MGWCC #156

 crossword 8:58, or 2 days
puzzle 5 minutes, or 2 days 


hello friends! i hope you had a great memorial day weekend. the 156th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Marginal Effort,” asks us to identify an eight-letter word. what have we got to go on?

  • the two-part instructions at 20- and 49-across, {…what this puzzle’s contest answer word is}: a PERFECT PLACE TO / PLAY BOARD GAMES.
  • speaking of board games, the central 15 is scrabble’s TRIPLE WORD SCORE, clued numerically as {SIX is 30 on one}.

and that’s it. but the nudge towards board games, and scrabble in particular, along with the hint from the title, encourages us to think about this 15×15 grid as a scrabble board. where would the triple word scores be located on this board? there are eight of them (a good sign), located in the four corners and the midpoints of the edges. i’ve circled them on the grid. (perhaps they should all be in dark red?) starting from the T of TRIPLE WORD SCORE itself and going clockwise, these eight letters spell out tabletop, which is indeed a perfect place to play board games and this week’s contest answer.

strange month of metas—week 2 felt like by far the toughest, though also the most elegant. this one was actually fairly easy, i think, and not the first one to use scrabble (see 100 weeks of solvitude). i enjoyed it, though, especially the fact that the key TRIPLE WORD SCORE contains both the T and E of TABLETOP.

this crossword was wickedly tough. in fact, when i first solved it, i didn’t have much time to think about the meta so i set it aside for a few days. when i came back to it, i realized that i had the entire SW corner wrong. instead of ARTIE/PUSSY i had ERNIE/MUGSY. all four of those clues were, i think, fairly obscure specific references:

  • {Larry’s producer on “The Larry Sanders Show”} is ARTIE. never seen this show. with _R_IE in place, it could have been ARNIE or ERNIE, certainly.
  • {“The Sopranos” character who gets whacked on a boat} is PUSSY. never seen this show either. was thinking MUGSY or BUGSY because of the mafia tie-in.
  • {Wagons-___} LITS? this didn’t mean anything to me the first time i looked at the puzzle, but 2 days later when i came back to it, LITS (or at least some kind of plural) looked righter than LING.
  • {American form of Sprechgesang} is RAP. this really taxed my german, but i did recognize “sprechen sie Deutsch” so it had to have something to do with speaking. but even after figuring out LITS and ARTIE and _USSY, i had to run the alphabet on RA_ to get the P. and it’s a good thing i did, because otherwise i would’ve been looking at TABLETOM for the meta.

the rest of the crossword wasn’t as hard as that corner, but it was still pretty tough. clues i enjoyed:

  • {Made a wheel, maybe} is REINVENTED. great clue for a potentially dull entry.
  • {Stands around the studio} are EASELS. not a verb here.
  • {European “you’re welcome”} is PREGO. did not know that at all, but of course the tomato sauce is familiar.
  • {“And now this!”} perfectly captures “OY VEY!”.
  • {Heath’s cousin, so to speak} is a MOOR. we’re talking about terrains, not people.
  • {Medieval garment} clues TABARD. i just like that word.
  • {“I’m outta here!” retort} is “SO GO!”. never seen this answer in a crossword before, but i’m getting wayne’s world flashbacks. ({“The Outsiders” actor, 1983} LOWE does not feature in this clip.)

stuff i did not know (other than that entire SW corner):

  • {Ukrainian-American chess grandmaster Novikov} is IGOR, but that was pretty easy to guess with a couple crossings.
  • {“There’s Only ___ in Wichita” (2007 indie album)} ONE T? never heard of it, but i can’t quibble with their orthography.
  • {Animal that’s also an “Animal House” character} is OTTER. never seen that either, but i did finally finish reading rushdie’s luka and the fire of life this weekend. it prominently features otters.

that’s all from me. see you in the comment box.

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23 Responses to MGWCC #156

  1. abide says:

    What a great month! The title was a BIG help, and who knew a Scrabble Board was 15×15? Thanks, Matt.

    I had to Google Arnie/Artie, and eventually the NW. I knew the Outsiders cast member was LANE, giving me an interesting observation at Leavenworth.

    My guess for the most popular wrong answer would be SCRABBLE.

  2. *David* says:

    I figure most people are going to say easy meta. I haven’t played Scrabble in 20 years so even though I knew that TRIPLE WORD SCORE was Scrabble related. I didn’t pick up that it’s located in eight spots on the board. I spent some time trying to find triple words in the grid and thinking START was the beginning of some pattern. I even started valuing out fill thinking that there was a pattern there. Finally I pulled up a Scrabble board on Google and realized the obvious, d’oh!

    The crossword even though I needed a little help, wasn’t as evil as many late month puzzles. A lot of the pop culture was info, I knew which helped the solving process.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    172 right answers this week. And 27 solvers who submitted SCRABBLE.

  4. pannonica says:

    But Scrabble is only seven letters.


