MGWCC #439

crossword 4:45 
meta DNF 


mgwcc439hello and welcome to episode #439 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Hidden Power”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to identify a familiar acronym. what are the theme answers? there are 5 long across answers in the grid:

  • {Event covered by the Wall Street Journal} CORPORATE MERGER.
  • {Field that Amazon entered in 2006} CLOUD COMPUTING.
  • {Honesty and trustworthiness, some might say} RARE COMMODITIES. i would not include myself in that “some”. to me, commodities are useable or tradeable goods or materials, not personality traits.
  • {Plans to sell a business, e.g.} EXIT STRATEGIES. tough clue—it looks like a verb phrase but it’s a noun.
  • {Arizona National Monument I visited in 2000 (a fact which doesn’t have anything to do with the meta)} MONTEZUMA CASTLE. never heard of this one. it’s delightfully doubly misnamed, according to wikipedia.

i have no idea what’s going on with this meta, but here i am blogging it anyway. i’m pretty sure these all have to be theme answers—they are very long, and you don’t get 14- and 15-letter non-theme answers appearing in your grid by accident. i also don’t have any particular reason to believe there are other theme answers in the grid. there are no other long acrosses, and the grid checks in at only 74 words, on the low side, so there’s not much wiggle room to put more theme in. the two long downs, WORLD WAR II and MAISONETTE, and the two medium-length downs, SORTS OUT and EMBATTLE, are each constrained by intersections with three of long across themers, so they’re very unlikely to be thematic themselves.

the one other entry that gives me pause is the central down, {Ed, Al, and Bo} NAMES. that is a weirdly arbitrary clue for an answer that could well tie into the meta. why did matt pick those three names? why are they all only two letters? i don’t know. somewhat surprisingly, ED does not appear anywhere in the grid; less surprisingly, neither does BO. AL does, however, and even as a word on its own, in ET AL, clued as {“And there were many other authors of this paper as well”}.

if this were a week 1 or 2 puzzle, i would expect to find familiar acronyms like NASA or GIF hidden in each theme answer, but there don’t seem to be. some of the theme answers suggest initialisms (not exactly the same thing as an acronym, but acronym is used imprecisely to mean initialism often enough that i think the meta answer could be an initialism), like perhaps LBO for CORPORATE MERGER and maybe AWS (amazon web services) for CLOUD COMPUTING. but nothing comes to (my) mind for the others. i guess perhaps NPS (national park service) for MONTEZUMA CASTLE, although that’s a fairly arbitrary choice from among hundreds or thousands of NPS-administered sites.

of things that are hidden in the theme answers, some of them look like one letter off from [letter + word] phrases: T-STRAP is almost in EXIT STRATEGIES, IMAC in MONTEZUMA CASTLE (and in fact IMAC is itself in the grid at 6d), DCON in CLOUD COMPUTING. this didn’t really go anywhere, though.

i only found two acronyms in the fill: MIDI and ESPY. and of those, only ESPY was clued as the acronym, so that makes me think neither one is thematic. there are plenty of abbreviations in the grid, and a couple of initialisms, but that is certainly nothing unusual. none of them jump out.

what about “power” in the title? that may or may not be a useful hint. the answer might end up being some sort of powerful group or agency or person (e.g. POTUS). but it could also suggest something about other definitions of power, like electrical power or mechanical power or sources of energy. ELON musk is in the grid, and he is certainly associated with that kind of power, but … i think he’s just in a lot of grids.

i’m facing up to the likelihood that i’m just not going to figure this out. this has been a pretty frustrating solving experience, to be honest—i feel like i haven’t noticed anything or gotten anywhere and i’m not really even in a position to make an informed guess. i’ll probably try sending in a 5-letter acronym (because there are five theme answers) and it might as well be something like POTUS or LASER that relates to at least some sense of “power”.

back to the theme answers: they’re all two-word phrases. i’ve tried thinking of things that connect the actual meanings of the phrases, and looking for wordplay hidden across the word breaks. what about the individual words? MONTEZUMA is the one that stands out here—you can’t do much with MONTEZUMA. i guess it implies AZTEC. it contains ZUMA, the south african president. it also contains MONTE, which is … several things.

neither the first words nor the second words seem to have anything in common, again because of MONTEZUMA CASTLE; the other four theme answers are all business-related or at least business-adjacent.

welp. i think that’s all i’ve got. i was having a pretty good year on these until last month, and now i’ve fallen short two months in a row. hopefully i can get back on the horse for november. somebody let me know in the comments what i missed.

