MGWCC #104

crossword 5:45 (paper)
puzzle 2:30

mgwcc104greetings and welcome to episode #104 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Jailbreak.” 104 means that this marks the completion of two full years of the MGWCC. hooray! in this week’s puzzle, we are told:

There’s a wrongly-convicted inmate sitting in jail; time to bust him out! This week’s contest answer is the method we’ll use to help the inmate escape from jail.

okay then, who’s in jail, and what’s the situation? here are the clues from the grid:

  • 17a tells us that {Each of the four H’s in this grid represents} a PRISON GUARD. the four Hs (circled in the screencap above) guard the “cell” in the grid’s center.
  • {What any 17-across will say if the inmate attempts to escape by bribing them}: “I WON’T TAKE IT.” non-venal guards! so bribery is out.
  • {Like the jail walls represented by the four clusters of black squares in the middle of this grid} clues UNSCALABLE. so climbing the walls is out.
  • {Words that may work on some closed doors, but not the ones in this jail} are “OPEN SESAME.” so going through the doors is out.
  • and finally, in the exact center of the grid, inside the “cell,” we have the {Identity of the inmate — or what the inmate must use to escape this mayhem, in a way}, YOU.

now that’s an awfully suggestive clue. and there’s one more, right below it, that looks too weird to be accidental:

  • {Proof you’re who you say you are, often worn on the shirt (note: this term is usually seen with its two parts in reverse} is TAG ID. this definitely caught my eye: not only the extra-long, overexplained clue, but also the fact that TAG ID is just a weird answer that matt probably didn’t need in order to make the grid work around YOU and the prison guards.

so the bad news is, you’re in jail. the good news is, there’s a simple way out: DIG A TUNNEL. it’s sitting right there in the grid! the tunnel goes from right to left, starting at the end of TAG ID, going right under the wall, and continuing through the name of LENN {Sakata, member of the Orioles’ World Series-winning team of 1983}. what did YOU have to use to escape? a U, of course, right Under that wall (i added one in the screenshot above). and the U doesn’t affect the crossing down word: 49d is PRAISE, clued as {Place on a pedestal}. but tack a U onto the beginning, and UPRAISE (an odd word, with built-in redundancy) fits the same clue. very elegant.

here’s a brief exchange from when i emailed matt my meta answer:

joon: dude, lenn sakata! i knew i had to have a man that i could trust on the outside.
matt: Sakata faces 25 to life for accessory if you ever get caught.

i’ll just keep on running, then. maybe i can stretch it out for an entire season on FOX.

i liked this meta. it felt very different, more like a riddle or a board game than a crossword. matt has used the “stick a letter into a black square” meta once before, way way back in MGWCC #6. it even had to do with digging, too (the puzzle was called “Can You Dig It?”). but that was a veeeery long time ago, and this one had a decidedly different feel. good stuff.

as for the fill, it was a lot easier than i was expecting for the last week of mayhem. there were a few things i didn’t know, but most of the clues for things that i did know were not particularly knotty. roundup:

  • {Baby or peanut} clues OIL. you know the old saw: if peanut oil is made from peanuts, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from? as an aside, it felt a little odd not to have this clue tie in with {Lands with reserves, for short} OPEC.
  • {Pool place} is a HALL where you might play billiards, not swim. the H here was fairly critical, because it was one of the prison guards, and i certainly didn’t know that {Cologne clock} was UHR.
  • {Fire} is ARDOR. i’m not sure why i tried to put ARSON here with AR___ in place. the clue isn’t specific enough for ARSON.
  • {Preceder of coil or principle} is good old nikola TESLA. i’m a physicist, and i’ve never heard of the tesla principle. it seems to be a historical term that’s no longer used.
  • {Forwards check there} clues RINKS; elsewhere, TIPOFF is clued with reference to (basketball) centers. also, {Steve Nash specializes in} ASSISTS. poor nash—he got all beat up this postseason, and then despite his heroics, the suns couldn’t pull out a win in the western conference finals. i still love watching him play, though.
  • {Palindromic “Nip/Tuck” character} is a non-gardner AVA that i’d seen once before, luckily. i believe it was in a freestyle NYT from last fall.
  • the {Dutchman who was World Chess Champion from 1935-37} is max EUWE. i thought at first that this answer might be related to the theme, because of its similarity to YOU. but no, it’s just the unrelated chess clue of the week.
  • {FDIC chairman Sheila} BAIR? never heard of her.
  • {It’s on top of Indiana}? the FEDORA that sits on doctor jones’s head.
  • {Peninsular metropolis} is my city of birth, SEOUL.
  • {They’ve got the scoop} is a nice clue for ice cream CONES.
  • {Article in Martha Stewart Living} is plain old THE. usually we see this kind of clue for a foreign article like LES or EIN. i’m not sure why martha is in the clue, specifically. did she dig her way out of prison?
  • {Kind of rug popular in the 1970s} is a RYA, which i only know from scrabble. it’s some sort of handwoven scandinavian rug.
  • TEVYE {asks “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”} in fiddler on the roof. very famous song.
  • {By remarriage, usually} is a funky clue for STEP- as a prefix.

