MGWCC #230

crossword 4:10
meta 5:09 

hello, and welcome to episode #230 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Let’s Run Those Numbers”. this week, matt challenges us to name a famous mathematician. what are the theme answers? there are only these explicitly marked as such:

  • 63a {Equidistant from both end zones; or, where to start on this puzzle’s meta} AT THE FIFTY.
  • 16a {“I ___!” (what you might shout when you figure out this puzzle’s meta, which ends here)} RULE.

based on these two, it looks like we need to start at 50 and hop from clue to clue until we get to 16. also, the clue at 23 was {Ambient Brian (reverse the name)} for the familiar brian ENO. since reversing that name gives ONE, we can take another nudge from the title to think that perhaps we’re looking for implied numbers at each stop along the way. without further ado:

  • 50d: {Noble entity} is ARGON. argon has atomic #18, so…
  • 18d: {Path} is ROUTE. if we’re looking for a number, it’s gotta be 66…
  • 66a: {Stable child} is a COLT. thinking guns, this has to be a reference to 45…
  • 45a: {Time} can mean HOUR, as in “at the appointed hour”. here’s where i first went astray—i thought the next number had to be 60. but 60d is STIR, which really doesn’t have any numerical associations. eventually i realized that i was going the wrong way—rather than looking for minutes in an HOUR, we want HOURs in a day…
  • 24a: {Letters before a dollar amount} IOU. hmm, this doesn’t seem to help much, either. but wait! there’s also 24d: {Very tough} IRON. aha, another element, this time atomic #26…
  • 26d: {New Brunswick neighbor} MAINE, the 23rd state…
  • 23d: {Ambient Brian (reverse the name)} is ENO, which (as discussed above) gets us to…
  • 1a: {Dirty group of film} DOZEN. not 1d, DOSE, which is quantitative but doesn’t have a strong association with a particular number. of course, DOZEN leads us to…
  • 12d: {#1 pick in the 1983 NFL draft} john ELWAY, whose #7 denver broncos jersey has become iconic…
  • 7d: {“Awesome!”} SWEET. what number comes next? why, SWEET 16, of course…
  • 16a: {“I ___!” (what you might shout when you figure out this puzzle’s meta, which ends here)} RULE.

looking at the first letters as we run through the list, the acrostic spells out ARCHIMEDES, indeed one of the most famous mathematicians of all time. i kind of wonder if RULE is part of the meta, too (as opposed to any other word that might go at 16a); it would be cool if there were something called ARCHIMEDES’ RULE, but i don’t know of anything like that. archimedes’ principle, yes—that’s the law of buoyancy, with which i am ever so familiar. but i haven’t heard it called a “rule”.

while i’m geeking out on the subject of physics, i’ll note here that nobody answered my trivia question from last week’s post, on the only person two win multiple physics nobels. the answer? john bardeen, a wizard of solid-state physics in the 20th century. bardeen invented the transistor along with bill brattain and walter shockley (for which the three were awarded the 1956 nobel), and then later formulated a working theory of superconductivity with leon cooper and john schrieffer (1972 nobel).

anyway, this was a pretty cool meta—it had the feel of a treasure hunt. it wasn’t all that hard to figure out what you were doing, but some of the individual steps were tricky. my actual solve involved figuring out the first four steps and then getting stuck at HOUR; but i noticed that the first letters gave me ARCH-. then i figured that the chain had to pick up again with ENO at some point, so i started there and got -EDES, so that the answer had to be ARCHIMEDES. based on the I, i finally came around and saw 24 IRON.

maybe the only thing that could have been better about this meta is the placement. for one thing, i don’t think it’s really hard enough for a week 4 meta. for another, the idea of associating words with numbers has been very recently visited—just two weeks ago, we had the meta involving things that are 6th in various canonical orderings (including, as seen again twice today, the periodic table). for those reasons, i think this one might have worked better as a week 3 in some future month. but evaluated solely on its own merits, this one was a lot of fun.

your thoughts?

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32 Responses to MGWCC #230

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    201 right answers this week, which surprised me. It was no pushover for the test-solvers.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    Hope everyone got through the hurricane all right. Did the Listener cryptic and read by candlelight last night. Makes you appreciate how our ancestors lived every day.

    As for the meta, what a glorious construction! Just think how difficult it must have been to work out all the entries. And yet, as I traced the number path, each step was smooth, the first association that came to mind. MAINE’s placement had to be looked up, of course, but what else would you do with it, rank in size or population? SWEET Sixteen may not have been familiar to those who aren’t sports fans, but it certainly was to me. Anyway, it was very clear by then that we were looking for an S numeral to finish Archimedes. At one point, it even looked like Matt might achieve symmetrically placed themers (look at the crossings in the SW and NE) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his intention. I think Joon’s on the right track, and Matt wanted the meta to end at PRINCIPLE, not RULE, but alas the grid didn’t allow for a 9 letter word. He probably tried SCREW, too. If this one doesn’t win another Puzzle of the Year for Matt, he could legitimately clue that as A ____ job!

