May 26, 2009


crossword 15:55, with several googles
puzzle 9:30

hi, everybody! welcome to the 51st installment of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest. this week's puzzle is an old-fashioned "clue" murder mystery: who killed mr. boddy, in which room, and with what murder weapon? to solve the mystery, let's look at the one overt theme answer in the grid: the central theme answer, clued as [What to look for to discover whodunnit, where and how], is EIGHT THAT END IN 2. this answer took me quite some time to piece together because of that final 2, which crossed R2D2, with the tough clue [Character played by the English dwarf Kenny Baker]. the second 2 of R2D2 cross PART 2, clued as [Second half, perhaps]. i don't know why that was so hard to suss out when i had PART_, but it was. i tried PART B (wrong, but oddly, it presaged the appearance of PART B in today's mike nothnagel NYT) and was then stumped by __DB until finally the light dawned.

so, EIGHT THAT END IN 2. what does this mean? my first thought: the answers to clues 2, 12, 22, etc. as this is an 80-word grid, it includes clue numbers all the way up to 73, so let's have a look at those clues:

  • 2d: [Ark. neighbor] = OKLA. i briefly considered that the murder was committed in oklahoma, but ... that's not one of the rooms in mr. boddy's mansion.
  • 12d: [___ fever] = RUNS A. when i finally figured this out, i googled RUNSA fever, expecting to learn about some kind of unusual tropical disease. instead, google politely asked me, "did you mean: runs a fever?" yes. yes i did. anyway, this is an ugly answer, but there's a good reason for it.
  • 22a: [Fashionable] = MODISH
  • 32d: [Word in the name of the band who did "London Calling"] = CLASH. this is an oddly worded clue. why not just ["London Calling" band, with "the"]? or [The ___ ("London Calling" band)]? well, you'll see why.
  • 42d: [___ card] = HIGH. HIGH card is the most basic form of poker, which is not very interesting. but it's more fun when it's indian poker.
  • 52d: [Accompanying] = ALONG.
  • 62d: [Hot drink in France] = CAFÉ, or coffee. you know, this clue is commonly used for THÉ (tea), since it can be awkward to clue the oh-so-common english word THE. but this isn't one of matt's answer-specific traps; the answer is clearly four letters long, so it can't be THÉ. so why the strange clue? (the light started to dawn for me as i pondered this question.)
  • 72a: [Hitchcock film] = TOPAZ. embarrassingly, i had this wrong on my first pass, despite its appearance in the hitchcock puzzle from last month. the A and Z crossed SIRENA and NO-DOZ. i'm not 100% sure i understand the SIRENA clue: [Earthling related to Venus]. i had SIREN and thought that it might just be SIRENS and there was a typo in the clue. i don't know what SIRENA is. does it refer to this young adult novel by donna jo napoli? and NO-DOZ was tough because i had the first letter wrong, since i had guessed -ITE instead of -INE for [Suffix meaning "resident of"]. i had no idea what prescription drug named TODO_ might be a [Vivarin rival]. after googling TOPSY and finding that it was not, in fact, a hitchcock film, TOPAZ finally came back to mind and i polished off that troublesome nook, correcting the T to N in NO-DOZ. update 12:41 pm: it's SERENA (williams), not SIRENA, and yes, i'm a moron. thanks to alex for the correction.

okay, enough of my troubles with the crossword. i think this is the most interesting/amazing meta of any of the 51 MGWCCs so far. after fruitlessly staring at OKLA, RUNS A, MODISH, CLASH, HIGH, ALONG, CAFÉ, and TOPAZ for quite some time, i realized that i'd neglected the most important advice in solving a meta: the instructions and the puzzle title. the instructions aren't all that illuminating: This week's contest is a murder mystery based on the game Clue. Somebody killed Mr. Boddy -- but whodunit, which room did they do it in, and with what weapon? This week's contest answer is the answer to all three of those questions. but the title? "Clues are Clues" ... hmm. notice it deosn't say "clue"; it's definitely plural. that's the big hint that instead of looking at the answers to clue numbers 2, 12, 22, etc., we're supposed to look at the clues. lo and behold, every single one of those clues could be answered with a totally different word:

  • [Ark. neighbor] = MISS
  • [___ fever] = SCARLET. not too many other ways to clue SCARLET, so i can forgive the RUNS A partial.
  • [Fashionable] = IN
  • [Word in the name of the band who did "London Calling"] = THE. so that explains the strange clue for CLASH.
  • [___ card] = LIBRARY
  • [Accompanying] = WITH
  • [Hot drink in France] = THÉ. aha! there it is. for the purposes of the meta, of course, this is just THE again, not THÉ.
  • [Hitchcock film] = ROPE. this was the answer to the hitchcock meta, and here it is again, reprising its role as a murder weapon.

there you have it: miss scarlet, in the library, with the rope. case closed. when this finally hit me (like the proverbial ton of bricks), i was floored. there's a teeny tiny flaw in that the clue for (the first instance of) THE also includes the word THE. still, this meta is so amazing that i'll gladly let that slide. if you were wondering why some of the clues seemed awkward, or why there was only one theme answer in an otherwise unambitious 80-word grid, there's your answer. there were actually nine theme answers, and eight of them had to be at specific clue numbers. incredible.

well, a couple weeks ago, i said, "i found this puzzle surprisingly difficult for the second week of the month. (i shudder to think what it's going to be like the fourth, or even fifth, week of may!)" i guess that was a prescient comment, although last week's puzzle being on the easy side may also have had something to do with it, judging from matt's comments in his blog post. (and yes, i am positively terrified of next week's puzzle.) i've already explained the difficulties i had with the northeast, midatlantic, and south regions. the only other part that gave me a ton of trouble was the north, where i couldn't piece together the following:

  • [Bruno, really] is SACHA (baron cohen). apparently this is a character from da ali G show who will apparently be the subject of a feature film. tough clue.
  • [Member of the A-team?] is a TUTOR who might help you study for an A.
  • [Wall Street bank, familiarly] is CITI. why couldn't i get this off of _I_I? i was thinking it was going to be something like WaMu or some other shortened form.
  • ["Curb" company] is HBO, the network of "curb your enthusiasm." not sure how i feel about this clue. i definitely could have gotten it, but i had a wrong crossing letter which obscured the correct answer. the same is true of...
  • [Weather map blobs], or AIR MASSES. what was the problem here? easy clue, and a nice answer. well, i'll tell you the problem...
  • i'm an idiot. i had put ALIAS in for [It may check out on "Law & Order"] very early on and never thought to question it. the answer, of course, is ALIBI, which is something that may actually check out. an ALIAS can't really check out, since it's a fake name, whereas an ALIBI might be true or false.

that's enough out of me for this week. i'm curious to hear about your experiences with this week's meta. pipe up in the comment box!