MGWCC #100

crossword 4:04 (across lite)
puzzle about 15 minutes

mgwcc100hi folks, and welcome to the 100th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “One Hundred Weeks of Solvitude.” it was an odd puzzle this week, with a super-small grid, tough clues, and a meta with not much in the way of hints. (the title is an allusion to gabriel garcia marquez’s 100 years of solitude, arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century in any language.)

there’s nothing to talk as far as theme answers; the 11×11 grid contained no long answers, and there’s no obvious theme. the instructions this week were: One of 100 is missing this week — which one is it? my first thought was letters, because of these two earlier metas, but i noticed pretty early on that the grid was a pangram, which can’t be all that easy to do with such a small size. the next thing i noticed was that the grid had 99 white squares (11×11 is 121, and there were 22 blocks), so i strongly suspected that the answer was going to be related to this fact somehow. what set of 100 are we talking about? not the numbers from 1 to 100, surely: the largest number in the grid is just 42, because of course most grid squares aren’t numbered.

for inspiration, i poked around this wikipedia page, and it didn’t take long for my eye to alight on this tidbit:

  • The number of tiles in a standard Scrabble set

hmm, that’s interesting: we have a grid with 99 letters, and 100 tiles in a scrabble set. and i’d already noted that at least one of every letter was present in the grid. could it really be … ? indeed, careful checking showed that the grid was in fact comprised of exactly the right letters: twelve Es, nine As and Os, etc, down to 1 each of what crossword constructors call the “scrabbly” letters (and there couldn’t be a more apt usage of that term than this puzzle!), K, J, X, Q, and Z.

but wait, how can that be? a scrabble bag only contains 98 letters, plus two blanks. so how could i have counted out the 98 letters in the bag using the 99 letters in the grid? the answer is that i was careless. so i counted them again and noticed that there were five Us, but a scrabble bag only contains four (a fact that will be quite familiar to anybody who’s been stuck holding the Q at the end of a game, although that happens less often now that QI is a valid play). “aha,” i said to myself, “one of the blanks has been used as a U, so the other blank is the missing tile.” i cleverly sent matt an email with blank as my subject (i.e. no subject line) and no message text, wondering idly how many others would do that.

alas, i’d goofed in counting the letters yet again: the grid has an extra R (seven total), whereas a scrabble set contains 6. and the grid only contains two Gs, but a scrabble bag has three. so one blank was being used as a U, another was being used as an R, and G is the missing letter (and the correct meta solution), as matt informed me about an hour before i wrote this up. it’s kind of a bummer to get the answer wrong due to a careless mistake, but at least i had the pleasure of working it out. and what a cool meta! in retrospect, there is indeed one more hint in the grid: the central across entry, BINGO, is clued as {Clear the rack}, a reference to the 50-point bonus you get in scrabble for playing all of your tiles in one turn.

how did you all find the meta? i imagine non-scrabble players would have had a devil of a time with this one, although maybe others stumbled upon it the same way i did, by looking up the list of things 100 could mean in wikipedia.

not much to say about the grid or the fill: with 11×11 and 22 black squares, it’s mostly 3-letter words, which is probably just as well since i can’t imagine how difficult it would be to construct a more open grid with the constraint that you had to use exactly a certain number of each letter (with a bit of wiggle room due to the blanks). yikes. matt’s got a couple of references to his old standbys chess ({“A knight on the ___ is dim” (chess saying about centralizing your pieces)} for RIM) and tennis (BJORN borg is clued as {Rival of John} mcenroe), but no long answers.

next month, MayHem begins. are you ready? i’m still smarting from my goof this week, but i’m looking forward to it.

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29 Responses to MGWCC #100

  1. Evad says:

    Funny I went to the same wikipedia page and saw the same entry that gave the meta away. I had to count up the letters probably 10 separate times before I figured out the two blank tiles and got the G.

  2. Nick W says:

    Stared at this one for a long time after completing it. Immediately noticed the 99 white squares and thought that one of them had to be the “missing” answer. Then spent a long time searching and searching for some kind of theme or clue, took a break for a few days and then came back to the puzzle this morning. The scrabble answer hit me immediately and I correctly submitted G with a few hours to spare :)

  3. Karen says:

    I couldn’t solve the puzzle after about five googles (stuck mostly in the NW and SE) and never figured out the theme. I’m still bemused that Nick W ‘immediately noticed the 99 white squares’–did you count them or is that just an ability that you have?

  4. Howard B says:

    Saw that there had to be a reason why Matt would create an 11×11 puzzle… saw it was a pangram, which was an interesting constraint for a small puzzle. Then, counted out the black squares & subtracted from 121, found 99. Interesting. Stuck there for a while, pondering exactly what makes a set of 100? Senators? Nah. Would he be so evil as to make us search for words previously used in the first 99 puzzles and this one? Nah. Too insane even for him (I think). A couple hours later, of course while not consciously thinking about it, the idea of 100 Scrabble tiles came to me, and 5 minutes of cross-referencing later, the meta-answer was complete.

