# MGWCC #87

crossword 23:26
puzzle 1:55
hello, folks. welcome to the 87th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Gimme Your Digits.” this week’s puzzle contains instructions in the two 15-letter answers that are supposed to hint at what we need to send in as this week’s contest answer. what are those two answers?

• WHAT AN ODD PUZZLE. indeed! it’s a crazy-looking grid, no? we rarely see those 2×2 blocks of black squares.
• A QUARTET AREN’T SO. er, right.

so what’s so odd about this puzzle? the big weird-looking blocks are a hint: the puzzle looks odd because it only contains entries of odd length. while this constraint doesn’t exactly require the 2×2 blocks, it’s pretty darn restrictive and the 2×2 blocks are definitely the best way to accommodate this odd constraint. 7 and 7 in a row is fine, and you might think you could get away with 5/3/5 or 5/5/3 or 3/5/5 for the rows with 3 words, but that only works in one direction. having the constraint for both across and down answers really puts you in a bind.

so what’s this about A QUARTET AREN’T SO? well, there are four answers of even length: the ones that include the “notch” in the L-shaped pieces that aren’t quite full 2×2 blocks:

• {Whichever} is ANY OLD.
• {Soporific} means DULL.
• {Tom Petty’s “___ the Losers”}? apparently it’s EVEN. i don’t know this song.
• a {Song} is sometimes called a NUMBER.

so we had to submit as our answer this week ANY OLD DULL EVEN NUMBER. i went with 0, which is definitely even. is it dull? it certainly has some interesting mathematical properties, although you could argue that most of them revolve around dullness. of course, there’s no such thing as a dull number, so maybe this contest has no solution. :) my second choice was 33554432.

what else? well, i thought the crossword was a killer. this took me longer than any puzzle i have solved successfully in 2009. (peter gordon’s fireball #2 and mark diehl’s saturday NYT from last week took me longer, but then, i didn’t solve them successfully.) part of it was the fact that there were two unclued 15s, of course. and part of it was that the strange grid layout led to some fairly unfamiliar answers, including way too many crappy 3-letter abbreviations. but mostly, the cluing was just plain hard:

• in the “people i don’t know” department, we have {“The Power of Now” author Eckhart} TOLLE and {___ Michele of Broadway} LEA. i suppose we could toss {Ima Hogg’s (nonexistent) sister} URA in here, too. i mean, i guessed those letters based on silliness, but i have no idea who or what those people are.
• in the “mystery spanish” department, we have {Spanish 101 verb} SER. i’ve seen this as an abbreviation for SERmon many times, and i admit it’s not my favorite abbreviation, but i think i like this clue even less.
• in the “that geography abbr. clue isn’t very specific” department, we have {Oreg. neighbor} IDAho, {Oreg. neighbor} NEVada (really? i guess so), {Major U.S. city} DETroit, and {African nat.} NAMibia. ugh.
• this one i knew: a {Middle Eastern market} is a SUQ. (i think it’s more north african, but close enough.) thank you, scrabble.
• olio of literature clues: the {Word in the first sentence of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”} is STATELY. “in xanadu did kubla khan / a stately pleasure dome decree, / where alph, the sacred river, ran / in caverns measureless to man / down to a sunless sea.” is that all one sentence? i guess so. anyway, STATELY. i’m glad it wasn’t CAVERNS or SUNLESS. i liked that clue much more than {First name of 1946’s Literature Nobelist}, HERMANN hesse. yuck. i’m not sure why this clue bugged me so much, but it could be related to the fact that i couldn’t piece it together even after i had __R_ANN. i wanted it to be MARYANN, but george eliot a) was long dead and b) never won the nobel prize anyway.
• {CIA quarry} = OBL. osama bin laden, i guess? but as i was remarking to amy, he has a long way to go before reaching adlai e stevenson-levels of monogram fame. the L crossed LA RUE, clued as {The street, to some}. now that’s just mean, on so many levels. yes, it’s french, but foreign words typically don’t get articles attached to them in crosswords, even though there’s greater justification for it than there is in english. just give us old lash of westerns and be done with it.
• the NE corner gave me the most trouble, though. despite having the D in place, i could not come up with DISTAFF, the {Wool spinner’s tool}, for the longest time. the crosses were all incredibly unhelpful. once DISTAFF finally clicked, the corner fell very quickly.
• can anybody explain why {Tags in Toronto} is EHS? i know canadians say “eh,” but the clue is still mysterious. crosscan?
• best answer in the puzzle: {Unchangingly} = DAY IN, DAY OUT. loved this one.

okay, that’s all for me. did this one rough you up, too? at least i survived the month.

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### 21 Responses to MGWCC #87

1. Nick W says:

Could not complete the NE. Never saw the Q as a possibility and couldn’t crack/parse DOATURN or A QUARTET. Wanted FURNISH but it seemed wrong for some reason. There’s always next month.

2. *David* says:

I was embarrassed that this crossword took me a hour to do, now I don’t feel so bad. The meta was much easier only about ten minutes, I chose a very high palindromic even number.

