MGWCC #036 -- Friday, February 6, 2009 -- "Get Back Online"

Ahoy, Fellow Cruciverbalists! Welcome to Week 36 of my crossword contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


Much heated controversy over the past seven days here at MGWCC! Last week's meta-puzzle was lauded by some solvers yet loathed by others, and both sides let me hear about it. When the dust finally settled, just 33 entrants had correctly deduced the contest answer words.

The contest instructions told solvers they'd be looking for three famous people: an 11-letter person, revealed in the grid to be an EX-NHL ALL-STAR; a 12-letter person, revealed in the grid to be a COUNTRY SINGER; and a 13-letter person, revealed in the grid to be an AGED HISTORIAN. The fourth theme entry uncorked the kicker: taken together, these three people's names are PANGRAMMATIC.

First the facts, then the controversy: this alphabet-spanning trio, and last week's contest answer words, are FELIX POTVIN, DWIGHT YOAKAM and JACQUES BARZUN. Solution grid at top left.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 33 correct entries received, is Margaret Dorer of St. Paul, Minn. Margaret has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.

Now, the controversy: there's a fine line between pleasure and pain, and this puzzle appears to have cut that line mighty close. Some solvers found the meta to be a very tough but ultimately fair and, when finally cracked, almost exhilarating challenge. Others thought it a lame exercise in Wikipedia list-combing that was perilously close to being unfair, since none of the three contest answer people is really a household name.

Let's look at the love first. Steve Fineman writes:

Wow. AMAZING meta-puzzle.

My process, if you're curious...

Crossword - no googling, though I was tempted many times. I made an educated guess on Ximenes and two of its crossings, then googled to confirm but I had all the theme entries so I could have said no Google and it wouldn't have affected the meta.

Solving the meta:
Started with the historians because I don't know the names of any. Oh look, a wikipedia entry named "List of historians" or something like that. Ok, search for "z" (or maybe it was "q"). Jacques Barzun, born 1907, yeah it's gotta be him.

Made a list of the alphabet, crossed out letters.

No easy list of hockey all-stars. There is a wikipedia list of all NHL players, but it's a separate file for each letter. Lots of clicking, see if I can avoid it.

Need an x. Mario Lemieux? Too many common letters. Went through a few other names, looked up a couple of the lists maybe there's a good Hungarian or Slavic name with lots of consonants. Nothing works well. Look at the list of letters I need. op t v... Wasn't there a player named Potvin? Dennis Potvin? Google... yeah, Denis Potvin!

No that's not so good, I still need too many letters in the country singer. Man this is hard. There's a wikipedia list of US country singers over 5 pages or so, so I went through that looking for the x I needed. Nothing good. Boxcar Willie has 12 letters but that would make the hockey player harder. Drat. Maybe my hockey player was wrong. Is there another Potvin? Google "Potvin hockey" and get pages about FELIX Potvin! Yeah, I didn't really follow hockey after high school but the name rang a bell, now I've got the f,l,x I needed and only 7 required letters out of the 12 in the country singer's name. Gotta be Felix.

That was Friday night, which I had budgeted for not doing work - Sat and Sun were (supposed to be) devoted to finishing my grades before Monday's deadline. I spent a good chunk of time hogging the laptop from my fiancee, or grabbing it whenever she wasn't looking... but I couldn't get the singer. Too many choices. I don't know enough.

Tried narrowing it down by first names. Mickey, Mike, Mary, Mandy. Nothing. Fell asleep on the couch. Game over, Gaffney wins this week. Drat. But I left the notepad window open...

So here it is today, I'm grading papers, need to look something up in Excel, borrow the computer and see the notepad window. Fiancee is talking about the registry, I'm half listening (more like 3/4) but I see the list of letters and decide to try other combinations. Wendy? Hank? No luck. The d g w are hard to find in a last name. Wait, d,g,h,w -- Dwight? I KNOW THAT, IT'S DWIGHT YOAKUM!!! Wait, is he a country singer? I just know the name. Google fixes my spelling and tells me I'm right.

I am on top of the world right now!!

Great job. WOW.


And now a little taste of the loathing, from a solver who wishes to remain anonymous:

Hi Matt,

I'm a big fan of your puzzles, and look forward to them every week. That said, I think you've crossed the line, in a way. Solving a difficult crossword is one thing. Requiring hours and hours of research to match the theme answers to names that have nothing to do with the crossword is totally another.

For instance, this hockey player/ country singer/ historian thing, where the combined names have to be pangrammatic--come on, already! I spent hours trying to find a Z, or an X, or a QU, and with the hockey players alone, I found the following [11-letter] possibles:










And then I said, fuck this, what the hell am I doing?? When you don't narrow it down any more than, say, an ex nhl allstar (how recently ex, and how well-known?) or country singer (what sex, what era?) or aged historian (what!? how aged?---dead or alive? Back to early times, or contemporary?), I'm done. Life's too short.

When I see the answers, I'm sure I'll slap my forehead with a loud "duh." But I got research aplenty of my own to do, and this is just too much extra-credit work to demand of a casual solver. There's only so much fun to be had in research, even for those of us who like it.

