MGWCC #178

crossword 8:12
puzzle DNF 

greetings, fellow travelers, and welcome to the conclusion of THE HUNT FOR FOOD OCTOBER at matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. this week’s puzzle, “A Time to Cull”, was pretty much impossible. i got the crossword okay (actually slightly easier than last week’s), but i’ve gotten nowhere on the meta. and judging from what i’ve seen on facebook and twitter, i’m not the only one.

so the contest instructions lay out an interesting story about finding big game herds, and then inform us that this week’s contest answer is the big game you must hunt to save your tribe AND the precise method you use to kill your quarry. okay, so what are we looking for? there is only one explicitly theme-related clue in the puzzle: YOU is clued as {The big game hunter} at 36a. well then, that’s not much, is it?

what significance does the title hold? damned if i know. i mean, it’s a reference to john grisham’s a time to kill, which actually seems like it might be a more apt title since we’re talking about hunting and killing game. i guess “cull” has a meaning in this context, too: to reduce (an animal population) by selective slaughter. but i don’t know how that helps us find the animal. i guess BISON is explicitly in the grid, clued as {Burger ingredient, sometimes}. but that seems entirely too obvious to be the answer; plus, there’s nothing about the precise method.

the one thing that i noticed about the two longest grid answers (REGINA KING and GLENN CLOSE) is that they both contain numbers in their clues. once i noticed that, a whole bunch more jumped out at me, including several that had seemed like strange clues at the time of my original solving. the complete list:

  • {“1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” singer} is COOLIO, not feist.
  • {202 or 212} is an AREA CODE, for washington DC or new york NY.
  • {“227” actress} is REGINA KING. never heard of it, or her.
  • {Winner for ’58} is GIGI, best picture of 1958. (LILI did not win best picture.) the abbreviation of the year is probably significant, right?
  • {82 and 87, for octogenarians} are AGES. the first clue that is so weird it screamed “theme!” at me.
  • {“101 Dalmatians” voice} is GLENN CLOSE.
  • {First of 26} is ALFA, of the radio alphabet.
  • {52} is LII. (it did not win best picture either.)
  • {’55 Chevy, e.g.} is a weirdly specific clue for CAR. another “theme” screamer.
  • {blink-182, e.g.} is a BAND. i didn’t know they were lowercase. fight the Power!
  • {144 things}, a dozen dozen, constitutes a GROSS.
  • {Got 100 on} is ACED.
  • {“99” group} is TOTO. don’t know that song. i wanted NENA, for perhaps obvious reasons.

so what can you do with these? the first letters spell out CARGAGALCBGAT, which doesn’t look all that useful. if you sort them by the number that appears in the clue (as opposed to the, uh, clue number), you get CALCGATAGGBAR, which … yeah. actually, there are so many instances of ACGT that i kind of want this to be in genetic code, but the L, B, and R don’t fit in there.

i tried lots of other things. using the number to index into the answer seemed like a great idea except for the part where there are numbers like 202 and 227 floating around. even using just the digits fails, e.g. 82 for AGES, which does not have an 8th letter. grabbing the letters pointed to by the numbered entries in the grid also failed for large numbers. (even if you number every cell of the grid, rather than just the ones that start across or down answers, there is no 227th square in a 15×15 grid.)

i’m trying to figure out if the actual numbers chosen in the clues are significant. i mean if you’re going to clue REGINA KING numerically, you probably have no choice but to use 227, but “82 and 87” and “202 or 212” seem to be pretty arbitrarily chosen out of a large possible space of numbers. likewise the ’55 chevy. so i dunno. it looks like most of them use the one obvious number, so i suspect the puzzle was constructed by putting the theme answers where they need to go, but maybe there was some leeway. but as i said, there must be a reason than the years ’58 and ’55 were abbreviated.

okay, back to the title: time to cull. time… could the #s in the clues have anything to do with time, or clocks? hmm. they can’t be straight-up times (due to 82, 87, 99, 182). does that mean we should “cull” the ones that could be times? that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

okay, it’s now 12 and i have nothing, not even a guess to send in. somebody put me out of my misery.

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89 Responses to MGWCC #178

  1. J. T. Williams says:

    No idea here either. The other two things I noticed were lots of strings if double (and some triple or more) letters (tried to make a picture but nada) and that every vowel is in the title exactly once.

  2. Scott says:

    Well I was 3/3 but I am sure I failed this one. I also noticed the prevalent numbers as well as the prevalent doublets, but got nowhere with these. In the end, I sent in LION killed with a LANCE in the tail because this is what I saw on the top line. Meta fail. I would guess only about 13 people will get the right answer! :-)

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Just 13 correct answers this week. I am prepared for the hate about to be unleashed in comments, so don’t hold back.

    There were 18 numbers in the clues, between 1 and 227. Those numbers corresponded to words in the contest instructions. Those 18 spelled out the message: THE WISE SHAMAN LEADS YOUR TRIBE TO STARVATION WITH HIS MUSHROOM VISIONS. CRUSH HIS SKULL WITH A ROCK.

    Many of you may wish to inflict the same upon me, I’m guessing.

