MGWCC #255

crossword 5:45
meta not yet (!)3 days 

hello and welcome to episode #255 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Shake It Up”. in this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a 17-letter word. well, what are the theme answers? none, really, that i could find—except for the bookend entries at 1- and 61-across, {What a good metapuzzle does}: BOGGLES / THE MIND. that seems to be the only thematic entry, but combined with the title and the curious Qu rebus square at 48, it all strongly suggests that we are to treat the grid as a boggle board and find a 17-letter word on it using boggle rules.

straightforward enough, right? except that i’ve been staring at the grid for two days and i haven’t seen it yet. (kind of wish i’d started this friday instead of saturday, but … well, let’s just say friday was a strange day here in boston.) i often have trouble reading my own handwriting after i’ve finished filling in a grid (i’m not a two-time worst handwriting award winner for nothing), so i typed this one all neatly into across lite and stared at it. and stared.

when i’m playing actual boggle, my preferred way of finding long words is to look for useful prefixes and suffixes. here, i was drawn to a few places where -TION (or -ATION) can be played, and one in the lower left with -ICALLY. there’s also a bunch of places where RE-/-ER/DE-/-ED can be found, including a big cluster of them in the upper right. but i couldn’t find a 17-letter word, although i did find REVERBERATE and VERTEBRATES in that upper right (both 11).

what next? well, i tried some computerized assistance. but despite the aid of a computer search and a hefty word list, i just couldn’t find a 17-letter word… or any word longer than 11. SEMITRADITIONALLY (17) is really close but not quite in there. my program did turn up ORDINATIONS (also 11), along with some other 11s of dubious legitimacy (BONNETIERES, CHARBONNIER, EVERTEBRATE, NONRESISTER, OVERSATIETY) and two even more dubious 12s (INDORDINATION, OVERSERENITY).

so what is going on? almost 300 people have solved this meta as of monday night, and i am not one of them. that is a huge number, so there must be something i’m not seeing—it can’t just be hundreds of people poring over this grid and coming up with an unclued 17-letter word (which isn’t even in my dictionary!).

back to the traditional meta techniques: are there more theme answers? are there oddities in the grid that suggest theme locations? well, it’s hard to say. this is only a 68-word grid, with big open corners. but there are a lot of cheater blocks near the long central answers, so maybe CASA BONITA and ARNIE’S ARMY are thematic. and, frankly, it would not be at all difficult to put BOGGLES/THE MIND in the corners and hide any 17-letter string you wanted to, boggle-style, in the grid, even in a 68-worder. so i’m thinking there must be more to it than that. is it a word that also happens to mean BOGGLES THE MIND? if there is such a 17-letter word (and i can’t come up with it off the top of my head), it would be no great difficulty to sneak it into the grid.

if BOGGLES/THE MIND are thematic, and in the corners, then maybe the other corner answers are thematic. i have no idea what to do with TEN-ODD, but TMESIS is intriguing. maybe the answer isn’t a traditional 17-letter word, but something like UNFRICKINBELIEVABLE? nah, probably not.

okay, back to boggle. a standard boggle board is 4×4, and since you can only use each cube once, you can’t have a 17-letter word… except for the Qu cube, which gives you two letters in only one cube. hey, now we’re talking here. there is a Qu square in the grid. ok. so … is there a 4×4 square including that Qu that can produce a 17-letter word? that would be much easier to find than combing through the entire grid.

aaaaaand there it is. INCONSEQUENTIALLY, starting at the I of CARDINALS. i’m a moron—my computer program wasn’t handling the Qu square correctly. (augh.) this one was incredibly obvious once i started to use my brain. sigh. and it nicely justifies the unfamiliar (to me) word QuOIN at 48a in the grid, clued as {Cornerstone}. at least i did eventually get it.

okay, so maybe now i’m paranoid, but what is going on in the upper right corner of this grid? it’s extremely far from anything thematic, but still has weirdnesses like {Battleship guess} F-TEN at 15d, itself an awkward entry, duplicating {Maybe around a dozen or so} TEN-ODD at 8a, another awkward entry somewhat redeemed by a nice clue. and ENURESIS is also in that area, which i didn’t relish seeing in the grid.

anyway, i guess that’s my writeup. i don’t know what to make of this meta, so i’ll just open it up to your opinions.

