May 19, 2009


crossword 5:18
meta 0:20

hey, we've been doing this for 50 weeks? i guess so. oh, we're on? we're on. hello, friends, and welcome to the 50th episode spectacular of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "One Down." i found this week's puzzle slightly easier than last, both in terms of the crossword and the meta. but before we get into all that, what was the puzzle about? let's have a look at the theme answers:

  • [Obscene pranks over the phone?] are CRASS CALLS.
  • a [Noise made by actress Field?] in a SALLY SOUND.
  • [What's best for a "Gilligan's Island" character?] is a GINGER GOOD.
  • and [Hair grown by someone switching houses?] is a MOVER'S MANE.

those theme answers, and the contest title, suggest that there is some letter substitution going on. and indeed, it looks like the first letters have been shifted "one down" from existing in-the-language phrases: BRASS BALLS, RALLY ROUND, FINGER FOOD, and LOVER'S LANE. so what's the contest answer? well, let's take a look at the instructions: This week's contest answer phrase is a famous person from American history whose first and last names total seven letters. To figure this person's name out, take two grid entries and reverse the gimmick used in the puzzle's theme. okay then. seven letters, so it's a 3 plus a 4. reversing the gimmick in the theme means shifting the first letters "up" towards the beginning of the alphabet. was there anything in there that looked like it was one letter from being a common name? why yes: here's COB at 18d, which is one letter down from BOB. but there's no CARR in the grid, and anyway, BOB BARR isn't really from american "history." so that's a dead end.

oh, but lookie here at 22d: [1998 Chemistry Nobelist Walter] KOHN? really? yes, really. that's gotta be JOHN. looking around for a 3-letter K entry, we have 53d: [Mary] KAY. there we go: JOHN JAY was a co-author of the federalist paper and the first united states chief justice, and he's the answer to the puzzle. it's a good thing i correctly guessed the K at the intersection of KOHN and [Rumored Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena] KAGAN, because otherwise i would have had to solve the meta first in order to complete the grid.

so, other than this guy KOHN whom i've never heard of, what else was in this grid that gave me trouble?

  • [Germany's ___ Gap] is FULDA. hey, you there, reading this. what does this mean?
  • [Columbia University's ___ Arledge Auditorium] is ROONE. yikes. this crossed two not-quite-easy answers, [AL home run leader, 1981 and 1984] tony ARMAS (senior) and ["___ bin ich?" (existential question for Germans)], or WER, which means "who am i?" the E was another square i guessed right on.
  • [Sarbanes-___ (controversial 2002 legislation)]? no idea—all crosses. apparently, it's OXLEY.
  • ["A Mighty Wind"] actress is somebody named O'HARA. (can you tell i'm feeling too lazy to do any research this week? no? oh good, that means i've concealed my ignorance well.) i've actually seen that movie, surprisingly, but could not name any of the actresses other than parker POSEY, who was in a different puzzle last week. her fellow baltimorean edgar allan POE is here, though.

despite all that, this was a relatively easy solve. lots of things i liked: PEACE OUT, DEJA VU, HERSTORY, yummy SKOR, and GO ON TOUR, which looks a lot like GOON TOUR in the grid. a couple of chess clues: [Chess grandmaster Bondarevsky or Novikov] is IGOR, and [Rook's inferior, usually] is a KNIGHT. (that's a clever turnaround of a clue from last week, but really, how often do you see KNIGHT in a crossword, with its five consonants including a K?)

there was other good stuff, but there isn't enough room in this margin for me to transcribe my wonderful proof of it, so you'll have to remind me about it in the comment box. see you next week!