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32 Responses to MGWCC #439

  1. dave glasser says:

    My incorrect Hail Mary was noting “AC” and “DC” split across two of the themers, and deciding that despite ignoring the rest of the puzzle, AC/DC was a hidden power acronym.

  2. Jared Dashoff says:

    I started looking for initialisms in the fill/clues, then I went down another path. That led to nowhere.

    CORPORATE MERGERS (and acquisitions)
    CLOUD COMPUTING (and information OR and technology)
    RARE COMMODITIES (and futures)
    EXIT STRATEGIES (and tactics)
    MONTEZUMA CASTLE (and key)

    HIDDEN POWER (and glory)

  3. The five theme answers hide a head of state:

    corporaTE MERger –> Michel TEMER of Brazil
    cloud comPUTINg –> Vladimir PUTIN of Russia
    rare comMODIties –> Narendra MODI of India
    eXIt strategies –> XI Jinping of China
    monteZUMA castle –> Jacob ZUMA of South Africa

    The first letters of the countries spell out BRICS, the acronym for the five emerging national economies. I don’t know how familiar it is to others, though I first learned about it as BRIC back in 2008 (I guess the powers that be added South Africa more recently).

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 73 right answers this week.

    Each of the five theme entries contains the surname of a world leader:

    Michel TEMER of Brazil in CORPORATE MERGER
    Vladimir PUTIN of Russia in CLOUD COMPUTING
    Narendra MODI of India in RARE COMMODITIES
    XI Jinping of China in EXIT STRATEGIES
    Jacob ZUMA of South Africa in MONTEZUMA CASTLE

    These are, in order, the five BRICS countries, making that the contest acronym.

  5. ajk says:

    Saw PUTIN. Guess I should have followed that up more. Though BRICS wouldn’t have meant anything to me without Google, so I might not have gotten it anyway. :)

  6. Dan Seidman says:

    ” it contains ZUMA, the south african president”

    I noticed that hidden power as well as Putin, and figured I was onto something. I wound up using Wikipedia’s list of heads of state and then looking up BRICS. At least when I found out what it stood for I knew it was the right answer.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I went from ZUMA to MODI to the Wikipedia listing (had not known TEMER replaced Rousseff), then noticed PUTIN … and my co-solver picked up XI. Googling the countries’ initials in order revealed that BRICS(A) is actually a thing … a thing I’d never heard of before.

  7. Jon says:

    Guess we’re really stretching the meaning of “familiar” in “familiar acronym.”

    I saw that the puzzle was missing (hidden) the H & Q letters and submitted HQ (familiar acronym) for headquarters, the main base of operations for a group (power). But I was wrong because I’ve never even heard of BRICS.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Well, if you put the five leaders’ surnames into Google the whole first page is BRICS. And it gets 21 million Google hits and dozens of mentions in the NYT in the past month. So even if not familiar, worth knowing and easy to Google with the names.

      • Michael says:

        I also submitted HQ, and think it should be considered as an alternate answer. The two letters are the only two missing from the grid (in other words, “hidden”) and the HQ is the control center (in other words, the “power”). And it’s a well-known acronym. It may not have been intentional, but it seems like a perfectly suitable answer for this grid.

        • Puff says:

          HQ for me also.

        • Garrett says:

          I noticed the missing HQ letters also. Whenever I get stumped by a puzzle, I do letter counts, which sometimes gives me something. Matt rarely creates pangrams, and almost always uses all but two or three letters somehow. So I did not think that very significant. I agree BRICS is obscure to many people, and HQ is much more familiar, but I can’t see HQ as a a power, although it does qualify as missing or perhaps hidden in a stretch.

        • I don’t think HQ qualifies as an acronym, though, does it? I think acronyms are supposed to be pronounced as though they are real words, without having to sound out individual letters.

          • Garrett says:

            Yes, you are right. It is an initialism.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Michael — I don’t mind sending HQ to the panel. I don’t think it will work since it doesn’t explain the five theme entries, and I don’t think “hidden” and “missing” are close enough to each other. But I will see what they say.

  8. Paul Coulter says:

    I thought Putin might be important, since it can also be parsed as put in, as in “Put in power.” I noticed Zuma, too, but not the others. With only two, it seemed more a coincidence than a lead. I was convinced the mechanism had to do with the double stacks. There was plenty of room in the grid to separate all the long answers, so I felt sure the pairs were interacting. Not my favorite of Matt’s metas. It was a solid construction with a gettable answer, and I probably should have spotted MODI, but the term BRICS does not seem like a familiar acronym to me.

