MGWCC #081 -- Friday, December 18th, 2009 -- "Film Complex"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 81 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


I've been pretty lousy lately about guessing how many solvers will get a meta. I'd aimed for more than the previous week's 140 solvers to get Week 80, but far fewer actually did -- 88 solvers total -- and about half those 88 figured the meta out without fully grokking the puzzle's gimmick! That's something I didn't realize would be possible when writing the puzzle.

Nudged by the long entry PLAY THE BACK NINE, solvers realized that nine clues in the grid not only yielded their grid entries, but also their grid entries' reversals. So we had:

1-a {Dark feeling} --> DOOM (or MOOD)
5-a {Man's name from the Hebrew} --> ARI (or IRA)
8-a {They go in drawers} --> SPOONS (or SNOOPS -- this entry was solvers' favorite, judging by e-mails)
15-a {___ IS MY CO-PILOT (popular bumper sticker)} --> GOD (or DOG)
17-a {Seaweed is a source of it} -- NORI (or IRON)
23-a {Word on the label of some bottles of alcohol} --> LAGER (or REGAL, as in Chivas Regal)
42-a {1940s Agatha Christie title word} -- LIVE (or EVIL -- referencing her 1946 novel Evil Under the Sun and her 1942 autobiography Come, Tell Me How You Live)
52-a {Former head of Latin lands} --> TUPAC (the line of Incan kings, or CAPUT, the Latin word for "head")
70-a {#1, say} --> SPOT (or TOPS)

Take the first letter of those nine reversed words (emboldened above) and you get last week's contest answer word, MISDIRECT.

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 88 correct entries submitted, is Brett Rose of Chicago, Ill. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Brett will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords (over 300 subscribers!)


Last week's rather intricate theme and meta took me around four hours to work out (that's excluding constructing the grid and cluing). Here's what happened:

I began with the idea that I wanted the theme to have something to do with reversal. October was Hell Month, November somehow became Geography Month, and December was turning into Backwards Month (since abandoned; this week's puzzle doesn't have anything to do with reversals).

I rejected several theme ideas before hitting on the one I wound up using. One of the rejects was having several clues read backwards (such as having a clue for NORWAY read {Country cold} but I couldn't get enough clues' syntax to make sense reading both ways.

Then I got the notion to have certain answers rather than clues read backwards. Was it possible to have clues that led to not only their answers, but also to their answers' reversals? The first one to pop into my head was the bumper stickers GOD IS MY CO-PILOT and the one riffing off it, DOG IS MY CO-PILOT. Were there enough others, I wondered? And hopefully ones more than three letters long, since too many triads seemed a bit simplistic.

Off the top of my head I made a list of well-known reversible pairs such as STRESSED/DESSERTS, NAMETAG/GATEMAN, and REWARD/DRAWER. Then I fleshed these out by scouring online lists of such words ("anadromes" is the technical term for them, I learned from solvers this week).

After an hour of trial and error I had come up with around two dozen decently doubly-cluable word pairs, including seven of the nine I wound up using in the puzzle. The next step was to look for a decent meta.

The obvious and good idea was to have the first or last letter of each word spell something. But what? There had to be some kicker phrase in the grid nudging solvers towards the answer as well. The phrase PLAY THE BACK NINE made it into my head (15 letters, perfect), so a nine-letter meta sounded good. Nine also seemed like a high-but-doable number of reversible entries to conceal in the grid.

I saw some random nine-letter words formed from the letters I had available, but having something random as the answer (such as AMSTERDAM) seemed unsatisfying; better to make it something relevant. After a couple of dead ends MISDIRECT jumped out. That would be fairly perfect, I reasoned: a familiar nine-letter word that describes the theme gimmickry with precision.

One problem: my list of two dozen candidate pairs contained only one word ending in I (ARI from ARI/IRA) and no C at all. But MISDIRECT fit so well that I figured my cruciverbal brain could will I and C pairs into existence without too much trouble.

Well, it turned out to be a lot of trouble -- another hour's worth -- but in the end I found what I felt were two elegant solutions to the problem. I pored over all kinds of lists of words that end in I, then subjected each one to a pair of tests: 1) does the word reverse into something that passes for another word, and, more problematically, 2) can that reversed word and the original both be clued identically?

I gave up on MISDIRECT several times during this process, resigning myself to the fact that there weren't any decent entries fitting these two criteria that ended in I and C. Then, suddenly, on a list of I-ending words of four letters, I saw NORI.

I've stuffed enough sushi into my cakehole over the years to know that the seaweed they wrap rolls in is called NORI, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw its reversal: didn't I read somewhere that seaweed is a good source of IRON? Please, I said to the crossword gods, let it be so.

And so it was. Per wikipedia:

Nori is a source of vitamin A, B, C1, iodine, protein (1/5 of milk <100ml>, 1/5 of an egg), fiber (31.2mg/100g), and carotene. It also contains a great deal of calcium and iron. For example, 100g of yaki-nori has 4.4g of protein, 280mg of calcium, and 11.4mg of iron.


So there was my second I: {Seaweed is a source of it}. Minorly syntactically challenged, I'll grant you, but definitely keepable.

Now, what about that C? Joon Pahk pointed out in comments to his Tuesday blog post that I could have used CUB and BUC (that's short for a Tampa Bay Buccaneer) and clued it as {Player on a 2003 playoff team}. Didn't notice that one at the time, but I sure would've used it if a) I'd seen it and b) I hadn't lucked into the semi-miraculous TUPAC/CAPUT reversal I wound up with.

I'd been focusing on three and four-letter C words, naturally, but having come up empty (and missed BUC/CUB), I was extremely reluctant to throw in the towel on MISDIRECT. So, not expecting much of it, I expanded my search to look at 5-letter words ending in C.

And, after some more dead ends, there was TUPAC -- not the rapper gunned down in Vegas, but the series of Incan kings he named himself after. Three years in the Walt Whitman High School Latin Club taught me that CAPUT is Latin for head.

Could I unearth a workable clue out of those two? A few minutes' worth of massaging led to {Former head of Latin lands} -- which, again, is a little challenged on the syntax, but I took it.

And so a MGWCC theme was born.


This week's contest answer is three letters you're going to start seeing at the movies soon. E-mail it 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.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (1,001 members now -- we hit four digits, baby!) here.

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

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