MGWCC #801

crossword 4:00
meta 5ish 


hello and welcome to episode #801 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Sounds Like Someone I Know”. i normally attempt to solve week 1 puzzles without using the instructions, but this week i accidentally saw them before starting to solve, so i knew we were looking for a famous athlete. okay. what are the theme answers? five long answers in this 17×17 grid were rhyming names with a parenthetical number:

  • {President of France from 1995 to 2007 (4)} JACQUES CHIRAC.
  • {“High Fidelity” and “School of Rock” funnyman (6)} JACK BLACK. JACK is essentially the same name as JACQUES, but pronounced differently (which will turn out to be relevant.
  • {Children’s book character who takes idioms literally (7)} AMELIA BEDELIA. so she literally takes idioms? where does she put them? (this joke narrowly edged “she was also great in die hard” in my market research.)
  • {Cartoon penguin (4)} CHILLY WILLY.
  • {She played Bonnie Parker in “Bonnie & Clyde” (4)} FAYE DUNAWAY. i make this a slight demerit—the others are all perfect rhymes, to my ear, since the first and last names of each one agree exactly starting from the vowel sound of the last stressed syllable. but i would pronounced this one “DUN-away”, rather than “done aWAY”, so it doesn’t rhyme with FAYE although it would rhyme with something like “runaway”. FAY WRAY would be an acceptable theme answer here (although obviously it doesn’t fit in the same spot in the grid).

what next? well, surely we’re supposed to do something with these parenthetical numbers, but it’s not immediately clear what. they aren’t all unique, so they’re not an ordering. i thought this was an unusually subtle step for a week 1, but the tipoff for me was noticing that the grid was extra large (17×17). there didn’t seem to be a reason that this size grid was required for just the five theme answers above, so i figured we were supposed to look for other names that rhymed with these. and that turned out to be exactly what we were supposed to do, with the parenthetical numbers indicating the lengths of the rhyming entries:

  • {Mammaloid on a moon} EWOK is the (4) that rhymes with JACQUES and CHIRAC… mostly. some people pronounce these with a slightly different vowel sound, and i think i would include myself in that group. to me, PAHK rhymes with CHIRAC, but EWOK does not quite. i think it’s an /ɑ/ vs /ä/ distinction, if that helps.
  • {Go for the opponent’s king} ATTACK is the (6) that rhymes with JACK and BLACK. no phonological quibbling here—this rhyme is rahk-solid.
  • {1998 Natalie Merchant album named for a Shakespeare character} OPHELIA is the (7) rhyme for AMELIA BEDELIA. i did not know the album title, but i’m not really familiar with merchant’s solo work after she left the other 9,999 maniacs to fend for themselves.
  • {Collins, Allen, or Tomlin} LILY is the (4) that rhymes with CHILLY WILLY.
  • {Spanish for “I don’t know”} NO SÉ was by far the hardest one of these to find in the grid afterwards, because it just looks like the english word NOSE. but it’s the (4) rhyme for FAYE DUNAWAY.

circling these five extra entries and reading off their first letters from top to bottom in the grid gives ONEAL, so our contest answer is the rhyming name SHAQUILLE O’NEAL. (it’s slightly inelegant that another famous basketball player with a similar name, {Curly of Harlem Globetrotters fame} NEAL, is in the grid.)

i liked this meta quite a bit, despite my quibbling about pronunciation niceties. it definitely felt more like a week 2 difficulty than a week 1, but i don’t have any objection to that on general principle. there aren’t all that many famous people with rhyming names to begin with, and this felt like a fun way to turn them into a meta.

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d you like this one?

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26 Responses to MGWCC #801

  1. Paul+Coulter says:

    Shaquille O’Neal was the first rhyming athlete I thought of. It was easy enough to find O_EAL, but like Joon, I had trouble finding the rhyming entry that started with N. I must have gone through the grid ten times before I finally remembered that NOSE was really “No sé.” Anyone else make this mistake? At one point I convinced myself Matt was using STAY in STAYPUT, and I was kind of ticked at him for this bit of inelegance. I also wondered if he chose ATTACK as the ack rhyme because of “Shaq Attack.”

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah, the N in “no se” was the last letter that dropped for most solvers.

    • TimF says:

      Ditto on no se’. I never saw the clue for 36D since it was filled in by the acrosses before I got to it, and scanning the grid for a 4-letter rhyme, I blew right by it.
      Shot an airball on week 1, I swear I’m getting worse at these lately.

  2. Mark S. says:

    Jumped from rhyming names to Shaquille O’Neal. Did not use the numbers save that there were 5. .

  3. Mac says:

    So the fact that there are exactly five “(name) or (name)” or “(name), (name), or (name)” clues, each one either intersecting a meta answer (3) or parallel to a meta answer is a red herring? The clues aren’t that strange but to have five of them in one puzzle, all aligned with a meta? Wow. I spent a lot of time on that rabbit hole.
    And, I am sorry, but what is with the SE corner? Leno, Solis, Howe & Cenac all in a row? Figured that had to be there for a reason. Wrong!
    I did finally get it even though I never figured out what the parenthetical were for. Google took me to NINE FAMOUS PEOPLE WHOSE FIRST AND LAST NAMES RHYME. There, in black and white, were all the real-people meta answers along with Shaq.

  4. Gideon says:

    Not for the first time, I’m frustrated by metas based on pronunciation. No se just does not rhyme with Faye. The e is pronounced close to e in bed, not a in bade. Jacques-ewok is another missmatch.

