hello, fellow crossword solvers, and welcome to the 47th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Disconsonant Vowels." this week's contest featured a very tough crossword along with a tricky metapuzzle. let's have a look. the puzzle contains five 15-letter "theme" answers:
what do these theme answers have in common? well, the title is a hint to look at the vowels, and it seems like each theme answer has only one vowel, used over and over: A in MANHATTAN, KANSAS, E in LETTER NEVER SENT, I in MISSISSIPPI GIRL, O in FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, and U in COLUMBUS SUBURBS. oh wait... except that COLUMBUS has an O in it, too. what's going on?
a closer look at the grid reveals that actually, entire rows of the puzzle contain only single vowels. in fact, the 15 rows can be divided into 5 3-row stacks, each stack containing only a single vowel: A for the top fifth, then progressing alphabetically to E, I, O, and U. so in some sense, those five answers aren't the theme answers... every single across answer is a theme answer! (well, maybe not SSR, DMV, PSST, FSK, and TSST.) however, there are some glitches (like the O in COLUMBUS), which i've circled in the screenshot:
what do these seemingly out-of-place (you might even call them "disconsonant," if that were a word) vowels have to tell us about the answer to the metapuzzle? well, as always, it's good to check the instructions: This week's contest answer word is a well-known four-letter geographical place name. straightforward enough. is there such a place name that uses I, A, and O? why yes, there is: IOWA. and that's the answer to the puzzle.
i wasn't too sure about the W, because i didn't really understand how we would know it wasn't, say, IONA. but matt assures me that the W is also hinted at in the same way, because the W in HOW'S (49d, ["___ that again?"]) is also a vowel, and hence "disconsonant" in the same way that the I, A, and O are. color me skeptical... especially since the W crosses WOK, where it is most certainly being used as a consonant. i think of W as a vowel only in crazy welsh words like CWM and CRWTHS (which are fun words to spring on unsuspecting anonymous online scrabble opponents, not that i'd know anything about that), but i suppose there's something to be said for matt's argument when the W is part of a diphthong.
at any rate, it's a cool theme. the demanding nature of the grid (five 15-letter answers plus the vowel constraints all over the grid) required matt to exceed some of the usual norms for a 15x15 puzzle: 80 words, 48 blocks, and a whopping 40 three letter words. there were also a number of entries that, it could reasonably be argued, fall somewhat short of crossword legitimacy/familiarity:
my favorite clue has to be ["___ Island" (Tina Fey-written "30 Rock" episode featuring attractive older women], which clues MILF. i recently got into 30 rock. funny show. MILF island is jack's brilliant idea for a reality show, with the tagline "50 8th-grade boys, 25 super-hot moms, no rules." the only problem with making fun of reality TV, though, is that any ridiculous reality show parody you can dream up is actually not far from being an actual reality show. MILF island, as ridiculous as it sounds, is really just a combination of date my mom and temptation island, isn't it? not that i've ever seen either of those.
okay, that's all i have time for, even though there's plenty more interesting stuff in this grid; feel free to comment on your favorite clue. see you next week for the easy-peasy may puzzle.
April 28, 2009