MGWCC #478

crossword 4:09 
meta 10 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #478 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Reverse Course”. for this week 4 puzzle, we were looking for a word describing MGWCC solvers. what are the theme answers? well, there aren’t any obvious ones. in fact, the grid has no long answers at all; just a smattering of 7s and 8s along with the shorter stuff.

however, it was quite apparent from the title to look for backwards-ish things, and indeed, there are five pairs of semordnilaps in the grid:

  • {Animal that can weigh almost a quarter ton} DEER and {Plant not often found in deserts} REED.
  • {Order at Third Rail Coffee} DECAF and {Two-___ liar} FACED.
  • {Drank to excess (and perhaps ate too little)} TOPED and {Building where an ETA may be posted} DEPOT.
  • {Meet at the ends} LOOP and {It may teem with teens in summer} POOL.
  • {Saw as contemptuous} REVILED and {Get results, as Jaime Escalante was known to do} DELIVER.

identifying the five pairs was not difficult, but what’s the next step? the key was to look at the paired clues, which contain yet another pair of semordnilaps:

  • {Animal that can weigh almost a quarter ton} DEER and {Plant not often found in deserts} REED.
  • {Order at Third Rail Coffee} DECAF and {Two-___ liar} FACED.
  • {Drank to excess (and perhaps ate too little)} TOPED and {Building where an ETA may be posted} DEPOT.
  • {Meet at the ends} LOOP and {It may teem with teens in summer} POOL.
  • {Saw as contemptuous} REVILED and {Get results, as Jaime Escalante was known to do} DELIVER.

the key for me was noticing the totally unnecessary “ate too little” parenthetical for TOPED, and to a lesser extent the arbitrarily specific third rail cafe in the DECAF clue.

so what’s the meta answer? i’ve ordered the pairs of clues above by number of whichever of the two appears higher in the grid. taking the first letters of the semordnilaps that appear in the clues for those first words gives TRAMS, which is itself a semordnilap of SMART. that’s certainly a word that describes mgwcc solvers, and it’s the meta answer.

i liked this puzzle a lot. the meta mechanism was delicious to unlock step by step (finding the semordnilaps in the grid, finding them in the clues, then the ordering mechanism, and finally TRAMS->SMART), and the surrounding fill was clean and not distracting. five stars.

what’d you all think?

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38 Responses to MGWCC #478

  1. jagoandlitefoot says:

    I really enjoyed this one too! The intersection of NUEVO / OVEN made me wonder if almost-semordnilaps were going to play in somehow.

    • Martin Davis says:

      Yeah, I got sidetracked by SEGA/VEGA MARK/MARC AMMO/AMFM ROLO/POOL for the longest time. Once I found the 5 pairs, though, I couldn’t quite get that next step in the clues. I was looking for other pairs in the clues but didn’t think to look in the clues for the fill pairs.

      So close yet no cigar the last two weeks! It makes me really appreciate the skill that goes in to the puzzles, though!

  2. dbardolph says:

    I liked this one a lot. Like joon, seemingly extraneous words in a couple clues pointed me in the right direction. I’ll admit, I was kind of looking for a way for SMART to be the answer, but I got a nice satisfying click when the pieces fell in place.

  3. John says:

    Did you note that the numbers of the grid answers were reversed also? That is what got me looking at the clues.

    I got the answer but the ordering was missing a click for me. With such a mish-mash of crossing i didn’t think of highest in the grid.

    • Mutman says:

      Yes, the clue number reversals was a nice touch!

    • Dele says:


      I saw the reversals in the grid and in the clues, but never noticed that about the clue numbers. Maybe that might’ve clued me in to the correct ordering/extraction method, which I never did figure out.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Noticing the reversible clue #s was a skippable step — just couldn’t find a way to make it unskippable, since the reversible entries and clue #s both convey the same information (the clue #s). But I hoped that seeing those would nudge some solvers to the clues, so glad to hear this.

      • Richard Basuk (Dr. B) says:

        Here’s where I went wrong. I noticed a pattern of the clue numbers for the reversible entries. When I added each pair, I found the sum of each to be a double digit number consisting of the same digit repeated (i.e., 66, 77, 88 or 99). Since these are so-called “master numbers”, my meta answer became “Masters”.

        • pgw says:

          But that is a trivial result of the clue numbers being reversible! (10x+y) + (10y+x) = 10(x+y) + (x+y). In this grid, only the pairs 46/64 and 56/65 would have failed to produce this result.

      • Garrett says:

        Definitely provided a needed nudge for me.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    I submitted TOPS as my answer, and was surprised it wasn’t right.

