MGWCC #203

crossword 4:26
meta about 10 minutes 

hello and welcome to episode #203 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Let’s Mix It up a Little”. this week, matt asks us to name a familiar group of three. there are no theme answers, but there were a few entries that caught my eye while i was solving:

  • 23-across, {Drink repeatedly mentioned in “The Shining”} RUM. of course, it’s not just any old RUM; it’s RED RUM, which is (uh, spoiler alert) “murder” backwards. i wrote “red” in the margin next to this answer on my grid.
  • 35a, {Symbol of remembrance or welcome} is a RIBBON, but not just any ribbon. it’s a yellow one, no?
  • 51a, {Pool hall 1’s} are BALLS. well, not just any balls. since we’d already had RED and YELLOW, i figured this was BLUE, and the group of three we were looking for was the three primary colors. but no, something was nagging me about this. in fact, the 1 ball is a solid yellow (like the 9, which is yellow stripe). was this an error in the puzzle?

no, it was not. looking at the answers adjacent to these three, i saw that they were also missing a color. or rather, they could have taken an added color and still satisfied the clue. like so:

  • {Put two and two together} is INFER, but it could also be INFERRED, since “put” is both a present- and past-tense verb.
  • {Color named for a bird} is CANARY, but so is CANARY YELLOW.
  • {Like the taxi in a Joni Mitchell hit} clues BIG. true enough, but the song title is “big yellow taxi”.

so no, there was no error in (YELLOW) BALLS being #1s. but what’s going on now? we can stick a RED, a YELLOW, and a YELLOW into the black squares between those pairs of answers, and still satisfy the grid… but there’s something missing. not only is there no “mix it up” action going on, but there’s also no familiar group of three. there have to be BLUEs around here, right? indeed there are: it just requires looking at the down clues that border those same black squares. check it out:

  • {Word painted on many airplanes} is JET (BLUE), while the {Chesapeake Bay creature} is a (BLUE) CRAB.
  • {Put back in the ground} is REINTER(RED) (ugh), and the {“Lady Be Good” actor, 1941} is (RED) SKELTON.
  • {Jacket shade} is NAVY (BLUE), while the {Toronto ballplayer} is a (BLUE) JAY.

so there is indeed mixing going on: in each of the three special squares, there are two primary colors present: RED/BLUE in the top right, to make PURPLE; YELLOW/RED in the middle to make ORANGE; and YELLOW/BLUE in the lower left to make GREEN. those are the three answers, collectively known as the secondary colors.

hey, did you ever learn (surely you did) that there are seven colors of the rainbow, and one of them is indigo? well, that turns out to be numerological BS handed down through the ages from isaac newton himself, a man who, for all his wondrous gifts to math and science, spent more of his life studying astrology than science. sigh. anyway, let’s go with six colors: three primary (RBY) and three secondary (GPO). (although, of course, the primary colors of light are not the same set as the primary colors of pigment used in this puzzle’s theme: for light, it goes red, green, blue, with red + blue = magenta, red + green = yellow, and blue + green = cyan.)

this isn’t the first crossword i’ve seen where primary color mixing goes on (patrick blindauer did it in the new york sun in 2008), but it’s the first one where it occurs “in secret”, hidden in a black square. it’s definitely subtle, and matt did well to write the clues vaguely enough that they actually work with or without the color. so, cool theme.

now, about the meta answer: when i figured out what was going on, i still wasn’t 100% sure that matt did indeed want the secondary colors and not the primary colors. i sent in secondary, because that was the one that better demonstrated that i understood what was going on in those special squares (and that i hadn’t missed half of the meta), but nothing about the instructions or the puzzle’s title makes it unambiguous that he wanted the trio formed by mixing, rather than the trio being mixed. i suspect most of the people who sent in primary didn’t fully grok the meta, but i don’t really know. if you sent in primary colors (or red/yellow/blue), tell us about it in the comments.

odds & ends:

  • one square in the fill that i had to outright guess on: {Rigel is one} _STAR crossing {Unsuccessful Clinton nominee for attorney general} _AIRD. i guessed B and was right, but yuck. nobody likes those _STAR answers anyway. is there anybody who can fill them in without the crossing? i can’t, and i was what some people call an astrophysicist.
  • {Grandson of Bestla} is the hardest clue for ODIN i think i’ve ever seen in a crossword. i also think it’s wrong. i think odin’s mother is bestla, who bore odin (and his brothers vili and ve) to the giant bor. bor’s dad was buri, whose parents were the primordial cow audhumla and frost giant ymir, whose body parts were used by odin, vili and ve as raw materials for the large-scale construction project that is the earth. that’s a good story, probably even cooler than the story where audhumla brought forth buri by licking the salty frost called (i kid you not) the ginnungagap. man, i love norse mythology.
  • {Facebook format} is TIMELINE. i was just observing on facebook last week that i seem to be the only person not employed by facebook who actually likes timeline. but then my courageous leadership led me to discover that there were a scattered few others who were pretty okay with it.
  • {Mathematician Noether} is EMMY. my kind of clue! none of this TV nonsense. emmy noether is not only mentioned in one of my favorite xkcd cartoons ever, but she also proved probably the most beautiful theorem in theoretical physics.

that’s all from me. how about you?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

84 Responses to MGWCC #203

  1. Scott says:

    I failed this one. I saw CANARY RIBBON and REINTER SKELTON in the central horizontal and vertical spots and focused on them for far too long. CANARY RIBBON reminded me of “tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree” which gave me OAK. REINTER SKELTON reminded me of a coffin (even though skeleton is a different spelling, which gave me PINE as in pine box. I was then looking for a third type of tree, which never appeared. Oh well, it was fun anyway. Nice one (as usual), Matt. Thanks for the brain workout. Maybe I have a shot next week (ha!).

