MGWCC #125

crossword 6 minutes or so (paper)
puzzle 3 minutes or so

mgwcc125greetings and welcome to the 125th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “You’re Cut Off.” i’m not 100% sure what to make of this one, but here goes. we’re looking for something you might see at a macabrely-decorated halloween party. the only hints in the grid are the ten clues with parenthetical numbers. putting them in order:

  • {Loved singer who passed away last year (1)} is an oddly-worded but true enough clue for MICHAEL JACKSON.
  • {S.A. part (2)} is AMER., part of south america.
  • {Phone downloads (3)} are APPS, if your phone is smarter than mine.
  • {Earn a trade (4)} isn’t really APPRENTICE, no.
  • {One wolf (5)} is mostly a nonsensical clue for HERMIT.
  • {Possums pretend to be this (6)}? DEAD.
  • {Urban location (7)} is a HEAD? how?
  • {Man’s man (8)} is DAVID BOWIE. i guess. i don’t know him very well. what kind of stuff is he into?
  • {Arrow route (9)} is a PATH, sure, in the “trajectory” sense of PATH.
  • {Go tripping (10)} doesn’t work at all for HIGH ON YOURSELF. in the first place, the clue is a verb and the answer is an adjectival phrase. in the second place, they don’t mean the same thing at all.

so what’s with the weird clues? well, each of them is missing its first letter, which has been cut off. michael jackson is better known as a gloved singer; USA part is AMER; etc. this makes some of the clues dual-purpose, and for others it makes nonsensical clues make sense: learn a trade = APPRENTICE; lone wolf = HERMIT; turban location = HEAD; ego tripping = HIGH ON YOURSELF. the best is probably Iman’s man, as bowie is married to supermodel iman. anyway, put the missing letters together in order and you get GUILLOTINE, the answer to this week’s meta.

as i said, i don’t know quite what to make of this one. i would’ve been happier if the clues had been uniformly two-way (though that’s a great challenge), or uniformly nonsensical without the missing letters. having a mix of the two was off-putting. also, the puzzle overall was a lot tougher than last week’s, i think. unusually for me, i stopped to work out the meta before completing the crossword, although that was mostly because i just didn’t notice that i hadn’t quite filled in the MASAI/I LONG/ESOS/TAN area of the grid. after i got the meta i noticed the blanks and went back to fill them in. so the whole thing took me 9 minutes flat, but i don’t know how much of it was crossword and how much was meta.

guillotineoddly, this is not the only guillotine-themed crossword i’ve seen. boston-area constructor will johnston occasionally gives a talk on how to make crosswords, and one of his suggestions is to avoid gruesome or macabre themes, like the one in the grid i’ve pasted here. personally, i thought it was a pretty hilarious theme, but maybe that’s why i’m not a crossword editor. well, that and a million other reasons.

not much time left to do a fill roundup, as wordpress ate my post and i’ve had to retype much of it. unknowns in the grid included DEMARCHE, TILA tequila, “breakfast at tiffany’s” actress NEAL, and the unusual partial “I LONG to see the sunlight in your hair.” my favorite clue for sheer goofiness was {“Do you watch ‘M*A*S*H’?” “Yeah, ___ time!”} for ALDA.

see you next week for a 5th-week puzzle. i bet it’ll be spooky.

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23 Responses to MGWCC #125

  1. Matt Gaffney says:


    My original plan was to have all ten clues make sense both ways, but the meta was almost unfairly difficult that way. Ditto with the parenthetical numbers — no numbers and 10 smooth clues would have made this close to unfair.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Matt doesn’t need me to defend his clues, but consider that a HEAD is an Urban equivalent of an outhouse; to apprentice is a verb which indeed means to EARN one’s vocation while learning it (as opposed to simply going to school, for instance), and if you Go Tripping (on LSD, say), you are indeed High on yourself.

    But Matt, how many correct entries?

  3. Neville says:

    Loved that the clues were beheaded in this one. Agree with Matt – if everything made complete sense each way, as a solver, I’d be screwed!

    DEMARCHE – kept looking at it hangman-style saying “I want it to be DEMARCHE, but I don’t know what that means.” then I decided it was a French day-of-the-week and wrote it off. Oops :)

  4. Karen says:

    I didn’t notice the ‘off’ clues until I was looking at the meta.
    I never thought of tablecloths as ‘MACRAME’ before, I associate that term with wall hangings and plant holders.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Bob — 235 correct entries, far more than I’d anticipated. Wondering now what that # would have been if I’d made all ten clues smooth but kept the numbers in parentheses?

