MGWCC #555

crossword 5:26  
meta 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #555 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Job Search”. for this tricky week 3 puzzle, matt challenged us to find a famous movie from the 1970s. what were the theme answers?

  • {Good conductor (8)} COPPER WIRE.
  • {Packaging material (6)} SHRINK WRAP.
  • {Father of Wyoming’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives (7)} DICK CHENEY.
  • {AutoZone buy (5)} TAR REMOVER.

okay, so the first step is fairly clear: each of these begins with a word that is a nickname for a job. a COPPER is a police officer, a SHRINK is a psychiatrist, a DICK is a private detective, and a TAR is a sailor. but what next? and what about the number in the parentheses?

there are a lot of avenues that suggest themselves, not least because the grid is a little unwieldy if these are really the only four theme answers, with some seemingly unnecessary cheater squares and some pretty out-there fill. but the most out-there of the fill is {Melissa ___ Maur (former member of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins)} AUF DER, which is a 6-letter partial based on the name of a bassist i have never heard of. so i thought that was likely to have something to do with the meta.

after being away from the puzzle for most of the weekend due to mystery hunt, i came back to this monday night and saw that AUF DER can be anagrammed to FREUD + A, freud being a notable SHRINK. so the parenthetical 6 is there to suggest the length of answer we’re looking for. after that, the others weren’t that difficult to find:

  • there are only two 8s in the grid, {Rich loaves} BRIOCHES and {Left} RENDERED. one of them has to be the anagram of a 7-letter cop plus one letter, and it’s BRIOCHES: lennie BRISCOE of law & order, plus an H.
  • similarly, there are only four 7s, and one of them is {U.S. Capitol feature} PORTICO, which anagrams to (hercule) POIROT + C.
  • the 5-letter options for TAR are rather more numerous, but based on already having HAC_ from the first three theme answers, it wasn’t hard to guess that this one was going to be a 4-letter sailor plus K. indeed, {Race for the Cure eponym} susan g. KOMEN is captain NEMO + K.

so that gives us HACK, which is yet another job nickname. and for the second week in a row (!), the meta hinges on it being a synonym of the 1976 film TAXI DRIVER. i don’t know exactly what to think of that—it’s both absurd and audacious. certainly for a puzzle centered on job titles whose answer is known to be a 1970s movie, that would be one of the first things to come to mind—if it hadn’t featured so prominently last week. was matt trying to use reverse psychology on us? if you didn’t find the anagrams, would you be more or less likely to guess the right answer because it was fresh in your mind from week 2?

strange timing aside, this was a cool meta. the first step is as obvious as it can be, but the anagrams are quite well disguised; without the lengths in parentheses, i feel like it would have been insanely hard to find them. AUF DER pretty much had to be one of them because it’s so weird, but i think even with the mechanism known, it would have been so time-consuming to search every other entry for the other three anagrams, so i am very glad matt chose to give us the lengths.

after a whirlwind weekend of solving puzzles and metas at mystery hunt, i’m going to stop here. how’d you like this one?

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41 Responses to MGWCC #555

  1. I admired this one and like how it all tied together with the slang terms for jobs, but it had one of the nastiest traps I’ve ever encountered in these metas.

    Hannibal LECTER (6 letters) is another famous psychiatrist ….. and also a [Three-time role for Anthony Hopkins], just like ODIN. Once I saw that, it became near-impossible to abandon that dead end.

    • LuckyGuest says:

      Not only that one, but 41D, “Thespian Spencer,” could also have been TRACY, who was a famous cop (or a detective; one site said the slang term DICK came from Dick Tracy). This had me going deep — looking for other alternate answers to clues — for far too long… And I wonder how many people who kept looking at the leaderboard are kicking themselves because they never noticed that the answer to this meta was hiding in plain sight — highlighted, even — to their right.

