MGWCC #597

crossword 3:48 
meta 1:30 


hello and welcome to episode #597 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Solving in Pairs”. this week, the instructions tell us we are looking for a famous duo, one of whom was born in 1953. oddly specific! what are the theme answers? well, there are five long across answers in this curiously non-square 19×13 grid, but those weren’t the first ones that caught my eye. no, based on the title and instructions, i noticed these across entries in the corners:

  • {Miranda’s surname, on “Sex and the City”} HOBBES. i had no idea and had to get this from the crossings, but this answer (and clue, referencing neither the tiger nor the political philosopher) screamed “calvin & hobbes” to me.
  • {Bank worker} TELLER. as in penn & teller.
  • {Spice in snaps} GINGER. ginger spice is one of the spice girls (the only one named for an actual spice, actually), but in the context of famous pairs, this suggested the famous dance partners ginger rogers and fred astaire.
  • {Caveat ___ (let the buyer beware)} EMPTOR. okay, well, so… this isn’t part of a famous pair. hrm.

all right, so the fourth one probably isn’t theme-related, but the fact that there are five long theme answers suggests that maybe there are two other hidden pair members among the fill. meanwhile, what do we do with the three we have? well, let’s take a look at those long answers:

  • {The Joker’s portrayer on TV} CESAR ROMERO.
  • {Popular pasta} PENNE RIGATE. oho, PENNE is just PENN with an extra E.
  • {They deliver underwater} CALVING WHALES. here we have CALVIN + G.
  • {Hamburger topping} FRIED ONIONS. this one is a little different, but it’s FRED concealing an extra I.
  • {Result of seeking, in a Biblical verse} YE SHALL FIND.

i couldn’t immediately see the others, but the fact that those extra letters spelled out _EGI_ strongly suggested REGIS, so i was able to guess that the operative YE SHALL FIND was (S)HALL, the partner of {“We Were the Mulvaneys” novelist Joyce Carol ___} OATES. (well, not that OATES, of course, but a different one.) there were more R choices in CESAR ROMERO to consider, but certainly ROMEO is part of a famous pair, and {Dr. ___ Burke (“Lost” role)} JULIET is in the grid (unlike the others, this is a down answer rather than an across). i did not know the lost character, but now that i think about it, there aren’t any famous non-fictional JULIETs (spelled that way) coming to mind.

anyway, where does this leave us for a meta answer? well, here’s where the birth year stipulation is necessary, because both regis & kathie lee (gifford) and regis & kelly (ripa) are plausible pairs, but only kathie lee was born in 1953, so that’s our meta answer.

this meta is very, very good. it’s clear enough from the title and instructions what to start looking for, but not all of them are in plain sight, and i liked the fact that i was able to work back and forth from the ones i could see and my guess at the answer. it’s a very nice touch for an early-in-the-month meta that the connection between the hidden partner and the theme answer did not involve any anagramming, just a letter insertion somewhere. about the only (slightly) weak point i found in the meta construction was “ginger & fred” (or fred & ginger), a pair that i do not normally think about using specifically those names; usually they are both first & last names as a pair in my mind, unlike the other four pairs (and, for that matter, the meta answer) which are all frequently referred to by one name per person: romeo & juliet, penn & teller, calvin & hobbes, hall & oates, regis & kathie lee. i wonder if something like SONNY in the fill and CHERI OTERI would have been a better choice for the I.

nevertheless, this was a very nice meta and just about perfectly pitched for a week 2. thanks, matt!

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19 Responses to MGWCC #597

  1. sharkicicles says:

    Very enjoyable and spot on for 2/5, I thought.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 443 right answers, so right over the plate for Week 2 difficulty, which hasn’t always happened this year…

    I didn’t use the CHERI idea since I thought it was important that the first member of each pair be in the theme entries and the second in the fill, even though Sonny & Cher is more solid than Fred & Ginger.

  3. Amy L says:

    I found the Penn and Teller, Calvin and Hobbes, and Hall and Oates right away but was stuck after that. It took me a while to figure out that the across person wasn’t always made up of contiguous letters. The corner GINGER was necessary to suss that out. My guess is that this was the stumbling block for lots of solvers.

