemistry, fantastically good chemistry, which was way ahead of what anyone else was capable of at that time…. And that was because they were such good chemists. Somehow they really succeeded in using chemistry to demonstrate and prove a physical process.” meitner, by the way, was left out of the nobel prize even though it was she who provided the theoretical explanation of hahn’s fission experiments.
  • {Lorenzo da Ponte work, often} LIBRETTO. da ponte was the librettist for mozart’s italian operas, notably don giovanni.

that’s all for me this week. great puzzle for week 4 and i’m looking forward to the challenge of week 5! how about you?

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

42 Responses to MGWCC #425

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    After seeing SHO in WILLSHORTZ, NFL in CANONFLEX, and SKY (a British channel) in SKYHARBOR, my first thought was that there’d be three letter channels in them all. When this failed, I tried the 50’s/early 60’s vibe, including Shortz’s birthday. Then it was on to -gates: Bridgegate for Ft. Lee, Crosswordgate for Will Shortz, i.e. the plagiarism scandal, and much more weakly, Watergate for Peace Corps’s associationb with D.C. After finally seeing the right path, and crossing off 18 letters from the alphabet, I was thick enough to try anagramming ACEIOQUV for about ten minutes before realizing I needed to take out the vowels, thus explaining the title. As I commented along with my answer, “Oops, looks like I forgot the other channel – IOU A&E.” Matt delights us with yet another interesting technique. 4.5 Starz from me.

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks, Joon — 128 right answers this week.

    Right when I got the idea of six 3-letter initialisms and one for the meta reveal I said, please crossword gods, let there be a usable set. And there was.

  3. sharkicicles says:

    Wow, I was nowhere close on this one. Being from Chicago, though, I don’t think I ever would have come up with GWB even if I got the other acronyms. Cool meta though, and I loved the clue for REM.

    • At first I wasn’t sure about GWB where the other initialisms jumped right out at me,* but fortunately the reference to the bridge is right in the first paragraph of the Fort Lee wiki page, which made it easier to pick out.

      *Well, not “right out” — more like after a day or two of looking at the grid off-and-on. But the other initialisms were much more obvious.

      • sharkicicles says:

        Good point, Evan. Matt is almost always good at making sure knowledge that’s necessary to solve the meta is easily Wikied or Googled.

        Bad month for me- looking forward to a week 1!

      • Qatsi says:

        This was one of those puzzles where the meta didn’t jump out at me when solving the crossword, but came to me rather quickly after looking at it a couple days later. (I had the same experience with last Friday’s WSJ meta.)

        Like you, Evan, I didn’t get GWB until looking up the Wikipedia article on Fort Lee. I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it right away, having followed the Bridgegate story (“time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”) since day one.

        This is the third month in a row where I’ve connected on the Week 4 puzzle after striking out on Week 3. Having said that – this month will have a Week 5.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    Wow, I never got close. I had been so sure that it was not coincidental that the three theme entries at the bottom of the grid ended with exceptionally scrabbly letters: Z, X, and J — especially because CANONFLEX is obscure and the “NJ” part of FORT LEE NJ makes for an awkward-looking entry unless necessary to the meta. So I thought appearance of those rare letters specifically at the end of those entries had to be meta-related. I thought they would then be paired in some way with the three theme entries at the top (which all have endings that with an “OR” sound or spelling, as joon notes).

    I also spent a lot of time thinking about the GWB, but never noticed the acronym connection elsewhere. Alas.

    • Jon says:

      I was also stuck on what I perceived was an awkward way to end the theme entries. Fort Lee would have been fine but FORT LEE NJ was quite odd especially since the clue doesn’t really point to an abbreviation being in the entry. So that and CANONFLEX and WILLSHORTZ made me “sure” that the Scrabbly letters at the ends of the theme answers had something to do with the theme.

      I’m also quite dismayed that for 3 months in a row I haven’t solved a week 3 or 4 or 5 meta.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, I was _sure_ the scrabby letters were relevant right up until I read joon’s post. I just assumed that I hadn’t been able to find the next insight; I was pretty shocked to discover that those letters really were a coincidence.

        I’ve been pretty successful in recent months with puzzles that get the number of correct answers this one did (100 and up), so like you I’m bummed not to have gotten this one.

  5. Lance says:

    This was a Tuesday Morning Shower solve for me. I’d been kicking around all kinds of ideas to no avail, and brainstormed all the wrong things off the title (blackjack? Adele songs? drinking age?). Showering, I wondered whether the weird letters in WILL SHORTZ and CANONFLEX and FORT LEE NJ meant that their Scrabble scores were all 21, though then I remembered KOREAN WAR, which wasn’t going to get close.

    Finally, because PHX was so strongly associated with SKY HARBOR (and that’s pretty much the only notable thing about Sky Harbor, other than PHOENIX spelled out), I realized that seven sets of three–one for each of the six entries and one for the answer–would add up to 21, and that got me on the right path.

