MGWCC #611

crossword 3:44 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #611 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “AKA”. in this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tell us we are looking for a noted 20th-century American. okay, what are the theme answers? there are four long acrosses, and some of them are pretty weird:

  • {Rosemary’s home} HERB GARDEN. okay, nothing weird about this one.
  • {Participant in a hybrid water sport} SURF KAYAKER. whaaat? have you ever heard of this sport?
  • {Contained by the eyeball, as an implant} INTRAOCULAR. or this word?
  • {Double, e.g.} STIFF DRINK. and back to normal.

in addition, there are some clues scattered throughout the grid that clue famous people by their last name only, and with seemingly deliberate ambiguity. four of them are symmetrically placed:

  • {Prominent member of New York’s congressional delegation} is jerry NADLER, but the clue could describe lots of people—senators schumer or gillibrand, certainly, among others.
  • {President on U.S. currency} is ulysses s. GRANT. this, too, could be lots of other presidents (washington, jefferson, jackson, and lincoln, plus more if you count rare or discontinued coins/bills).
  • {Current Supreme Court justice who was born in New York City} is elena KAGAN, but i was pretty sure sotomayor was also born in nyc (she was, in the bronx), plus it seemed entirely possible that any of the others were, too. maybe not roberts, who i think is from indiana. (but it turns out he was born in buffalo! so not far off.)
  • {Noted electee to the U.S. Senate in the 1960s} is late senator daniel INOUYE of hawaii. this is the weirdest one, since there are dozens of senators elected in the 1960s, and all of them are notable to varying degrees.

the title clearly hints at the other people who might fit these ambiguous clues, but it also suggests initials, so i was thrown by the possibility that we needed the initials of these people: jerrold lewis nadler, hiram ulysses grant (his initials at birth were HUG! aww…)/ulysses simpson grant, daniel ken inouye… but elena kagan does not appear to have any middle name. hmm.

it took me way too long to see the next step: hidden in each of the long theme answers is a trigram that is the monogram of a very famous person who fits one of these ambiguous clues:

  • HERB GARDEN contains (the notorious) RBG, ruth bader ginsburg, who was also born in new york city (brooklyn, in particular).
  • SURF KAYAKER contains RFK, robert francis kennedy, who was elected to the senate in the 1960s.
  • INTRAOCULAR contains AOC, alexandria ocasio cortez, a prominent member of new york’s congressional delegation.
  • STIFF DRINK contains FDR, franklin delano roosevelt, a president on u.s. currency.

and … then what? i have to admit, i thought it would be all over once i saw that step, since it’s only week 2. but i have to admit, i’m totally stumped. identifying those four people known by their initials has revealed … nothing. i can’t really put their initials together to spell anything (nor did i really expect to be able to, since there aren’t all that many people known by 3 initials that matt could have chosen from). there’s nobody famous with the initials AKA (the puzzle title). it’d be amazing if there were somebody that fit all four ambiguous clues, but of course none of the current supreme court justices are also presidents who are on currency.

going back to the grid, if there were another long or centrally located theme answer containing an obvious monogram of a famous 20th-century american known by their monogram (like MLK or LBJ), i’d be satisfied with that. but there isn’t. so i’m stuck.

the two answers crossing in the center of the grid are {Pod of whales or dolphins} GAM, which is interesting because it’s three letters (although i couldn’t think of anybody famous with those initials), and {Worth something} OF VALUE, which is interesting because it has the unusual letter cluster FV; but i couldn’t think of anybody known by the initials OFV or FVA either. there are plenty of other three-letter answers in the grid, many of which are initials (CVS, AAA, AMA, LSD, IRL, NBA, etc.), but there is nothing non-arbitrary about picking somebody with one of those initials either.

i thought perhaps the 1-across clue, {Singer who performed at Woodstock while six months pregnant} BAEZ, might also be an ambiguous one, because (like the other ambiguous clues) it leaves off the first name and at least allows for the possibility that there might be another correct answer to that clue. but my research didn’t turn anything up.

i have one longshot: the first letters of the monograms, taken in arbitrary order (say, bottom-to-top in the grid), spell out FARR, which is the surname of noted 20th-century american actor jamie farr. this is highly unsatisfying on a number of counts, but i’m just not seeing anything else.

again: it’s only week 2, and 400+ people have solved this, so i must be missing something obvious. but i am, in fact, missing it, so … i dunno. maybe it’s MLK, because he was known by his initials? oh, and i guess kagan/inouye/nadler/grant (ordered by theme answer) spells KING. yeah, actually, that must be it. whew.

