MGWCC #168

crossword 6:55, plus one google, with two errors
puzzle 2 days 

hey there. quick writeup this week, as i’m traveling the next few days and need to make it snappy. the 168th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Summer Break”, asks us to identify a common kind of summer break. the grid contains a single instruction in three parts: THINK FIRST / WHEN YOU LOCATE / NINE PAUSES. what are the nine pauses? it turns out that there are exactly nine clues that contain a comma:

  • {Respectful but friendly closing, sometimes} BEST WISHES.
  • {Admits, as a visitor} LETS IN.
  • {Iron, for one} ORE. i don’t really think this is right. there is such a thing as an iron ore (e.g. hematite or magnetite) from which iron can be extracted, but iron itself is not an ORE.
  • {Norm Macdonald’s old show, briefly} SNL.
  • {Dumb as dirt, or smart as a whip} SIMILE. nice clue.
  • {Extreme point, as of an orbit} APOGEE.
  • {Longtime magazine owner, for short} HEF.
  • {Admits, as a crime} OWNS UP TO. nice pairing with the other “admits” clue.
  • {“You’ve got mail,” they’ll tell you} AOL.

from the instructions, if we THINK FIRST, we notice that the first letters of those clues, in order, spell out RAIN DELAY, which is indeed a common kind of summer break. alternatively, we could look at the first letters of the answers, which spell out BLOSSAHOA.

i’m not really sure how i feel about this meta. i haven’t tried doing it, but i can’t shake the feeling that you could clue just about any entry with or without a comma, starting with whatever letter you wanted. (for example, that BEST WISHES clue would actually read better to me without the “, sometimes”.) if that’s the case, then there are only three theme answers covering 33 squares, so there’s no real excuse for entries like ALPENA, contritefully clued as {Michigan county I promise never to use in a crossword again (A PANEL anag.)} and the thoroughly random ON A BARGE. that entry was clue {Floating (perhaps)}, but would read nicer as {Floating, perhaps}. and then there’s TITLES clued as {“Thor” and “Rango” and “Rio”} which also seems like it was awkwardly written to avoid commas much like this sentence.

the crossword itself was rather vexing to me. my two wrong squares were careless, but i legitimately could not figure out the intersection between {Part 3 of directions} NINE PA_SES and {TV show that often does paternity tests} MA_RY. the only thing i could think of that made any sense was MARRY, but PARSES isn’t a noun. i went to the web for help in running the alphabet, because i did not know of a show called MAURY (though i know who maury povich is) and certainly not that it featured paternity testing. anyway, that’s that.

as for the careless errors: in the middle part of the directions, i figured it started with THEN instead of WHEN, because it seemed like a natural continuation: THINK FIRST, THEN do something else. that did a good job of concealing {Funky music player of song} WHITE BOY, and i ended up with the nonsensical THITIBOY. dumb joon!

how’d you guys like this one?

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24 Responses to MGWCC #168

  1. Aaron says:

    I actually liked this one a lot (no problems with Maury, shamefully), though I’m colored by the fact that I glommed onto the answer — the first time I’ve actually caught the meta being in the clues and not the grid — with about an hour to spare. But I spent the weekend diving through the grid for “firsts,” tangled up on a horrible misdirect that I’m hoping some other people got snared on: I noticed that LET ME OUT could sort of hold “TIME OUT” (if you added an I), and although I couldn’t find eight other pauses to create by adding (or dropping) a letter, I did find the abbreviation “TO” hidden exactly nine times in the grid, including twice in the perhaps coincidentally entered “HOTPOT.” Can’t tell you how many weird words I came up with that way . . . let’s just say that by the time I finally reached the sensical RAIN DELAY (after getting a random nine-string of the first letters of the words before and after the comma), I was ecstatic.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    140 right answers this week.

    Joon: the awkward cluing of several comma-clues — as well as the awkward lack of a comma in several clues that could’ve used one — was intentional. ALPENA was not intentional, of course.

  3. Al Sanders says:

    After a frustrating weekend of looking for EH’s, ER’s, and AH’s in the grid word search style, I finally cracked the meta this morning, in the nick of time. Phew! I was so desperate, I was even searching for “PA” uses, but there are 10 uses of “PA” in the clues, not nine, so that didn’t work either.

  4. Jeffrey says:

    Shockingly, I got this within 5 minutes. I usually miss the check-the-clues type solutions. But pauses meant commas and found the 9 quick enough. Then tried first letters of answers, letters before and after the comma and finally the correct solution appeared.

  5. *David* says:

    No real problems across the board with puzzle or meta. I figured pauses to be commas and that sent me to the cluing. I first tried the first letter of each of the answers and ended with BLOSSAHOA which didn’t anagram into anything so then looked at first letters of cluing, voila. I was most iffy about the cluing for the Indiana Jones clue and if it should have a comma in there, but it looks good.

  6. Jason Feng says:

    Not even close. I was stuck on the fact that 6 of the answers (PTA, SNL, WTF, IOU, IRC, AOL) were all three-letter abbreviations and kept looking for the other 3. “Thinking first”, PSWIIA was nowhere near a summer break.

  7. pannonica says:

    I noticed right away that nine down was ERS, which could be “pauses.” Dead end. Spent the rest of the time struggling with the idea that it was an elaborate rebus, got as far as it ending in IXERS (Roman numeral nine, “ers” again). Thought it might be ‘cocktail mixers’ as a kind of party, but (1) there isn’t enough Google support for the phrase in that sense, and (2) other elements such as IST (‘first’) and UC (‘you locate’) didn’t help the cause.