      • Yes, I saw the [Thespian Spencer] connection to TRACY, too, and I tried to make a very tenuous pattern between Mike HAMMER –> Drag, like to harshly criticize someone –> TOW. Even after spotting AUF DER = FREUD + A, I initially dismissed it as irrelevant because the LECTER/ODIN thing felt like such a strong click.

    • paul coulter says:

      Yeah, I was on that track, too. He also played BLIGH – a five letter famous tar – in The Bounty. Alas, no cop or detective role fit the bill for Hopkins.

  2. sharkicicles says:

    Wow, I got step 1, but after that, nothing. Never heard of Lennie Briscoe, so there was no way I was going to recognize that.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 152 right answers this week.

    In one of the strangest coincidences I’ve seen since starting MGWCC, I pretty much had to use HACK/TAXI DRIVER as the meta combo even though it had nothing to do with last week’s puzzle. There are really only a handful of usable job/nickname combos, the 5 I used and nothing else I could find, and I looked. “Sawbones” for “doctor” doesn’t have usable phrase, and “bones” as doctor isn’t quite in the language, for example.

    So I was cursing my luck since I needed a fifth and obviously couldn’t use HACK/TAXI DRIVER a second week in a row. And then I realized — wait, if it’s the meta answer, and that combination doesn’t come into play until you’ve already figured everything out, then I can not only use it but it’s also bizarre and amusing (I hope). So it all worked out. Weird.

    • pgw says:

      Huh, my money would have been on these puzzles having been developed in tandem, one inspiring the other. (Actually, my money’s still on that, on the theory that your subconscious got the “nickname for jobs” idea from working on last week’s puzzle.)

    • paul coulter says:

      I wanted it to be The Jerk. It’s a famous 70s movie and a slang name for a profession, as in soda jerk. But nothing justified this. Real cool meta, Matt.

      • pgw says:

        Jerk is a good one. Also –

        Grunt (soldier)
        Suit (executive)
        Flak (spokesperson)
        Pusher (hey, drug dealer’s a job too)

  4. Qatsi says:

    I’d noticed the job nicknames right away but never made the connection to the anagrams. I’d pursued a number of false attempts to derive something from the theme entries. Ultimately, with just a few minutes before the deadline I skimmed through a list of ’70s movies and saw TAXI DRIVER, which could be clued by the slang term HACK. Four letters in HACK, four theme entries – time to take a shot in the dark.

    • Jimmy says:

      Same, with an added helping of skepticism that HACK and TAXI DRIVER would be used in two consecutive weeks, so I was considering Norma Rae and The Exorcist as well. Before last week, I’d never even heard of that usage of “hack” before! Much apologies to everyone who figured this out correctly.

      • David Harris says:

        From the other direction, I even considered that Matt might have intentionally used HACK/TAXIDRIVER again *because* last week’s explanation would make it easier for people to make the leap from the prompt to the actual movie.

        I had TAXIDRIVER as my potential Hail Mary guess all weekend, and kept trying to reverse engineer from HACK to the reasoning. I wrote out little lists of the answers starting with each letter, and it seemed really promising that AUFDER and KOMEN were on the list, as they were likely suspects for secret theme entries. But the H and C options (HEFT/HALO and CNN/CRUE) were dead ends. I was thinking about the numbers as word lengths, but couldn’t see what to do with BRIOCHES or RENDERED, so that wasn’t panning out. My brain was not at all thinking about anagrams, so even though I looked at the lengths and a couple of the key letters, nothing clicked—maybe because I was fixated on just the first letters of AUFDER and KOMEN.

        I also saw PORT(ICO) and wondered if that’s where we would search for the TAR. But no obvious locations for the others, no matter how much I looked for offices, stations, and couches.

        Impressed by some of the other dead ends people found, there were a lot of traps in this one.

  5. pgw says:

    AUF DER was definitely the in to this one – way too weird and obscure to be sitting up there in a corner of the grid that was basically unconstrained by theme. Last one to fall for me was BRISCOE (I had to backsolve it similar to how joon backsolved NEMO) – I wanted it to be SERBICO, everyone’s favorite Slavic anti-corruption cop. (If you google this you will actually find a movie poster someone’s mocked up.)

