MGWCC #159

crossword 6:25
puzzle epic fail 

so, i got nothin’. did you guys figure this one out? here are the theme answers:

  • {“Count us in!” (4)} WE’RE THERE.
  • {Fine dining experience (1)} NICE MEAL.
  • {Unsalted dairy product (2)} SWEET BUTTER.
  • {Break briefly (3)} TAKE FIVE.
  • {It’s typically countered with a drop shot or a winner down the line (5)} SHORT BALL.

i assume the numbers in parentheses are there to tell us what order to interpret the theme answers. since the instructions this week tell us that the contest answer is the opposite of the five-letter word referenced by the theme entries, maybe we’re supposed to extract one letter from each theme answer and then order them as indicated. but damned if i can figure out how. or what the title, “Going Shopping,” might mean.

it was bound to happen sooner or later, right? this week, a particularly tough meta happened to coincide with a weekend when life has taken precedence over crosswords (i haven’t done the sunday or monday puzzles yet as of this writing), so i haven’t been able to give it much thought. i spent maybe 10 minutes on friday and a couple of scattered attempts on monday night. but i don’t know what else i can do. is it just me, or has this month been ubertough?

should be an interesting comment thread, right?

Note from Amy: I figured this one out on Sunday after blanking on it Friday (and utterly failing to grasp the ACE-is-13 meta last week). Eventually I noticed that the second word in each theme entry (and the title) was one letter off from the first word’s opposite: HERE THERE, NICE MEAN, SWEET BITTER, TAKE GIVE, SHORT TALL (plus GOING STOPPING). Taking the new letters in Matt’s 1-2-3-4-5 order gets you NIGHT, the opposite of which is DAY: this week’s answer.

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40 Responses to MGWCC #159

  1. joon says:

    oh man. i noticed the sweet/bitter thing, but … is it just me, or does WE’RE THERE work the opposite way from the other four?

  2. Neville says:

    Joon, you’re right – that entry works backwards (unsatisfyingly) – it should be hERE THERE instead of WE’RE THERE. I think that’s why it took me so long to solve this. (No – I’m just dumb.)

    Solved this one half asleep at 7:15 this morning.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    91 right answers this week. I just had it in my mind that one letter from one of the words needed to change, didn’t matter which one (I didn’t realize that WE’RE THERE is orphaned until a solver pointed it out, but there’s nothing I could have done about it anyway given the severe constraints of the theme).

  4. Jeffrey says:

    I’m there…with joon.

  5. Hugh says:

    I quickly got the N-I-G-?-T and the STOPPING SHOPPING but had trouble with the WE’RE (HERE or WHERE) THERE connection. Then decided that NIGHT had to be the 5-letter theme and DAY had to be the meta. Looking forward to Matt’s explanation. [Uh Oh. . . Got it!]

  6. Toby says:

    Yow! I stared at the meta for HOURS, including at the Hopper Creek Group Camp in Glasgow (or Natural Bridge), Virginia, along with several other puzzlers. Finally gave up on it last night… and then decided to take one more look at this morning around 11 am. And got it! Sent it in to Matt at 11:40 ET, but I guess that’s after the deadline… boo hoo!

    By far the trickiest of the MGWCC meta’s that I actually solved (and I really did solve it myself).

    One thing I don’t really get is the puzzle title “Going Shopping”. It’s just another example of the switch-a-letter-to-make-an-antonym theme. This leaves us with an extra “T” that doesn’t belong anywhere. And unlike nearly all MGWCC meta’s, the title doesn’t even hint at HOW the meta works.

  7. wobbith says:

    Oh, man is right. I started a list of opposites to the theme words – naughty, sour, GIVE and TALL, but what the heck is the opposite of WE’RE (we aren’t)? So I figured that was a dead end. Congrats to the 91!

  8. pannonica says:

    Since Matt primed us in the instructions to think about opposites, that was one of my early attacks, but WE’RE and a string of wrong opposites for SWEET (sour, salty, hot, etc.) caused me to abandon that approach for a very long time.

  9. joon says:

    after further reflection, i’ve decided i like this meta and it was solvable. the fact that the instructions have this seemingly-unnecessary opposite (instead of just “this week’s contest answer is five letters long”) is, or should have been, a big hint. it’s far from trivial to come up with natural-ish phrases that meet the requirements of the theme. i wish i’d figured it out; it’s tough, but not as tough as some of the ones we’ve seen in the past, none of which have stumped me quite so badly.

    but the WE’RE THERE thing is a major strike against it. the fact that all of the other four answers, plus the title, work the same way means that it’s just not okay to have one that doesn’t. like last week, i’m going to have to give this 4 stars for a brilliant idea with a significant executional flaw.

