MGWCC #195

crossword 5:40
puzzle 2 days 

hello friends, and welcome to the 195th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Treasure Hunt”. this week, matt instructs us that There is a treasure hidden somewhere nearby, and this puzzle is your map! This week’s contest answer is your four-letter treasure, and where you found it. so where do we start looking? there’s only one hint in the puzzle, and it’s not even in the grid. the entry for 24-across, COLECO, has a rather odd clue: {HINT: Number of the letter you must write twice into this grid; CLUE: Video game company of the 1980s}.

what can this mean? well, when i finished the puzzle, i started looking for what letter appeared exactly twice in the grid. it turns out to be V: there’s one V at the crossing of OLIVE/DA VINCI, and another at AVOIDS/MMCV. V is the 22nd letter, so what do we do with the number 22? well, nothing, as it turns out. i’d been looking at it backwards. why was the hint tucked into that clue for 24-across? it certainly had nothing to do with COLECO. the answer is merely that 24 is the number of the letter in question, i.e. X, which makes perfect sense given that this is a treasure hunt. X marks the spot, doncha know. so … why is there only one X in the grid (up in the top-right corner, where BMX meets XLS)? surely we must find a suitable space to write in another X.

having identified that much, i went through the grid and clues with a fine-toothed comb, looking for a clue that might have an alternate answer that involves an X. i did not find any. i did see some weird numbers in the clues (XXXIX; 17%; seventh or eighth; 93; 40-120), and some numbers in the grid (ONE BC and TWOS), but nothing that looked promising. i also saw T-BONED and ICE-T, plus the odd grid pattern with 8 T’s around the edges, but that didn’t lead anywhere either.

the most striking thing i found, and one i could not shake for a while, was the weirdly specific clue for CAR at 29-down: {Fiat, for one}. why fiat? can it really just have been coincidence that the next entry, 30-across, is {Sub variety} ITALIAN? i convinced myself that secretly, {Fiat, for one} was the clue for ITALIAN CAR and that i should be looking for more of these hidden cross-references. but i didn’t find any. the closest i came was a couple of clues that i think are just not quite right (see below).

finally, after putting down the puzzle for a couple of days and coming back to it, the light dawned. if the grid is a treasure map, and it has unusually high symmetry (in fact, this puzzle has all possible symmetries of a crossword grid), something is special about the middle, so why not try plunking the X there? as soon as i did so, i noticed something interesting happening along the diagonals—something i had not noticed before, because the diagonals themselves look like gibberish (EOCOCCY/ELPITLU, XECUTRI/OBWODAH). but when you put that X in the middle and read from the outside in, look what you get:


i still didn’t recognize that first one, but it ends in COCCYX, which is the tailbone. and the others were clearly words with the first letter missing: Executrix, Multiplex, and Shadowbox. so i figured the missing letter was a G and we were looking at Geococcyx (whatever that is) and some hidden GEMS (see screencap). well, i was right, and it turns out that geococcyx is the genus name for the roadrunner. (etymology lesson: greek geo + kokkux “cuckoo”, so it’s an earth cuckoo. the tailbone, by the way, is so named because it resembles the shape of the cuckoo’s bill.)

i really liked this treasure hunt. it was completely invisible at first—even when i was looking in the right places, i couldn’t see it until i knew what i was looking for. then it popped right up. very cool.

against that, the grid is fairly poor despite the fact that there are basically no theme answers. i’ve never tried to make a grid with a diagonal theme, but it seems that for a grid with only 28 squares’ worth of theme material, it shouldn’t be that tough. this is only a 72-word grid, but there are a ton of black squares (57) and the fill still got pretty hairy in places (especially the corners). so, minor demerits for that. i don’t think this will be honored as the best puzzle of 2012, the way MGWCC #169, Moving Day, was so honored in the 2011 Orcas, but it was a terrific concept and very enjoyable to solve.

clues of note:

