MGWCC #674

crossword 3:14 (across lite) 
meta 11 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #674 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Please Form Two Lines”. for this week 5 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we are looking for a seven-letter, two-word phrase. okay. what are the theme answers? there are six longish across answers in the grid:

  • {Orange and brown, for two} FALL COLORS.
  • {“These things happen sometimes”} “THAT’S LIFE”.
  • {Become a party of, as an agreement} ENTER INTO.
  • {Forecast for flooding} HEAVY RAIN.
  • {Themselves} EACH OTHER, at least reflexively.
  • {“The nerve!”} SOME PEOPLE.

i noticed more or less right away that each of these was a two-word phrase including one four-letter word: FALL, LIFE, INTO, RAIN, EACH, and SOME. thinking about those for a moment suggested the phrase “into each life some rain must fall”, which i had never noticed before was a seven-word phrase containing only four-letter words. that enabled me to notice the seventh theme answer, a short one in the middle: {Question from the reluctant} “MUST I?”.

so that’s clearly the first step. what next? “into each life some rain must fall” is a song by ella fitzgerald & the inkspots; i definitely thought about INK SPOT, which is a two-word phrase with seven letters. but ella’s backing band was the inkspots, not the ink spot(s). moreover, the title says to form two lines, and we only have one. gotta keep looking.

“into each life some rain must fall” gives us a clear reordering of the seven theme answers. could the second line be formed from just the other word in each themer? i was excited about this idea until i wrote down ENTER OTHER THAT’S PEOPLE HEAVY I COLORS, which is not a sentence even in the chomskian sense. similarly, looking at the first words of the theme clues gives nonsense (“become themselves these the forecast question orange”).

however, scanning the clues, one non-theme clue jumped out at me: {“Must Love Dogs” got two stars from him} EBERT. that’s a totally arbitrary way to clue EBERT (literally any movie he reviewed could have been used there instead), and moreover the sentence structure is awkward, as if the wording had been contorted to put “Must” at the front. (not to mention the fact that a crossword typically does not repeat a word from the grid in the clues, although a relatively innocuous one like “must” is probably fine.) based on this idea, i also noticed {Some state employees} COPS at 1-across, since “some” is also part of our line. but EBERT and COPS didn’t do much for me, and i couldn’t find “rain” or “each” (or indeed, any of the other words in our line) in any clue.

what else can we do? ella (or perhaps allan roberts, the lyricist) borrowed the title of her song from longfellow’s poem the rainy day. could that be the thing to look at? why yes, it could. “into each life some rain must fall” is the most famous line of the poem, but it’s suggestively situated as the penultimate line. i say suggestively because now we have a pretty clear indication what to look for as the second line of our “please form two lines”: the last line of the poem, which is “some days must be dark and dreary”.

that’s also seven words, and wouldn’t you know it, “dreary” jumped out at me as a word i remembered seeing in the clues: {Dreary author} POE. and there’s the “some” and the “must” again, so probably COPS and EBERT are relevant after all. indeed, all seven of these words are used at the start of a clue:

  • {Some state employees} COPS.
  • {“Days of Thunder” scorer Zimmer} HANS. he’s a prolific film composer, but this is not his most famous work. (side note: i was entertained by this aural history of the inception horn.
  • {“Must Love Dogs” got two stars from him} EBERT.
  • {Be mistaken} ERR.
  • {Dark cartoon character} REN.
  • {“And…this might be trouble”} “UH-OH”. come to think of it, that “and…” is totally superfluous.
  • {Dreary author} POE.

the first letters of the answers to these clues spell out CHEER UP, which is our meta answer—and quite an apt one on this very rainy day here in boston. i hope it’s nicer out wherever you are reading this.

but enough about the weather! this is an absolutely brilliant meta. i’m struggling to even fathom how it came together so cleanly, because right now my working hypothesis is that matt time-traveled to 1842 and incepted (perhaps with hans zimmer’s assistance) longfellow into ending his poem with that couplet*: both lines seven words long, and the first line containing only four-letter words so that matt could start his trail of breadcrumbs there. not only that, but he then arranged it (either through ella or as part of some larger cultural awareness drive) so that the penultimate line, but not the final line, would become the best-known bit of that poem by the year 2021, so that he could hide the words of the final line in plain sight as the first words of seven different clues. and then (and then!), on top of all that, the answers to those seven clues acrostic into CHEER UP, which is an absolutely perfect capstone (and also the overall sentiment of longfellow’s poem). this is absolute sorcery.