This frustration on the part of some solvers wasn't helped by the fact (unbeknownst to me when I devised the meta) that this wikipedia page of NHL All-Stars doesn't include FELIX POTVIN; apparently there are two ways the term "NHL All-Star" can be properly used. FELIX POTVIN is found on this wikipedia list, though.

Judging by e-mails and comments, many solvers scoured the first wikipedia list for an NHL All-Star that fit the bill and, since the correct answer's name wasn't on there, the search unfortunately turned frustrating. I wish this had not been the case, since a better wikipedia list (or less ambiguity in the term "NHL All-Star," an ambiguity I wasn't aware of) would have allowed more solvers to finish the meta (and lessened the frustration factor of the hunt).

For more on this puzzle, including a full explanation in comments of the "NHL All-Star" ambiguity, please see Joon Pahk's write-up here:


A prize was also offered for anyone who was able to solve the meta-puzzle without using Google (or, by implication, any other reference source). All 33 correct entrants used Google (or something else), however, leaving that prize unclaimed.

The great Nancy Schuster was one of them:

Of course I googled! And I Wikied, and I Almanaced, and I even dragged out my Scrabble tiles so I wouldn't have to erase 6 million times.


While sending in his correct answer, first-time MGWCC entrant Jon Natchez writes:

Howdy...I just discovered [your website] this week and it's kind of a crazy coincidence that my ultra-rare last name happens to be fill in your puzzle...[at 8-across]


Matt Kelly writes:

I'd like to point out that you missed an opportunity to coin a new word. Partway through the solve of the grid, I had -A----MMAT-- for the fourth theme entry, and came to the conclusion that it was going to be (something) ROOMMATES. So I filled in the 'ES' at the end. I didn't solve the lower right corner completely until the very end, so for quite a while, I had PANGRAMMATES.

And so I propose:

PANGRAMMATES (noun): A set of two or more people whose first and last
names, taken as a group, are pangrammatic. Note that pangrammates of order
four and higher are much less interesting than binary or trinary groups.

And the related word:

PANGRAMMATRIMONY(noun): The act of marrying one's pangrammate.

Binary pangrammates are probably very rare. Pangrammatrimony is probably
exceptionally rare. The search for such an occurrence would probably best
be conducted in Poland.


While themestorming I began to wonder how few famous people's names you'd need to use every letter of the alphabet. At first I thought it'd be four, but a few minutes' worth of trial and error convinced me three would be the lower limit, and even that would be very tough (I agree with Matt Kelly that we probably won't see unholy pangrammatrimony anytime soon, unless we delve into even less holy polypangrammatrimony).

The first name I tried was JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, which knocks out half the alphabet, including the J and Q. The statesman pairs nicely with "Son of Sam" killer DAVID BERKOWITZ, who knocks out eight of the remaining thirteen. That left only FGLPX, but I couldn't convert on that final quintet of letters.

After a few minutes' more brainstorming JACQUES BARZUN popped into my head. He seems great at first, ticking off three of the four high-value letters, but he's weak on the 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-point Scrabble tiles, taking care of only the B and C from this group. I stared at D F G H I K L M O P T V W X Y for a minute and was ready to give up -- too many of those 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-pointers -- when the high-value consonant-laden DWIGHT YOAKAM jumped off the page. Look at that -- three little syllables, but there go the D, G, H, K, M, W and Y, among others. That left only FLPVX, with which a certain goaltender helped to finish off the alphabet.

If anyone can beat my 36 letters I'd be very interested to hear about it. A MGWCC pen/pencil notepad set to whoever goes lowest! (in case of a tie, person with the better set of names wins; if two people submit the same set, whoever sends it in first gets the prize).


We here at MGWCC Headquarters seek to provide you with quality prizes -- but now we're going for quantity prizes, too. Beginning today, entrants who correctly submit all contest answer words in a calendar month's puzzles will be eligible to win one of 10 MGWCC-emblazoned pen, pencil and notepad sets. Those ten winners will be randomly selected from all entrants who don't trip up all month, so try not to miss a week.

Can't show you a picture of the pen/pencil/notepad sets yet because I just ordered them, but believe me -- you'll want to be the first person in your zip code to have one (note: weekly book prizes continue unaffected).


Simple instructions to start the month off: answer the riddle in the grid and e-mail this week's contest answer word to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer word in the subject line of your e-mail. [UPDATE, 4:40 AM: I just noticed that the clue for 49-down should read {Golfer Lorena} instead of {Golfer Lauren}. D'oh!]

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite, join the Google Group here:


Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

1 comment:

treedweller said...

For no good reason, I was sure the hockey player would be JAROMIR JAGR. Then I found a wiki list of country singers and, among the scrabbly names I extracted was Dwight Yoakam, which seemed very promising. But then I thought, how in the hell am I going to find a list of aged historians? and decided to make my first attempt here an early-month one. I'm really glad, because I think it would have been very hard to let go of Jagr.

It was a fun exercise, anyway. I'm looking forward to this week's puzzle.