MGWCC #113

crossword 6:31
puzzle a few hours, on and off

mgwcc113good evening and welcome to the 113th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Note the Difference.” this week’s instructions inform us that One of the seven notes in this week’s puzzle is off. Which one is it? well then, what are the seven notes? there are seven entries in the 17×17 grid clued as {Notable note}: B FLAT, A SHARP, G SHARP, D NATURAL, E FLAT, MIDDLE C, and HIGH C. it’s an interesting mix, with two flats, two sharps, one natural, and what seem to be the odd-man-out HIGH C and MIDDLE C. also, enharmonically, A SHARP is the same as B FLAT, and in fact it is very rarely ever called A SHARP. but neither one of those gives us a single outlier, so that’s not the answer.

i had to take several looks at this meta before finally cracking it. i studied the clues, but the theme answers all have the same clue, and there was no hidden message in the first or last letters of the clues. i looked at the letters of the notes and tried to make patterns out of the other instances of those letters in the grid, but that didn’t do anything either. i noticed tantalizing music-related entries in the fill, like MAJOR and OPERAS and even ERES TU. finally i got around to putting myself in matt’s shoes: why would a very capable constructor have to expand the grid to 17×17 and toss in 6 cheater squares just to squeeze in seven short theme answers? answer: he wouldn’t, so there must be more theme in this grid, probably a lot more.

eventually it hit me like a ton of bricks. look at the word that crosses each theme answer at the note name:

  • {Dock part} is a tough clue for BOARD, which crosses B FLAT at the B.
  • a {Feller in the woods} is an AXE, crossing A SHARP at the A.
  • the {1993 biography of Richard Feynman} is GENIUS, by james gleick, crossing G SHARP at the G. in high school i was obsessed with all things feynman, so i’ve read this book. actually, i have this fuzzy memory of having guiltily read at least half of it without removing it from the bookstore, then putting it back on the shelf. does anybody else do that?
  • {Embarrassing information} is DIRT, crossing D NATURAL.
  • {You are here} clues EARTH, crossing E FLAT.
  • {Heart} clues CORE, crossing MIDDLE C.
  • {Marin of “Up In Smoke”} is, of course, CHEECH, crossing HIGH C.

see what they all have in common? all of these words start with the name of the note they cross, and furthermore, each is described by the adjective in the note: a BOARD is proverbially FLAT, an AXE and a GENIUS are SHARP, DIRT is NATURAL, a CORE is MIDDLE, and (my favorite) CHEECH is HIGH. the odd man out is the EARTH, which is not FLAT no matter what these guys think. so E FLAT is the answer to the meta.

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30 Responses to MGWCC #113

  1. Neville says:

    Well that’s pretty brilliant, Joon & Matt. Not the hair-brained scheme I had at all. I’ll save you the gory details, but I had it worked out where the answer was not any of of those seven notes. Another month blown, I suppose! There’s always August, though :)

  2. Jeffrey says:

    I was all over OPERAS and IN HELL and searching out the notes of Dante’s Inferno and…sigh…to quote Neville… “Another month blown, I suppose! There’s always August, though :)”

  3. peechy says:

    Of course B-flat major contains all the notes except G-sharp.

  4. Tony says:

    GENIUS meta! All I could think of was that except for HIGH C, all the other notes are playable on most instruments.

    4 out of 5 ain’t bad!

  5. markta says:

    I will confess I voted E Flat because it’s the only note not in the whole tone scale… There’s nothing like getting it right for the wrong reason!

  6. Pam says:

    I knew I was wrong with my answer of F – the only missing note, but I also knew that Matt had stumped me once again. I could have stared at the puzzle for another week and never have found it. Great meta, Matt. 4 correct puzzles in a month usually earns you the right to pat yourself on the back. Not this July.

  7. cybergoober says:

    Like Peechy’s response, best I could do was try to pick a note that was not in a (weakly identified) major scale. I based the answer on a-sharp major because it’s named in 6d-69d. Such a scheme would not be up to Matt’s standards, so in that sense I’m glad to be wrong!

