MGWCC #819

crossword 2:56
meta DNF 


hello, and welcome to episode #819 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Odd Squad”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions say that we’re looking for a Best Actress Oscar winner of the 1980s. what are the theme answers? the six longest across answers are all real people’s full names:

  • {Madonna’s co-star in “Desperately Seeking Susan”} AIDAN QUINN.
  • {Canadian golfer who won the 2003 Masters} MIKE WEIR.
  • {“Blade Runner,” “Dune,” and “No Way Out” actress} SEAN YOUNG.
  • {Supermodel who was a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”} KATE UPTON.
  • {“Spamalot” co-creator} ERIC IDLE.
  • {Best Actor winner for 2017’s “Darkest Hour”} GARY OLDMAN.

what to do with these? well, the title suggests looking at odd letters. the first thing i did was pick out the letters in odd-numbered spots, so A_D_N _U_N_ for AIDAN QUINN, etc. that didn’t go anywhere, and i didn’t know what to do next, so i put the puzzle down for a few days.

when i picked it back up, another idea jumped out at me: what about the odd-numbered letters of the alphabet? i.e. ACEGIKMOQSUWY, and not BDFHJLNPRTVXZ. it’s a curiosity that all five (or six, or even seven if you count W) vowels are in the odd half of the alphabet, and not the even half. that said, this would have been a good theme idea, but the actual theme answers aren’t cooperating. AIDAN QUINN uses D and N from the even-numbered letters, MIKE WEIR uses R, etc. in fact, none of these six names belongs in the “odd squad” for this mechanic. there are some pretty famous fictional characters that would fit (MICKEY MOUSE and SAMWISE GAMGEE), and some real people like SAM COOKE, CASEY KASEM, YMA SUMAC, AI WEIWEI, MIA WASIKOWSKA, and, weirdly, three famous baseball players (SAMMY SOSA, MIKE SCIOSCIA, and GOOSE GOSSAGE). but in any event, this isn’t the theme.

well, what is the theme, then? based on the grid structure and instructions, i strongly suspect that it’s really just some wordplay property of these six names, as opposed to there being a hidden connection to extra theme material in the grid. six theme answers is already a lot for one puzzle, and no part of the grid looks like it’s straining under the weight of too much thematic constraint. i don’t think it’s the clues this week, either. the answer is just going to be the best actress winner whose name also has the key property.

the title has to be a hint. i’ve looked at what i think are the two most obvious candidates for what “odd” could be hinting at. i suppose it’s possible we’re just supposed to consider odd to mean unusual, in which case it is no help at all. i don’t think we want odd-numbered grid squares; the theme really ought to be 100% contained in these six names.

what about the possible answer pool? here are the best actress winners from the 1980s:

  • GERALDINE PAGE (by far the least famous of these winners, i think)
  • CHER

i kind of doubt it’s CHER, just because that’s such a short name that it wouldn’t pack much punch if it were the final answer to the meta. of the others, SALLY FIELD is the only one that’s in the same length range (8–10 letters) as the themers in the grid, although that doesn’t rule out any of the longer names, because of the converse reasoning as CHER (it’d be more interesting to find a longer name with a particular property). i suspect hepburn and foster are not going to be the answer because of the particular 1980s prompt, as foster also won once in the 1990s and hepburn won three (!) earlier times going back to the 1930s.

WEIR is one letter short of WEIRD, which is a synonym of “odd”. i guess that’s interesting, but it doesn’t seem to work with the other theme answers.

is there something going on with the QWERTY keyboard layout? the surnames (QUINN, WEIR, YOUNG, UPTON, IDLE, OLDMAN) all start with letters in the top row. more compellingly, the order of the theme answers is in left-to-right order on the keyboard, QW___YUIO_. that seems like it might be too unlikely to be a coincidence—but i can’t quite bring myself to believe that the only reason these full names were included was for the first letter of the last name. still, something is better than nothing, so maybe i’ll try GERALDINE PAGE to get the P that finishes out the row (not that i have any idea what happened to the ERT). but even if this is the answer, there’s definitely something i still don’t understand about how the theme works. that, and if the theme is related to the keyboard layout, i don’t know why the title is “the odd squad” instead of something that hints at keyboards or typing.

that said, especially given that i really have nothing else, i guess i’m going to go with that. six things appearing in the correct order is a pretty wild coincidence if it’s just a coincidence.

i’m not feeling especially clever to be so clueless on a week 2. please let me know in the comments what i missed!

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20 Responses to MGWCC #819

  1. Scott says:

    Also DNF for me. I came here looking for the answer.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 254 right answers this week.

    The initials of the six theme entries were the key: A.Q., M.W., S.Y, K.U., E.I., and G.O. cover 12 of the 13 odd letters. That leaves only C, making mononymous CHER the contest answer.