  • {Source of the quote: “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious”} is ACTS (of the apostles). i didn’t know this. but “wherefore, o men of athens, i say to you:” is the start of the prologue to godspell, spoken by socrates. had me going the wrong way, although i guess it’s only a hop, skip, and jump from godspell (based on the gospel according to matthew) to ACTS.
  • {2001 Wimbledon hero Goran Ivanisevic et al.} CROATS. hero indeed—he was my favorite tennis player. the “hero” in this clue also drew my eye because of the ITALIAN {Sub variety} clue next to it.
  • {James Cameron hit set on another planet} is ALIENS. wasn’t there a recent friday NYT where a similar clue was used to lure people into AVATAR?
  • {Bingo seventh or eighth, usually} is a scrabble TILE. to me, the bingo is the play, rather than the word(s) formed by the play, so a bingo always consists of exactly seven tiles, but there’s nothing wrong with the clue’s interpretation either.
  • {He lost Season Four of “American Idol” to Underwood} is some guy named BICE. i had noticed while solving that the fill would be better here if this were changed to something like BILE, but of course the C turned out to be thematic.
  • {Fitting prefix for this clue} is DODECA-, because this clue was 12-down. very cute.
  • {Resulting directly from} is CAUSAL? no, i don’t think so. CAUSAL means of, relating to, or acting as a cause. i don’t think there is any sentence in which you can replace “resulting directly from” with CAUSAL and have the result make any grammatical sense. CAUSED BY, maybe.
  • {Ere} EARLIER. and this is the other clue i thought was wrong. “ere” means before, which is synonymous with “earlier than” or “prior to” but not just EARLIER by itself.
  • {“Lin-sanity” org.} is the NBA? but his influence extends so far beyond just basketball.
  • {“Bed in the bush with stars to see, bread ___ in the river”–Robert Louis Stevenson} clues the ugly-as-sin partial I DIP. like i said, things got a little hairy in the corners.
  • {Funeral rite} is an OBSEQUY. a lovely, if obscure, word. both it and the much more common “obsequious” are derived from the latin obsequium, “compliance”.

that’s all for me. how did february treat you all?

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37 Responses to MGWCC #195

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    I imagine many found this much easier than last week. It only slowed me a few minutes thinking the answer was some sort of prize hidden in a Trix box (doing it while eating breakfast probably had something to do with that,) but I couldn’t see what coccyx and lex had to do with it, then of course, I saw the longer words. For a Week 4 puzzle, perhaps Matt should have left off the enumeration and the hint about the 2nd x. As soon as I saw the title, I was already thinking, X marks the spot, and the grid’s shape strongly reinforced that. But I give Matt maximum credit for the execution. I once tried to construct a specialty cryptic along these lines, and it was such a bear, I moved on to an easier theme.

  2. HH says:

    “i’ve never tried to make a grid with a diagonal theme … the fill still got pretty hairy in places (especially the corners). ”

    maybe because it’s easier when the diagonals are (almost) all vowels or (almost) all consonants.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    96 right answers this week, so tough one.

    Diagonal theme entries are more than twice as hard to work with as same-length theme entries, it turns out, since they cross twice as many words and those words they cross are all clustered (believe me, I was cringing myself at some of the fill). But I wouldn’t have guessed this either until after I was done with the grid. If I’m counting right there are only 12 entries in the puzzle not crossed by one of the four X-words.

    A “causal connection” is a “connection resulting directly from” something, no?

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    HH knows a thing or two about “treasure map” crosswords…

  5. Andrew Greene says:

    The identity of the treasure fell very quickly for me, but having to specify the “location” had me worried. Was it a two-part meta? Since this was week four, and given how easily I had found the GEMS, I was convinced that there was something deeper that I was missing; some other sequence of letters that would spell out “UNDER THE FIFTH STEP FROM THE TOP OF THE MAIN STAIRS AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART” or something like that.

