MGWCC #139

 crossword 11:25 (paper)
puzzle about -6 minutes 


greetings, and welcome to the 139th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Conjunction Junction.” for the second time ever in the MGWCC, we have a rebus puzzle, with AND/OR in the four rebus squares. here are the theme answers:

  • {Birthplace of Matt Groening} is PORTL[AND OR]EGON. i did not know that.
  • {Major Masonic lodges} are GR[AND OR]IENTS. i did not know that either. i’d complain that ORIENT as a noun is hopelessly 18th-century, but … it’s the masons. i don’t think they care.
  • {One of 40 spaces} on a monopoly board is the B [AND O R]AILROAD. whoa, splitting the rebus across three words! fancy.
  • {Confederate general with a D.C. Metro station named for him} is EARL V[AN DOR]N. this was awfully tough. i thought i knew my civil war generals, but i’ve never heard of this guy. luckily, i know the metro stop, which was (until recently) one terminus of the blue line. while we’re on the subject, check out this brief link, from bill walsh (the copy editor, not the dead coach)’s blog. why do people abbreviate “van dorn street” to “van dorn,” but not “addison road” to “addison”? i do it, too. i think “van dorn” sounds better, but “addison” doesn’t. my hypothesis (which you should feel free to refute), is that “van dorn” is a spondee and hence already feels like it’s long enough. “addison” is a dactyl and you kind of want one more stressed syllable in there.
  • {Locales of many college pranks} are FRESHM[AN DOR]MS. nice one here, and the easiest (so far) of the theme clues.
  • a {Hornet’s nest} is, loosely, a P[ANDOR]A’S BOX. lovely answer here, with the entire 5-letter rebus wrapped up into one word.
  • {Performed a stuntman’s trick} is COMM[ANDO R]OLLED. i’m not familiar with this phrase, so i needed to work out the rebus before cracking this answer. commando crawl, yes. but roll? well, see for yourself.
  • {Frankly} is WITH C[ANDOR], and frankly, it’s the weakest of the 8 rebus answers. there’s a word for “with candor,” and it’s CANDIDLY.

so what’s the meta answer? well, the instructions say that This week’s contest answer is the piece of punctuation you need to use four times to solve this crossword. AND/OR is always written with a slash, so i guess that’s it, although technically, there’s no slash necessary in the 4 rebus squares (despite my across lite artwork in the above screencap). at any rate, the meta was easy and non-controversial.

let me say a couple of things about this crossword: first, that’s an absolutely perfect title.

each rebus square is indeed the “junction” of the two conjunctions AND and OR. plus, schoolhouse rock is fun.

second, this puzzle is incredible. sure, some of the rebus answers aren’t exactly household names, but this is a five-letter rebus, and 7 of the 8 are absolutely legit… and they fit symmetrically into the grid! that’s a major wow. it’s also a minor lie, because (did you notice?) the grid isn’t symmetric. WITH C[ANDOR] is only 6 boxes long, while its opposite GR[AND OR]IENTS occupies 8 boxes; the two-box “fingers” at the top and bottom are in different places. did it bother you? sure didn’t bother me. (oh, i also just noticed that the rebus square isn’t in symmetric positions in B/AILROAD and FRESHM/MS. well, whatever.)

third, this puzzle was freaking hard. you may have noticed that the theme clues were pretty darn tough. well, all of the others were, too. it took dan feyer 16 minutes, longer than his last three saturday NYTs combined. i didn’t find it quite as hard as that, but yeah, it was tough. practically every clue was tricky, obscure, or vague. it’s not the world’s cleanest grid, but it’s pretty good. my biggest deductions go to A TI, CCLI, and PALACE crossing PALAIS at the P. CCLI at least gets a slightly interesting clue: {plus 196}. what does that mean? well, it’s 55-across, so reading the clue list, you’d see “55. plus 196” … and 55+196 = 251 = CCLI.

things i did not know at all:

  • {Anti-acid reflux drug} TAGAMET? no clue.
  • {Jazz trumpeter Mark} ISHAM? ditto.
  • {#3 Wings hit of 1976} LET ‘EM IN. i persistently misread this as LET ME IN while looking at my filled-in grid.
  • {Lostprophets song “For ___ Jolly Good Felon”} HE’S A. at least it was inferrable. but is there a song called “for he’s a jolly good FALLON” (48d, {2010 Emmy Awards host})?

that’s all for me. how’d this one treat you?

