MGWCC #463

crossword 3:05 
meta 5 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #463 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Way to Go, Young Man”. the instructions for this week 2 puzzle ask us to find a four-letter mode of transportation. okay. what are the theme answers? there are four long across answers:

  • {Dancer’s boss} SANTA CLAUS.
  • {Marathoner who won gold at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics (and has won the Boston Marathon eight times)} JEAN DRISCOLL. i didn’t recognize the name; it turns out she’s not a runner, but rather a wheelchair marathoner. incidentally, just yesterday manuela schar of switzerland shattered the boston marathon course record for women’s wheelchair, finishing in 1:28:17, the first time a woman has finished any wheelchair marathon under 1:30. (it’s not an official world record because boston’s course is a straight line rather than a loop, allowing for the possibility of a beneficial tailwind like the one yesterday.)
  • {America’s Cup winner on the cover of Time Magazine in February of 1987} DENNIS CONNER.
  • {He’s won the Indianapolis 500 three times (one fewer than his brother Al)} BOBBY UNSER. that’s the original al unser; junior is bobby’s nephew.

okay, so these are people notably associated with vehicles (sleigh, wheelchair, yacht, and racecar), and there are four of them, but i couldn’t figure out a way to get a four-letter vehicle from them.

that’s when i noticed the other two theme answers at 25a and 49a. (whoops!) they’re a little shorter, but unquestionably associated with methods of transportation. putting everything together:

  • SANTA CLAUS, sleigh
  • {Snoopy’s archnemesis, with “the”} RED BARON, airplane
  • JEAN DRISCOLL, wheelchair
  • DENNIS CONNER, yacht
  • {Battle of the Trebia victor, 218 BC} HANNIBAL, elephant
  • BOBBY UNSER, racecar

taking the first letters of those spells out SAWYER. combine that with the “young man” of the title and we’re looking at tom sawyer, who famously rode a raft in the works of mark twain. lovely two-step meta and a fun puzzle. i enjoyed FUNGO BAT, the clue {Undated, as it were} for STAG, and the noun clue {Donation requests} for ASKS, which feels like a very contemporary usage but is much older than you might think.

that’s going to have to be all for me as i’m short on time this week. how’d you all find this one?

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38 Responses to MGWCC #463

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks Joon — 301 right answers this week

  2. Bret says:

    Did Tom Sawyer ride a raft? The raft is iconically associated with Huck Finn and Jim. I guessed raft anyway so no harm but when did Tom Sawyer ride the raft?

    • joon says:

      tom & huck start rafting together in chapter xiii of the adventures of tom sawyer, “the pirate crew set sail”. it’s 100% legit.

      • Tony says:

        I believe he also joined Huck and Jim on the raft at least once in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

      • pgw says:

        I was also pretty thrown by this issue; can’t say I agree it’s “100%” legit. Tom and Huck escape to a nearby island via a 3-mile raft trip; the raft is promptly washed away, and this is the only instance I could find of Tom actually riding on a raft. Huck on the other hand goes on an epic raft journey that forms essentially the entire plot of his novel, in which Tom is a bit player.

        I eventually satisfied myself, for reasons stated elsewhere in the comments, that this had to be the intended answer and I felt pretty confident about it. But I saw the meta as flawed, and speculated that Matt may have relied on a vague association in his memory rather than really researching just how strong the Sawyer-raft connection is.

        Good idea well-constructed earns it four stars from me; poor connection between the crucial clue and the meta answer means I can’t give it five.

        • Matthew G. says:

          When I got home last night, I picked up my childhood copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (which now resides on my son’s bedroom bookshelf) and turned to the chapter joon mentions. Right there was a full-page color plate of Tom on a raft.

          So I’m backing up joon (and Matt) on this being 100% legit.

    • Justin says:

      Actually this is where I got hung up too. I couldnt find evidence of Tom Sawyer on a raft, only Huck… HOWEVER Sawyer from the TV show “Lost” was definitely on a raft.

    • Joe says:

      Ditto. I got it, but wasn’t sure. I know he rode a raft, but if you look at Wikipedia’s plot synopsis for Adventures of Tom Sawyer and do a word search for “raft” it appears not at all. That’s why I second guessed myself.