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47 Responses to MGWCC #255

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    A fun idea and well-executed. Both the boggle entry and the Qu square were strong hints – if we’re asked for a 17 letter word, and a boggle square has 16 places, that’s where it has to be, right? Still, this was no gimme. I was stalled for an hour working with the bottommost 4×4 in the SW, since I thought the “cornerstone” definition of quoin was another hint. It wouldn’t yield an anagram, so I moved up one row, et voila. I wonder if inconsequentially simply worked out for Matt or if he picked it due to sequentially being a cognate word. This reminds me of when I was new to Matt’s game, and I’d trace word lines boggle-style when stuck on his hard metas. From occasional comments, I’ve noticed that others have resorted to this act of desperation, but as far as I know, this is the first time it really works.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    340 right answers this week, way higher than I expected (200-250).

    Fitting that specific 4×4 block into the SW necessitated a crazy-looking grid and wide-open grid, so the upper-right was just finished the symmetry.

    • Michael Marcus says:

      My big hurdle was that there were 3 possible 4×4 Boggle boards that included the Qu square, so I wasn’t sure which one to use at first. Is it just process of elimination — i.e., none of the other boards have a 17-letter word — or is there something else I missed?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        There was no way to know which of the three to use, no. I spent some time at first trying to put the 4×4 box in a corner but that wasn’t working. It seemed like needle-in-a-haystack, so I asked Alex Boisvert to write some code to see if it was possible. We couldn’t make it work in a corner, and even not-in-a-corner was challenging and wound up requiring half the grid to absorb it.

        • Alex V. says:

          You said you were expecting a lot fewer correct answers… I think having the 17-letter word (INCONSEQUENTIALLY or something else) snake through the grid would have done that. That might have gone well with a 17×17 grid.

          Still, this was a great week 3… shake it up indeed!

        • bananarchy says:

          Yeah, it’s amazing how far the influence of a preordained 4×4 block can reach. I wrote something similar for a puzzle a while back (4×4 block where each 2×2 quadrant contained the letters S-O-U-L), and I had to extend it from 15×15 to 21×21 just to accommodate 3 other theme answers and preserve symmetry. I’m impressed that you got the boggle block as close to the corner as you did.

  3. David says:

    I also couldn’t find it by actually searching through the grid, but I was able to get the answer after a couple minutes of googling; thankfully, some avid bogglers have compiled lists of all the 16 and 17 letter boggle words.

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I had the advantage of never having played Boggle in my life, so I was fully justified and innocent in looking it up in Wikipedia, which very helpfully included the answer word among only three 17-letter words including “QU”. Given the odd, singular appearance of the QU rebus, that corner, specifically the 4 x 4 including the QU, just had to hold the answer (but you wouldn’t believe how long it took me to see the proper trail to spelling out the word!)

    • Bob Kerfuffle says:

      And to boot, with the QU on the edge of the grid, and of the remaining five squares abutting it having two duplicates, the answer word had to have either E, N, or O before or after the QU in the answer word! More narrowing of the possibilities!

  5. DannyBoy says:

    I found the boggle gimmick easily enough, but I’m not good at anagrams, so I resorted to a program. I’m curious how many people solved the answer manually and how many with an anagram engine?

  6. Matthew G. says:

    I suspect that Bob Kerfuffle has hit upon why so many more people got this right than Matt anticipated.