    And now a brief bleat from the pedant’s corner – for week 4, I found the instructions on where to start and stop excessive. Similarly, the parenthetical remark in the ENO clue. I feel that AT THE FIFTY was enough of a hint. I already suspected we were looking for an ancient Hellene from the inclusion of ZENO, CLIO, and ATTIC. I wonder if SUN SCREENS was also a hint, because of Archimedes inventing a sun-focusing device to set afire enemy ships. But the reduced difficulty level, which I suspect was softened at the urging of Matt’s panel, doesn’t take away from the sheer brilliance of this puzzle. It’s every bit as sterling as his transcendant escalator and I hereby nominate it for Puzzle of the Year.

  3. Yossi Fendel says:

    I saw the “I RULE!” in 16 as a (liberal) translation of “Eureka!”.

  4. Jeff G. says:

    Very enjoyable week 4. It did have a nice treasure hunt feel to it. Excellent job Matt!

  5. Paul, SWEET 16 doesn’t necessarily have to do with sports. The phrase probably even more popularly refers to a girl’s 16th birthday (see also the MTV series “My Super Sweet 16”).

    Also, I’m somewhat ashamed to reveal this, but before I fully figured out the meta, I wondered at one point if Matt was making reference to the infamous internet RULE 34. Thankfully, he was not.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Christopher and Tabstop, you’re right of course about the Sweet Sixteen birthday party. I well remember the bash I threw for my daughter. That my mind jumped immediately to March Madness will tell you how much I love sports. But either way you came to 16, it’s a smooth association.

    • joannac says:

      Chris, me too! I figured it was far too distasteful for a meta. Also you have to hang around the right (wrong?) circles on the internet to actually know about it.

  6. tabstop says:

    Another vote for “I Rule” = Eureka from this corner.

    And I don’t know why, but I always thought that the name for the basketball tournament “derived” from the birthday celebrations (“derived” in the sense of “I need a name for the round of sixteen and this sixteen-related phrase already exists and makes sense”).

  7. Patrick L says:

    Fun puzzle / meta, a bit easy for Week 4 but I’m happy to get the solve. After seeing the title I thought the numbers might point to Fibonacci, but starting at 50 and ending at 16 didn’t fit with that idea. Once I found the trail, there weren’t really any alternatives. Matt also seemed to help us by using mostly short fills and not including ‘apparent themers’ – which always send me on wild goose chases.

    I thought 34-down (High IQ, low-EQ type) might be a reference to IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), and was mildly disappointed when it turned out to be DWEEB.

    I also wondered if 46-down (Top) was a Seinfeld reference…

  8. Ken / Cazique says:

    Enjoyed it greatly, and it must have been a biatch to construct. Not hard for a week omega (felt more like a 3-) but what’s wrong with that?

  9. jimmy d says:

    Haha, Christopher… I considered Rule 34 also… Hopefully it never applies to crosswords!! :-)

    Interesting dynamic with the leaderboard… I usually don’t start these puzzles until Sat night or even Sunday… By looking at how many correct entries have been submitted by that point, I can easily gauge the difficulty… I knew this was an easy week 4 before I even started! (Not complaining, Matt!)

  10. Charles Montpetit says:

    I too considered keeping the series going with Rule 34 which, as Patrick noted, leads us to DWEEB in the grid–the archetypal mathematician! On the other hand, if you go with the lesser-known Rule 63 (“For every character, there exists a counterpart of opposite gender”), you not only get back to the starting point in the grid, which is neat, but you might be tempted to submit the grandmother of all female mathematicians, HYPATHIA OF ALEXANDRIA, as ARCHIMEDES’s counterpart.

  11. abide says:

    I followed the trail to HOUR in the first few minutes but it took me 2 days to look at the A-R-C-H. I came very close to giving up and submitting EULER, which is pretty close to RULE when the “Ar” is “gone” to the end. (I’m pretty sure he also had some formula involving -1).

    Mind-blowing construction!

  12. Gnarbles says:

    I think Matt gave us a somewhat easy week #4 to get us set up for the impossibly hard five Fridays in November coming up.

  13. I had AR…MEDES and figured that the answer had to be ARCHIMEDES without quite being able to get a few in the middle, but I backsolved them anyways to be sure. ROUTE 66 didn’t jump to mind at first, but it jumped out when I looked at all of the words beginning with C. Likewise COLT 45.

  14. Seth says:

    Well, here is how I got derailed. Got to hour and went to 11 (as in 11th hour). Duomo led me to 2 (duo – 2). Got stuck on Opus, but found an Opus 23 (by Rachmaninoff,) which got me back on track to Eno.

    Unfortunately, I summed the numbers (63,50, 18,66,45,11,2,23,1,12,7,16)…which added up to 314, which led me to Pi, and then to William Jones who first introduced the use of pi.


