MGWCC #117

crossword 8:27 (paper)
puzzle 7:59

hello and welcome to the 117th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Twin Tweaks.” this week, we are told that Something funny’s going on with five squares in this puzzle grid! This week’s contest answer is the grid entry that spells out the trick. jumping straight to the punch line (ow), there are five squares that can take either a T or a W and still fit the crossing clues in both directions. i’ve circled them in the diagram above. here are the ten ambiguous clues:

• {Made a decision (to)} VOTED or VOWED. this works well.
• {Set aside} is ALLOT FOR or ALLOW FOR. both of these seem a bit iffy to me. how does either one pass the substitution test?
• {They move big things around} clues TOTERS/TOWERS. eh. toters move things around, but not necessarily big things. and “tower” = “thing that tows” is a crosswords-only convention.
• {Enveloped entirely} is TRAPPED/WRAPPED. this was the cleanest double-clue, i think. the clue definitely fits both answers, while not being so vague as to fit lots of other things too.
• {Dominate, in a way} is TALK OVER/WALK OVER. very good.
• {From which point} is THENCEFORTH/WHENCEFORTH. works great for WHENCEFORTH, but isn’t THENCEFORTH “from that point”?
• {Like an old shirt’s fabric} is TORN/WORN. perfect.
• {Approximate location} is THEREABOUTS/WHEREABOUTS. i think this one works, even though THEREABOUTS doesn’t really pass the substitution test for this clue. it is, though, a word meaning something like “approximate location.”
• {Enclosed space at one end of the human life cycle} is TOMB/WOMB. this clue is written with such deliberate, glaring ambiguity that it practically screamed out the trick. and indeed, this was the one that finally broke it for me, although not until well after i had filled in the entire puzzle: with only a single T or W in each of the five two-way squares: VOWED/WHENCEFORTH, ALLOTFOR/TORN, TOWERS/WHEREABOUTS, WOMB/WRAPPED, and WALKOVER/SWAT.
• {Ground rule double, e.g.} is both a STAT and a SWAT.

so what’s the entry that ties it all together? it’s {Follower of St. John’s?} WORT, parsed into three words as W OR T. that explanation reinforces the title. i think it’s a pretty good title on a number of levels (playing off “twin peaks,” getting some TW action, and suggesting the duality of the unusual squares), but after i sent in my answer, matt mentioned to me that he was kicking himself for not using “What Might That Be.” that’s a pretty good title, too.

one thing that distracted me actually turned out to be related to the meta, except in a completely wrong sort of way: the clue for MANACLE, {Hand holder}, could also plausibly have been the clue for ARM. and the clue for EAT, {First third of a current movie title}, seems like it could probably clue just about every word on the grid. i don’t know because i don’t follow movies. eat pray love? is that current? is that a movie? i want to say it’s a not-current book. but i don’t know. maybe it’s this. or this.

yesterday i was commiserating with will nediger about getting his theme scooped by the sunday NYT. this one kinda sorta almost did that to me, although my idea is a) not exactly the same as this, and b) not quite yet extant. i won’t spill the beans, but i’ll have to do something a little different now for it to be a fresh idea. anyway, very cool meta. i liked it a lot despite some of the awkwardness.

fill roundup:

• there were a bunch of clues here that echoed last week’s animal homophones meta. {Bullwinkle J. ___} MOOSE crossed {French for “foam”} MOUSSE, which i thought was an elegant touch. PISSANT, clued as {Trifling, like Z in a 1998 movie}, was slightly less elegant but amusing nonetheless. {Boo-Boo, for example} BEAR—sure, although last week it was boo-boo’s bud yogi. {1997 Mary Stuart Masterson movie (also a National Geographic Channel series that Odie might enjoy)}? no, that was too much, although i did use the extra info in the clue to guess DOGTOWN. i’m not sure if {Bares one’s teeth to} and MER were supposed to be in this category too. more generally, how do you feel about clues that refer to last week’s puzzle? i think they’re pretty fun, but then, i (obviously) do every MGWCC. i imagine they’d be less fun if i only did the puzzles every now and then.
• {Adam Smith, David Hume or Sean Connery} is an outlandishly specific clue for NAME. did you try SCOT? luckily i had one of the crosses in place already.
• {Swinger’s demand} is “PUSH ME.” i get this a lot, actually. except sam doesn’t say PUSH ME. he says, “faster! … FASTER!!!”
• ONO {said “Why do they cover Paul’s songs but never mine?”}. hmm, maybe it’s because paul’s songs are good?
• {Logic game} is JOTTO. i think i have seen this in a puzzle exactly once before. it’s some kind of word guessing game, i think? never played it, but luckily i was looking at its page on xwordinfo just the other day. and speaking of word guessing games, would you like to play mine? matt likes it.
• {Word that reverses into a place where it meant “love”} is AMOR. did i incur this clue by admiring last week’s ETATS clue? this one wasn’t nearly as clever.
• {Sound the alarm} clues WARN, but i think WARN is transitive and the clue is intransitive. whoa, check this out: not only am i wrong, but i have just learned something new about grammar: WARN is listed in my dictionary as neither transitive nor intransitive, but as a “reporting verb.” don’t know what that is. luckily, it’s a dictionary: a verb belonging to a class of verbs conveying the action of speaking and used with both direct and reported speech. Reporting verbs may also be used with a direct object and with an infinitive construction. makes sense. and i suppose the clue works, too.
• {It’s always in Berlin or Vienna} is a tricky clue for a word i definitely didn’t know, IMMER (german for “always,” i take it).

well, that was august. how did go for you?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #117

1. Matt Gaffney says:

147 correct entries this week.

