MGWCC #665

crossword 3:45 
meta 10ish 


hello and welcome to episode #665 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Stop Talking!”. this was a week 4 puzzle, although matt’s email said the difficulty was more like week 2.5. the instructions tell us that we are looking for a five-letter word. okay, what are the theme answers? there are five long across answers in the grid:

  • {Hotel noisemakers} ICE MACHINES.
  • {Like some DNA} CHROMOSOMAL. “most” could be used here instead of “some” and it wouldn’t be wrong.
  • {Warship whose grisly story was memorably told in “Jaws”} USS INDIANAPOLIS.
  • {Graduates from college} GETS A DEGREE.
  • {Desserts often made with coconut milk} VEGAN GELATI.

my first instinct was that the title was suggesting that some key words would be cut short by one letter. this turned out to be true, but then i immediately went down a wrong path: i saw that ANGEL was hidden in VEGAN GELATI, and also in a (to my ear, anyway) striking clue: {Belief with angels} ISLAM. why angels, specifically? there are a whole lot of things in islam (as with any religion). but there wasn’t anywhere else to go with this observation, as i couldn’t find anything like it in any of the other theme answers.

then i started thinking about the “talking” part of the title, and decided that it probably had to do with languages. this also turned out to be true… but then i once again immediately went astray, as i saw INDI in USS INDIANAPOLIS and thought, “aha, you could add one letter to make HINDI!” well, you can, but as soon as i started trying to do that with the other theme answers, i saw that the pattern was quite a bit more specific, and in fact HINDI had nothing to do with the meta at all. in fact, each theme answer ends with a language missing its last letter:

  • GETS A DEGREE + K gives GREEK.

the missing letters spell out EIHKN, which is decidedly not a five-letter word (even if you arbitrarily anagram, which you shouldn’t have to anyway), so what else are we missing? as is so often the case in these week 2.5-ish metas, there are extra short answers in the fill that relate to each of these theme answers. in particular, for each of these five languages, there is a famous person in the fill who is a native speaker:

  • {“Life of Pi” director} ang LEE, born and raised in taiwan, is a native CHINESE speaker.
  • {Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, more familiarly} IMAN, is perhaps the most famous person from somalia, and indeed is fluent in SOMALI in addition to arabic, italian, french, and english.
  • {“Hotel Imperial” actress, 1927} is pola NEGRI, and i have to say i have rarely seen a crossword clue for NEGRI that did not include “pola”, or vice versa. that omission was actually perhaps a hint that it was relevant that she was born in poland (at the time, annexed by russia) and spoke POLISH, although it turns out there is no etymological relationship between her first name (short for apolonia) and her native tongue; apolonia is likely derived ultimately from the name apollo, and poland/polska/polish from the proto-slavic word pole, meaning field.
  • {“That The Best Physician Is Also a Philosopher” author} is the second-century physician GALEN. although he was active in the roman empire, including as court physician to several emperors in rome itself, galen was from pergamon (then greek, but in asia minor in what is now turkey) and wrote (extensively and exclusively) in GREEK.
  • speaking of writers of the roman empire, {“The Art of Love” poet} OVID, of course, wrote in LATIN.

taking the first letters of these five grid entries in this order gives LINGO, an appropriate five-letter answer.

i liked this meta well enough. it’s not especially difficult, as it relies on some fairly familiar mechanisms for medium-difficulty metas, but there was a nice aha moment involving connecting the languages with the people who spoke them. and researching the meta made me look up some things and learn some things i did not previously know: namely, that pola negri was the first european actress signed to a hollywood contract, and that galen wrote in greek.

i think it might have been a little more elegant if we were supposed to somehow use the letters missing from the ends of the languages—this is a tiny thing, perhaps, but maybe the clue for ang LEE could have been rewritten to start with E, for example, as a nod to the E missing from the end of CHINESE. i dunno. but it is a little nitpicky to focus on what the meta isn’t rather than what it is, and what it is is pretty nice.

that’s all i’ve got this week. what’d you all think?

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16 Responses to MGWCC #665

  1. - kip - says:

    oh wow – totally missed that second step. I got to the EIHKN and, realizing that didn’t anagram anywhere, noticed that of those five languages, Latin is the odd man out — as it is no longer spoken. Thought that was where the “stop” of “Stop Talking!” was nudging us and entered LATIN.

    Congrats to all who made that final click. I guess I only got to the week 2 of the week 2.5!!!

  2. Mutman says:

    Defeated. Again, no help for me from the title.

    At first I thought it meant ‘SHHH’ sounding. Saw the CH in Ice machines was promising, then that went nowhere.

    Then I thought of SHUT UP. And when I saw 1A – SPEAK and 20A PASS, I thought we were heading towards phrases ending in ___ UP.

    Alas, that went nowhere, and then I GAVE UP.

  3. JG says:

    Least helpful title in a minute

  4. Wayne says:

    An apt but inappropriate title for this puzzle would have been “Tower of Babe”.

  5. Jim S says:

    Wait, seriously? What is Somalia fairly commonly known for? PIRATES! “SOMAL” was missing the “I”, and immediately above it was “IRATE” – “pirate” without the “p”. And that had NOTHING to do with the meta? That was a rabbit hole I couldn’t abandon. Above “POLISh” was “TATAr”, above “LATIn” was “OVID” (no missing letter, but not for a lack of trying). All coincidence? Wow, brutal. I don’t typically get anything beyond week 2 anyway, but seeing all of that had me laser-focused on nothing else.

    • Jim S says:

      Apologies for my wording there, by the way… “brutal” wasn’t intended as a knock or a slight to the puzzle, more along the lines of “tough break” for my tunnel vision.

  6. sharkicicles says:

    Noticed DIANA, SADE, and ANGELA were lurking, but it was HINDI and the title that got me to the end. (I interpreted “stop” as the end of each theme.) I’d call this maybe a 2.5, as I don’t get many week 4s.

    • Susie says:

      I was hung up on the ladies’ names for quite a while, but managed to pull myself out of that trap and move on.

  7. WeThotUWasAToad says:

    How does title “Stop Talking!” relate to solution “LINGO”?

    • PJ says:

      How does it suggest some key words may be cut short one letter? I guess there’s a phrase or something that I’m not recalling.

    • Susie says:

      My translation was that the languages were cut off at the end.

    • joon says:

      the title does not relate directly to the answer word in this case, but it does hint at the mechanism. stop can mean cut short, and talking is related to language. it’s definitely more of an oblique hint than an outright instruction, of course, but it is there.

  8. C. Y. Hollander says:

    There seemed to be an unusually high variety of foreign languages represented in this grid by entries of five letters (like the solution we were looking for), including French, German, Spanish and Italian (all present in bottom right), as well as Arabic and Latin, even without counting the marginal ones like NEGRI (“black” in Romanian, and perhaps other Romantic languages as well). Coincidental or not, that’s what me got me thinking about foreign languages, which turned out to be the key to this meta.

  9. Garrett says:

    “Stop Talking” is what made me focus on the ends of the themers. However, before I got to that level of focus, I casually noticed Ang in vegANGelati. Because LEE was elsewhere in the grid, that seemed hugely important.

    When that didn’t go anywhere, I looked for incomplete words in the themers. Number one on that list is icemaCHINES. With Ang Lee fresh on my mind I had step one and step two in one fell swoop.

    I was mildly surprised that Pola Negri was from Poland.

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