MGWCC #169

crossword 7:12
puzzle 3 days 

hello friends, and welcome to week 169 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Moving Day”. this week we’re challenged to identify a common form of transportation. there are no overt hints in the grid or clues at all, and nothing that jumped out at me as being thematic on the first pass. or the second. or the third. it took many, many revisits to this meta over the course of the entire weekend for me to finally see it—and it turned out that one of my earliest instincts was right.

do you all remember MGWCC #6, “Can You Dig It?”? sure you do. that’s the one with the panama canal theme, where you needed to insert an A into a black square in the very center of the grid in order to reveal the panamAcanal theme? well, at the time, matt called that one “the cruciverbal equivalent of a Magic Eye picture: the contest answer either jumped out at you pretty quick, or you stared at the puzzle for hours and nothing happened”. weirdly, i remember thinking of that exact meta, and that very analogy, as i struggled with this puzzle this weekend: “it’s like a friggin’ magic eye, and i just can’t see it.” well, i (luckily) finally saw the invisible meta, and actually it’s a very similar kind of trick, although not quite the same and on a much larger scale.

as you’ve perhaps already noticed from my beautifully-powerpointed screenshot, that entire main diagonal of black squares can get a letter in each square so that the across clues on both sides of the diagonal are still satisfied. impressed? take a look:

  • {One of the Beatles, e.g.} STAR and {A figure 8 may be made in it} INK can get an R in the middle to make STARR (one of the beatles) and RINK (the building in which a figure skater might make her 8).
  • {Blue material} PORN and {It’s great in Greece} MEGA can take an O to make PORNO (same thing as PORN) and OMEGA. did you ever notice that the greek alphabet has both omega (“big O”) and omicron (“little o”)? hey greek speakers, what’s the difference? i’ve never known. is it a short/long vowel sound thing?
  • {Cut finely} FILE and {“___ your problem…”} HERE’S can take a T for FILET and THERE’S. very nice, going with two very different cutting scenarios.
  • {Section of a tax form} LINE and {Like some of Schoenberg’s music} TONAL can take an A to make LINE A and ATONAL. this is what tipped me off, because although it is certainly true that some of schoenberg’s music is tonal, he’s much better known as an atonal composer. so i was looking for a way to squeeze that extra A in there, and noticed that i could stick it in the block before.
  • {Part of a wooden door} PANE and {Character in an Ogden Nash poem} LAMA can take an L to make PANEL and LLAMA. both the one-L LAMA and two-L LLAMA are in the same ogden nash poem, but i would bet a silk pajama there isn’t any three-L LLLAMA.
  • {Woman’s name from the Hebrew for “God is gracious”} JOANN and {Came up} ROSE can take an A for JOANNA and AROSE. clever cluing here—instead of going for a specific joann, he uses the etymology clue, which of course works for both names. also, i like the different senses of “came up” for ROSE/AROSE. (although i guess AROSE can also mean came up in the literal, motion-related sense.)
  • {Ending for mono or ego} MANIA and {Standard iPhone feature} LOCK can take C for MANIAC/CLOCK. i was struggling with the L of that clue while solving the crossword. not being an iphone user, i figured DOCK was a possibility. the bar with app icons at the bottom of a mac OS X screen is called the dock, and i thought the list of iphone app icons might have the same name. the crossing clue {Mauna ___ (tropical drink brand)} was tough and i didn’t know it, but L is a hawaiian consonant and D isn’t. still, i was sweating bullets when i realized that it wasn’t going to be either LOA or KEA.
  • {What’s heard in church on Sunday} AMEN and {Pulverize} MASH can take an S to make AMENS/SMASH. this one is a bit dicey, as i’m not 100% convinced that the clue wording allows either AMEN or AMENS to be a legit answer (i wanted AMENS in the first place). MASH and SMASH being synonyms is a nice find, though.
  • {Part of a matador’s getup} CAP and {Common medium of communication} MAIL can take an E for CAPE/EMAIL. very good.

so, the meta answer is right there in plain sight once those letters are put into that diagonal: an ESCALATOR ascends gracefully up that long diagonal. as somebody who has spent a lot of time lugging a wheeled suitcase through various airports and subway stations recently, i’m very grateful for escalators.

somehow i don’t think i’ve mentioned this yet, so let me just say it now: this meta is absolutely ingenious. this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen the old “the same clue can have multiple correct answers” trick, or even the old “put a letter into a black square” trick, but the way it’s all put together is tremendously elegant. not only that, but it can’t have been easy to stack nine of these pairs on top of each other, and in the correct order, to make the meta answer ESCALATOR. this is a five-star puzzle if i’ve ever seen one.