I originally had something like {Set aside on behalf of} for ALLOW/T FOR, but I thought it was too awkward. Although by the substitution test I should have used the full clue.

Does anyone know if this theme has been done before? If you’ve seen it please post a cite here. To be exact, I mean a theme where either of two specific letters can be used in several squares in the grid to satisfy both the across and down clues (I don’t mean J. Farrell’s CLINTON / BOB DOLE-style where the two sets of letters used vary from from square to square)

2. Zifmia says:

Didn’t even stop to think the month was over until reading above. This is the first contest month I survived to the end. Maybe it doesn’t totally count since Jet Blue was basically a meta-less freebie. Still…. Woohoo!

3. Spencer says:

For me, the theme was lightly spoiled by RAW/RAT, WARN/TARN not fitting. How about RAD/DARN instead to get rid of the extraneous W? Of course, it would be really hard to get rid of all the Ts, so maybe I’m picking an unpickable nit.

I confidently put in SCOT for NAME.

I had never heard of JOTTO, but I was intrigued initially by it generally being played by starting with a word with 5 letters. And since 5 squares had “something funny going on” I thought it was a lead. Anyway can you come up with a JOTTO meta, Matt, where we’re supposed to guess the secret word?

ERM crossing NAME was my last entry…in fact, I never even filled in that square, since I didn’t think it bore on the meta. Is “erm” used anywhere but in Great Britain?

Oh, and I agree the clue for WOMB/TOMB was so tortured I knew it was the “TAG ID” of this week’s meta! ;)

5. Howard B says:

Clever little rebus-y thingy and meta. Other than TORN/WORN (which I debated initially before deciding on the W), I didn’t even consider the T/W switch on any of the other answer squares, so I was sunk right from the start. In retrospect, I should have seen it on the TOMB/WOMB clue. The others never raised a blip on the radar for me.

Sometimes when solving you sense a theme (or a meta) early on, and sometimes it just sails right past you. Ah well… I admire this one nonetheless. The “swing-and-a-miss” was all on my end.

SCOT here as well. Nasty clue. Looking forward to the next chance to crack a meta.

6. Jeffrey says:

My first perfect month. The hint led me to think immediately of alternate letters in one box.

7. Abby says:

I initially put W in all the funny squares. That did make them easier to find when I figured the meta out, but seemed funny to me that I’d gone that way on all five!

I didn’t think the title read right as the T or W words in it, but would (sort of) if it were switched. But Tweak Twins sounds more like an Adult Swim show about methheads.

Anyway, another perfect month for me. I make it through most times and actually won last month, so that’s not too unusual. It’d be really lame to wipe out right after a win, right?

8. Neville says:

Lucky enough to make it through August! :)

I remember an IN OR OUT puzzle in the NYT last year (http://www.xwordinfo.com/Crossword?date=3/4/2009&g=39&d=A) but it had full words – sometimes used as prefixes. Pretty similar gimmick – but not the exact same.

9. Matt Gaffney says:

Thanks, Neville — I hadn’t seen that one. Similar concept; wonder what her clue for INLAW/OUTLAW was…

10. Neville says:

Ah! There’s the big difference – That puzzle clued the IN and OUT entries separately. That makes it not as awesome :)

11. joon says:

{Somebody you probably don’t want staying in your house for too long}

12. joon says:

matt has pointed out to me that “tote” does indeed mean to carry something heavy or substantial. so i retract my gripe with that clue.

13. Matt Gaffney says:

While I’m on a role, Joon, let me take issue with the other half of that gripe:

http://www.itow.org/

http://www.ptraa.com/

http://swtowop.org/

14. Karen says:

I initially had TRAPPED in the center, but changed it to get WOMB. The clue seemed obviously in that direction to me, not forced at all. But it was easier to notice when I went through the grid with a fine tooth comb. The MOOSE/MOUSSE crossing really threw me though.

15. Andrew R says:

In retrospect, I’d rather have gone with “Home run, e.g.” as the clue for the SWAT/STAT entry. Ground rule doubles are technically not a STAT (doubles are), and not all ground-rule doubles are necessarily swats — a grounder down the third base line that gets touched by a fan is technically a ground rule double, and think of all those bloopers that have bounced out of play along the left field line at Fenway Park — definitely not SWATs. A home run, however, satisfies both of those clues more accurately IMO.

Very minor squabble with a fine puzzle, I know. Keep it up Matt!

16. Eric LeVasseur says:

@Andrew R – these days, I think ANYTHING that can be quantified would be considered a STAT. Just watch any baseball game on TV:

“Roberts is batting .359 against right-handed pitchers on Thursdays.”
“All three of Garcia’s fielding errors this year have been inside domed stadiums.”
“The Tigers have had more home runs this August than in any year since 1997.”
“This is the 11th game this season where a no-hitter has gone into the 9th inning.”

I can only imagine the database that keeps track of all of this.

17. Matt Gaffney says:

Did I type “on a role?” Oops.

18. cheryl says:

I spent some time on no-O-D. Cute, but distracting…

19. Jim A says:

Mousse/Moose was my sticking point.