  4. miss kali says:

    My guess used the dracula idea from last year, so I hit my bison square in the nose (there is a nose “square” intersecting bison). Lame, I know, but I had nothing else

  5. TimM says:

    So we didn’t really need to do the crossword, just read the clues and the instructions?

  6. Jed says:

    I was going to suggest killing the shaman, but with a toadstool. :-/

    Outstanding ending to the month, Matt. Even if I didn’t get there.

    13 correct? Cull, indeed…

  7. Scott says:

    Ahh…shades of the MOUSETRAP.

  8. joon says:

    that is a sad ending.

    is there any way we were supposed to know to link the numbers to the story words? what did the title mean?

  9. mps says:

    at about 11:15 i thought to count the words in the story but did not have the time to go do it. not an unfair meta at all, in my opinion.

  10. PM says:

    Particularly evil since last week’s rambling intro had nothing to do with the solution.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Counting words in the story? That’s bogus!

  12. Andrew Greene says:

    It does seem a mite unfair that the actual crossword was irrelevant.

    I saw 10 (from COOL-IO), Queen and King (from REGINA-KING), and Ace (from ACE-D, of course) and figured one of the other special clues was slang for a Jack. So I decided that the “big game” was poker and a royal flush would destroy my opponent.

    I guess I glennc-LOSE.

  13. Matthew G. says:

    Wow. I picked the right week to take a pass on MGWCC — I was working all weekend and didn’t do the puzzle OR meta until this morning, when I made only a desultory effort. I’m sure I’d be screaming now if I’d really tried.

    I submitted CATCH A TIGER BY HIS TOE as my answer, because I was reduced to looking at words in the grid and stabbing blindly.

    I didn’t think we’d ever get a MGWCC where the grid itself was completely irrelevant. Another thing to be on guard for.

  14. Dan F says:

    That is hilarious, Matt. I figured the instructions would have something to do with it, since they were so long and slightly stilted. But I didn’t spend much time on it because I’ve already got enough MGWCC stationery…

    “A Time to Cull” = time to cull the herd of solvers with a hard meta. I imagine.

  15. Darryl says:

    I suppose I could take some solace in the fact that I came up with some of the same strategies as Joon, but dangit, no! This was brutal, and the hole in my wall where I was banging my head needs fixing…

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Joon — no direct hint, but here was my logic: the numbers were so weird I figured people would notice them, so that’s the first leap (and most solvers did notice them). So what to do with them? They couldn’t correspond to squares in the grid, because 227 is one of them. So I figured there was a limited number of things those numbers could refer to. And with 1,2,3,4 as “The wise shaman leads,” that looked promising enough to try the instructions words. That was the second leap.

  17. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Plus: Cannibalism? That ain’t big game hunting.

  18. Barbara Hartwell says:

    I still don’t understand. How do numbers from 1 to 227 indicate words?

  19. Paul Coulter says:

    This one crushed me, too. I noticed all the numbers, and tried dozens of things with them. For instance, if you add them all, it comes to 1637, which spells COOL across the top. I also felt sure the preamble held the key, since Matt told us to leave the traditional hunting grounds and look over the horizon. He seemed to go out of his way to use the words rock, cliffs, plain, and crush, so I decided to crush my prey by dropping a rock from the cliffs onto the plain. If it were me, I would have done a deletion meta by “dropping” synonyms of rock, but that wasn’t there, so in the end, I guessed Lion/Rock, hoping King and Lair were auxilliary indicators. I might just as well have guessed Professor Plum with a Rope!

  20. John says:

    I went through all the stuff Joon did and more. Yes, the numbers stuck out, I even bothered to highlight each corresponding letter in the grid knowing that 227 was impossible. I gave up when 99 was a black square (and the last number!) There were 6 places laid out pretty much perfectly in the grid geometry where 4-letter answers could be duplicated with a turn to the right for a letter matching the first (see OKRA for an example). There were 5 well-placed double letter answers – all for naught. Much to chew on, nothing to eat.

    Still the most exasperating and shocking thing is that 13 alien-minded people actually came up with this answer?!?!? Apply the numbers back to the instructions… right.

  21. Erik says:

    I saw “only his words get us there” and thought it might have something to do with his speech, but… damn.

  22. Erik says:

    Also, wow @Matthew G. – I submitted the same thing!

  23. joon says:

    it’s difficult for me to formulate an unbiased, emotionless response right now, but i think i would have loved this meta if the title had been “story time” or some such. as it is, i vehemently disagree about there being a “limited number of things” that the clue numbers could refer to, so having no hint at all was pretty unfun. (i’ll leave the “unfair” decision to somebody else.)

  24. Jeffrey says:

    Well, that was obvious. I got the numbers things pretty quick, did some of what joon did, and that was that. Yuck.

  25. ant says:

    You mentioned that this month was referred to as H40 – “a pun on water, which is also kind of important.” So did that mean anything, or was it just a red herring?
    Either way, I guessed hunting marlin with a harpoon…
    ARGH! So close, and yet so far…

  26. Chuck says:

    The middle of the grid has “You” driving “Bison” over a cliff. I was sure that was the solution.