    First I found the reversible words in the grid, and then I found the reversible words in their corresponding clues. The next thing that occurred to me to try was to search all of the clues for other words that could be reversed into new words, and I found only one candidate that appears twice and wasn’t used in the other reversible words in clues: SPOT, which appears both by itself {Spot} for SEE and in the clue {Hot spot} for OVEN. If you reverse SPOT, you get TOPS, which seemed a perfectly plausible word Matt might in complimenting his solvers.

    I was comfortable enough with that answer to think I was done. First time in a long time that I had the unpleasant experience of not seeing my name on the leaderboard when I’d expected it to be.

  5. Mutman says:

    I was confused all weekend after finding the grid and clue semordnilaps. I tried anagramming the grid entry with the clue’s semordnilap. That got me nowhere. Finally just realized SMART reversed to a real word (TRAMS) and threw it up as a Hail Mary — prayer answered! I’ll take it!

    • Elijah says:

      I got just as far but ended up looking a list of semordnilaps for plausible answers and chose STRESSED.

  6. Giovanni P. says:

    Thirding the clue number reversals being a nice touch. It was a nice little confirmer along with the reversed words, especially when I had to double-check to make sure I had all the pairs.

    Maybe if Matt was a much more of a curmudgeon, he might describe his solvers as REVILED… SMART works too though.

  7. Jon says:

    I saw the reversed pairs and I wondered about their placement in the grid. Many of the pairs were clumped together in the grid. Was that part of it?

    Then I saw that the pairs’ numbers were also reversed! 15 pairs with 51, 16 with 61, 45 with 54. Genius!

    I searched high and low for more than the 5 pairs (even checking 10 with 1 (01)). That’s what made me realize that spot which came up twice wasn’t part of it since its reversed number didn’t have the other pair of tops.

    After being stumped I put it away and then came back to it. “Remember to check the clues” is what I have written in my Meta notes on my iPhone. Week 3 and 4 might have clues hidden in the clues; something I generally forget to think about but I’ve learned to do ever since I’ve started doing MGWCC every week. Sure enough, there were reversed pairs in there to.

    I had the pairs written down in a haphazard fashion and didn’t see how the new words not, lair, teem, saw, eta could help. Then another memo to myself helped: “ordering is key a lot.” Meaning to check grid order, number order, alphabetical order, etc, all the different orderings I can think of. This helped me to eventually find it. ton, rail, ate, meet, saw, not, eta, was, liar, teem. TRAMSNEWLT? What?! I need another mind-break and when I decided to look at just one half of the pairs, that’s when SMART jumped right out at me.

    SMART? But that’s such a elementary school level word, can it really just be that?

    I love the journey this meta took me on this weekend.

    • jefe says:

      That’s pretty much exactly what I did. I guessed (but wasn’t sure) that I should take them in grid-number order, got TRAMSNEWLT, thought “hmm, that’s ‘smart’ backwards, ‘new’, and ‘LT’; what does that anagram too?” Fortunately I didn’t overthink it by TOO much. (I am smart, I swear!)

  8. Lance says:

    Ugh. The right answer seems perfectly reasonable, but I couldn’t get away from trying to use all ten clues instead of just five them, and was trying to anagram TRMNWLTASE (“strawmentl”?) and the like. Didn’t help that I wrote things down in the order they appeared in the clues, across then down, rather than writing them by number, so at best I had TRMAS, which just didn’t leap out as “hey there’s a word in here”.

    Add to that the number of red herrings (e.g., the OVEN/NUEVO, the reversible words like MARC and SEGA, the reversible words in the clues like “Sera” and “net”), and I just couldn’t bring it together.

  9. Mac says:

    The construction was amazing: the five sets of semordnilaps, each with a set of semordnilaps in the corresponding clues, each with reversing clue numbers. Wow! Got all that. Also followed the tops/spot trail and decided tops could not be the answer. Also intrigued by the totally unnecessary “mirror-image” in 57A and the MrHyde (not a semordnilaps but a similarly situated alter-ego) at 31A. Also looked at the first letters of all the grid and clue semordnilaps. Never segregated out just the five first letters of the lower-numbered clue semordnilaps (or the last letter of the higher) and actually think this is the weakest part of the construction (and not just because I failed to see it). Why those five? There just seems to be a randomness to the last step – unless I am missing something?

  10. Laura B says:

    Second month in a row that I got the final week all by myself — started dancing around the room like this guy. (And remembered not to submit S-M-R-T!)

  11. Meg says:

    I got hung up on the pairs of clue numbers for a long time. If you subtract them (51-15 or 52-25), all the answers were multiples of 9. Certainly that had to mean something! Add them and you get number palindromes (66 and 77). All 5 pairs had these qualities! I thought maybe it was some math term like irrational or reciprocal that could also describe a person.
    Fortunately, I gave up the math search and saw the palindromes in the clues.