    • Eli Selzer says:

      I’ll also add that Disneyland has rafts to Tom Sawyer’s Island which heavily reference the chapter Jooon mentioned in their signage. It bumped a bit for me, since Huck Finn spends so much more time on the raft, but Tom Sawyer definitely fits. It’s also worth noting that once I saw “SAWYER” I instantly, instinctively submitted RAFT, and the Huck Finn of it all didn’t occur to me until after I had clicked send. The Tom Sawyer = Raft connection was strong in my brain.

  3. sharkicicles says:

    Nice, relatively easy Week 2. Backsolved SAWYER because I, too, didn’t know Jean Driscoll was a wheelchair marathoner, so once I looked her up it was a very nice click.

  4. ajk says:

    lol I had sleigh, plane, wheelchair, yacht, elephant racecar and still didn’t get it. Oh well. :)

    ETA: I even had raft on a very short list of possible answers and didn’t click. Hahaha. Not my week.

  5. Brian says:

    Not crazy about this one; most of the vehicles from the theme answers are pretty clear, but BOBBY UNSER’s could have been CAR, AUTOMOBILE, OPEN-WHEEL RACER, INDY CAR, etc. RED BARON could likewise have been BIPLANE, TRIPLANE, or even FOKKER. But then, I may just be bitter because I didn’t solve the meta.

    • lisepac says:

      My first thought for the Red Baron was DOGHOUSE, but then I recalled that only Snoopy is shown sitting on his.

    • Bill Katz says:

      Was I the only one that at first had “EAGLE” for Bobby Unser? That is the racecar chassis he is most closely associated with. I eventually found “racecar” and “yacht” to get SAWYER.

  6. CFXK says:

    Assuming the networks have their newspeople ride in style to the studio, why not Diane or Forrest Sawyer’s limo? lol

  7. BarbaraK says:

    That’s really all there is? I got SAWYER Friday afternoon and immediately thought of Tom Sawyer and the raft. But then I remembered that the raft story is really Huck Finn’s; Tom is a small part of it. And Sawyer is a common enough name. Diane Sawyer riding a limo would make as much sense. In fact when I google “Sawyer mode of transportation” I got a story about her skiing to work in a blizzard, so why not “skis”.

    So I’ve kept looking at the grid for three days, thinking there must be something more. Thought maybe the FINN at 30D was a part of it, but no Jim anywhere in the grid.

    I did finally submit RAFT for lack of any better ideas, but I don’t love this puzzle.

    • sharkicicles says:

      The puzzle’s title was enough to convince me Tom was the right Sawyer for the job.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, me too. I got SAWYER, glanced back at the title, and sent RAFT right in.

        Although I’ve read both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, it’s been many years, so I didn’t ruminate on the distinction. This may be a case where too much knowledge was a dangerous thing for some.

        • sharkicicles says:

          Good point- it’s been at least 30 years since I read either book, so googling “tom sawyer raft” and getting a bunch of responses was good enough for me.

          • Kaille says:

            sharkicicles, just hopping on to say I like your username. For the longest time I thought it was “sharksicles,” as in “popsicles!” Would love to know the derivation of that. Yours and “Jeremiahsjohnson.” I never know whether it is supposed to read like “Jeremiah S. Johnson,” or “Jeremiah’s johnson.” Yes, I am twelve.

  8. Matthew G. says:

    In case anyone didn’t notice: HANNIBAL not only points us to elephants, but is also a nice echo of the eventual theme answer, because Hannibal, Missouri was Mark Twain’s home town.

  9. lisepac says:

    I liked this puzzle. The ambiguity about including “Red Baron” and “Hannibal” gave an extra oomph to solving it, especially with the four long entries and the instructions to come up with a four-letter word. I first thought that I should look for specific models associated with those four (for Jean Driscoll maybe she endorsed a certain running shoe, for Dennis Conner I searched for a ship’s name, for Bobby Unser a car company). When Driscoll turned out to be a wheelchair racer, and Conner and Unser had no specific vehicles mentioned on Wikipedia, I decided it must be more general. That gave me Sleigh, Wheelchair, Yacht, and Racecar. No four-letter transport there, but SAWYER immediately came to mind, and Red Baron (Airplane) and Hannibal (Elephant) supplied the missing letters.