  8. *David* says:

    I found this meta pretty quickly after I wrote them out and confirmed that there definitely was no F in there. There was no rhyme or reason to the scale so I decided to look at placement in the crossword and saw BOARD and FLAT and was off to the races.

    I found the west side of the xword manageable but I had a bunch of gaps in the east that I couldn’t get around with EAUX DE VIE being the nastiest in the middle. The DREA clue may be one of the most difficult I’ve ever seen, lots of assumptions to get that answer.

  9. Abby says:

    Gosh, I got the right answer for the wrong reason more than the right reason. I noticed that those seemed to work like the meta description above about the second I was going to push send, but I settled on Eb more because it was a half step off from the others. “Note the difference” confused me.

    If I’d gotten a different answer one way or the other, I would’ve been more worried.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    Don’t be hard on yourselves, Neville, Jeffrey and Pam — only 68 correct entries came in this week. I’d say from e-mails that about 15 of those were guesses.

  11. Robin says:

    I loved this meta. It was unbelievably clever. Matt, how do you think of these things?

  12. Pete M says:

    @markta: I knew I wouldn’t be the only one who did that. I was damn sure I was right, too. Mathematically improbably that six of seven “randomly” selected notes would be in the same whole tone scale. Perhaps less improbable when two pairs are the same note (High and middle C, A# and Bb). But even four of five seemed unlikely to be random.

  13. Meg says:

    I couldn’t make anything musical out of the notes, though I tried. The piano was hugely uncooperative. Which B flat? Which D? It did not sound good.

    I circled all the letters in an attempt to see a pattern in the grid, and that drew my eye to the crossing words. What number are we on? 113? How many new tricks does he have up his sleeve?

    From Nixon to Cheech to racehorses. Great clues!

  14. joon says:

    hey everybody. i realized i never finished my writeup, but at least the meta did get written up. i guess i’ll leave it at that.

    i did want to say that i thought this was an unbelievably cool meta. and i knew that for fairness, it had to be solvable to somebody without a detailed knowledge of music theory. that rules out things like whole-tone scales and enharmonic equivalents. maybe that’s too meta-meta, but i was right.

  15. Evad says:

    Yeah, I overthought the musical aspect of this, congrats on getting inside Matt’s head on this one, joon. The closest I came was to associate the clue number with a key on an 88-key piano keyboard. MIDDLE C (48a) is key # 40, but tantalizingly, the 48th key from the end. Key # 30 is indeed a D NATURAL, but the rest don’t line up (HIGH C was just one off, 64 vs. 65). I was justifying Matt’s use of a 17×17 to have clue numbers that went up as high as 88. (The highest I saw was 89 across.)

    I do wonder why the SE was sans a theme entry, and that led me to think that OPERAS was indeed part of the theme as well.

  16. Howard B says:

    Wow. I love this meta-puzzle. Even more so by the fact that I could not have seen this one given another month to crack it. And yet, there it is, in plain sight, with no musical ear needed to figure it out.

    Well-played, though I was completely out-of-tune this week :).

  17. Peedee says:

    Wickedly clever meta! Like Howard, I doubt I would have cracked it even with a month.

  18. Blanche says:

    AARGH! I really tanked on this one. Probably because I’m a professor of music. . .

  19. Anne E says:

    This was pretty close to being my favorite meta ever. I started by writing down the notes in what I thought was a reasonable sequence and then humming them to myself, but that wasn’t too productive. Then for some reason I can’t fathom, I circled all the note entries (I never circle theme entries, so I have no idea why I did this), and then I saw it at once. I loved that there was absolutely no musical knowledge necessary to solve the meta (not that I would mind such a meta!), and I loved the variety of the crosses. Richard Feynman, one of my undergrad-era heroes, was a nice bonus. Great work.

    And Joon, this blows me away – I never would have thought of this reasoning. Wow to you too.
    “finally i got around to putting myself in matt’s shoes: why would a very capable constructor have to expand the grid to 17×17 and toss in 6 cheater squares just to squeeze in seven short theme answers? answer: he wouldn’t, so there must be more theme in this grid, probably a lot more.”