  6. joon says:

    a causal connection is indeed a connection resulting directly from something, but the clue still fails the substitution test: “there is a causal connection between net force and acceleration.” “there is a resulting directly from connection between net force and acceleration.” see? the noun modified by CAUSAL is the relationship between cause and effect, whereas the phrase {Resulting directly from} needs to be directly followed by the cause itself.

  7. neil Bellovin says:

    Very good. The diagonals had no words so didn’t pursue as I should have. Don’t like 60 across as deficient is really Hypo so i kept thinking the left out O meant something but found nothing else with that. Hypo is deficient and Hyper is over

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Neil — I wanted ULTIPLE to be heading upward and backward since it’s the core 7 letters that looks most like a word and that’s the toughest direction for the eye to catch (as any word search fan can tell you). For the opposite reason I wanted the jibberish-looking EOCOCCY headed forward and downward. Luckily it all worked out and still spelled GEMS.

    Joon — OK, gotcha. I don’t think I can save that clue. Ivanisevic is in my top 5 all time, and his 2001 Wimbledon win must be one of the top 3 tennis events of all time. Maybe top 1.

  9. John says:

    i briefly flirted with the X diag thing, but the “words” seemed non-sensical on their face and so i quickly dismissed it and moved on. Lots of teaser crap in there too to take one’s time up on what turned out to be fruitless: 2 Leos, DaVinci and Tolstoy. Names that bespeak a certain nationality and matching 4-letter words: Tolstoy,CCCP – Estrada, Loca – Dionne,Ciel. I got the previous 3 puzzles and chowdered this one. I can’t believe folks got this at a 2 to 1 higher ratio than last week. Congrats to those who survived this month.

  10. Matthew G. says:

    Darn it. I got as far as understanding that “number of the letter you must write twice” meant 24, and that 24 meant X, but I didn’t notice the partial words in the diagonals. I became convinced that one of two things was the key: either (1) I had to draw an X in one of the many 3×3 or 4×4 boxes scattered throughout the grid and do something with the remaining letters; or (2) the presence of the X in the northeast corner of the grid meant that I had to find an answer that involved the northeast of something or the upper-right of something.

    I did draw an X through the center of the grid and examined the diagonals, but I didn’t notice that they spelled partial words. Excellent meta-hiding by Matt in putting ULTIPLE down the southeast diagonal, as I bet I would have spotted it in another location.

    Five stars. Wish I’d solved it.

  11. pannonica says:

    Never got a handle on the thing. Realized X right away, but discounted the X appearing in the grid normally from the solve, so was looking for two more places to put Xs.

    Aside from seeing OLIVE | ACTS as potentially holding EXACT, I had no idea. The curious HYP- and YER = hyper(…space?) Then it got worse. Wondered if the Xs [sic] could be crossing out letters, if they need be the same size as other letters, or much larger, removing swaths of fill. And so on, to outlandish extremes.

    Still, a very clever meta.

  12. Karen says:

    At first I wanted to play with ‘X marks the spot’ and tried to figure out how to put an X in SPOILT, but LICE did not make a good treasure.

    I ended up doing the word search protocol, and noticed sHADOWBOx first. I initially discounted it, then I saw the mULTIPLEx.

    And I’m happy for the google algorithms. When I typed in EOCOCCYX, it asked if I meant geococcyx. Killer word.

  13. joon says:

    random fact i learned yesterday: the engineer who developed google’s “did you mean?” functionality is noam shazeer, a member of the USA math olympiad team that took home 6 gold medals at the 1994 international math olympiad. while an undergrad at duke, noam also helped develop PROVERB, the crossword-solving AI that “competed” at the 1999 ACPT.

  14. Pete Rimkus says:

    I was (and still am) perplexed by this hint: “Number of the letter you must write twice into this grid”.
    It sounds like I need to add two X’s to the grid…yet Joon’s explanation adds only one.
    I realize that there’s already an X in the grid, but I didn’t write it in there (as the hint says).
    So where the 2nd X that I “must write twice into this grid”?

