MGWCC #120

crossword 4:29 (44 down)
meta 3 days, with help

mgwcc120hello and welcome to the 120th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Toyota,” in which matt challenges us to identify the model of toyota he bought last week. the crossword was pretty easy, but i ran into a brick wall on the meta and could not solve it. monday morning, ben bass emailed me to say he hadn’t figured it out, and asked me for a sneak preview of my answer. well, i didn’t have one yet! the first and only thing i fixated on was the title, which is a palindrome—a fact indelibly etched into my brain by weird al’s bob. but i just couldn’t figure out where to go with that. there’s one palindrome in the grid, {Budapest-born billionaire} george SOROS. but he doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the theme. there are various answers that are words when read backwards (fertile puzzling ground explored by many a crossword theme about two weeks ago), the most delicious of which is 3d: {Both ways} DUAL. but i tried collecting first/last letters of all such entries and they did not produce a toyota.

so it was that monday night i had the following chat conversation with our esteemed hostess:

me: gaffney meta fail :(
it was bound to happen
Amy: Shoot, I haven’t done the puzzle yet
me: easy crossword
Sent at 9:24 PM on Monday
Amy: Huh. I’m not seeing any Toyotas in there.
Title is palindromic. Capital letters read the same both ways too.
me: yeah, i saw the palindrome
but only SOROS is a palindrome in the grid
and he’s not a toyota either
Amy: Omo in bromo/homonym
Aeiou are in Sequoia
me: oh, that’s interesting
Amy: All the models contain asymmetrical letters.
me: well the title isn’t A TOYOTA
so i don’t think we’re supposed to be looking at that
Amy: Any cryptogram action?
me: there would have to be some kind of hint that cryptogramming is what we should do
either that or it’s just something self-evident about the theme answers
Amy: And which are the theme answers?
me: i’m inclined to think all 6 long ones
because if it’s just the four 10s, then he probably doesn’t stack them, and probably doesn’t go to 78 words
Amy: Each theme clue contains U and P
me: oh man
you just solved it
Amy: And S, I,…
me: the first 5 letters!
Amy: Aha
me: figures, too
that is … amazing
Amy: You’re welcome. Two heads > one
me: indeed
Amy: Carry on!
me: aye-aye, sir
you think it would be ok to paste this chat into the blog?
Amy: Absolutely

there you have it. not only did amy solve it for me, she practically wrote the blog post for me. ain’t she grand?

anyway, you’ve all seen it by now, right? but i’ll spell it out anyway. here are the clues for the six longest answers:

  • {U.S. prison on a bay} is GUANTANAMO.
  • {Purist’s activity} is NITPICKING.
  • {IRS punishments} are PENALTIES. this is the only clue in the whole puzzle that set off any “hmm, that’s oddly worded” bells for me.
  • {Spurious reasoning} can be SOPHISTRY.
  • an {Uprising} is a REVOLUTION.
  • {Rips up} is TEARS APART.

in every case, those first five letters anagram to prius, the meta answer. i certainly would not have solved it without amy’s help. i’d like to think i would have, because indeed it was my idea to look at the 6 longest answers, but the fact is i had already made a pass through the clues for anything that jumped out, and i didn’t see it, despite its similarity to the meta from MGWCC #39 (although the gimmick moved from the answers to the clues). that’s a testament to how smooth and natural-sounding these clues are. toss in the fact that there are six answers, and you have a real gem of a meta.

quick hits:

  • {Word from the Mandarin for “bump” and “head”} is a terrific clue for KOWTOW. first of all, that’s an awesome word. second, the etymology is a fascinating tidbit.
  • {“In your face!”} is “BOOYA!”. i like that. has stuart scott finally stopped saying this yet?
  • {First name of the #4 and #11 men’s tennis players in the world} is ANDY, for messrs murray and roddick. both had an earlier-than-anticipated exit from the US open.
  • {Prophet for profit, say} is not a clue i particularly liked for HOMONYM. it’s true that the word can be used to describe a word that sounds like another word, but i prefer homophone for that, reserving HOMONYM for words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, like entrance (ingress) and entrance (mesmerize).
  • {“Canadian ___”} IDOL. jeffrey, that’s you.
  • {Smart foe} didn’t fool me this time. it’s KAOS, the evil organization in get smart.
  • {Like neglected Life} is SOGGY, although i’m not quite sure why. we’re talking about the magazine, right? but why would it get soggy? the board game? oh, okay, i just got it: the cereal.
  • {Boyle’s Law subject} is an ideal GAS. not named for susan boyle. did you try the eponymous physical laws sporcle quiz?

that’s all for me. my streak is, i think, broken, but it had to end sooner or later. but i enjoyed this one anyway and look forward to the last week of september.