    I, too, have never played Boggle, and so I went to the Wikipedia entry just planning to learn the rules. But since that entry also identifies the only three seventeen-letter words that are possible in the game, the meta was a tap-in from there.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      That’s really odd — I think almost any 17-letter word with a Q in can be made in Boggle. Alex found a lot more possibles than those three.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Hmm, now that I re-read the entry, it says “the list of longest words that can be formed includes inconsequentially, quadricentennials, and sesquicentennials.” I must have misread that on Saturday as meaning those were the only ones (or perhaps the Wikipedia entry has since been edited). Anyhow, my misreading obviously redounded to my benefit.

      • David Bael says:

        I think that these are actually the only 3 17-letter words that can be made in Boggle due to the available letters and the arrangement of letters on the cubes. As a hypothetical example, consider ACQuAINTANCESHIPS. Two Boggle cubes have a “C” on them, but if one of those C’s were on the same cube as the single available “Qu” then it would not be possible to make that word. (This is a hypothetical example as I don’t actually know the arrangement of letters on the 16 Boggle cubes.) There is a cascading effect of diminishing availability of additional letters after each letter that you use.

        • joon says:

          i don’t have time right now to check ACQUAINTANCESHIPS, but the standard cubes are:


          • HH says:

            That’s it — now I can use QIMNUH in a grid! Thanks!

          • David Bael says:

            I stand (somewhat) corrected. I still maintain that given the combination of letters on each Boggle cube that the set of possible 17-letter words that can be made is far smaller than the set of all 17-letter words containing “qu”. However, I did discover that “ACQuAINTANCESHIPS” is indeed possible with the combinations that Joon listed above, and yet it is not one of the three possible words listed on the Wikipedia entry.

  7. Wayne says:

    I got from A to Z without any missteps, which almost never happens for me on a week 3. The title, 1-Across and “Qu” instantly revealed the challenge. (Which, more than anything, probably means that we need to diversify our game night repertoire.) I even picked the correct 4×4 grid right off the bat, since it had the best building blocks: “SEQ”, “CON”, “ICALLY” and “TION”.

    My only complaint is that this left me with nothing to do on Sunday, so I had to clean the garage.

  8. Cyrano says:

    Well, that is frustrating. I was so confused about RE_EST crossing _OIN, that I convinced myself REJEST was a word and JOIN meant Cornerstone. I had the exact same solving experience as Joon (how did 300 people get this and not me?) but I never thought of one rebus square and have never played Boggle so didn’t know that was a “letter,” also never realized you could only get a 16-letter word and not replay letters. I was stuck in the upper right, thinking that if TENODD could be changed to TENODN then DOVETAIL could be made to intersect TENON and all sorts of other ridiculously unfruitful avenues such as trying to connect BOGGLES with THEMIND to spell a 17-letter word but never getting it. The Qu was the key…oh well, should have looked up QUOIN.

  9. Noam D. Elkies says:

    I proceeded in much the same way as Joon, but was lucky to think of using the QU square before setting up the computer search (which would also have likely missed Q-words on the first go). There aren’t that many 17-letter words with Q that are at all common, and the first one I tried worked and nicely folded up into a 4×4 square. Not every 16-cube word can actually be made with standard Boggle cubes (for the same reason that the Scrabble dictionary needn’t include the word PIZZAZZ), but Wikipedia lists UNCONSEQUENTIALLY among the 17-letter words that can be formed.

    Didn’t notice F-TEN-ODD, which is even worse than 12D:DETAIL/46A:ENTAIL. But that doesn’t affect solving, unlike the deluge of 13D:DROSSY random names (if you must resort to 59:RALPHIE and the rest, then at least have the decency to clue 1D:BALSAM as a real word, not some random supporting actor of two generations ago). 60A:TMESIS, which was the MGWCC #143 answer, is nice, as is 25A:ENURESIS even if it doesn’t pass the breakfast-table test.

    Apropos random names, Peace Nobelist 40A:ALVA Myrdal is/was the mother-in-law of Harvard ex-president Derek Bok, who is the eponym of the Bok Center, which is on the same floor of Harvard’s Science Center as Joon Pahk’s and my offices!