  27. Noam D. Elkies says:

    So the Shaman was a Sham. Argh, I even tried to use the numbers as an index to something in the instructions, but somehow didn’t hit on this variation. So this puzzle starts with rap (1A:COOLIO) and ends with rock – not music to my ears…

    Yes, clever though it is, it’s rather disappointing that it has so little to do with the crossword. Perhaps that’s why errors like 31D:KARATE slipped through (karate is specifically Japanese, Chungking Chinese; next time go for something like “Chufu chops”), and why the hunt for yet another clue for 61D:OREO led to a clash with the grid’s 69A:DESSERTS :-(

    P.S. Yes, I saw the (C)ornish [game] hens in the grid too, but didn’t think of decapitation – not that it would have helped. Since there were 13 numerical clues, and we’re looking for big game, I tried various card games (ACE and KING are in the clued answers, and arguably “queen” in REGINA), and of course got nowhere with that too. Now it turns out that 13 was the number of successful solvers!

    P.P.S. Lod is your example of a place in the 49D:LEVANT!? That’s like cluing ASIA as “Narita location” (minus the alliteration)…

  28. Dan Seidman says:

    My first thought was that the game was chess, since there were a queen and king and also a knight (Lancelot). Then I noticed that both ORNISH and HENS were in the grid, so I submitted Cornish [game] hens, decapitated. I thought that was appropriate given that I spent the last four days running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out what all those numbers meant and what Glenn Close and Regina King had in common.

  29. Darryl says:

    Also, some nitpicks on the clues: Chopping in Chungking = KARATE? Uh, no. Japanese martial arts in China?

    101 Dalmatians voice? Yeah GLENNCLOSE used her voice in the 1996 movie, but it was live-action, not a cartoon. I thought these questionable clues might be significant, but there weren’t any 10-letter voice actors in the 1961 cartoon.

    But, MARLAGIBBS fit in where REGINAKING was, KUNGFU could fit where KARATE was, so I was thinking back to the Beatles puzzle.

    But yeah, I had nothing but a lame BISON that I NABbed, in the end.

  30. jimmy d says:

    Darn!! I figured out the meta late last night, but I must have counted wrong because the sentence I got was THE WISE SHAMAN LEADS and then a bunch of gibberish… shoot!! Oh well, at least (mostly) everyone else had an epic fail too!! =)

  31. Karen says:

    I noticed the numbers but didn’t suss out their relevance. But really, referring to the Shaman as ‘big game’? Sits bad in my stomach.

  32. Matt Gaffney says:

    Karen — I didn’t mean to imply cannibalism with the solution. Rather that after the shaman is killed you can lead the tribe back to your traditional hunting grounds instead of wherever the shrooming shaman was leading you.

  33. Howard B says:

    Well, that’s a funny meta; I like the twisted humor of the solution.
    However, I had all the clue numbers written down, believing this was the most likely way into the meta. I tried many connections to the grid, clues, etc, and so at least was on a promising path.

    But honestly, (and I am honest in my assessments), there is no connection other than dumb luck that you could possibly find this answer.
    And even with that finding, I would not have had anywhere near the time to do such a word-count. The usual ‘click’ and connection here between puzzle and meta is missing. The puzzle just has no effect on the answer other than the clues.

    Matt has set the bar very high for himself, really, so that’s a testament to his craft.

    I admire the concept, it’s entirely original. I got a laugh reading the solution here.
    I just think there’s perhaps a single piece missing here. A keystone to the arch, if you will.

  34. Crossword lover says:

    I am one of the 13 successful solvers. At first, I tried many of the things that all of you describe. The a-ha for me was that flavor text like the story is very unusual for Matt’s posts — in fact I don’t think he ever did that before. I pasted the story into Word, saw that the numbers might work with the word count, and proceeded from there. And, as Matt says, the first 4 numbers (corresponding to The Wise Shaman leads) looked very promising.

    I remember a few other MG puzzles that used information on his puzzle page (e.g., there was one involving links). So, it wasn’t that much of a stretch for me. And though the answers didn’t help solve the puzzle, the clues were an integral component, so I thought it was legit and fun.

  35. ===Dan says:

    A TIME TO CULL anagrams to CALL TIMEOUT and I did, so I still have time to submit my answer.

  36. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    If I could rouse myself from my dismay to comment, I would say, “All those numerals in the clues were waving at me, but they weren’t saying anything!”

    After last year’s Dracula puzzle, with the Stake through the Heart, I thought there might be something with the Bison Ennclose in the Pen.

    Oh, well!

  37. PM says:

    If you take all of the numbers, square them, and then start from clue 1 and read every 5th letter in the clues, you get “GAFFNEY JUMPS THE SHARK”

  38. Hugh says:

    If everybody in the tribe starved to death, who crushed the skull?

  39. Pj says:

    I spent entirely too much time on this puzzle,so I’m either mad the meta was not as advertised, or feeling rather foolish for being a sucker. I sent in BEAR and BOW & ARROW because I thought maybe the numbers when plotted resembled Ursa Major and Orion. I even looked at team players’ jerseys and found the Buffalo Sabres! I almost sent in Lion , thinking that the shaman was lying, but that’s as close as I got. This was not my kind of puzzle.

