MGWCC #160

crossword 8:16
puzzle 2 minutes too long! 

did somebody say losing streak? this is the second week in a row i’ve been utterly stumped by matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. this week’s puzzle, “Plot Device”, challenges us to come up with a 6-letter literary term. there are no overt theme answers in the grid, but there are four 10-letter answers arranged in stacked pairs:

  • {Fool, emphatically} is a TOTAL IDIOT.
  • {Machine in a gym} is an ELLIPTICAL (trainer), but i’ve certainly heard them called ellipticals.
  • {Game where you can stage a coordinated attack?} is BATTLESHIP, with its coordinates. have you all seen the new hexagonal design of the battleship board? surprisingly, it’s an obvious improvement from the classic layout.
  • {Response to an offer} is “I’LL TAKE ONE”.

two other answers were 9 letters. i don’t know if they’re thematic, so:

  • {One place to keep your boat} is IN A MARINA. this answer is so clunky that i feel it must be theme-related somehow.
  • {Ship in 61-across} is a DESTROYER, 61-across being BATTLESHIP. i wish the clue hadn’t duplicated SHIP from the other answer. for that matter, the clue for BATTLESHIP itself includes “game”, but WAR GAME is in the grid (13d). and I’LL TAKE ONE duplicates the ONE from ONE-TIME, although that’s a much minorer dupe.

since i have no idea what’s going on, i’ll fall back on a tactic that’s served me well in the past that i didn’t have time for last week: blog the puzzle anyway. so let’s do this. the first thing i looked at was that the four 10s have lots of Ls and Ts. in particular, the top two contain TTLT and LLTL, while the bottom pair have TTL and LLT. i’m not sure where this is going, but it’s a striking coincidence. none of the other answers in the grid have TTL or LLT, although ATLANTA at 3d has TLT. but try as i might, i could not make anything of this.

since the word we’re looking for is 6 letters, there’s some temptation to take the six longest answers (including IN A MARINA and DESTROYER) and somehow extract one letter from each. but i don’t really think that’s what we’re supposed to do, partly because that’s what we did last week, and partly because there’s less similarity between the answers (they vary from one to three words, for one thing). also, neither IN A MARINA nor DESTROYER has useful T/Ls.

i also noticed that all the letters of 49a, ELICIT, are in ELLIPTICAL (with a PALL left over). likewise ICE-T (36a), with PALLIL left. but i couldn’t find anything similar for the other 10s, or the 9s.

one old standby is to look in areas of the grid with iffy fill, because they’re most likely to be theme-constrained. the top-middle area with the ugly SEIU crossing DIII, with unusual abbr VBS nearby, is an obvious candidate, and that’s where the 10s are stacked up there, lending credence to the idea that they’re thematic. elsewhere, the fill is reasonably clean, with the exception of the ugly suffix -ARCHY at 55a. does that mean there’s something important in the SW corner? could be.

another odd thing i noticed about the grid: lots of US city names. there’s FRESNO, MOBILE, ATLANTA, and STL(ouis). as always, there are a handful of other geographical entries: ARUBA, ITALY, ALPS, EVEREST, … i’m not going to count IN LA.

i don’t know what’s more depressing: tanking two straight metas or watching roger federer blow a 2-set lead to jo-willy tsonga at wimbledon. speaking of meta, i enjoyed monday’s xkcd.

well, time is just about up and i’m incredibly frustrated. unlike last week, i don’t even know where to begin or what to look for. i couldn’t be further from getting this one, i think.

hmm, 11:55 and i think i got this one. no time to write it up, but … i think i got this.

late update:
okay, i feel much better about figuring this out even though i got it 2 minutes after the deadline. the BATTLESHIP is a big hint, and the “plot” from the title. but looking at the clues, there are a bunch that include battleship-style coordinates with a letter/number pair:

  • {A.1. targets} STEAKS.
  • {Excellent source of vitamin B12} LIVER.
  • {Exercise with an F-15, say} WARGAME.
  • {Part of the G7} ITALY.
  • {City that I-10 runs through} MOBILE.
  • {K2’s superior} EVEREST.

using the completed grid as a battleship board, with row A at the top and O at the bottom, columns number across from 1 to 15, the six coordinates in those clues (read from top down) spell out SIMILE (circled letters in the screenshot, which i’ve updated).


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37 Responses to MGWCC #160

  1. J. T. Williams says:

    Well congrats on getting it if you did. I’ve been staring at it pretty much all morning after 3 days of off and on and still no clue. I did notice all the things you mention, as well as a LOT of similar entries (only 1 or 2 letters different, anagrams, etc). No clue if that means anything or not, although it does seem to be too much for mere coincidence.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Sign of a wasted youth – I got this comparatively easily, I think. BATTLESHIP was right there, the title said Plot(ting) Device, and six clues were of the form I-10, F-15, A-1, etc.

