October 20, 2009


crossword 8:50
puzzle 2 days, and i eventually had to seek internet help

boo—oh, never mind. this week's episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, the third installment of "hell month," had these (apparent) theme entries:

  • [1994 movie line] is "RUN, FORREST, RUN!"
  • [Reading spot] is AFTERNOON TEA. tricky clue, that. by now you're used to interpreting "nice" as the city in france and "reading" as the city in england, right? nevertheless, this one still got me because i wasn't expecting "spot" to be anything other than a location.
  • [Iconic Vietnam War protest song] is FORTUNATE SON. i'm partial to the U2 cover, from the b-side of "who's gonna ride your wild horses," but the original CCR version is pretty good too.
  • [Just say no] is REFUSE AN OFFER. this one feels not quite in-the-language to me. yes, an offer is one of the things you might well refuse, but it still feels a little weak.

what do these four answers have in common? the first thing that struck me is that they all use the same letters: AEFNORSTU. there's no A in RUN, FORREST, RUN, or U in AFTERNOON TEA, or T in REFUSE AN OFFER, but still, all four only use those nine letters. the next thing i noticed: the same is true of the puzzle's title, "Frustrates for Fun." the third thing i noticed: the same is true of every single answer in the grid! whoa. this isn't the first time i've seen such a gimmick (jim horne's xwordinfo site has a whole page of them), nor the most minimal (i think matt ginsberg had a sun puzzle where he used only eight distinct letters), but it still took me by surprise.

so what's the answer to the metapuzzle? the instructions state that This week's contest answer is the name of a well-known horror film. simple enough. i figured it must be a title that only uses those letters, but i got nowhere trying to anagram them in my head. NEAT FOURS? ROUTE FENS? it turns out that my usual method of anagramming something is to think of the answer first, and then check to see if it's a true anagram. (certainly this is how i solve cryptics.) well, i don't know much about horror movies. SAW VI (it is inexplicable to me that there are six of these movies... i remember hearing about 1 and 2, but what happened to 3 through 5?), THE RING, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, HALLOWEEN, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, ... okay, i'm done. or so i thought. i've never actually seen a horror movie (unless you count the unintentional horror that was batman & robin), so i was about ready to give up.

anyway, i thought about it for several days. then, since matt relaxed the restriction on googling for the answer, i googled for the answer. this site quickly came up, and what do you know? there it is at #14: Nosferatu. okay. i have this friend who's into vampires (yeah, i know, i know, but this was before everybody else was into vampires), so i have this vague knowledge that nosferatu is a vampire. i did not know it was a horror movie, and certainly would not have solved this meta without googling. does that cheapen my accomplishment? you bet it does! for a limited time only, my accomplishment is 30% off. act now!

okay, what else? i'm a sourpuss, so i'll start with the bad stuff:

  • i think there's a mistake in the clue for 66a, NOTE: [Part of n.b.]. unless this is a different n.b., it stands for nota bene. nota is latin for note, sure, but you can't just translate half the phrase, because "well" does not begin with b.
  • EFS is not much of an answer to begin with, but the clue, [Before gees], struck me as being the wrong part of speech.
  • TSU, or tennessee state university (i guess?) is a [Nashville sch.]. this isn't one of the ones you'd ever hear about if you weren't from central tennessee, i think. not even if you're a college sports nut.

frankly, though, with only nine letters to work with, the fill is just not going to be that exciting. not really matt's fault. there were lots of partials, but i didn't mind; some of them had clever clues. i liked ["For here OR TO go?"]. i didn't love ["I give it A TEN!"] and [TEN TO five (almost quitting time)]. but there was basically nothing obscure in the grid, which is no mean feat. the closest thing was TRURO, on cape cod. the clue, [Town between Wellfleet and Provincetown], isn't much help either, unless you happen to know that provincetown is on (actually at the end of) cape cod. i've never heard of wellfleet, and i live in eastern mass.

clues i enjoyed:

  • [Thing] is FORTE, in the colloquial sense: "1920s horror movies are not my thing." loved this clue.
  • [Word with an apostrophe replacing a V] is a great way to clue NE'ER, isn't it? especially because it hearkens back to the early days of the MGWCC, when solvers had to put together the letters replaced by apostrophes in WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM, LOVE REIGN O'ER ME, DON'T TURN AROUND, IT'S RAINING AGAIN, and EV'RY DAY OF MY LIFE. of course, the same clue could work for E'ER and O'ER and even E'EN. those poets and their anti-V stance! who do they think they are, scrabble players?

that's all for me.