MGWCC #713

crossword 4:05 
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #713 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Who Are You?”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us we’re looking for a famous American of the past or present. okay. what are the theme answers? i don’t know. but it’s possible that they are the five longish across answers:

  • {Aladdin’s ride} MAGIC CARPET.
  • {Being considered} IN QUESTION.
  • {Oft-mocked part of Southern California} THE VALLEY. sure, i guess. nowadays when i see those two words on their own i am reminded of the phoenix suns, who do not play in southern california. (also, i think the suns’ “the valley” jersey is hideous, but that’s by the by.)
  • {Brainstorming session successes} GREAT IDEAS.
  • {Plans to discuss later} LEAVES ASIDE.

these answers do not appear to have anything in common, unfortunately. IDEAS and ASIDE are anagrams of each other, which is certainly interesting, but considerably less so because there aren’t other anagrams in the other themers.

well, what else is there to go on? i suppose we could look at clues and answers that are famous americans of the past or present. there are, as usual, plenty of them:

  • {“Breathing Lessons” novelist Tyler} ANNE.
  • {Big Apple boss Eric} ADAMS.
  • {Sarah ___ Jewett (“A White Heron” writer)} ORNE.
  • {Somewhat funny comedian Philips} EMO.
  • {OK Corral surname} EARP.
  • {Gardner in 1964’s “The Night of the Iguana”} AVA.
  • {Olympian Louganis} GREG.
  • {“Tell Mama” singer James} ETTA.
  • {Al Gore and Dick Cheney, e.g.} VPS.
  • {James of Smashing Pumpkins fame} IHA.

there are other entries in the grid that could have been clued as names of people (including, of course, famous americans) but weren’t: EVE, JOE, DER, and HAMMER come to mind. actually, HAMMER is interesting because ESCHER is also in the grid (famous, but not american), and both of them have the initials M.C., just like MAGIC CARPET. this is definitely intriguing, but again, i can’t make it work with the other themers.

on that note, though, it’s definitely true that each of the theme answers is a two-word phrase whose initials are a very common two-letter initialism: MC (as in master of ceremonies, or maurits cornelis), IQ, TV, GI, and LA. ohh, i’m seeing something now: in addition to HAMMER/ESCHER, IQ can be followed by {Take for a spin} TEST, TV can be followed by {Excursion leader} GUIDE or {Prepared} SET, GI can be followed by {Anatomical structure} TRACT or {Mr. Schmo} JOE, and LA can be followed by … hmm. neither CONFIDENTIAL nor GEAR is in the grid. oh, but there’s {Barrister’s subject} LAW and {X, in math class} TIMES. those will do. this does suggest there is one more word that goes with IQ. i guess it could be SCORE, he shouted exultantly.

okay, now what? it’s very unclear what to do with HAMMER/ESCHER, TEST/SCORE, GUIDE/SET, JOE/TRACT, and LAW/TIMES. the first letters don’t spell anything (there’s definitely a dearth of vowels for that). looking at T/S and thinking about famous americans of the past or present calls T.S. ELIOT to mind, but there aren’t any famous americans that go by H.E. or E.H., i don’t think. likewise G.S./S.G.

ah, okay, this is it—back to the grid. if you thought (for some reason!) that there were only fifteen theme entries, look again—there are twenty. for each of those pairs of initials, there’s a three-letter entry in the grid beginning and ending with those initials:

  • {Move quickly, in Shakespeare’s day} HIE.
  • {Product-protecting marks} TMS.
  • {Waze uses it} GPS.
  • {Runway figure} JET.
  • {Set ablaze} LIT.

there’s an elegant consistency here: in each case, the first and last letters of the three-letter word appear in the same order as the two letters in the initials appear in the grid. so for example, HAMMER is above ESCHER so it’s H_E instead of E_H. (TEST and SCORE actually intersect each other, but the T is a row higher than the S so it’s T_S.)

anyway, reading off the middle letters we find from these entries gives I.M. PEI, the second-favorite architect of crossword puzzles, and the contest answer. mr. pei is/was certainly a famous american, but is he past or present? let’s get the latest from our correspondent on the ground:

right, past it is.

whew, this was a workout. i really enjoyed this meta—solving it felt very much like following a trail of breadcrumbs. it’s more or less complete coincidence that thinking about entries that could have been, but weren’t, clued as famous americans led me to m.c. HAMMER, but from there, every subsequent aha made me more sure i was on the right track, even when it seemed like there was no way the grid could be hiding yet more theme content.

what’d you all think?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #713

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 263 right answers this week, of which 161 were solo.

  2. BHamren says:

    I think my thought pattern followed Joon’s very much so and we are right after each other near the bottom of the solve list. I got the 10 words after seeing MC fit both Hammer and Escher. Once I had found all I started going back to the clues as if it were a Mike Shenk puzzle, to no avail. Then I remembered the common trick of looking for a missing letter in 3 letter answers and lo and behold

  3. Mutman says:

    I got lucky for once, but I’ll take it!

