MGWCC #220

crossword 3:30 (across lite)
meta 2 minutes 

hello, and welcome to episode #220 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Compound Interest”. this week, matt asks us for the two grid entries that, when combined, form a good use for water in the driveway.. well, that doesn’t make a lick of sense until you look at the puzzle’s theme answers, so let’s do just that:

  • {Good use for laughing gas in a dentist’s office?} END ANNOYING PAIN.
  • {Good use for a disinfectant out on the lake?} CLEAN FISH HOOKS.
  • {Good use for fool’s gold in geology class?} PROFESSOR’S JOKE. that geology prof! what a cut-up.
  • {Good use for salt while dining in New England?} SEASON A CLAM BAKE. i’m on vacation in maine. we haven’t had a clam bake, but we’ve been eating lobster like it’s going out of style. which it’s not.

okay, so what’s going on here? i guess these are, by and large, reasonably appropriate uses of the substances in question. the theme answers are a little light on grammar, but we’ll let that slide. how, though, are we supposed to go from the clue to the answer, which is what the meta asks us to do?

as usual, the title is a clue. “interest” didn’t go anywhere (although i thought about trying to string together several phrases involving “interest”, with no success). but what about “compound”? each theme clue contains a chemical compound. laughing gas is nitrous oxide, which i thought was NO—conspicuously contained in anNOying. and hey, what’s this? salt is NaCl, which is right there in seasoNaClambake. that can’t be a coincidence, right? i quickly realized that the HHOO in fisHHOOks was leading me to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a disinfectant. and fool’s gold is lead iron pyrite (oops, brain fart), which is FeS2 (i thought maybe FeS), hiding in proFeSSor. and yes, for the sake of complete accuracy, i had also misremembered nitrous (not nitric) oxide, which is N2O. i’ve circled the relevant letters in the theme answer in the screenshot.

so each theme clue includes a compound, and the answer is a possible use for that compound that happens to include the letter string for the compound’s chemical symbol, with a repeated letter standing in for a (2) in the formula. nifty! and right up my alley, since i do, you know, science for a living and stuff.

so what’s the meta answer? i actually stumbled upon it before grasping the theme, thinking, “well, WASH HONDA would be a pretty good use for water in your driveway.” indeed it would, and that’s the meta answer, as wasHHOnda contains the H2O of water. i actually emailed matt to point out the flaw that this meta was totally gettable without grokking the theme. his brilliant riposte? notice CAR in the grid at 23a. apparently dozens of people were sending him WASH CAR (or CAR WASH). as if you needed any further proof that matt was an evil genius! that’s just the capper on a 5-star puzzle in my view.

odd tidbit: for a puzzle theme about chemical compounds whose meta has to do with plain old water, it’s curious to have ARID HYDRO BLAH reading down the ninth column. never fear! it’ll be less arid once you wash that honda.


  • {Civic-minded organization?} HONDA. we’ve discussed this answer already, of course, but that’s a cute clue.
  • {Transaction that turns out about even} WASH. and this one. nice clue that made me think. the sense is “it’s a wash”, i.e., things turned out about even.
  • {English poet Alfred whose surname comprises a pair of antonyms} NOYES. also a nice find.
  • {Dick or Roddick} is one way to clue ANDY. was it an early MGWCC where the fact that the tennis player’s last name is ROD+DICK, two (vulgar) synonyms, was somehow key? i can’t remember. it was something like 4 years ago.
  • {Kutcher’s role on “That ’70s Show”} KELSO. huh, i thought KELSO was actually the character’s first name, since that’s what they called him, but i guess this makes sense.
  • {Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s land} FIJI. no truth to the rumor he’s dating andrew ridgeley of wham!.

that’s all for me. your thoughts?

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33 Responses to MGWCC #220

  1. Scott says:

    I got this one. My only nit was that H2O appears in the grid and in the meta answer. Otherwise, brilliant!

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    This was an excellent idea, superbly executed as always by Matt. The two wrinkles for me were that I initially thought he was going for ammonia as the disinfectant instead of hydrogen peroxide, and I misremembered the formula for iron pyrite (oops, not lead pyrite, Joon, but hey, you’re a physicist not a chemist.) As other solvers may have discovered on Wikipedia, it’s an iron dissulfide. However, I’d guess Matt received numerous ungrokked answers, since Wash and Honda stood out while solving. He did write back and point out he’d included a red herring car (is that what sunburnt kippers drive?) so there were doubtless even more Wash Car guesses.