  40. Amy Hamilton says:

    As far as I’m concerned, one needs to be prepared for anything with Matt’s puzzles, but I do feel that stating that the pun on water was important was unfair as it kept me focused on anything related to ice (numerous hockey references were imagined by me in the grid) or water (Neptune, Gigi=death by trident).

  41. mitchs says:

    I saw USE ON A BISON running through the middle and couldn’t get past looking in the grid for the weapon.

  42. Matt Gaffney says:

    It sounds like a consensus is forming that this meta was unfair.

    This is the worst adjective that can be applied to a meta in my view, since it means I’ve broken the trust between solver and constructor (i.e., the solver invests their time in the puzzle under the assumption that the solution will be fair and gettable).

    My guess was that 50 solvers would get this one, and I certainly wasn’t aiming at such a low number. So at least know that it wasn’t intentional. And I will say in defense of the puzzle and meta that 13 people did get it, so it must be considered only slightly unfair and not completely so.

    In retrospect, Howard’s comment seems right on: another slight hint, perhaps in the title, would have nudged us closer to the 50 number I was aiming for.

    At any rate, apologies to those who are upset because the meta crossed the line of fairness. It’s a thin line to tread and I think this is only the second time I’m stepped over it in 178 metas (the ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL puzzle was the first). And I do get plenty of “that was too easy” e-mails, even late in the month, which are always in my mind when deciding how many hints to leave on the trail.

  43. Themutman says:

    I think Matt was running low on pencils and pens! I recognized the numbers, but couldn’t finish it off. Nice work Matt.

  44. Pete Rimkus says:

    “…Those numbers corresponded to words in the contest instructions..”


  45. Darryl says:

    Indeed, thought the Mushroom puzzle had too many hints. This one, too few.

  46. Mark N says:

    Hi. I don’t mind the solution method (counting the Nth words in the “flavor text”) per se. I just don’t feel that the method was clued adequately IMO. Yes, the numbers in the clues were noticeable, and, yes, I suspected the text held a key somehow. But I kept thinking that there’d be a clue alluding to numbers or word counts if they were essential. I was also expecting the solution that would resonate with “big game”. I characterize a good solution to a puzzle as “impossible to see at first glance, but impossible not to see after you’ve solved it”. This one didn’t “click” for me even after seeing the intended answer. Anyhow, congratulations to the 13 on unraveling a meta most difficult!

  47. DNF. Like many of you, I tried lots of the same things. DNA codons, periodic table, OEIS, all sorts of crazy indexing schemes, taking differences, sorting in all different ways, etc. I thought H4O would be important, so I tried to find ways of applying that forwards or backwards to the numbers/clues/answers, but to no avail.

    I sent in CORNISH HEN / USE GUNS, because you can get those letters by playing Boggle with the grid, starting from the top-left.

    In addition to Glenn Close not being a “voice” actress, I also noticed that the answer LOVE (12D) also appears in two clues, 20A and 37A. I figured that was just a big oversight on Matt’s part and didn’t focus on it (which apparently it was).

  48. Anne E says:

    Followed many of the same wrong paths:

    (1) Noticed all the #s. Thought they might refer to a game I’ve never played (which is most of them), since Matt seemed to go out of his way to use the word “game” rather than “animal(s)”. Got nowhere.

    (2) Noticed KING, REGINA (queen), LANCELOT (knight or jack), ACE, and TEN in the grid. Contemplated poker solutions (I know nothing about poker). Noticed a couple of MANs in the grid (pawn?). Contemplated chess solutions. Got nowhere.

    (3) Noticed two errors in clues – the aforementioned KARATE cluing error, and the GUANO error (I believe that is Spanish, with the Quechua word being slightly different – maybe HUANO?). Contemplated other clues that could be wrong. Got nowhere.

    Etc etc – will spare you all the rest of my wrong turns. Could have had weeks more and wouldn’t have got this one.

    I will say that in a month where there is a special prize for getting all 4, I don’t like what happened this month, where the first three metas were (IMO) really easy (each one took me less than 2 minutes), and the last one was well-nigh impossible. The other months like this were much more gradational, which led to a (for me) much more satisfying process of elimination, even when I didn’t get the last month.

    I hate to be critical of Matt in any way, because what he is doing in these years of MGWCC is an amazing thing and I feel fortunate to be part of it. But… no, not happy this week.

  49. Pete M says:

    I noticed the numbers also, but got hung up on the fact that the numbers on the two long answers (101 and 227) were prime numbers and none of the other were. Got me exactly nowhere.

  50. Evad says:

    Hard for me to be unbiased as well, as I am also one of the lucky 13. In my mind, there was nothing in the puzzle that I felt could be used to signify the numbers in the clues, so I started searching elsewhere, starting with the write-up on Matt’s webpage. (It would’ve been truly sinister if the words corresponded to his text before the story, and quite an accomplishment!) I noticed in particular the odd phrase “winter’s crush” as well as the parenthetical comment about the Shaman being on a rock (why is that important, I wondered?) and was happy to see both “crush” and “rock” corresponded to numbers in clues.

