July 21, 2009


crossword 9:23
puzzle about 20 minutes

hi, everybody! this week's episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Pick Up Lines," was a challenging crossword with a not-too-tough meta that took me way too long to solve. let's have a look at the theme answers:

  • [Lousy Clapton album?] is an ERIC FAILURE, playing on "epic failure." except that everybody calls it "epic fail" nowadays. these kids and their slang. *shakes head*
  • [Frat boy who chugs Manischewitz?] is a KOSHER DELT. this one took me forever, because i kept thinking the base phrase was "kosher dill," rather than "kosher deli."
  • [Kellogg's cereal that gets you stoned?] is CRACKLIN' QAT BRAN (cracklin' oat bran). QAT, as scrabble players know, is an evergreen shrub chewed as a stimulant, mostly in yemen.
  • [What desperate donkeys do?] is BRAY FOR A MIRACLE (pray for a miracle). this was probably the easiest theme answer for me.
  • [Movie about a guy whose toes can hack websites?] is MY LEET FOOT (my left foot). is this anything like the net? because that movie suuuucked.
  • finally, [Move closer to the leader, in golf -- and the theme of this puzzle] is GAIN A STROKE.

of course, that's exactly the transformation being used in each theme answer. one letter is gaining a stroke (in its capital form, sans serif) to make a new one: P to R in ERIC FAILURE, I to T in KOSHER DELT, O to Q in CRACKLIN' QAT BRAN, P to B in BRAY FOR A MIRACLE, and F to E in MY LEET FOOT.

so about this meta... the contest instructions tell us that This week's contest answer is a famous arcade game of the 1980s. fine. i know my classic arcade games, but even so i pored over the list matt cited from wikipedia. looked for anything that involved "gaining a stroke." looked for anything that might look like a version of an answer in the grid, with one more or one fewer stroke in one of the letters. nothing. thought about a possible moon landing connection, what with the apollo 11 anniversary, but neither moon patrol nor lunar lander seemed to have anything to do with anything.

after all that, i did what i should have done from the very start: look at which letters got changed in the theme answers. the set of removed letters is PIOPF, which doesn't really do much. but look at the new letters: RTQBE. does that spell anything? hell yes! it spells Q*BERT, that's what. i spent hours playing this game as a kid, so i should have known it earlier. anyway.

lots of stuff in the grid gave me trouble. stuff i just plain didn't know:

  • [Johnny's role in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"] is RAOUL. i don't even know who johnny is, let alone RAOUL. depp? unitas? tremaine?
  • ["Survivorman" host Stroud] is LES. what the hell is that? who the hell is that?
  • ["Whatever Works"] director is ALLEN. okay, never heard of the movie/show, and ... um, marcus allen? ray allen? gracie allen? allen wrench? edited: apparently this is woody allen's new movie. i've heard of him.
  • ["___ Pablo" (1980's sitcom)] is AKA. never heard of it.
  • [Eddie ___ (only person to win a gold medal in both the summer and winter Olympics)] is EAGAN. this is the only answer on this list that i was actually interested to learn. in case you're also curious: light heavyweight boxing, 1920 antwerp; 4-man bobsled, 1932 lake placid. he also appears to have earned a harvard law degree, so he must have been punching the right people.

clues i liked:

  • [Good feller] is an AXE, for felling things. and [It sure looks good] is an EYE if you don't mind "good" as an adverb.
  • [Schlage rival] is YALE. a buddy of mine always goes to the annual schlage-yale football game, but i went once my freshman year and was underwhelmed.
  • IT'S and 'TIS are both clued as [Anagram and synonym of] each other. cute, but it means you need to get some crossings before solving them.
  • [Card kid] is ENDER wiggin, hero of orson scott card sci-fi novels, notably ender's game.
  • [Tolkien creature], three letters. ORC or ENT? nope, it's ELF. this isn't really related, but my wife got a copy of a terry pratchett book called men at arms for her birthday last week. except that the cover has a weird font that made her think it was called men at ATMs. yeah, there's probably a crossword theme in there.
  • there's another classic trap at [Mercury or Mazda], three letters. CAR? nope, it's GOD. i guess he's referring to ahura mazda, god of light in zoroastrianism, but does anybody call him just "mazda"? is that, like, his last name? "mazda, party of four—your table is ready." well, i just read up on him at wikipedia and it's still not clear whether he's referred to as ahura, mazda, or both.
  • [Cyclone-ravaged ___ Island] is just CONEY island, "ravaged" by its popular roller coaster.
  • matt goes meta with [Last week's MGWCC winner David] STEIN. except that by now, it's two weeks ago.

the only thing i didn't like about the grid was the ugly-ass crossing of the odd partial A BUMP with the nasty suffix -ATION.

that's all for me. tune in next week when it gets really hard.