MGWCC #449

crossword 3:19 
meta -2:00 


hello and welcome to episode #449 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Play It Smart”. for this week 1 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a two-word phrase. i often try to solve week 1 without looking at the instructions, but this week i accidentally saw them before opening the puzzle (not that it would have made much of a difference, anyway). so what were the theme answers?

  • {Shrek and Godzilla, reacting to the cold?} BIG GREEN QUAKERS.
  • {Correct response to “What are the two largest cats?”} LIONS TIGERS. well, factually correct. grammatically, not so much.
  • {Grizzlies who’ve suntanned too long?} BIG RED BEARS.
  • {Funny-faced hounds, when they’re embarrassed?} CRIMSON BULLDOGS.

each theme answer joins the nicknames of two ivy league schools. in order: dartmouth, penn, columbia, princeton, cornell, brown, harvard, and i forget. this was an easy enough meta for a week 1, certainly; when i submitted my answer at ten past noon, i was the 24th solver. as of this morning there are almost 500 on the leaderboard.

bits & pieces:

  • {PPG Paints ___ (where the Pittsburgh Penguins play)} ARENA. that is a bizarrely terrible name for a stadium. it kind of reads like a complete sentence.
  • {Company that used to have a Charlie Chaplin lookalike in TV ads} IBM. i do not recall these vintage ads. before my time, perhaps.
  • {Google ___ (service that used to be awesome until a poor redesign in 2014, not that I’m bitter)} MAPS. i have used the new version so many times since then i no longer remember what was different about the pre-2014 version. perhaps matt will remind me?
  • {Largest city on the Caspian Sea (and birthplace of Garry Kasparov, if that helps)} BAKU. it did help! i have to say, i am a little surprised at the transformation of kasparov from a chess champ into a trenchant political analyst. i never doubted that he was a smart guy, but usually grandmasters have to devote so much time to studying chess that they don’t have the luxury of becoming well-rounded intellectuals.
  • {Dorothy or Gale} SAYERS. now this is an interesting clue, combining mystery novelist dorothy SAYERS and football great gale SAYERS. dorothy gale, of course, is the protagonist of the wizard of oz. i think there’s an off-beat puzzle theme here.
  • {Arbor Day honoree} TREE. “honoree”.
  • {Half a William Faulkner title} ABSALOM. what’s the other half?
  • {“Hamilton” event} DUEL. i like the juxtaposition of this clue with the ensuing {Overdo, as a theater scene} HAM UP. “ham up” should now mean “to make awesome, like hamilton“.
  • {Dr. specializing in the ear, as it were} DRE. i like this clue. i’m not sure if it’s referring to dre’s music career or his headphones, but either way it works.

that’s all i got this week. i hope to see many of you this weekend at the mystery hunt! if i’m reading my team’s pre-hunt roster right, most of those 500 solvers are on palindrome this year, so be sure to say hi.

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16 Responses to MGWCC #449

  1. FWills says:

    The “Dorothy or Gale” clue certainly hints at the presence of an off-beat puzzle theme. Though it might merely have been placed there as a straw man by some cowardly 400lb guy with a tin ear lying on his bed eating Dunkin Munchkins, I certainly would not reject the theory in toto.

  2. Thomas says:

    Shit. My entry was COLLEGE FOOTBALL, which is a field I mostly ignore. But living in Atlanta I am all too aware of the Georgia BULLDOGS and their rivalry with the Alabama CRIMSON Tide. According to Wikipedia there are 39 other BULLDOGS, plus 32 LIONS, 46 TIGERS, and 30 BEARS. So I didn’t see a reason to narrow it down.

    I had a good (for me) streak going, and it’s very discouraging to blow it on the first puzzle of the year.

    • sharkicicles says:

      I had the same entry, for what it’s worth. Figured the puzzle title + the championship game being this week was enough, along with the team names. I guess never underestimate a Week 1. (Actually, now that I think about it, this might be the first Week 1 I’ve missed.)

    • makfan says:

      I almost did what you did, but it didn’t feel quite right. I googled all the theme answers and one of the first few hits showed that they were all Ivy League team names.

    • da kine says:

      I did the same damn thing. After I hit ‘enter’ and my name didn’t show up on the leader board, I thought maybe it should have been ‘college sports’. Ah, well.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 496 correct answers this week, with 27 incorrect which is indeed high for a Week 1. Most were COLLEGE FOOTBALL or FOOTBALL TEAMS or similar as Thomas mentioned above. Sorry about your streak :(

  4. Justin says:

    Joon – the last team you forgot is the team that is leading the series and beat your team on Nov 19. See you this weekend :>

  5. Jon says:

    Matt, I also don’t know what the current version is missing in relation to the pre-2014 version of Google Maps. It works well enough for me. Please illuminate us on what cause you to lose esteem for the app.

    BTW- good meta. I was thinking college mascots until I Google big red and big green. Since I went to an SEC school, my knowledge of the Ivy League mascots is very low.

  6. hibob says:

    I sent in IVY League and missed the leader board. is that because I was lazy and didn;t get around to paying until after I sent it in?

    • Evad says:

      The subscription only impacts the delivery of the puzzle, not the leaderboard. Anyone can submit an entry, it’s just those who actually received the puzzle are more likely to be correct with their submission. You can email me privately at evadnavillus [at] with your nickname and email address and I can check the submissions file.

  7. Bret says:

    I thought this felt more like a Week 2 just because it could be tricky if you don’t know college sports, thus unlikely to realize those nicknames are collectively unique to a specific conference. I do know college sports so I did find it pretty easy.

  8. Garrett says:

    I almost submitted “College Sports,” because these were clearly college team nicknames, and Dartmouth (for example) plays in a number of sports. But that did not feel like a lock, and even though there sometimes isn’t one, there almost always is in Matt’s puzzles. So, looking at the title, “Play It Smart”, I thought there were two ways to take that.

    1. Play could be a reference to games or sports
    2. Smart could be a reference to what you’d have to be to go to one of these colleges.

    Interpretation #1 seemed to0 broad, so I opted for interpretation #2, which meant a reference to the colleges themselves, not the sports they play. So I opted for Ivy League as my answer.

    And actually, I thought that was wrong, because I kept checking after I submitted and did not see my name on the leaderboard for a so long I finally shrugged my shoulders and quit looking. It would not be the first time I’ve been so sure of my answer only to find out I’d missed it!

    On Monday I asked a co-worker what he came up with, and it surprised the heck out of me when he repeated my answer.

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