    A leap in logic was needed somewhere along the way if you weren’t a Scrabble aficionado. I think that day I was putting something back into a hall closet where a Scrabble board was on a shelf, and that subconsciously may have triggered an alarm bell.

  5. Meg says:

    Gee, I felt kind of guilty for using the Wiki page listing “100_____________”, but now I don’t feel so bad. I’ve played Scrabble lots of times but never knew there were 100 tiles.
    Originally I tried state postal codes and senators’ names. Wiki gave me Scrabble, and then it was just a matter of counting the letters correctly, which of course I didn’t initially. After a few double checks I got it. Nice meta! I thought BINGO and UNO were in there to indicate a game of some sort.

  6. Cole says:

    Pretty quickly counted the number of squares (after a brief but still too long attempt to see if the numerals between one and a hundred had been somehow encoded in the grid possibly using Roman numerals and other trickeration). The “BINGO” led me to the scrabble wikipedia site and I assumed it had to be a blank missing until I actually did the calculation.

    Lots of fun for me (more pressed than usual since I was in an undisclosed location without internet access over the weekend and had to be moderately productive Monday).

  7. Russ says:

    Same thought process here as a couple of others:

    1. Notice the small grid and count 99 open squares. Interesting.
    2. Senators? Nope.
    3. Other groups of 100? Draw a blank (as it were).
    4. Look at the Wikipedia page for 100 and see “Scrabble”. Aha!
    5. Verify that puzzle’s letter distribution almost matches Scrabble’s. Aha! Aha!

    — Russ

  8. Hugh says:

    I was initially thrown off by Matt’s reference to “Centennial” which, of course, refers to 100 years, not 100 items. Then BINGO and that little LETTER FREQUENCY list that is on every board suddenly made sense.

    The blank tiles became “R” and “U” and Mr. Alfred Butts’ great invention was uncovered.

    As I told Matt in my email: I’ve had a the same SCRABBLE set since the mid-fifties, a travel set, the electronic version, the Edley-Williams book from 1994, and a couple of word list books. So, I would have been crushed if I hadn’t gotten this one.

  9. annette says:

    The definition of scrabble is to struggle by or as if by scraping or groping, which is what I did with the meta all weekend and despite being a huge scrabble(tm) fan never actually came up with the connection. I wish I had thought of wikipediaing 100 as all you fine folks did. I am incredibily impressed Matt was able to construct a puzzle with such tight letter constrictions so he is probably a fearsome Scrabble opponent.

  10. Tyler says:

    Instead of counting each letter, and risking a careless error that way (I personally counted everything twice), you could have grabbed the nearest Scrabble set and replicated the crossword on the board. I would have done that, but my set is missing a few tiles! :D

    Congrats Matt on 100 puzzles! Keep up the great work!

  11. Abby says:

    Seeing how small the diagram was, I saw there were 99 letters before even starting (but I’m all mathy like that), so I assumed it had to do with the letters. I struggled a bit to get the SE done, but guessing I needed a Z helped.

    Then I looked over the distribution and thought it matched common frequency. I know from buying lots of used games at Goodwill that a complete Scrabble(tm) Brand Crossword Game set has 100 tiles, so I got it from there.

    I also figured the blanks must go at the top and bottom centers to be symmetrical. Did he intend that? Of course. Right? :-)

    Coincidentally, I came across a Scrabble Rebus set over the weekend. It’s missing one red tile. Figures. I blame Matt.

  12. Garrett says:

    The 99 squares was obvious: multiply the # of squares across and down for total square count and subtract the number of black squares. And tantalizing, too, because the result is one short of 100. But from where to get the 100th square, or letter? I also did a letter distribution, but did not make the connection to the Scrabble tiles, even though I did understand that “clear the rack” with an answer of ‘bingo’ was a reference to Scrabble. Now it is so obvious: comparing the disto counts with the tiles gives us G=-1, U+1, R+1, and blank_tile -1. If you sum these you wind up with -1. As the puzzle has 99 letters, the “-1” is the missing letter, and that letter is G.

    Anybody notice the numbers SEVEN and ELEVEN embedded in the NE corner in a twisty kind of way? The puzzle on that date was #006–also a pangram. And in that puzzle the missing letter is ‘A’

  13. Scott says:

    I have to basically repeat much of what annette said. I got the 121-22=99 connection right away but did not think to wiki it. My puzzle answer was wrong and I had no Z so I sent in Z as my answer since I thought it was pangramattic less one. Oh well, bring on the fearsome May puzzles.

  14. Michael M. says:

    Happy to say I didn’t need Wikipedia for this one. The idea of Scrabble just hit me at some point over the weekend. I did notice that there were 99 boxes, and that it was a pangram, but only after I’d finished the puzzle. And I did in fact dig out my Scrabble set and recreate the puzzle on the board as Tyler suggested.

    Bravo Matt “G” for another great construction! The only thing that would have made this cooler is if the missing letter had been a C.

  15. Jeffrey says:

    Got the 99 squares, but didn’t get further than “one missing white square to get to 100”.

