MGWCC #421

crossword 4:19 
meta 1 day 


mgwcc421hello and welcome to episode #421 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Calendar Method”, by guest constructor chris king, an indie constructor who is no stranger to metas. for this week 4 puzzle of guest constructor month, chris challenges us to name a festive group. what’s the theme? well, it’s an unusual grid, with no long answers. there are only 7s and shorter, and there are many, many 7s. in fact, 7 of those 7s get starred clues:

  • {*College student’s worry} MIDTERM.
  • {*Makes happen [Note: use this clue’s answer after the other one]} INDUCES.
  • {*Chocolate company known for ovoid products} CADBURY.
  • {*___ Mountain (Vancouver ski resort)} CYPRESS.
  • {*”Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” poet} T.S. ELIOT.
  • {*Field gathering} HARVEST.
  • {*Avenue home to Don Draper’s company [Note: use this clue’s answer before the other one]} MADISON.

all the 7s, plus the title, definitely had me thinking about days of the week, but i couldn’t get anything to click, and i certainly didn’t know what to make of “use this before the other one” and “use this after the other one”. eventually i had to put it aside and come back to it the next day, which is when i noticed that the seven starred answers are almost symmetric in the grid. the one exception is that 1-across, MIDTERM, is symmetric with the unstarred HOLIDAY. could that be a hint? it’s certainly related to the title.

well, yes, it was a hint. each of the seven answers is (or can be) closely related to a holiday observance in the u.s.:

  • MIDTERM elections are held on election day, a tuesday in november.
  • INDUCES is often followed by labor; labor day is a monday in september.
  • CADBURY makes easter eggs. (easter is a sunday.)
  • CYPRESS is… a kind of tree. arbor day is a holiday.
  • T.S. ELIOT is a poet. this one took me the longest, because there are various wrong paths (national poetry day and the like), and in fact i eventually had to backsolve it. but when i did so, i had a headslap moment, because i know full well that one of eliot’s most famous poems is “ash wednesday”.
  • the HARVEST is associated with thanksgiving, a thursday in november for you non-u.s. solvers.
  • MADISON is a president, and presidents day is a monday in february.

the next step was still tricky for me. i tried ordering these in various ways, but the key realization was that these are holidays that are not associated with fixed dates (like christmas or independence day); rather, they are always observed on the same day of the week. (indeed, until solving this meta i had no idea that arbor day was observed on a friday.) the day of the week picks out a particular letter from each seven-letter answer using the standard SMTWTFS ordering. furthermore, rather than ordering by when in the year the holiday occurs (arbor day is, in fact, always after easter sunday—or at least western christian easter; orthodox easter can and often does fall after arbor day), we’re ordering by day of the week. hence the two parenthetical notes to disambiguate the order of the two monday holidays. putting it all together:

  • CADBURY (sun)
  • MADISON (mon)
  • INDUCES (mon)
  • MIDTERM (tue)
  • T.S. ELIOT (wed)
  • HARVEST (thu)
  • CYPRESS (fri)

this spells out CANDLES, which are indeed festive and associated with (some) holidays, so that’s the answer.

well, i liked this meta quite a lot. it was a very intricate and contained multiple highly satisfying clicks. very elegant stuff. i wish there had been a way to use each day once instead of monday twice and no saturday, but i don’t know of a way to do that because there aren’t really saturday holidays. anyway, the actual meta will more than do; great stuff. i thought it was a lot easier than jeff’s week 3, but based on the leaderboard, that may just be me. this is certainly hard enough for a week 4.

i don’t have a lot to say about the grid. it’s very nearly 4-way symmetric, but not quite. the fill was mostly fine, just not terribly exciting, but that’s pretty understandable with no long entries and 8 symmetrically placed 7s taking up prime real estate all over the grid.

how’d this one treat you? did you enjoy guest constructor month as much as i did?

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42 Responses to MGWCC #421

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Oh man, I was so close. I saw five out of the seven holiday connections, but never figured out Arbor Day or Ash Wednesday. I didn’t think to google T.S. Eliot’s poems until this morning, and when I did, “Ash Wednesday” didn’t show up on the lists of poems I scrolled through. I trusted my own memory of his poems too well, and if I hadn’t been falsely confident that I knew all the famous ones, maybe I’d have gotten this.