  20. Lance says:

    I must have been frustrated by the puzzle. For the you are here clue, I had put aargh…with a flat and right guard as the errant crosses.

  21. abide says:

    I was also suspicious of the larger grid and the cheaters, but when I looked at the crossers I was trying to mix and match…”middle earth”, “natural genius” etc. After two days I noticed the flat earth and the penny dropped. For the missing F note, maybe LOWF with FEET or FREEZE in the southeast?

  22. Jeff Louie says:

    This was brilliant, Matt.

    As an extremely lame excuse, I am going to make the dubious claim that this meta was more difficult for musicians than for non-musicians. For a musician, the concept of “B-flat” is a very specific and irreducible idea. A musician doesn’t parse a B-flat as a “B that is flattened” like a non-musician might – the musician immediately conceives of the pitch itself. As such, it isn’t instinctive for a musician to “see” the “flat” as a modifier anymore. That was my experience, anyway – It would have taken me another month before it ever occurred to me to consider the words “flat” and “sharp” and “natural” separately, because I’m so used to conceiving “B-flat” as its own irreducible concept.

    For the record, I submitted SOL. The only “note” that was “off” on its own as its own entry. I knew I was wrong though.

  23. joon says:

    thanks, anne. maybe it helps that i’m also a constructor? but actually, matt himself gave me the idea, many metas ago. i’ve relied on that kind of reasoning fairly often since, although it got me into trouble on the (star-crossed) ROMEO/all’s well that ends well meta. this week, though, the oversized grid was impossible to miss, and there needed to be some reason for it (and the 6 cheaters, though that’s a less striking feature).

  24. Dan F says:

    Surprised nobody else went on this wild-goose chase… there’s a TI right under MIDDLE C, a RE to the right of HIGH C, the aforementioned SOL up there… I decided that some diagonal and upside-down MIs and FAs were also important, convincing myself that the GSHARP was the only one without another adjacent note. Since I didn’t have a better idea, I figured a one-in-seven chance isn’t bad…

  25. Neville says:

    Dan F:

    That’s actually the line I took, submitting FA, as all of the other diatonic solfege notes could be read in across clues, but FA was only going up. I certainly wasn’t convinced it was right, but it was the best I had! :)

  26. Howard B says:

    Dan, Neville: That was my road to nowhere too. I discarded that idea after a thorough but vain search, since if I recall, some theme answers also had intersecting notes, and Matt wouldn’t have opened that can of worms. He’s set the meta-bar pretty high in that sense.

    I then thought perhaps the notes might be a song opening with one off-key note, but that didn’t exactly pan out since there was no inherent order. I then forgot about the puzzle when life took over this weekend and never got around to submitting a wild-stab guess. It’s great that the solution was staring us in the face, and yet wasn’t obvious.

  27. Karen says:

    I thought at first it might be some scale or chord, but gave up that idea with having sharps and flats, and the A#=Bb. I noticed the adjectives modifying the noun, but I had more of a problem with natural dirt than flat earth. What does that say about me?

  28. Alex says:

    Mathematically improbably that six of seven “randomly” selected notes would be in the same whole tone scale. Perhaps less improbable when two pairs are the same note (High and middle C, A# and Bb). But even four of five seemed unlikely to be random.

    Whoa, that’s a fantastic math problem. Given n notes at random and m ≤ n what is the probability that any m of the notes belong to the same whole-tone scale? When n=5 and m=4 as above, I’m guessing the probability is surprisingly high. I’ll try to work it out, even though I’m sure no one cares.

  29. Alex says:

    Whoops, I was getting whole tone scales confused with major scales. The probability is certainly a bit lower for whole tone scales …

  30. BrianGoodBeat says:

    @Alex – There are only two whole tone scales: the one built on C and the one built on C#, and these two scales together encompass the entire chromatic scale. So every note is either in THIS scale or THAT scale.

    I’m no mathematician, but wouldn’t the statistic then be defined as 1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 etc?

    For the record, I’m a music theory guy, and I saw the ASHARP/AXE crossing right away, and it pretty much gave it away.

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