fill roundup:

  • {The wealthiest city in the world, according to Fortune magazine in 2007} is ABU DHABI. sure, i buy that. i like seeing the full name in the grid instead of just a FITB clue for ABU. likewise, YMA SUMAC gets full-name treatment; i thought we might be dealing with a word reversal theme because of the AMY/CAMUS possibilities.
  • {Make your dough grow} just means LEAVEN, nothing to do with finance. and {Money and such} are EDDIES, nothing to do with finance.
  • {Suffix with four, seven or ten} is the plural ordinal suffix -THS. now, plural suffixes are pretty low on my list of “fill to use only in the direst of emergencies”, but i enjoyed the struggle/aha moment that i went through to get this clue. and most of the other small integers (with the notable exception of 6) do not take this particular suffix, at least without another change taking place.
  • 52-across was clued as {-___ (you are here)}, which totally mystified me at first glance. of course, in the clue list, it looks like “52. -___ (you are here)”, and the answer is just ACROSS. indeed, i was there. at least at the time. now i’m over here. hi! *waves*
  • {Me and others} are MATTS. three plural names in this grid (EDDIES and EDWINS crossing each other is worse), but this one’s personal. what do you guys think about the clue {People like me}? it evokes a little al franken, which is always a good thing.
  • {Shooting org.} is NBA. a classic gaffney trap—who among us didn’t have NRA there? unless you’d already solved the ABU DHABI clue, if your hand isn’t up, you’re lying.
  • {Las Vegas Strip hotel} is the RIVIERA. ah, the heady days of two weeks ago, when the metas were easy.
  • {He hit .316 in 1914} is casey STENGEL. who knew anything about his playing career? geez.
  • {She greets you with “Hyvää päivää!”} is a FINN, apparently female—perhaps huckleberry’s sister? also in the “surprise, it’s a woman! serves you right for your smug male-normative expectations!” category is MADWOMAN, clued neutrally as {Nut}.
  • {Name that reverses embarrassingly} is LANA. *snicker*
  • {Palindromic device named for a tennis player} is the MAC CAM, named for john mcenroe. do they even have this any more, or has hawkeye conquered all other tennis replay technologies?
  • {First language of 75 million people} is TELUGU, one of the major languages of india, and one that i’ve never heard of. wow.

okay, that’s all for me. stand up and take a bow, matt! see you next week.

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48 Responses to MGWCC #169

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Argh. I thought of ESCALATOR almost immediately, and then decided it was too simple. Never noticed there were as many central black squares as letters in ESCALATOR. Darn, darn, darn, darn, darn.

    This is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself for missing a MGWCC meta. Darn.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    This seemed easier than most of Matt’s end-of-month metas. On first glance, the grid did strike me as something of a stairway (more so than my beaming Pharos eye for most, I trust?) With 18 chances to see the trick, I’m guessing many got this quickly. For me, the def. for file didn’t really work and I thought the entry would be better as filet, which gave the thing away, then I found here/there and all the rest. The other def. that could have been better was the one for pane/panel. Maybe just door, not wooden door, but overall it was commendable execution from Matt. Did anyone else waste time on the two pairs of crossing homonyms – pane/pain and lock/loch? Had I found a third, I would’ve been convinced this was important. But I suppose if you study any puzzle hard enough, you’ll find oddities. Like the 9ERS last time. How about it, Matt? I don’t suppose you’d tell us if you occasionally throw in some misdirection?

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    104 correct entries this week. Joon, I will certainly be stealing that solution graphic.

  4. Peedee says:

    ARRGH! this was a genius meta. Kudos, Matt. I thought of escalator right away, because of the visual of black squares up the middle, but dismissed it. I kept finding clumps of letters (like the Es going up the escalator) and thought they HAD to be related to the meta. Again, one of the best metas I’ve ever seen. I only wish I had solved it!

  5. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Yes, Paul Coulter, my marginal notes include PANE/PAIN and LOCH/LOCK, as well as a stray EDDIES/EDWINS.

    I was also so desperate that I considered whether a “form of transportation” might include LSD or Mary Joanna.

    But then, somewhere in the haze of my mind, the principle of “What is really far-fetched?” came into play. Why clue CAP via a matador? Had to be CAPE, and went up the ESCALATOR from there.

    More evidence of Matt’s brilliance!

  6. Annette Otis says:

    I agree with the brilliance of the puzzle. I knew it was escalator but did not know why so did not submit it since I don’t like guessing, tried to pull it out of the white squares to no avail. Even the shape of puzzle is brilliant. Kudos Matt.