    I’ll be kicking myself over this one for a while. Especially because I saw that MIDTERM = ELECTION, INDUCES = LABOR, etc., in about my first ten minutes of working on the meta, and yet somehow couldn’t complete the set in several more days of pondering.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    How’d this one treat me? Glad you asked, Joon. It was a thorough treat, and full of tricks. CHRIS-tmas! It was a real skyrocket of a meta. I’d guess only the VETERANS of Matt’s contest got it. Others must be muttering MOTHER___! Personally, I was stymied for a long time by MADISON, which I interpreted as Constitution Day, a Friday, with which he’s closely associated, not President’s Day, which replaced Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. But with all of the constraints, I certainly see why Chris needed to do it this way. I also liked how HOLIDAY in a theme position but not starred gave an entry to the meta. Great job – 4.5 XMAS stars from me. Aw, what the hey, you can’t have half a star atop the tree, let’s make it 5 stars and an angel.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon and Chris — 116 right answers for this one.

    I liked the several separate “aha” moments you need to have to solve this one, each just tough enough to be fun but fully logical as well.

  4. Jim Schooler says:

    I thought of days of the week at first, and then started associating holidays with the starred clues fill, and thought that maybe they referred to 8 major holidays (MIDTERM: Independence Day, midyear; INDUCES: Labor Day; CADBURY: Easter; CYPRESS: evergreen, Christmas; HARVEST: Thanksgiving; MADISON: Presidents’ Day; T.S. ELIOT: ?). With only 7 theme answers, I thought the meta answer would be the missing holiday and sent in “New Year’s Day Revelers.” Had I looked up T.S. Eliot I probably would have seen “Ash Wednesday” and would have been drawn back to the days of the week, but maybe not. GREAT PUZZLE! Thanks Chris!

  5. Huh. I did not know Arbor Day always falls on a Friday or that Presidents’ Day always falls on a Monday. I probably got a day off from school for Presidents’ Day way back when, but I don’t remember; just off my radar for all these years. This holiday list got me thinking the meta just referred to which days of the week those holidays will have occurred for 2016 only. That’s why I wasn’t sure if MADISON should be associated with Presidents’ Day or Independence Day, since the 4th of July will be a Monday this year.

    Oh well. I figured it out anyway and guessed that the meta was pointing to the Presidents’ Day connection. Well done, Chris.

  6. David Glasser says:

    I thought it was easier than week 3, but this is my third straight month of solving all but the penultimate puzzle, so maybe I’m skewed.

  7. David says:

    “Ash-Wednesday” was the first holiday to click for me, but I’m a fan of T.S. Eliot.

    My biggest problem with the meta was that, given the number of steps one had to go through to get to CANDLES, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was one more step required to turn CANDLES into some other festive group – perhaps one that was more obviously a “group” (instead of simply a plural) or one associated with a holiday that falls on Saturday (the missing day). In the end, I couldn’t find anywhere to go beyond CANDLES, so I stuck with it as my answer, but I didn’t get that “when you solve the meta, you’ll know” feeling.

  8. pgw says:

    Interesting that joon ultimately backsolved the TS Eliot – Ash Wednesday connection. Having no knowledge of TS Eliot’s work other than The Waste Land, I googled him. Seeing that he wrote a poem called Ash Wednesday was for me the key to unlocking the meta.

    I had the same wish that each day of the week could have been featured, and I did find a Saturday holiday called Sweetest Day, a ridiculous invention of some sort of cabal of Cleveland confectioners. Chris was wise to avoid trying to shoehorn in that obscure holiday.

    I also wondered whether there were any gripes about the fact that Election Day is only a holiday in certain states (not including mine).

    I also found this easier than Week 3 – I got this one in about an hour and anguished over Week 3 all weekend without ever solving.

    • Evad says:

      T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is also famous for the line “April is the cruelest month…” so I first thought these holidays would all be in April (Easter is generally then, but the others were clearly in other months). I did recall his poem “Ash Wednesday” when I started to see the holidays settle into specific days of the week.

  9. CC says:

    Argh! I actually saw CANDLES but didn’t connect it to the clue. Should have just submitted it anyway.

    • Abide says:

      Part of my scratch-notes included types of holidays, such as busman, roman, etc. With 4th of July coming up I wrote “roman candles/roman holiday”.

  10. Thomas Brendel says:

    I thought about days of the week. I even thought about taking one letter from each answer based on SMTWTFS. But I tried to brute-force it with a RegEx dictionary search, and the fact that there are two Mondays and no Saturday stymied me completely.