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33 Responses to MGWCC #120

  1. SethG says:

    I went through the same thought process you did, just without the Ben/Amy conversations. Did notice that those entries all end in acceptable entries (AMO, KING, TIES, TRY, ION, and (A(P(ART)))), but couldn’t really do anything with that. I wound up submitting what I thought was the most likely 6-letter model, assuming that I was wrong.

    I was wrong.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Fascinating write-up, Joon (& Amy).

    I don’t consider this cheating, since the two of you worked the meta answer out together. I think a lot of solvers do this.

    What I would frown upon is when one solver has already figured out the meta answer and either simply gives it to another solver or gives them hints to the meta. So if Amy had gotten PRIUS on her own and then directed you to “focus on the clues,” for example, that wouldn’t be kosher in my book. But that’s not what happened here.

  3. Robin says:

    I got fixated on the ATOYOTA palindrome too and it lead nowhere. Finally the PRIUS letters jumped out at me after staring at the puzzle for the whole weekend. I also figured Matt was more of a Prius guy than a Tacoma or Tundra.

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Wow!! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to struggle with this one. I finally caught on last night and sent in the answer, and showed my work to prove I wasn’t just guessing. (Could GUANTANAMO have something to do with a CELL. That TEARSAPART to form a TERCEL. Because Cuba had a famous REVOLUTION, and . . . And I too puzzled over A TOYOTA and SOROS . . . But fortunately I knew that Matt’s answer would be rock solid and clear once I got it, so I continued to stare at the puzzle . . )

  5. Lorraine says:

    i feel sorta dirty. I got the right answer but only by complete and utter guessing — i didn’t see the PRIUS in the clues for the 6 longest answers — even AFTER I resorted to examining all the clues after striking out in the grid itself (I’d even half-convinced myself that it COULDN’T be prius since “gas” is in the grid, and even though the prius DOES run on gas, that’s not what you think of when contemplating hybrids)…I’ll take the “win,” and it DOES keep me in the game this month, but like I said, I feel sorta dirty…

  6. peechy says:

    Matt, how many got it?

  7. Lance says:

    I knew I should have just guessed Prius when I heard Matt was getting a toyota.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    84, Peechy. About 10 of which appear to have guessed.

    And about 5 more people said they’d called McDonough Toyota here in Staunton to ask them what model I’d bought…stalkers!!

  9. *David* says:

    I asked Matt how many people guessed PRIUS because it seemed the logical answer for our esteemed constructor. I also only got the answer last night when I couldn’t make any connection in the grid, no matter how hard I tried. I finally went to the clues for the themed answers and there it was. I really felt this was going to be a FAIL when I looked it over on Saturday but a fresh approach and less sleepiness made all the difference.

  10. jimmy d says:


  11. zifmia says:

    I struck out on the meta, but was one of the 10 correct guessers. People are proud to be saving the environment in their Prius. I don’t think Corollas engender the same urge to tell the whole internet about your new car.

    I’m just happy my 15 year old Saturn still gets 35 mpg. Heck, I’m happy it runs.

  12. Eric LeVasseur says:

    I woulda figured a crossword constructor, dealing with two-dimensional grids all day long, would be apt to purchase a MATRIX.

  13. joon says:

    zifmia: ha! but now i have to link to this new yorker column.

  14. cybergoober says:

    I will console myself by repeating the line which is perfectly succinct, “Gaffney meta fail.”

  15. Pam says:

    I totally missed the meta. But I’m one of the 10 who guessed correctly with the Prius. Just a lucky guess based on age, gender, marital status, occupation and geographical location(not mountainous). I’ll take it!

  16. Anne E says:

    Eric, I tried to backsolve this meta too, and MATRIX was the model I spent the longest back-solving with… but couldn’t form the grid into a reasonable one no matter how hard I tried. Once again joon uses constructor skills I don’t have… I spent some time wondering how many theme entries there were too, but I settled on four instead of six. The meta did eventually pop out at me late Friday night, but I had to put it down and come back to it. Nice work.

    It never occurred to me to call up Toyota dealers in/near Staunton, thank goodness! So… did the dealer TELL them???

  17. abide says:

    Am I the only one who noticed “PAD RECALL” across the top? Surely that was intended!

    Although I was guessing PRIUS anyway, the power of posting kicked in and I saw the clues right before hitting “send”.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Anne —

    We bought it in Harrisonburg, so the Staunton dealer couldn’t have told them. But would they have? Would think not but depends on how good the solver’s spiel was…

  19. Hugh says:

    Like most of Matt’s meta-fans, the palindrome title had me looking for SARIY, ALLOROC, XIRTAM, YRMAC, AZNEV, AMOCAT, SUIRP and others somewhere in the grid for a short while.

    Then, I too looked at the fill which could be reversed: LAUD, SOAK, TIMER, STEP, SAG, YAPS, and METS. Nothing usable there either.