  16. I Before E says:

    Best wrong answer: I plopped down “BOWIE” as rival to John, as a Bowie song was playing on the radio at the time. Never got beyond the 99 letters concept, but I do not play Scrabble (c), and also didn’t know the Bingo/Clear the Board connection. Found the puzzle itself to be pretty tough for a bunch of short words.

  17. abide says:

    What Jeffrey said. I even made a Crossword Compiler grid which allowed me to look at the letter frequencies at the touch of a button. No excuse for missing this one…

    Matt, I would be interesting in hearing how you constructed this. Cross the letters off one by one?

  18. Anne E says:

    Got as far as the 99/one missing white square issue, and even made a letter count chart, but the resulting distribution of letters meant absolutely nothing to me. (Didn’t occur to me to Google/wiki 100.) Seeing as how I’m absolutely awful at Scrabble, hate the game (probably because I’m awful at it), and haven’t played for probably at least 20 years…. not a surprise, I guess! Good one, Matt, and everyone else who got it!

  19. Matt Gaffney says:

    abide —

    It wasn’t a very difficult grid to construct, since Scrabble letter distribution was designed after usage in words anyway. Plus the blanks were a nice buffer.

    It was a bit of a pain keeping track of the letters, however. Had to do it by hand and it’s easy to lose count and have to start over.

    About 130 right answers submitted this week.

  20. Jeff S. says:

    I got exactly as far as Jeffrey above did…and I’m a competitive Scrabble player.

  21. Russ says:

    Well, I’m disappointed. I had this vision of Matt constructing the grid by fiddling around with a real set of Scrabble tiles. Correctness guaranteed without counting anything.

    Oh, well.

    — Russ

  22. Jim A says:

    The Wikipedia entry on “100” tipped me to what we were looking for as well, but the distinctly Scrabble-specific clue for BINGO prepped me to recognize the tip. (I’d deduced the BINGO entry from checked entries, but had to scratch my head a bit before flashing on what kind of “rack” the clue referred to.)

    I didn’t pick up on the extra letters that accounted for the blanks, as I was only looking for the letter that was missing. Comparing against the letter frequency chart on my trusty board, I started with “A” and quickly arrived at the missing “G” – and figured Matt had given himself a monogrammed 100th-puzzle anniversary gift!

    Congratulations to Matt, and good luck to all as he prepares to unleash Mayhem!

  23. Bobby says:

    Only a casual scrabble player so I didn’t see the connection unfortunately. Should have thought to google 100 as well. Ugh ! Didn’t have as much time to figure this one out, but wanted to go 5-5 this month. Oh well. My answer ended up being the number 1 in the series of Matt’s puzzles, since if you go to his google page, the very first puzzle isn’t there…or wasn’t when I checked.

    Fun stuff and a great small puzzle. Congrats on the first 100 Matt !

  24. HH says:

    If you’ll allow a slight digression, I would recommend going to your local toy store and buying Super Scrabble. 200 tiles (not quite proportionate to the usual 100) and a 21×21 board (with corner squares that say “Quadruple Word Score”).

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Ha! I stopped counting Rs and Us after I reached the right Scrabble count, and never gave the slightest thought to the blanks. But there was definitely one G missing.

  26. Jonathan says:

    Since I had literally finished a game of online Scrabble right before starting the puzzle, I got the Scrabble connection right away. I went through all the Scrabble tiles and saw that a G tile was missing. I found it much easier than last’s week’s meta.

    Speaking of last week’s puzzle, it took me a bit to figure out the meta (presidents popped into my mind with the Garfield clue, but the initials didn’t appear to me for some reason) and I still got it wrong. I was so excited after finding it that I swapped D and E when typing my answer (despite listing the Presidents in the right order on my paper). Just a reminder that it always pays to double-check your work. Grrr!

  27. Ben Bass says:

    The little 11×11 took me over 7 minutes. Tough! Like others above, I too thought of senators at first. Including diagonally I found WAs, WIs, INs, etc. in the grid, but soon decided that wasn’t it.

    Went to bed, woke up at 4am and somehow Scrabble popped into my head. So I did use Wikipedia, not to search 100 but to get the distribution. Didn’t even occur to me to walk across my house to get out my Scrabble board.

    Counting out the tiles was actually pretty easy. I solve using Across Lite so I just deleted each letter from the grid according to its distro (one Q, one Z, etc.). Got the G on my first try. Complete satisfaction.

    Congrats, Matt!

  28. Barbara Hartwell says:

    Gee I am so proud of myself for not consulting wikipedia! After ruling out senators, and realizing there were 99 letter-filled squares I mentioned to my son that I thought it weird that BINGO was in the middle, because a Bingo card didn’t help. He then informed me of the other name for bingo and we were off!

  29. Joe Cabrera says:

    Oh I am an idiot. I got the weird letter counts but still guessed G because it was short and thought there was a goof somewheres on my part otherwise Matt would have printed a correct. The blanks! Of course! Duh me :P

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