  2. Erik says:

    to me, _AIRD has to be BAIRD or LAIRD, and i know there’s no such thing as an L star, because of Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me (or, if you prefer, Only Boys Accepting Feminism Get Kissed Meaningfully)

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt’s consistent excellence continues to impress. This meta’s construction is every bit as brilliant as last week’s. As I wrote to Matt, this took 50, 51 on his part. However, here’s the problem – his directions asked for the wrong thing. Though of course I appreciated the beauty of the blended hues once he was nice enough to write back with their details, I prefer my answer of Primary Colors. They are a “familiar group of three,” rather than the obscure set of Green, Orange, and Purple. Once I felt satisfied the RED herrings of anagrams or baseball connections led nowhere, I was very happy to identify the missing colors red, yellow, and blue. I admired their symmetrical arrangement, and had no reason to look further. Yes, I missed seeing the merger that’s possible in the black squares, but if it leads to meeting what was asked for in a less satisfactory way, is that really a superior solution? One can argue the title suggests mixed colors, but I interpreted it as mixing the primary colors themselves, like a shaker machine at a paint store. Taking nothing away from Matt’s wonderful meta, I’d argue that Primary Colors is at least as good a solution, given the directions. To make sure this isn’t just a generational disparity, I polled my classes yesterday, and only 6% of the students could provide a definition of secondary colors. I’d hardly call that familiar knowledge. I also asked what purple, orange, and green have in common. The answer I received most often was that they form the initials for pogs. (A fad of colorful discs when they were little kids.) And mind you, I teach science majors. Conversely, 88% could list the three primary colors. I wonder how many other solvers shared my entry. Could the numbers rival Matt’s intended answer? I think he needed to pose the question differently – GOP membership? No, probably too tricky. Suggestions, anyone?

  4. Laura says:

    Oops, I sent in primary colors… never heard of the secondary colors. I did see all six of them, but I didn’t think purple, green and orange were a well-known group of three.

    Edit re: Matt’s comment, I never seriously considered sending anything else in so I don’t mind not being counted.

  5. Al says:

    Fail for me. I knew I was missing something on this one. I saw all the blues, reds, and yellows floating around, so sent in PRIMARY COLORS. I didn’t catch that the missing colors all aligned with certain black squares. I’m not sure I’d call the secondary colors a “familiar” group of three, but very clever meta all the same. At least this takes the pressure off for next week’s armageddon :-)!

  6. Pete M says:

    Primary Colors here, but went off half-grokked.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    84 people sent in SECONDARY COLORS or ORANGE/GREEN/PURPLE (or violet), so they’re all correct.

    126 people sent in PRIMARY COLORS or RED/BLUE/YELLOW.

    I thought I had guarded against the “primary colors” answer with the suggestive placement of the colors and then with the title, but I got a certain number of solvers who saw both sets of 3 but still weren’t sure which to send in. That shouldn’t happen with a meta, meaning it wasn’t as clear-cut as I wanted. So anyone who submitted primary but also mentioned in their e-mail that they wondered if it should be secondary: I’m leaning strongly towards counting those answers as correct as well. I’m also thinking I should go on the honor system and let those who did see the secondary colors idea but still submitted primary (and didn’t happen to mention it in their e-mail) e-mail me ex post facto and tell me that that’s what happened, and then count those answers as correct as well.

    And there’s a third group I’m leaning against counting as correct but I’d like to hear from solvers here about: these are people who just submitted PRIMARY COLORS without seeing the secondary idea at all. Not very convincing at first blush, but the argument I got from a few people is: I solved the puzzle, saw the RED, BLUE and YELLOW idea, and that’s a set of three so I sent it in without looking further. I’m probably not going to count those as correct, but I want to hear people out here today who see it that way.

  8. Al says:

    Just wanted to add that relying on the past/present tense ambiguity of “Put” to generate two of the hidden REDs was deliciously evil on Matt’s part and fooled me completely.

  9. Janette says:

    Happy to say I got this one right. Though it took me a very long time to stumble upon the color angle. I only focused on the right and bottom color pairings and missed the other two crossing the black squares.

    Still given the directions to mix I stand firmly behind secondary colors. Still remember mixing them in grade school art class.

  10. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Another “Primary Colors” here, because APPLE and RUM clued red for me; CANARY and RIBBON clued yellow; and, sorry, BIG (as in IBM, Big Blue) and BALLS (I already apologized!) clued blue.

    Now I see that I had to ignore INFER and LOWON to make my interpretation to work. I should know by now that every word in Matt’s puzzle must serve the meta!

    (And having just read Matt’s comment, I must volunteer that I am in his third group – just saw the red, yellow, blue and looked no further. But I did comment in my submission to Matt that I had just changed all three color cartridges in my printer, which seemed to fit the idea that these get Mixed to create all other colors.)

  11. Al says:

    I fall in Matt’s third group. While I was somewhat mislead by the (IMO) inappropriate tag of familiar for the desired group of three, I did not grok the specific locality of the primary colors that needed to be mixed, so I don’t think I should be counted correct.

  12. Matthew G. says:

    I didn’t even come close to seeing this. I did notice the strangeness with the BIG YELLOW taxi clue, but BIG was as true as YELLOW, so I thought Matt was just being cute with the cluing. And being colorblind, I don’t even know what color a 1 ball is in pool.