  15. joon says:

    pete, if you solved the crossword, you already wrote one X into the grid in square 9. writing the second X gives the meta. and this isn’t one of those metas that you can really make sense of without solving the complete crossword, since the first X (the one in the top-right corner) is part of (E)XECUTRI(X).

  16. Same thing that happened to pannonica happened to me — I figured out the 24=X part right away, but I was looking for two more X’s to add to the grid after filling it out. I read the diagonals forwards and backwards and noticed they were kind of word-like, but never made the connection to add an X to the center.

    Sigh. My first 0-for month since starting the contest.

  17. Evad says:

    I told Matt in my submission that if it weren’t for ULTIPLE, I’d still be scratching my head. The others just didn’t scream out word letter patterns to me (which appears to have been intended by our devious meta-master.) Once I saw ULTIPLE, I thought of adding an M, but not adding an X to the end; it wasn’t until I looked up words that fit the *ULTIPLE* pattern that I hit on MULTIPLEX and the missing X in the middle.

    I had no trouble determining that with one X in the grid already I just needed to add one more, but I first thought that “extra X” was a large diagonal one that ran from opposing corners…a wrong turn, but at least this led me on the trail to check the diagonals in the first place.

  18. Pj says:

    Call me dense but I read 24-across to mean the V, so I was off and running on a search for the meaning of all of the Roman numerals (49 C D I L M V X) in the puzzle. I even took the time to count all of the letters. Alas, this got me nowhere SLOW. I got sidetracked on Coleco video games, as well, thinking the grid looked like one. Still no luck. It was my focus on the corner X that finally made me add an E to spell the diagonal EXECUTRIX when I realized the 24-across hint referred to adding an X to the middle. What a GEM of a puzzle, IMO. Now if I had just seen last week’s pattern before I sent in the wrong answer. “We’ll always have next month.”. (With apologies to Casablanca.)

  19. Pete Rimkus says:

    Thanks Joon – I guess I read it as “write twice into this grid” AFTER solving…
    Oh well…

  20. Old Geezer says:

    I got caught up in some of the grid phrases:

    avoids issues;
    can’t say italian;
    (MC)nab(b) aliens;
    Dionne lesion;
    addl equip stop;

    and then tried to make an ADDITIONAL x out of the 2 v’s, convoluting everything into a sensible task.

    Hah! My 4-letter prize is FAIL!!! Bonus 4-letter adjective: EPIC!

  21. PM says:

    Matt Ginsberg and I did a puzzle with diagonal entries a while back and I remember it was a bear to construct.

    Thanks Matt (Gaffney) for this one – it was a fun solve

    Pete Muller

  22. Abby says:

    I drew a big X on the letters S P O T (index 62, P in 60A, index 25, index 27). It crossed in the middle of the letters BARS near 46A. The letters outside that are NEST, so it sure looked like something to me. :-(

  23. Dave Taube says:

    Hey, as a new M.G. puzzle solver (less than two months), I’m really stoked that I was able to figure this one out. Although the diagonal words missing their first letters jumped out at me as soon as I had completed the puzzle and I was able to figure out the missing letters, I wasn’t sure if Matt was looking for the X in the middle of the puzzle or Four Corners, referring to a gem-heavy area in the U.S. I opted for the X in the middle of the puzzle. I didn’t pay attention to the coleco clue.

  24. jefe says:

    I got GEMS (saw SHADOWBOX first), but am still confused because the instructions ask for a location as well. Using Joon’s first interpretation of the hint to get 22, and that the instructions say the treasure is “hidden somewhere nearby”, I said GEMS in a SAFE, as SAFE was 22a from last week’s puzzle, whose solution is near this week’s.