    I often stumble when the meta is in the clues, even though I’m aware of this weakness.

  8. Joan Aufderhar says:

    I thought FIRST and I located NINE PAUSES between the innings of a ball game and then figured there is the BREAK of a SEVENTH-INNING STRETCH, a common summer break. That was a real stretch it turned out. I had first looked for pauses in the puzzle and found them in 9 answers of two syllables each. Found the puzzle easy enough but never thought of looking in the clues for pauses. Oh well, I should have known it couldn’t be that simple.

  9. pannonica says:

    Interesting approach, Joan, but of course nine innings corresponds to eight* pauses. Like days and nights in those summer vacation packages.

    * or possibly seventeen.

  10. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Glad to see I was not the only one that went the PARSES route, wasting time looking for anything having to do with nouns or articles etc. before Googling it. I did get WHITE_BOY, but that was just because I correctly read the clue as “fill in some plausible-looking word(s) that fit(s) the crosses you’ve got”. Unfortunately I applied the same reading to 53D, where it actually said “fill in some plausible-looking *name* that fits…” etc. ;-(

    Yes, I also looked for “PA uses” first. But a grid this open suggests that the metapuzzle was in the clues, not the answers. While the theme density is low, the grid approaches themeless/freestyle architecture, and it must be hard to make 3×10 stacks where one of the 10-letter entries is forced. Aside of the unfortunate MA?RY, the grid is also largely free of the arbitrary pop-cult names and pop-song titles that usually litter crossword grids these days.

    Wh(iske)y Tango Foxtrot does 49A:WTF not get the “dirty word” warning that Matt usually applies to words like A$$HOLE (see his blog note about this month’s first puzzle)?

  11. Zach says:

    Drrrr… didn’t get the meta! Did find several clues with “ll” in them (which to my eyes looks like a pause button), but obviously that didn’t work. *shakes fist at sky* GAFFNEY!

  12. Paul Coulter says:

    Given that Matt had schoolyear and PTAs and even Let Me Out, my first thought was he’s likely speaking of summer vacation. In many places, that’s two months, which has nine letters. And given so many two or three word entries in the puzzle, I kept looking for some grouping where nine pauses between the words led to first letters either spelling or anagramming to a phrase. When I couldn’t find one, I thought WTF (the entry gave me a laugh, and we appreciate Matt’s avoidance of an outright cussword this time,) at 9D there’s ERS, which to a cryptic setter reads “nine pauses.” Thinking “first ___,” the immediate association is first aid given at Emergency Rooms. Then, what kind of summer break comes to mind with ___ aid? Why, lemonade, of course. And so, my admittedly long leap of logic was to submit this tasty and very common summer break.

  13. Scott says:

    Like Jeffrey, I got the meta very quickly. Not sure why – but it just came to me while other weeks I can stare all weekend and end up with nuttin! Thank you Matt for another fine one.

  14. peechy says:

    Found easily noticeable “beach” at beginning of lines that contained 9 downs “ers”, must have been intentional misdirection

  15. Karen says:

    After looking for ums/ers, and anything related to addition (sum-mer), I went with Joan’s approach of looking at words with breaks, and found eight likely looking down words that anagrammed to SCHOOL WI. I figured I must have been missing a letter. The intentionally bad cluing just wasn’t bad enough, sorry Matt.

  16. James Schooler says:

    Like Joan, I was also stuck in a baseball theme, and submitted “MLB All-Star Break and Game.”

  17. Cole says:

    Spent too long looking for ums and ers but then finally got to the commas. ALPENA kept me looking at the SE for quite a while. And then just when I was about to come here and check Joon’s write-up the quake hit and my DC apartment shook for around 30 seconds but all books apparently remained on their shelves although the cats are still nervous.

  18. Dan says:

    This explains why I was unable to solve it staring at my hand-transcribed grid (sans clues, natch).

  19. Abby says:

    I tried the right thing in the wrong place first, looking at breaks (between words, hyphens, apostrophe’s etc.) in the fill, but couldn’t get it to a set of nine. Then I tried the clues and found it. Still not a big fan of hiding stuff in the clues, but at least this time you had to solve most of the puzzle to get there.

  20. pannonica says:

    ♪♫ Blame it on the BLOSSAHOA… ♫

  21. Jonathoninmoz says:

    I managed to get this meta within a couple of minutes. One of my favorites in a long time. The awkward cluing for TITLES is what gave it away for me.

  22. Norm C. says:

    There is no way I would have gotten RAIN DELAY. I live in Central Texas and we have been drought stricken for months. Thanks for rubbing it in Matt! I was going to submit BASEBALL GAME as my answer because of the nine pauses between innings and a baseball game is a common kind of summer break.

  23. Tyler says:

    I’d like once again to share my highly effective method for cracking a difficult Gaffney meta: Read friends’ gloating about solving it quickly. The angry motivation works wonders.

  24. Matthew G. says:

    I also failed this week, and submitted NO SCHOOL, knowing it was wrong. I think this is the first meta since I started solving in February where the answer was entirely in the clues, not the answers (aside from the instructions, of course), so I was wasting my time looking at the grid. Now I know to be alert to the clues in the future too …

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