  7. Hugh says:

    I second Joon’s rave review and rate it as one of Matt’s top five. FILE(T) started me on the path to the meta.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    I had Tuk-tuk based on the homonyms. Missed it by “that” much.

  9. *David* says:

    Rats I saw the STAR(R) and thought it may have something to do with a second letter option but couldn’t find any others so sent in train. I also got thrown off by EDWINS/EDDIES and ROSE/ROSELYN similarity. The MAD WOMAN/YMA SUMAC were in similar places in the grid and a MA MA (metropolitan authority) in there. PANE almost went flying away with the L above it, too many red herrings.

  10. Charles Montpetit says:

    Count me as one of the ARGHs. While I had got the earlier “magic eye” puzzle (in spite of the rather ugly entries LENN and TAG ID, which needed to be read backwards after adding an U in the black square between them), this time, I was completely baffled. All I could see were the 14 occurrences of the binome MA in the grid, which led me to believe that it had to be the answer – after all, she carried you for nine months, right? Matt, I salute you.

  11. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Yes, an amazing construction, even with the inevitable compromises to make it work. Another clue was the grid architecture, very cramped in the central region and open in the corners (especially NW/SE), suggesting that the solution would be concentrated in the center.

    An extensive blue undercurrent here: a PORN STAR going up the escalator, CIALIS, CUM crossing URINATE, and the rear-ended LANA…

    See the Wikipage for YMA_CAMUS concerning the “Amy Camus” coincidence.

  12. Pam says:

    Now that I know the brilliant meta, was 47-down another clue? I was sure that it should have been gave up, not just gave, with up cluing escalator. My meta guess (which is why I didn’t submit it), was VAN, because of moving day, the leftmost column of camel(camel caraVAN) and 2 cams, and van appearing twice in the puzzle moving backwards and turning. I knew it was weak.

  13. cybergoober says:


  14. Zach says:

    *Sound of mind being blown*

  15. Paul Coulter says:

    Pam, I started in the NE, so when I saw TONKAS as small trucks, I did initially think Matt might be suggesting vans, and thus moving day, but as in so many puzzles, those two word-search vans turn out to be random artifacts. Still, clever extrapolation on the camel caravan. And I like Charles’ guess of Mother. Hello Mudder… for those old enough to remember Alan Sherman’s song.

  16. Mike says:

    Did anyone else have LEAK at first for “Standard iPhone feature”? :)

  17. Tony says:

    Epic fail, but what a meta!

  18. rebecca says:

    I was thinking the same as Pam – there was an UP missing in 47-down and I figured it had to be a clue, but it didn’t click. Matt, a beautiful puzzle, sorry it was wasted on me!

  19. Anne E says:

    Stared at this Friday night a while, then Saturday morning for a while, and got nowhere. Then finally asked myself, “WWjD?” (What Would joon Do?), remembering his analysis of a MGWCC a while back when he pointed out that there were really more black spaces and short answers in a puzzle than there “needed” to be, indicating to him that there was a lot more theme in that puzzle than it looked like at first glance. So I began re-examining the fill with that in mind, and then I saw it. Thanks, joon!

    (I’d first wanted to try to force some sort of “van” answer, given the title.)

    Agree that this is absolutely brilliant.

  20. john farmer says:

    I had noticed a few of the clues had alternatives answers that didn’t fit (STARR, PANEL, CAPE), but never made the connection for the other answers. I probably spent too much time trying to make a connection with the MAC / CAM sequences in three of the corners. Got me.

    Brilliant puzzle, and great work, Matt.

  21. Matt Gaffney says:

    Paul — I think I’m OK on the FILE def. M-W has it as:

    Definition of FILE
    transitive verb
    : to rub, smooth, or cut away with or as if with a file

    Also, I put “wooden” in the PANE/L clue because I figured a wooden door would be more likely to have an identifiable panel than a non-wooden one.

  22. Ken / Cazique says:

    Simply breathtaking, nice work Matt! (I didn’t get it and was nowhere close)

  23. Loved it. STAR(R) was what tipped me off. Considering the constraints in constructing this that the worst fill was THS, BIER, and LAI, the quality of the fill was exceptional.

    The shape of the puzzle actually reminded me of a BEQ puzzle from last month. One of my earlier attempts was trying to make sense of the letters just above and below the main diagonal, but that didn’t work out.

  24. Lynne says:

    Best puzzle I never solved!