    Another great meta. Just too hard for me!

  13. Doug says:

    I’m also in Matt’s third group. My experience mirrored Al’s. And I’ve got no problem with my entry going into the “Wrong!” pile.

  14. Cyrano says:

    Well, I sent in Primary Colors and regardless of whether or not it is a much more common set of three than Secondary Colors (which it is), I have a couple other small problems. I knew I was missing something and I saw that there was color mixing going on, but the bottom left corner never revealed itself to me because BIG, NAVY, JAY and BALLS can all clue BLUE (Big Blue is a pretty good French film). Also I don’t like that all the answers are compound words (CANARY + YELLOW, YELLOW + RIBBON, NAVY + BLUE, BLUE + JAY, RED + SKELTON, etc.) except the top right corner — INFERred and redRUM (which is not actually anything, it is just a backwards word repeated in The Shining over and over by a crazy kid). Also surprised that the word “color” was used in the clue for CANARY. In the end, the meta works and the mistake was me not carrying through enough with the clue for BALLS, but not the most elegant meta to my mind.

    Ed. — I would say I did not fall in any of those groups Matt. I saw the mix of orange in the middle and purple up top (loosely because I refused to bite on redRUM since it was so different than the other “theme” entries) but couldn’t see the green because of my above-described blue-blindness in bottom left. If it had been week one, I would have fallen in the third group and stopped at Primary Colors, I just knew that was wrong and couldn’t see the full way forward.

  15. Mike says:

    I also am in the third category. I got the primary colors, but did not put them together to make the secondary colors. I’m OK with whatever Matt decided. Kudos to him for these exceptionally clever puzzles!!!!!!!

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Cyrano — only YELLOW works in the bottom square across, since the Joni Mitchell song is “Big Yellow Taxi” and the 1 in pool is a yellow ball, not blue. Note that each of the 12 color answers works both with and without the color.

  17. M T says:

    I saw the three primaries mix in symmetric squares in all 3 possible combos, but still sent in “The primary colors: red, yellow and blue” because that’s what belonged in the black squares. Judge me as you wish, Matt!

  18. Cyrano says:

    @ MGaffney: I totally see it now and I needed to look back at the clues. I’m not complaining about the result — I missed it — I just was (inelegantly) explaining why I missed it, which was basically because the clue didn’t need to be taken into account in all the answers — although I appreciate that it does fit each answer. Again, I just didn’t look deep enough.

  19. Howard B says:

    Saw the color combinations, but erred in missing the ‘Big Yellow’ reference, so discounted the yellow, but still saw the b/y=green in the lower-left with the remaining answers. Found the secondary r/b=purple as well in the upper-right, but erred in the center, thinking YELLOW canary / RED Skelton / BLUE ribbon = center of a color wheel. So with that incomplete logic I sent in ‘primary colors’, thinking incorrectly that this was the essential set of three required to create such a construction.

    You know, when the meta solution is correct, there’s an internal voice or trigger that confirms “Yes, that works on all levels”. I didn’t quite hear that alarm, so I should have known that I missed something. And yet it *almost* seemed to work. Solvers, listen to your internal voice on these. If something feels out of place, it usually is ;).

    So no soup for me this week, but I really enjoyed the design and the solve of this one!

  20. Matt Gaffney says:

    M T — yeah, that’s precisely what shouldn’t happen, which is why I’m very likely going to count entries like yours as correct, and probably also going to e-mail every PRIMARY COLORS submitter individually who didn’t mention the secondary colors to see whether they saw and rejected that possibility or just never saw it.

  21. rmac says:

    So anyone who submitted primary but also mentioned in their e-mail that they wondered if it should be secondary: I’m leaning strongly towards counting those answers as correct as well.

    I agree. This shows that they understood the whole deal.

    And there’s a third group I’m leaning against counting as correct but I’d like to hear from solvers here about: these are people who just submitted PRIMARY COLORS without seeing the secondary idea at all. I’m probably not going to count those as correct, but I want to hear people out here today who see it that way.

    I also agree here. PRIMARY COLORS misses the fact that the colors were mixed inside the black squares, and also ignores the title’s strong hint in that direction.

    — Russ

  22. J. T. Williams says:

    I’m with the ones who said primary colors. I don’t see what would suggest that the meta itself requires the mixing. The title refers to mixing, yes, but the whole point of primary colors is that they can be mixed to create other colors. It is not at all uncommon for the title, especially in a late month puzzle, to refer only obliquely to the meta. And especially coming on the heels of last week’s puzzle in which squares had a different solution for across and down, what I noticed here was that there was a perfect balance of the colors in that each color read across once and down once. If mixing was indeed the intention for the meta, it seems to me that there needed to be some kind of instruction to let people know that it wasn’t enough just to find and solve the rebus squares. After all, RED, BLUE, and YELLOW clearly fit into the puzzle, but ORANGE, GREEN, and PURPLE assuredly do not.

  23. don byas says:

    It’s a clear meta. MIX is in the title AND the puzzle, it can’t be ignored. 2 colors share a single square, they’ve gotta be MIXed for the answer. excellent *****

    Anyone try to do something with B(a)IRD CAGES?
    also ADD S{OLI} PAM > adds oil = pam …. ok that’s a stretch.

  24. Karen says:

    I’m in Matthew G’s group of not getting anywhere near the meta.
    True story: I was complaining to my coworkers about the stupid questions on Are You Dumber Than a 5th Grader, that one of the questions asked ‘What color do you get if you mix yellow and red?’ One older woman looked at me and said in all seriousness, ‘Green?’