    I copied and pasted the story into a text document, inserted carriage returns between each word and then opened that in Msoft Excel to see the word numbers.

    As others have said, this isn’t the first time Matt has used his webpage as additional information to solve a meta, and it was one of my first thoughts when thinking the grid wouldn’t help me.

  51. Howard B says:

    Yep, I do like the concept here, and I hope that Matt continues to think creatively ways (don’t let a tweak here or there in difficulty discourage that spark). Sometimes it is just a subtle nudge that makes the difference between a challenging and satisfying solve (whether or not we ultimately crack it), and a random grope for the right answer.

    This pretty much applies to any puzzle that does not have a mathematical solution, whether it be computer adventure games, lateral thinking riddles, etc. Fine line between frustration and fun, and it differs for everyone.
    And it is understood that this is much, much easier to comment on than to design into a puzzle. Heck, I can’t really think of an idea now that would be just the right hint without revealing too much.

    So congrats to the lucky 13, and the rest of us will eat our okra and poisonous toadstool jambalaya and return next week :).

  52. Neville says:

    I got it, and it was the first thing I tried, despite the fact that I miscounted the story words the first time through. As I wrote to MG:

    “Meta Giveaways: The 82/87 clue for AGES was curiously stilted. I think that’s what gave it to me. The fact that JACKEE HARRY didn’t fit, and then MARLA GIBBS wasn’t right for “227” made me sad. At least the name REGINA KING sounded familiar. This one told me that I didn’t have to index numbers into the grid, as 227 > 225 = 15×15″

    And really, that seemed to be enough to tell me to look in the story. It had been suspiciously long, and MG usually doesn’t write that much flavor text related to his puzzles, even in theme months.

    But before you throw rocks at MY head, I didn’t get OKRA earlier this month. What’s easy for some is hard for others, and vice versa. I think it was perfectly fair, and I think OKRA was fair, too. Not every puzzle is easy (and thank goodness for it!)

  53. Paul Coulter says:

    Given Matt’s clear hints that the answer was in his story, I don’t think the meta was unfair. I tried less likely uses of the numbers, and only wish I’d tried the right one. I also saw the decapitated Cornish Hens. Since it was a dogleg piece, my granddaughter thought the “Game” might be Tetris. Alas, we couldn’t make anything drop down. The NW corner did seem forced, and if this was a randopm puzzle, was it something else Matt tried to do, but couldn’t make it work? My hat’s off to the 13 genii.

  54. MikeM says:

    IMO, fair and square. Many (most?) people seemed to figure out that the numbers were the key. Like many others, I spent way too much time unsuccessfully trying to figure out what to do with them, but 13 people got it after all. That seems like a fair number given the special month. To those 13, way to think outside the box!

  55. neil says:

    I focused on all the proper names like Joon but did not see anything with the initials, etc, when i lock on 1 thing it is hard to shift but there were a lot of numbers so i guess we could have seen that but still hard to get the answer even focusing on numbers

  56. James Schooler says:


    But nice work Matt!

  57. joon says:

    so now that i’ve had a chance to eat lunch and think about it some more, here are my thoughts:

    1. it doesn’t bother me that the grid was not used in the solution. it’s happened before (PRIUS meta), and i think the grid, title, instructions, and clues are always fair game for the meta. if you are offended by the idea of filling in the grid if it doesn’t help you with the meta, well … why should you be? by an extension of that logic, any answer in the grid that isn’t a theme answer should offend you.

    2. it doesn’t bother me that the grid has a couple clunkers. there were 13 theme answers, after all.

    3. it doesn’t bother me that the solution involved looking at the blog post. that’s happened before, too. but the last time it happened, there was a hint in the grid telling you to FIND THE MISSING LINK, a definite hint towards web pages. this week there was no positive hint, only a sort of attempted process of elimination, ultimately leaving me with no “aha” moment and more of a “how was i supposed to make that connection?” moment. if there had been a hint at the story connection, then the subsequent leap to counting word #s would have been a cool “aha” moment. (and then maybe the actual counting of the words would’ve been tedious and annoying. i dunno. was it?)

    4. the actual solution certainly does imply cannibalism, whether matt intended it or not. we are asked to identify “the big game you must hunt to save your tribe”, and the correct answer is the wise shaman. ick. if we’re supposed to infer that he’s the contest answer but somehow not the game we’re hunting, that’s almost as big a stretch for the solver as … well, never mind.

  58. Cole says:

    I saw a twisted LARIAT in the north center of the puzzle (near a U) and assumed that you NABbed a BISON with a LARIAT but was not even close.

  59. Crossword lover says:

    Joon — once I pasted the text into Word, the counting process was really simple (just highlight full text from the beginning of the story to check text length for different ‘possibilities’). And, it seemed obvious what the final words would be, which also shortened the process.

    And, since it was clear that there was a message emerging, it wasn’t tedious or annoying at all IMO.

  60. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I was also put off by the inclusion of both AGES and AGING in the grid.