  10. Neville says:

    Toby – Love the Natural Bridge, VA area! Also, 11:40 ET is ahead of the noon deadline, so no need to be upset ;)

  11. T Campbell says:

    What about THERE WERE?

  12. pannonica says:

    T Campbell: That would have to be a yucky partial, no?

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    Hmm! Tough crowd :)

    There were only about 15 two-word phrases I found where one of the words can change to form a pair of opposites. These yielded only about 8 different replacement letters for the meta, and then there’s the matter of needing answers of symmetric length. So I thought it was already quite lucky that there was even a word that had an obvious (important, for the meta) opposite I could make out of those letters.

    It would have been ideal if NIGHT had been spelled out straight down the grid instead of needing the parenthetical numbers and if WE’RE THERE hadn’t been orphaned, but again, the constraints of the theme were extremely tight already. But with the parentheticals included I’m surprised if anyone understood what was going on in the meta and still wasn’t sure of their answer.

    I used “Going Shopping” as the title because 1) I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t give too much away, and I liked that opposite pair phrase a lot but at 13 letters it wouldn’t fit into the grid.

    T Campbell, interesting fix. Not sure it stands alone as a phrase, but it would solve the orphan problem.

  14. abide says:

    Another fail here. I also considered sweet/bitter but not much further. Thought the five letter word could be “taste” and there are five of those…also saw a lot of “grains”in the shopping list items (oat) meal, sweet (corn) nice/rice, sweet/wheat…all very frustrating. So in the end I submitted GOITER out of spite.

  15. pannonica says:

    Anyone else try to Go Ess-Hopping through the grid?

  16. Karen says:

    Hadn’t a clue on this one.

  17. Howard B says:

    That’s a cool metapuzzle, I’ve got to admit. I take solace in that after looking at this for a long while, I wasn’t even close, and there was absolutely nothing more I could do to see this one. It was a “magic-eye” type of puzzle for me – you simply see it, or do not. I can envision someone catching onto this immediately, or spending 20 years on a deserted island and never seeing it.
    Since it’s been a while since I had such a failure on one of these (not so much as a guess), I can definitely accept it when it’s well-designed and well-hidden.
    I thought that WERE THERE would be the break, but I just couldn’t find any commonality.

    Pannonica: Yes! S-hopping was, I believe, “Plan Q” for me after my first 16 approaches failed. I feel a little better.

  18. jllaf says:

    I looked for the word in each pair that could actually have an opposite, regardless of order. My five opposites were MEAN, SOUR, GIVE, HERE and TALL. After about ten minutes, I noticed the TALL/BALL connection, then GIVE/FIVE, and went from there, subbing BITTER for SOUR. A great meta.
    Finally a meta whose title couldn’t have been used as a short-cut to arrive at the meta without working for it.
    I’m glad Joon admitted it was solvable, otherwise I’d have been wrong.

  19. Aaron says:

    I mean, given that 91 people solved it, I’m fairly certain that it’s solvable (I say with some bias, having solved it). But I’m terrified about this Friday’s; each meta has taken me roughly one extra day to solve, so whereas I once solved a Friday on Friday, I can only hope that I grok this Friday’s by Tuesday . . . before the deadline!

    Personally, I’m not bothered by the orphan issue and I thought the grid itself was very clean this week, but I can see how it (and the title) threw people. As I told Matt, I was sure that he’d get some guesses of LEFT from solvers who managed to find the I-G-H-T . . . guess that wasn’t the problem spot.

  20. sps says:

    @Abide: GOITER? Really?

  21. Abby says:

    After my annoyance with not entering at all last week due to a change in my schedule (breaking my winning streak :-( ), I almost repeated the same error this week, but I did get the meta after, in frustration, showing the puzzle to someone else. No sooner had I read off the theme answers than I got it. The lights all came on at once. That’s usually a sign it’s a good meta.

  22. Noam D. Elkies says:

    The other examples I came up with are “dry wit”, “all gone/done”, “cut in”, “go home”, and optionally “call out”, plus the compound words “daylight” and “uptown”. Also some less satisfactory examples (comparable with “nice meal”) such as “an out” — seen several times as a partial, including a Gaffney puzzle in a NYTimes Sunday 15 years back — and “deep swallow”. I didn’t expect to find even that many, but it’s still so constrained that I don’t much mind the inelegance of “we’re there”. “Sweet butter” and “Going shopping” are great finds, and “take five” is very good too.