  25. Wayne says:

    Matt, I’ll be disappointed if you wind up accepting “primary colors”, either with or without ex-post facto pleas for leniency. The puzzle title was more than enough of a hint that there was still work to do. It’s not at all unusual for a week 3 meta to require two leaps of intuition.

    Disclosure: I got beat fair and square this week. I didn’t even submit an answer. (I noticed the missing “yellow”s in some of the answers, but didn’t follow up on them.)

  26. Howard B says:

    @rmac – Yes. That is what I stated in my summary as well. I had the general idea but missed the essential part of the meta. I suspect others may be in that boat, where we didn’t quite reach the choice of submitting 1 of 2 seemingly viable meta solutions. Instead, an incomplete understanding of the theme prevented that choice from forming (even if both options were uncovered in the puzzle).

    For those in that other group who solved it fully but had to decide which color group to submit, I’d be more inclined to side with them. I actually wasn’t as familiar with the term “secondary colors” (I did not do well in art classes…), and so had I reached that decision point, I may have narrowly opted for primary for its everyday familiarity. But who knows?

  27. Themutman says:

    I initially thought primary, but as others stated, something did not feel quite right. A little more digging and the ‘ah hah’ moment came. A quick google search found ‘secondary’ colors was a legitimate name.

    I think Matt did another brilliant job! The title we the biggest clue that mixing was needed. What more did people need?

  28. Jason says:

    Not even close. I remember looking at the grid and seeing the “staircase” and wondering what Matt Gaffney had up his sleeve. 1 for 3, and already getting anxiety attacks for Friday.

  29. Matthew G. says:


    For what it’s worth, I have no idea what yellow and red make and would need to look it up. When you grow up severely colorblind, you don’t even bother learning these things because you know you’ll never be able to keep them straight. I have a particular kind of inherited colorblindness that is more extensive than the common red-green variety, so early in life I just conditioned myself to disregard color. Yellow and green might as well be the same thing to my eyes.

    Long story short, I wouldn’t assume someone who doesn’t know what colors make what colors is a fool!

  30. Wayne says:

    {Grandson of Bestla} is the hardest clue for ODIN i think i’ve ever seen in a crossword. i also think it’s wrong. i think odin’s mother is bestla,

    Yup. Google and I noticed this, too. That’s why I didn’t get the meta this week. I was so distracted by the whole incestla Bestla thing :-)

  31. Mark M. says:


    I had never heard of the Secondary Colors until I read Joon’s weekly recap. Even went to Wikipedia and looked up Secondary Colors, at roughly 12:05pm today, so to call it familiar would be a stretch for me. I discussed purple, orange and green with my girlfriend who is a painter so it wasn’t lost on me as I solved or did not solve the meta. Just not familiar with the phrase.

    Hope this helps.


  32. I’m with J.T. Williams — I answered the primary colors, because it resonated so strongly as a group of 3. The title didn’t suggest to me that we needed to mix the hidden colors; rather, it just seemed to clue that the colors are mixable.

    Aside: As a software engineer, the primary colors of light (red/green/blue) are much more meaningful to me that the primary colors of dyeing, but that’s not really relevant to this puzzle (both are legitimate sets of primary colors in different domains).

  33. Bananarchy says:

    To me, the “mix” nudge was not enough, as mixing to form all other colours is what makes the primary colours significant. As others have mentioned, the primary colours are a far more salient group of three than the secondary colours, so I argue that the meta was ambiguous.

  34. ===Dan says:

    I sent in primary colors. I saw some grid entries as merely alluding to the colors (Navy, canary, and —redherringly– “apple”) and some that seemed to have the colors missing (balls, skelton, jay). I missed reinterRED entirely because of the disguised tense (and the apple). Once I saw “jet” as a word I never came close to seeing JETBLUE as a word. I thought I could find support for association between RIBBON and any color, but had I grokked the theme there would have been no ambiguity.
    overRED was another herring.

    So I didn’t see the primary colors surrounding black squares either across or down. The fact that the horizontally matched colors coincided with the vertically matched colors is definitely a thematic element that should be recognized for full credit. So I don’t deserve to be counted as right.

  35. Jimmy d says:

    I considered purple, orange & green… But didn’t realize that they were the only three secondary colors… I thought brown, gray, pink, etc. were included also… How could I be so color-blind?!?! But, I can accept that I’m wrong, as I already have plenty of MGWCC pens… In both primary and secondary colors :-)

  36. Evad says:

    Another third category resident here…haven’t missed a meta in a while, and here today’s my birthday! (Maybe that puts me in a fourth category?) Anyway, I like the secondary colors solution better now that I see it explained; I did have a sense (a la Howard B) that I was sending in my answer prematurely w/o fulling grokking what was going on. I’m not a big fan of those who argue the title tells you to mix the colors though. I’ve learned time and again not to take much stock in a literal interpretation of late month titles and in fact, to be suspicious of any solution that does so.

  37. Roy Denham says:

    I stopped with Primary colors. I saw and noted the “Mix” in title and grid, but that is what one does with the primary colors to make others. I have to agree with those who say that the Secondary colors are not a “familiar group”. The inclusion of mix and the many word associated with one of the three primary colors JAY, RUM, RIBBON, etc, just seemed to confirm that this was the group and no reason to look further.

