MGWCC #180

crossword 3:53
puzzle 0:15 

hello and welcome to episode #180 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Science Digest”. this week, matt challenges us to identify a famous scientist. what are the theme clues?

  • {Numismatist’s purchases (1,4)} are PLATINUM COINS.
  • {Little Boy was one (6)} URANIUM BOMB.
  • {Plastic surgeon’s tool (5,7)} is an ERBIUM LASER. haven’t heard of this specific laser, but sure.
  • {With 54-down, Cary Grant comedy (2, 3)} is ARSENIC AND OLD/LACE.

well, it doesn’t take much thinking to notice that each one begins with an element. and with the hints from the #s in parentheses, we are likely looking at abbreviations, because uranium (U) only has one number, and the others have two: Pt, Er, As. putting the seven letters in the indicated order spells out pasteur, who is indeed a famous scientist.

so the meta was pretty easy for me. i don’t think it was one of my favorites, though. PLATINUM COINS seems pretty arbitrary, and ERBIUM LASER is both arbitrary and unfamiliar. i would have liked to see some more natural-ish phrases, like maybe CARBON PAPER or TIN PAN ALLEY or NEON SIGN or SILICON VALLEY; and there are a zillion possible phrases with IRON, GOLD, or SILVER. but not every week can be a masterpiece, and this one was okay.

fill roundup:

  • {“___ the Conqueror” (Best Foreign Language Film winner of 1988)} is PELLE. who in the what now?
  • {It is in Iserlohn} is ESIST, a german word i have never seen in a crossword despite those amazing letters. i’m not a fan, although i would not award it the worst foreign language crossword fill of 2011.
  • {MCG for me, e.g.} are matt’s INITS. nice subtle allusion to the previous periodic table meta.
  • {___ get-out (extremely)} clues the partial AS ALL. never seen this in a crossword before, and it’s a partial, but i kinda like it anyway. nice snappy phrase.
  • {Eats a funny fungus} SHROOMS. this is a verb?

okay, that’s all for me. what’d you think of this one?

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26 Responses to MGWCC #180

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    Was it APT? SURE. But was it really necessary to reveal the order of the anagram’s letters (and thereby giving a strong hint that it was an anagram?) Without the enumeration, did Matt feel he’d receive too many TRUE SAP answers? More favorably, I did enjoy the BEQ puzzle to which we were directed. Very nicely done for the 11/11/11 date. It reminded me of the cryptic chestnut: Twelve + one – two, surprisingly (6) which of course comes to ELEVEN as an anagram/deletion. It appeared recently in the Guardian, though I can’t recall which setter did this version.

  2. Scott says:

    I failed this one and it was so easy! I got stuck on the atomic numbers of the elements and just never got anywhere with that. In the end, I sent in MENDELEEV as the periodic chart guy. Meta-fail!

    How many got this one Matt? My guess is 343 or so.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Fail. I sent in Einstein just because.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    343 correct answers.

    Joon — the restrictions were pretty severe. You need elements that fit into phrases, and there are only about 25 of those (surprisingly), including of course the ones you mentioned. Then you need the chemical symbols to spell out a scientist’s name…

    I don’t think there’s another way to do it than with PASTEUR. Was trying to get MENDELEEV as the meta answer, but the V is a dealbreaker (no phrase with VANADIUM).

    Also PLATINUM COINS isn’t at all arbitrary; it’s one of the four monetary metals so it’s been made into coins for a long time!

  5. ant says:


    “it is” = “es ist”

    I got PASTEUR, but at first I was taking the letters as indicated in the clues, resulting in PTUULRS. I got PASTEUR after using the actual element symbols, but I was afraid I was missing an important part of the meta. Once again, I’m over-thinking the easy ones, and under-thinking the hard ones…

  6. pannonica says:

    Oh damn, forgot to send in. *sigh*

  7. Karen says:

    I overlooked the enumeration, but it wasn’t hard to anagram the atomic symbols to PASTURE. Which was close enough for me.