    But when I was solving the crossword portion, I was grateful to Entertainment Weekly for having a reunion photo of some of the “227” cast members. I wouldn’t have known Regina King was in it otherwise! (Not that this helped me at all with the meta.)

  61. Scott says:

    I have to agree with MikeM. Fair and square. I saw the numbers. I suspected that the story played a role. But I never thought to put two and two together to get four. I also agree that Matt should continue these ones that are very tricky because that is how we learn to probe deeper and deeper.

    Thanks Matt!

  62. JoninMozambique says:

    Hah, no way for me on this one. The internet was out this weekend here in Mozambique so I didnt get to this puzzle until Monday. I wouldn’t have gotten this even if I had the whole weekend. So wanted to get that notepad here in Africa! There’s always next week.

  63. rmac says:

    I don’t get all this talk of “fairness”. This puzzle was 100% fair to the 13 folks (including me) who got it. On the other hand, Week 2 this month was totally unfair to anyone (including me) who had never before heard of mung beans or nori. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    I’m not upset over the Week 2 puzzle, and I don’t see why anyone should be upset with Matt over this one. He does this for free, and the stakes aren’t really all that high. If you need a ballpoint pen, go to Staples.

    @joon: I saw that the hint to look beyond the puzzle was in the story itself: “… we must forsake our traditional, bountiful hunting grounds.” I thought killing the Shaman was icky, too, but the idea of cannibalism didn’t cross my mind. I just figured it was necessary to off the Shaman because he was leading the tribe astray. As for the “aha” moment, it came for me soon after I started counting words and saw a coherent sentence start to emerge. The hint to count the words in the first place was, “what can I possibly do with big numbers like 227 and 202 and 212?”

    — Russ

  64. Ken / Cazique says:

    I think “unfair” is a bit much, peeps. Some sour grapes going on. It’s fair. There’s a limited number of “hunting grounds” for any given puzzle in which Matt could hide something – the grid, the clues, the intro on the blog, with potential bonus cluing from the title. We all knew the entry point was the numbers, with the 227 a clear potential indication that it wasn’t to do with the squares in the grid. We all tried all the stuff Joon did, which I won’t rehash, applying the numbers to the clues and also doing the usual machinations with the entries. The cards were an interesting diversion. Where else are you going to look? With a much longer intro than usual, it didn’t exactly scream out for you to use it but it might have at least been a yellow flag. And using numbers to index words in a passage ought to be on the short list of things you try if you think to use the passage. Most of us never got there – I certainly didn’t, I looked for cluing but didn’t think to use it as the base – but it’s perfectly cromulent.

    Was it great? No, I don’t think so. Other specific thoughts:
    (a) No clear cluing, or even obfuscated-but-positive cluing, to use the blog intro as a base for anything. No hintage in the passage itself, no having the first letters of the clues with numbers spelling out BLOG WORD COUNT, etc.
    (b) The fewer constraints a puzzle has on the grid, the more that grid better sparkle, and I don’t think this one does. There’s nothing *wrong* with the grid per se (other than AGING/AGES) but this is just one of those things that’s tough for a great crossword writer like Matt – the bar is high. Note there aren’t zero constraints, but it’s not like that ESCALATOR grid.

    If this were a mystery hunt puzzle – and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to judge a week-omega puzzle, particularly in a theme month, by similar standards – we’d say that it needed one fewer aha. This has two – Hey, Look, Numbers and Use The Numbers On The Blog Text. Needs to be a better link between the two.

    Building on that, the grid is irrelevant. That doesn’t make the mechanic any more or less fair, but for a crossword contest, it’s a bit odd. That’s the ONLY thing about this that I think could be considered at all unfair, and for the puzzle as a whole it’s the biggest flaw.

    That said, I don’t know of many other consistently-high-quality weekly metapuzzle crossword contests out there, and am glad to have this one. No complaints from here. Thanks as always, Matt!

  65. Bono says:

    Noticed the numbers but got nowhere.
    Also tried H4O as in H for O. Replacing an O with an H COOP becomes “CHOP”.This seemed promising. Tried to connect this to the strange KARATE clue. .
    IMAGE [32d. What everyone thinks of you] YOU [36a The big game hunter]
    Wondered about the significance of YOU appearing in both a clue and an answer. Et tu?

  66. … ehhh. I saw USE ON A BISON, and then, skipping over that A, AIRGUN in the middle column, so I submitted that in desperation.

    I have no problem with using the story, but I do think that making the solving of the crossword completely irrelevant is completely inelegant. It’s a Crossword Contest, after all, not a Contest in the General Vicinity of a Crossword.

  67. Neville says:

    Joon wrote, “(and then maybe the actual counting of the words would’ve been tedious and annoying. i dunno. was it?)”

    Yes. But I’m not smart enough to move things into Excel, so I just printed it and counted by hand. And then recounted because I skipped 89 in my counting. Fortunately, I can count to 227, so it didn’t take too long.