    I backsolved those two off ONEAL.

    • EP says:

      Totally agree on the pronunciation comment, Gideon…regional dialects vary considerably, but even within a region there will be differences.

      And, because ‘Oneal’ was the only part of the solution that I was sure of, and he’s generally referred to as just ‘Shaq’, I submitted (FAQ) Oneal.

  5. rjy says:

    I got waylei’d until figuring out what the numbers were for…

  6. Adam Rosenfield says:

    AMOK at 32D could also be considered as a rhyme for JACQUES CHIRAC, but then you end up with OANAL instead of ONEAL which is not a thing.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Hmm… I don’t hear it. Second syllable in Chirac is “rock”

      • Adam Rosenfield says:

        Yes, and “rock” rhymes with “uh-mock” (IPA /ə-ˈmäk/). M-W gives /ə-ˈmək/ and /ə-ˈmäk/ as the two main pronunciations of AMOK.

      • Margaret says:

        When I google “how to pronounce Jacques Chirac” it sounds like “rack” not “rock.” Though now I wonder if this is like the pen/pin thing where people literally hear the same thing differently.

        • Adam Rosenfield says:

          Wikipedia claims his name is pronounced /ˈʃɪəræk/ in the UK, or /ʒɑːk ʃɪəˈrɑːk/ in the US, or [ʒak ʁəne ʃiʁak] in the native French.

          Personally I’ve always used the French pronunciation which rhymes with “rock” and EWOK and (IMO) AMOK, but if you use the US pronunciation that rhymes with “rack” then that wouldn’t rhyme with either EWOK or AMOK (but would incidentally also rhyme with ATTACK and JACK BLACK.)

          Pronunciation is can be a very fuzzy topic that varies widely according to the speaker/listener, so it’s only a minor nitpick. I think it’d be more elegant to not have AMOK there—putting in “AH, OK” instead would work nicely—but it’s not a big deal.

  7. Mike says:

    I saw the 4 rhyming names, thought for a minute about famous athletes with rhyming names, had a brain freeze, googled it, Shaq came up as the top response, and I submitted.

    I didn’t even realize there were parentheses or anything beyond the rhymes. I mean.. week 1, right?

    • Margaret says:

      Mike, I did the exact same thing (saw rhymes, drew a blank, googled.) The following day a co-solving friend texted me to ask about the numbers and I said, What numbers? On a week 1?

      I tried to backsolve and got nowhere. Now that I’ve read the explanation, I’m even less clear because ewok doesn’t even come close to Jacques Chirac to my ear.

  8. Jason T says:

    I went through the grid multiple times looking for the Faye Dunaway rhyme, and indeed read “NO SÉ” as “NOSE” every time. So I assumed that the solution was to provide a 4-letter athlete who rhymes with “FAYE DUNAWAY”, and confidently submitted “PELE.” I also figured the mechanism couldn’t involve finding 5 specific rhymes, since AMOK and EWOK were both potential rhymes for JACQUES CHIRAC (as per Wikipedia, AMOK can be pronounced A-MOCK or A-MUCK). Stings to miss a Week 1!

  9. Seth Cohen says:

    Had no idea what to do with the numbers (tried indexing into the answers and the clues, which didn’t help). Just googled “Athletes with rhyming names” and Shaq popped up somewhere.

    I think this would have worked much better as a week 2, with the instructions changed to “famous person”. That would have forced the solver to figure out the numbers, because you wouldn’t be able to google the answer — there are other famous people whose names rhyme that aren’t athletes (like Cheri Oteri).

    That said, still a fun meta as always! Can’t wait for the last 200, Matt. Can’t imagine a world without Matt’s metas — who’s going to take up the mantle? Or will there be another layer of crossword solving that gets invented, like meta-metas?

  10. Wayne says:

    I solved on an ancient app (the original Crosswords from Stand Alone), which I dearly love, but it does have this one usability bug where it gives the answer length in parens *unless* the clue itself ends in a parenthetical. I didn’t notice that it said, e.g., [Cartoon penguin (4)] and not [Cartoon penguin (11)].

    Fortunately, even a non-sports-guy like me can bring Shaq to mind with a little chin scratching.

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 97% success rate but 452 right answers instead of the normal Week 1 500+. So certainly in tough Week 1 or easy Week 2 territory.

  12. Garrett says:

    Interesting that the thing that tripped many people up on this MGWCC was the answer to the WSJ Meta! everybody wrote NOSE in the grid for NO SÉ, likely, than saw NOSE when parsing the grid later. 😀

  13. TMart says:

    Since it was Week 1, I guessed Shaq and got it right. I went back and looked after hearing there was more and found the “third word heard” real way to solve it. Not really a Week 1 after all – fun puzzle!

  14. John says:

    Seeing all the rhyming names (and likely unconsciously accounting for this being week 1) i quickly forgot the parenthetical numbers i had noted early on as i neared grid completion and immediately tried to think of athlete’s names with a similar rhyming nature. Seemed a very large pool as no “current”, “former”, or other limiting designation was given. Now its obvious Matt did give us a way to cut that pool down, way down. In the end i Googled and found the exact page Mac described with 9 famous rhyming names, where Shaq was smiling out.

  15. Dredshlaks says:

    Interesting that there’s such a difference in how people “hear” Jacques so that it may or may not rhyme with EWOK… maybe some regional differences in pronunciation?

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