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Victor Barocas’s Fireball contest, “Powers that Be,” September 5, 2018
Welcome back to the Fireball contest! A break was taken in August, so we haven’t had one of these since July. This month, Victor Barocas asks, “What 18th-century scientist completes this puzzle’s theme?” Let’s see what we’ve got so far:
[18a: Host with the Basic Cable
Band]: CONAN O’BRIEN
- [24a: Adaptable network
scheme]: DYNAMIC ROUTING
- [38a: Antarctic archipelago in
Vincennes Bay]: WINDMILL ISLANDS
- [49a: 1970 #1 hit that asks “Isn’t
that what life is made of?”]: I THINK I LOVE YOU
- [58a: Sources of fresh
vegetables]: HOME GARDENS
When the theme entries are this disparate (and somewhat obscure), there’s got to be some linguistic pattern that we’re looking for … and there it is:
I THINK I LOVE YOU
Step one, completed. The theme entries all have embedded within them the decimal prefixes. Now, some may quibble that we’re missing DECI-, CENTI-, etc. — but, if we take the progression as the whole-number powers of 1000, we skip from MILLI- (1000-1) to KILO- (10001). The 18th-century scientist must have GIGA (10003) in his (one assumes; there were women scientists in the 18th century but neither Lady Mary Wortley Montagu nor Laura Bassi nor Maria Agnesi nor Caroline Herschel) name. Entirely coincidentally, the contest answer — LUIGI GALVANI — was on my mind, since I’d been thinking of him in relation to a question (which I got wrong) in Learned League just the day before.
Bonus! Can you think of a 20th-century American philanthropist, a 19th-century American president, or a legendary 20th-century American sitcom actress who would extend the theme one more entry? (Note: No prizes will be awarded save my admiration.)
Whoops, that’s what I get for not reading the prompt closely. I entered James Watt. And if the prompt had asked for someone hinted at by the puzzle, that would have fit, since all of the hidden prefixes can go before his name. But it asked who completes the theme, so of course it’s wrong. My face is megared.
Who else sent in Peter Artedi?
OK, Laura – I got the president, but I’m striking out on the other two. Help?
The comment below re the philanthropist is correct, as is the president in the first comment. The actress just passed away about a month ago, and she was notable for playing an authority figure at an educational institution.
Got it – I can quit obsessing about it now. Thanks!
Walter Annenberg for the philanthropist, maybe
Charlotte Rae. Very fun add-on, Laura!
While solving the puzzle, I thought the scientist’s name must have an embedded decimal prefix. But when I looked up decimal prefixes and found several (pico-, giga-, and tera-), I thought that path wouldn’t be correct. Since there are several them, I thought that no single prefix would *complete* the set. I thought WATT would complete the theme because it can be combined with all the prefixes to make complete words. It could have been a theme revealer clued as [Word that can follow the hidden prefixes]. Learning about the alternate answer Peter Artedi makes the theme seem even less elegant and satisfying.