    • pannonica says:

      I never thought to look at the leftover letters, so apart from the contiguous ones ROME(r)O and FR(i)ED provided me with R & I. All I could come up with was Rizzoli & Isles. Neither of those characters are old enough, but the series’ author, Tess Gerritsen, was born in ’53. No good click, but I had nothing else.

  4. Ephraim says:

    14 down (“Prepon and Eqquivel, for two”) and 71 across (“Actors Lorne and Graham, for two”) mention quasi-related pairs of people. I wondered briefly about that, then pursued the pairs in the grid instead.

    HALL and OATES quickly caught my eye, then CALVIN and HOBBES. I think ROMEO and JULIET came last.

  5. Bill S says:

    I was totally led astray by the fact that OATES appears directly above HALL in the grid, alas, neither was born in 1953, so I spent a fair amount of time trying to find similar pairs, in vain.

  6. Norm H says:

    Very solid, and lots of fun. Like Ephraim, I spent a little time wondering about the “for two” entries. I also thought that GERI Halliwell being GINGER Spice might be significant. But noticing CALVING and HOBBES soon set me straight.

    • jefe says:

      I was also caught on GERI and GINGER as well as Fannie FLAGG crossing FRIED(ONIONS) and GREEN(ES), so you can bet I was looking for Tomatoes!

  7. Jim S says:

    Wow, this was as far off as I’ve been on a pre-week 3 in forever… I saw a bunch of doubles letters and figured “solving in pairs” had to be a reference to them. Couldn’t get away from that. Ugh!

  8. Garrett says:

    I loved the concept and the meta, with the one nit that Joon already pointed out. Romeo and Juliet are how we always think of them, so no problem there, and the same as Calvin and Hobbes. The next two pairs are last names (and also how we think of them). So when I turned my attention to FRIEDONIONS I had… Nothing. I tried googling these variations: Frie, Fried, Ried, Friedo, Don, and Doni — looking for possible last names if some person I was unfamiliar with and who was part of a duo who’s other half was in the grid somewhere.

    Of course Fred was obvious but nothing else in the grid made a connection for me. Hah — I kept looking for Wilma! ;-)

    A solving buddy gave me Astair and Rodgers, but I was disturbed at the seemingly incongruous return to a first name here. It still worked nicely with the second step of solving the meta, but it sure slowed me down. For this reason I rated it 4.5 rather than 5.

  9. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Normally, I treat any departure from the standard 15×15 grid with rotational symmetry as a clue (not necessarily a direct one, but at least a sign that the constraints of the meta were difficult to accommodate within a normal grid), but I can’t see why this one needed to be irregularly shaped.

  10. Maggie W. says:

    In support of “Fred and Ginger”: it’s a nickname for Frank Gehry’s Dancing House in Prague:

    I’d heard their first names paired in that context, at least.

    • CarlH says:

      also in support, but turned around: Fellini’s 1986 film “Ginger and Fred ” (“Ginger e Fred”), referring to Rogers and Astaire.

  11. Mutman says:

    I actually thought Fred’s pairing would be Ethel, from I Love Lucy — which I think is more common than Fred and Ginger. Both from same era, kinda. I think I love Lucy may even be more current.

  12. Silverskiesdean says:

    OK. I admit it. I’m old. But I also read IMDB a lot for the biographies. I fought to get TCM (old movies) in my area, and love hearing about various movie pairs or trios for whatever the reason. To put this thing to rest, I’ve always heard the two as “Fred and Ginger”. Very rarely if ever, have I heard “Astaire and Rogers”. There were even Loony Toon cartoons of the era that had short tributes to “Fred and Ginger” in them with great caricatures and dancing in ballrooms, although I don’t remember which one was played by Porky Pig or the one played by Bugs Bunny.
    Hope this helps.

  13. Jim Schooler says:

    I loved loved loved 40 Across “They deliver underwater” — CALVINGWHALES. Creative and clever. Oh, and I loved the puzzle and meta too, 5 stars for me.

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