  25. Andy says:

    jefe, I’m pretty sure the instruction to give the location as well was not an additional part of the puzzle, just a safeguard against people guessing a likely four-letter treasure. I said that the GEMS were hidden just outside the four corners of the grid, but I would guess that, as long as the email demonstrated understanding of how the meta worked, Matt would be lenient in accepting alternate locations.

  26. Matt Gaffney says:

    Andy is right, jefe.

  27. mitchs says:

    I got the “V” from the clue, and then saw 6 “T’s” in the grid, so I new “65” had to play into the answer. In other words, I was very close.

  28. Eric LeVasseur says:

    I rotated the grid 45 degrees clockwise and traced over the big X in the center of the grid, and found an ETUI at the four corners of the X.

  29. Matt Gaffney says:

    That’s a nice one, PM.

  30. I thought my solution was way too simple, and it was! I saw that 24 = X = marks the spot, but I just took that as confirmation that I wanted the corresponding value for V of 22, and hey, look, ICE-T is hanging out at 22 Across!

    I really wish that that V hadn’t appeared twice, as I was certain that it was being clued by the hint.

  31. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    I also got the X thing right away, but could not figure out what to do with it. I made a list of all the words in the grid and permuted them with X in various positions and went through that new list. Then I came very close when I started thinking the X must go into a black square. I looked therefore at words leading off from or going into a black square, adding an X onto them. Still nothing helpful. Finally, I started putting X outside of the grid, but never glomed onto the idea that I should be looking diagonally. As Maxwell Smart was fond of saying, “Missed it by that much!” ( ).

    Well, after failing at all that, I wondered if possibly there was another way to look at 24A. I thought maybe it was more indirect. So I summed all the letter alphabet position numbers of COLECO and came up with 52. Well, if there were to be two letters in the grid you must write, and their number was 26 instead of 24, that would sum to 52. And of course, there are no Zs in the grid, so that was initially an exciting thought. But of course, it yielded nothing.

    So then I wondered–as did Joon–if there were perhaps some letter in the grid that appeared only twice that that would be the letter. Sure enough, V. That yields a 22, but again, I could not figure anything further with that either.

    So then I parked the puzzle for the rest of the weekend, thinking something would occur to me. Monday night I started to look at the diagonals. They looked like nonsense to me at first glance. Then I got a phone call from an old friend, and yakked on the phone, and then it was time for bed. No chance to look at it this morning. *Might* have gotten it–maybe.

    Even though I did not get it, I think it is brilliant and like it very much.

  32. jefe says:

    @Andy, Matt: Guess that after that vexing Week 3, I really overthought this one. Was almost certain that the “location” was a separate thing, since our solving process isn’t ever asked for, and there were several 4-letter options: loot, coin, ruby, cash, gold, etc. Next time, could you avoid the ambiguity in the instructions?

  33. Jim A says:

    I got the center-X, diagonal words, and extra-corner letters almost as soon as I filled the grid, and submitted GEMS as my solution. I told Matt in my email that I wanted to claim partial credit, without puzzling any longer over the “where you found them” portion of the meta. (I further explained that I’d squandered way too much time the previous week looking for mountains named Ladd or Pitt, without ever fully grasping what I was supposed to be doing, and so assumed I’d never figure out the trickier Week 4 meta.) After reading Joon’s solution and the comments here, I’m still not sure what Matt meant by “where you found them,” or whether or not my submission was acceptable.

  34. Matt Gaffney says:

    Jim — outside at the corners was the idea, but I’m also accepting at the center of the grid where the x is. I just wanted to eliminate complete guessers who randomly picked gems as a four letter treasure without grokking the idea. So you’re good.

  35. Jim A says:

    Thanks, Matt!

    BTW, fellow solvers, it’s not clear from my summary above, but I (inadvertently) covered off against Matt’s random-guess concern in my note to him. I told him I’d never heard of “Geococcyx” before.

  36. I, too, can vouch for the diagonal thing being a challenge in construction:

  37. pauer says:

    Yes, diagonals are a giant pain. Every time I make one I swear it will be my last.

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