MGWCC #584

crossword 2:24 
meta 1 day* 


hello and welcome to episode #584 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Dude, Where’s My Car?”. this week, matt challenges us to name a model of automobile. what are the theme answers?

  • {Former flyer} PTERODACTYL.
  • {___ Abbey (where many famous people are interred — say it with a British accent for the meta)} WESTMINSTER. the second part of the clue is the big hint—a big hint that i didn’t notice when i first solved it, as i was using across lite (i normally solve on paper, but i was away for the weekend) which cut off the clue. it wasn’t until a day later that i came back to the puzzle and saw the hint when i resized the window.
  • {Seasoned legislator} PARLIAMENTARIAN.
  • {Person who did it} GUILTY PARTY.
  • {Auckland and Wellington are on it} NORTH ISLAND. christchurch is on the south island, and if you know more new zealand cities than that, good on you.

as that second clue implies, this meta only works (sorta?) if you pronounce WESTMINSTER with a british accent. why is that? it must be related to pronunciation, rather than semantic or orthographical considerations. once you start thinking about these theme answers phonetically, the silent P in PTERODACTYL pretty well screams out to be noticed. the others, too, contain a silent letter: the first I of PARLIAMENTARIAN, the U of GUILTY, and the S of ISLAND.

what about westminster? comparing the british and american pronunciations here, i noticed three differences:

  1. in the UK pronunciation, the accent is on the first syllable; in the US version, it’s on the second syllable.
  2. in the UK pronunciation, the first T is silent; in the US version, it’s pronounced. i do not really know why, though it might be related to #1. i am likewise unsure whether this is necessarily a british/american divide, or if some people just pronounce that T and some don’t.
  3. in the UK pronunciation, the final R is silentish (it seems to me that it does affect the pronunciation of the immediately preceding vowel); in the US version, it’s definitely pronounced.

on my puzzle i circled the first T, but when i was looking at PTIUS, i got the message. the answer to the meta is PRIUS, which is indeed matt’s car, as per the title (assuming he still has the one he bought nine years ago). i think it’s a fairly apt mechanism given the answer, as hybrid cars are known for their quiet (if not exactly silent) engines in electric mode.

let’s talk about WESTMINSTER for a moment, though, because i regard it as an inelegance, if not an outright flaw in the meta. it’s clunky enough that the key letter is only silent in one particular pronunciation, which is not the standard pronunciation in areas (such as here in north america) where rhotic english predominates. then the extraneous silent T is an extra-unfortunate distractor.

all this having been said, if you have an R in your answer, there is not much you can do about it. rhotic speakers pretty much just pronounce all their R’s. the few exceptions are unsuitable for use in this meta for other reasons: forecastle has too many other silent letters, and february also has an R that some people pronounce and others don’t, only this time it doesn’t divide neatly into speakers of british and american english. (one thing i enjoyed learning from this tongue-in-cheek piece is that the puzzle perhaps wouldn’t be possible at all if the meta contained a V.)

so allowances can be made, but i do think that matt should have chosen a theme answer that didn’t have a distracting perhaps-silent letter like the first T of WESTMINSTER.

that’s all for me. see many of you this weekend at lollapuzzoola!

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35 Responses to MGWCC #584

  1. sharkicicles says:

    At first I considered the R a flaw, but after thinking about it I think it’s actually a feature- the clue points the solver towards pronunciation (as you noted above), which pushes it into a good difficulty level for a week 2/5. Just my 2c.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    In the last couple of months I’ve been struggling with MGWCC more often than usual, but this was a new low; I can’t remember the last time I missed one that 400+ people got. Despite noticing the WESTMINSTER clue right away and repeatedly listening to the different UK and US pronunciations provided in online dictionaries, I noticed only the different placement of stress, not the silent letters. Add to this the fact that a DACTYL is a poetic term for a certain pattern of stress, and I thought the answer would have to do with stress patterns. Never got off that.

    • Mary Flaminio says:

      Agree, it hurts when 400+ people get it and you don’t see anything close.

    • sharkicicles says:

      I got this one, but otherwise I’ve been in the same boat; just not hitting on them like I used to in the last couple months as well.

  3. jefe says:

    Total whiff for me.

  4. Dan Seidman says:

    I’m not sure when that M-W article was written, but I’m pretty sure that’s a silent V in COVFEFE.

    – Dan

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    Took way too long on this one. Would have helped if I’d read the whole clue for Westminster. I got hung up on the automotive items next to theme answers – TAGS, SEAL, LOCK, DASH. The outlier was WESTMINSTER, though STARTEDIT crosses here. Finally, I decided this was only Week 2 of 5. When I looked for something simpler, there it was.

