MGWCC #223

crossword 2:53
meta a few hours 

hello, and welcome to episode #223 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Digital Audio”. for this week 1 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a rental-car company. what are the theme answers?

  • {Intersecting circles, shaded at the overlap} is a VENN DIAGRAM, useful in both elementary set theory and snarky internet meme-generation.
  • {#2 dating website in the U.S. (after} is PLENTY OF FISH. never heard of it, but that’s an interesting name for a dating site.
  • {1987 movie featuring Jerry Orbach} is DIRTY DANCING. didn’t know he was in that.
  • {Melanie Chisholm, to Britpop fans} is SPORTY SPICE. i’ve seen her many times in a crossword grid, but only ever as MEL C.

there’s very little to go on here—any connection between these four phrases is awfully well-concealed for a week 1 puzzle. so i had to rely on the title. “audio” made me think it was going to be some kind of sound-alike thing (that’s the cryptic solver in me talking), but i couldn’t see any useful homophones for any of the words in theme answers. it’s too bad, in a way, because “hertz” has a very nice homophone. and “digital” in crosswords usually means “finger-related”, but again, i wasn’t seeing the finger theme. (or toe.) so i had to set this one aside and come back to it.

when i did take another look, i decided that VENN/PLENTY/DIRTY/SPORTY was more likely to be fruitful than DIAGRAM/FISH/DANCING/SPICE, just because they look more similar. and when i scanned a list of the 9 major rental car companies, thrifty jumped out at me as “looking like” those four words. so i was planning to send it in if i couldn’t figure out the actual connection, but then i did figure out the actual connection: rhyming (hence “audio”) and multiples of ten (hence “digital”… i guess?): ten, twenty, thirty, forty. so indeed, the correct answer is thrifty, which rhymes with “fifty”.

i’m trying to think of a clever title that better conveys the 10-ness of the theme (along with the rhyme-ness) and failing. “infinitesimal” is the only word i can come up with that rhymes with “decimal”, and that does not make a good title. “number slumber” … “numeric esoteric” … “decade schmecade”… i suck at this. any ideas?

one thing i can say is that thrifty is unimpeachably correct and unquestionably the best answer. that’s a welcome change from the controversies of the past few weeks, and also a stark contrast to the last time matt did a rhyming-number meta, which stirred up a raging controversy over whether HEAVEN CAN WAIT rhymes with 7 10 8.

not much to say about the rest of the crossword: modest amount of thematic material, 78 words, very clean. i like the restaurant pun clue for PHO: {What the ___! (chain of Seattle-area Vietnamese restaurants)}.

so, what’d you all think of this one? tough for a week 1, no?

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58 Responses to MGWCC #223

  1. Garrett Hildebrand says:


  2. bob says:

    I thought is was crazy hard for week one. I would have given up if it was week four.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    126 right answers this week, maybe a third of whom didn’t grok the meta. Needless to say I severely underestimated the difficulty level of this one; one of mt test solvers didn’t get it, but I assumed he was having a bad week since the other test solver got it quickly. In fact, this puzzle was a late replacement for this month’s forthcoming week 2 puzzle, since I felt at the last minute that my current week 2 was too tough for week 1. So this one was supposed to be really easy, which turned out not to be the case at all.

    • Elaine says:

      The ailment you reported must have been ‘brain fever’ or something. That was incredibly difficult. Usually Week 1 is the ONLY one I get.

  4. Ephraim says:

    Way hard for week 1. I didn’t understand it, but said THRIFTY because TY was repeated in the theme answers and VENN DIAGRAM suggested looking for something in common.

    • Andy says:

      This is exactly where I went too. It felt pretty tenuous, but after days of staring at it I had nothing better. Score one for luck!

    • Dave Taube says:

      Yup, me too. I never saw the twenty, thirty, forty . . .

      Like Elaine, I don’t get many puzzles past the week 1 puzzle, so I was happy that I was able to solve this one fairly easily.

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    I, for one, applaud this meta. Usually, Week Ones are readily apparent by the first or second theme entry. This puzzle forced us to finish, then give it a little thought. But with the title hint, the answer was solveable for everyone. Bravo once more, Matt. And as I wrote to him, “Very trixty. Sort of like frooty.” All in all, a very fun puzzle with out breakfast cereal.

  6. Based on the number of correct answers, this was way harder than a normal week 1. I certainly stared at it longer than many late-month puzzles. But I live for this sort of thing. I’d much rather be stumped by a week 1 once in a while than have it go down without a fight every time. :)

    I’ll add that a potential contributor to the difficulty is the fact that I don’t think of “plenty” rhyming with “twenty.” I think “twenty” actually rhymes with “funny” or “money.” I’m from Chicago, if that helps.

    • joon says:

      you chicagoans sure talk fenty.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I pronounce “twenty” the same way Christopher does (and I’m an eighth Jablonski to boot). I was surprised to check a dictionary and find only the “twenn-tee” pronunciation given.

    • Andy says:

      Midwesterner here as well, and my “twenty” also sounds somewhat like “funny.” Then again, so does my “plenty,” sometimes.