    Put them together on the grid and get SIMILE!

  3. Tony says:

    Per usual, this month started off so well. Even though July is a 5-Friday month, I hope to do better than 50%.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    73 correct answers this week, the vast majority of whom fully grokked the meta (i.e. only a handful of lucky guesses).

  5. Aaron says:

    HILARIOUS! I even told Matt that I was trying to plot the crossword as if it were a Battleship grid, but I couldn’t find the coordinates . . . because I was only looking at the GRID and not the clues. I won’t feel too bad about “missing” this one, though it did break my chance to go four-for-four this week.

  6. pannonica says:

    Gah! Another clue-based meta. Perhaps if I’d printed the puzzle out I’d have had a chance. Well done, you 73!

  7. J. T. Williams says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Definitely goes on my list of favorite Gaffney puzzles, even if (especially because?) I didn’t figure it out! BRAVO Matt!

  8. joon says:

    looking at the screenshot, i just noticed an additional elegant touch: all six of the coordinate points fall within the answer to the clue containing the coordinate. wow.

  9. Phoebe says:

    Well, never having played battleship, I feel a bit better about totally missing this one. Looking at the clues more carefully might have helped too…Great puzzle, Matt.

  10. pannonica says:

    Brilliant concept and execution, Matt! Especially with the containment mentioned by joon.

  11. Hugh says:

    I initially had the grid letters going across and the numbers vertical and got S-R-T-I-(blank)-(blank) and thought SATIRE might be the meta. Finally, I switched the numbers and letters and, ta da, found SIMILE, and submitted it. Even then, I thought Matt might have some other twist up his sleeve. Excellent puzzle, Matt.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    I had no idea, and was going to send in SIMILE just for fun, but didn’t. Gaffney!!!

  13. Karen says:

    I printed it out this week but still couldn’t see the meta. Great one, Matt!

    I just noticed that the clues go alphabetically (by coordinate letter.) Nice.

  14. Matthew G. says:

    Brilliant. I got nowhere with it, but brilliant. If there’s one MGWCC meta I didn’t get but wish I had, it’s this one. Wow.

  15. abide says:

    No idea.

    Super-smooth cluing, beautifully executed. A direct hit. You sunk my meta.

  16. Neville says:

    Superb. You never expect the clue-based puzzles! (Or at least I don’t)

  17. Abby says:

    Damnit. I knew I should’ve looked at the clues some more. I started there because of all the numbers and strange letters/words clues started with, but I got lost in the fill and didn’t make it back. I >hate< it when it's in the clues. At least this time, unlike more than a few in the past, you actually had to fill in some of the puzzle.

    I do not think the answer or the clue for BATTLESHIP was enough to indicate the method- especially with 3(!) other words just as long. If had stood out by being in the center, or if the clue had been "…attack on the solution?" or something similar, I'd be OK with it, but as-is? I really don't think so.

    Ironically, that was my second choice for answer anyway. Probably should've gone with it since my first choice (CLICHE) was only half working for me.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Abby — in addition to the BATTLESHIP / DESTROYER nudge, there was also the title.

  19. Barbara says:

    I never played Battleship, but kept coming back to it as a big clue because of Destroyer and Wargame. The “li”s, “la”s, and “le”s beckoned to me, the lists of 6-word literary terms line my puzzle page, and my brain has been eaten away by staring at this puzzle in little blocks of time. I almost felt like I was making a movie of “Woman Who Stared At Puzzle,” (instead of goats like Mr. Clooney of cinema fame).
    Amazing, Matt … and, Joon – you have quite a machine of a brain, as well!
    Here’s hoping that this next week’s puzzle will be an easy solve so I won’t have fireworks going off in my head for Fourth of July.

  20. Jason Feng says:

    0 for 4 this month. Enough said.

  21. Abby says:

    Still not buying it. Ignoring 4 (3 maybe, but INAMARINA is pushing it) out of 6 apparent theme words is too much of a leap without a better hint. And it’s not like Battleship boards (unlike SCRABBLE(tm) Brand Crossword Game boards) are 15 x 15 either. :-(

  22. Anne E says:

    Put me in the camp of “brilliant work, Matt”, and I love it when it’s in the clues!

  23. Bill Spindler says:

    Curses, foiled again! And I’ve played many a game of battleship in my younger days. But I never looked at the clues…for my final effort I kept trying to come up with a 6-letter literary device that was also an elliptically shaped watercraft found IN A MARINA. Or at least an anagram. Great puzzle!

