August 04, 2009


crossword 18:30*
puzzle about 40 minutes*

hey there. this week's episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Not to Give Anything Away, But ...," was a brutally difficult crossword combined with a fairly remarkable trick that led to an ultimately flummoxing meta. but i'm getting ahead of myself, aren't i?

the puzzle's "theme" answers spelled out the following four-part instructions: ENDINGS OF ELEVEN / REVEAL TOO / MUCH SO USE / THEIR BEGINNINGS. kind of cryptic, wouldn't you agree? my first thought was, of course, "what the hell does that mean?" my second thought was, "which eleven?" because surely it was referring to eleven clues or answers in the grid. normally a puzzle with four theme answers totally only 48 squares would not require a constructor of matt's caliber to exceed the usual word count (78, whereas this grid has 80). so something had to be going on. it wasn't multiples of 10, or primes, or all answers longer than 6 letters, or anything like that. first attempt: dead end.

my second thought was to just look at every single answer in the grid and write down its first letter. i thought i was getting somewhere when the first six across answers started with S, L, O, W, E, and R. but the pattern quickly ceased to be meaningful. nothing really showed up for the last letters, either. but looking closer at the first few clues revealed something quite interesting: the answer to each one was a concealed string at the end of the clue! check it out:

  • [Rammed, as with one's truck] is STRUCK. this is perhaps the most oddly-worded clue in the puzzle, and odd clue wording is often a hint that something funny is going on.
  • [Effortlessly fooled] is LED. not a great clue/answer equivalence, in my opinion, but i thought matt was just trying to make it hard on us.
  • [No longer interested in, as a former lover] is OVER.

well, it didn't take me too long to notice that lots of answers in the grid have this same property... eleven of them, in fact. here are the other eight:

  • [Animal found on prairie land] = ELAND. i guess. is the african savanna a prairie?
  • [Sign you may be a touch ill] = CHILL
  • [Light watercraft] = RAFT. this clue sounds perhaps the least unnatural of the bunch.
  • [Water, pour Cousteau] = EAU. the fact that this clue has "pour" (french) instead of "for" (english) drew my attention. what's the usual convention for this? i feel like [Water, for Cousteau] would be how i'd write it, if i were going to write such a clue. (although actually, i prefer my clues for foreign words to be entirely in the foreign language.)
  • [If your boat's facing west, it's eastern] = ASTERN. nice one!
  • [Apparently angered] = RED
  • [Fours and sixes, but not sevens] = EVENS
  • [Not here] = THERE

let's see, what are we supposed to be doing with these eleven clues and answers? the instructions in the grid tell us to "use their beginnings." and the general contest instructions merely say that This week's answer phrase is a familiar two-word question. i spent some time trying to anagram the first letters of each of the weird answers into something, but SLOECROARET doesn't anagram to any two-word question i'm familiar with. cereal roots? correlate so? escarole rot? rooster lace? sole creator? (that's at least a plausible phrase, though not a question.) coaster lore? color eaters? and actually, i wasn't able to find any of these myself. i needed the help of the internet anagram server (a.k.a. "i, rearrangement servant") to come up with these, after attempting to anagram by hand for about 10-15 minutes.

of course, i was barking up the wrong tree. it's the endings of the eleven clues that reveal too much, not the answers. so going back to the clues, we've got RENASLWIAFN instead. what can you get by anagramming that? how about final answer? that's familiar enough, as it was regis philbin's catchphrase on "who wants to be a millionaire?" and it's the (final) answer to the contest.

oh, about the crossword: yeah, it was hard, and after 18:30 i had it completed but with one mistake that i found (much) later while working the meta. for 14a, {Frank}, i started with HONEST, then WIENER, then WIENIE, and i never bothered to change it to WEENIE. the crossing at 2d, {Classic album of 1991}, sounded like it could very well be something i didn't know, so i didn't look too far askance at TIN. but of course, the correct answer is TEN, by pearl jam... an album that i do know, and that's justifiably called a classic. whoops.

what was cool in the grid? AHIMSA, that's what. it's the jainist doctrine of non-violence towards all living creatures (jains won't even swat flies, although i personally do, and with some glee). there wasn't too much else that i really ate up, although of course the demands of the theme were pretty strenuous.

i'm out of time, so feel free to leave a comment about something i didn't address. see you next week for a much easier puzzle.