    • David Glasser says:

      For me it was the other way around. I saw the holiday connection after filling in two or three theme clues (at which point I skipped directly to the revealer to see if it could be HOLIDAY) but spent a while thinking “so is the answer ‘federal holidays’ or something”? I almost submitted something along those lines, but the extra clauses in the two Mondays made me realize it had to actually involve an ordering of something from each theme clue.

  11. tabstop says:

    Saw the seven letter words and thought of calendars, but couldn’t finalize the deal. This week’s fun red herring: if you take the answers in clue order (i.e. acrosses then downs), and then move the one answer so it’s after the other as directed, the diagonal gives you MAPLE O’S, which definitely sounds like it should be some sort of Canadian breakfast cereal (but apparently isn’t).

  12. wobbith says:

    Oh, head-desk!
    Found all the holidays, put them in the correct order, and got nothing when I picked letters in SMTWTF order out of the *holidays*, but somehow failed to apply the same method to the answers. D’oh, d’oh, d’oh.

    Edit to add: Awesome meta, Chris!

  13. Joe says:

    Like others, I got the holiday connection with the answers pretty quick. My problem was trying to stick to the well known federal holidays. I therefore associated Cypress (an evergreen tree) with Christmas, and Madison wrote the Declaration of Independence so naturally I went with the 4th of July for that entry. And since I was going with federal holidays, I already had Easter from Cadbury so even though I saw TS Eliot’s Ash Wednesday I ruled it out since it’s not really a holiday in the sense that the rest are.

    Without connecting those to the correct holidays, I still tried to order the holidays on a calendar somehow, and thought that using one answer before the other just related to Labor Day being the first Monday and July 4th being early in the month. Didn’t fully commit to the days of the week ordering since I was positive that Cypress and Madison tied to Christmas and Independence Day.

    Side note – if you Google “calendar method” it is all about ovulation cycles with menstruation and getting pregnant or avoiding it. I briefly went down that path for the meta until seeing the symmetric unstarred Holiday in the grid. Anyone else? Just me?

    • coreen says:

      Me, too, Joe! Although I saw the “annual occurrence” holiday thing immediately and knew it had to be connected. I did try to work the “calendar method” – especially seeing words like induces ( labor?) and cadbury (egg?) even midterm (pregnancy?) with ovulation cycles but couldn’t figure out what to count 18 backwards from or how to fit in the other starred clues. LOL.

      • TNGal says:

        Yes, and Goose (egg) and Donor (egg). I also went down the Garden rabbit hole (Madison Square Garden, Cypress Gardens, and Garden Harvest.

    • Lance says:

      And indeed, if Madison had written the Declaration of Independence as opposed to the Constitution/Bill of Rights, the Fourth of July would have been a perfect connection for him. :-)

  14. Magoo says:

    Here’s a good red herring: if you ‘key’ on the seven starred answers in clue order, using their clue numbers, mod 7, they spell out MIRRORS. Too long, suggestive (and perfect) to be coincidental, I decided, but I never worked out how the ‘necessary reflections’ worked.

  15. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I got that it was holidays that are day-of-week-based, and got all of the holidays, but was stuck on ordering them by where they are in the year, and the fact that Ash Wednesday is sometimes before President’s Day and sometimes after made me think that was what the brackets were about. Never noticed that the two with brackets were the two on Mondays.

    While trying to find a holiday that could be before or after Labor Day, I got the idea that CADBURY (being British) could somehow clue the British “Summer Bank Holiday” (except that’s always before US Labor Day), which would make the calendar-ordered day-of-week-indexed letters spell ALSANDE, which is a word for black-eyed peas, and The Black Eyed-Peas are a group. But I wouldn’t call them festive, exactly, and the whole thing is also completely nuts.

    Should have tried an anagram and backsolved from the correct order. Spent far too long staring at ALSCNDE and trying to fix it by changing a holiday or two.

