MGWCC #500

crossword 4ish 
meta 15 min 


hello and welcome to episode #500 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Don’t Even Think About It”. for this week 5 puzzle, the last of 2017, we were looking for a twelve-letter phrase. okay. what are the theme answers? once again, it’s unclear. there are no long answers, and it’s actually a wide-open enough grid that it could be a themeless (70 words), although there are a handful of cheater squares.

the title was the big hint, and my first thought was to look at only odd-numbered squares, but that turned out not to be very fruitful. the next thing i looked at was word lengths, perhaps influenced by week 3 of this month, and that was more helpful—almost every word in the grid has even length. promisingly, there are exactly 12 that don’t:

  • {Questions} IFS.
  • {Word in a Clint Eastwood title} IWO, as in letters from iwo jima. matt uses the same clue elsewhere for TORINO, as in gran torino.
  • {Words of exasperation} I’M AT A LOSS.
  • {Businesses that fear phylloxera} VINEYARDS.
  • {Triumphant TLA} FTW. “for the win”. (and TLA is “three-letter acronym”.)
  • {Flames, Lightning, et al.} NHL. “national hockey legume”.
  • {Kind of posture} ASANA.
  • {Liquefies} MELTS.
  • {Posh fish} AHI.
  • {Blanks will often pitch it} TAE BO. “thomas alva edison”.
  • {Parts of some plots} ACRES.
  • {Member of Bill’s cabinet} LES.

my first thought was to take the first letters of all of these, but that didn’t lead anywhere; going top to bottom in the grid, it gives AMAIIIVTAFNL. last letters, similarly, didn’t do it. it was only when i thought to look at the middle letters that i had the breakthrough—i should have thought of it before last letters, because of course only a word of odd length even has a middle letter. anyway, i have circled the middle letters in the screenshot above; reading from top to bottom in the grid, they spell out HALFWAY THERE, which is the meta answer.

this is a terrific meta, and also a very fitting answer—not only because we had to look at the halfway point of each odd-length entry to get it, but also because mgwcc #500 is halfway to matt’s original stated goal of 1000 weeks of puzzles. happily, this means we have almost ten more years’ worth of mgwcc to look forward to! for he’s a jolly good fellow, etc.

happy new year!

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23 Responses to MGWCC #500

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon, and thanks for all the 2017 blogging!

    121 correct answers, about a dozen of whom admitted to having help. So almost sub-100 but not quite.

  2. Qatsi says:

    My last-minute, not-a-clue, Hail Mary answer was going to be HALFWAY THERE, and I was even in the process of telling Matt in the comments that I’d noticed the twelve odd-letter-count entries but couldn’t figure out what do with them. But then at 11:58:30am I decided to anagram the middle letters of those entries and… HOLY CRAP!

    This is two weeks in a row that I was about to submit a wild guess for an answer, only to realize at the last minute (this week, almost literally so) that my wild guess was correct.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Not an anagram! In order!

      • Qatsi says:

        In order by grid position – but I had the entries written down in clue order, so anagramming was necessary for me to make that final leap. But yes – the solution even more elegant when I noted after the fact that they are in order in the grid.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    I didn’t get even a bit of the way there, but after seeing HALFDOME in the grid (prompting HALF DONE in my notes) I expected the answer would be something like this. I wonder if this hint was intentional, or a bit of wonderful serendipity. Congratulations on a brilliant first half, Matt. Do you suppose ten year old Tilghman will be able to carry on once you hit 1000?

  4. ajk says:

    Drat. Noticed the 12 odd-length words, looked at first letters, last letters, even toyed with even letters. But didn’t think to look at middle. :) Oh well. Pretty cool.

  5. Stribbs says:

    First time ever that I lobbed a last-minute desperation guess that was right. I feel guilty.

  6. Amy L says:

    I was going to submit “I’m at a big loss” which correctly describes my solving this week. I also thought this was one of the hardest grids–I had to google all over the place to fill it in, especially the top left.

