February 03, 2009


crossword 13:06
puzzle see below

live from mumbai, it's the 35th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest! this week's puzzle, "They've Got It All," has as its theme three mysterious people, whose first and last names total 11, 12, and 13 letters. let's see what we can glean from the grid's theme answers:

  • [The eleven-letter person] is an EX-NHL ALL-STAR. that is a crazy pile-up of consonants. how many times have you seen the string XNHLALLST in a crossword answer?
  • [The twelve-letter person] is a COUNTRY SINGER.
  • [The thirteen-letter person] is an AGED HISTORIAN.
  • and finally, [Like the 11-, 12-, and 13-letter people, taken as a trio] clues PANGRAMMATIC.

so we're looking for three famous people whose names span the entire alphabet. and with only 39 (edit: should be 36) total letters to cover the 26, that's a pretty serious restriction on the amount of possible duplication. i don't know how it would be possible to solve this puzzle without using google or some other reference. i tried, and came up with nothing. WAYNE GRETZKY was the wrong number of letters for the hockey player, and i had nothing for the other two answers. my knowledge of country music runs pretty thin, thinner even than my knowledge of hockey players.

i mulled this over for about ten minutes, and then put it on the back burner all weekend while i gorged on australian open tennis and the super bowl. finally, this afternoon my office mate tim and i gave up and resorted to online resources to solve the puzzle in earnest. my first stop was this wikipedia page, where the entry Jacques Barzun (born 1907) pretty much jumped off the page at me. 13 letters? check. aged? 101 and counting—very much check. looks like he might fit into a pangrammatic trio of famous people? hell yes, with that sexy JQZ combo. one down, three to go. and i've never heard of this guy, so i am glad i finally gave up trying to do it without google.

having crossed off J, Q, and Z (and ABCENRSU) we then scoured this page of country singers. tim found Dwight Yoakam, who seemed to be a good candidate: 12 letters, and we could cross off DGHIKMOTWY. i'd never heard of him, either, but tim had. i guess he's probably as "famous" as jacques barzun.

that left us with FLPVX for the hockey player. my first thought was pavel something, but sadly, there wasn't an NHL all-star named pavel foxnut. but scouring rosters of 1990s NHL all-star games revealed Felix Potvin, who's our third mystery man. so there you have it: three people who've "got it all," as in all the letters of the alphabet. felix potvin, dwight yoakam, and jacques barzun. i'll go out on a limb and say they've probably never had dinner together.

this one definitely wouldn't have been solvable for me without google, but what about everybody else? whether you had to consult outside references or not, i'd be interested to hear how you came up with the three names (if indeed you did). leave a note in the comments section.

noteworthy stuff from the fill:

  • more mississippi geography! after i claimed a couple of weeks ago that i couldn't name three mississippi cities, not only was there a sporcle quiz about the 3 biggest cities in every state (MERIDIAN isn't one of them, but it helped me anyway because apparently there's a MERIDIAN, idaho), but there's also today's clue, [Mississippi city on the Mississippi], or NATCHEZ. i dug this out of a long-unutilized portion of my brain.
  • i love the word ULULATE, or [Cry out].
  • EMO is clued as [Depressing and self-absorbed]. not to make a value judgment or anything, right matt?
  • speaking of music, FM RADIO has the tricky clue [Source of rock]. no, ORE doesn't fit.
  • MR. T is in the grid, clued as the [Cereal eaten in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"]. i definitely did not know that.
  • the [Former co-star of Rue] mcclanahan on the golden girls is ESTELLE getty.
  • XIMENES is the pseudonym of english crossword setter derrick macnutt, who is credited with inventing the cryptic. i've never heard of him.
  • ["Skins" role] is MAXXIE. i don't even know what "skins" is, but i like the double-X.
  • two 11-letter answers grace the fill. if [Everyone knows them], they must be OPEN SECRETS. and [Quit just crying, as a baby] is BEGIN TO TALK. matt must not have kids. my son sam is 15 months old and he's definitely between just crying and talking. matt, you should read up on babbling.
  • i can't say i'm familiar with TUVA or bust, the [Book about Richard Feynman and a part of Asia he never reached]. and i thought i knew pretty much what there was to know about feynman.
  • sports clues: [Roy Oswalt, notably] is a houston ASTRO. he's been their ace pitcher for years. [Winner of four U.S. Opens] is björn BORG. except wait, what? i thought he won the french six times and wimbledon five times, and never won the open. wikipedia backs me up on this. he reached four finals, but lost twice to connors and twice to mcenroe. while we're on the subject of tennis, [Set point situation, sometimes] is AD IN. and while we're on the subject of tennis, poor roger federer! (not literally. he's very well off.) i don't know why he can't beat nadal, but it's getting rather sad.
  • two things i didn't know crossed each other, but i was able to make a good guess. a RICE RAT is a [Long-tailed creature], and RUTH'S is a [Word in the name of a steak house chain], which is apparently... RUTH'S chris steak house (sic). maybe somebody else can explain.
  • mythology bonus: [Aegir, Proteus and Njord] are SEA GODS. proteus is greek, but both aegir and njord are from norse mythology. fun fact about aegir: his nine virgin daughters are all the mother of heimdall.
  • [Self-referencing] clues META. i love things that are META, like the writings of italo calvino or the paintings of rené magritte.
  • and it wouldn't be a MGWCC, would it, without a silly clue like [You need a big pair of balls for this]. no, it doesn't require cojones: it's a SPARE in bowling, which requires two bowling balls. but i suspect more often, you'd use the same ball twice.