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54 Responses to MGWCC #139

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    About 250 correct entries — wow!

    I accepted as correct any of the following: /, slash, virgule, and/or, and ANDOR.

  2. Evad says:

    Hoping not to start another CAN/TEN controversy, but I struggled with this one, because the slash isn’t really necessary to solve the puzzle (it doesn’t belong in the longer entries in which the rebus appears). I approached this trying to come up with a punctuation mark that could stand for the entire rebus (and/or) and came up with a comma being the closest I could think of. (My tortured thought process was in a list of items, the comma can be read as “and/or” to separate each entry in the list.)

    Since I blew last week’s meta as well, perhaps I didn’t give this one the extra thought it deserved, or on the other hand, more likely overthought it.

  3. *David* says:

    Tough puzzle for me too. I figured rebus when I got to PORTLAND OREGON but I couldn’t figure out how the darn thing fit. I thought the OR, AND, OR might all be rebus squares and that all conjunctions had a rebus square but that whacked out my crosses. I finally figured it out by VAN DORN which got me moving but still one of my rougher outings this year.

    For the meta I was a little uncomfortable with the GNR guitarist since it wasn’t technically needed to fill in the space but I couldn’t figure out anything else that made sense so sent in the man who always wears shades.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Three people guessed COMMA, Evad.

  5. Eric Maddy says:

    I submitted “VIRGULE AND/OR SLASH” for the meta answer. Because I am a smart-ass.

  6. Hugh says:

    I thought that this was one of Matt’s best crosswords in this entire series. The meta was so easy that I spent extra time looking for a more devious alternative and finally decided that the “/” was the only possibility.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    The puzzle needed some help from Prof Google. I did get the meta all by my little lonesome.

  8. Charles Montpetit says:

    I’m not sure I understand the deduction rules. You can fault Matt for PALACE crossing PALAIS, but not Tausig (last week) for TEA crossing TEA?

  9. Neville says:

    I feel much better about my solving time of over an hour knowing that Joon & Dan took over 10 minutes apiece.

    I’ll take your word for the Van Dorn / Addison arguement, Joon.

  10. Charles Montpetit says:

    @Matt: Funnily enough, “comma” IS a “virgule” in French. Does that make the “comma” answers acceptable?

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Absolutely not!

  12. peechy says:

    Thinking slash too easy, and seeing that the entries required ignoring the slash, I realized that four entries required the recognition of a punctuation mark, namely the ‘(apostrophe): i.e. he’s a, ’til, I’m there, and let ’em in. That seemed hard enuf for a 4th week, and sneaky enuf for Matt.

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    But that doesn’t in any way address the theme entries, Peechy.

    Five people guessed apostrophe.

  14. peechy says:

    No, but it does adress reality.

  15. Johnny says:

    I went the same route as peechy, and even found a fifth apostrophe: PANDORA’S BOX. (I was hoping that ‘TIL didn’t count, leaving four.) I definitely overthought the whole meta. I thought the puzzle was brilliant! Great job, Matt!

  16. Jason Feng says:

    I had LETEMIN early and figured the answer was going to be apostrophe, and then had PORTLANDOR which got me nowhere as I was stuck with a half-solved puzzle. Luckily the rebus idea came to me via 43-down. Tough puzzle even without the meta.

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    Then we have PANDORA’S BOX, which puts the count up to five. And still leaves the puzzle’s entire theme completely unaddressed, which isn’t an option in a metapuzzle.

  18. Eric LeVasseur says:

    @EricM: That’s funny, because I did almost the same thing. I submitted “VIRGULE, SEPARATRIX and/or SLASH”… because I am apparently also a smart-ass.

  19. Neville says:

    Proposition: All Erics are smartasses.

    Proof by inspection: See above! Q E :D

  20. Aaron says:

    Well one generous feature of the meta was that you could get it even if you didn’t find all four of the and/or’s.

    Along the way I learned of a Philipine Lt. General CARdozo, who fit the grid, has the name of a metro station, but has nothing to do w. the Civil war.

    Note that in typical fashion Matt put the word boundaries of the theme entries in four different places.