  25. Ed says:

    Got back from a morning bike ride with about half an hour until the deadline. Stared at the puzzle again. Nothing. Stared some more. Finally 19 and 21 across, which had always seemed awkward, set off a light bulb – quickly followed by 31 and 45 across which had also seemed awkward. The rest was easy and I emailed my answer off with 5 minutes to spare. Damned it’s nice to finally solve an end of month meta.

  26. Abby says:

    I really liked this one (except the clue for “file”). Had more trouble getting it filled in right than finding the meta- and once I found the meta, it helped me fix my fill! Congrats to all the other survivors for the month (but don’t beat me to the prizes!).

  27. PJ says:

    I agree that this was a brilliant construction, Matt. I think what started me on the right path, was the answer, INK. I first put ICE, but I knew Stengel was correct. Why would anyone make a figure 8 in ink. Plus, STAR could/should be STARR. Since I had been puzzled by PANE (shouldn’t it be PANEL) right from the getgo, it finally dawned on me to put letters in the black squares. Eureka! I guess I went down on the up escalator! Fun, Fun, Fun!

  28. silent souffle says:

    [52a. – you are here] is a sign often seen in the vicinity of an ESCALATOR.
    “Moving Day” works with the meta: Movin'(G’)day
    A masterpiece.

  29. Jonathoninmoz says:

    Epic fail. Amazed at the puzzle, disappointed in myself!

  30. Anne says:

    What an elegant meta. Thanks, Matt.

  31. abide says:

    It’s unanimous—ingenious!

    My blind guess of SUBWAY was closer than I thought, at least in the more stylish metro stations.

  32. Cole says:

    Very slick; I was hung up on the words that were only a letter apart and ended up with a (word) LADDER, not an escalator.

  33. rebecca says:

    I also puzzled over “INK”. I guess I should learn to use those “hm?” moments to lead to more “aha!” moments…

  34. Aaron says:

    Beautiful. Wish I’d seen it, but now that I have, that’s just one more cool thing I can file away in the “got me” book.

  35. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Matt had a more recent letter-in-a-black-square metapuzzle (#104), where you had to extend PRAISE to [U]PRAISE to DIG A T[U]NNEL leftwards out of a central cage.

  36. Dan F says:

    I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t spend more time looking for the meta.

    Um… did anyone else think something was going on with the PG-13 fill? COMES IN, BURST, CIALIS, CUM, URINATE, PORN/STAR? (MATT’S RECUSED because he’s engaged.)

  37. anna says:

    i got the meta on this fairly quickly, but i didn’t notice that BOTH sides of the escalator had double clues — i just noticed it on the right hand side, and I was still blown away by the puzzle. now i’m twice as amazed!

  38. Karen says:

    Nowhere close, but not helped by having DICE instead of FILE. Did you know there is such a thing as an INSOCK? But I still probably wouldn’t have seen it.

  39. Howard B says:

    Didn’t have enough time to spend on this one, but I rarely find the visual ones. It’s a blind spot.

    That said, (t)his puzzle is absolutely amazing.

  40. Michael says:

    Dan F — I noticed that as well. Don’t forget PAIN next to LANA (embarrassingly backward).

    Awesome puzzle — I don’t think I’ve seen such an impressive construction feat!!

    Great work Matt!!

  41. Taz says:

    This puzzle is amazing. It is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like it since I have only been doing Matt’s contest for about 4 months. I was utterly confused and had no chance of solving this puzzle. Kudos Matt, I bow to your awesomeness.

  42. Sam Donaldson says:

    A perfect 25-for-25 in five-star ratings! We will likely never see this again.

    And it’s well-deserved. Superb work, Matt!

  43. Eric LeVasseur says:

    Like anna, I only noticed the entries on right-hand side of the escalator when solving. I was impressed enough with Matt’s ability to come up with nine stacking entries that could work together to spell out the meta. To be able to do the same thing on the left-hand side, given the word-length constraints imposed by the entries on the right-hand side, is even MORE than twice as amazing. Well done, Matt!

  44. Amy Reynaldo says:

    And now we’re up to 32-for-32 in five-star ratings. Matt must be making a note of this day in his diary.

  45. Aaron says:

    36-for-36 as of this morning. It’s a shame the tip jar isn’t out right now.

  46. Jeffrey says:

    50 for 50. How many relatives does Matt have?

  47. pannonica says:

    Only had a short while to think about the meta before power cut out. Would like to think I would have gotten it, because even as I was solving it, sensed something odd in at least three of the participating fill pairs.

    In any case, have to agree with everyone else: superb puzzle and meta!

  48. AV says:

    Completely missed this puzzle due to Irene – just solved it and came here to give it a 5-star! And felt disappointed that the 1-star punk has not pissed all over it. Yet. :-)

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