    • Matthew G. says:

      After MGWCC #137, there was a debate here over whether “can” rhymes with “ten.” I can’t make my brain think that those words rhyme, but for Matt and many others, they do. I also can’t imagine “plenty” _not_ rhyming with “twenty,” but there you are.

      I guess rhymes are inherently risky in metas because of dialect differences, but how Matt would ever know until after the fact, I have no idea.

      • Shauna says:

        A possible title could have been “Dime Time”. Maybe that would have given a little more guidance for Week 1. This was the first puzzle I have ever tried. It was very difficult but fun to try. Maybe I missed some rules, but how did you know that those were the 4 theme clues? Thanks

      • joon says:

        shauna, there’s no explicit rule, but it’s a crossword convention that in a themed puzzle, the longest answers in the grid are theme answers.

      • Shauna Friend says:

        Thanks joon, I’m learning. Can’t wait til next one.

    • jefe says:

      I also pronounce 20 as “twunny”. Maryland here.

    • HH says:

      In Games Magazine’s first (IIRC) Calculatrivia contest, one question asked for the smallest positive whole number that rhymes with plenty. One reader wrote in claiming the correct answer was three because they both end with a long e sound.

  7. *David* says:

    I worked off the same logic as Ephraim, that VENN DIAGRAM was the hint to solve the meta and all the remainder theme had the commonality of ending in TY and hence the meta requred it also. Obviously not a Week 1 meta but who says we need to keep that process consistent?

  8. Giovanni P. says:

    Unfortunately, I ended up guessing HERTZ, as that word is also associated with radio frequency, which I thought the title might be cluing towards. I ended up going with a totally off the rails justification, with how each had a connection to the initials MC:

    VENN DIAGRAM: Resemblance to the MASTERCARD logo.
    PLENTY OF FISH: MATCH.COM in the clues.
    DIRTY DANCING: Featured actor MAX CANTOR:

    and Mc (megacycles) was an older name for MHz. We’re talking conspiracy theory stuff here. The real answer makes much more sense.

  9. Pj says:

    Very hard week one. I sent in Hertz just because it related to digital audio. I keyed on that title, coming up with sounds the fingers make, but could only come up with snapfish and tap dancing. In fact tap crossed dancing. With an S and T, I looked for an X and I inthe other two long answers. Alas couldn’t find it to spell SIXT. Phew. I’m afraid what the rest of the month is going to be like…but up to the challenge.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    I appreciate the comments, but I view this as a catastrophic Week 1 meta. There’s no way that only 126 people should get Week 1 right, and fewer than 100 grok it.

    Over the past year I’ve gone from 0 test solvers to 2, and now I’m going to expand it to 4. 2 is still too small a sample size, but 4 plus my own opinion should eliminate airballs like this in the future.

  11. David says:

    Don’t include Joon in your group.

  12. Joe says:

    Hand up for it took me a bit more time than usual. Like joon, I walked away and came back. I did think it was hard for a Week 1, but I’m with Christopher Jablonski. It was nice to have the meta put up a bit of a struggle.

  13. Charles Montpetit says:

    Not that it’s a good alternate answer, but I went with AVIS because there were four theme entries, and I back-justified this by saying that each letter formed a well-known dyad with the initial in each entry:

    A.-V. (enn diagram)
    V.-P. (lenty of fish)
    I. D. (irty dancing)
    S. S. (porty spice)

    Weak, I admit, and except for the first one (Audio-Visual), no link to the puzzle title. But that’s all I could find on this week 1… and I actually solved week 5 of last month pretty easily! Crazy.

  14. Erik says:

    that is a great, great, great title. one of the best in recent MGWCC history.

  15. Matt Gaffney says:

    Here’s what a real Week 1 meta looks like:

  16. joel says:

    Got it, but not for the right reason. Thought we needed to venn diagram the other three theme entries. With i,t, and y in common, went with thrifty.

  17. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt, I just tried Erik’s meta, and agree it was a treat. But I didn’t find it as easy as you. It took about ten minutes to see the answer, which was twice as long as yours this week.

  18. Dannoz says:

    I tend to over-think Week 1’s, so this time I sent in the most obvious answer I could…Hertz. Oh, the pain ;-)

  19. Mutman says:

    Add me to the *twunty* or so ungrokked, Hertz submitters.

    My first week one spanking since I’ve started. Eh, it happens!

  20. Neville says:

    I got it in a right roundabout way after a long, hard stretch.

    This might’ve been more week one friendly if the clue had read along the lines of: This week’s contest answer is a rental-car company that continues the sequence begun by the starts of this puzzle’s theme entries. Granted, MG could likely give that a bit of a condensing, but I think the “continue a sequence” bit is something that you just don’t think to do naturally with this set. As it is, I still think it’s fair & fun, just not right for week one.

  21. ===Dan says:

    I think the meta was tough only because Matt has shown us too many ways where a meta can be hidden, making us over-think. Once the light bulb came on, the meta was perfectly obvious, in plain sight, requiring no special work or trickery. There’s nothing wrong with this meta for week 1. There’s simply nothing all that hard about it. It’s just that the universe of potential metas is a dark jungle and it’s easy to get lost.