  9. Apparently the economist Jim O’Neill originally came up with the acronym, but in case anyone is wondering why it isn’t CRIBS:

    “Goldman [Sachs] CEO Lloyd Blankfein advocated CRIBs, because China was the most important of the bunch, O’Neill told the FT, but he thought something linked to babies might be patronizing.”

  10. Small Wave Dave says:

    Spotting PUTIN was finally the icebreaker for me.

    But first, “Hidden Power” led me to see CLOUT in CLOUD COMPUTING and MUSCLE (slightly scrambled) in MONTEZUMA CASTLE (which I have visited!). Couldn’t pick out anything else in that vein though.

    I had a vague idea that ZUMA was a president, then had to google several nonsense strings that Dave Barry would probably think were good names for heads of state (ODITI? ARECO? PORAT? ATEGI?) before finding the others. XI was last to fall.

    If I had never heard of BRICS I might not have solved this one.

    Fun puzzle. Thanks, Matt!

  11. AK37 says:

    NAMES dead center helped out too.

    Matt – were the TITO and AMIN above/below NAMES intentional as an extra nudge (referring to two former heads of state, although TITO was not clued that way)?

  12. Tyler Hinman says:

    DC split across CLOUD COMPUTING, AC split across MONTEZUMA CASTLE… and both under the word RATE. Plus, I’ve never heard of the answer in my life. I never had a chance.

  13. BrainBoggler says:

    I would imagine I’m not the only one, but during my last-minute focus on NAMES for a possible answer, I went down a dead-end road after noticing “Al” and “Bo” in 26D clue for NAMES and trying connect them to clues for 15A (Al) Roker… and 7D (Bo) Jackson… I gave up when I couldn’t find an obvious similar pairing for “Ed”. There’s nothing like the feeling of spinning wheels on a Gaffney meta with no time left. Nice puzzle, Matt.

    • slubduck says:

      Ed pairs with ‘wood’ from the clue for ELM, I was trying to go down that path too.
      Maybe Matt won’t say why he used such an odd clue for NAMES …… just to be mean, of course. Also, in relation to someone above mentioning TITO and AMIN, please note also that AMIN crosses IDI ……. my rabbit hole search of Ugandan leaders turned up TITO Okello and Apollo Milton Obote (had me thinking Milton paired with MONTEzuma, and going nowhere) ……. the existence of both The Jeffersons and Good Times in separate clues had me trying to pair up all the clues (many reasonable pairs can be wrangled if you try hard enough) …… and the last interesting think I noticed was the existence of brother, stepsis, godmother and sons in the clues ….. oh yeah, i thought “Being given by” was a really odd clue for the pedestrian FROM, and noticed that 5 different clues followed the pattern “ABB” if using their first initials from 3-word clues:
      Aussie Near Neighbor
      Yoga Class Chants
      Fallopian Tube Travelers
      Fortify Against Attack
      -Z Classic Camero
      oh well, on to November.

  14. Daniel Barkalow says:

    Every time someone mentions the leader of China, I think “Hu?” Also, I’d somehow missed that Brazil currently has a particular person as head of state (rather than just “not Rousseff”).

  15. Stephen McFly says:

    Didn’t get the answer (this was my first MGWCC), but really surprised at the lack of BRICS familiarity so far! Now knowing the answer, I thought this was a tough, but fair and well-executed puzzle.

  16. John says:

    CASTLE contains an anagram of TESLA, leaving a C, which is how i thought this thing was going for a while there (mates with grid’s ELON). Just a coincidence in the end, like the fact that PUTIN was in one of the answers seemed to be when no other leader’s names were within the other answers… unless you have heard of any of those leaders, which i haven’t. It would seem that having a more than passing interest in geopolitics would be necessary to have a shot at this one. Oh, well. I try to remember Matt’s frustration and my lack of empathy for folks who complain about sports-related metas so i guess we’re all going to find a few of these now and again.

    Also, count me among those never having heard of BRICS.

  17. Amy L says:

    I think I have heard of BRICS but I’m usually working a crossword puzzle when I watch the news, so it never really sank in. I tried to see if all the names in the puzzle (Amie, Roxie, Duane, Newt, Bela, Nora, Eli, et al.) made up a message where they crossed the long across entries. Obviously, that didn’t work. Puzzle turned out to be much neater–very nice one, Matt!

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