*technically not a couplet since they don’t rhyme with each other

hats off to matt for creating this work of genius and then sharing it with us. (and then hats back on, because otherwise my hair is going to get wet.) i hope you all enjoyed this one as much as i did!

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31 Responses to MGWCC #674

  1. Stribbs says:

    Eek, not familiar with that line at all. Guess I should have just entered all the theme answers into Google… even with the non-4-letter words that would have yielded something!

  2. Dan Seidman says:

    Brilliant — I wish I’d figured it out. I thought 63-down pointed to the song, so I guessed “too much”, which is a repeated phrase from the song and, it turned out, an apt description of the difficulty of the puzzle for me.

  3. pgw says:

    I struggled mightily with this one. I had the sense all along that we might be forming two lines of poetry, but poetry is no strong suit of mine and in the end I more or less stumbled on the longfellow poem (somehow it came up when I did a search for “poem colors life into i rain other people,” which only includes three of the words in the actual line!)

    Because it seemed like it knowing some poetry would have made the puzzle play easier my initial instinct was to give this one a rather middling rating, but joon, you sold me – it is indeed a very well put together meta. Unless you’re Ken Jennings, not every puzzle is going to be in your culture-knowledge wheelhouse; now I know how all the non-sports-fans feel when a meta depends on knowing something in that arena.

    So while I can’t say I enjoyed trying to solve this one – rarely has my “contest crosswords ruin my weekends” tote bag been so accurate – I do appreciate it now that it’s done. And solving it Monday morning did cheer me up!

  4. Charles Stevens says:

    I tried six ways to Sunday to make something out of the EBERT cluing – both the odd choice of movie and the duped “Must” at the beginning stood out. Also noticed the “Some” dupe and the odd phrasing on the UHOH clue, but couldn’t put the pieces together. Great meta; just wish I’d been more familiar with Ella’s (and Longfellow’s) oeuvre.

  5. Garrett says:

    Dang, I saw coincidence of the use of dreary, but following that further with other clues escaped me, except i also noticed {Some state employees} because of SOMEPEOPLE, not because of that other line of the poem.

  6. Garrett says:

    I agree with Joon — it was brilliant.

  7. Peter F says:

    Well that’s interesting. I didn’t get to the CHEER UP entries before seeing that if you rearrange “into each life some rain must fall” to the (ok, awkward) question form “must into each life fall some rain?”, the last letters spell “To Helen”. Which is of course “confirmed” by the Poe entry. Works as a phrase in the general sense, so seemed fine to me, though clearly less elegant than the actual solution.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 156 correct entries this week.

  9. john says:

    Another brilliant meta, but another fail for me. I should have looked at the Longfellow poem but didn’t, even though it was sent by a fellow solver! The spoils don’t belong to the lazy.

  10. MountainMa says:

    I wasn’t familiar with the poem or the Ella song. My break-in was 4-letter words + 7-letter phrase instruction + Google. (I’ve taken that to heart since missing MGWCC #141, in which Joon’s writeup included the line “this is another meta that google could have solved for you”, which I assume was directly addressed to me.)

    I actually got the Queen song first! But eventually, Ella –> Longfellow. Shoutout to DrTom at xword muggles for pushing me off the “non-Chompskian sentence” path. This is my first 5/5! It only took me 554 weeks.

  11. Wayne says:

    I’m curious if anyone went straight to Longfellow. I got stuck on Ella for a long time. That was nearly my undoing.

    Brilliant, enjoyable meta.