  38. bob says:

    I saw rum, crab, canary, navy, jay and didn’t think much of it, but when Joni’s taxi was only big I thought that can’t be right. A quick look showed that navy and jay were both blue and yellow balls were 1. Looking at the corresponding square in the upper right gave the blue/red pairing and the center quickly gave a red/yellow pair of two.
    With Mix in the title and an equal amount of colors mixed in each black square I decided that the primary colors were not the correct answer.
    I find it hard to believe that anyone went through elementary school without learning the color wheel. I suppose many have forgotten it but I think it had to be in their brains at one time.

  39. Pete M says:

    I didn’t do the puzzle until Monday. Found a yellow, blue, and red, and didn’t see any need to further investigate. Seemed clear enough to me. It’s a common set of three that is mixed to make other colors.

    For the record, had I continued and found the other more-hidden colors, I would have sent in the exact same answer. Not sure “intent” is a fair measure here — there are certainly other puzzles where people have submitted correct answers for incorrect reasons… either PRIMARY COLORS is a valid answer or it’s not. If “total grok” is a criteria, then I’m sure I’ve got a few pencil sets to return… :)

    Just my 2 cents.

  40. Dannoz says:

    Epic fail. Not a clue, except I saw repeating IM.IN,IMI type of stuff and couldn’t make a connection. Given the small number of correct entries this week, I don’t feel so bad :-).

  41. J. T. Williams says:

    I guess I’ll be the contrarian here :)

    I disagree with the suggestion that “primary colors” should have triggered an alarm that something didn’t seem right. On the contrary, when I saw the perfect congruity of each of the primary colors appearing once across and once down (plus that absolutely brilliant use of “put”!), I absolutely got that click. There was nothing in the puzzle or instructions that suggested that the meta required actual mixing of the colors. At a minimum, I think it should be counted as correct if the solver recognized that each of the three squares had one of the primary colors going across and a different primary color going down. I’m not sure what Matt means by “the suggestive placement of the colors” suggesting that the solution required more than the recognition that each rebus square contained (a different) two of the primary colors.

    As for the the people who have suggested that the title should have been “more than enough” to say that a further step was required, go back through the puzzles and see how many times a title is an oblique reference. “Let’s Mix It Up” would have been a perfectly legitimate title for the puzzle if Matt had instead just had six hidden rebuses with the primary colors (no mixing involved).

    In the past, Matt has adopted a compromise when a large number of people would otherwise be disqualified for the monthly drawing because of an ambiguous solution like this. I would respectfully suggest that this might be a good approach here as well, that is, not counting the answer “primary colors” as correct for the weekly drawing but not disqualifying that solution for the monthly drawing.

  42. Matt Gaffney says:

    J.T. wrote:

    “the perfect congruity of each of the primary colors appearing once across and once down”

    OK but notice that’s not quite right: YELLOW went across twice and down zero; BLUE went down twice and across zero; and RED went once each way.

  43. Gnarbles says:

    My first thought was to submit brown, the mixing of a secondary color with the unused primary color. That seemed a bit off, so I went with primary colors. I was heading for the mix of two primaries to get a secondary color (even googled them to remember the combinations). This was working for the top right and middle squares but I had red, yellow, and blue in the bottom left square. I had googled a picture of pool balls and I thought I saw the #1 one as red, not yellow. So, back to submitting primary colors.

  44. Abby says:

    I got the trick early (50 and 51 across were just too weird without the color), but spent all weekend vacillating on the primary/secondary thing. I finally decided that since they check in three spots, and in all three different combinations, that must be what was important. But I did mention my uncertainty in my answer.

    I also said Secondary (Painting) Colors as opposed to additive or subtractive (as I was working in both computer graphics and pre-press before they were cool). I did wonder, though, with all the cutbacks on art classes I’ve heard about, if young ‘uns even knew about mixing paints anymore.

    “It’s making me blue (Pantone 292)…”

  45. jefe says:

    Solved this no problem. If each rebus square were one color fulfilling both the across AND down crossings, then it’d be the primary colors. Since they’re not, you have to mix them, as suggested by the title, especially since each crossing is a different color combination. Most 2nd graders should be able to tell you that R+Y=O, R+B=P, Y+B=G. Did no one have art in elementary school?

    Didn’t like how -RED was used as a past-tense suffix twice, both times with [Put…].

    Bestla was indeed the mother of Odin, so unless there was some Oedipal action going on behind the scenes, that clue should have been different.

    We can overlook that though, because this crossword has BIG BALLS (which were not BLUE).

    Also, this post has over 40 comments in the ~2 hours since it was posted. Does anyone have a day job? (I’m on my lunch break.)

  46. Bruce S. says:

    My first thought was Primary Colors as soon as I answered the redRUM clue on Friday morning. I then figured that was “too obvious” a week 3 answer since Matt took heat for an easy month in March. I also decided that if he wanted primary he would have made each box one color in all directions. The fact that each box was two different sets and the title had mix, I then decided that although many people might stop at Primary it was a trap… I went back and forth all weekend until this morning

    I decided that if I sent in Secondary and the answer was Primary I would be frustrated that Secondary was a just as reasonable (if not more so) answer.

    If I sent in Primary and the answer was Secondary I would be kicking myself for having seen the answer but being reluctant that since there was no “click” it wasn’t right.

