MGWCC #150

 crossword 6:20
puzzle 10 minutes or so 


greetings, fellow solvers, and welcome to the 150th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Form Follows Function.” this week, we’re asked to identify the title of a 2000s pop song. what are the theme answers? well, i don’t know. i didn’t find any. there were only two suggestive clues in the grid:

  • {Number of letters in the song} is FIVE. okay, maybe “suggestive” isn’t exactly right—this is obviously just part of the instructions.
  • {There’s one in this grid, so to speak} clues I-BEAM.

now, what’s going on here? I-BEAM is a pretty normal crossword answer, but the clue is trying to draw attention to the vertical “beam” of Is in 54d, {Hefty Henry} VIII. i noticed this pretty early on, but it didn’t go anywhere, because i was looking for the “function” that would be followed by the “form,” as in the title.

there is indeed one function in this grid, kinda: TAN appears at 25a, clued as {Lay out}. (tough clue, by the way. the whole puzzle was pretty tough in general. also, i can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite MGWCC clues ever: {Gets dark outside} for TANS.) but i couldn’t find SIN or COS or EXP or LOG or what-have-you, so i gave up.

there’s one other extremely noticeable feature of this grid: the crazy pileup of Xs over in the SE corner. XOXOXO is one thing, but MAXIXES, EX-EX, PROXIMAL, and even an extra X in the very corner just for the heck of it? yikes. that part took a while to unravel.

so what’s going on? well, the I-BEAM is a big hint. there is a stack of Is that actually looks like a capital I. and the mess of Xs includes a formation of five Xs themselves arranged in a big X. with the hint from 17a, we know we’re looking for three more of these self-similar letters. i’ve circled them in the screenshot above, but here they are:

  • there’s a big T where {Noted 1978 Harvard Law School graduate} SCOTT TUROW crosses {Three-time Pro Bowl punter of the 1990s, and oldest current player in the NFL} MATT TURK.
  • four Os in a ring form a big O where QUITS ON, OHO, and MUON are stacked. my favorite answer in this formation is “OH, OK,” clued as {“Now I get it”}.
  • finally, five Cs form a capital C where the ghanaian capital ACCRA, COOS, and ACC meet up.

putting the five letters together in clockwise order starting from the top, we get TOXIC. is that a 2000s pop song? apparently yes. i figured it was probably the answer because it was the only word-like object i could make from those five letters (though it’s a nice touch that they are actually ordered in some way, rather than just randomly strewn about the grid), and a quick google search confirmed it. let me advise you, though—if you don’t know the song, don’t listen to it or watch the video. it’s extremely annoying.

i think this is an incredibly cool idea for a meta. matt was mentioning to me that there are very, very few letters you could represent in a 3×3 block that could actually be used for a puzzle like this, and i was thinking the same thing. other than the letters he actually used, the only ones that strike me as being particularly doable are U and Y. and even then, it’s tough because you’d have to find a couple of words with UU in them and one with YY. they exist (e.g. MUUMUU, VACUUM, EQUUS, ZUUL; SKYY, SAY YES, KHAYYAM, ONLY YOU) but the options are seriously limited. i guess TOXICITY might have been feasible, though perhaps a strain for a 15×15, and repeating the I and T is somewhat inelegant. so TOXIC is a real standout in this sense; i’m just not sure i would have clued it as the pop song instead of just saying “this week’s answer is a five-letter word.”

quick hits:

  • {Three-time NBA champs of the 2000s} are the SPURS. i actually kind of feel that the definite article is important there, much like it’s important to distinguish h.g. wells’s the invisible man from ralph ellison’s invisible man. if you refer to a sports team as “spurs” with no article, you’re definitely talking about tottenham hotspur, not the san antonio spurs. anyway, the NBA playoffs started this weekend and the SPURS are the #1 seed in the west.
  • {2001 role for Gyllenhaal} is DARKO. i guess this is donnie darko, and jake g (not maggie)? for some reason i thought that movie had either johnny depp or … somebody else. anyway, i mention it only in the context of the NBA playoffs because the cool indy basketball blog freedarko is no more, alas.
  • {“Omoo” author} is herman MELVILLE, of course. this clue is meta in its own way—you almost never see MELVILLE in the grid, but OMOO all the time. and yet, MELVILLE himself is about a kajillion times more important than his 4th-best-known work.
  • {Must ___} clues the odd partial SEE TV. i was thinking that the NBC slogan had a hyphen in it, but that might not be true. in any event, by an odd coincidence, googling must see tv produces, on the first page of hits, a link to the blog of crossword constructor eric berlin.
  • {Once, and then formerly, and now again} is EX-EX, a strange clue for a strange answer. of course, EX-EX was part of the thematic big X, but … although i can understand the logic of this term, i can’t say i’ve seen it used. was grover cleveland in his second term an ex-ex-president?
  • {Bread for a kabob} is LAVASH, a word i did not know. my dictionary says it’s “a Middle Eastern crisp flatbread.” i’m used to eating a kabob in either a pita or some kind of thin wrap-like bread.
  • {Siamese twins, for example} are THAIS, as in more than one person from thailand. this got me, even after i filled in every letter from crossings. “what does thaïs have to do with siamese twins? *headslap*”

that’s all from me this week. how’d you guys like this one?

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21 Responses to MGWCC #150

  1. Tony says:

    I got the T right off the bat, but it wasn’t until I saw the Xs that I put it together. Once I figured the answer was TOXIC, I looked for and found the rest of the letters.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks Joon. 274 correct entries this week.

    I chose to meta-reference TOXIC as a pop song instead of just a regular word so solvers would have an extra click that their answer was correct. Also I wanted hundreds of people to suffer a tragic case of earworm.

    As Joon mentioned there were only 7 or 8 letters usable for this meta. You can only get a good, clear shape from about 10, but some of those as Joon mentioned are still unusable. Like you can get a nice H from seven H’s, but then you need three entries each with three successive H’s in them.

    I also though that TOXIC had to be in some logical form. With the SCOTT TUROW / MATT TURK T taking up a hugh chunk of the grid, north to south was out of the question. But clockwise worked.

    Incidentally, I couldn’t come up with any other TTT possibilities besides MATTs and SCOTTs (Taibbi and Thompson, in addition to the two I used). No non-name -TT words worked with a phrase: putt, butt, mutt mitt and watt lead nowhere.

  3. Matthew G. says:

    Hrm. Indeed. I might have gotten it if it had been clued as something other than “a 2000s pop song.” Good idea for a meta, but I’d never heard of the answer.

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Got it but didn’t get it, or vice versa. As I said in my email to Matt, “TOXIC – by Britney Spears. Loads of T’s, O’s, X’s, I’s and C’s in the grid. Could spend a year on this and get nowhere; know nothing about 2000s pop music!”

    Never saw the letters forming meta-letters; found the song in an internet list of 2000’s hits.

    But it counts, right?

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Matthew G. — you didn’t need to know the song. If you saw TOXIC you could just google TOXIC SONG as some solvers did and it will come up in volume.

  6. joon says:


    also, they’re all proper names, but:

    ITT TECH(nical institute)

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Oh you know what Joon? I did have MOTT THE HOOPLE for a while. At one point I had it split in the grid (MOTT THE / HOOPLE) which looked too ugly to use.

    PITT THE ELDER / YOUNGER I missed, good ones.

  8. joon says:

    oh, i forgot about L in my post. you could probably do L just as easily as T. BALL LIGHTNING, FULL-LENGTH, CALL LETTERS, STILL LIFE, WELL-LIKED, etc.

  9. pgw says:

    The clue for DARKO can reference either Gyllenhaal, as they played brother and sister in the movie as well.

    Very cool idea. It’s nice to get a solidly solvable meta out of a themeless puzzle.

    Other letters that maybe could work: D (you need one phrase with a triple-D like ODD DIVISOR); J (JJ somebody going down, JEJUNE going across.)