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38 Responses to MGWCC #611

  1. David Glasser says:


  2. pgw says:

    Yeah, you got it at the end.

    I thought this was a fantastic puzzle.

    Here are some other 20th century Americans:

    Potential unifying themer:

    Patron saint of this meta:

  3. Todd Dashoff says:

    FDR is not on currency, he’s on a coin.

    • pgw says:

      Is it your contention that coins are not currency? M-W gives a bunch of definitions for the word; 2b specifies paper money, but 2a just says “something (such as coins, treasury notes, and banknotes) that is in circulation as a medium of exchange.”

      • PJ Ward says:

        From the Department of the Treasury – U.S currency is produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and U.S. coins are produced by the U.S. Mint. Both organizations are bureaus of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

        Gotta agree with Todd.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          “Currency” has several common meanings, but coins are always considered currency in the “medium of exchange” sense.

          • Jonesy says:

            100% agree with Matt. In these discussions, it’s much harder to defend the stance that “x” can’t mean “y” – just because you find an instance of “currency” explicitly only meaning paper money, doesn’t mean it can’t also include “coins” at other times. I don’t even think this one is much of a stretch actually.

            After all, “paper currency” is a term you can find all over the internet which only makes sense in the context of coins being currency.

            • AK37 says:

              I’m curious if this small detail regarding currency prevented any solvers from understanding the mechanism. Seems like a very minor quibble.

            • ant says:

              To AK37:
              Me. Even though the other 3 were SOLID clicks, that paper/coin currency issue was just too iffy for me, so I abandoned that whole train of thought.

              J/K – I got it.

  4. sharkicicles says:

    I wonder if the Easter egg in 5A is intentional. It’s ATLAW, which contains TLA split between two words like the theme entries, which is a Three Letter Acronym.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Nice save, Joon — 406 right answers this week.

  6. Steve Thurman says:

    I got it, but KAMALA sure had me stumped for a while. For the life of me, I could make K-K-N-G spell anything. It didn’t help that I live in California!

  7. Dave says:

    I found KING right away but spent days looking for a good reason why the answer should be Martin Luther King and not, say, Elvis Presley (AKA “The King”) or some other noted, albeit less notable, King.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      But nobody refers to Elvis Presley as EAP, do they? All the theme initial sets are routinely used to refer to their subjects.

      • Dave says:

        I considered that, naturally. But, none of the persons whose names spell out K-I-N-G are referred to by their initials, so it could cut either way. Which names should the answer conform with?

        The case for Dr. King is stronger than the case for Elvis, but not so strong that I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of additional evidence.

  8. I really wanted that center GAM to be significant, since (a) it was central and (b) the alternate theme answers (NADLER, KAGAN, GRANT, INOUYE) seem to be pointing it out. But, like joon, I finally tried putting in those answers in order and clicked on MLK as the answer. He was going to be my Hail Mary answer anyway, since those are the only consonants in the center-adjacent KAMALA, but I wasn’t happy with that. Glad I (we) finally found the real clue!

  9. Tony says:

    Seeing AOC in INTRAOCULAR was my first aha moment. The second was matching each person to the appropriate last name & shared position. Took a few seconds to remember that RFK was a senator before he was Attorney General.

  10. Tony says:

    Th clue says On US currency which is correct

  11. Andy says:

    I went with LBJ as a hail Mary and explicitly mentioned MLK as another option, but I could not work out the KING part of the mechanism. With 406 correct answers I have no grounds to cry foul — that’s right down the middle for week 2 — but this felt more like a 3 to me.

  12. Silverskiesdean says:

    I think it’s due to the difference in our respective ages because I am over 65 and the first thing I noticed, in fact immediately was FDR and RFK but I didn’t figure out the puzzle until late Sunday, but you, Laura Crossword Fiend being younger, immediately saw the four symmetric clues in the grid. In fact, once I realized what was going on, I had to google AOC and RAO to see what would come up. I too got panicky when I saw the number of people that had solved a Week #2 and I was nowhere. Double phew!