    Joon and/or Matt: I’d still very much appreciate an explanation for the Lollapuzzoola meta.

    • tabstop says:

      Look at 1-Across. No, not that one, all the 1-Acrosses.

    • joon says:

      okay, so the lollapuzzoola meta. the 1-across answers in the five tournament puzzles were SHORT, SHORT, SHORT, LONG, and OPUS. that’s a reference to the famous opening of BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH, which has been described as “fate knocking at the door”.

  3. I can take a hint. This weekend I washed my Honda Accord in my driveway.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    I was aided in grokking this meta by my initial difficulty in filling in the squares immediately below NACL. I wanted PUSH instead of WASH and just couldn’t see AREA from its clue (which I can no longer remember), but I also wanted NAH instead of NAW, so none of it made sense. I put those eight squares aside for the time being and started thinking about the meta — and lo and behold, those same blank squares couldn’t help but draw my eyes to NACL, one of the few compounds I would recognize quickly as a non-scientist. I then Googled to get the other compounds, and finally figured out the remaining squares to find WASH, among other words.

  5. jefe says:

    Iron* pyrite

    I’d almost gone with “Wash Car”, but to me that wasn’t a satisfying answer – I knew I had to be missing something, this being a Week 3. Figured it out a few minutes later – mind blown. The sciencey metas are always my favorites (I also science for a living).

  6. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I did grok the meta, sent in the correct answer, and also got Matt’s red herring reply.

    But to be honest, I flubbed the second theme answer: Didn’t notice the H2O2, but thought it was CL in H2O which constituted the disinfectant. Real bleach is a bit too complicated!

  7. Matthew G. says:

    I should add that I never did figure out what disinfectant Matt was going for in the second theme entry–I tried Googling a few, such as ammonia, but never thought of trying hydrogen peroxide–but having spotted the compounds in the other three theme entries plus the meta answer compound, I was satisfied with my level of grokkity.

  8. Paul Coulter says:

    @Matthew G: I believe that’s pronounced grokocity. Or is it grokiness, as in truthiness? Anyway, thanks for the laugh.

  9. Matthew G. says:

    @Paul Coulter: Grokkity is in one’s heart. Grokiness refers to a level of meta comprehension that Matt’s panel can all agree on.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    206 right answers this week. 92 solvers submitted WASH CAR or CAR WASH.

  11. Themutman says:

    I liked this meta, especially with the sciency feel to it. Before grokking it, I too was pairing up grid entries for some help. Fortunately I was dumb enough to put in OAR at 23A and didn’t find the ‘trap’.

  12. klew archer says:

    Managed to get the meta without grokking the theme, although I did notice NACL so maybe the grid was working on my unconscious. Or maybe I was just guilty about needing to WASH my HONDA.

  13. Before I grokked the meta, I was thinking the answer was going to be HYDRO YARDS or HYDRO CAR, both of which sound pretty neat. Then I saw the compounds and couldn’t find an H+HO combo (except for the HHOO we already had in a theme answer, of course). Finally I realized I had NAH/HASH instead of HAW/WASH. NAH makes sense but HASH does not.

  14. Err let me rephrase that — before I corrected my error, I found *two* H-HO combos: NAH HONDA and HASH HONDA, both of which made no sense.

    (Is it no longer possible to edit posts made in the last 30 minutes on the new Fiend site?)

    • Evad says:

      Right now, no. We have set page caching on to help our performance and the edit function we had before doesn’t work when pages are cached. On the lookout for a new plugin for this, so stay tuned!

  15. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Managed to solve despite making two errors in the theme: like Joon, I thought pyrite was FeS (the second S considerably constrains the theme answer, probably explaining why it’s not a verb phrase like the others); and used lake → HHO instead of disinfectant → HHOO (which is better since it’s not the lake water that’s being used, plus HHO is needed for the metapuzzle, though “disinfectant” doesn’t uniquely specify H2O2).


    P.S. The lead mineral Joon was thinking of is galena. Did PBS ever do a feature on it?

  16. CY Hollander says:

    I agree that CAR was a nice honey-trap to filter out theme-ignoring guesses, since the literal meaning of the question was almost enough this week. The things Matt has to think of! I suppose that a really clever guesser might notice the two possibilities (HONDA and CAR), consider that one of them was probably meant as misdirection for just this reason, and guess the less obvious one, HONDA, but arguably someone like that deserves to be considered a “meta-solver”.