  68. abide says:

    Started 45 minutes before deadline. Finished 5 minutes before deadline and never saw any numbers. After the deadline they all popped out and I figured they must correspond to either letters in clues or some other text. I thought about the long speech but discounted that since there was a similar long speech in Week 3. Week 1 and 2 had very simple instructions with no story.

    I see no inherent unfairness for Week 4. I think it would have been easier to grok if there was no detailed story last week, but only this time around.

  69. Squonk says:

    I actually did try using the numbers as indices into the story, but in the end, counting that far just got kind of tedious, and I didn’t think “the wise shaman leads” was a good start to anything. I guess that teaches me not to be persistent.

  70. Meg says:

    Didn’t anybody else find my great answer?
    Gi(GI + YOU + EN(AMOR) spells GUN!! Then I just went with BISON.
    I saw the numbers and got nowhere……for hours. I’ll just tuck “use the blogpost too” into my brain for future puzzles.

  71. HH says:

    UNFAIR (adjective) — See “I didn’t get it.”

  72. Foggy Brume says:

    So, thinking that the reference to waiting for time to pass was an oblique clue to Caesar shift every letter forward, I found two things that seemed really helpful:
    * RONS became SPOT
    * GLENNCLOSE became hmFOODmptf

    Spent a couple hours thinking that couldn’t have been coincidental. Apparently it was.

    My feeling is the meta itself wasn’t unfair, just unclued. I know what it’s like to have written a puzzle/meta that most people can’t crack, and I’ve almost always thought it was more a matter of “what do I need to clue better?”

  73. Foggy Brume says:

    And as a PS, it’s worth noting that the correct solution means that there is no food to be found and the tribe will starve to death.

    That’s a bit of a bummer.

  74. wobbith says:

    Plenty of food here – schools of red herring, a truckload of grapes (a bit sour), and one unWise Shaman.

    On the second read, I thought that “The Shaman places (while sitting on a rock) a mushroom in his mouth…” fairly screamed that the narrative contained either the meta solution or a huge clue. I’m startled to see that only 13 of us survived.

    And I thought the answer, while perhaps a tad icky, was hilarious.

  75. Anne E says:

    Just want to clarify my own comment. I didn’t say I thought the solution was unfair, just that I didn’t like it – not the same thing. In particular what I didn’t like was the huge gap in difficulty between weeks 1-3 and week 4. Yes, I realize a bunch of good solvers didn’t get “okra”, but more than 200 people did get the meta in weeks 1-3, and going from that to 13 in week 4 is just… brutal. :-) -Anne, bruised

    PS: LOL, @Robert Hutchinson: “It’s a Crossword Contest, after all, not a Contest in the General Vicinity of a Crossword.”

  76. *David* says:

    I feel a bit unbiased on this one since I pretty much quit after my Week 2, miss for the rest of the month. I spent about five minutes on this meta and connected it to the numbers but couldn’t make heads or tails of it so just walked away and enjoyed a serene weekend. Now jumping into the fray after that annoying preamble, my only concern with the meta is that it wasn’t directly connected to solving the crossword but I’m willing to go along with it and stretch the meanings of what the meta can be. I also think that the expectation on the months that everyone will win something, if you get them all right, is that the last week should be bone crushing and we shouldn’t have more then 25-35 winners for the cumulative month metas. This is costing Matt some heavy duty pens and pads here, let’s have a little perspective! Anyway Matt keep on pushing the envelope on metas, I’d rather this one then a retread.

  77. Jeffrey says:

    Jeffrey’s Law: The number of comments on a MGWCC post is inversely proportional to the number of correct solutions.

  78. Matthew G. says:

    I am loathe to add to this long thread, especially as Matt gives us all this entertainment for free and it’s about once an eon that he gives us a MGWCC that is anything less than brilliant — but I tend to agree with Robert’s sentiment, “It’s a Crossword Contest, after all, not a Contest in the General Vicinity of a Crossword.” I don’t assume the grid will reveal all or even take the leading role, but I think it has always been a fair assumption to have expected the role to be >0. Even the most oblique of hints in the grid to the solving of the meta would have been enough to tie it all together (which is not at all the same thing as saying that I would have gotten it).

    But that is the only criticism I have of this meta. Hard, even crushingly hard, is welcome. I also can’t imagine why anyone would object to the blog post being part of the puzzle, and in fact I rather like the fact that the story was irrelevant last week and relevant this week. Devilish. But I do find the grid’s irrelevance very dissatisfying.

    Not really interested in having a discussion about fairness or unfairness — I’ve missed plenty of perfectly “fair” metas, and I’ve also solved one or two through shortcuts Matt surely did not intend, which sometimes felt like an “unfair” advantage. All I’ll say is that the gimmick doesn’t work for me this week on an enjoyment level, and I honestly believe I’d feel the same even if I’d solved it.

    But what do I know? I died of okra-deprivation two weeks ago. ;)

  79. tabstop says:

    Count me as another vote for “reasonable but unclued”, with the caveat that I was nowhere near. I also was seduced by “Matt’s grids aren’t usually this weird, so there must be something going on in the grid” (must be the reverse bigotry of high expectations, or something) — I took the fluff in the story to suggest the edges in the grid, and noticed that you can (almost!) remove the entire last row and leave reasonable down answers (except for LEVAN and maybe GA/HO if you are upset about two-letter entries), but that turned out to be nothing in particular. (I wonder if I took a random sample of a bunch of NYT crosswords, how many letters on the bottom row you can remove on average. Maybe I’ll have the next batch of statistics students do that.)

