MGWCC #672

crossword 4:03 
meta 5:00ish 


hello and welcome to episode #672 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Purloined Letters”. for this week 3 puzzle, we have a guest constructor, dean silverberg, whose instructions tells us that the answer is a fictional detective. okay. what are the theme answers? there are no long answers in the grid, but there are a whole lot of answers (all in the acrosses) that do not match their answers:

  • {Word coined by the US Navy in 1940} RAID. the word RAID goes back centuries. i thought this might be “sea raid” but that’s not really a phrase, let alone a word. it turns out to be RADAR, which makes more sense.
  • {French impressionist Claude} MOAN. nope, MONET.
  • {Danger from dogs} RAY RABIES.
  • {Trapper’s tentmate, on “M*A*S*H”} HAWK HAWKEYE.
  • {Generosity} LARGE LARGESSE.
  • {Giant in Jewish folklore} GOAL GOLEM.
  • {Boneless cut} PHIL FILLET (or FILET, if you prefer the french spelling).
  • {Gentle colors} PAST PASTELS.

other than the tricky one at 1-across, it’s straightforward in every case to figure out the correct answer. in each case, it differs from the answer in the grid by one letter—but not necessarily orthographically. (in fact, in no cases is it a one-letter orthographic change.) no, one letter has been purloined phonetically. well, usually one letter; in two cases, it’s a phonetic plural of a letter:

  • RAID + R = RADAR
  • MOAN + A = MONET
  • RAY + B’S = RABIES
  • GOAL + M = GOLEM

taking these purloined letters in order, and using a double letter whenever a plural is purloined, spells out RABBI SMALL. never heard of him? me neither, to tell you the truth. rabbi small is the creation of an author named harry kemelman, with whom i was likewise unfamiliar. the first book in the 12-book rabbi small series is called friday the rabbi slept late, a title which rings a very faint bell. (i admit i’m not an especially avid consumer of detective fiction.)

my unfamiliarity with the meta answer certainly wasn’t much of a hindrance when solving the meta, but it did dull the pleasure of the solve somewhat—instead of a final “aha” moment, it was more of a “is that a thing? let me google it” moment, with a correspondingly much smaller dopamine rush. i’m sure there are solvers out there who have read the rabbi small mysteries, though, and i envy them the extra satisfaction they must have gained from solving this meta. for my part, i enjoyed the repurposing of poe’s detective story title into a meta crossword title, and i was very much not expecting the phonetic part of the mechanism when i started solving it, so that was a nice surprise.

the crossword grid itself was a little unusual, with the lack of long answers pushing the word count up to a rather high 82. in addition, the high block count and relative lack of grid connectivity (all four corners are only joined to the main body of the grid via a single entry) made the solve somewhat disjointed. i don’t recognize the constructor’s name, so perhaps dean is a relatively inexperienced constructor, in which case i am probably just nitpicking—but i only bring it up because the unusual features of the grid really did affect my experience of solving it.

word i did not know in the fill: {Goods on the ocean floor, in legalese} LAGAN. i’m not sure when i’ll next have the opportunity to use this knowledge, but it was interesting to learn.

that’s all for me. how’d you like this one?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #672

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 567 correct answers this week.

    And thanks also to Dean for the meta! Very nice work.

  2. Jeff M says:

    Got all of the above…and looked for the next step. Had no idea that was a person (I’m a big google and didn’t even think to Google the name Rabbi Small) then spent a ton of time spinning my wheels after the letter finds. Did google “famous fictional detectives” and don’t remember seeing this person on any list I found.

    Cool mechanism but arcane (to me) answer spoiled this one.


  3. Mac says:

    I also had never heard of this man of the cloth but the missing sounds were quite obvious and the answer didn’t even need to be anagrammed. Played like a Week 1 for me. I kept looking for one more step to justify its week 3ness but couldn’t find one.

  4. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I’d never heard of him before either; I’d thought I’d googled something like “rabismal detective” and found the Wikipedia page for Harry Kemelman, but I can’t reproduce that now so most likely I googled for something else slightly different that I’ve forgotten.

  5. Justin W says:

    Re: Joon’s lack of familiarity (and mine!), I don’t see that as a ding. As someone raised with Jewish culture, I appreciated the multiple references throughout the puzzle and they all connected with the thematic payoff. Well done, Dean.

  6. bieristgut says:

    Anyone else happen to miss RAID and HAWK (against my better knowledge) and end up piecing together BALSAM? This would lead one to Martin Balsam who played the private investigator Milton Arbogast in Psycho (1960). Grrrrrrrrrrr.

  7. Mutman says:

    I also, have never heard of the esteemed Rabbi. But I like the fact that this was (most likely) not a guessable answer.

    Took the longest time deciphering RAID-R. Stuck on something stupid like searaid (C-RAID), which isn’t even a thing.


  8. oldjudge says:

    I thought it was a great puzzle by Dean, not hard but lots of fun. Thanks for taking the time to provide us with some entertainment.

  9. Seth says:

    Missed RAY -> RABIES, probably because it’s the only one not on the side of the grid. RAISMAL (didn’t recognize that PASTEL needed to be plural) didn’t seem right, and after trying to find the nonexistent next step, I gave up.

  10. Wayne says:

    Missed RADAR at first, so I was confused for a minute. (“Huh. I would’ve guessed ‘raid’ was from Middle English.” I am not a smart man.)

    I didn’t recognize the name, but my dad read those books years ago, so the payoff—when it finally came—was worthwhile.

    Nice job Dean.

  11. Mikie says:

    Easiest (at least for me, for a change) Week 3 I can remember. And Kemelman’s “Rabbi” books were very well-known in their day, I remember them from the ’70s and ’80s though Wiki tells me they spanned the ’60s to ’90s. A little payback for us old folks who sometimes struggle with the modern pop culture references!

  12. sharkicicles says:

    Really enjoyed this one. I’ve heard of Biggie Smalls, but not Rabbi Small.

  13. Tony Zito says:

    Ended up with RABISMAL — rather abysmal.

  14. Steve Thurman says:

    I’m surprised to see how many people are unfamiliar with Rabbi Small. I read those books long ago and enjoyed them greatly. Of course, being familiar with something often makes me think it’s familiar to everyone (I’m looking at you, Margaret Cho).

  15. JB says:

    Not only did I overlook RADAR, I entered RAB at 24a thinking 26d must be BELL(OW) for CRY. That gave me a superfluous O, EE instead of BB, and no R. Yikes. Never heard of Rabbi Small nor did he appear in any detective small related web search I tried. New week, new streak ??‍♂️

  16. Garrett says:

    RADAR and LAGAN eluded me for a long time, too.

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