  6. Garrett says:

    I was getting there, but ran out of time, and threw a (wrong) hail-mary at 08:59. I realized that I could not find four words as alternatives to copper, shrink, dick and tar that fit the number length associated with them through the clues. So then I started thinking that we were supposed to actually use words that were one letter longer and that the extra letter would yield something. I tried constable, analyst, sleuth and (hearty, seadog, seaman) and pffft — nothing.

    So then I was thinking we were looking for examples of each profession. For dick I came up with Spenser, Bligh for tar, Callahan for copper… nothing for shrink. All I could think of was Freud — too short.

    I then remembered that upper left-hand corner and how odd it seemed to me. I decided I should take another look at that when my phone rang with a business call that I could not ignore. The minutes ticked by… and the call ended at 08:59.

    I’d want to rate this a 4.5 for cleverness, but a 3.5 for obfuscation, so I’ll settle on a 4.

  7. Bill Katz says:

    I found this one really difficult.
    The unusual things, in addition to re-using something from last week, include having DeNiro and Scosese in the clues (was that meant as a hint?) and having the secondary theme answers be a mix of fictional and non-fictional people. If only Dr. Freud could have been replaced with Dr. Jennifer Melfi (although I couldn’t find a word to do that) or perhaps Dr. Frasier Crane…

  8. Katie says:

    I saw the job nicknames and thought that by rights, the numbers should index into the actual job titles. Nope, that gave me junk. I looked for other job titles in the grid and clues, but while there were several, that didn’t get me anywhere either. I even wondered about KOMEN/KCS instead of WOMEN/WCS, and even considered NEMO as a sailor, but still didn’t take that any farther. Never saw the other anagrams. Finally thought, OK, famous 1970s movie whose title is a job. So my 11:30 wild guess was…TAXI DRIVER. And only after that did I recall last week and think, crud, that’s probably not it.

  9. Neal says:

    I noticed the Lecter psychiatrist angle early as well. Then I figured if we were dealing with alternate answers, place for drumsticks could be Popeye’s for sailor and thespian Spencer was tracy for the detective. Couldn’t come up with a policeman…took awhile to abandon

  10. mpstable says:

    I didn’t know what to do with the slang terms for jobs. Tried to backsolve with 4 letter words that could signal eligible movies. I came up with hack/taxi driver and capo/The Godfather. After getting nowhere I submitted the latter as my blind guess, bc i couldn’t believe Matt would me that repetitive that quickly. aside from that, it’s a very good meta. I’m just bummed my pipe dream of a perfect year ended (a week) early.

  11. Norm H says:

    Got the job nicknames right away, but couldn’t decipher the parenthetical numerals. I did look for FREUD in the grid in word-search style (playing off the title) so shame on me for not recognizing AUFDER as FREUD + H. Even if I had, I would have struggled mightily to get the other three.

    I went down too many ratholes to discuss here, the silliest probably being that Jack Nicholson played a detective in Chinatown, a sailor in The Last Detail and a psychiatrist(ish) character in Tommy, all of which were in the 1970s. Never mind that he didn’t play a police officer in that decade, that nothing in the puzzle indicated anything to do with Nicholson, and that I still had no explanation for the numerals. That was just where my brain went.

    The whole time, “hack” and Taxi Driver were in my head, partly because of last week and partly because it was the only combo of “four-letter job nickname and movie title” I could think of. So I did something I’ve never done for the MGWCC — submitted a last-minute Hail Mary. That it turned out to be right is only marginally to my credit, if at all.

    Does anyone else think there is a slight flaw in that Lenny Briscoe, while a cop, is also a detective? In fact, he is called Detective Briscoe by anyone not in the squad room.

