MGWCC #121

crossword 6:56 (paper)
puzzle 0:43

mgwcc121greetings and welcome to the 121st episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Innumeracy.” i thought this was pretty easy for a 4th-week puzzle, but it was so clever, original, and well-executed that it goes straight into my “favorite MGWCCs” folder. this week’s instructions inform us that One of this week’s seven theme answers is located in the wrong place in the grid. Which one is it? well, what are those theme answers? you can’t really tell from the screenshot i posted, but there are seven answers in the grid that require the insertion of a roman numeral to fit the clues:

  • 56a: {Working, as a crossword puzzle} is SO(LVI)NG. only SONG fits into the grid, but it doesn’t make any sense as the answer to the clue.
  • 59a: {Fancy word meaning “overly wordy”} is PRO(LIX). i’m partial to fancy words, and this one’s no exception.
  • 2d: {Geometry spokes} are RAD(II). i always like to see a math clue for this instead of anatomy. of course, RAD by itself is a math term, too (short for radian), which obscured this answer from me for a while even though it was the first theme answer i came across. but it doesn’t really fit the clue.
  • 4d: {Not deceased} is AL(IV)E. straightforward enough.
  • 16d: {Football player such as Fran Tarkenton or Randy Moss} is an E(X-VI)KING. awesome. this is probably the most unlikely of the theme answers. who would have thought that XVI could be inserted into any word to make anything sensible? hall-of-famer fran tarkenton retired as a viking in 1978, but future hall-of-famer randy moss was traded from minnesota to oakland and then new england, and is still going strong, with two touchdown catches yesterday taking him over 150 for his career.
  • {20d: “Put a Tiger in Your Tank” company} is E(XX)ON. good one, too. not many words have XX in the middle.
  • {58d: Very difficult, like dealing with the IRS?} is TA(XI)NG. i suppose so, at that. we had to jump through a ton of hoops and there were various delays, but we did finally get our first-time homebuyer tax credit, which is now $8000 in the bank.

well, it’s pretty obvious which one isn’t in the right place, right? six of the seven have the same (roman) numeral inserted as the clue number: II for 2d, IV for 4d, etc. the exception is TA(XI)NG, which is at 58d but has the numeral for 11 inserted. so that’s the contest answer.

the construction of a puzzle like this can’t be easy—the numerology forces certain entries in certain places, affecting things like placement of black squares, limiting your freedom to rework the surrounding fill around some of these answers. against that, you’ve got seven theme answers occupying a total of only 25 squares, a reasonable decision. i’m actually rather impressed that he could find even seven. the only other one i can see that looks promising is 54/LIV, but there’s already a lot of crowding in that area of the grid, with 56 and 59 and the out-of-place 58 (although that answer could have gone in the grid almost anywhere).

it’s an elegant touch that all seven look normal in the grid; you’re not just adding a roman numeral to any old string of letters. in every case, it’s an actual word that’s being modified. another thoughtful touch is that the theme clues are straightforward, and pretty easy, because the missing roman numerals are, in some sense, “unchecked” letters. eventually, all of them but one are actually “checked” by the clue number, but until you realize that, it can be tough to figure out where these things are going. and even after you do have the clue number, it’s still not clear where to stick them into the word unless you can solve that particular clue, because the crosses aren’t going to help you. so the clues have to got to be particularly helpful, and they are. but this made the meta a lot easier to get than last week’s, at least for me.

quick hits from the fill:

  • 52a: {J-pop greats ___ Knife (anagrams to the surname of the Muppets’ creator)} is SHONEN. whoa. the anagram clue is pretty helpful. otherwise i might have been worried that this had a LII stuck in it somewhere.
  • {Tikal is there} clues GUATEMALA. tikal is an amazing mayan archaeological site, as well as a board game that i played a couple of times a decade ago. anyway, this clue struck me because it seems more likely to see TIKAL in the grid and guatemala in the clue rather than the other way around. still, a nice clue.
  • the {Word on maps between 1971 and 1997} is ZAIRE; the country was renamed the DRC in 1997, and the river was renamed the congo as well. did you know that zaïre is also the name of the most highly regarded play by voltaire? i mention this for entirely obscure reasons.
  • more geography: TONGAN, IRAN, ASIA MINOR, TORONTO, EAU claire.
  • {TV show Justin Bieber guested on last night} is apparently CSI, for some definition of “last night.” what night is CSI on? i’m guessing thursday?
  • {Offensive holiday} is a cute clue for TET, which doesn’t offend many people.
  • {Fried food, often} clues EGG. true enough—fried EGGs are quite common. but the wording of the clue is subtly deceptive. it made me think the answer would be something health-related like CHOLESTEROL SOURCE or just BAD IDEA.
  • to {Get darker} is to TAN. most of us are now doing just the opposite, which … there isn’t really a word for, is there?
  • {Argue (against)} is INVEIGH. more fancy words! thumbs up.
  • {Knock-knock response} is “IT’S OPEN.” i like this. great crossword answer, and a nice clue too. i’m going to say “it’s open” the next time somebody tries to perpetrate a knock-knock joke on me.
  • {Father of Jack and Kelly} is OZZY newsome, hall-of-fame tight end and current baltimore ravens GM. no, you say? that’s OZZIE? well then i have no idea.
  • {Team that lost 3-1 to Russia today at the 39th Chess Olympiad} is the USA. i hadn’t heard.
  • {Elvis’s “It’s Now Or Never” uses its melody} is a new clue for O SOLE MIO. i don’t know how many times i’ve seen MIO (or, worse, O SOLE) in a crossword, but honestly, i don’t know this tune. i also don’t know the elvis song, but having listened to o sole mio on youtube, i can now guess how it goes.
  • {“If you’re a boy ___ girl” (Madonna lyric)} is a partial, OR A, that seems to have one of its words duped in the clue. -1 point. (i’m a harsh grader.)

