January 20, 2009


crossword 11:34
puzzle ... longer than that (see below)

the 33rd installment of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, titled "I Need Your Undivided Attention," was a killer, as promised. there's no apparent theme, even though the grid is a modest 76 words (not low enough for a themeless by conventional standards). the cluing was tough, to be sure; the crossword took me longer than the last two puzzles combined. and when you finish, all you have for hints to the meta-puzzle are the title and these three starred clues:

  • [Needle*] = RIB.
  • [Defence ___*] = MINISTER. the british spelling of "defence" is a hint here, but still a tough clue.
  • [Mississippi's sixth-biggest city*] = MERIDIAN. i do not think i could name six mississippi cities. in fact, i'm not sure i could name three.

what do these three things have in common? well, MERIDIAN stands out for one reason—it can follow PRIME. as can the other two, when you think about it, so PRIME has something to do with the answer. the title confirms this, as "undivided" gets at the mathematical sense of PRIME. the instructions tell us that: This week's contest answer phrase is four words long and a total of seventeen letters. It describes what you, the solver are if you're able to finish this week's crossword and figure out the contest answer phrase. based on the word PRIME and those instructions, i stumbled upon the correct answer and emailed it to matt on friday afternoon... and apparently i was the first one. the following conversation ensued:

Matt: paranoid check -- you did find the message hidden in the grid, right, and didn't just guess the phrase from the MERIDIAN, MINISTER and RIB hints + having the # of words and total letters?
me: message hidden in the grid, you say?
Matt: really? you didn't find it?
me: i'm looking now
don't tell me
Matt: omg funny -- I have 1 right answer, you, and you just guessed it!
me: i found MATT hidden in the grid
is that good enough?
Matt: lolz
that was serendipity
me: and ME GOD
i think you have a bit of a complex going
Matt: could be
don't you wonder why the grid was so crappy and only had 3 little theme entries?
me: oh
am i looking at the prime-numbered squares?
Matt: ding ding ding
me: "wow, that sure does justify the crappiness of the grid"
Matt: lol
me: :P

so there you have it. i've circled the prime-numbered squares in the screenshot above so that you can see the message: READY FOR PRIME TIME. pretty fancy footwork if you ask me, and really, the grid wasn't crappy at all. matt's just being modest. (edited to add: matt has clarified to me that he was referring to the 76-word grid with only three short theme entries, as opposed to having crappy fill.)

by the way, before you ask: no, 1 isn't prime. the simplest answer to "why not?" is "because." it's just a matter of definition. i think we had the same sort of discussion here in regards to pete muller's killer NYS puzzle from leap day last year, which i still remember vividly because it gave me the worst beating i have ever taken from a crossword puzzle: i gave up after an hour with only about 15 entries filled in. not even brad wilber has pwned me like that.

but back to this week's MGWCC. as i said earlier, matt had promised it would be a killer... and apparently, that may be partially my fault:

Matt: crap I think this is too hard for people
but after your "0:01 (approximate)" comment last week I felt I had to really stick it to people this week

um... oops?

anyway, let's take a look at some of the clues that made this one so tough:

  • [___ Four Provinces (famed Washington, D.C. bar)] is, apparently, IRELAND'S. though i grew up around DC, i did not know this. probably because i don't frequent bars. i really don't even occasional bars, though i could probably be said to rare bars. (i was in one earlier tonight, as it happens, but that was an unusual occurrence.)
  • the [Tony winner of 2003] is the billy joel musical MOVIN' OUT. good entry, with the non-standard spelling and the contemporary reference.
  • [A-] is just mystifying at first. A minus? that's a pretty good grade. what does it mean as a crossword clue? turns out, it's just the prefix a-, connoting negation. the answer is the similarly negative prefix NON-. but don't get "amoral" (lacking morals, as a person) confused with "non-moral" (unrelated to morality, as an issue). that's one of my pet peeves. or it would be, if it came up often enough to peeve me.
  • [Weak-___ (cowardly)] is KNEED. i confess that i tried ASSED here first. i wouldn't put it past matt to sneak ASSED into a puzzle (ahem... see below), and ... how else would you clue it? [Half-___], i guess? anyway, it wasn't a good guess, because weak-ASS is much more common than weak-ASSED.
  • speaking of ASS (not a segue i use often!), what's this over here at 5d? [Rear window?]? hmm, the answer appears to be ANUS. what breakfast test?
  • speaking of not the breakfast test, you might as well use [Throws up] to clue ERECTS.
  • not hard, but had me guffawing on the inside: [Crossword tournament shout] is DONE. i'm still an ACPT virgin, but i'm guessing this is the sort of thing you really shouldn't do except in the playoffs.
  • [Mohenjo-daro was near it] clues THE INDUS, as in the indus river. i'm not sure about the inclusion of the definite article here. seems like INDUS would be a perfectly good answer to this question. other than that, it would have been a gimme, but only because i had a really good 10th-grade world civ class. (thanks, mrs. gullickson!) i remember mohenjo-daro giving people trouble when it came up in another crossword last year.
  • [Mass (with "the")] is the BAY STATE. very tough clue, since it doesn't really tip off that there's an informality or shortening going on, as "mass" is a perfectly common word. also, my wife thinks "mass" is even more informal than the "official" nickname BAY STATE.
  • tricky plurals: [Pronouncements] clues the S-less plural DICTA, whereas the singular [Summer Olympics event] is the RINGS in gymnastics.
  • tricky name games: the answer to [Quarterback Ryan] isn't a surname; it's MATT ryan of the atlanta falcons, this year's NFL rookie of the year. and [Veteran journalist Thomas] isn't a man; it's HELEN thomas. and [Grant, really] is ed ASNER, portrayer of lou grant on the mary tyler moore show. you might remember him from such roles as the first theme entry in last week's contest.
  • yes, it is amusing (or serendipitous, depending on your point of view) that MATT crosses ME GOD, clued as the [Last two words of the presidential oath of office]. ["So help ___"] would have been a much easier clue. happy inauguration day, everybody!
  • high-falutin' clue vocabulary: [Jeremiads] are RANTS.
  • matt's the only cruciverbalist who seems to be fond of chess clues. this week it's [Queen ___ (flashy tactic, in chess slang)] for SAC. yes, sacrificing your queen is pretty flashy, but you better have an attack that's going to end in mate when you do it. otherwise it's pretty embarrassing.
  • favorite high-culture/pop-culture reference: [Rabbit Angstrom and Homer Simpson, for two] clues EVERYMEN. (the high-culture reference is to rabbit, run by john updike, which i have not read.)
  • high and low culture meet again where professional wrestler RIC flair intersects the FASCES, the [Symbol of government authority] in ancient rome. (it's a bundle of sticks.)
  • while we're on the subject, the [Roman square] isn't a street crossing in italia. it's a square in the same sense that 2, 3 and 5 are primes: MDC, or 1600, is a perfect square number (40 x 40 = 1600).
  • fun sports clue: the [Embarrassing Michiganders] are the record-setting 0-16 detroit LIONS. they just hired a new coach today, jim schwartz of the tennessee titans. he's a sharp one, but boy, his work is cut out for him.

stuff i just plain did not know:

  • [Plant named for a mythological species] is the CENTAURY. say what? even after i had CENTAUR_, i couldn't guess the last letter for quite some time. however, the centaur is the one updike novel i have read.
  • [Adaptable] is LABILE. not a word i'm familiar with.
  • ["Law & Order" role, 1995-99] is REY. somebody will have to clue me in on that one.

i've rambled on long enough, but there was a lot to talk about this week. hope you enjoyed the puzzle and the blog.