    I saw the initialisms and found a word that matched (HAMMER, GUIDE, etc). When that didn’t pan out into anything, I was convinced the answer would probably be IM PEI, since it followed the pattern of the themers. I submitted and got it right.

    My solving partner then told me to look harder. The ESCHER should have tipped me off. I then found the rest.

    Yeah, I felt little dirty, but, again, I’ll take it!

  4. ddlatham says:

    Needed a nudge to get past the first step on this one, as I had missed one of the TV entries, and was sure that there were 3 for MC:


    Still, the mechanism was a fun one!

  5. streroto says:

    Not in a million years. I got half of the first step with some help then foundered. So amazingly clever. Did not know the trick of hiding the middle letter was common, have to keep that in mind.

  6. Norm H says:

    Aw man, this one whipped me. After a few dead ends (including the IDEAS/ASIDE anagram noted by Joon) I got the initials and answer pairs, which was a lovely buzz…then spent two days thinking about what to do next and not getting anywhere. Lovely meta, but I’m frustrated that I couldn’t follow through.

    Among the dead ends was reading MAGICCARPET as a cryptic clue suggesting an anagram of CARPET, then seeing CT-EARP in the second-bottom row. It seems amusing in hindsight.

  7. Adam Rosenfield says:

    This was a tour de force, easily five stars. I struggled at first, finally figured out one of the groups (MC ESCHER, IQ TEST, TV GUIDE, GI JOE, LA TIMES) and thought I must be almost done, but could not extract answer. Pondered a while more and found the second set of groups and thought for sure I must be almost done (nope!). Finally with some big nudges from colleagues, I got to the final answer.

    I’m quite impressed with the amount of theme material Matt packed into this 17×17 grid: if I counted correctly, a whopping 107 of 231 white squares (46.3%!) are theme material. And yet, the fill holds up pretty decently for the most part. The word count is quite high (106) with lots of 3-letter words (44) and some closed-off sections connected by only a single cell, but even still most of the entries are pretty solid. Only a few not-so-great entries like ORNE, A FEE, and EVEN I, which is completely to be expected for such a constrained puzzle like this. Scrabbliness is about average I’d say: no BKXZ, but 1 Q, 2 J’s, and 5 V’s.

    • Mikie says:

      “Tour de force” was exactly the phrase that struck me once I finally meandered my way to the solution. Even for the Merry Gridster himself, this construction was a master stroke.

  8. sharkicicles says:

    This might be one of my favorite MGWCCs in recent memory.

  9. anna g says:

    I can’t believe how many wrong paths I took and never saw the right one:

    – The weird judgement of Emo Philips being “somewhat” funny, and EMO being hidden backwards in “somewhat” and “comedian”
    – TIME being duped in the clues and the grid
    – the ASIDE/IDEAS anagram
    – GREAT being an anagram for Greta (Thunburg, in the clues)
    – OREO being spelled by the first letters of the clues 52 thru 58 across, and being in the grid
    – weird amounts of repeated stings in the grid (ORE crossing ORE, as well as EVE/EVE and SCH/SCH… ASCOT on SCORE, HAMMER crossing HAM, the weird NAAN/AFTS/AFEE section)
    – APP being directly above INSTAGRAM, with ARM below that, an anagram of the RAM part of INSTAGRAM which sent me down another anagram hole
    – IDRIS being hidden in MIDRISE

    and probably many more. I’ve never gone the wrong way so many times in a single puzzle before

  10. Wendy L Walker says:

    It wasn’t until some time after solving that I realized the amusing relevance of the title.
    Who are you?
    I. M. Pei!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I really wanted IT’S ME in the grid as well, both being an I.M. entry and also answering the title question. But the crossword gods chose not to allow it.

      • J says:

        Was only using 3 letter words in the title also intended as a clue for the final step?

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          No, I just had to use a very short name for the answer since there was so much theme to cram in there for this mechanism. Once I thought of I.M. PEI I realized that it would be hard to beat, so “Who Are You?” was just the natural question to be answered by “I.M. Pei”.

  11. Wayne says:

    Just wanted to call out–since I don’t think anyone did–that the grid order of the pairs matters. So *tMs* works but *sEt* does not, because tEST appears above sCORE in the grid.


  12. Jon Forsythe says:

    I got distracted for too long that MC also work for ADAMS and AFEE to create (Rachel) McAdams and (John) McAfee. The “McAfee” made me CERTAIN that it was involved in the meta path. I had to get nudges from solving friends to move away from them both. Matt, were these deliberate red herrings?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      No, it’s just what fit there (remember that SET has to stay).

      In a case like this, look at whether there are obviously superior fills in that corner. If there are, you’re probably looking at theme; if not, as here, then you probably aren’t.

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