    I mostly liked this meta; I would have liked a little more guidance from the title, or some sort of hint in the grid (a pangram? making the entry ATOZ a little more prominent?). Also, while it’s true that

    the 3-letter initialisms really are strongly associated with each of those theme entries

    the fact that Will Shortz is also strongly associated with NPR, and that my first thought on the Korean War was ROK (perhaps just a failure on my part to know enough history), made me feel a little lucky to get to the answer. (Also, “strongly associated” might be a little strong for the Peace Corps and JFK.)

    Still, a pretty good meta, I thought.

    • Matt says:

      Well I intentionally had the clues aim at the initialism, so mentioning the Executive Order for PEACE CORPS, “effects linger to this day” for DMZ, etc.

      Also ROK wouldn’t be it because the K would dupe KOREAN WAR.

      • Andy says:

        This is where I got hung up. Not from any fault on your part, just that I had PHX, GWB, NYT (or NPR, wasn’t sure yet), and SLR and then wasn’t sure about the other 2. Didn’t get as far as JFK though it’s obvious in retrospect, and I tentatively had MASH but wanted a 3 letter and wasn’t happy with ROK.

        Never even thought of the DMZ, even though I’ve visited it from both sides in the last few months. Funny how your brain blocks the obvious.

  6. KZ Condor says:

    My first thought was that the theme entries themselves were nearly pan-consonantal – they lack only QVMD – and it seemed clear that the title had to refer to this. I was lucky that my mind was thus primed when I looked up the airport code for Sky Harbor. It all fell right into place after that.

  7. LuckyGuest says:

    Wow… so close yet millions of miles of rabbit droppings away. I actually did get all the three-letter acronyms, but never went any further with them. Honestly, I’ve never chased so many promising-but-wrong leads in my puzzling life. For one, I saw the “See Above” answer and noticed “ESPRIT” above “PEACECORPS” — needing only a “DE” to act as an alternative answer to “it was created by Executive Order…” — Cool! Another “alternative answer meta”! Also “above” WILLSHORTZ was INDIA; lacking an -NAN as an alternative answer to “[Puzzling] Hoosier.” And as I was looking for more alternative answers, I discovered that CANdid Camera was also a “Popular camera introduced in 1959;” which replaced more letters in CANONFLEX. Similarly, I could have seen COLDWAR as a “1950s stalemate,” supplanting KOREAN. Nothing really clicked (obviously), and I never did figure out what 21 had to do with anything… except “The Documentary Channel” (which had documentaries related to the *’d entries) had 21 letters. So what is the current longest streak for broken streaks? I’ve got to be up there… Congrats to the (at least) 128 people who proved again to be smarter than I.

    • LuckyGuest says:

      …and to add to an already too-long post, I thought I was onto something when “X and Y” phrases could be pulled from the two crossing themed entries (War and Peace from one and then Can and Will from the other), and I started thinking that maybe the channel was “A & E.” I noticed so many instances of A abutting E in the puzzle — could it be 21 times?? — and I’ll admit my heart was racing as I counted the occurrences of A-touching-E… alas, right past 21 and onto 23 times… and thus back to square 1.

  8. Amy L says:

    So unfair! I don’t have Andy to collaborate with. If I did, I would have gotten it. The three letter abbreviations popped right out at me, probably because I think JFK when I think about the creation of the Peace Corps. I had to look up Sky Harbor (also McCarran has a three-letter abbreviation) and Fort Lee. But I couldn’t figure out what the 21 meant.

    Another elegantly simple meta.

  9. xyzabc174 says:

    I’d like to complain that the title “21” is less than useful. Once you know the answer, I can agree it has some connection to the puzzle, but I think the purpose of the title is to nudge you in the right direction before knowing the answer. I can understand that for some puzzles there’s no title that is subtle enough, yet helpful enough, but maybe there shouldn’t be a title for those, since there are puzzles where the title is critical.

    • I don’t really agree with this, at least for late-month metas. If a title gives you a nudge to the right solution, then great, but for a Week 4 or 5 meta, I think it can work just as well if the title confirms your solution after you’ve gotten it — as this did for me. And like you said, Matt has to be subtle on the late-month ones.

      If the title still doesn’t make sense after you’ve gotten the right answer, that’s when it’s a problem.

      • KZ Condor says:

        Agreed. I think the best titles are those that make sense as soon as you get the answer. But honestly, I thought this week’s title was helpful almost to the point of being a spoiler. As soon as you start thinking of consonants 21 is a strong confirmation.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      I thought the title was perfect. It wasn’t enough to help me at the beginning, but once I saw that I had six TLAs it was just enough of a hint to look for a seventh.

    • dave glasser says:

      I liked the title because it made very clear that we should include Y in the consonants (and that NYT was correct).