    • Dave says:

      I went to Ella Fitzgerald first, since she was in the grid. I spent some time trying to make “But too much is falling in mine” work for the second line. When I couldn’t make that work, I went to Longfellow. “Dreary” in the clues pretty much gave it away for me.

    • Magoo says:

      I went straight to Longfellow – but then years ago I constructed a crossword based on “Into each life some rain must fall” (at the time I knew the phrase from Billy Bunter books but not where it was from). I was vaguely aware there had been a song, but didn’t realise it was well known.

  12. Jason T says:

    Brilliant – and I agree, what a remarkable construction (or feat of time travel). I am curious as to what the inspiration for the meta was, Matt? Did you start by noticing that the phrase “Into each life some rain must fall” happens to consist of seven four-letter words and proceed from there? Or did you come up with the idea for two lines of verse hidden in the theme answers and clues and then try to find two lines of verse that fit?

  13. Susie says:

    Never solved this one, but I got close on a few fronts. I am in awe, and wish I could have experienced the beauty of the solution on my own. Nice job explaining it Joon.

  14. Margaret says:

    I immediately saw the two-word across answers (and thought it was weird that Matt had two two-word answer themes in a row) and wrote them down in columns. INTO EACH LIFE SOME RAIN MUST FALL jumped out at me so I googled it and found the ELLA videos. Saw that it was also a poem but discounted that because the ELLA in the grid clearly pointed to Matt directing us to use the Ella version, not the poem, right? Ugh, wrong.

    Couldn’t make anything with the other halves of the clues. Noticed the weird cluing for EBERT, HANS and REN but couldn’t do anything with it. Stalled out completely after that. Great meta, just too much for me to figure out!

  15. TRidgway says:

    A brilliant and gettable Week 5 – that I didn’t get and never would have, despite having caught a lot of the relevant pieces. Congrats to the successful, and I heartily second Joon’s review.

  16. bwouns says:

    This would have been a week five without the two big red herrings. As it is I’d say it’s a week 5½.

    Red Herring #1: Already mentioned, ELLA Fitzgerald being in the grid even though it is the Longfellow poem that is relevant

    Red Herring #2: The theme phrase consisting of seven four letter words despite that fact having nothing to do with the solution

    (Not a criticism, just venting – I eventually got it at the eleventh hour)

    • joon says:

      ELLA being in the grid is *arguably* a red herring, although it was precisely because i looked up her song on wikipedia that i found out the title was taken from longfellow.

      but there is no way on earth you can call #2 a red herring. noticing it is inarguably step 1 in any solution path. it’s the exact opposite of a red herring.

      • bwouns says:

        I guess it’s only a red herring if you figure out the phrase first.
        It was several hours between that and noticing the 4 wordedness

      • pgw says:

        > noticing [that the theme phrase is four 7-letter words] is inarguably step 1 in any solution path.

        I solved the puzzle without *ever* noticing that (until I read your review).

        To me the red herrings were that there were a couple of clue styles of which there were exactly seven – fill-in-the-blanks (the blank is a “line,”) and clue as standalone utterance, in quotes (the quotation mark is itself kinda sorta “two lines.”) For a minute I thought there were also exactly seven clues containing titles of works of art/entertainment, but actually it was eight.

  17. spotter says:

    Joon, you are so humble to not even mention you were first on the leaderboard this week! Congratulations on that

  18. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    I am not worthy
    and did not solve this meta,
    big hopes for week one

  19. jefe says:

    Ah, that is clever. I did notice the seven 4-letter words (as well as some of those odd clue words) but didn’t press onward.

  20. Jamil says:

    FWIW, cops aren’t state employees in the U.S. They are city and village employees. State employees are troopers.

  21. Big Cheese says:

    I didn’t have much time to solve this weekend, but I never heard of this phrase, not the song, or the Poem by Longfellow. Recognized the 7 two word entries, and briefly tried to combine them into phrases. Probably best. Mechanism is indeed cool, but without knowledge of the phrase, song, or poem, I think my weekend was better served on other things.

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