Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Puzzle People”—Laura’s review
Matt wants us to find a famous singer. Let’s see if the themers are any help:
- [17a: Feature of a tabloid newspaper’s offices?]: LURID DECOR
- [24a: Language spoken by someone flipping out in Cardiff?]: MANIC WELSH
- [35a: With 37-Across, Ivy Leaguer who studies by moonlight?] & [37a: See 35-Across]: LUNAR YALIE
- [52a: Evil spirit who backs his favorite candidates?]: DEMON DONOR
- [59a: “Let’s everyone live together peacefully on Earth,” maybe?]: HUMAN MOTTO
Whenever the theme entries are that nonsensical, you know something is up in terms of hidden letters, encrypted phrases, anagrams, or what-have-you. So, what have we? Turns out, the themers have something to do with the title, “Puzzle People” — each contains a three-letter famous person’s name that often appears in crossword grids:
LURID DECOR == URI Geller, Umberto ECO
MANIC WELSH == ANI DiFranco, Ernie ELS
LUNAR YALIE == UNA Merkel, Muhammad ALI
DEMON DONOR == EMO Philips, Yoko ONO
HUMAN MOTTO == UMA Thurman, Mel OTT
Famous might be stretching it for some of these folks, if you don’t solve zillions of puzzles. One might argue that a couple of them enjoy continuing fame only from appearing in puzzles, and their notoriety for other reasons (psychokinesis, 1930s movie musicals, standup comedy, pre-WWII baseball) has passed.
That was the first step. Now let’s look at this list again:
URI Geller, Umberto ECO
ANI DiFranco, Ernie ELS
UNA Merkel, Muhammad ALI
EMO Philips, Yoko ONO
UMA Thurman, Mel OTT
Note how the first column is all first names, while the second is all last names. What else can we do with these names? I’ll note that it is a very common meta mechanism: when you have a string of letters, look for something to which they might correspond in the grid. In this case, we have:
Geller, Umberto == G U
DiFranco, Ernie == D E
Merkel, Muhammad == M M
Philips, Yoko == P Y
Thurman, Mel == T M
Can we find these in the grid? We sure can! Each corresponds to a three-letter entry:
G U == [51a: Atlanta sch.]: GSU
D E == [45d: Word on bills]: DUE
M M == [61d: “Delish!”]: MMM
P Y == [30a: Fork over]: PAY
T M == [22d: Cable channel that shows old flicks]: TCM
The central letters in those corresponding entries spell out SUMAC: that would be “Peruvian songbird” YMA Sumac, herself no stranger to crossword grids. If you’ve never seen or heard her sing, she’s pretty impressive, much like this puzzle!
If only there was some way he could have worked Eero Saarinen into this…
Or Margaret Cho……another non-“famous” person.
From above you wrote: Thurman, Mel == M M
Thurman, Mel actually leads to == T M, NOT M M.
Thanks for correcting the error.
I couldn’t get past the following puzzle peoples:
lURIDDecor = DRUID
mANICwelsh = INCA
luNARYAlie = ARYAN
I’m surprised by the ratings on this one and wonder about the distribution (though there really aren’t enough to mean much). Is it a bell shaped curve with most people finding it average? Or about equal numbers who loved it or hated it?
If you hover the cursor over the stars, it shows the distribution.
Thank you! I never noticed that before.
I thought this puzzle was incredibly good and clever. To each their own, but I’m not sure how you’d possibly rate this 1 star.
My guess: people who don’t think Yma Sumac is famous.
Wow! Very clever and hard puzzle. I saw the 3 letter names but I didn’t get the next steps.
(I posted this comment on the WSJ site. Someone suggested I post it here as well since Matt might see it here and resond.)
Why did Matt construct the puzzle around Yma Sumac and not some other more famous 5-letter singer, Drake for example? I’m 90% sure I know Matt’s inSPIRATION for this one.
In February 1962, The New Yorker published “Yma Dream” by Tom Meehan. It begins, “In this dream . . . I am giving a cocktail party in honor of Yma Sumac.”
The first guest to arrive is Ava Gardner, and Tom introduces the two women. “Yma, Ava.” The subsequent guests are the 1962 counterparts of the people in Matt’s puzzle — Abba Eban, Ida Lupino, Uta Hagen, Ugo Betti, et al. And I do mean all. As each arrives, Tom must make the introductions. So when Eva Gabor shows up, it goes something like, “Eva, Ugo; Eva, Uta; Eva, Abba; Eva, Ida. . . “
Matt is far too young to have seen the original, but it has probably been anthologized many places. In searching on the Internet, I discovered that spoken versions are also out there, and it’s one of those pieces that may be better when you hear it performed than when you read it silently. Christine Baranski read it on Selected Shorts (here). And Special Agent Galactica (I’d never heard of her either) performs it as a theater piece. (here)
I alluded to the Meehan piece in a comment I made at WSJ on Friday, after I had gotten to step one — the familiar names — but before I had solved the meta.. I had the good sense not to mention the title. I thought it would be a hint. What I didn’t realize was just how big a hint it would have been.