    Yes, ten “cheater” squares, but I think we stop counting them when the word count gets this low — has Matt gone under 70 since his 101-square #101?


  10. Amy L says:

    In my first sweep through the puzzle, I entered COIN for {Cornerstone}, thinking of the original French meaning of the word. (A common enough word for architectural historians.) Eventually I realized that RECEST didn’t make much sense. I too checked the Wikipedia entry to learn how to play Boggle, but missed the part about 17-letter words. When I realized the QU had to be included, I googled 17-letter words and found only four that used QU. It was easy to see which one was in the puzzle.

    Fun puzzle. Plus ARNIE’S ARMY, which I had never heard of before, helped me with another puzzle this week.

    • Jim Schooler says:

      I had COIN too, but the clue “ask for” was definitely REQUEST–started looking for other rebuses–oops, none. That’s odd. So0oo, what does this mean? Oh….

  11. *David* says:

    I loved the meta and would’ve preferred it to be a week four or five sans the boggle mention.The Qu rebus should’ve been the hint that led you to the meta and nothing more.

  12. Bernie Cosell says:

    I wonder if Matt woud’ve accepted *ANY* 17-letter word that could be spelled in the grid “boggle style”?. I figured there *must* be more in a 16×16 grid. [for my part, i assumed that the odd “QU” had to be part of the solution but the length didn’t “click” for me [that 17 was a full boggle board, plus QU] nor did it click for me that the actual word *fit* in a boggle square. Just dumb luck that I found the correct word [because as I mentioned, my intuition is that there are *surely* other 17-letter words in you can boggle out of the grid if you can start anywhere]

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      No, I wouldn’t have taken any 17-letter word in the grid, since 1) that leaves the Qu-box unexplained, and 2) it doesn’t make sense that a Boggle-themed puzzle wouldn’t use the 4×4 box.

      The grid is 15×15, not 16×16.

      • joon says:

        i disagree with this. the Qu square is not “unexplained”—it’s an additional hint to the game boggle. (although i vehemently agree with david that it could be the only hint, even in a tough puzzle. boggle is far from the only word game to put Qu on one piece. upwords comes to mind immediately.) and there is no compelling reason why a boggle-themed puzzle absolutely must use a boggle-sized board. why can’t it just be a puzzle based on the boggle rules?

        fortunately, all of this was moot. the odds against a 17-letter word accidentally sneaking into a 15×15 grid are astronomical. 12, yes, but it gets exponentially less likely the longer the word, even if you don’t account for the fact that there just aren’t that many words that long.

        • Noam D. Elkies says:

          Some people play Boggle on a 5×5 board, and I found a site that claimed to find all words of given length on a board of size up to 10×10 (but alas not 15×15).

    • Wayne says:

      I hope he wouldn’t/didn’t accept others. The constrained 4×4 grid is a key part of Boggle. So if someone answered with a word that meanders all over the place, he didn’t fully grok the meta. (IMO.)

      We have Boggle Deluxe at home, which sports a 5×5 grid. I don’t like it. I’m old school.

  13. rmac says:

    I also started with the idea that the answer might not be constrained to a 4 x 4 area of the board, and modified my Boggle-playing program to accept the 15 x 15 grid. At first it produced no 17-letter words due to the same Qu problem that Joon had with his program. Then after I fixed that, it spit out INCONSEQUENTIALLY as the only 17-letter word in the entire grid.

    So at least according to the dictionary that my Boggle program uses, there aren’t any other 17-letter words in the grid. This surprised me as well.

    — Russ

  14. Norm says:

    Never having heard of a boggle board and failing to consider Googling the word, I was truly and completely mind-boggled.

  15. Joe says:

    another coincidence maybe :)

    17 letter word
    15 on a side grid
    255 which is the number of the puzzle.

    That boggles the mind.