    As with others, I was leery about Tom Sawyer being associated with a raft (he joins Huck Finn toward the end of Finn’s trip, but my recollection is they stick to land at that part of the story). Couldn’t find our copy of “Tom Sawyer,” but a quick check on google brought up this website ( and made it clear that RAFT was correct. I thought Matt played well on people’s knowledge of the iconic raft trip of Jim and Huck, making those of us with vaguer memories dubious about Tom Sawyer being on a raft. Well done!

  10. MountainManZach says:

    Curses! Never thought to use “yacht” instead of “sailboat.” I’m glad I didn’t embarrass myself by submitting “sled” (remember those SAWSER type sleds?)

    • Astrokurtis says:

      And I used “biplane” instead of “airplane”, too, so SBWSER got me nowhere. Knew I was missing something obvious.

      • Margaret says:

        I had “triplane” and “boat” making STWBER for a really long time. And count me in the “But it was Huck on the raft, not Tom, right?” camp.

  11. Jim S. says:

    Never looked up Driscoll so I was using “feet” instead of “wheelchair” (not a vehicle, but never even thought of another option even as I watched the wheelchairs in the Boston marathon yesterday). With the variability of the other answers – (air)plane, (sail)boat/yacht, (race)car – I never saw the “sa*yer” possibility to get me to Sawyer and raft. Not sure I’d have made the jump to “raft” as I agree with many here and don’t really associate him with the raft. Not sure what I’d have come up with had I seen “Sawyer”… 4 stars from me

  12. Joel H says:

    Did anyone notice a big red herring: the title seemed to indicate that the west direction was involved (“Go west, young man”), and there were no Ws in the puzzle. I spent a lot of time trying to use this information.

    • lisepac says:

      I’m sooo glad I didn’t notice! Something to expect in a week 4 or 5 puzzle–would be demoralizing if week 2 got THAT tricky.

      I also thought of of “Go west…,” but PRAIRIE SCHOONER has too many letters….

    • Kaille says:

      That was my first rabbit hole. I spent a little time looking for references to Horace Greeley, but came up with nothing, then moved on to the modes of transportation that were hinted at in the long clues and figured it out. I so enjoy these discussions – even if we don’t get the answers, we often find that there are lots of like-minded people out there.

      • Margaret says:

        I also thought the title absolutely had to refer to Horace Greeley and Go west, young man. Since I had STWBER to begin with, I spent two days trying to use the “westward” (backwards) direction on the theme answers.

  13. David Samuel Glasser says:

    With all due respect to the amazing athletes who compete in it, is it actually accurate to clue a Paralympic medalist as an Olympic medalist? Aren’t they separate events?

  14. Asdanf says:

    Gah. The ways to describe the transportation were too many for me. I stared for quite a while at {sleigh, sled, reindeer}, {plane, triplane}, wheelchair, {yacht, sailboat, boat}, elephant, {car, racecar, f1 car} trying to make an acronym and failed (naturally, since I missed the obvious “airplane”).

  15. MCC says:

    Basically I was solving with professionals this week. This puzzle was so solidly in my children’s wheelhouse (they know far more about Santa, Snoopy, Hannibal, and Indy 500 than I do) that when I asked my 8-year-old what the Red Baron flew he said, “Albatross”–so we still got “A”, but completely missed airplane. My 10-year old (who went as Hannibal for Halloween a couple of years ago) has just finished reading Tom Sawyer in school– he took one look at the vehicle list and said, “Oh, Tom Sawyer, it’s a raft.” It was over in seconds but I’m deeply grateful for the meta bonding.

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    I have to admit that I thought Tom Sawyer was raftier than he really is. I had a moment of doubt but then when I Googled and the Disney rides came up I thought, “Yeah, it’s a strong connection.” So it’s technically correct (and I think the majority of solvers made the connection quickly and without doubt) but with so many solvers unsure of the link it’s too weak — you need that click, but Huck’s superior raftiness is a spoiler.

    Agree with the poster who said too much knowledge was a dangerous thing here. A pity to have an otherwise nice Week 2 meta ruined by that odd little lacuna in my Americana knowledge.

  17. ===Dan says:

    Some kinds of “elegance” are overrated. Definitely solvable, definitely legit, not “ruined.”

    I had the right idea, but couldn’t come up with the right words. Triplane, Fokker, car, indycar. Didn’t help that I stupidly skipped over Hannibal. The scrambled BOAT in FUNGOBAT was only a minor distraction.

    (I’m sure there’s a joke I can’t quite remember: “What do you get when you cross the Alps with an elephant?”)

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