  24. jimmy d says:

    I would argue that the alleged theme words aren’t even theme words… the puzzle had more of a themeless (freestyle) feel to it… For a week 4 puzzle, the fact the puzzle had BATTLESHIP, WARGAME & DESTROYER in it was enough to send me running in that direction… even though I spent two days looking at the I’s in DIII & ITALY as an aircraft carrier!!

    1-Down cracked it for me… I kept looking at “A.1.” and wondering why he didn’t use “A-1” like most people do… whether that was an intentional hint or not, it helped me notice B12 & G7… then I said, “I hope there are exactly three more of those number/letter combos!!!”

  25. Alex says:

    I wonder if a higher proportion of paper solvers got this one. Those clues seemed to jump off the page at me immediately.

  26. Neville says:

    Alex: Solved on PC and got the answer, though I think it would’ve been easier on paper.

    FWIW, I kept saying that the shape of a DESTROYER is ELLIPTICAL (which it kinda is) and was looking for bigrams and other stuff for a while. That didn’t help.

  27. Aaron says:

    I got lost on Wikipedia’s list of literary words, which had me wondering if the six “theme” entries had some sort of sound in common. Then I got thrown by the two homophone clues (STU/STEW) which made me suspect something else was going on with sounds (ISLE followed by I’LL?). Basically, as I said before, I looked just about everywhere *BUT* the clues, but considering I’ve been fooled that way before, this is a shame on me moment, and a good on Matt one.

  28. Evad says:

    I’m with Matthew G. on this one, would’ve loved to have seen SIMILE rise out of the mist as I parsed the coordinates in the down clues.

    I too questioned the punctuation around A.1., but was too lazy to go looking to see if that was how it appeared on the bottle. The other coordinates seemed too normal to me to stand out, and I got hung up on trying to fit the 6 longest across entries into some pattern. Been a long time since I’ve played Battleship, but given our recent Scrabble meta, I was pretty suspicious that was what was going on here, just couldn’t make the leap to the find the coordinates in the clues. I seemed to find a lot of I’s in the grid, especially the three consecutive ones for DIII, and thought those might represent the pegs we used to mark a guess on a Battleship board, but those I’s didn’t lead me to anything literary.

    2 for 4 this month. Great challenges this month–just when you think Matt has nothing new up his sleeve, he pulls out a month of metas like this one!

  29. Jan (danjan) says:

    I raise my hand for lucky guess (and emailing it in at 11:55 today). If there hadn’t been a clue about the meta being 6 letters long, and I hadn’t thought that there were a lot of the letters of SIMILE in the grid, I would have had no guess.
    Now that it’s been explained to me, I think it’s brilliant!

  30. wobbith says:

    For no particular reason, I solved the puzzle before looking at the meta definition.

    I remember thinking “Are we playing Battleship?” because of the title, the (now) obvious hints, and that peculiar “A.1.” in the 1D clue. Then I read the meta and got all bollixed up with the fact that the 4 long answers all contained multiple instances of the letters in “alit” – 24 out of 40 in fact.

    Gave it a rest, came back and saw the “G7” in the 33D clue and instantly grokked – “Yes, we ARE playing Battleship!”.

    I think I’ll solve the puzzle before looking at the meta henceforth.

    Oh, BTW “A.1.” is absolutely correct!

  31. Erik says:

    Matt Gaffney. Spirit crusher.

  32. Howard B says:

    That’s really cool. Could not see this given another year to look at it. But I like it.
    Haven’t played Battleship in years, so even if pointed to the clues I would not have figured this out. To say again, I like it :).

  33. kirsten says:

    Very elegant puzzle.

    One question, though. How does keep correspond to veer? Is it nautical?


  34. joon says:

    it’s pretty loose, but i think “keep left at the fork in the road” is close to “veer left at the fork in the road.”

  35. Paul says:

    Veer’s a college football play, also known as a keep or triple option. Did anyone else notice that PATHOS (which was my TOTAL IDIOT guess) and LITOTE (the nonexistent singular of LITOTES) could be connected in the upper left corner? I got the battleship game without much trouble, and searched all over for how to plot hits/misses, but I was convinced it had something to do with LIT. since there were so many Ls, Is, and Ts in the four ten-letter entries, and three places where LIT formed three corners of a square. Afraid Matt sunk me again with this one. Another superb puzzle!

  36. Matt Gaffney says:

    That was my thinking on VEER, Joon, although a sizable number of solvers (maybe a dozen) didn’t like it enough to mention. I won’t use that clue again.

  37. pannonica says:

    Paul: I submitted PATHOS too, but only because I was feeling so pathetic.

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