    I sent in Secondary and have decided Matt is just playing a very intense mind game with all of us before he melts our brains with the puzzle this Friday. Ahhh nothing like overthinking things…

  47. J. T. Williams says:

    Whoops, you’re right. I noticed that you had each of the three possible combinations of the colors (yellow/blue, red/blue, and red/yellow), and I guess the red just stood out to me because of the brilliance of using “put” twice, so I “remembered” that yellow and blue did the same. It still seems to me that recognition that each of the three theme squares contains a different two of the primary colors, one color going across and the other going down, should be considered a “grok.” Unless there had been some kind of clue that the clearest answer was not correct, such as a warning that “your FIRST instinct may not be right,” or better yet, a familiar group of three, none of which has fewer than five letters in its name, or something along those lines.

  48. Bruce S. says:

    Oh and I was remiss in not saying THANK YOU MATT! for all the wonderful puzzles all year. They are a highlight of the week and whether I get the meta or not I always marvel at the time and effort you put into making each week a fantastic challenge for all of us. I look forward to that tip jar opening up in May.

  49. Eric LeVasseur says:

    I saw the “mixing” of the primary colors, but wasn’t sure which set of three colors (primary or secondary) Matt was looking for. Since he asked for a “familiar group of three”, I decided RED, YELLOW, BLUE was more “familiar” than GREEN, ORANGE, PURPLE.

  50. Neville says:

    Great puzzle, and AMEN for including EMMY NOETHER! Was proud to be solving the puzzle in front of some other math graduate students to try to get them into this contest. We were all pleased by her appearance.

  51. Mike D. says:

    I too was on the fence as to submit PRIMARY or SECONDARY. It would have been one thing if each primary color was mentioned just once, but because each color appeared twice, and always sharing a box with a different color, this led me to believe that it had to be more than just primary colors. I would not have been able to answer confidently, though, had it not been for the word “mix” appearing in the title. Due to the fact that the colors were all uniquely paired and that the title gave a small nudge to do more work, I feel the answer was fair and not asking too much of the solver.

  52. jllaf says:

    Primary Color guy here – to me it seemed like the colors red, yellow and blue were “mixed” in the black squares, and that was enough for me.

  53. J B says:

    For me it came down to weighing the title of puzzle – which suggested the secondary colors – vs. the puzzle’s hint – which suggested the primary colors. I would guess less than 20% of the general public would recognize purple, green, and orange as secondary colors.

    I went with the primary colors because I didn’t think the title was a strong enough impetus.

    I did mention, however, secondary colors in the body of my email though because the ambiguity was strong enough.

  54. James Schooler says:

    After getting the primary colors, I knew Matt was leading us to “mix it up a little”, and proceeded to focus on the blending of blue/yellow in the intersection of “navy (blue)”/”canary (yellow)” and “(blue) crab”/”(yellow) ribbon”=green, and red/yellow in the intersection of “(Red) Skelton”/”(yellow) balls”=orange, so I was stuck with the only two secondary colors since there are no blue/red=purple intersections in the puzzle; I sent in “primary colors” even though the puzzle title was nagging me. I missed the connections in the three black squares, which makes the puzzle far more elegant than I first thought. Good job Matt!

  55. Lance says:

    I submitted red, yellow, blue (primary colors) after rejecting purple, orange, and green as not being a familiar threesome. Sure they are secondary colors, but I feel that few people tend to think of them as a group.

  56. Gwinns says:

    I sent in Primary Colors also, though I noticed (and mentioned) the Secondary Colors.
    I saw the mix it up clue, and I saw that each of the secondary colors was mixed, but since Matt asked for a “familiar” group of three– I decided that the Secondary Colors weren’t sufficiently familiar, put the fact that each secondary appeared once down to typical Gaffney elegance, and submitted Primary.

  57. +1 to J. T. Williams’ suggestion of omitting primary color submissions (which includes me) from the weekly prize but keeping them ineligible for the monthly prizes. If week 4 lives up to the expectations Matt set at the end of last month, it’ll hardly make a difference.

  58. Charles Montpetit says:

    “Secondary” solver here, without even a twinge of doubt about whether I should have said anything else.

    Now, about all those who complained that the set wasn’t “familiar” enough: I personally am worth next to nothing when a puzzle deals with sports or geography, but I didn’t consider that an excuse when the meta was a “famous athlete” (MARADONA) or a “well-known mountain” (MONT BLANC). That’s what Google is for, people! When a search for “green orange purple” yields as its first result an explanation that these are called “secondary colors” (, then one really cannot complain about the so-called obscurity of the concept. Everyone has a different wheelhouse; if this week’s wasn’t yours, just be glad that Matt is rounding off your education. He could well stick to chess trivia, and then, where would most of us be?

  59. Judy says:

    Gosh! I knew I was in way left field, but I had to try. I saw CANARY and RIBBON in the center and thought “yellow ribbon”, then Tony Orlando & Dawn stuck in my head as the group of three. Jeesh…. I had all kinds of rationalizations about why it made sense…

    Have to agree that this puzzle thing is the highlight of my week.

    Thanks Matt!

  60. Barbara says:

    I submitted primary colors, but kept looking for secondary color “marriages.” With Matt’s 3rd and 4th weeks, I seem to be always a bridesmaid and never a bride … ever to be on the verge.
    As a humorous aside, I was checking out MSNBC and found an article about a new species of freshwater crab discovered near the Philippine island of Palawan which is reddish/purplish/bluish … Matt could have thrown that in the Mix and discombobulated us …
    He amazes me every week.

  61. abide says:

    It’s hard for me to understand any legitimate argument for primary colors. You have to “mix it up”. Even if you’ve never heard of secondary colors, if you Google “Purple Orange Green” it’s the first hit.