    Finally, I figured that Matt would most likely have picked a green set of wheels, viz. PRIUS, and there it was, hidden in the first five letters of the clues to the six big across entries.

  20. Cole says:

    I spent forever looking at 4 down and trying to justify 4Runner before I eventually spotted the PRIUS.

  21. Abby says:

    The palindromic title had me reading backward too, and I finally sent in Sera (entry ARES backward), although I wanted to send in Sequoia or Prius, because I like the word and the answer, respectively.

    The title obviously should have been “My Car”. Duh. Then I would’ve got it.

  22. Meg says:

    It was the clue “IRS punishments” that told me the meta was in the clues, not the grid. I mean why IRS? The other clues (so well written) really didn’t come across as hiding anything. Having written out a list of all the Toyota models, the letters PRIUS just sort of jumped out.
    I love the fact that in Matt’s puzzles there are so many places to look for the answer!

    What about the title? Was the palindrome just a distraction?

  23. Abby says:

    I know I say it every time, but I hate when it’s in the clues- especially when you don’t even have to solve the puzzle to get the answer. :-(

    I actually spent a long time looking over the clues because I wasn’t crazy about my answer but didn’t put the pieces together.

  24. Karen says:

    I still can’t believe that I beat joon.

    I looked at the Toyota models before starting the puzzle, to see if any were palindromes. Then after solving the puzzle, I wrote down all the theme entries, then the theme clues, and it jumped out at me. About five minutes.

    I’ll point out that I’m part of the morally superior crowd too. Fifty mpg, yahoo!

  25. Evad says:

    Yeah, Abby I went with CAMRY just because it anagrammed to “My Car” since I couldn’t do anything with the theme entries and I agree the clues were very smoothly worded not to call attention to them.

    But it’s a better thing that MG is saving the environment than it is for me to have a perfect meta record this month…

  26. Ben Bass says:

    For the record, when I emailed Joon, I explained that I had already entered the contest with the unsatisfying Toyota 4Runner, since 4-Down began with the word RUN. I.e., I was done playing the MGWCC for the week, I was just looking for the correct answer out of impatient curiosity.

  27. Howard B says:

    Oh yeah, I checked everything on this, and what especially threw me was that the title was no help at all, unlike many metas. Only chance I would have had was guessing a model, which I also forgot to do.
    Well played, Matt. Enjoy driving your new meta answer.

  28. I Before E says:

    I’m getting better; but not quite there. I thought to look at the clues of the long answers and anagrammed the first letter of each into PRIUS (with a U left over). I facetiously asked Matt if the U was the one I was stuck in the middle with last week. So I got it right but not completely a guess.

  29. Matt Gaffney says:

    IE — that was an interesting tack that about 6 solvers mentioned taking.

    For variety’s sake I wanted to use all five letters in PRIUS as the first letter of one of the six clues, but I hadn’t considered that this alone would yield PRIUS + 1 other letter (U, as it turned out), from which some could guess the meta.

  30. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Eh, we rented a Prius on vacation a couple years ago, and I didn’t love being in it. So my love of hybrid car technology remained unrequited until July 29, when a foxy Ford Fusion Hybrid presented itself in the exact exterior/interior color combo I wanted. I get to combine moral superiority with a soupçon of “look at me in my tricked-out and luxuriously roomy wheels.”

  31. Pete says:

    I too called Staunton Toyota in a moment of desperation…”My friend Matt bought a car here the other day and really liked his salesman – I’m wondering if you could put me in touch with him.” They searched their database for Gaffney but found nothing. But I’m pretty sure it would have worked if you had bought it there.

    While I was figuring out if I really wanted to call a few more Toyota dealers, I started staring at the clues, and voila – found what I had missed before.

  32. sandirhodes says:

    I found a lot of stuff in the grid that, I thought, HAD to be either clues or herrings. For example, someone mentioned the ‘pad recall,’ but GAS also crossed PENALTIES (the recall was for a bad accelerator, right)? Then there was ‘yaris’ right there in the grid (revolved and torn apart in manRAY and SIlo). A crying SOB lived just below the recall, with IM IN TEARS, PAYS TAX, NO REMIT and even LITIGOR also available. Unfortunate in this line of reasoning was STELES, which can be softened a bit by expanding to PET STELES. Luckily, RUNONTO helped convinced me that I was just ON IT PICKING an answer.

    Oh, the meta I finally came up with was REVO (well, revolution torn apart, right)? I also wondered, since it’s an older model, that it may have been a DEMO (altO-MEDia). The final result, of course, is FAIL!

    God, I love Matt’s puzzles!

  33. abide says:

    Maybe it was accidental, but googling Toyota and pad recall put me on the Prius track.

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