  21. Howard B says:

    I think Joon’s knowledge of the D.C. Metro system may have lowered his difficulty scale down a notch. Me, I traveled it once as a teenager and remember no stops so without Google, ignorance of the Metro system definitely upped the spice level a bit.

    Loved the puzzle and the meta. “And/or” is a conjunction combo used as shorthand with exactly that punctuation, so it seems legit: “Add nuts, raisins, and/or Soylent Green to the recipe, to taste”.

  22. Jeffrey says:

    MATT, curious why ANDOR (no /) is acceptable when the instructions refer to “the piece of punctuation”

  23. Matt Gaffney says:

    Good question, Jeffrey. I went back and checked just now, and only one person submitted ANDOR without clarifying it by “(slash)” or some other tag. Now that you bring it up, I don’t think I can take ANDOR only. But AND/OR is definitely OK.

  24. I Before E says:

    I submitted “Space” as the answer because I thought it was the “piece of punctuation” that needed to be used–whereas the “slash” needed to NOT be used in making “and/or” fit the answers. I still think that but I see now with b AND O Railroad, I would have used the space five times, not four. And while a space may not be a punctuation “mark,” Wikipedia says it is punctuation, thus a “piece of punctuation” as worded in the meta; I thought Matt was making an important distinction. I agree that the puzzle itself was the toughest in a long while.

    Curious, when I first submitted this, I put “space” and”slash” in carats rather than quotes, and the words disappeared in the initial posting. Why was that?

  25. Norm C. says:

    I submitted FORWARD SLASH as my entry but didn’t see that term in the list of Matt’s acceptable entries. Am I correct in assuming that is also acceptable?

  26. Neville says:

    Norm C.,

    I did the same (but also specified ‘as in AND/OR’), but I think we’re both good as we had SLASH, which was the pith.

    I Before E,
    I think the website wants those items to be HTML tags when you add carats.

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    Yeah, you guys are good with FORWARD SLASH.

  28. Barbara says:

    I’m either a smartass and/or smart and/or an ass.

  29. sandirhodes says:

    OK, I have an argument. I still think apostrophe is a valid answer. There are only 4 acceptable uses of the apostrophe in this puzzle (He’s a, I’m in, Let ’em In, and Pandora’s box). I can’t put it any better than the argument at this site (, refering to and denying ’til.

    You don’t need a slash for Portland, Oregon, you need a comma.
    Grand/Orients? B and/O Railroad?
    Van D/orn? Can/dor?
    Pand/ora’s Box?????

    You’ve never seen these printed as such, and you DON’T need the slash. I might give up on Freshman/Dorms and Commando/Rolled, but my point is clear. The slash was too obvious. Heckfire, joon even felt the meta was solved long before he finished the puzzle. Is that fitting for the last puzzle of the month? I don’t think so.


    Heck, a case can even be made for hyphen, thus: one-As, one-ten, heave-ho and Econo- (but I think econo- is weak).

  30. Aaron says:

    Norm, I did the same thing as you (FORWARD SLASH), but man oh man was I paranoid submitting this entry. I spent a good ten minutes scouring the grid to find hidden punctuation words/marks. Shivered for a bit when I realized that COMMA was in (COMMA)NDO ROLL, but shouldn’t find anything else anywhere. Though I agree that if we’re being explicit in the wording, “/” is the punctuation mark you *don’t* use to solve this puzzle.

  31. Matt Gaffney says:

    Asked and answered, sandirhodes. See my comments at 11:30 and 11:38.

  32. Matt Gaffney says:


    In your whole life, have you ever seen AND/OR written without a slash?

    Me neither.

  33. Alex says:

    I thought exactly like Evad. Thought the slash in AND/OR was a red herring since you don’t actually need a slash for B AND O RAILROAD, or any of the others. I was also a little scarred from last week’s meta so I didn’t look any further.

  34. Matt Gaffney says:

    OK, so how should I have phrased it?

    Incidentally, about 95% of entrants got this meta correct.

  35. sandirhodes says:

    Matt, my argument is that slash is not something needed “to be used 4 times to solve the crossword,” thus it is necessary to look elsewhere.

    AND, it is too easy an answer for a fourth or fifth week puzzle.

  36. Matt Gaffney says:

    By that reading, sandi, neither is an apostrophe. You don’t put apostrophes in the grid, and there would be five of them anyway, not four. So in addition to randomly ignoring the puzzle’s theme, that answer also doesn’t work even on the point you cite.