  10. Michael M says:

    No meta for me this week :(

    The Xes in LAX and REMAX and XERS threw me off. I got so stuck on those two extra Xes being associated with rest of them that I never moved beyond and saw the other letters.

    I was drawing lines across the grid trying to make sense of the X pattern, leading to obvious failure.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    The X of X’s broke it open for me. Then I saw the big T, and the rest tumbled thereafter. I think my favorite sort of meta is the kind where Matt has hidden something in the grid itself.

    I have never heard “Toxic” and I’m OK with that.

  12. Noam D. Elkies says:

    @Joon: I thought it was “Student’s t-test”; can’t recall seeing it without the “‘s”, but then I’ve never actually had to use it. It seems that “Student” was a pen name used by the inventor, a chemist named Gosset; see the Wikipage for “Student’s t-test” for the history.

    I mentioned in my solution e-mail that S could work, and indeed there’s a pattern of six S’s going from the capital of SPURS to the S of LAVASH that at I was expecting to be part of the theme but turn out not to connect to an S shape. I didn’t notice that all five theme patterns fit into a 3×3 square, but that does not seem necessary.


  13. Abby says:

    I was overwhelmed by all the Xs near the bottom, but, yes, the big T was the tipoff for me. I wasn’t mad about the shape of the O so I looked around for a little while, but realizing what it spelled, I stopped messing about.

    I think it’s good it was clued as a pop song. There aren’t a lot of five-letter hits, I’m guessing, so it clicked loudly when it worked out.

    Back in the day, we used to put banners on print jobs using large letters made of letters. Ours bigger than 3 x 3, of course. Did make me wonder if I was the only one old enough to be familiar with that and also whatever enough to also have that song on my iPhone…

  14. pannonica says:

    TOXIC, taxes. What a weekend! I wondered after the fact if SPURS was a subliminal hint for “Spears.” Had the same eureka sequence as Amy: X then T, then the rest.

  15. Jan (danjan) says:

    I was on the wrong path when I figured that since Scott Turow was in the puzzle, the 5-letter answer would have One L.

  16. I, for one, think that song is completely brilliant.

  17. Barbara says:

    I did have earworms of OXs and perused many lists of pop songs, leading me to believe that I either didn’t exist in the 2000s or had not one radio in my earshot. I culled the 5 letter songs and came up with TOXIC by my own reasoning which is nowhere near as elegant as Joon’s.

    However, I thought I’d wait until after the weekend in case the earworms made more headway. Alas, thoughts of the eXOdus from Egypt with bOXes of matzo ruined my timely plan of sending the answer to Matt.

    Curses! And 10 plagues on me. I was PASSed OVER!

  18. sandirhodes says:

    I noticed the three t’s twice, but didn’t get it until I saw all the c’s in the west. When I realized they formed a c, I was home, as the i was a gimme, and the x’s HAD to jive. That just left finding the o, and toxic (never heard it) looked good.

  19. abide says:

    As everyone else has said, very cool idea.

    My musical tastes are not quite Joonesque; I knew Toxic (but never heard of opera Thais). Watched the video several times and had earworm for two days.

  20. Deaf and Dunn says:

    I came up with CiTox (, which a very odd thing that I found with a search. I didn’t look further because I’m not a music person and had no idea I should look further.

    Like others have said, I caught onto the gimmick pretty quickly for the T, I, and X, but had to comb for the C and O because I was thrown by the double set of slanted Ses that are in the middle of the grid. I was looking for a way to fit them in, didn’t get why they weren’t in the form of an S as the others were, thought of the SS, italicized S, Slanted S… a bunch of other things. Anyway… never saw the word TOXIC out of the letters.

    Then I didn’t even send CiTox in to you because it I thought I was missing stuff and it certainly isn’t a pop song, so I think I’m up to a triple palm slap for me.

    Great fun, Matt! Thanks again.

  21. JBeck says:

    Wouldn’t Ace Ventura have been a BUTT TALKER?? (No, perhaps not)

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