  16. Karen says:

    Okay I’m going to plead my case for an alternate answer. After four days of wrestling with this one, I finally got the right holidays, the right order, and the word CANDLES from them. But a group of seven candles which are associated with a holiday is a MENORAH, so that was my answer. There were so many 7s around, and to me just “candles” isn’t festive, so I took an extra step. I was so proud of myself for getting it, and so disappointed when I didn’t show up on the leaderboard. Did anyone else consider this answer, and if so, how did you decide against it? Even if it doesn’t count, I still got to enjoy the “aha” moment :)

    • I’m not on Matt’s panel for deciding alternate answers, but I’d say MENORAH has a couple of things going against it: 1) the instructions asked for a festive group, and a single menorah doesn’t strike me as a group; b) menorahs typically have nine candles, so it’s a little odd that we’d be dealing with seven-letter starred answers that spell out the seven-letter CANDLES, and then make the jump to an object with nine candles in it.

      Having said that, you might still be able to get credit since you saw CANDLES and rejected it because it didn’t click for you; plus a menorah is undoubtedly associated with candles in general. And at least a few people have mentioned thinking there might be another step after getting CANDLES. So I dunno.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        I like your thinking, Karen. You got the whole meta, plus you made an extra leap of reasoning, so I’d be inclined to vote in your favor. And for those who wanted there to be a Saturday connection, that’s the Jewish Sabbath.

      • Lance says:

        Properly speaking, a hanukiah has nine candles; a menorah has seven. Of course, the menorah isn’t as closely associated to a particular holiday. But it is seven candles, and seven letters, so I think it’s a perfectly sensible attempt to make sense of CANDLES.

      • Karen says:

        Wow, now I feel stupid. I was convinced that the Hanukkah menorah had seven candles, having done a quick search on the word “menorah” but not following up carefully. Since they actually have nine, my answer is clearly inferior. Thanks for your reply, Evan, I appreciate knowing where I went wrong! :)

    • pgw says:

      I briefly considered that; decided against it because the only menorah I’m familiar with, the hanukkah menorah (which is associated with a holiday) has nine candles (eight if you don’t count the shamash.) I abandoned this line of thinking before discovering the existence of the seven-branch temple menorah.

      The nitpicky objections to accepting your alternate answer would be (1) the temple menorah, being traditionally lit daily, is not particularly festive; and (2) a menorah is a single object, not a group. But it’s clear you understood the entire meta, so I can see giving it to you.

      • Abide says:

        I think this answer could be valid (Seven candles for each day of the week, representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa):

        “The kinara is also, like the menorah, a seven candleholder which is associated with the African American festival of Kwanzaa. One candle is lit on each day of the week-long celebration, in a similar manner as the Hanukiah (which was modeled after the menorah) during Hanukkah.”

  17. David Stein says:

    This one took me a while. I didn’t get it until this morning. I was focused on the other 21 seven letter words for a total of 28 which might make the whole calander! Once I got it, I was flummoxed by CANDLES not really fitting the question. They’re not always festive, are they?

  18. - kip - says:

    Wow, I thought so sure I’d solved it too, but ……no. Like some of the others, I associated Cypress with a Christmas tree. And, I didn’t know about TS Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday,” but associate him with postwar modernism so thought either Memorial Day or Veterans Day (both Monday holidays) would suit that clue. If you take the clues top of the grid to bottom (but obey the parenthetical instructions) you get DANCERS.

    mi D term (election day – Tuesday)
    m A dison (president’s day –Monday – moved before the other parenthetical clue)
    i N duces (labor day – Monday – moved after the other parenthetical clue)
    C adbury (easter – Sunday)
    harv E st (thanksgiving – Thursday)
    cyp R ess (christmas – can be any day of the week)
    t S eliot (veterans/memorial day – Monday)

    Any chance that might be considered as an acceptable alternate answer?

    Any other DANCERS out there?

  19. Lance says:

    For the record, I personally thought this meta fell just a little short of elegant. I didn’t like the two-Mondays, no-Saturdays aspect (and yes, all right, there aren’t exactly a lot of Saturday holidays, but it still felt strained). I also didn’t like that the first two answers very clearly had the format “word that appears before a word that appears before DAY” (MIDTERM ELECTION –> ELECTION DAY, INDUCES LABOR –> LABOR DAY), and then none of the other connections worked that way. In fact, I thought the Cadbury/Easter connection wasn’t all that strong, and I didn’t like Madison/Presidents Day at all, insofar as the US holiday in question is “Washington’s Birthday” and, pedantically speaking, there is no “Presidents Day”.

    But I’m inclined to nitpick. Your mileage may well vary.