  23. abide says:

    I think GUEST POST would solve the orphan problem, which gets several million hits. Maybe clue it as ” Critique a Gaffney puzzle on Tuesday”?

    (I did enjoy this puzzle, despite my frustration)

  24. Gavin says:

    Total fail here.

    As for the orphan, there’s also an apostrophe that has to be eliminated. “He’re” makes my head hurt. On my doctor’s advice, I quit doing something as soon as it causes brain pain.

  25. joon, I had a very similar thought process as you — as an MIT Mystery Hunt veteran, I immediately figured that the parenthetical numbers were giving me an ordering of the theme answers, implying that exactly one letter was to be extracted from each.

    After staring at the theme answers for a while and noticing that they were all two-word phrases, I finally saw the BITTER BUTTER transform and it clicked. I was staring at WERETHERE for a while, noticing that all of WERE/HERE/WHERE/THERE were very similar to each other orthographically. I looked at the transformed letters in the given order and got…. N-I-G-W-T? That can’t be right, it must be NIGHT. Oh, the first theme answer is inconsistently backwards. It works, but it’s inelegant.

  26. pgw says:

    Tough crowd indeed. This one clicked for me early, though I certainly recognized it was luck. But I was unconcerned about word order, and certainly didn’t care about the apostrophe in we’re – it’s a crossword, punctuation does not exist. Change a letter, somewhere in the phrase, and you have a pair of opposites. Certainly obvious once it occurs to you. A clever meta, in my opinion very well executed.

  27. peechy says:

    Would NOTHING work as the opposite of THING?

  28. peechy says:

    except for the order of numbers, sorry

  29. June Cleaver says:

    This was a fantastic meta. Matt’s a genius.
    DAY theme words –
    M meal
    T take
    W we’re
    T *** sTopping***
    F five
    S sweet
    S short

  30. June Cleaver says:

    Fantastic meta! Matt’s a genius.
    DAY theme words:
    M meal
    T take
    W we’re
    T *** sTopping ***
    F five
    S sweet
    S short

  31. ActiveDunn says:

    Well, after a lot of headbanging, I got NIGHT and submitted it in a moment of glee, quickly followed by utter dejection as I realized I had not submitted the opposite word. Which is worse? Not understanding the title at all or going down in flames over a technicality.

    Oh well, I guess I’m relieved that I am not the only one with a sore head.

  32. Meg says:

    When was the last time that the clue to solving the meta was in the directions for the meta (italicized no less)? I’ve learned that you just have to look at everything. Great puzzle!

  33. pannonica says:

    abide: GUEST POST is excellent. Correct length, correct letter. What a find!

  34. Matt Gaffney says:

    Guest post is extremely clever and would have solved every imperfection. I’ll mention it on the blog on Friday. I’m semi-stunned at how perfect it is (right length, second word changes, H is the replacement letter, no apostrophe)

  35. Amy Reynaldo says:

    GUEST POST is cool because when you change one letter to make two opposite words, you have another familiar phrase: “guest host.” (As in what Joan Rivers was on Johnny Carson’s show.)

  36. T Campbell says:

    Clue: “Terse, affirmative retort to ‘Any aggravations constructing this meta and then dealing with the Monday morning quarterbacking?”

    Answer: “THERE WERE.”

    (More seriously, “Affirmative retort to ‘Any problems?'” would also work.)

    And yeah, GUEST POST is pretty sweet.

  37. Matthew G. says:

    I got nowhere with this. But like Joon, this is a week where I’ve had almost no time for puzzles — been working 14-hour days — so if there was a good time for a meta I probably wouldn’t have solved anyway, this was it.

  38. pannonica says:

    The way the metas have shaped up this month causes me to fear that the next one (#160) will appear simple, seemingly to give us relief and release, but will in truth be more devious and nefarious than any of the others. The trap will not be obvious and will only “work” 95 percent of the way, like one of those frustrating jigsaw puzzle pieces that seem so almost right that you doubt your motor skills and question the precision of the factory.

  39. ===Dan says:

    The meta defeated me too. Am I observing the obvious (or the very wrong), or is there a nice touch that the DAY/NIGHT opposites also could fit the theme with a missing theme entry of “DAYLIGHT”? Or, would it be conceivable to make the answer LIGHT, since that would represent the transformation required in all the theme answers? (OK, maybe you’d have seen only 50 correct responses then….)

  40. ===Dan says:

    (I was asking about asking a slightly different meta question, not supporting an alternate answer….)

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