MGWCC #836

crossword 3:15
meta 1 minute 



hello, and welcome to episode #836 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Step Inside”. for this week 1 puzzle by guest constructor David Alfred Bywaters, the instructions were, i think, unnecessary, and i did not use them. what were the theme answers? the five longest acrosses were all base phrases with one letter inserted:

  • {Pastry purveyor?} ROLL MOVER.
  • {Chili consequence?} HOT PALATE.
  • {“I said neat, you fool! Where did you learn bartending?!” e.g.?} ICE RAGE. this one made me wince. it’s hard for me to find humor in the idea of verbal abuse of service industry workers.
  • {Spice shop sample?} FREE CLOVE.
  • {Improvised beds at an all-night diner?} BOOTH CAMP.

in order, the inserted letters spelled out MARCH, which fits with the title—as a MARCH consists of a sequence of steps. but i had a sneaking suspicion that MARCH itself was not the answer to the puzzle, because there’s no real raison d’être for it—you can spell out literally any five-letter word this way by choosing different theme answers, so why this one?

taking a closer look, i could see that each letter was inserted into the exact middle of each (odd-length) theme answer. that was enough for it to click with me—the meta answer was the 19th-century novel MIDDLEMARCH by george eliot (aka mary ann evans). i once tried to read MIDDLEMARCH for a book club (which amy might also have been in? i can’t remember; it was over a decade ago) and got maybe halfway through it. maybe less. not really my cup of tea.

after solving the meta i had a spidey-sense that i’d seen this particular wordplay (MARCH inserted into the exact middle of something to indirectly clue the title MIDDLEMARCH) used in a meta before. but upon digging around, i no longer think that’s true. i suspect the memory this meta triggered was of this WSJ meta from 2021, which is not entirely unrelated… but actually leads to a different (!) 19th-century novel. (incidentally, the instructions given with the crossword ask for “a Victorian novel”, and i’m wondering if the victorian constraint is there to steer solvers towards british novels rather than taking the one extra step that isn’t there.)

anyway, the actual meta mechanism here is not quite the same, and it was executed well. thanks to david for this guest puzzle. but it’s not guest constructor month, right? i think we’re due to see matt back in the saddle next week.

how’d you all like this one?

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14 Responses to MGWCC #836

  1. Wayne says:

    I typed “Little Women” in the text box, but thankfully took a breath before clicking Submit. But it reminded me that Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation was still sitting in my Hulu queue, so I finally got around to watching that. It was excellent.

  2. Seth Cohen says:

    I submitted Little Women, but in the comment box, I wrote a note questioning if it was right. Never heard of Middle March, and I feel like I’m decently familiar with books. Is it really that famous, i.e., famous enough for a Week 1 meta?

    I’m curious how many people submitted Little Women.

  3. John says:

    I submitted Middlemarch but wondered in the comments how many might jump to the March family and submit Little Women. My guess is they are accepting it as correct.

  4. JAMES PAGET says:

    I submitted “Little Women” and it was accepted as correct.

  5. John says:

    Its a shame the prompt didn’t add something like “…a single-word title” which would have avoided the issue.

    • joon says:

      in my opinion, “victorian” does just that, since little women is an american novel and victorian refers more specifically to britain under victoria. i figured that’s why it was included at all. but matt is obviously more generous than i.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — and yes, both MIDDLEMARCH (the intended answer) and LITTLE WOMEN were accepted as correct answers. I figured we’d get a few “Little Women” responses but was surprised by how many (81, compared to 463 for “Middlemarch”).

    And thanks to DAB for the puzzle!

  7. Erich Peterson says:

    I submitted just MARCH – the Pulitzer Prize-winning Geraldine Brooks novel that retells Little Women from March’s persepective…

    • Mutman says:

      I believe that was also counted as correct — because I did the same thing. I found MARCH. (Never read Little Women) Googled “March Victorian Novel’, got legitimate hits and assumed it was correct.

      MIDDLEMARCH is a much better answer. IMO, MIDDLEMARCH is a week 2 answer, MARCH is a week 1 answer, especially if clued as a month.

      • Bess says:

        I submitted MARCH because I forgot to read the hint and it seemed to fit the title. It did seem suspiciously easy, though, and right after I hit submit, I thought to check the puzzle info. Doh! MIDDLEMARCH, of course.

        It never even occurred to me my wrong answer would be accepted, but you’re right. I checked just now and I’m on the board, though it doesn’t really feel deserved.

  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Yes, Joon, I did manage to finish “Middlemarch” in that book group. It was very much a soap opera–families, class differences, relationship drama, gossip, everyone knows each other. Mr. Casaubon would be played by an actor less good-looking than the typical soap star, though.

  9. Margaret says:

    When MARCH dropped out I couldn’t imagine the answer was anything but Little Women though I also didn’t have a strong click giving me confidence. I googled “Is Little Women a Victorian novel?” and the top hit (from “Hearthstone’s Victorian Christmas: Little Women”) says “Little Women, originally published in two volumes, in 1868 and 1869, is semi-autobiographical and based, in an idealized way, on the lives of the author and her three sisters as they come of age in Victorian America.” When submitting I mentioned that I would have expected a better nudge from the title but was still certain that was the only possible answer! The extremely famous Middlemarch (I love George Eliot) never entered my mind until reading this write-up.

  10. EP says:

    I thought that Middlemarch was clear, no doubt my ignorance helped considerably…I read Little Women over 60 years ago, and have forgotten everything about it, so it never entered my mind. The only issue I encountered in this was with 37A, where I had initially entered ‘barrage’ before the cross entries convinced me it couldn’t be right. Interestingly, though, it still provided the needed ‘R’ for the solution.

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