    • pgw says:

      If you don’t think the Cadbury/Easter connection is strong I just don’t know what to say to you. I know Cadbury makes a bunch of forgettable chocolate confections for all seasons, but their signature product and ad campaign are entirely Easter-focused. For many sugar-addicted children (which is to say, many children), the Cadbury creme egg is the entire reason Easter even exists.

      Elegance is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but I for one was pretty impressed by this construction. Finding seven-letter words that related to seven different fixed-day holidays and had the right letters in the right places to spell out something else loosely thematic couldn’t have been a simple task.

  20. Chris says:

    I’d like to give a big congratulations to those of you who were able to crack the meta, commiserations to those who were close, my thanks to Matt who let me have this fantastic opportunity, and of course joon for providing the write up!

    And just as I normally do over at New Grids on the Block, a few notes by me:
    -There are no Saturday holidays. Of course I would have loved to have a meta where I got the sequence SMTWTFS, but there aren’t any. People have holidays so that you get a day off from work. Why put a holiday on Saturday if you can’t do that?
    -I am super pleased in how the grid came out. I had to put some cheaters in, but when you have eight seed entries, I figured that was fine. The great Sam Ezersky has written “One thing I’ve always admired about Chris’s style is that there’s never anything TOO crazy in his grids, yet the indie vibe is still present”, which after last week’s puzzle, I’m certainly glad we have entries like DVDCASE, MONDALE, MOBILE, WANNABE, and CATSEYE.
    -That’s Matt’s title. The original was “A Cause For Celebration”, but I got a big kick out of the new one, and it probably made the puzzle as a whole a little easier, which I didn’t know would be about the same as last week.
    -My award-winning puzzle “That’s the Power of Love” was a tribute puzzle that just happened to have a meta in it. I like to think that “The Calendar Method” was a themeless that just happened to have a meta in it. Even if you never got the meta, I hope you enjoyed a 72-worder with 28 7-letter words!
    -I plan to have a nice writeup over at Chris Words on Sunday about some of my methods and processes, including the original version of the puzzle, my fun for looking up Saturday holidays, and how CRUCIFY isn’t good for this puzzle for several reasons.

    Thanks to everyone who solved, and if you’ve never solved one of my puzzle’s before this weekend, I do hope you join me at It’s fun, so I’m told.

    Have a great week leading up to the nonmoving 4th!


    • CC says:

      Thanks for the great puzzle!

    • jps says:

      You have two Easter related entries yet never thought of Holy Saturday?

      I was thrown off by the bracketed notes. I knew they must share something that the other entries didn’t. Did they belong to the two days starting with S or the two days starting with T? No, I never would have thought they represented the two Mondays in a week.

      • Abide says:

        When you come up with that seven-letter entry for Holy Saturday, get back to me.

        • jps says:

          Quoting Chris: “There are no Saturday holidays.”

          Don’t get bent out of shape that I’ve pointed out one.

          “sabbath” is a seven-letter word, though there’s an “h” instead of “s” for “candles”. Maybe if he’d known of Holy Saturday he could have found a better entry ending in “s” or a meta answer ending in “h”.

          It was an excellent idea but too bad he couldn’t get the seven days to line up.

        • pgw says:


    • Joe says:

      Derby Day is always a Saturday. I’m surprised no one has thought of that.

      And for those of you who say Derby Day isn’t a holiday, anyone in Kentucky will tell you that it is more of a holiday than Arbor Day or Election Day.

    • Mike W says:

      Chris, nice puzzle. For consideration, Armed Forces Day has been celebrated on the third Saturday in May since 1950. Could have clued “Gomer Pyle and Sgt Carter, for two” for “Marines” to provide the “s” in “Candles”

      • Chris says:

        I want to thank everyone for coming up with that Saturday holiday.

        I should use the disclaimer that I used this Wikipedia page as a standard for deciding a holiday. Holy Saturday, Derby Day, and Armed Forces Day are all fine celebrations, but I wouldn’t say that those three days are BOTH widely celebrated and in the public conscience to be included. Whether or not you know when Arbor Day is, everyone has heard of it. I feel very strong that everyone has heard of the seven holidays referenced in the puzzle. And of course I do not want to diminish these three days (as someone who is very connected to all three), but I felt better including both Presidents and Labor Day than having a Saturday holiday not everyone knows about as a linchpin for the puzzle.

        I hope this has not lessened your enthusiasm or appreciation of the puzzle as a whole. Thanks for all the great suggestions, and maybe we’ll fix it in post.

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