  62. Pete M says:

    FWIW, I’m not arguing for PRIMARY COLORS to be accepted. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. I am arguing against accepting it for some and not others, based on why they chose that answer. Either an answer stands on its own or it doesn’t. No big deal, no money on the line — just decide whether the meta was sufficiently unambiguous and go with your decision. Intent is a tough precedent to continue…

    And thanks, Matt, for the continuous stream of excellent puzzles. I, for one, would be willing to pay double. ;-)

  63. Gwinns says:

    Responding to Charles Montpetit,
    I would argue that in the MARADONA and MONT BLANC puzzles, there wasn’t a more famous athlete or mountain indicated by the puzzle.
    When you have two possible answers and the instructions are to give a “familiar” group of three, I think it’s reasonable to submit the more familiar of the two.

  64. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Charles Montpetit: Exactly! Hardly anyone gets ’em all without having to Google for more information on something he or she knows little about.

    The color wheel is awesome (for those of us who are not color-blind). Did you know that there are degrees of complementariness? The basic definition of a complementary color is (and I am not consulting any references so…) that two colors directly opposite on the color wheel are complementary. The mixes of two primaries are complementary with the third primary; i.e., blue/orange, red/green, yellow/purple. You can also take sets of colors located at equal distances around the wheel (like red, green, blue, each a third of the way around the circle from the others). And then you can also take the two shades next to color X (tertiary colors!) and combine them with the complement to color X for a color scheme with a certain logic to it. If only the Crayola boxes came with big color wheels that told you what crayons fell where on the chart.

  65. Brian C says:

    I picked the primary colors and had a feeling that there was something more to the specific combination of the colors in the boxes, but that was outweighed by the sense that I was overthinking it. Now that I realize the importance of the “mix it up a little” title, the secondary colors are clearly the right answer. I don’t think my answer should be accepted as correct.

    I just discovered these puzzles a few months ago, and really enjoy them, especially the creativity and impressive construction of the Appalachian Trail one last week.

  66. Gary Levin says:

    I didn’t even get close to the meta. But I read about EMMY for the first time last month.

    Thanks Matt, for the fun and mental stimulation.

  67. Anne E says:

    I sent in red/yellow/blue, which I instantly decided was correct with no doubt (probably because of the word “familiar” in the instructions). I noticed the red/yellow, yellow/blue, and red/blue pairings, but thought it was some kind of lovely combinatorics thing going on (making sure every possible set of two within three was covered), and didn’t even think twice about sending in R/Y/B. I have to confess I didn’t even read the title because I was so sure of R/Y/B – if I had, I would have probably had that moment of doubt that others have mentioned. So mine should definitely be counted as wrong.

    (Sheesh… first I didn’t read the title of ACPT Puzzle #2 this year, which could have been a HUGE mistake, and then I didn’t read this title! OK… can someone PLEASE slap me upside the head regarding reading titles?!?)

  68. J. T. Williams says:


    The “legitimate argument” is simple. What exactly instructed one to “mix it up”? If your answer is nothing more than “the title of the puzzle,” explain why that title would have been inappropriate or inapplicable if the three rebus squares had contained only one of the primary colors reading both ways. There was nothing in either the puzzle or the instructions to suggest that solving the meta required more than identifying the familiar group of three primary colors, so called because they are mixed in varying degrees to create all* of the other colors.

  69. @Charles Montpetit: I don’t actually see that many people arguing that the secondary colors are not familiar (I’m certainly not). I will argue, though, that both the primary colors and the secondary colors qualify as familiar sets of 3 in their own right and hence satisfy the given answer criterion.

    The “mix” in the title doesn’t entirely unambiguously imply the secondary colors, though it does fit slightly better with the secondaries than with the primaries.

  70. abide says:


    If you have two colors in a box, why would you ignore the instructions “Let’s Mix it up a Little”? We’re not in Week 1 anymore, Toto.

  71. J. T. Williams says:

    The instructions were to submit either the members or collective name for a familiar group of three. You seem to be confusing “instructions” with “title.” As many people have pointed out, and as Matt himself has pointed out, the title of the puzzle often is simply an allusion or tangentially related to the meta in some way.

    I note that while you answered my first question with essentially “nothing more than ‘the title of the puzzle,'” you seem to have missed the second question, perhaps because it wasn’t followed by a question mark? You seem quite capable of inferring instructions from the first-person plural imperative/exhortative, (let’s do something), so why don’t you do the same with the second-person singular imperative (explain something), Dorothy:

    explain why that title would have been inappropriate or inapplicable if the three rebus squares had contained only one of the primary colors reading both ways. There was nothing in either the puzzle or the instructions to suggest that solving the meta required more than identifying the familiar group of three primary colors, so called because they are mixed in varying degrees to create all* of the other colors.

  72. abide says:

    I didn’t answer it because the box didn’t include one color, it had two.

    If you want to engage in hypotheticals, tell me what color you mix to make red.

  73. jefe says:

    @JT Because in each of those 3 squares, you don’t have a single color in the box. You have two different colors. Red doesn’t go by itself in a square. Red AND blue go in the square together, making purple.

  74. J. T. Williams says:

    But you’re reversing the hypothetical. I’m not arguing that “Let’s Mix It Up” would not be an appropriate title for a puzzle in which the meta involved blending the two colors to reach the correct answer. My point is that it would ALSO be an appropriate title for a puzzle in which no blending was required and the answer was simply the primary colors. So the ONLY indication that recognition that the primary colors can fit into some of the squares of the diagonal and still satisfy the clues might be insufficient to solve the meta is the title, which would equally support both answers, and there is nothing in the instructions to suggest that both answers are not equally correct.

