MGWCC #484

crossword 3:17 
meta 45 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #484 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. in this week 2 puzzle, guest constructor jeffrey harris brings us a puzzle called “Name That Show”, in which we are looking for a TV show. simple enough. what are the theme answers?

… okay, look. this is where i totally fell on my face in solving this straightforward week 2 meta. i was convinced that these long symmetric downs were the theme answers:

  • {One on a trial panel} PETIT JUROR. generally just called a JUROR; the longer term is usually only used to distinguish a petit jury from a grand jury, which decides whether to indict.
  • {Come apart, as a sweater} UNRAVEL. could also clue RAVEL, which is synonymous.
  • {Happen as expected} PROVE OUT. just PROVE also fits the clue.
  • {Amnesiac’s mind, e.g.} TABULA RASA. okay, here i didn’t have any obvious way to tie this in with the rest of the theme.

that turns out to have been for the very simple reason that what i thought was the theme wasn’t the theme at all, just a bizarre coincidence. want to know the actual theme? of course you do; or rather, you probably already do. it wasn’t obvious from the grid structure, but the title was helpful: not the “show” part (which didn’t tell us anything that wasn’t in the instructions), but the “name” part. seven symmetric across answers in the grid have clues of the form {[occupation] [first name]}:

  • {Columnist Charles} BLOW.
  • {President Chester} ARTHUR.
  • {Actor Samuel} JACKSON.
  • {Explorer John} FREMONT.
  • {Director David} RUSSELL.
  • {Essayist Dorothy} SAYERS.
  • {Novelist Jean} AUEL.

these clues are all factually accurate, but they all felt a bit off. why is that? all of these people are notable for usually having a middle initial included: charles M blow, chester A arthur, samuel L jackson, john C fremont, david O russell (the O stands for owen, unlike david O selznick‘s O which doesn’t stand for anything), dorothy L sayers, and jean M auel. taken in order, these conspicuously absent middle initials spell out MALCOLM, leading to the tv show malcolm in the middle.

this is an excellent meta. the mechanism is straightforward but very elegant. the theme clues are unobtrusive but they should definitely tickle your spidey sense. i think i derived extra enjoyment out of solving it after banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to fit TABULA RASA into my alternate theme (to say nothing of how to extract a tv show from that) than i would have if i’d just zeroed in on the missing initials right away. about the only thing negative i can think to say about it is that it is similar to the mechanism from mgwcc #119, which was seven years ago. i have a pretty good memory for old metas, but i don’t even think i would have remembered that one if it were not for the similarity in the names (and line of work) of david O’s russell and selznick, so i think we can let that slide.

bits & pieces:

  • {File information in the “Properties” tab} METADATA. suggestive, isn’t it? but this had nothing to do with the meta. just some nice fresh fill.
  • {Element #67} HOLMIUM. this is not an element that usually shows up in crosswords. (or anywhere else, come to think of it.) all i know about it is that it’s named after stockholm.
  • {Casting group?} COVEN. cute.

that’s all i’ve got. how’d you all like this one?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #484

  1. Laura B says:

    Loved this. At first I thought the missing middle initials were proofreading/accuracy errors in the clues that I couldn’t wait to pedantically point out, but after three of them I figured I was on to something. The (excellent) theme song to Malcolm in the Middle was by They Might Be Giants.


    Eve Kendall: “What does the ‘O’ stand for?”
    Roger O. Thornhill: “Nothing.”

  2. Eric says:

    I wasn’t able to do anything with the name theme. Then I found the symmetric down clues, added Holmium to the collection and decided that the answer could be Sherlock (first name show) based on the idea that Holmes was famously able to wipe his brain clean (tabula rasa) of assumptions before trying to unravel the clues and prove out his conclusions to the law (alas not to a petit juror but I was desperate).

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon and Jeffrey. 367 right answers this week, on target for a Week 2/5.

  4. Scott says:

    I almost didn’t get this one. Messed with it on Friday and nothing. Then had another look Monday night and it clicked.

  5. Mutman says:

    Completely whiffed on this Week 2.