    • Dele says:

      As pgw mentioned above, those properties are just artifacts of the numbers being (two-digit) palindromes:

      For instance, to change 34 to 43, you have to add 1 to the tens place and subtract 1 from the ones place. Adding 10 and subtracting 1 is the same as adding 9, so the difference between the two numbers is 9. Similarly, to get from 35 to 53, you add 2 to the tens place and subtract 2 from the ones place; 20 – 2 = 18. And so on.

      And when you add the numbers together, you’re adding the same digits in each column (both the tens place and the ones place), so the resulting value in each column is the same. 1 + 6 = 7, and 6 + 1 = 7, so 16 + 61 = 77. Similarly, 4 + 5 = 9 and 5 + 4 = 9, so 45 + 54 = 99. Etc.

  12. Music Man says:

    Man, I submitted AVID because I could just not think of a reasonable answer. I had all the pairs, noticed the clue numbers next, then noticed each clue had a pair as well, and even with all of this written out separately, I still couldn’t see SMART. Oh well, I thought calling us AVID solvers DIVAs was funny so I went with it.

    Also, was the term you meant for anadrome and not semordnilaps? Because Of the Greek translation of the title?

  13. Amy L says:

    I found the clue for 38A OURS bizarre. I wondered why Matt had to go to Que Sera Sera for such a simple word. That led me to start looking at the clues. Now that I realize it has nothing to do with the meta, I wonder if Matt was planting a hint to look at the clues, or a clue to get solvers off track, or maybe he just didn’t feel like going with “French bear.”

    I did get SMART in the end, but I was planning to submit BACKWARD if I didn’t find an answer.

  14. Paul Coulter says:

    After finding the five pairs of oppositely spelled words, I noticed that their grid positions all added to numbers like 66 and 77 with repeating digits. I thought Matt was going for a pun on “double-digit” — trying to be first in, that’s what I submitted. I could kick myself for failing to check the clues for trickery, which is one of the first things I do when stuck. Except, it didn’t feel like I was stuck. I’m not arguing that mine was an acceptable alternate answer, of course. Not only did I miss Matt’s brilliant final step producing the real answer, there’s no way he could predict solvers would be double-digit this week. In fact, as it turns out, solvers are triple-digit for this particular Week 4. And I don’t feel so SMART.

  15. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I never worked out which of each pair to take an initial from; I tried sorting by clue number, but didn’t consider only using the first 5 (or, equivalently, the ones whose digits were in order). On the other hand, I got remarkably close by noticing that the pairs had the numbers reversed, and looking at 33D (palindrome, kinda in the middle of the number range) backwards.

    I did notice that “spot” was the only other word in either the clues or the answers that was another word backwards. I didn’t think TOPS was going to be right, since they weren’t arranged in an encouraging way, but it seemed kind of weird that the same non-trivial word appeared twice in the clues and was the only word that could have participated in the theme but didn’t.

  16. Ken Stern says:

    Loved this meta. Amazing touch, the clue numbers.

    Did not love finally cracking the last step last night, and remembering about 4:45 this afternoon that I didn’t submit, ruining my first perfect month in a long time.

  17. Jimmy says:

    Stared at TRAMSNEWLT for about a half hour before the solution finally revealed itself. I was thinking that maybe the LA Rams had a new left tackle whose name when preceded with T gave the answer? Or perhaps that, but backwards? Amazingly, the Rams DO have a new left tackle, but Andrew Whitworth didn’t exactly fit the theme, great as the answers Tandrew, Werdnat, or Twitworth would’ve been.

  18. Amanda says:

    If I had a nickel for every time I did most of the hard work, but didn’t get the last step…

  19. Scott says:

    I did not get it. I still give it five stars. But I feel BMUD.

  20. Ed says:

    So close, having found the semordnilaps in the clues, but missed arranging them into TRAMS/SMART. I got tangled up in POSTED being an anagram+1 of DEPOT in its clue, and in looking for other examples, I saw “deserts” in the clue for REED, and knew immediately that this must be a pointer to the famous DESSERTS/STRESSED pair. And it fit the title, as dessert is a course of a meal and so STRESSED would be the “Reversed Course”. It’s also how I often feel when working on week 4 metas. No supporting evidence of a train of logic, alas, but with no free time over the weekend, I sent it in. If this was a red herring, it was brilliant, and if it was unintentional, it was still brilliant.

  21. Alan Matson says:

    Hands down 5 stars from me. This is a true Popeilian puzzle.

    “But wait! There’s more.”

    • NonnieL says:

      Did you make up that word? I love it. I’m going to try to use it in my everyday conversation.

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