MGWCC #815

crossword 3:30ish?
meta DNF 3 days 


hello, and welcome to episode #815 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Say Your Lines”, which is also episode #14 of the annual series “joon attempts to solve MGWCC while totally brain-fried from mystery hunt this weekend”. this week 2 puzzle tells us to look for a famous band with four letters in its name. what are the theme answers?

  • {“Forever Your Girl” singer} PAULA ABDUL.
  • {Lead singer on “Dr. Feelgood” and “Kickstart My Heart”} VINCE NEIL (of mötley crüe).
  • {He won Best Actor for 1965’s “Cat Ballou”} LEE MARVIN.
  • {94-year-old comedian known for his deadpan delivery} BOB NEWHART.

i think these are the only four theme answers we’re supposed to start with, but i can’t be 100% sure. ODDSMAKER across the middle is just as long as the shorter theme answers, but the other four are real people’s full names (or at least stage names), and anyway we’re looking for a 4-letter answer, so we probably only want to start with four themers. ODDSMAKER could be an instruction of some kind, but looking at odd letters of the other themers doesn’t produce anything but gibberish.

a noteworthy feature of the grid is that even though these theme answers form a symmetric set in lengths (10 9 9 10), the grid itself is asymmetric (and 15×17). so there must certainly be significantly more theme content hidden throughout the grid.

what about the title? i suppose both singers and actors have lines—but we’re certainly not directed to any particular lines for BOB NEWHART, who spoke many thousands of them across two long-running tv shows and whatever else he acted in. i’m more drawn to the fact that VINCE NEIL and LEE MARVIN have names that, when written in uppercase (as tends to be the default in crosswords), contain only letters with straight lines, except for the C in VINCE NEIL and the R in LEE MARVIN. but PAULA ABDUL has many curved letters (PUBDU) and BOB NEWHART has BOBR.

i notice that {Sportscaster Albert} MARV is an entry in the grid, and it’s also part of LEE MARVIN. is that anything? PAWED AT partly echoes PAULA ABDUL, and VIN appears in both VINCE NEIL and LEE MARVIN. i’m not sure this is anything.

hey, i just noticed that the byline is “M.G.” rather than “Matt Gaffney”. that’s certainly unusual, and matt must be trying to draw our attention to it because it appears in both the title and author field of the puzzle. so we’re meant to think about the initials of these people: P.A., V.N., L.M., and B.N. what is this trying to tell us?

L.M. sounds like ELEM which could be an alternate answer to {___ school (K-5 education)} GRADE. that feels important. are there more of these? i really want there to be, but none of the other pairs of initials sounds like a word or even part of a word like ELEM.

okay, wait, V.N. is “vee enn” which could be WIEN, or {Native of a certain European capital} KYIVAN, for vienna… maybe? i don’t actually know this for sure. i think WIEN is pronounced basically “veen” in german, and the demonym is WIENER (masc)/WIENERIN (fem). so that’s not exactly right, but i’m willing to go along with it if it works.

assuming this it, with just the two that we have, i can now see that the answer wants to be _KG_, which must be the band OK GO (which i first learned about from MGWCC #118, many years ago!). so there will surely be two more O entries whose clues can satisfy PA and BN.

the latter is {“Your terms are acceptable,” in Paris} OUI, which could also be BIEN—literally “well”, but can also be used in this type of context like “fine” in english. it’s a terser way of saying “très bien” (“very well”) as a statement of general agreement.

i’m not sure about P.A., which sounds like “pee-ay”. to me, the only thing that sounds like that is the first word of the latin hymn “pie jesu”, part of the requiem mass. or maybe “pied”, french for “foot”, though i would imagine matt wouldn’t want to double-use french. anyway, if the answer is indeed OK GO, it must be one of the remaining O entries in the grid:

  • {Beasts of burden} OXEN. i don’t think it can be this.
  • {Mineralogist’s finds} ORES. or this.
  • {Casino employee} ODDSMAKER. nope.
  • {Dedicated lines} ODE. maybe? P.A. like a public address system is kind of a dedicated line in a sense. but it’s a significant flaw that this interpretation would just use P.A. as something else with initials P.A. rather than as a sound-alike.
  • {www.peta.___} ORG. nope.
  • {Roy who sang “You Got It”} ORBISON. definitely not, and also, the others were all acrosses while this is a down.
  • {___ buco} OSSO. i don’t think so, unless this is an italian phrase or something i’m unfamiliar with.