that’s all for me. did you all enjoy this one as much as i did?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #121

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    About 275 correct answers this week, which surprised me greatly. I was expecting somewhere in the 125-150 range.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Yup, fun puzzle, and Matt continues to be incredibly clever. But the meta was so easy, I had it before I finished thrashing through the far SE. (None of ZEVON, ZAIRE, or YUCCA came to me without a great fight.)

  3. joecab says:

    Matt definitely shoulda switched last week’s with this one. And in my haste to solve it I somehow missed PROLIX. (D)OH! Very enjoyable puzzle and theme.

  4. *David* says:

    My reasoning for the larger then expected meta answers group is because the puzzle and the meta went hand-in-hand. If you solved the crossword you almost certainly cracked the meta as well. The crossword wasn’t overly difficult so hence more meta solutions. I was one of the wierd ones who solved the crossword without clearly understanding the meta and went back to understand what was going on with the screwy entries.

  5. Morris Pelzel says:

    I got what was going on with the meta pretty easily and sent in TAXING as my answer, but I was confused because when you follow the pattern established in all the other theme answers, you get TANG for “Very difficult, like dealing with the IRS,” which isn’t correct. When you take out the Roman numerals in all the other theme answers, the crossing answers are correct…EDGED, LADIESMAN, etc. But not in this case. So what exactly goes in the square there (58)? If you put in TIX, you get TANG going down which, again, isn’t the answer for the clue. If you put in TXI, same thing. Obviously, there’s something I’m not getting.

  6. joon says:

    morris, you are indeed confused. the roman numerals don’t go into a square. on my paper, i wrote them on the line between squares, or in the black square in the case of RAD(II) and PRO(LIX). they also don’t affect the crossing answers. this is true of both TA(XI)NG and all the other theme answers. EDGED and LADIES’ MAN are not theme answers; they’re just crossing answers. as for “what goes into square 58,” the answer is T.

  7. Karen says:

    I hadn’t really thought about the construction challenges involved in this puzzle. Great write-up, joon. I’m glad that the theme answers were easy to see.

    Morris, TANG matches its clue as well as ALE matches “not dead”. The roman numerals are ‘invisible’. TANG was the last answer I put in, because it looked so not right.

  8. Morris Pelzel says:

    Yes, I see it now…thanks for the clarification. For some reason I thought the XI had to go before the ANG, because of the order in which I solved the clues down there.

  9. Jimmy d says:

    Lol, nice Ozzy joke, Joon!

    That was a joke, right?

  10. Evad says:

    I wouldn’t blame joon if he’s never watched an episode of The Osbournes.

  11. sandirhodes says:

    I wonder if Joon is aware that Ringo Starr was in a group before the All-Starr Band??

    (j/k, re: Elvis/Ozzy)

  12. joon says:

    it was a half-joke. there’s only one famous OZZY, so it had to be him, but the clue was bizarre. i can’t imagine why i should be expected to know the names of his kids. until today i was unaware even of the existence of “the osbournes,” and i kinda liked it better that way.

  13. nanpilla says:

    I think David is right – you really couldn’t fill in the puzzle unless you figured out the meta.
    Like Karen, I didn’t really think about how hard this one must have been to put together. One of the few times where fancy construction constraints didn’t hinder the so(lvi)ng process.

  14. SHAW says:

    To repeat what Karen said, thanks for drawing attention to the difficulty of writing such a puzzle – it really makes me appreciate it even more. Very good month for Gaffney, not as good for SHAW, who missed last week’s Prius, perhaps due to its super-quiet engine.

  15. SHAW says:

    Also, wow, what is up with our avatars. This is the first time I noticed this, but it’s hilarious. I just assumed all the other commenters were in on some private joke, but no, it looks like we all get one of these now. I’m going to see if I can get that picture onto my work ID.

  16. Meg says:

    Sometimes I have to just fill in an entry because of all the crossings even though the entry itself makes no sense. I did the whole puzzle this way and only thought about the meta later. There’s a certain trust, a kind of a transcendental feeling that everything will work out. Cosmic solving. Either that or I’ve really screwed up.

    I am usually a bit disappointed when the meta reveals itself in a few minutes. The Aha! after several hours of brain twisting is much more gratifying!

  17. Abby says:

    I liked this one a lot, but it probably belonged earlier in the month.

  18. abide says:

    I bisected the affected squares and jammed the letter and Roman numerals in…I did not notice that words were formed without the roman numerals.

    A really tough meta could have had asterisks by all seven clues, plus 9 down clue, clue TANG and others straight, and then ask us to figure out which asterisk clue is in the wrong spot….

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