    Yours truly,

    No F. Clue

  6. Mac says:

    I came prepared to complain about the inelegance of the meta this week — that is, until I discovered that I guess Matt must have accepted my inelegant answer as an acceptable alternative. I, and probably others (I hope), submitted Doctor Who. Its a two-word title of a television show with a profession as the first word. While “Who” is not really the character’s name (apparently), I explained that away by recognizing that “Who?” is the question each of the meta clues asks: i.e., “Who is columnist Charles?” Like I said, not very elegant.

    • Matthew G. says:

      That’s rather nice. If I’d thought of that before spotting the missing middle initials, I might have thought it was the answer myself.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Mac, I only see one Doctor Who entry on the board and it was marked incorrect.

  7. Margaret says:

    I volunteer at our library twice a week and love to read (I own ALL the Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter books) and yet I don’t think of either of these authors as having a notable middle initial! Same for John Fremont and David Russell, and I’d never heard of Charles Blow. Since only Chester A. Arthur and Samuel L. Jackson were notable for their middle initial, as far as I realized, this meta took me waaaaaaayyyyy longer than it should have.

    • Matthew G. says:

      It’s funny, Sayers was my entry point to this meta, but it is for the most obscure of reasons that I think of her as having a notable middle initial. When I was in college, I was in a production of “The Real Inspector Hound” by Tom Stoppard (I played Hound, and it was the most fun I ever had on a stage), and that play features the following over-the-top line:

      “Faced as we are with such ubiquitious obliquity, it is hard, it is hard indeed, and therefore I will not attempt, to refrain from invoking the names of Kafka, Sartre, Shakespeare, St. Paul, Beckett, Birkett, Pinero, Pirandello, Dante and Dorothy L. Sayers.”

      • Margaret says:

        Haha, after googling the names I went over to my bookshelf to realize she is credited as Dorothy L. Sayers in all cases, but I just …. missed it. What a fantastic line from Stoppard!

  8. Bill T says:

    I focused in on the names fairly quickly, but from Friday to Sunday, I could not come up with anything that seemed to relate to any tv show. I was ready to give up, but on Monday morning, I took one more look and realized that I knew Chester A and Samuel L, so I googled the remaining names and voila! Great construction. Too bad I missed Shonda last week.

  9. makfan says:

    Total head slap! I was on the right track at looking for patterns with the clues and answers and perhaps something involving a missing letter. Just didn’t see it even when looking again last night. Argh.

  10. sharkicicles says:

    Really enjoyed this one. Just hard enough for a week 2 and a nice click at the end.

  11. Garrett says:

    This is the first month where I’ve missed both week 1 and week 2.

  12. mathdanmom says:

    I tried Judge Judy, and thought it was right. All I had was the pattern of occupation and first name, but it matched the seven theme clues perfectly. The reference to juror also led me that direction. I knew it was missing a strong “click” but I just never noticed the middle initials, even though I looked up Russell and Blow to make sure they were right. It’s a very clever meta, sure wish I had gotten it.

  13. Amy L says:

    I answered “What’s My Line?” but I thought it was weak. At first I thought all the straight lines made the puzzle look like a city map and I know Jackson is a street in San Francisco, so I thought “Streets of San Francisco.” But there is no Auel Street in SF. I think it would have been a cool meta if they had all been SF streets, arranged to match their relative locations. By then I had got stuck on the idea of lines, thus my answer (which actually got me on the leaderboard on Saturday–my name has since been removed).

    Garrett, it’s also my first time to miss both week 1 and 2.

    • lisepac says:

      “What’s My Line?” was my first crack at this, also, thinking the surnames might have been panelists or mystery guests on the show. No dice. Then tried “America’s Got Talent” with same result. The grid was getting me nowhere, so I looked again at the clues and realized that my brain automatically supplied middle initials for Charles _ Blow (I read his column in the NY Times), Chester _ Arthur, Samuel _ Jackson, and Dorothy _ Sayers (have read all her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries but didn’t know she was an essayist); googling the remaining 3 names supplied their middle initials, and a satisfying AHA for the meta. Never seen the show, however.

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