August 25, 2009


crossword 13:21 (paper)
puzzle about an hour

the 64th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Almost A Murmur," was an absolutely brutal crossword followed by a cool but tough meta. let's have a look at the theme answers:

  • [Hot music in Florida?] is MIAMI SALSA.
  • [The panache of a top crossword constructor?] is the famed ESTES VERVE of harvey estes.
  • [TV character who's a wet blanket?] is UNFUN TONTO.
  • [Star to tear up?] is SENSE ONION.
  • [Managed to defeat an Egyptian god?] is EDGED THOTH.
  • and my favorite, [Car dealership owned by a Hollywood actress?] is HECHE VOLVO, run by anne heche.

what do these have in common? it's not all that tough to see: all twelve of the five-letter words in the theme answers have the same cryptogram pattern. if this were a kaidoku, every one of them could be "clued" as 1-2-3-1-2. as the title says, it's "almost a murmur," because one more letter and they would be the same three letters repeated, just like the word "murmur." having said that, i think ONION SENSE (clued in some way relating to the onion) might have been more fun.

so what about the meta? well, the instructions say that This week's contest answer phrase consists of the surname of a famous author AND the surname of one of his characters. Taken together, they would've made an excellent theme entry this week. this took me a long time. i first thought about 1=A, like ABFAB or ATBAT, but that went nowhere. then i thought about B: la BAMBA? nope. C seemed promising, since CASCA is a famous literary character (from julius caesar, as NYT solvers know since it's shown up twice in the last week). but of course SHAKESPEARE doesn't fit the pattern at all. i kept going, but i fell asleep (literally) around H and when i woke up, i was somewhat groggy. eventually deciding that electronic assistance would be helpful, i grepped the cruciverb word list and hit upon the answer: franz KAFKA and his character gregor SAMSA (of the metamorphosis).

other fun possibilities: ESME'S MAGMA, SHUSH LAILA/LAYLA, ELIEL HATHA. (i just learned the word HATHA last week, from a crosssynergy puzzle.)

okay, the crossword. this was an absolute bitch. ten minutes in, i had none of the theme answers except EDGED THOTH and no clue what was going on. as soon as i got another one, the theme became pretty obvious and i scrambled to fill in the rest of the puzzle.

the grid contained three things i've certainly never heard of, and a ton of clues that were just plain mean. first, the unfamiliar answers:

  • [9/11 Commission co-chair Thomas ___] is KEAN.
  • [2014 Olympics host city] is SOCHI, russia. really? wow. i guess i don't even know where the 2010 olympics will be held (i don't really care about the winter games at all), so it's not that surprising that i haven't heard about this, but... they gave the olympics to a russian city i've never heard of?
  • [Famous bookstore in Portland, Ore.] is POWELL'S. um, how famous is it? am i really supposed to know about bookstores 3000 miles away? i really dislike clues like this. at least with the other two, they seem like things that are worth knowing even if i personally happen to not know them.

other hard clues:

  • [Title word for Stephen King or Woody Allen] is ROSE. okay, i don't like this clue either. what titles are we talking about? i figured that when i got the answer, it would make sense... turns out, not so much.
  • [Its second chapter is "Learning to Love the Law"] clues ONE L by scott turow. i think a clue like this should only be used for an answer that's really famous like DAS KAPITAL or something, not a bit of crosswordese like ONE L.
  • [Role, in metaphor] is a HAT. i'm currently wearing my blogger hat. literally, of course, i'm currently wearing my A's hat.
  • matt continues his long-standing assault on all things emo by cluing MOROSE as [Word whose sixth, first and second letters form a synonymous word]. i liked this clue, but it's somewhat self-indulgent. i mean, you really can't answer it until you have at least one or two of those letters in place.
  • some unfamiliar people: [1999 Chemistry Nobelist ___ Zewail] is AHMED. and [Loek ___ Wely (noted Dutch chessplayer)] is VAN, which is guessable enough.
  • [Hachette Filipacchi title] meant nothing to me. the answer is ELLE, and apparently hachette filipacchi is some sort of media publishing group. don't care.
  • there were some awfully clever clues, too: [Charge down the highway] is a noun: TOLL. [What's left on the table after a meal] is not an ORT but a TIP.
  • leroy NEIMAN, the ["Borg/Connors" artist, 1977], always reminds me of top secret! (but then, so does everything else). "they're still working on him. he won't break. we've tried everything! do you want me to bring out the leroy nieman paintings?" "no! we cannot risk violating the geneva convention."
  • i'll award a technical deduction for cluing DOLTS as [Fools] and then having FOOL'S GOLD in the grid.
  • i liked seeing STANS clued as [The ___ (much of central Asia, casually)]. one of my best friends from college and later grad school hails from uzbekistan. also, i met crossword editor stan newman at lollapuzzoola on saturday.

well then. i can't imagine how painful next week's crossword will be, if this was only third-week difficulty. but in any event, i'll be here. see you then.