i sure don’t know. i’m definitely close enough that i’m going to submit OK GO as my answer, but i’m definitely a bit worried that i’m missing some element of the meta mechanism, because only 2.5 of the 4 themers work the way i want them to. i also haven’t fully grokked what “lines” is doing in the title.

ohhhh wait, now i have. we’re supposed to say the entire row, with the person’s initials replacing their name. so VINCE NEIL + KNEES is V.N. KNEES = VIENNESE, LEE MARVIN + ENTRY = L.M. ENTRY = ELEMENTARY, and TRAY + BOB NEWHART = TRAY B.N. = TRÈS BIEN. that’s waaay better. and now CREW + PAULA ABDUL = CREW P.A. = CROUPIER which is a casino employee, like ODDSMAKER.

well, that’s much more satisfying. it also explains why the grid is asymmetric—the theme is the entire row, not just the 9- or 10-letter entry. i guess matt could have used up/down mirror symmetry, in theory, but it would have been awfully tough to work ODDSMAKER across the middle in that case.

that is a really lovely mechanism. it’s quite surprising that i was able to get 62.5% of the way there (and with 90%+ confidence on the correct answer) without grokking an essential part of it, because ELEM and BIEN just work on their own and WIEN almost works on its own. is that a bug or a feature? it certainly brought this puzzle closer to week 2 in difficulty, because the mechanism per se is definitely subtle enough for a week 3.

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

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14 Responses to MGWCC #815

  1. Flinty Steve says:

    Confidential to M. G.: the new Difficulty-o-meter upgrade is super wonky. Can you take it back to the restore point?

  2. Gideon says:

    Usual (for me) gripe about pronunciation metas: maybe Tres homophones with Tray for US speakers, but not for many of us foreigners. Same for Croupier and Crew-PA. YMMV with pronunciation.

    Otherwise it’s a solid meta.

  3. Laura E-D says:

    Ugh. I tried reading the lines aloud but didn’t think about the initials in that context. And I even noted that KNEES/OSSO could easily be KNEEL/OSLO, but couldn’t work out why it mattered. Out on week 2 of the new year.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 248 correct answers this week, of which 149 were solo solves.

    I love these heroic Mystery Hunt weekend solves.

    • Mikey G says:

      Maybe one of the biggest epiphanies in a while. Saw the adjusted byline immediately but couldn’t get anywhere (initials didn’t seem to uniformly give me state abbreviations, the periodic table, 2 of 3 letters in an entry somewhere, the usual suspects, etc.).

      On my daily walk (cut short for this, haha), for some reason, I recalled CREW was next to PAULA ABDUL. CREW…PA…CROUPIER! And then I realized ODDSMAKER was the spanner and so the rest came from that.

      So much fun! Très bien indeed!

      • Mike says:

        True fact: I originally thought the “M.G.” byline meant it was your puzzle. Once it dawned on me it stood for “Matt Gaffney” (hey…where are all of the pun clues?) everything started to fall into place.

      • Margaret says:

        Yep, saw the MG instead of Matt Gaffney and knew immediately it had to be the people’s initials but it took me a solid two more days to figure out what “Say Your Lines” meant. Finally looked at the entire line and realized it was croupier/oddsmaker (because I’d pored over the clues already in desperation) and the rest were easy. I just watched a couple of the band’s videos recently including the marching band one and the one filmed on the vomit comet. I do love OK Go!

  5. John says:

    I think if i had another day i may have gotten this. It was only this morning that i tried sounding out the proper lines, but with the whole name, not inits. Again, so much playoff action this week i don’t have the bandwidth i normally do. Really great meta.

  6. TimF says:

    I saw that 3 of the 4 theme names contained 2 valid first names (I don’t know of anyone with the first name “Newhart”), and the several other names in the fill. Never came out of that rabbit hole. If I stuck my head out, I may have noticed “M.G.” and maybe would have gotten somewhere. Or not.

  7. DebbieK says:

    I was sure I had the correct answer, but now I feel so silly! Instead of using the first letter of the answers to get OK GO, I used the first letter of the corresponding clues, which were
    an anagram of CSNY {Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young}. I was so confused when I wasn’t on the leaderboard with the correct answer! Definitely a case of making things too difficult! 🤣

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