    But I’m with Joon on Westminster. It’s true that many Brits drop final R’s, but surely there’s a better example. Something like “Can’t pahk yah cah in Hahvahd Yahd,” that has a friendly letter count.

  6. neil B says:

    the PT in pterodactyl got me thinking of PT cruiser and looking for other cars related to the letters which obviously went nowhere. the British pronunciation was confusing but once i thought of silent letters you can work around the R

    • sharkicicles says:

      Heh, PT Cruiser was my first thought too.

      • Jim Schooler says:

        Me too. Then I struggled with figuring which letter was silent, the P or the T. It was clear once I got the other silent letters. I had no issues with “Westminstah.”

  7. David R says:

    The Westminster silent letter, also caused me trouble as there were various pronunciations that I pulled up. The only option for a silent R in America would be to use an abbreviation such as Mrs.

  8. Jack Sullivan says:

    I was led astray by the Westminster clue because I had cemetery/symmetry as the Anglo-American sound alikes. This made think of CIVIC, which has a kind of symmetry. I didn’t submit it since nothing else pointed at CIVIC.

    I gave up on this one because I don’t like puzzles that depend on regional accents or pronunciations. There are so many variations that the answers are often in dispute.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon –447 right answers this week, so slightly below the 475-525 range I was shooting for on a Week 2/5.

    I agree of course that the silent T in WESTMINSTER is a big flaw. I had no idea that T was silent until an English solver hipped me to it on Friday afternoon, and I’m impressed/surprised that so many Americans seem to know that as well. I didn’t even consider it so didn’t do a paranoid check. My other thoughts there were GINGER BAKER but then you’ve got two silent R’s, or BAKER STREET, but then I talked myself into worrying about where the R in ‘Baker’ might be slightly pronounced if it’s followed by a word. I thought the entry had to be Britain-related for the amusement/relevance factor.

    Some of you feel like you’re missing the mark lately — tell me about it. So many weird/ unique/hard-t0-foresee, at-least-for-me-gremlins sneaking into these things lately. It will pass. I think.

    • sharkicicles says:

      As they often say in relationships, “it’s not you, it’s me.”:)

    • Steve Blais says:

      I’ve missed the last three week-4 metas. I take full responsibility for missing the second one, #578, as it was entirely gettable, but #574 and #582? Well……

      Keep in mind this is merely my own humble opinion, but metas should require nothing but a combination of logic and intuition to solve them. Even if you can’t solve it, you should be able to look at the solution and think something like “oh, how did I miss that?” or “wow, that is really neat!” Like a movie with a really good twist in the end, the clues were right there in front of you the whole time, and it’s your own fault if you miss them, but you don’t mind missing them because of how cleverly the film was constructed. My experience with metas 574 and 582 were more like a murder mystery where the culprit was someone introduced five minutes before the big reveal. As a viewer, it feels like a cheat because you had no way of inferring he or she was the murderer, because you had no idea they even existed. You were still fooled, but in an unfair way.

      I mentioned that metas ideally require logic and intuition. When I feel they require some sort of psychic power, a guess-what-the-constructor-was-thinking method, then the meta falls flat for me. Of course, other solvers do still solve the meta, but you have to admit the numbers are reduced, and the feedback is more negative than usual, so something went wrong somewhere.

      I hope this helps somehow, and I wasn’t being too vague myself, nor harsh. I mean, it’s hard to tell when a meta will be considered “clever” and when it will be considered “unfair”, so fine is the line between those two adjectives. The fact that you can do this week after week amazes me, and some metas will be great, others not-so-great. Hell, even Edgar Allan Poe had some clunkers. I’m also sure it will pass, and I will soon enough encounter a last-of-the-month meta that I can either solve, or miss entirely but still admire its ingenuity :)

  10. ajk says:

    Funny how sometimes they just click.

    Westminster clue got me thinking about pronounciation, which led to noticing PT of pterodactyl, which led to P*IUS, which led to PRIUS. Whole thought process took well under 5 minutes, and I say that as someone that is regularly lost on Week 3-5 metas, and occasionally on Week 2. Didn’t even consider the British pronounciation until I had to use it to justify the R, at which point I was like ‘maybe? But regardless it has to be PRIUS’

    I could see how it would be much harder to come at it starting with Westminster though.

