MGWCC #528

crossword 2:57  
meta 6 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #528 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Shhhh!”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a two-word phrase. what are the theme answers? well, there’s only one overt theme answer, and one other that’s explicitly not a theme answer. starting with the first one: the grid-spanning central across answer is {Said too much in a movie theater, maybe — like someone did twelve times here} RUINED THE ENDING. okay. well, what does that mean?

my first thought was that we could change a letter coming at the end of both an across and a down to get a new valid fill there. and indeed, there exactly twelve such squares, which had me fooled for a bit. and in some of them, you can do just this—for example, where BAMBA crosses YOGA, you could make it BAMBI/YOGI. but what about that other answer—the not-theme answer? 41d is {Golf course designer Ernie (ignore this one!)} ELS. that is not one of the answers ending in one of those squares, because the S crosses the 5th letter of SURF’S UP.

however, BAMBI had me onto something, because BAMBI is a movie. after that i quickly found more of them, enough to spell OILERAE, and from there i was able to intuit the answer and find the missing theme entries. there are, in fact, 12 of them, all reading across. from top to bottom in the grid, they are:

  • {Second chance} REDO becomes REDS (1982). how do we feel about using REDO as a noun? i prefer DO-OVER as the noun and REDO exclusively as a verb.
  • {“___ are ya?”} HOW becomes HOP (2011), the only one of the twelve theme movies i was not familiar with. apparently it was one of the several animated bunny films of this decade i missed.
  • {Greek goddess whose name means “soul”} PSYCHE becomes PSYCHO (1960). PSYCHE was originally a mortal who became the lover and then wife of eros (cupid), elevating her to divinity.
  • {“La ___” (Ritchie Valens hit of 1958)} BAMBA becomes BAMBI (1942), as already discussed.
  • {Prying type} YENTA becomes YENTL (1983), starring barbra streisand. apparently also directed, co-written, and co-produced by streisand, which i did not know. when i first started out in crosswords, i had a devil of a time keeping YENTA, YENTE, and YENTL separate. (the first two are basically alternate spellings of the same yiddish word, although YENTE is usually clued as the name of the matchmaker character in fiddler on the roof.)
  • {Black jack, half the time} CLUB -> CLUE (1985). i think puzzle fans are required by law to love this film.
  • {Renaissance fair pronoun} THOU -> THOR (2011), which now has two direct sequels as well as a truckload of associated marvel films in which chris hemsworth also appears as thor. despite my more than passing interest in norse mythology, i have seen none of these films except for the first two avengers movies.
  • {Complains ceaselessly} MOANS -> MOANA (2016), my youngest daughter’s favorite movie. i love the pronunciation change on this one.
  • {Infants, poetically} BABES -> BABEL (2006). i thought this was one of the forgettable biblical epics, but it turns out not to be that at all. it is apparently the conclusion of iñárritu’s “death trilogy”, which i did not know was a thing even though i have actually seen the middle film of it (21 grams).
  • {Like good onion rings} GREASY -> GREASE (1978). this is a less interesting change, just going from the adjective to the noun form of the same word.
  • {Place a curse on} HEX -> HER (2013). heard good things about this one. weird, but in a way that’s generally up my alley.
  • {When prices are slashed} SALE -> SALT (2010), the angelina jolie spy flick.

all 12 of these are symmetrically placed, and they’re all across answers, so there’s an entirely valid reason for ELS -> ELF (2003) not to be counted as one of them, but that was a useful hint nonetheless. here’s a screencap with all of the changed letters:

reading them off from top to bottom, you get SPOILER ALERT, which is a perfect answer phrase for this mechanism of “ruining” movie endings.

this is one of my favorite metas of the year, maybe ever. starting with a really nice idea to reinterpret “ruin the ending”, elegant and super-clean execution on the meta mechanism, and leading to a couldn’t-be-more-appropriate final answer. it felt tough for a week 2, but i didn’t mind that at all. five stars.

what’d you all think?

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21 Responses to MGWCC #528

  1. Joe says:

    I teach Film Studies classes, thought of spoiler when I read the clue to 39-A, recognized the Schrodinger squares joon mentioned, and it STILL took until yesterday afternoon for the penny to drop. Loved it. Amazing meta.

  2. paul coulter says:

    My solve was identical to Joon’s. Because of BAMBA/BAMBI and PSYCHE/PSYCHO, I also thought Matt was sticking to those final squares where changing a letter would result in legitimate entries in both Across and Down. Now, this would have been an impressive feat! But when most of the others didn’t pan out, BAMBI and PSYCHO led me to find enough movies in the Across direction that I was able to infer the rest. I liked the inclusion of MOANA, my two year old grand-daughter’s favorite movie. I’ve seen it so many times with her, I can sing all of the songs. How about you, Joon?

    • joon says:

      i’ve only actually *seen* the movie once or twice, but we listen to the soundtrack a lot. and as a lin-manuel miranda superfan, i can definitely sing all of the songs. well, at least the ones that are in english.

  3. Big Cheese says:

    I agree. Good Puzzle and great construction, which I didn’t ultimately solve via the Movie route. As time wound down, I ended up thinking of another phrase for “Ruined the Ending” and came up with the correct answer. Since it was a 12 Letter phrase, I went with it. Now that I see the movie theme, it seems obvious. Oh well, better to be Lucky than Good!

  4. pgw says:

    I liked it a lot as well, though as I told matt in the comments I felt like the meta itself had a bit of a spoiler. Knowing there were 12 ruined endings and we were looking for a 2 word phrase, I had a strong suspicion the answer was going to be spoiler alert before I ever got any inkling of the mechanism, so I basically backsolved the entire thing. (No complaints, though, it was still a challenge to figure out what was going on, and a satisfying aha when I saw it!)