  5. Aaron Brandes says:

    wagons lit – think French = A sleeping car on a European railroad train. [French : wagon, railroad car (from English wagon) + lit] lit, bed (from Old French, from Latin lctus; see legh- in Indo-European roots).]

  6. pannonica says:

    Okay. I can’t count.

  7. Scott says:

    I thought it was a trick. So I sent in WOODSHED as a perfect place to play BOARD games. I was thinking about WOODPILE, SAWMILL, etc. but I missed the obvious. Meta fail for me after going 3/3 in May.

  8. Evad says:

    I sorta overthought this one (which I tend to do with the later month puzzles, afraid I’m missing something!)–I got the idea to superimpose the Scrabble board over the crossword grid (a perfect fit, as Peter mentions above), and was thinking that some other squares (other than the 8 TWS squares) were being used as well. In particular, I was bothered by the phrase “IN INTEREST,” thinking it not something that could stand in for “compounded” on its own, and thought it should be “doubled” (sitting as it does on a double word score square on the Scrabble board). REINVENTED also has a “doubling” idea and sits on another double word score square. Luckily, I dropped that line of logic (or illogic?) and just went with the triple word square letters…it helped that they read clockwise around the grid as opposed to having to be anagrammed.

    Another five stars from me!

  9. D’oh, I somehow missed the superimposition of the Scrabble board and the crossword (despite knowing that both were 15×15). I also overthought the clue phrase and decided that it meant “the perfect place (on a Scrabble board) to play the word BOARDGAMES”.

    The diagonal has a slew of double word scores, and so although playing diagonally isn’t a legal play, it would score you 1154 points (assuming you can only play the 7 tiles BoarDGAMES and that the central DWS is already taken), so I sent in DIAGONAL.

  10. Howard B says:

    @pannonica – Scrabble is 7 distinct letters. so that is still completely acceptable ;).

  11. Noam D. Elkies says:

    @Howard B: true, but then TABLETOP also has only 7 distinct letters (;

  12. sandirhodes says:

    I guessed monopoly. Pththththth – no aha moment either. Nice one, Matt.

  13. Abby says:

    I got this, but was flummoxed on my first try. Until recently, I hadn’t played anything like Scrabble(tm) Brand Crossword Game in ages, but a while ago, I started playing Words With Friends. It has the TWSs in wildly different places, so my first attempt was a bust. Luckily, something made me think that that’d been changed to avoid copyright problems, so I checked a real board!

    That’s another month right for me!

  14. Jeffrey says:

    I thought of Scrabble but not the solution as the Tuesday deadline passed and I bemoaned my third straight defeat. Then I discovered the deadline was Wednesday, took another look and aha!

    Go Canucks!

  15. joon says:

    The title was a BIG help, and who knew a Scrabble Board was 15×15?

    i did! my wife and i used a scrabble board to lay out the first crossword i/we ever constructed. we used pennies for black squares, and had to dip into a second tile bag (too many A’s, i think).

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Aw, Joon — that is cute!

  17. Karen says:

    I also thought this was a rather easy (although elegant) meta. But that’s probably just because my mind went down the correct path first, instead of the usual flailing around I do for fourth week metas. Usually I like doing the late week puzzles on paper to really study it; this one I accomplished just on my phone.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Karen — judging from e-mails this was a true “magic eye” meta, where you either see it quickly or only after a long struggle (or not at all). Not much middle ground.

  19. Mike D. says:

    You’re spot on there, Matt. I felt like the guy in Mallrats who just keeps on looking at the Magic Eye puzzle in the mall and gets annoyed that everyone around him instantly sees it. Unfortuneately I did not have the breakthrough he did at the end of the film. Cool puzzle idea tho!

  20. Jan (danjan) says:

    I immediately looked at the location of the triple word squares, and then couldn’t parse abletopst in my head (should have written it down), so submitted INTERNET, which seemed to fit IN INTEREST somehow.

  21. pannonica says:

    Anyone besides me backsolve it by hitting on TABLETOP first and then figuring out why? Rather, how?

  22. tripleDunn says:

    Never noticed you got the word in letter order! I anagrammed the letters in the TWS spots to get to TABLETOP and was delighted. As people say, that title was invaluable.

    I’m a tripleDunn this month because week two defeated me but I kind of like it when Matt gets something so gorgeous and clever and I don’t mind that I didn’t get it because I can just appreciate the puzzle (and him) all on its own.

    Okay. It’s Juneuary here in San Francisco/Oakland, and I’m all gooey and gushy.

  23. Gwinns says:

    I spent an hour the first day looking for a place you could “play” BOARDGAMES as if you were playing the word on a scrabble board. I assumed there would be an 8-letter word in the grid that you could lay BOARDGAMES next to, to form 8 new words.

    Then I kept looking for this, despite the fact that it seemed impossible, there were only 2 8-letter words in the grid, and that BOARDGAMES is an illegal Scrabble play.

    Then I lay down to go to bed that night and immediately went, “Oh, I bet it’s the letters on the triple word scores.” That was much easier to find.

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