    Noam D. Elkies wrote:
    (the second S considerably constrains the theme answer, probably explaining why it’s not a verb phrase like the others)

    Oh, I don’t know: especially given the loose grammar that Joon points out, I think there were possibilities. How about ASSAY PROFESSOR?

  17. pauer says:

    Verrrry nice. This is now my favorite element puzzle, replacing a tidy little meta from last year’s Mystery Hunt:

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    “was it an early MGWCC where the fact that the tennis player’s last name is ROD+DICK, two (vulgar) synonyms, was somehow key?”

    That was a Byron Walden Onion puzzle from a couple of years ago.

  19. Paul Coulter says:

    @tabstop & Joon: Thanks for the Lollapuzzoola meta explanation. Sorry to be a pest about it, but it’s been eating at me ever since. I had to leave after the fifth puzzle, so I never heard. I did the final puzzle after it came in Brian’s wrap-up email, but I was working on the theory Beethoven’s Fifth amounted to H, as it would in cryptic circles.

  20. Aaron says:

    I’ve got no problem with WASH HONDA being the right answer (as opposed to WASH CAR/CAR WASH) — when I submitted the latter to Matt, it was with the disclaimer that I assumed I was missing something. However, I have a problem with the instructions for this week’s puzzle: “This week’s puzzle contest answer is the two grid entries that, when combined, form a good use for water in the driveway.” It doesn’t specify that the two grid entries have to satisfy a theme (which I’ve seen explicitly mentioned before, as with last week’s ACUR puzzle — specifically in the dismissal of the ACKR entries) — it merely states that they need to be a good use for water, to which the straight-up CAR WASH is valid, albeit unsatisfying.

    I’m not looking to validate those entries, mind you. I love this trick, and the title makes it more than fair. Cheers!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Aaron — when there are obvious theme entries, as here, the meta answer clearly can’t just ignore all the theme entries. Imagine a puzzle’s instructions saying “This week’s contest answer is a country” and the four long theme entries are puns relating to Brazil. If OMAN is in the grid fill, I would obviously not accept that as correct because it completely ignores the puzzle’s theme. Same with this puzzle.

      • Aaron says:

        Fair enough; some things are implied. My mind unfortunately only ever thinks of the most recent puzzles — hence my comparison to last week’s and this week’s, both of which had theme entries, but only one of which specified they had to satisfy something more. (Sure enough, when you asked for a geographical term two weeks ago, you asked only for that.)

    • Irwin says:

      Same comments here. I found CAR WASH pretty quickly which perfectly fit the answer. I didn’t even bother looking deeper, finished the puzzle, and put it away. If there’s a constraint like this on the answer I’d really prefer it be explicit or a general rule and not something we had to guess.

  21. James Schooler says:

    What helped me grok the meta answer was noting that the phrasing of “a good use for” occured in both the clues and Matt’s instructions, and then noting the reference to chemical compounds in both.

  22. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    Like Matthew G., I also had trouble with the NACL area because my initial cross-answers led me to leap to then write in SEASIDE CLAM BAKE rather than SEASONAL. I mean, you’d use salt in a seaside clam bake, right? But I could not make this work, of course, and the extra effort in this area caused me to see the NACL in embedded in the corrected phrase. That was all it took to get me in the meta-groove when I looked again at the title and said, “Ah…”

  23. klew archer says:

    How many people actually got the meta at Lollapuzzoola? I was talking to BEQ when it was announced. I did manage to hear Patrick read my bogus answer but not the actual winners

  24. Abby says:

    Ugh. Missed this one. Campus power failure coincided with start of school so I didn’t have time to really look at it. I’d suspected the trick, but didn’t follow through. If the instructions had mentioned the theme, I probably would’ve got it. I understand the idea that it’s implicit, but I know there have been answers that ignored way too much of the puzzle (like #160), so I’m not sure it’s really cricket, though I’m not going to contest it.

  25. Dana says:

    Wow – I guess I was the only one that sent in Hydro Fuel! Maybe it’s because I’m a Los Angeleno and we’re told not to wash our cars in the driveway, but rather on the lawn to conserve water – two birds with one stone. Doesn’t fit with the meta entirely, but I completely missed Honda, and I thought car wash would have been too obvious!

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