MGWCC #642

crossword 2:35 
meta DNF3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #642 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “We’re Surrounded!”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we are looking for a well-known children’s show. what are the theme answers? five long across answers all include an apostrophe:

  • {6-0 winners over the San Francisco Giants yesterday} OAKLAND A’S. a few days ago now, but the A’s are still doing great. they just clinched the AL west yesterday, in fact.
  • {Jazz singer who chose her surname because it’s Pig Latin for a synonym for “money”} ANITA O’DAY.
  • {Show with Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman} DIFF’RENT STROKES.
  • {Peaceful transfer of power — not!} COUP D’ETAT.
  • {Cheesy Tom Jones hit} SHE’S A LADY.

okay, well, that’s the easy part. what next? i have no idea. i’ve tried a few things suggested by the title, like reading off the letters on either side of the apostrophe in various orders. nothing doing there: AS / OD / FR / DE / ES. the apostrophes don’t necessarily all represent elided letters; as the clue points out, O’DAY is an invented stage name, so it’s not really short for OF DAY or something. and A’s isn’t a contraction, nor is it a possessive; that apostrophe only exists to distinguish A’s (the plural of the letter A) from As (a two-letter word).

there are a bunch of apostrophes in the clues, of course, as you might expect. nothing out of the ordinary there.

oh, okay, here it is: each of the letter pairs surrounding the apostrophe also form the first and last letters of a three-letter word elsewhere in the grid. in order of theme answer:

  • A’S: {Crunches target them} ABS.
  • O’D: {No spring chicken} OLD.
  • F’R {Cover for a canine} FUR.
  • D’E {Snider or Wallace} DEE.
  • E’S {Suffix with leopard or lion} ESS.

reading off the middle letters in this order gives BLUES, which is the first word of BLUE’S CLUES, a children’s show that contains an apostrophe. that was actually going to be my desperation guess anyway, since the word CLUES is related to crosswords and the 5/5 enumeration is possibly suggested by the five theme answers.

i’m mildly curious if matt considered also putting ACS in the grid so as to have not only BLUES but also CLUES. would that have been more elegant or less elegant? i say more, but i could see the argument either way.

this is a very elegant meta, and i think quite constrained. i wonder what part of the idea came first—wanting to make the answer BLUE’S CLUES, or just the idea for the mechanism and picking whatever five-letter answer worked out with the constraints of the grid. the latter seems possible, as the former would require some serious diligence and/or good fortune in picking theme answers. the 15-letter DIFF’RENT STROKES seems like a natural choice for the middle theme answer, but then you’d need your answer word to have a vowel (or D, i suppose) as the middle letter. i guess the fact that an apostrophe is often followed by S, and a huge percentage of __S words are legit crossword entries, opens up the possibilities somewhat.

fill bits:

  • {Extremely interesting mathematician Paul} ERDOS. fact check: verified. although his life and career were fascinating and admirable in many ways, i can’t gloss over the fact that he was terribly misogynistic.
  • {“Smooth ___” (Sade’s signature song)} OPERATOR. this clue/answer pair is a reversal from the norm, which almost always sees SADE as the grid answer.
  • {Attention-getting garment} RED DRESS. mild ding for both the slight arbitrariness of this phrase and the dupe with {Frozen pizza brand} RED BARON.
  • {The B of RBG} BADER. RIP. this puzzle came out only a few hours after her death.

that’s all from me. what’d you think of this one?

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13 Responses to MGWCC #642

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 384 correct entries this week.

    I did not consider putting ACS in as well, though I might well have if I’d thought of it since it is a nice flourish. I was just considering that the theme clues/entry pairs were your “clues” to get BLUES, which is less clicky than your idea.

  2. Richard says:

    Once I had BLUE’S, I was hopeful that the clues for the 5 three letter words would have started with C-L-U-E-S. Not to be.

  3. Garrett says:

    I had two friends that guessed the answer and submitted before they could figure-out the meta mechanism, so I think this one was pretty guessable.

    I did, however figure it out, but it might not have meant a thing to me to have just BLUES were in not for Blue’s Clues appearing in a clue for a puzzle from Friday of the previous week. I’d never heard of it before. The answer in the grid was STEVE. I had to look it up, so it stuck with me. I think it may have been the WSJ meta.

    I too would have loved to have found ACS in the grid.

  4. PAUL E MANASTER says:

    Did anyone else notice the “Rodents” SURROUNDING the letter O near the middle of the grid? I couldn’t get past that, but couldn’t find a corresponding children’s show, other than the first episode of “Baby Einstein” being titled “Animals Around Us”. It’s an incredible red herring, and no doubt accidental. The rats kept me from ever seeing the apostrophes.

  5. sps says:

    Glad Matt doesn’t take points off for not fully grokking the answer! I submitted BLUE’S CLUES because it was the only popular children’s show I could think of that used an apostrophe to show possession. All the other themers used an apostrophe in different ways (plural, elision, family name, foreign language, and contraction).

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Not Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? That was my first thought.

      The foreign-language apostrophe is another case of elision, by the way, as the E of “de” is dropped. It indicates an elision in the case of contractions, too. And in most family names beginning with O’, the apostrophe indicates an elided F, albeit not in the made-up O’Day, as Joon pointed out.

  6. C. Y. Hollander says:

    There was apparently a spinoff of Blue’s Clues called Blue’s Room, so, IMO, including ACS would have been an improvement insofar as it would have made the solution unambiguous.

  7. Seth says:

    Somehow I got this one instantly. Easiest week 3 ever for me. Guess I got lucky that the first thing I tried was correct!

  8. Kettlebadger says:

    I mistakenly saw
    OaklandsaS —-> O(T)S
    DifferentstrokeS —-> D(O)S
    ShesaladY—-> S(T)Y
    And guessed TOTs TV

    I definitely see the elegance in the real answer but couldn’t get away from the above.

  9. jefe says:

    Is there a name for the mechanism “the long entries yield two-letter pairs which are the first and last letters of three-letter entries whose middle letters spell the answer”?
    It comes up frequently, most recently here:
    It’s awfully similar to the transaddition mechanism, recently seen here and here , after which Matt declared a moratorium on its use.

    • joon says:

      i don’t know if there’s a name for it, but that exact mechanism was entirely appropriate to this meta, just based on the normal function of an apostrophe in elision.

      • jefe says:

        yeah, very sensible! Not saying it was inappropriate or anything, just that the same or similar “add a letter” mechanisms have come up a lot recently. But recency is relative: I’m teaching a friend about solving xword metas and we did the 6/19 WSJ a week ago so it was fresh in my mind.

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