    • Noam D. Elkies says:

      Ha — I noticed the 255 is a multiple of 17 (it’s 1 less than 256 = 2^8 = 16^2, so 255 factors as (16-1)(16+1) = 15 x 17), but didn’t think to connect 15 with the grid size.

      Now should I fear that #256 will byte me? ☺


  16. abide says:

    Count me with those who never played Boggle but knew enough to look up the rules. I had REJEST (with a ???)until i read about the QU tile. Then it was two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

  17. Sam Levitin says:

    I’m surprised out of all the comments no one fell into the same trap as I did. I thought I was looking for a boggle-style construction, but I thought the fill was hinting at 17 cubes. Especially odd-looking and -sounding to me were answers with embedded names of letters, such as BEEB (for “B”), “EN*” cluing “N”, ARNIESARMY cluing “R” or “R R”, OTOOLE and OVERSTAY cluing “O”, etc.

    I couldn’t find a set of exactly 17 of these that anagrammed to a single word.

    Well done, Matt.

  18. Themutman says:

    I figured Boggle played a role. Fair enough. Haven’t played in ages so I was not familiar with rules, especially 4×4 grid. So I thought the F-Ten answer was pointing us at the starting point of the meta word ( ala a Battleship grid). Well that led me astray for a couple days. Then I looked up the rules, noticed the four by four rule, clicked that a 17 letter answer had to use QU square and got it from there.

    Well done Matt!!!

  19. Scott says:

    I was glad to read the writeup (and now I understand) because I intelligently guessed at the answer and got it right. I googled for a list of 17-letter words and only saw one that had a Q, although apparently there were others. I sent in INCONSEQUENTIALLY and was surprised to see my name on the correct answer board.

  20. Jeff G. says:

    Boggled my brain for a couple days before clicking. Thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle and meta. Great job as always Matt!

  21. Joan says:

    Thanks for using “boggles the mind” and not only the “qu” for a clue, as I would never have gotten the answer, not knowing the game Boggle or anything about the “qu” but having heard of the game. So I knew enough to read up on it and figure it out. A fun puzzle! Matt, your inventiveness never ceases to amaze.

  22. Howard B says:

    Wow. Very cool.
    Funny thing here – I like Boggle, I figured out exactly what to do in this meta, figured out the QU requirement, and still could not find the final word. Oh well. Moral victory.

  23. Jim Horne says:

    XWord Info knows 88 different 17-letter answer words containing at least one Q. Several of these are bogus but a few are, if not mind boggling, at least interesting. Unfortunately, they’re almost all phrases, not words.

  24. Darryl says:

    Am I old? Too American? I thought *everybody* had played Boggle or at least knew of the game.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I knew of it, but had never played it. I think board games are kind of a family heritage thing — each family has games it thinks of as the family classics, and Boggle was never one of ours. My wife tells me her family used to play it, though.

  25. Elaine says:

    I’ve never even heard of Boggle.
    Maybe I’d like it.
    I tried ’17 letter words beginning with QU’ (and there ARE some) but nothing in the clues seemed to tie in.
    I see I have company (no less than the great Howard B). I am mean-spirited enough to be really glad!
    Congrats to the vast army of solvers who crushed Matt’s ego by getting the answer via hook or crook.

  26. Cole says:

    Never played Boggle but am an expert at Google. Googled Boggle and figured that it must involve the QU and be one of the Wiki’s three magic words. If it had been a 17 letter word not listed in the Wiki entry I might have been in trouble.

  27. Abby says:

    I get the word of the day as a message on my phone because I have their app installed. I nailed this meta early on, but was startled when Monday’s word of the day was “quoin”. Seriously.

    I was afraid I might need mechanical assistance to solve this one, but I managed to suss it out starting at the Qu. I did check by machine to make sure it was right and the only one down there. There are only three words in the UNIX word list that are even close (all containing CONSEQUENTIAL), so there’s no reason to pull the big guns. If it hadn’t been in dict/words, I might’ve got itchier.

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