well, mayhem is over. how’d you do? i enjoyed these puzzles greatly.

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24 Responses to MGWCC #104

  1. peechy says:

    I sent in DIG DOWN, since you could change center down DOG to DIG going down by changing YOU to I in the middle. Could even start a tunnel that way.

  2. Thomas says:

    This was the first only Mayhem puzzle I actually managed to solve. I didn’t notice UPRAISE, which is an extra layer of impressive, but I did notice Prince’s “ONE U” directly under the prison and wonder if it was meant as an additional clue. After all, one U is what was needed to escape.

  3. abide says:

    I got DIGATUNNEL, but didn’t catch that YOU=U, or that UPRAISE elegance. Assumed the U could have stood for “underground”. I created a Escape From Alcatraz backstory that the inmate used me by switching our ID tags and/or created a fake me with papier-mache.

    I spent a good while reading the backwards word as DIG AT THE (and then hitting a dead end) before noticing LENN. Great month, Matt!

  4. Evad says:

    Lots of false starts on this one…I found the 7 other U’s in the puzzle and tried to connect them into some type of design…thought I was on to something in that they were all on the right side of the grid. Also, I was considering ARDOR sounds a lot like “R-door” and if you consider the squares between YOU and the Hs as “doors” one of them is indeed the R of ARDOR.

    I finally broke out by just thinking about how inmates escape from prisons if they can’t scale the walls, say OPEN SESAME or bribe a guard. One of them involved asking someone to bring them a cake with a file in it…perhaps Matt can figure that into his next meta! ;)

    Wonderful month of May-hem Matt…this will be a hard month to top, but I know you have it in you!

  5. Scott says:

    I simply said TUNNELING. I wonder how strict Matt will be in accepting answers, i.e. must you put DIG A TUNNEL? I’m sure he will tell us soon.

  6. Nick W says:

    It seems so simple now that it’s been explained. Egg of Columbus style. Elegant and clever.

  7. joecab says:

    Agh I forgot! Holiday threw me off :(

  8. Jeffrey says:

    Got DIG AT and totally missed the rest. Perfect 0/4 in May. Bring on Joon, I mean June!

  9. Hugh says:

    Therer’s one other bit of elegance. The entire row reads PALS DIG A T(U)NNEL.

    We had to have outside outside help.

  10. Meg says:

    My latest strategy with the meta is just to relax, stare at the grid, and wait for something to jump out. Lord knows I’ve tried more complex ploys with usually bad results.

    So DIG A TUNNEL showed up pretty fast, unlike ROMEO, which took hours. This was a great month. Thanks, Matt!

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Scott — don’t think I can take TUNNELING. I’m all for lucky guesses, and several solvers did completely guess DIG A TUNNEL without grokking the meta. But the guess has to be right on target if the meta wasn’t grokked, so TUNNELING doesn’t quite do it here.

    Hugh — The PALS thing is serendipity — I didn’t notice it until entrants started sending it in.

    Jeffrey — June will be a stunningly easy month. Those May-hem puzzles were hard for me, too!

    84 correct answers this week.

  12. Scott says:

    Matt – that is the right decision. In retrospect, it seems so gettable now but I too am 0/4 like Jeffrey. Thanks for the puzzles and bring on June!

  13. rebecca says:

    Being exam week here I didn’t have time to work on the meta this time, but when I saw the puzzle and got the idea, I knew the answer was going to be a cool one. Great job Matt, I’m impressed. FYI I’ll be traveling the next two weekends, so missing three weeks in a row, but I’ll be back! :-) See you in June (from the US for a while).