  12. Silverskiesdean says:

    I don’t know if Matt will see this but in doing the puzzle (and getting it wrong), I created my own META aka Rabbit Hole. I studied it for a couple of days but got nowhere. Then I noticed that in the clues, Thespian instead of Actor was used. Also “writing T.S.” was used which sounded funny. In addition “comic actor” and not just “actor” was used.Lo and behold, there were only four starts to clues that had jobs and they had the correct numbers! They were:
    Thespian (8)
    Writing (7)
    Mentor (6)
    Comic (5)

    Putting them in order was
    Comic/Tar and I arrived at “Sinbad”
    Writing/Dick and I arrived at Phillip (as in K. Dick)
    Rap/Mentor and I arrived at Lil Wayne (for Lil Eva)
    The last I did not get, however if you put them in order you get:
    Which I figured could be “The Last Picture Show” and Academy Nominated Picture of the 70s. Matt-if you can figure a new one like that, you’re free to use it!

  13. Myelbow says:

    This one stumped me, but I certainly travelled down a lot of blind alleys in the process. Like Norm, I got hung up for a while thinking that Jack Nicholson had something to do with the answer, as he was the only significant actor I could think of who has played a “copper” (in THE PLEDGE), a “shrink” (in TOMMY), a “dick” (in CHINATOWN) and a “tar” (in THE LAST DETAIL). But the numbers in the theme clues didn’t lead anywhere from there.

    I also thought I was onto something when I noticed GUMSHOE is another nickname for a detective–plus it had seven letters, and SHOE was in the grid. But other than FLATFOOT, I couldn’t think of other slang terms for the occupations in question that fit the word lengths indicated by the theme clues.

    You’ve defeated me again, Gaffney! I hope I have better luck this Friday!

  14. Magoo says:

    Not a big fan of this one. All my thoughts have been encapsulated above, but I just feel that maybe Matt doesn’t realise how many anagrams of things-plus-one-letter are achievable – this makes spotting them as a solver almost impossible unless you guess what you are looking for in advance (or believe that otherwise AUF DER is disgraceful fill, say – I didn’t have that insight).

    I assume that well over half the correct entries like me went for TAXI DRIVER on the strength of it being a famous 70s film named after a job – and there was also the fact that four theme entries might be trying to make HACK, and that De Niro was very gratuitously mentioned in the clue for MADE.

    The execution of the puzzle was well done though, and I’m not complaining about them being hard.

  15. Karen says:

    This seemed way too hard for week 3. I spent hours on it, sent in a guess, then read the start of joon’s writeup. Knowing aufder=Freud+A and the lengths, I still couldn’t get the cop or detective. Clearly I’m not great at anagrams, but it’s so frustrating to have the answer turn out to be the obvious guess after all that. Of course I didn’t guess it, because it was used last week. … It’s still a good puzzle, and I’ll be back next week in search of the perfect “aha” moment.

  16. Jim S says:

    I didn’t know “tar” meant sailor, so I jumped to “mover” as the profession of that theme entry. Never would have gotten the anagraming anyway, but even if I had I’m not sure I could have gotten away from “mover”…

  17. reid says:

    not even close for me. I was stuck on what seemed like a lot of job titles in the clues (3 alone in the clue for Oteri!), as well as what felt like some tortured cluing to avoid using job names in other clues (“writing T.S., the clue for Auf Der).

    I also don’t understand how oboe is a “certain pit person,” and with a conductor being seemingly another certain pit person, that was something i thought had to be connected.

  18. BarbaraK says:

    After being forcefully dragged out of the Hannibal Lecter rabbit hole and back to the Freud/Nemo thing I’d abandoned because I couldn’t do anything with either 8 letter entry, I backsolved the other two. Never heard of Briscoe, but when I googled it with police, I found that was a character in The Postman. Seemed thin, but good enough, and by then, whatever.

  19. Dan Seidman says:

    The first rabbit hole I went down was noticing that 1D was clued as “Ordinary people” — which was also the title of a movie, and I seem to remember there being a psychiatrist in it. But there were no other well-known movie titles as clues, so I got away from that before too long. If I hadn’t figured it out I would have guessed Taxi Driver anyway, since it had a four-letter synonym.