  10. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I was nowhere close on this one; I just noticed that the theme answers were very scrabbly, and then decided to work out the actual values of each of them. When the first one I tried (SKY HARBOR) turned out to be worth 21, I thought I was onto something, but then the others weren’t quite right. However, they all seemed to be plausible blackjack final scores, if you account for WILL SHORTZ going bust (harsh, but it happens every now and then). So I tried to come up with a cable channel in that range, preferably using a Q (since that hadn’t been used), and hit on QVC for 17. When I decided I wasn’t going to think of anything better, I sent it in.

  11. Mutman says:

    I loved the meta! I was dwelling on the scrabbliness of the themers thru Monday. Hit dead ends like many solvers.

    After doing more research on themers, the 3 letter codes hit me. Once I replaced NGO with JFK the QVC suspicion was confirmed.

    And then the title fell in place.

    Great job Matt!

  12. John says:

    Wait! No one is going to ask about “Tup’s pop”? What is that? Being fooled by referring to REM as Athenians (please… OK, nice, actually), left that square empty until i asked a colleague, who figured REM but is as clueless as i on Tup.

    • joon says:

      a tup is a (chiefly british) word for ram. a ram’s father is also a ram.

      scrabble players know this word well. it has always amused me because TUP is also a verb, meaning to copulate with a ewe. there’s an amusing anecdote from stefan fatsis’s word freak about it.

    • John says:

      I know i did a google search for “crossword answer for TUP” and turned up zilch, but now i see answers. Weird. I never dreamed to try the dictionary after that.

    • Small Wave Dave says:

      Yeah, I was comically inept on those clues.
      Thought maybe “Tup’s pop” meant Tupac’s style of pop music (=RAP) so I frantically Googled to find a Greek musical group named REP for the crossing clue.

      Finally hit me that REM is from Athens GA, but I had to look up TUP to see that it’s a British word for a male sheep.

      As for the meta, I got it after a day and a half; I think I followed virtually every dead end that’s already been mentioned.

  13. Nancy Schuster says:

    How exciting, Lise Meitner was the sister of my college History prof. I’m happy others know her name!

    • bananarchy says:

      I believe Meitner is the only woman to have an element named solely for her (since curium is named for both Marie and Pierre)

  14. Garrett says:

    the RAM/REM Natick crossing was the only letter in this grid I did not fill in when solving it. Another solver told me a half-day later the get on Athenians and so I put in the M. But until I saw Joon’s explanation above I could not figure-out what a tup was by googling it because all I got was Tupperwear references.

    Like some others, I got fixated on the O in every theme answer, and the OOO for tac, and the Oxygen clue with AERATE, and all the other Os. Eventually I concluded this was just a coincidence — or a red herring.

    Still trying to find a clue to the mysterious 21, I started going through the clues. Did anyone notice that there is one or more Os in every clue except 21 of them? (at least, by my count). It led nowhere, but what an amazing coincidence!

    Finally, I decided to learn more about the theme entries. First I google Sky Harbor. The first thing you see: PHX. Then I wondered if the Flex was an SLR. Sure thing — the first by Canon. DMZ, NYT, and JFK came right away then (I did think about NPR, but NYT seemed to me the stronger link). When I was reading about Fort Lee, N.J., I ran across a reference to the Fort Lee lane closure scandal — and I immediately remembered it! That was all over the news. I knew right there that GWB had to be what I was looking for. The rest of my solving experience is pretty much as Joon described his, and like Joon I loved this meta, though I traveled a long way to finally hit upon the right way to approach it.

    Take a look at this article on the scandal if you have some time:

  15. Robert V Hutchinson says:

    My first thought was Scrabble values, but that didn’t last long. My “in” was actually the brevity of the Wikipedia article for the Canonflex. I thought, “the only interesting thing about this that I can see, wordplay-wise, is that it’s an SLR. Hmmm…”

    • Justin says:

      Same re: Canon Flex. These metas have been killing me lately, I’m thankful to have gotten this one.

  16. slubduck says:

    no one mentioned the date in the clue for PeaceCorps, 3/1/1961 …. adds up to 21!

    i like this meta a lot after seeing the explanation, but it’s dispiriting to see several people comment on how quickly “21” makes them think of “the set of consonants, including Y”. Sheesh, you could give me an hour and an empty notebook and I could free-associate 21 with anything I could think of, I really don’t think “the set of consonants, including Y” would be in my thoughts. I’m just missing that avenue of thought.

    • dave glasser says:

      As somebody who said something like that, let me clarify: 21 didn’t make me think “consonants”, but once I saw a lot of consonants and started wondering if that could be relevant (and to wonder if NYT was right) the meaning became clear.

  17. PuzzleCraig says:

    Well, these last two knocked me out of contention for one of the “super-prizes” for this year. And given that I’ll be away without internet for at least two more puzzles this year, even a flashlight pen is looking iffy at this rate. Sigh.

Comments are closed.