October 27, 2009


crossword untimed, maybe 15 minutes?
puzzle 2 days

okay, this puzzle was a killer. very tough crossword, and a vague meta that had me scratching my head and fruitlessly investigating blind alleys for days. yup, it's hell month in matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, all right.

the grid had no evident theme answers, but the central answer was SIX BARS, clued as [Average itinerary for a Halloween night pub crawl, maybe]. this caught my attention meta-wise for three reasons:

  1. it's such a bloody weird answer. i mean, SIX BARS doesn't really pass muster as fill, so it's probably theme.
  2. it's in the middle. if i were matt, and planning to hide lots of specific entries in the grid, with only one hint as to what to look for, i'd stick the hint in the middle.
  3. it contains SIX, and the instructions tell us that This week's contest answer is six letters long (this is not a trick!). so 6 has something to do with the answer.

here is a non-exhaustive list of all the false leads i tried (you should see my marked-up paper):

  • MAUMAU/MAUS/AMU. what's up with that? (answer: nothing.)
  • the bars of black squares in the grid. there are six of them, four across and two down, including two crossing pairs. but ... nothing.
  • 6-down, STU (sneakily clued as [RV hookup], as in the letters that connect R to V).
  • the actual bars in the grid (i.e. the lines between adjacent white squares). right, nothing doing here either.
  • synonyms for BAR. i found STICKers, saBATini, SKIs (i guess), ... nothing.
  • BAR... BORges... BERts... arBORs... nothing.
  • "bars" of consecutive repeated letters. across and down, we've got aCCeSSed, coLLeTTe, aLLege, airineSS, droSS... nothing.
  • diagonal "bars" of consecutive letters. there's three Is in a row at the bottom, some Rs over in the lower right, and some Ns in the upper left... nothing.
  • TALIA and aliTALIA. what's up with that? nothing.
  • elaSTICs crossing STICkers. what's up with that? nothing.

finally it occurred to me that if i'm looking for a six-letter answer, it probably comes down to finding six different answers and taking one letter from each one. so i started looking for candy BARS (it is halloween this week)... aha! i noticed CLARA right away. i don't even remember why, but some time last week i was looking through old MGWCCs and revisited the one whose answer was CLARK, matt's middle name. one of the hints was that the three answers across the top of the grid were KENT, BAR, and GABLE. so CLARK bars were on my mind, and CLARA [Bow in front of the cameras] is one letter off. and what do you know? i found five more:

  • mars bar -> MAUS, the graphic novel-ish [Autobiography subtitled "A Survivor's Tale]
  • snickers bar -> STICKERS, [Campaign paraphernalia]
  • twix bar -> TWIN, [One may be evil]. this put me in the mind of mike nothnagel's great EVIL TWINS clue, [They may look the same, but they're not as good], from lollapuzzoola 2
  • payday bar -> GAYDAY, the [Fabulous annual event at many amusement parks]. i was a little uncertain about this one, because MAY DAY seemed plausible, too, but the crossing was BAG, slangily equivalent to [Cancel]... BAM, not so much.
  • mounds bar -> ZOUNDS, the great old-timey oath clued as ["Great Merlin's beard!"]. definitely sounds like something horace slughorn would say.

as usual, i tried anagramming the letters that were replaced, but KRNXPM isn't very promising. the new letters, though—that seemed better, but AUTNGZ didn't go anywhere either. i wasn't sure exactly what i was looking for, but there are no anagrams of AUTNGZ in my word list, so i thought i might be looking for a proper name or multi-word phrase somehow related to "Outrageous Death," the puzzle's title. (it didn't occur to me until i started this writeup that both of those words also fit the theme, what with nutrageous and heath bars.) but no.

that had me worried that i had identified the wrong BARS in the grid, so i checked out this wikipedia page of candy bars, looking for other names one letter off from grid answers. i didn't find one, but look what was hiding at the bottom of the list: the ZAGNUT bars, of which i had never heard. i knew immediately that it must be the answer.

whew! i was fairly certain i was going to fail this one as late as last night during sunday night football, and i was preparing to admit meta defeat for the first time as MGWCC blogger (and only the second time overall). but luckily things worked out, and persistence paid off.

after all that, i don't have that much to say about the crossword, which was freaking tough. i had to post-solve google a bunch of answers i didn't know:

  • AROINT thee! if i've heard this archaic "get thee gone" equivalent, i've long since forgotten it. but what a cool word! i'm going to use it this week no matter how many blank stares it nets me.
  • COLLETTE is apparently the ["About a Boy" actress, 2002]. i read that book, but i didn't realize it was a movie. i didn't love the book. is this ... toni collette? (is that even a person?) that name looks terribly misspelled, although not as terribly as andy pettitte.
  • [Huge gingerbread man in "Shrek 2"] is MONGO. never seen it. or shrek 1, for that matter. i think the huge dumb guy in blazing saddles! is also named MONGO, but i'm never sure it's not MONDO. except now i think i am, because in my other blogging gig almost exactly a year ago, i claimed that he was MONDO and janie corrected me. it's memorable because the puzzle contained both MONDO and HONDO.
  • [Hard rock] = SILEX? i think i know this word only as part of a company name.
  • it's the revenge of DUARTE! this [Central American leader of the 1980s] stymied me when he showed up in barry c. silk's friday NYT last week, but i was all over him this time.
  • [Positive in Peru] = SEGURO. did not know this one. i guess it's a cognate of "secure"; what manner of "positive" does it mean?
  • MAUMAU is apparently a verb meaning intimidate, or [Cow]. i know the mau mau rebellion, but i didn't know this. cool, though.
  • [TV psychopath, for short] is DEX. i looked this up the other day and have already forgotten what show it's from. something old.
  • [___ Latin] is EMI? if you say so. there were certainly a lot of latin american clues, what with DUARTE and SEGURO crossing ORTEGA (okay, not latin, but a brand of salsa) and ISLA clued as [Word on Puerto Rico's state quarter]. hey, shouldn't that be a territory quarter?
  • [Museum voor Schone Kunsten's city] is GHENT, belgium. i've actually been there, though i certainly never went to any museums, preferring to play bridge non-stop for two weeks instead. (in my defense, i was young and foolish then. the next two times i went to europe to play bridge, i made sure to see the sights in paris and istanbul.) the only non-bridge memories i have from my GHENT trip all involve eating incredibly delicious kebabs from a turkish food stand a block from our dorm-like accommodations. mmm... kebab.
  • fave clue: [Dr. without an advanced degree] for rap's dr. DRE.

okay, that's all from me this week. given how tough this sucker was, i don't even want to think about next week...