  20. Dasfunk says:

    I’ll COP to being a bit surprised that only one commentor has referenced the pop culture reference that was fairly necessary to solve this puzzle – or, at least, make the solution process efficient. I don’t look down my nose at TV watchers, but I just don’t watch much TV, so the names of characters on popular crime procedurals are all thoroughly unfamiliar to me. I don’t know the names of the major characters on CSI, or Game of Thrones, or This Is Us, either. There is a shared cultural catalogue, so to speak, that includes Freud and Nemo, certainly, but my personal version of such doesn’t include many movie or TV character names, and I find it interesting that “oh, sure, Briscoe” is apparently so universal that almost no one groaned about it.

    • I didn’t know Briscoe, but I also didn’t need to. Once I saw the FREUD + A and POIROT + C and NEMO + K anagrams, I was left with ?ACK and I had a strong feeling that would lead me to HACK. Noticing the H in BRIOCHES gave me the confidence that my hunch was right, and I confirmed it by looking up this Ranker list of famous fictional cops. That said, I can understand being frustrated with even knowing where to start since there are many fictional cops and detectives and it’s not at all obvious which ones you’re supposed to look for. I think I was lucky to find the right ones because that LECTER/ODIN trap messed me up badly.

      On an unrelated note: Did anyone else think the BARTÓK clue was strange? Liszt died when Bartók was five years old, so it seems odd to call them rivals of one another unless Bartók described himself that way, or if there were a specific piece by Bartók that one could argue “rivals” Liszt’s best work.

      • MarkR says:

        The “rival” bit seemed strange to me as well, as they really belong to different eras. The only thing I could think of is that Liszt and Bartok were both from Hungary, so maybe they are rivals for the honor of the greatest Hungarian composer.

      • BarbaraK says:

        Yes, a rivalry between Liszt and Bartók was on my so-weird-it-must-be-meta-relevant list too.

    • slubduck says:

      I tried to make the cop be SERPICO as someone said above (with MPA), then threw up my hands and said “There’s no way that BRIOCHES anagrams to a different cop, right?” and spat names into the air, verbally anagramming until i said “Brischo” (intentional misspell) and thought “oh, that’s that cop/mafia thing Donnie Brisco, or whatever” …… naturally i’ve confused a real-life FBI pseudonym, Donnie Brasco, with a fictional TV detective Briscoe, neither of which i am actually familiar with in a non-google way …… but it gets the meta done ….. open mind, open mind …… i usually never have the time to do the week 3 and 4’s but this weekend’s snowstorm provided some extra hours to me and i’m proud to have grunted it out.

    • Evad says:

      Crossworders should know Jerry Orbach (played Det. Briscoe) if for no other reason that he’s the father of Tony, a very prolific constructor (and a helluva nice guy as well).

  21. Laura says:

    I thought “Taxi Driver” before even starting the puzzle! But I never submitted it because I like to feel at least 75% sure, and I couldn’t find anything to back it up other than the DeNiro reference. I went down most of the rabbit holes others have mentioned and then some, but anagrams are not my strong point and I never thought of looking for names. One method I tried was replacing the slang terms for jobs with alternate answers that fit the letter count: aluminum wire, bubble wrap, Richard Cheney, and paint (or decal) remover. But the initial letters didn’t spell anything, nor were they the first letters of a 4-word movie title, nor were the words anagrammed elsewhere in the grid with an extra or missing letter. Ah well. Great job to Matt, and congrats to everyone who solved this one! And thanks for the writeup.

  22. david glasser says:

    I only worked on this very briefly due to Mystery Hunt distraction. (Maybe in future years, we can get an extra day for MLK weekend like we do for other holidays? :-) )

    But despite knowing it was the wrong decade and literally none of the jobs matching up, my brain couldn’t stop yelling “TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY IS A MOVIE WITH FOUR JOBS”. And Melissa Auf Der Maur’s first band was Tinker…

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