June 16, 2009


crossword 4:10
puzzle 5:35

quick write-up this week, as i'm running a little behind schedule. the 54th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Achy Breaky Heart," was a not-too-tough crossword whose five longest answers (the only overt theme answers) were:

  • [Old issues of Playboy you can bid on?] clues E-BAY EROTICA.
  • [Give pitcher Ryan a makeover?] is STYLE NOLAN. this is a particularly apt theme entry, as we'll see.
  • [Cheech & Chong movies, for example?] constitute MARIJUANA CINEMA. you know, i don't think i actually knew anything about cheech & chong movies until there was a NYT daily last month with UP IN SMOKE and STONED, both clued in reference to cheech & chong. apparently, these movies are about smoking pot, and actually, MARIJUANA CINEMA may be almost an actual genre. i do have a VHS copy of reefer madness that i won at a quizbowl tournament over a decade ago, but i've never seen it.
  • [Illegal squirrel-smuggling operation?] is a MARMOT RING. this one is my favorite.
  • [Where some amphibians live?] is the pleasant burg of TOAD VILLAGE.

it took me a bit of effort to see what these apparently random theme entries have in common. the title is, as usual, the most useful clue. i was trying to do something with anagrams of "heart," but that went nowhere even though EROTICA is almost an anagram of the CAROTID artery. eventually i noticed that STYLE NOLAN contains TYLENOL. hey, how about that? there's your theme for you: made-up phrases that contain painkiller brands: EBAY EROTICA, MARIJUANA CINEMA, MARMOT RING, and TOAD VILLAGE are the others. (ADVIL, by the way, is the one that used nolan ryan in an ad campaign. i wonder how he would feel about being part of the TYLENOL theme answer?) i've circled the hidden analgesics in the screenshot above.

so what's the contest answer? the instructions this week tell us: It may look like this crossword has only five theme entries, but there's a sixth one hidden somewhere in the grid. This sixth theme entry is this week's contest answer. unsurprisingly, it's in one of the long (8-letter) fill words, SEA LEVEL, clued as [Death Valley is below it]. and SEA LEVEL is the answer to the contest. while it's not quite as mind-blowing as some of the metapuzzles we've seen in the past, it's a pretty remarkable crossword, with six long theme answers stuffed into a 76-word grid with no forced or awkward fill.

what else? the puzzle wasn't too tough, but i had a guess-the-vowel experience at the crossing of MALA [Bad: Sp] and MIYAZAKI ["Princess Mononoke" director Hayao ___]. i don't speak spanish, so both MALO and MALA seemed plausible, and likewise for the japanese name. and i did fall into matt's trap when i plugged in FOOL instead of TOOL for [Person often taken advantage of].

can anybody explain to me why i knew OLIE [the Goalie (hockey nickname)]? i think it's a reference to former captials goalie olaf kolzig, but i don't even follow hockey.