According to Wiki “Eh” is an invariant question tag. That answer took me the longest to accept since it didn’t make much sense. My “outside” help was with STATELY, DISTAFF, LEA, and TSL(Should’ve known that). RIP TORN elicited a chuckle with his Nick Nolte-like behavior last week.

3. Alex says:

The proof about “no dull numbers” only applies to natural numbers, since there needs to be a smallest uninteresting number. So there could theoretically be uninteresting negative even numbers. And in any case … 0 is *not* a dull number.

4. joon says:

that proof, sure. but a similar proof applies to the set of all integers. “if there are dull integers, there must be a dull integer closest to zero (or at least tied).” etc.

5. Faygelah says:

I feel like such a dummy! I actually solved the puzzle in what is for me an OK time,but I couldn’t come up with the meta. I agonized over this thing. I kept thinking the figure in the center meant something, or the squares with odd numbers in them might mean something. My hats off to those who could solve it.

6. Russ says:

I figured out the meta almost instantly, but I took the instructions “This puzzle’s two 15-letter entries will hint at what you need to send in” to mean that I needed to send in the four even-lengthed answers. So I submitted ANYOLD DULL EVEN NUMBER. I wonder how many others read it that way.

7. Scott says:

I submitted 2 as my answer. I guess 2 has some interesting properties though. I guess we will see how strict Matt is on Friday.

8. Meg says:

Well, I parsed the long one as A QUARTET ARE: N T S O (nine, three, seven, one) and since I had ANY ODD (not OLD) I thought the meta was ANY ODD NUMBER and I sent in 9371. Should have seen my mistake at EDO.

9. Jeffrey says:

Epic failure for me, eh?

I guess Eh is meant to be something Canadians say as a “tag” after other statements. Still an odd clue. My first thought was Ontario License Plates but it didn’t fit.

10. Matt Gaffney says:

I didn’t see the Wikipedia article when cluing EHS, and I didn’t know this was a technical term in linguistics, but “tag” appears to be the (or at least a) correct term for such a word at the end of a sentence. I Googled “invariant sentence tag” when I saw *David*’s comment above, and it looks like that clue is OK.

About 25 entries came in with the words ANY OLD DULL EVEN NUMBER as the contest answer. I’m going to count them as correct, though a tad reluctantly (I think the most natural reading is that I was looking for entrants to send in any old dull even number, not those words per se).

Any even number entered is going to be counted as correct, and I’ve learned a lot about the evenness of zero over the past week from solvers.

11. Hugh says:

My take was that Matt was looking for digits (plural); so meta was 48, the only one of the four that had an even-numbered clue.

12. joon says:

matt, i wouldn’t count ANY OLD DULL EVEN NUMBER as a correct answer. what about the title?

13. *David* says:

I’m with Joon, we’ve had MGWCC puzzles like this before and the hint in the puzzle was not considered the answer. I think Matt is in the cornered wombat stance.

14. Matt Gaffney says:

Not feeling too cornered wombat-wise, and Joon makes a good point about the title.

But even a solver who read the title could think that the words ANY OLD DULL EVEN NUMBER themselves were what I was after, so I will go ahead and count that entry as correct this week.

Incidentally, the tortured ANY OLD DULL part was necessary because I couldn’t (to my great surprise) come up with anything better to balance out EVEN NUMBER on the bottom. If anyone can improve on my ANY OLD DULL I’d be greatly interested in hearing about it since I spent a good half-hour deciding on it.

(Note that the last letter of the six-letter word has to also be the first letter of the four-letter one!)

15. Jeffrey says:

For 59-Across African nat. I had CAM (for Cameroon) but I made a note that it could be GAM (for Gambia) or ZAM (for Zambia). None of them made sense to me, and I didn’t even think of NAM.

16. Aaron says:

I still like my crazy answer, which involved finding the only letters to be used four times in the puzzle (B M P Y) and then deciding that this meant you wanted me to send in “MY BP”–that is, my blood pressure. ::shrug:: Of course, this explanation makes things seem a lot “obviouser.”

17. Marcie B says:

Not that we get a vote … but it tooks many weeks for me to realize how the title HAS to be considered when sending in an answer. Just sending in the clues that lead to the answer that the title hints toward just seems wrong.

Although we’re all here to have fun, right?

[As always, many thanks for great times goes toward Matt G.!]

18. BrianGoodBeat says:

My even number was 2010. Of course, it wasn’t a dull number because it has some significance this year, but I assumed any even number would be accepted.

I’m interested in other peoples’ even number choices, so hopefully more will post.

Puzzle took me four hours, with google, but the meta only took me about one minute. Odd numbered word lengths was the first thing I thought of, since I had noticed many 7 and 5 letter words while solving.

For the record, I agree that ANYOLD DULL EVEN NUMBER should not count, because of the title, but Matt has done a good job with these sorts of judgments in the past, so I won’t complain no matter what he decides.

Keep it up, Matt! Thanks! (And thanks to Amy for this great discussion venue)

0 is even? Is 0 a whole number? Is 1 a prime? Such controversy!

19. Jeffrey says:

Okay there’s another Jeffrey now?

Back to Crosscan, I guess.

20. Amy Reynaldo says:

Or the other one could log in as Jeffurry, and you could retain the Jeffrey tag, eh?