    I also had to take the 13 entries of MERYL STREEP, due to a strange coincidence: unintended and unnoticed by me, all six of the theme entries’ initials are in alphabetical order (A comes before Q, M comes before W, etc.). The only one who fits this pattern is M.S. Meryl Streep. 1.57% chance of happening, but there it is.

    • David Benbow says:

      Geraldine Page and Jessica Tandy also fit that pattern, unless I’m misunderstanding the pattern.

    • Katie+M. says:

      Odd Squad fits the pattern too, O.S., so I felt confident enough to enter Meryl Streep. I’m glad you accepted it. The real mechanism to get Cher is way cooler, tho.

    • Dave says:

      1.57% is far more likely than the coincidence that Joon found. I fell into the same trap. Someone check my math on this; it’s a little tricky and depends on your assumptions:

      26^6 = 308,915,776 possible sets of 6 letters for the last names
      How many of these sets are all different and in order on one row of the keyboard? 10C6 =210 ways of choosing 6 letters from the top row of the keyboard in order, but it would have been just as noticeable in the other two rows so add 9C6 =84 and 7C6 = 7, for a total of 301 ways to choose 6 letters in order from one row. Could have been first names too, so make it 602.

      That gives 602/308,915,776 = 0.000001948751235.

      And after that, there’s exactly one best actress winner from the 80’s whose last name starts with one of the remaining 4 letters on the top row.

      Given that there’s no explanation for the missing ERT or the title, I’m not actually arguing that Geraldine Page should be accepted, but wow that’s a hell of a coincidence.

      • joon says:

        at least i have someone to commiserate with!

        i have to say, the missing ERT didn’t bother me as much as the fact that we were only using one letter from each theme answer. and while we’re here, the actual mechanism only uses two, so that doesn’t feel great to me, either. but at least makes use of the puzzle title.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Well I thought initials would be the first (or one of the first at least) things solvers would look at with six first-and-last name entries, but anecdotally some excellent solvers did not look there, at least not early on.

      • CptnCodon says:

        Your math looks good to me! Heck, I’d even throw in another factor of 2 and allow reversals (e.g. OIUYWQ). It’s still shocking if this is entirely by chance.

        I spent so… much… time… staring at those letters, the grid, and a keyboard, trying to get “Geraldine Page” to pop out…

        Ah well… maybe Matt’ll use it in a future puzzle, and we’ll have a head start on the metanism :-).

    • EP says:

      254 solves is hardly ‘week 2 – worthy’….you still owe us one of those this month, Matt

  3. DCBilly says:

    It’s the 12 initials of the six names. Alphabetize them and compare them to the 13-letter list of odd letters in the alphabet. C is left over > Cher.

  4. Burak says:

    I solved the puzzle last week and forgot to submit my answer (For some reason I tend to do that with Week 1 puzzles, this is the 3rd time overall)

    This week I submitted Cher because of the “One-named artist” clue and that 1-Down entry CHAIR kinda sounds like her name. It turns out that was the correct answer. I’ll take the karmic points.

  5. Jeff M says:

    Wow, I never thought about assigning letters odd/even values. Not even close!

  6. Paul says:

    I spent days on this one, distracted by the fact that two pairs of themed answers had the same vowels in the first and last names, but in reverse: IE-EI/EI-IE and EA-OU/AE-UO. That had to be purposeful! I struggled to make names from the other two themed answers’ vowels, surmising they were costars of the Oscar winner. Remembering that this was a Week 2, I started anew in search of a simpler answer and got it after I focused on initials and wrote out the alphabet on paper.

  7. Mikey G says:

    Had I had no guess, I would’ve went with Cher, only because she made an appearance as part of last week’s mechanism! I like little interconnected moments like that, intentional or otherwise.

    Reminded me of the two consecutive puzzles a while back (Berry first, Gaffney second), both with the answer UTOPIA!

  8. Mike says:

    Way back in the 90s I would listen to the radio show Nightlines on CBC Stereo, late nights on weekends.

    At the top of the 10 and 11 pm hours, they would have a 5-minute news break. The sports report focused on Canadian teams, athletes and events. Every weekend I’d hear, say, “Ernie Els is leading after 2 rounds of the PGA Thunderbird Open in Wichita, Kansas. Mike Weir of Richmond, BC is 6 strokes back at 2 under.”

    I both never knew he won a Masters and hadn’t thought about his days as the only Canadian in the PGA in decades before this weekend…..

  9. Steve Thurman says:

    DNF on Week 1 and Week 2. I am definitely dumber than I used to be.

  10. Amanda says:

    While I was reading this, Cher’s “Turn Back Time” came on the radio. I love those little coincidences.

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