  8. John says:

    The meta was pretty much a snap, but clever and i liked it a lot – but the numeric hints were over-kill. I also enjoyed this fill a lot for some reason. Just enough, Wha? to Aha! factor. i only had to google at the end to verify what LUNETTE and SEMANA were. I have been doing these for long enough that lots of googling means a tortured fill which means no fun. if you aren’t having fun, what are you doing here?

    But walking that line and sussing out a graduated difficulty with each week, what an incredible feat we witness. They don’t call him ‘Miracle Matt’ for nothing.

  9. Norm says:

    Did the same thing as ant, but those letters looked so close to PASTEUR that I went looking for a way to get an E and an A, and sort of solved it backward.

  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Everything’s twirling around in my brain here. Let me go back and think a minute. Either I was trying to anagram the wrong letters, or I had a brain freeze on anagramming the correct letters. But I remember going to’s anagram server and plugging in the letters, and it didn’t give me PASTURE so I don’t know what I was doing. I may have been taking the 5th and 7th letters of ERBIUMLASER and the 2nd and 3rd in ARSENIC etc. (What? It worked okay for PT and U.) Oops.

  11. Matthew G. says:

    Like Karen, I didn’t even notice the parenthetical numbers. As soon as I had the grid full, I just opened up a copy of the periodic table and looked up the atomic symbols of the four elements. Then I put them into an anagram server and it gave me PASTURE. I chuckled and that was that.

  12. Matt Gaffney says:

    Serious question: does anyone even notice when a grid has 70 or 72 word grids, as opposed to 76 or 78?

  13. pannonica says:

    Amy, you forgot the third thing.

    Matt, “no.”

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    Pannonica — I suspected that’s the answer, but I have a plan to change that. Starting this Friday!

  15. pannonica says:

    Matt, I can only speak for myself, and even then, just barely.

    p.s. uh-oh.

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    No I don’t think it’s just you at all. I think it’s hardly ever noticed — which I can complain about, or change. I vote for CHANGE!

  17. JanglerNPL says:

    Matt: I do notice, FWIW. I generally prefer a 76-worder with cleaner fill to a 72er with dodgy stuff, though.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Well, sure.

  19. BridgeFog says:

    Just curious: did you actually accept “Pasture” for “Pasteur” – I hope not!

  20. mitchs says:

    @Matt: never notice word count, ever.

  21. Matthew G. says:

    @BridgeFog: I’m assuming nobody actually _submitted_ PASTURE. But I suspect plenty of people (like me) found PASTURE through an anagram server and immediately saw the actual answer.

    @Matt Gaffney: I never notice word counts.

  22. Mark M. says:


    Never notice word counts and don’t even think about it. I do notice if a grid isn’t a 15×15 because it feels like it has mattered in the meta. Also, when you do as many crossword puzzles as this group something looks strange when it isn’t the standard format. Like BEQ’s puzzle last week, noticed that one immediately.


  23. ant says:

    I don’t necessarily notice word count, but I do notice when there seems to be an inordinate amount of 3-letter fill. Especially “non-sparkly” fill.
    By the way, what is an average amount of 3-letter words in CW puzzles? Do any of the databases keep stats like that? Do constructors have a number in mind to avoid?

  24. Garrett says:

    In myof case, I missed the element abbr deal and focused on the 1-7 numbers, rationalizing the length of the name, and taking the 1 (one) as it must be one of the grid-filll letters. I made a list of 7-letter names that could start with one of these. Then. I looked for letter. patterns that fit the numerical indicators. It was easy, but not as easy as using the elemental symbols. With that, I really like the meta.

  25. I don’t usually notice the word count, but I do notice if a grid has an unusual shape or size. And of course, I notice if it’s a themeless or themed puzzle, and themelesses usually have lower word counts.

  26. Neville says:

    Do I notice word count? No, not explicitly. But I do notice if a themed puzzle has a lot of nice, long non-theme answers – especially ones that cross the themed ones. That seems to correlate to a lower word count.

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