    Thanks, Matt, for these wonderful puzzles, and thanks, Joon, for your great explications.

  7. mpstable says:

    i did not have time to look at the puzzle but decided to submit a wild guess entry anyway, just so i could check my final total for the year. i was very happy to see that i guessed right! i’ve had a few of those and it’s always a great feeling.

  8. LauraB says:

    Whoa-oh, we’re HALFWAY THERE
    Whoa-oh, we’re livin’ on a prayer!
    Matt’ll make 500 more, I swear
    Whoa-oh, solvers beware!

  9. Jon says:

    I’m so glad I figured it out. Took me a few days, but eventually got there.

    One thing of note is the HALFDOME in the grid. This makes me think of the recent WSJ (or was it AV Club?) meta where BOWLS was in the grid and many people thought that it helped hint that “College Bowl Games” was not the meta; PAGEANT was.

    But with this meta, we see that “half” is in the grid & in the meta answer.

    So what’s the consensus on this issue?

  10. jefe says:

    #TeamNope, guessing AULD LANG SYNE based on the title.

    +1 for the puzzle itself being quite difficult!

    @joon, I thought {Flames, Lightning, et al.} NHL was “normal hydrogen logic”.

  11. JRS says:

    I noticed that the last letters of the twelve longest answers (8 0r 9 letters) can be anagrammed into ALL THE SENSES. Can this be purely coincidental, or possibly a “leftover” from a previous meta?

  12. Daniel Barkalow says:

    My first thought upon seeing the number was that it was halfway through the series. Then it took long enough for me to solve the grid that I wasn’t thinking of that, and I’d noticed enough oddities in the grid (why was the year given for Dead Calm?) that it took me a while to get to noticing the word lengths. Then I went straight for middles, but I was working from the list of relevant answers and couldn’t order them into anything that made sense. After noting that the letter distribution seemed promising, I put it into an anagram solver, which came up with the answer, at which point I was able to work out why that order was right. Then I spend two days worrying that this was too easy for a week 5, and maybe I was only midway through solving it.

    • Jim S says:

      I was also thrown by the year for Dead Calm, not that I had a chance in the world to solve this one. I thought Matt was speaking directly to me with the title, and I almost took his advice literally as I barely put any thought into it, that’s how clueless I was.

  13. Jason says:

    I took the title instruction too literally and just submitted HAPPY NEW YEAR. It was worth a stab. And it does appear on this page.

    • John says:

      I did the exact same thing for exactly the same reason. I was thinking about how to explain to friends how to glean the meta when the timeliness of the HNY phrase and the title just seemed to be perfect. I sent it immediately and thought i had a lock and was rather amazed when i was wrong. Then Matt explained the real path to the meta and i was blown away by the even greater timeliness and execution of this meta, a wonderful end to the year.

  14. dbardolph says:

    For the second consecutive week, I was 95% of the way there, and missed the last step. I hate myself.

  15. Jeremy Smith says:

    I did notice the dearth of odd-lettered answers, and that there were twelve of them. I tried anagramming the first letters of each of the twelve without success, of course. I never considered using the middle letters. Another strategy to keep in mind for my future meta-solving. I’ve only been solving metas for about six months, so I’m pleased that I came so close to solving a Week 5. Nice meta, Matt!

    • joon says:

      i’m not sure that taking the middle letters constitutes a general strategy; it is quite specific to odd-length answers, which feels like something that’s unlikely to be a meta mechanism again. it’s also thematically appropriate given the actual meta answer, but you can hardly know about that until after you’ve done it.

  16. Mike says:

    Oh, were we supposed to tell Matt if we had hints? I thought that was just if we were in the running for a yearly prize. What about little hints, like, “Take another look at the title.” I generally just don’t enter if I got too big a hint (don’t want to deprive someone more worthy of a prize), but that hint, for example, seems obscure enough.

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