July 14, 2009


crossword 4:20
puzzle about 30 hours

hey everybody. the 58th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "A Couple Coupled Couples," was a fun little puzzle that plays on the fact that crossword answers have had their spaces removed. the theme answers each take an expression including a pair of two-letter words and fuse them into a four-letter word:

  • [The language of pitcher Mario?] is SOTO-SPEAK, playing on "so to speak." as somebody who didn't follow baseball until the late '90s, i'd like to politely request that future SOTO references be claimed by cubs catcher geovany (the reigning NL rookie of the year).
  • [Cessation of ear-pounding dance music?] is BEAT PEACE (be at peace).
  • [Make a thug happy?] is PLEASE GOON ("please go on"). this answer feels slightly awkward, as it seems to want an article in the middle.
  • [Chinese dish you can write with?] is PENCIL MEIN ("pencil me in"). last year when i was constructing a puzzle (back when i had time for that sort of thing!), i once spent the better part of an hour deciding how to clue MEIN: german for "mine" (as in mein kampf, although that's rather an unpleasant association), half of a phrase for a noodle dish (lo mein or chow mein), or the two-word partial "me in." i ... don't even remember what i did now.
  • and finally, the unclued central theme entry was DOOR DIE (do-or-die).

a nice little theme. there was a jonesin' some time ago that had the same theme, including DOOR DIE clued as [Yell directed at a much-hated portal?], and (my favorite) YOU HAD MEAT? HELLO? clued as [Vegetarian's "Duh!" response to why they hate their formerly vegan pal?]. but i enjoyed this one, too.

so... about that meta. the contest instructions were straightforward enough: This week's contest answer phrase consists of two symmetrically-placed grid entries that, taken together, form the clue for the theme answer at 38-across. what could clue DOOR DIE? well, right off the bat, 1a is JAMB, a [Deadbolt's resting place], which is part of a door. i should have had this one solved in 5 seconds. i checked the last across answer: CUBE, clued as [More than square] (great clue, btw). "nope, doesn't fit." i moved on. i looked at every pair of symmetrically-placed answers. twice. thrice. fice. backwards and forwards. acrosses and downs. even the theme answers. i found some compelling combinations:

  • NHL TEAMS, COMMONLY? that's a very normal-looking wording for a crossword clue, isn't it? unfortunately, i'm not sure what would be the answer to the clue (TOOTHLESS CANADIANS?), but it sure as hell wouldn't be DOOR DIE.
  • MCING LULLS? there's maybe some dead time between ... lines? guests? jokes?
  • REPAY SPOOK? you know, if you'd borrowed money from one of those faceless agents from the x-files.
  • ONE MAN'S EUTERPE is another man's ... terpsichore?
  • even BE AT PEACE, SO TO SPEAK is also a normal-looking wording for a clue. and you might imagine it's got something to do with DIE, but ... no, doesn't really work.

and so forth. anyway, you all figured this out, right? a lot faster than me? the answer is indeed JAMB CUBE, using the sense of DIE as "one of a pair of dice." sigh. i eventually had to put the meta down and came back to it the next day. the very first thing i looked at, of course, was JAMB CUBE. it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. and it makes perfect sense—everything in the middle of the grid crosses (or is very close to) another theme answer, so the "bonus" theme answers would be easiest to place in the corners.

fill/clues i enjoyed:

  • ["The Science of Logic" philosopher] is georg wilhelm friedrich HEGEL. count me as a fan.
  • [Howard or Paul]? that's just RON. and those guys have too many first names.
  • [Education secretary ___ Duncan] is don't-call-me-thomas ARNE. ah, new life for old crosswordese. luckily, somebody (... rex?) warned me about this last week on one of the blogs, so i knew it even though i'm not really up on the new obama cabinet. other than clinton, my mother-in-law's college friend kathleen sibelius, and my former quantum mechanics professor steve chu, i don't really know anybody.
  • the recently-deceased farrah fawcett and michael jackson (what? you hadn't heard?) both get nods here. [Fawcett's beau] is ryan O'NEAL (spelled like shaquille, but not buck or tip/eugene). and [Michael Jackson once did ads for them] is PEPSI. i guess i dimly recall that tidbit.
  • speaking of MJ, [Beat it, just beat it] is kind of an odd clue for EXIT. ah, yes. now i remember. i wanted EXIT to be part of the meta answer (in relation to DOOR, or maybe also even DIE), but its symmetric partner, ["Jesus] WEPT," was not helping me at all. boo and hiss.
  • [Europe's longest river], the VOLGA, gets far less crossword play than shorter (in both senses) rivers like the AAR(E), ODER, EBRO, and YSER. this always trips me up because ... well, let's face it, the danube is pretty darn long, and who thinks of russia as part of europe, anyway?
  • ok, am i the only one who had A.N. KHAN instead of A.Q. KHAN for [Father of Pakistan's nuclear program]? yeah, I'LL BET, A.Q. KHAN! but of course, the [Home to 150,000 U.S. troops] is IRAQ, not IRAN.

OVER and out. or should i say, EXIT WEPT?