  13. Seth says:

    I think I’m finally getting used to paying attention to my general thoughts and feelings during the solve, in the hopes that it’ll help with the meta. In this puzzle, during the solve, I felt like there were more proper names than usual, and while trying to solve the meta I remembered this feeling and paid it some attention. And it got me the solution! I think this is a good strategy to keep in mind when solving metas, especially later in the month.

  14. Amy L says:

    I noticed FDR and RBG right away. And of course RFK is a stadium and AOC is Appellation d’origine contrôlée. I found the long names, thanks to symmetry, but I mixed up Nadler and Inouye so I had KNIG. Since Matt generally disdains having things out of order, I was a little stuck here but still entered MLK. It is Black History Month and Matt often ties such events into his metas. All of that pointed me to the right answer. Now that I realize AOC is not a senator, I can put things in the right order.

  15. TF says:

    pfft… I figured MLK was appropriate, but missed the connection & couldn’t justify the guess.
    Out of the 4 themers, RFK is (was) the only one to live his entire life in the 20th century, so there I went.

  16. Garrett says:

    Unlike Joon, the monograms came to me first. I got RBG last but as soon as I had it I recalled KAGAN in the grid and looked at the clue. It hit me that the clue could just as well apply to RBG, so I went looking for more, and found the other three.

    FDR went easily with the GRANT clue, and the other two weren’t hard to sort out. When I took the grid answers in the grid order of the associations I had made the first letters spelled KING so I knew it was MLK.

    I liked this puzzle very much. The leap to associating the other clues took me a while, but I made it and it was rewarding.

  17. Jim S says:

    Victim of overthinking here. JFK and MLK jumped immediately to mind. The kiss of death was including KAMALA in my “others” list so I couldn’t hone in on KING. I even had everyone paired up correctly – an “other” with a set of initials from someone in the same position – so with KAMALA not having a Senator’s initials in the puzzle to pair with I went with JFK as her match. Sure, her’s is a first name so it doesn’t perfectly fit with the other last names, but the clue was open-ended enough that it seemed legit to me (there are plenty of former rivals of Bernie and Amy). Of course, LBJ is possibly the next most famous political figure commonly known by his initials and he was also a senator. Oh well.

  18. john says:

    I thought it came down to an answer that could fit the clue (in this case, President on U.S. currency), and also was a famous 20th century figure well-known as a 3-letter abbreviation, plus was a politician. JFK fit this. I tried all the first and last inits of the theme-people in the grid, it didn’t occur to me to use one set only, especially in a week 2. Again, they are all politicians but we jump to MLK for the answer? Seems a little awkward.

    • Jonesy says:

      I wouldn’t call the Supreme Court justices politicians.

      • john says:

        That is a real question these days. However they are members one of the branches of the federal government, making them all of a group, which MLK does not belong to.

  19. Dave S. says:

    It’s sort of funny. Joon sees stuff in the puzzles I never see, and solves them easily. But I worked on the Hill for 30 years so political stuff is natural for me and a quick solve. I loved this puzzle.

  20. cyco says:

    This was a fun one. It seemed easy at first but finding those additional connections made it a good Week 2 challenge.

    Matt, out of curiousity, were you aiming for people to submit KING or MLK, or did it not matter? I debated briefly but figured you would accept both anyway.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Anything clearly identifying him was fine, but most just submitted “MLK” in keeping with the theme idea.

  21. Clint Hepner says:

    I got the 4 sets of initials, and figured the answer was either LBJ or MLK (JFK was too similar to RFK to be considered), but without an obvious indication of how the initials led to one or the other (or someone else I hadn’t thought of), I didn’t submit an answer. I remember thinking briefly Grant and Kagan were relevant, but never got as far as finishing the mapping (holiday weekends always throw me off). The extra level of indirection feels like a Week 3 to me, but I won’t argue that in the face of the 400+ people who clearly spent more time on this than I did :)

  22. john says:

    A funny thing came across as i was solving. As i mentioned, i tried using the inits of all the themers. If you put all of the last inits together and anagram them, you can get “grokking” (Too bad i didn’t register that KING at the end!). This is a term Matt has referred to many times, also it was invented by an author he has name-checked before (and i believe is a favorite of his), Robert A. Heinlein. He is a noted 20th-century figure. I also believe he is referred to sometimes as RAH. I actually thought about submitting it, but he wasn’t in the federal government! :vp

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