  5. dbardolph says:

    Given the title, I spent way too much time looking at silent letters (PSYCHE, PNEUMO, WOMB), or at words where you could add a silent E to make other words (ignoring ELS, of course). Also tried to do something with BAMBI/YOGI before the movie idea clicked. The fact that I was thinking SPOILER ALERT before I filled in all the blanks didn’t detract at all for me. Great Week 2 puzzle.

    • David Harris says:

      I got stuck on trying to do silent letters, too, glad I wasn’t the only one. Based on suBtly and priX towards the bottom, it seemed like there was some plausible phrase with BOX that might result from it. Then tried to focus specifically on ending letters—based on ELS not qualifying, maybe answers that sound like letters? (ESPYS, ESSO, RPG, HBO…and Step 3: Profit.)

      I was reaching for anything, and yet it totally never occurred to me to come at it from the movie angle based on the long themer. Whoops, it seems like I keep going in exactly the wrong direction for these Week 2 puzzles.

      • Jeff Mizrahi says:

        +1…and after three days of pulling my hair out I guessed SPOILER ALERT based on the instructions and the middle entry.

  6. Matthew G. says:

    My son, who is doing theatre camp this summer, was coincidentally in a stage production of MOANA on Friday afternoon about an hour after the puzzle dropped. (As the youngest member of the cast, he played Hei Hei the chicken.) I had that on my mind and so it made the puzzle answer leap out at me.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 346 correct entries this week.

  8. MattG. says:

    I pulled “spoiler alert” from the central themer and its clue and never figured out the actual justification despite all sorts of (too convoluted for week 2) guesses. My modest two-week streak feels cheap.

    “‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ – Wayne Gretzky — Michael Scott”

    • Matthew G. says:

      I think the only possible justification for giving this meta 4.5 stars instead of 5 is that the answer was very, very guessable based on the long across entry, without grokking the meta device. Not a big deal in a Week 1, but probably worth knocking off half a star in a Week 2.

      This was amazing in every other respect. I found the twelve hidden movies without also noticing that they formed new legit entries with the down crossings as well. But of course they did, because this is the MGWCC we’re talking about.

      • Mutman says:

        I loved the puzzle too, especially after a week 1 fail.

        But what are you people talking about legit down entries with the new letters? I get YOGI and SUBTLE. But SNSETS? HEOGO? RLISES? PRIR?

        Can someone explain?

  9. Garrett says:

    I just was not on the right wavelength for this one — not even a clue what to do here. I must say it is quite clever.

  10. john says:

    I was still thinking “movie” long enough while scanning the grid that PSYCHE became PSYCHO rather readily. I am a longtime cinephile and so the rest was pretty easy with a back-solve for HOP and SALT. I did not see HER and thus this puzzle does another good turn in reminding me of a good film i want to finally get around to. Great comeback efforts, Matt! I agree with joon, beautifully conceived and realized.

  11. Norm H says:

    I try to solve MGWCC on Friday, then show it to my wife and/or kids (none of whom really have the patience to solve these) on Saturday morning. On a blank sheet, I write the title, the meta question and the theme entries. If I need to, I show them the grid.

    In Week 1, they can usually get the meta on their own. After that, not so much — sometimes they’re impressed, but often they’re befuddled because they feel the solving process is too complicated.

    This week, as I crossed out the final letters and then displayed the new ones in order, my wife gasped in disbelief. This was by far the strongest reaction I have gotten from anyone in my family to any meta. That’s a tribute to its brilliance — simple in its conception, easy to explain, yet elegant to the nth degree.

    Or as I commented when I submitted: SAD JUNE BLOB!

    Five stars.

  12. Lance says:

    I do hope that, if and when Matt reprints this in a book collection, he fixes two of the clues:

    * {Prefix for fix (or tax)} = PRE seems basically flawed.

    * {Like some consonants in French} = NASAL…well, yes. But also some consonants in English, and the other Romance languages, and Slavic languages, and basically any language with an “m” or “n” sound in it. What’s noteworthy about French, at least from the perspective of English speakers, is that some of its vowels are nasal.

    Still, pretty solid meta. Took me some time and some false starts before MOANS/MOANA tipped me off.

    • Jonesy says:

      Totally agree with Lance on the prefix/fix clue – was pretty convinced that was meta related because it seemed like such an oversight (and prefix / suffix felt relevant to the title).

      Not sure I agree with the nasal comment though – maybe it’s not as noteworthy but that’s not really a flaw (clues are frequently very general in said way)

      • Lance says:

        Well, sure, but…it’s like a clue for MEN that reads {About half the residents of Akron, Ohio}. I mean, sure, that’s probably true of Akron, but it’s pretty much true everywhere. {Like some consonants} is likewise fine for NASAL, but specifying “…in French” is then just weird.

  13. Dan F says:

    Nobody else had MUS -> MUD in the mix? 2012 film starring Matthew McConnaughey, and at least as notable as SALT or HOP. Cleared this up once I realized the entries were symmetrical.

  14. Adam Thompson says:

    There are far too many movie titles for a clean meta on this one. In addition to MUS/Mud there’s also SALE/Salò (1975) and SKI/Sky (2015). I think the meta would have been better with a shorter meta answer, and either related movies or longer movie titles.

    I found these obscurer movies by searching IMDB:
    hos -> hot (2016)
    amin -> amir (2016)
    ono -> one (2000)
    gem -> gen (2006)
    wes -> web (2013)
    ash -> así (2005)
    ego -> egg (2007)
    tin -> tip (1988)
    hex -> hee (2015)

    and those are with the across entries only.

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