May 12, 2009


crossword 5:40
puzzle 4:16

good evening, friends. the 49th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest. this week's puzzle, like puzzle #21, asks us to find the title hidden in the grid. what are the theme answers?

  • the [Nobel Prize winner in Physics for co-discovering radioactivity] is HENRI BECQUEREL. this was a gimme for me (once i ruled out madame curie), but how was it for the rest of you?
  • ["Desdemona" or "Annabelle," but not "Wolfgang"] clues BEAUTIFUL NAME. this phrase feels more than a little iffy as far as crossworthiness. also, i think wolfgang is a beautiful name. i really do. no, honestly. it's true! seriously. i mean it. (... okay, no i don't. but it's cool anyway.)
  • [Section of Columbus, O. named for its early immigrants] is GERMAN VILLAGE. what is it with the columbus geography?
  • finally, [Identification over store checkout lane] is a REGISTER NUMBER.

what do these answers have in common? the first thing to check in cases like this is hidden thematic material across the word breaks, and that's what we've got here. a RIB, ULNA, ANVIL, and STERNUM are hiding out in HENRI BECQUEREL, BEAUTIFUL NAME, GERMAN VILLAGE, and REGISTER NUMBER. those are all bones. the ANVIL is also called the incus, and it's in your ear. the STERNUM (you guys know this, right?) is the breastbone.

so what's the metapuzzle answer? well, the instructions tell us that This week's contest answer consists of two entries in the puzzle grid which total eleven letters. Together, they form a phrase which is a perfect title for this week's puzzle. looking around, we have BONES at 9a, clued as [Dice, in slang]. what 6-letter entry goes with it? ah, here it is at 41a: [Kaput], or BROKEN. BROKEN BONES is the answer to the contest and the title of this week's puzzle. it was also the title of ben tausig's puzzle from a couple of weeks ago, with a similar-but-not-quite-the-same theme: bones that were hidden sequentially but non-consecutively in long theme answers. ben's ULNA, for instance, was in the chekhov play UNCLE VANYA.

i found this puzzle surprisingly difficult for the second week of the month. (i shudder to think what it's going to be like the fourth, or even fifth, week of may!) despite knowing HENRI BECQUEREL, the upper left corner stymied me for quite some time:

  • [Corrupt finish] is the suffix -IBLE. i knew it was a suffix, but i couldn't figure out what it was going to be in four letters. i kept wanting -TION, which doesn't work because what the heck is corrupttion?
  • [ (popular quiz website)] clues TRIV. no clue, although in hindsight it makes sense.
  • [They focus on celebrities] clues CAMERAMEN. sure, but this was awfully tough to see when i had ___ERAMES. obviously putting in the S was premature, but i didn't get any help from the crossing: TEN-Q, clued as [Appreciation, cutesy-style]. never seen that, although again it makes sense in hindsight. TESQ didn't look right, but i knew the answer didn't actually have to make any sense.
  • a [Desire, in metaphor], is an ITCH. i was thinking more specific (and anthropomorphic), but neither EROS nor AMOR worked with the H of HENRI.
  • [Describe] is LIMN. a weird word, but one i would have gotten if i had one or two more crossings.
  • the word that finally broke the corner for me was [Scottish slope], or BRAE. i'm not sure why i couldn't pull this out of my memory for so long.

and why did the metapuzzle take me so long? literally the first thing i noticed when trying to work out the theme was the RIB in HENRI BECQUEREL, but then for some reason when i looked at the other word breaks i didn't see ULNA... or ANVIL... or STERNUM! 1 for 4, ouch. so i dismissed the idea and started looking for other things. it took me a while to come back to it.

let's see, what else was in the grid?

  • i didn't like the answer HEADS UP TO, clued as [Starts for, as bed]. that looks an awful lot like a 9-letter partial to me. plus, it duplicates the UP from UP UP, which was clued as a partial: [Words before "and away"].
  • other answers i wasn't thrilled with: the awkward plural RAGUS (or [Meat sauces]); the abbreviation INV, clued as [Stock: Abbr.] (i guess... INVentory?); the weird not-quite-a-phrase IS ABOUT, clued as [Deals with]; the aforementioned TRIV, -IBLE, and TEN-Q; and the madison avenue partial FON, clued as [Telecom, in some product names]. whew, that's a lot. does it sound like i'm complaining? i guess i am, but all that stuff really did make the puzzle a little bit less fun than matt's usual offering.
  • i did like lots of the answers, too. OBERON, the king of the fairies in a midsummer night's dream, is clued as [Puck's boss]. this intersected the "wolfgang" clue but it's not about a restaurant owner.
  • CINQ, french for five, is clued as [Quimper quintet]. apparently quimper is an arrondissement (roughly speaking, "district") of the finistère départment of france. did everybody else know that? will nediger, how legit is this?
  • another tricky clue of that sort is [Reading ruined], which appears to make no surface sense. but if you think of reading as the city in england (which you should, just as you should immediately think france when you see "nice" at the beginning of a clue), then the anglicised spelling SPOILT makes sense.
  • chess clue of the week: [Knight's superior, usually] is a ROOK.
  • i'm pretty sure there's a mistake in the clue for VENAL: [Like some sins]. VENAL means susceptible to bribery, and is used to describe corrupt people or organizations, not sins. VENIAL is an adjective for sins that means relatively minor. this is a pretty common mix-up, but it's a pretty venial one so i won't dock matt any points for it.

that's all for me this week. see you next time.