  37. Amy Reynaldo says:

    The crossword was super tough. Took me a good 12 or 13 minutes. (Yay! Faster than Feyer! Such a rare treat.) The meta was shockingly easy, I thought, not as intricately wrought as an end-of-the-month meta usually is.

    Although I am not named Eric, I submitted “/, aka slash, aka virgule.” Just wanted to cover all the bases. As a longtime Mac user, I deplore the “forward slash” usage. No, people, that is just a slash. That monstrosity that found use in DOS is a backward slash.

  38. Aaron says:

    So calling the slash a forward slash would be a retronym? Fair enough. And Matt, I’m not disagreeing with that as the answer, just saying that it gave me pause given the tricks of the previous two weeks, and considering that ANDOR is the rebus entry, not AND/OR (hence the slash is *not* needed to complete the puzzle). Now, if the AND had been used for the across entry and the OR had been used for the down entries, *that* may have required a slash, but I’m more awed by your ability to have such a large and consistent rebus (that produced such wonderful theme entries, symmetric or not). But this week there was nothing else in the puzzle that hinted at anything else being the meta solution, and the puzzle *was* called “Conjunction Junction,” which suggested that you were looking for something that could be placed at the meeting point between two conjunctions, and that’s a slash, any way you cut it.

  39. Matt Gaffney says:

    OK Aaron, sorry. I’m a mite tetchy. You should see my e-mails from the past couple of weeks.

  40. Jan (danjan) says:

    I was in the apostrophe camp as well; didn’t see the fifth one, though. Couldn’t believe that the meta could be so straightforward on week 4.
    Jan O’
    (PS I proudly consider the apostrophe as a necessary part of my name, even though it wouldn’t appear in a crossword puzzle.)

  41. rmac says:

    My Chicago Manual of Style calls the punctuation mark in question the “solidus,” so I included that (along with (forward) slash and virgule) as part of my answer.

    I wish my name was Eric.

    — Russ

  42. Alex says:

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the meta, Matt. I’m just saying I’m a bit jumpy about sending in my first instinct these days, especially if there’s even a shadow of a doubt in my mind about whether it’s right.

  43. Evad says:

    I was trying to stuggle with another way of phrasing the instructions—something like “what punctuation mark has been removed from four entries in this puzzle” would have me thinking of what I would expect to find between AND and OR but wasn’t needed in the theme entries themselves.

    Everyone’s minds work in their own inimitable fashion; that’s why I find these discussions about how people arrived at their meta entries so fascinating. (I sound like Spock, don’t I?)

  44. joon says:

    inimical, really? that’s kind of a paranoid outlook.

  45. Evad says:

    Hmm, I think I meant inimitable. Close but no cigar.

  46. Matt Gaffney says:

    My mind is inimical at times…

  47. pannonica says:


  48. Gnarbles says:

    Is the tip jar open, Matt? Great puzzle construction.

  49. abide says:

    Massive Googling needed in the SW, but meta was easy to interpret. Reminded me of a Hex cryptic with “P and/or A” as the gimmick.

  50. zifmia says:

    Got the meta with no problem, except for the time I spent Googling to see if there was some obscure invented punctuation mark like an interrobang that represents and/or.

  51. Abby says:

    I liked this one a lot, but found it annoying that neither Across Lite nor Crosswords would let me type a real / (AL will let you use the symbol you used above, of course, but yuck). I wouldn’t find that annoying except for all the times I’ve typed in the wrong window and got weird stuff in there. Looks like it only likes @#$%&+?, which mostly looks like a cartoon obscenity.

    For once, Crossword displayed the rebus better though. Looks really nice on there.

    I tried PORTLAND OR first, but figured out the rebus when I got to the 48A/44D check. Then it pretty much all made sense, even though I didn’t know some of them.

    I figured the answer was /, but sent in “/ (/ AND/OR)” in case they added new punctuation marks since I was a kid. Bad enough people think backslash is a real thing nowadays.

  52. sandirhodes says:

    Regardless of all the controversy, the month of January 2011 certainly has to be the most thought-provoking month of MGWCC, surpassing even Hell Month. That alone is cause for congratulations, and evidences the mutual respect between Matt and ourselves.

  53. sandirhodes says:

    And BTW, Aaron’s suggestion for the rebus would have been outrageous!

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