March 31, 2009


crossword 9:27
puzzle 0:40

hello friends. welcome to the 43rd installment of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest. this week's puzzle, "Please, No Calls," was a very difficult crossword capped by a highly unusual (though not terribly difficult) meta. let's have a look at the theme answers:

  • ["k ttyl" e.g.] is a TEXT MESSAGE. i kind of wanted this answer to be 1337SPEAK, but that wouldn't fit.
  • [Driver's license info for the person reading these words] is YOUR SURNAME.

well then, what are we to make of this? as always, the title is a hint, as are the contest instructions: This week's contest answer word will be of varying lengths. I must receive your entry by Tuesday at noon ET. hmm, that's odd—usually, he says something about sending an email with the answer word in the subject line, but not this time. and varying lengths? maybe YOUR SURNAME is somehow involved?

you bet it is. notice that the across answers in the grid are speckled with *s. here are all the *ed entries, in order:

  • 2a [Calendar abbr.*] = TUE
  • 23a [Must pay*] = OWE TO
  • 26a [Das Gegenteil von "Ja"*] = NEIN. i assume Gegenteil means opposite, not that i know any german.
  • 28a ["Now I get it!"*] = OHHH
  • 47a [Not merely cheap*] = FREE
  • 48a [Incomplete foursome*] = TRIO. you think that's how they think of themselves?
  • 62a [Korean cabbage*] = WON. not an easy clue, although it was a gimme for me. the WON is the currency of (south) korea.
  • 71a [Plus*] = TOO. i tried ADD, then AND, before realizing the theme.

that theme, of course, is that these are all homophones (or close, in the case of the 3's) of digits: 2, 02, etc. they spell out a 10-digit number to which you were supposed to TEXT MESSAGE YOUR SURNAME by tuesday at noon eastern. i won't actually spell out the whole number because i'm sure matt would rather not have his cell phone number here on the internet for anybody to read (he did say "please, no calls"), but you can work it out yourself pretty easily. by the way, 202 is the area code for washington DC, although matt lives a few hours outside of DC in virginia.

i'm not sure how you were supposed to participate if you don't have a cell phone, but there's probably a way to do that online. not to mention, if you sent matt an email and explained that you were trapped in a 1990s time warp, i suspect he'd count that as a correct answer.

gnarly bits from the fill:

  • [1993 movie in which Nicole Kidman tries to suffocate a mannequin with Saran wrap] is MALICE. i must have missed that one, although kidman is my putative favorite actress.
  • [Johnson in St. Petersburg] clues IVANOV, the russian surname, but i don't think the clue is 100% right. ivan is certainly the russian equivalent of "john," but "johnson" would more properly be ivanovich (the patronymic), as in nikolai ivanovich lobachevsky. i think IVANOV is more like "jones," which is pretty much the same name as john but used as a surname. at any rate, i would have preferred a chekhov clue here.
  • ["The Things They Carried" author Tim] is O'BRIEN. that's a good book, about the vietnam war. like many, i had to read it in high school english.
  • [Unlikely to escape] clues the informal adjective TOAST. as in, "syracuse is TOAST tonight." 0-for-10 from 3-point range, and a zillion turnovers—that's not the recipe for success.
  • HAD A SON is clued as [Furthered the family name]. amy would probably take this opportunity to gripe about the patriarchy, and not without cause. but since you're getting me instead, i'll take the opportunity to gripe about this not really being an in-the-language phrase.
  • the prefix NEO- is clued as [___-Grunfeld Defense (chess opening played by Karpov against Kasparov)]. (warning: technical chess gibberish ahead. you are advised to skip to the next bullet item.) i can't figure out exactly what this refers to—the grunfeld is definitely a defense (i.e. an opening for black), but the NEO-grunfeld seems to be a variant in which white chooses to delay Nc3. since it's white's decision that makes it a NEO-grunfeld, is it really appropriate to call it a defense?
  • the unhelpful [About 24 million people] clues YEMENIS, but i got it instantly anyway because i already had the Y in place. other geography tidbits i didn't know included UTAH, [The Wasatch Front's locale], and PERTH, the [City on the Swan River].
  • two proper names i didn't know crossed: MARA [Liasson of NPR], and ["Never Cry Wolf" author] farley MOWAT. even though CARA, DARA, LARA, SARA, and TARA are all perfectly good first names, i guessed this right, which probably means i did know MOWAT somewhere in the back of my mind.
  • [Mount Doom's location] is MORDOR, sauron's realm in the lord of the rings. i don't think i've ever seen MORDOR in a crossword before, but it's perfectly gettable. how many zillions of solvers have read tolkien and/or devoured the peter jackson films?
  • URANIC is [Pertaining to element #92]. i think uranium is the only heavy element that i actually remember the atomic number of, so this was a nice gimme.
  • COMBOS! they're the snack foods whose varieties include "pizzeria pretzels." i remember munching on these things as a kid, but i probably haven't had a combo since middle school.

that's all for this week. next time it gets easy again.