    It’s pretty fenty that I think of “twenty” as rhyming with “plenty” but I think I often elide the T. Then when I try saying “twenny” and “twunny” aloud, even several times (I’m alone here), they don’t sound very different to me. If I say “plunty” I think it’s within the ballpark of “plenty.” Could be my ears.

  22. Erik says:

    good fix neville

  23. Abby says:

    I got it, but it took me a while to see it. The clincher for me was trying to reconcile the title with the theme words and finding that SPORTY SPICE sounded kind of like “forty-five”. Then it all became clear. I figured (and mentioned in my entry) that a lot of people would get the right answer by just playing off the TY endings or the idea of a Venn diagram. Looks like maybe people second guessed that and went with something else.

  24. Abby says:

    Alternate title: Rent-A-Wreck’s Factor?

  25. davidb says:

    I lost my way by getting so mired in constructing and interpreting a Venn diagram of the three remaining theme answers. My first instinct was Thrifty because ITY was the intersection of the three sets of letters. But, then I noticed that all the unique letters in SPORTY SPICE are contained in the union of the letters of PLENTY OF FISH and DIRTY DANCING, which sucked up a lot of time but didn’t get me anywhere, and also that Enterprise was the only common car rental company that could be spelled with the shared letters of the three entries. Anyway, I got so lost and muddled that I ended up sending what seemed to be the most obvious answer – Hertz.

  26. abide says:

    I finished the puzzle while half asleep, and when I woke up the next morning the meta fell in about 5 minutes after considering the title (first fingers, then digits=numbers). It was Week 2.5 hard for me.

    I suggest “Rhymes for Dimes” as a friendlier title.

  27. Jeff Chen says:

    I’m pretty sure AVIS rhymes with fifty. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    VENN DIAGRAM looks kind of like the Audi logo, right? And #2 dating website, just like Avis is #2? And DIRTY DANCING is…

    Eh, I got nothing.

  28. jane lewis says:

    i’m somewhat surprised that you didn’t know jerry orbach was in dirty dancing – as often as it shows up on television. he played jennifer gray’s father.

    • joon says:

      thanks for the compliment, but it’s less surprising when you consider how little i know about movies or TV at all. i can infer from context that jennifer gray was also in dirty dancing, but honestly, i don’t even know who that is. jerry orbach, by contrast, is famous—he’s the father of tony orbach.

  29. Howard B says:

    Great title, clever meta, and the first Week 1 that I have been completely stumped on. I have no problem saying that, and no problem or complaint with the puzzle.

  30. CY Hollander says:

    Definitely harder than a typical Week One. Like some of the other commenters here, I guessed Hertz on the basis of the title (Hertz = measure of frequency = a connection between numbers and sound), but I couldn’t get anything else about the puzzle to fit with that. Didn’t bother sending in my guess and was a little relieved to find that it was wrong anyway.

  31. Karen says:

    And I was hoping this was secretly a backwards-difficulty month. Oh well.

    I was distracted by POF’s #2 rankings, so went with Avis. Also, I just liked the general puzzle entries. ZOMBIFY! GRODY! ANBESOL! (which I keep misspelling.)

  32. jefe says:

    Got wrecked here.

    Noticed the TYs, couldn’t figure out what to do. Wasn’t sure if JOEPESCI and SYMBOLIC were themers. Saw joePESCI and sportySPICE were anagrams. Counted 32 0’s and 1’s in the grid, enough for four bytes, some of which were actually letters reading across or down, but that couldn’t be it for a Week 1. Saw some words that could be related to digital/audio, e.g. SYMBOLIC, EMCEED, ONAIR, ECHO. Saw some on/offs: ONair, OFF, plentyOFFish, eatON. Guessed Avis.

    According to the Matt’s numbers, more people got last week’s Week 5 than this Week 1. I guess Matt thought there were 6 weeks in August!

  33. Joan says:

    Glad I didn’t have a lot of time to work on this; never would have got it. I’m with Jeff Chen thinking that the Venn diagram resembles an Audi logo, then there’s the Audi-o in the title and #2 being, of course, Avis. Then cars can be sporty and also dirty. So what company rents sporty, dirty Audis?
    Google that! Quite a few of them. Aargh, a betrayal for Week One!

  34. Pete M says:

    I don’t see how Thrifty rhymes with Fiddy. :)

  35. Ben Bass says:

    I could not get this Week 1 meta. I suck.

    • Howard B says:

      Ben, then I admit to sucking too, for missing this one.
      So, I will henceforth only solve word finds I buy while waiting on line at the supermarket, if someone with better handwriting circles the words for me. Maybe an occasional connect-the-dots for variety. Who’s with me?!?

      • Ben Bass says:

        I didn’t read too many of the comments above at first, I just skulked into and out of here in shame. So many people struggling with this one makes me feel better about myself. Any time I’m in the same category as Howard Barkin, I’m fine with it.

  36. Dave Taube says:

    Wow! I’m feeling really smart this week (instead of really stupid, which is how I usually feel when I don’t grok the meta and everybody else does).

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