    Also Bob — I liked that some of the clues made total sense, some made a little sense, and some didn’t make much sense at all. I got e-mails from solvers mentioning that they “talked themselves into” accepting a clue like {Urban location} for head. That’s the thought process I was aiming to prey on — during a solve we often run across clue/answer pairings we don’t completely get, but if the crossers work we just assume we’re missing something, maybe something obvious, and move on.

    I didn’t want all ten to work that way, but I liked that 3 or 4 of them did.

  6. Pam says:

    I missed it this week. Darn. I convinced myself that there were only 4 screwy clues…Man’s man, Go tripping, Urban location and One wolf. All of the others made sense to me. My first guess was “Headless Jerry Garcia corpse” because of the answers…dead head MJ(michael jackson), Doobie(David Bowie initials) and high on yourself. But, I knew the real answer lay in the wacky clues. I just didn’t solve it. Maybe next time.

  7. LARRY says:

    Didn’t know the Kiss ballad, or demarche, or balki, or I long…, or high on yourself so naturally could never get to the meta. Tough puzzle mr G.

  8. Lorraine says:

    Not being a meta master magician, if it weren’t for the “off” clues, I’m not sure I would have gotten this one, although it’s probably a toss-up — maybe by grinding through the numbered clues it would have eventually dawned; but maybe not. “One wolf” immediately made me go “hmmm, would make more sense if it were lone wolf,” which made me start looking at the other ones, and eventually made the rest tumble. The toughest part of the meta, for me, was the parenthetical numbers. Since I had gotten GUILLOTINE by anagramming the beheaded letters, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they played into the meta. D’oh AND head-slap.

  9. Sam Donaldson says:

    “Wondering now what that # would have been if I’d made all ten clues smooth but kept the numbers in parentheses?”

    Or think if you left the clues alone and deleted the numbers in parentheses! I suspect the number of correct entries would have been 50 or less. At least in my case, without the numbers in parentheses telling me to look only there to crack the meta, I really doubt I would have figured it out.

  10. *David* says:

    I was thinking about Sam’s scenario after I solved it and I don’t think I would’ve gotten it without the clues being more obviously off. Man’s Man and Urban Location were bothering me but S.A. for example would’ve been impossible to tell that a letter had been cut off. I think it could have been interesting with a more obvious cut-off but the clues would need to be reworked to make it “solveable”.

  11. sps says:

    You coulda also omitted the numbers in parentheses and just told us it was a ten letter word we were looking for…Eventually, I may have been able to find all ten…

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Urban location was the one that tipped me off.

  13. Neville says:

    Perhaps if you had just starred each of the clues – then we wouldn’t have the “Letters in order” idea firmly planted in our mind. Plus, a little anagramming prowess would be necessary.

  14. joon says:

    to me, it feels like it would have been solvable with ten smooth two-way clues and the parentheses. also, it’s nicer not to have to anagram ten random letters to get the answer.

  15. Matt Gaffney says:


    That was the other thing: with all common letters in GUILLOTINE, and a largish # to anagram (10), it felt better to give the number in parens.

  16. Evad says:

    Yeah, I’m in the “have 10 clues that work both ways camp” (if indeed that was possible). I think that puts more of a demand on the constructor, and we all know MG is up to the challenge! ;) What I love about Matt’s metas is when their subtlety doesn’t tip their hand prematurely; unfortunately having clues that have nothing remotely to do with the entry, and a number at the end of those clues on top of it, are just big red flashing lights impossible to ignore when looking for meta clues.

  17. Spencer says:

    I hate it that I immediately got the meta as soon as I read “(Earn a trade (4)} isn’t really APPRENTICE, no.” Sigh.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Evad —

    I think the only letter that was really challenging to get a smooth post-beheading clue on was the U. Luckily the AMER. idea popped into my head quickly.

  19. John says:

    Matt I must admit you got me on this one! I thought DEAD, HEAD YOURE CUT OFF! The G answer, But did not submit it for Whatever reason?? Cool Meta!

  20. T Campbell says:

    I’m with Joon and Evad.

  21. sandirhodes says:

    There must be about 200 or so folks who are 4/4 this month. I think next week will be a nightmare.


  22. Russ says:

    I suppose [u]praise could have clued something like “elevate”.

  23. BrianGoodBeat says:

    Before solving the meta, I had convinced myself that an URBAN was a type of hat, like a bowler. All of these comments are telling me that that isn’t actually true?

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