  80. Abby says:

    I cry foul- as I did last time the meta used something outside the puzzle. And again for making solving the puzzle irrelevant (ditto). Unless you include the story as a note on the puzzle or in the email sent out, I don’t think the answer can depend on the exact wording.

    I didn’t have the text with me when trying to solve the puzzle. I print the puzzle out once I solve it and usually also carry it in Crossword on my iPhone. Stupid me, I guess, but what’s next? I mean book ciphers like that have remained uncracked for ages (see the Beale ciphers). Get the wrong text or count from the wrong place or in the wrong way, and you may as well forget it.

    I saw the numbers, I was troubled by the numbers, but there was nothing to do with them from the puzzle or the clues and no real hint why or where to look elsewhere.

    I just realized that if there were a more strong suggestion that substituting I for U meant something- which the title might be construed as, maybe- the blog would’ve had a section titled “THE FINAL HINT”. Even though it’s not a hint per se, that might’ve helped. Not that I would’ve seem it.

    Even better might’ve been if the title were “THE FINAL HUNTING GROUND”, because we were supposed to hunt through that text.

    I don’t know. It was certainly missing something.

  81. ant says:

    I get it now! It was all a Big Game!

    I definitely think this was a “fair” meta – we all saw the abundance of numbers in the cluing, which has been just as much part of a Matt Gaffney puzzle as the grid. However, I do wish there was something (possibly in said grid) directing us to look elsewhere. Especially since we should have been looking – not for food, as instructed – but for something completely different. Is MacGuffin the right word here? Not really…

    Also, I have two theories about the H4O (Hunt for Food October) pun comment:
    1) Man does not live by bread (food) alone; water “is also kind of important.” (groan – I hope I’m wrong).
    2) Note that it wasn’t H4FO. Makes sense, now. Was Matt telling us then that food may not necessarily be involved?

  82. Aaron says:

    I, too, agree that the meta was fair. I noticed the numbers, I wrote them out, it’s my fault for not figuring out what to do with them. I haven’t been doing these from Week #1, so I’ve never seen flavor text or anything outside the crossword used before; this is unfair only so far as it goes for people who printed the puzzle, wrote down the meta instructions (not the flavor text — which takes on an extra meaning when you’re dealing with starvation and have to eat your own words), and then got stuck.

    But hey, congratulations to those who not only thought outside the box, but outside the grid, the crossword clues, and all the way back to the story itself. Just one more fun thing to have my guard up against now in the future; I’m just glad I identified the numbers — I usually miss hints hidden in the clues (but past puzzles have gotten me used to that)!

  83. Garrett says:

    @Anne E — ditto
    @Joon — it bothers a great deal that the solution was “off the grid”
    @Matt — By my way of reckoning, second time you’ve done that. Don’t do that.
    @Me — way too much time wasted on the meta.
    @Schooler — groan ECHOED
    @Matt — your final one line directive specified BIG GAME. I think you can’t support your own meta answer. I loved the alt ‘cook Cornish game hens’. Anyone who got that should get a pad.

  84. Alex says:

    Lots of people are complaining about the grid having nothing to do with the meta. Where were you for the Ob-la-di Ob-la-da meta where solving the puzzle actually *hurt* your chances of getting the meta?

  85. Matthew G. says:


    I don’t agree that the grid was either irrelevant or harmful in the Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da meta. The brilliance of that meta was that most of the entries that didn’t fit were more familiar answers than the ones that did (e.g., OLIVE BRANCH is more familiar than DOVES FLYING, LOS ANGELES is more familiar than SAN ANTONIO, etc.). To solve the meta, you had to repeatedly bang your head against those entries refusing to fit in the grid. Realizing that my preferred entries would not work led me to write them down on the back of my puzzle printout, and voila.

    The grid was intimately involved in that puzzle. Involvement by conspicuous counterintuitiveness is still involvement. This week, solving the puzzle had no effect on one’s chances of getting the meta.

  86. Joan says:

    I took the “you” to also mean “U”. Then I started with the U in Seurat and, moving down and across, could read “USE GIN AND RAGE SOME.” This is a good answer for all those upset about the puzzle’s difficulty.
    I flew cross country and am a day late checking the answer which I gave up on, but think it’s fair and terribly clever!

  87. T Campbell says:

    I actually figured this out, AFTER sending in a snarky guess involving Lost. But I also got the cannibal vibe.

  88. Garrett says:

    @ T Cambell — how did get the cannibal vibe?
    @ Joan — AHA! I wondered why REGINA KING was in there.
    @ Matt (if you are still reading this) — I wonder if you have a number for Google Groups numbers plus those who are not and download the .jpg? Like what percentage of the solving base soled this meta?

    @ Joon — haven’t seen anything about the Champion Jeopardy thing. Is there a YouTube of it?

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