  14. Garrett says:

    Ditto on thanks for the puzzles. All pretty incredible. This is the second time I’ve been duped by the fill-in-the-black-square trick and I don’t think I’ll miss it next time. I _knew_ TAGID had to have something to do with the meta, but was too busy this weekend to really hunker-down on the meta, alas. I did try playing around with the four three-letter words with the Hs in them. Try running them through the anagram generator–lots of (useless) words! (wordsmith)

  15. Evad says:

    One thing I wondered about why were Hs chosen for the guards? I would’ve thought an X would be more appropriate, but perhaps harder to fill around. It had to be somewhat of an obscure letter, since the only ones in the puzzle had to be in those 4 specific places.

    Does a capital H look more like a person than any other letter? Do most people solve IN CAPS? Save joon, of course, whose keyboard seems to lack shift keys. ;)

  16. Abby says:

    I got the right answer, but I chased a few red herrings for good measure (May-hem is no time to not be thorough). Did anyone else notice a) the unusual number of double letters in the diagram or b) the large number of words that sounded like letters? I played with them to make sure I wasn’t missing anything else before I sent in the right answer.

    You can also almost get there by “breaking” (anagramming) the jail cell. Of course that’s no wonder since half the answer is right there.

  17. Pete M says:

    What about “DIG A TUNNEL under YOU” ? – I thought that was intended.

  18. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Oh, woe! I was in Europe until Sunday, had a full day on Monday, was running 0 for 3 on May-hem anyway, but I just did this puzzle this afternoon for the fun and challenge. And it was the first time I got the meta, and almost immediately at that!

    In fact, since Matt’s instructions were “This week’s contest answer is the method we’ll use to help the inmate escape from jail.”, and I saw the PALS DIG A TUNNEL sequence, I thought sure as I was reading the comments that PALS was an essential part of the answer (How else to explain “we’ll”?) and even Joon might have missed one for once, as unlikely as that may be.

  19. Matt Gaffney says:

    Bob — I had to use the odd “we’ll” phrasing to avoid the pronoun YOU, which was an essential entry in the grid. That’s the same reason I had to use the slightly awkward “jail” and “inmate” instead of “prison” and “prisoner” (since PRISON is in 17-across).

    Although I didn’t notice the PALS part (and there’s no similar way in the grid of digging under the black square separating SLAP and TAG ID), I’m still counting as correct entries that read PALS DIG A TUNNEL. It’s a weird enough coincidence (when paired with the “we’ll” phrasing) that it must’ve seemed like part of the meta to those who noticed it.

  20. joon says:

    bob, it’s perfectly likely, but this time, i saw PALS and decided it wasn’t part of the answer. there are two reasons for this:

    1. if we include PALS, the tunnel goes from outside the prison on one side to outside the prison on the other side. not too useful. anybody escaping from jail would dig a tunnel from inside to outside and that’s it.
    2. that tunnel doesn’t go under the right wall, because there’s no letter we can add under there that makes any sense. so it’s not much of a tunnel, is it? the beauty of this meta is jamming the U under the black square in the wall, and there’s none of that going on over there on the right.

    so those PALS are outside the jail and they’re not helping. some friends!

  21. DaveH says:

    Talk about working too hard! I noticed TIP OFF(hint?) at 5A and EXEUNT=THEY LEAVE in the corresponding spot at the bottom. Then there was ENTREE with EXEUNT? “H” could stand for HACKS, prison slang for guards. I was thinking the prisoner could “switch” ID tags with a visitor leaving … get it? Everything, but the right thing. I had primarily decided to send in DIG A TUNNEL because of the DIG AT, but felt it wasn’t enough of a reason without the U and NNEL which I could NOT see for the many sidetracks I was traveling! In the end, I sent nothing. My loss … it makes beautiful sense.

  22. Eric Maddy says:

    I was stumped. The closest I came to solving the meta was hoping that the RYA in the center “cell” with me was a magic carpet that would lead me to freedom,,,,,

  23. Tony says:

    I definitely SHOULD have gotten this, especially since I am a die hard Orioles fan and the meta used LENN Sakata. I still vividly remember his walk off homer against the Jays back in ’83 when he had to catch and Tippy Martinez picked off 3 runners in a row before his blast.

  24. Jordan says:

    A great month of brilliant puzzles — awesome!!!

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