    • Noam D. Elkies says:

      Glad I didn’t go that route – I’d have associated π with Euler, which seemed to be
      also obliquely clued by RULE.

      I also wondered about the crossing of OPUS with OPERA, which originates as
      the plural of “opus”.

      The metapuzzle felt like a neat idea but with strained execution (note also the huge counts of words and blocks), possibly due in part to having to avoid routes like I –> INDIGO –> 6 which Matt already used much too recently (and which forced the reuse of the atomic-number mechanism). I jumped from HOUR to 12 (and 11 has its appeal too), so had to backtrack but I’d already guessed the answer from ARCH- (and it would have been embarrassing to miss a mathematician metapuzzle!) I also regard the ELWAY –> 7 route as terribly lame, no matter how purportedly iconic that number is (and I have my doubts about that status because a recent Millionaire contestant, who also cares much more for sportz and sportz trivia than I can, still wasn’t sure of the number). The uniform numbers just don’t matter *even if* you care about the game and about specific teams’ and players’ results.

      Nice point about ZENO, CLIO, and ATTIC; I wonder whether this was intentional. Likewise the numerical but non-thematic TEN-MAN, which is also suspiciously close to T-MAN.


      • Noam D. Elkies says:

        …and come to think of it, ODEs is commonly used in math for “ordinary differential equations”. Surely *that* was an unintended red herring (or infrared herring, seeing how obscure such a hint would be for most solvers)!

      • Matt says:

        Tough crowd. Elway’s number is extremely well-known, ranked on this list as the sixth best-known jersey number in the history of sports:

        …or it’s a 5-second Google away. So not sure what makes this pathway “terribly lame.”

        • Noam D. Elkies says:

          Of course I Googled it. It’s still lame, for the reason I gave already.
          Anyway “sixth best-known jersey number” is not saying much; compare say “sixth best-known racehorse jockey”. Yes, there are people who care about such things, but then… [see XKCD #915]

        • Jared says:

          Matt, if you could’ve worked in a Peyton Manning #18 this would have been the best puzzle ever. As it stands it’s still pretty great. Go Broncos!!

  15. Garrett says:

    Sorry, Matt, you lost me at HOUR. I went 1 through 12, then with my Marine Corps hat on, 0 through 23. There is no 24. You have 00:00 through 23:59. Had the 45A fill been HOURS, I could have pulled-up 24 (as in, in a day).

    The scheme is of course brilliant. I remember contemplating the incredibly tortured, inelegant placement of black squares, and this told me the puzzle had some kind of constructor restraint, but I could not grok it.

    What I want to point out besides the HOUR VS HOURS flaw, is that there are two unintentional red herrings here.

    The first and most obvious is RULE. Save one E, this is an anagram of Euler. The 2nd E can be borrowed from ELWAY, which beinng clued as #1 etc implis a possible 1st letter, abd crosses RULE. Also, the clue about starting the meta prominantly features FIFTY, and Euler is famous for his Problem #50, to do with primes.

    The second is akin to your actual meta. If you take the three numbers of your major theme clues, (16, 23, and 63) and because 23 has the “reverse the name” note, we can reverse the name for 23 to be 32. This is a not so well known permutation sequence of the Fibonacci numbers (or part of it).

    I was led astray, but I still had fun.

    In appreciation,


  16. jefe says:

    I suppose RULE could have been clued as [Principle (and where the meta ends)].

    Oh well, another one I missed. Ready for 5 in November!

  17. John says:

    This wasn’t to be for me. I wasn’t making the leap from taking the 18 of Argon and using that to jump to the 18 clue. I just took 18 and 50, and the 1 (from reversed ENO) and tried to devine a sequence, or match it with other numbers in the clues, or in the grid – of which there were plenty of examples. The “At the Fifty” also seemed to invoke football, as did the “Run the Numbers” of the title, so i spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a trick based on the puzzle being a gridiron (IRON also being in the grid). Although, given the sports-animosity in these tidbits, i might caution Matt to refrain from considering sports-related metas.

    (sigh) Another 3 for 4 month.

    • MM says:

      I’m with you, John. joon says, “…it looks like we need to start at 50 and hop from clue to clue until we get to 16.” Why? Maybe I’m jealous of joon’s lightning fast solves (and upset at being 3 for 4 again), but the idea to jump from number to number never would have occurred to me.

  18. ===Dan says:

    Great puzzle; it defeated me. I had a good idea of the theme, and got as far as HOUR, but never considered 24–I was looking something singular, and got stuck at “11th” which suggested DUOMO.
    So I tried the other end, and managed to to work backwards from RULE to ENO, but MAINE was too hard to find in reverse. If I had been smart enough to look at the first letters I probably would have seen the answer. I wish I had the storm and flood and blackout to blame, but most of that was after my defeat. Looking forward to a week 1.

  19. ===Dan says:

    (Also gave some consideration to 50/25/12/6/3/1 because of the Zeno reference, but that was a non-starter (let alone non-finisher).

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