  11. David L says:

    For extra confusion, ‘parliamentarian’ has a silent i in US pronunciation, but in the UK it is the second a that’s silent (kinda sorta). I’m pretty sure I’ve heard a pronunciation in which all the vowels are given some value: par-lee-a-ment…

  12. Hector says:

    I’m not sure the “t” in “Westminster” is really silent in most dialects of UK English so much as frequently slurred over in casual speech. That is, if you pronounce the “t” distinctly, you are not mispronouncing the word so much as clearly articulating it. The “r” is a different story, for many UK dialects, in that it would be incorrect or at least weird to pronounce it rhotically. I go back and forth, though, about whether the “r” is actually silent in those dialects or rather is merely pronounced differently. It’s some evidence for the silence hypothesis that when you follow it with a vowel, as in “Winchester Abbey,” the “r” is pronounced rhotically (as in most US dialects). On the other hand, when you speak in those dialects, it doesn’t *feel* as though you are simply leaving the “r” out, as it does with the “p” and “s” in “pterodactyl” and “island.” Indeed, you can *prolong* the “r,” or so it seems to me.

    The whole idea of silent letters may be kind of unscientific anyway, in that it’s hard to see a clear distinction between, say, the hypothesis that the “u” in “guilty” is silent, with the “g” doing all of the phonetic work, and the hypothesis that the letter-pair “gu” marks a certain phoneme that “g” sometimes marks by itself. That’s not to deny that there’s a coherent historical question as to whether the presence of the “u” is explained by some vanished phonetic feature of the word or by some postulated etymological fact that was never reflected in pronunciation.

    • joon says:

      yeah, there is often a little bit of fuzziness to pronunciation metas, but i think the fact that “guilt” and “gilt” are exact homophones is pretty compelling evidence for the claim that the u is silent.

  13. Sarah T says:

    How about using Westminster, but requiring it to be pronounced with a Boston accent?

  14. Karen says:

    I was totally sure that the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables were the key to this meta. Parliamentarian is a double-dactyl, and the other long across entries could be paired by meter: guilty party and pterodactyl have the same pattern, and westminster and north island can, if you stress both west and min in British pronunciation, which seemed plausible to me after some YouTube research. This doesn’t lead to a clear unique answer, but my guess would have been Cadillac Escalade, which is another double-dactyl. My downfall on metas is getting stuck on a wrong idea and not thinking outside the box.

    • Hector says:

      Ha, I was exactly there too, although I regarded the UK WEST-min-stuh as a dactyl, and I was torn between the Escalade and the Subaru Forester. I eventually realized it couldn’t be that intricate if so many people were solving it so quickly, and with so few incorrect guesses. The fact that the UK Parliament meets in the Palace of Winchester also did me no favors, red-herring-wise.

  15. C. Y. Hollander says:

    For what it’s worth, I consulted the OED for the UK pronunciation of “Westminster”, and while it parenthesized the t in the UK pronunciation (indicating that some UK pronunciations omit it), the R was unequivocally unvocalized.

  16. Scott says:

    Like a few other above, I also missed this one. Furthermore, I had no clue. I was looking for hidden cars in the grid and simply found nothing.

  17. Alex B. says:

    > in the UK pronunciation, the accent is on the first syllable; in the US version, it’s on the second syllable.

    Wait, no one is talking about this? Do you all pronounce it west-MIN-ster? I sure as heck say WEST-min-ster.

  18. CFXK says:

    I don’t buy the silent letters. Westminster is a stretch, for reason given. Further, the claim here us that Parliament and Guilt have silent vowels. But vowels are rarely silent – they affect pronunciation in subtle ways when combined with other vowels, e,.g., the earlier english spelling of “guilt” was “gylt” – the “ui” combination expresses not a pure “i,” but a slightly inflected “i” that is akin to the vowel “y.” So too with parliament – the second syllable does not contain a pure short “a,” but an “a” inflected by the “i.” Ten minutes listening to BBC World Service will eliminate any doubts you might have about that.

    When speaking of silent letters, it seems to me that such talk should generally be restricted to consonants, where the silence is loud and clear. But with vowels, such clarity is generally not present, since the presence of vowels combined with other vowels affects the pronunciation, even if very subtly.

    • pgw says:

      Words are things that come out of your mouth, not things written on a page; spelling is mostly just a way to represent them physically (though, of course, spellings may influence our pronunciations, especially of words we’re most likely to learn in school rather than through conversation – like, say, parliament.)

      My pronunciations of “guilt” and “parliament,” which I think are fairly “standard” American pronunciations, rhyme exactly with my pronunciations of “kilt” and “bar lament,” so for me the former two spellings have a silent u and i respectively. Others’ pronunciations may vary, of course … especially on a television network in a country whose inhabitants pronounce almost everything somewhat differently than my countrymen and I do.

  19. Amy L says:

    I was sure this would be one of those no-controversy metas with only two or three comments.

  20. ckingsc says:

    HARVARD YARD would have been a great 11 to replace WESTMINSTER.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Ah, that would have been great. It’s famous enough as a word whose R’s get dropped [by some speakers] that I think it could have served on its own as the hint to the meta, without an inelegant nudge in the clue.

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