  75. abide says:

    Well, if the puzzle has red going both ways, there would only be one red in the box. The imperative title, and the last down clue, would not need to give any nudges to
    “mix”, nor would such a title make much sense. A better title might be “Anonymous”. And Primary Colors would be the correct answer for that Week 1 puzzle.

  76. Howard B says:

    @Charles Montpetit: Well-said. That explained things in a way that I could not quite seem to describe fully today. Also adding that although secondary was less familiar to me, it was easily inferable. So the more I’ve looked at this puzzle, the more clear-cut the solution has seemed.

    Although I would not have pled a case for my ‘primary’ answer to be accepted, I initially could see some conditions for doing so. The discussion here has moved me away from that argument.

  77. J. T. Williams says:

    With respect to Charles, I disagree. If the issue were that the puzzle had pointed to green, orange, and purple as a solution, but then the answer was incorrect for solvers who did not figure out that those were collectively known as secondary colors, his argument based on Google and/or expanded wheelhouse might have some weight. But here, the issue is not that people could not figure out that red can combine with yellow to make orange, etc. The issue is that neither the puzzle itself nor the instructions to the puzzle clearly indicated that such a combination was required. There was absolutely nothing to say, once the solver discovered that the three familiar primary colors of red, yellow, and blue were hiding in the diagonal, that the solution was actually to submit some other colors instead. Nor was there anything to suggest that the answer of “primary colors” or “red, yellow, and blue” did not perfectly meet the instructions to submit a familiar group of three or that they did not satisfy a title that alluded to the fact that these three colors can be mixed to create all other colors.

    With respect to abide, who seems to think that snark and sarcasm are good substitutes for logical argument, you might try looking at all 203 of Matt’s puzzles. I think you will find more than enough examples of titles that only obliquely clue the meta, especially in latter month puzzles. As for your suggestion that only one color hidden in the black square would be too easy, Matt apparently didn’t think so on Moving Day in August, in which the last puzzle of the month featured exactly that kind of puzzle. An allusion to “mixing” in the title when the solution is the three colors that can be mixed to create every other color makes perfect sense.

  78. PRIMARY COLORS here, saw the mixing capabilities, understand the arguments of the “you should accept primary colors” camp, and I firmly believe I shouldn’t get credit for the meta.

  79. abide says:

    JT, I have enjoyed today’s discourse; sorry if you took it to be snarky. I had to look up the Moving Day puzzle from last August. That “escalator” puzzle (which I missed) was a totally different concept (and with 50 right entries, one of the year’s hardest).

    Interesting that last week there was no instruction to combine the double letter squares to form state abbreviations. Could an argument be made for Pittsburgh’s Alphabet Trail?

  80. granbaer says:

    Oh man! I totally missed the boat on this one and I am an artist! I have a color wheel right over my drawing table. Is my face red?

  81. J. T. Williams says:

    I apologize if I misinterpreted your comments. I think it’s fair to disagree about whether an ambiguous title leaves room for a different answer. I don’t think it’s fair to demean others who reached an alternative solution that at a bare minimum has a strong argument for support. If you did not intend comments like “we’re not in week one any more, Toto,” to be demeaning, I apologize for my misreading of your tone.

  82. HH says:


    “True story: I was complaining to my coworkers about the stupid questions on Are You Dumber Than a 5th Grader, that one of the questions asked ‘What color do you get if you mix yellow and red?’ One older woman looked at me and said in all seriousness, ‘Green?’”

    It’s not the questions that are stupid. A player on that show once missed a 1st Grade Spelling question. She was asked “How many consonants are there in the word ‘vowel’?”
    “Well, I know that the vowels are A, E, I, O, and U, and the rest of the letters are consonants…”
    Okay, so far, so good.
    “…and ‘vowel’ is spelled V-O-U-L, so my answer is ‘two’.”

  83. Dan says:

    After reading all these comments, Roy Denham is most in touch with my way of thinking:

    “I stopped with Primary colors. I saw and noted the “Mix” in title and grid, but that is what one does with the primary colors to make others. I have to agree with those who say that the Secondary colors are not a “familiar group”. The inclusion of mix and the many word associated with one of the three primary colors JAY, RUM, RIBBON, etc, just seemed to confirm that this was the group and no reason to look further.”

    Given both potential solutions, there is no question that secondary colors is a more elegant answer. However, the goal of the puzzle is to solve the crossword, and find the set of three it’s cluing. When I found RED, BLUE, and YELLOW, I recognized a set of three, felt I had reached my objective, and had no reason to analyze the puzzle further. So I never had the opportunity to compare and contrast.

    When people write puzzles for puzzlehunts, they try to avoid these kind of ambiguities, but inevitably alternate answers (usually weaker ones than the real one) sneak in. The difference is that in a puzzlehunt, when you call in that wrong answer, you’re told it’s wrong, and you get the opportunity to guess again. I love the MGWCC, but its format prevents people who see another perspective first from realigning, and because of that, I personally feel some leniency is in order.

  84. Bob P. says:

    Granted: the instructions could have been more explicit. But, then again, I like puzzles with NO instructions at all….but you KNOW it when you get it. Personally. my thinking on this coincides most with “abide”s reasoning. Two primary colors SHARE a box and you are asked to “mix it up” a little. I think Matt is bending over backward to please a substantial group of people who submitted an incorrect meta. If only ONE person submitted “primary” would Matt still be swayed by these same arguments? ….Stay with ‘secondary” colors, Matt….that being your intended answer.
    And…..another Gaffney masterpiece!

Comments are closed.