MGWCC #273

crossword 3:31
meta DNF 

hello and welcome to episode #273 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “That’s Not a Word”. first off, many thanks to andy kravis for filling in for me the last two weeks while i was away. but here i am, back in the saddle, and … i have no idea what to do with this week’s puzzle. the instructions ask us for one of the 13 scoring rolls in Yahtzee (ignore the two bonuses). okay, so that’s one of: aces, twos, threes, fours, fives, sixes, 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind, yahtzee, full house, small straight, large straight, chance. but what is going on in the puzzle? there are six long(ish) answers:

  • {Didn’t bother at all} SAT WELL WITH.
  • {“So?”} “WHO CARES?”.
  • {Care} GIVE A RIP. the clue dupes the previous theme answer. i don’t know if that’s a hint, an oversight, or just unavoidable. it does seem awkward to clue this without using the word CARE.
  • {Roughly the 1500s, in English history} TUDOR ERA.
  • {“The Sound of Music” line} “DOE A DEER”.
  • {Vicissitudes} UPS AND DOWNS.

so i think all six of these, and no others, are theme answers. why? well, there are no other 8+ answers in the grid, for starters. and all of them are multi-word phrases containing at least one three-letter word: SAT, WHO, RIP, ERA, DOE, UPS/AND. and because there are two 11s and four 8s, i don’t think we’re looking at just the 11s, or only some of the 8s.

now, the only question is what to do with these. and i really have no idea. i was hoping to maybe find sets of consecutive letters of the alphabet in each answer, either 4 in a row (small straight) or 5 in a row (large straight). that didn’t materialize. there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason to choose full house, 4 of a kind, or yahtzee (5 of a kind), either.

what about the title? uh, the only scoring roll that’s not an english word (or words) is yahtzee itself, but that would be a silly meta, not using the crossword itself at all. among the theme answers, the only thing that’s not a word is TUDOR. what does that suggest? i don’t know. it’s a homophone of “tutor”, which … isn’t going anywhere.

is there anything about these theme answers that can be linked to dice, or the numbers 1 through 6? … the first TUDOR king was henry vii of england, so that doesn’t help. henry viii famously had six wives, but that seems like quite a stretch. if there were only five theme answers, i think i’d want to put a number on each one and then treat the whole thing as a yahtzee roll, but with six themers, that doesn’t make as much sense. so i think i’m back to looking for some kind of commonality.

well, we are now closing in on the noon deadline and i’ve still made less progress on this meta than any i can remember. time for a wild guess, i suppose. with six themers, i’d tempted to pick one of the six-letter possibilities. given the letters in the theme answers, THREES looks like a better bet than CHANCE, so i guess i’ll go with that. but oof, what an ass-kicking. somebody please let me know in the comments what the hell was going on here, because i have absolutely nothing.

late edit: well, we’ve had some server issues. seem to be resolved now (fingers crossed).

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54 Responses to MGWCC #273

  1. Matt says:

    117 right answers this week.

    Each of the six theme entries has a three-letter word that is also a three-letter initialism:

    SAT — Scholastic Aptitude Test
    WHO — World Health Organization
    RIP — Rest in Peace
    ERA — Earned Run Average
    DOE — Department of Energy
    UPS — United Parcel Service

    There are six of those words in the grid: TEST, HEALTH, REST, EARNED, ENERGY and SERVICE. Their first letters spell out the meta answer, THREES.

    • AmyBeth says:

      Hey! I work at the Educational Testing Service, and “SAT” hasn’t stood for “Scholastic Aptitude Test” in decades! :-)

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I haven’t taken it since 1989…there were only Math and Verbal sections then

        • AmyBeth says:

          It became the Scholastic Achievement Test sometime in the 90’s, but now it’s not an acronymn anymore. But I’m just bitter – I submitted “three of a kind”. :-) (But on the upside, I got the Yatzhee app for my iPad, so thanks for reminding me of the fun!)

  2. Mark N says:

    Each of six theme entries contains a 3-letter word that resembles a common three-letter abbreviation or TLA (which appears at 14-down). Then, one word from each TLA’s unabbreviated form appears in the grid.

    17-across: SAT well with >> Scholastic Assessment (or Aptitude) TEST, 39-down
    26-across: WHO cares >> World HEALTH Organization, 47-down
    33-across: give a RIP >> REST In Peace, 22-across
    43-across: Tudor ERA >> EARNED Run Average, 11-down
    49-across: DOE, a deer >> Department Of ENERGY, 1-across
    60-across: UPS and downs >> United Parcel SERVICE, 37-across

    Take the initial of each of the latter set of words to spell the meta’s answer, THREES.

    Cool crossword coincidence?: Not only is there a prevalence of 3-letter words in the fill, there are exactly 33 3-letter words.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    I was light years away, and yet I felt sure I was on the right track. From the title, I was thinking Scrabble from the first. “Ups and downs” told me the Down entries would be the themers. I took all the three letter abbreviations going down the middle (Matt even had TLA as one of them,) converted them into Scrabble point values, grouped them in sets of five like Yahtzee dice, and each group had three ones. But I knew that I was missing something, since the top group could also be a full house, and the bottom group had four ones ( though in Yahtzee, I think you’re allowed to ignore these extras if what you need is three of something.) No complaints – the real solution is, of course, outstanding.

    • DannyBoy says:

      Paul, I shared your reasoning about points on Scrabble tiles, but wound up going with Full House as the best choice. Seemed like something Matt would do – maybe he’ll have one for us in future.

  4. Wayne says:

    An ass-kicking, indeed. I don’t think I would have gotten there even if the theme answers had been starred. I couldn’t take me eyes off of the words that paired with either “full” or “house” to form a phrase (SERVICE, UP; SAT, PLANTS). Obviously, it didn’t lead anywhere. And I assume Matt put them there deliberately. (“…words intended to deceive” and all that.)

    Oh well. Back to zero. Speaking of which, congratulations to the people [allegedly] who broke the half-century mark on the streak leader board this week.

  5. Katie M. says:

    I figured it had to do with TLA’s. With all of those three letter words, including the ones in the theme entries, and all (39?) of them are TLA’s (according to Wikipedia and Google), I chose Full House (SRO).

  6. Jeff Chen says:

    Genius meta, Matt!

  7. Evad says:

    Sorry the site was down for a bit; another testament to the popularity of Matt’s metas and the traffic of the curious, baffled and/or flummoxed to this site.

    I was about to submit 3 of a kind after quickly seeing the TLA’s in each of the theme entries, but held off to see if there might be more to it. Finally I noticed that TEST was in the grid and the T of SAT stood for that. Then the REST fell…quite an amazing feat of construction to have that many theme entries and not have it be that obvious what was going on.

    • BrainBoggler says:

      I finally made the same TLA observation earlier yesterday but had also wasted some time exploring the possibility that they spelled out a question of the form WHO SAT…? or WHO DOES…? Luckily, TEST and HEALTH finally caught my eye, giving me the ENERGY to do SERVICE to the REST of Matt’s construction. Great job, Matt…you EARNED my respect!

  8. jimmy d says:

    this meta made me SOB

  9. Erin M says:

    I found the TLAs in the theme entries pretty quickly, but couldn’t find anywhere to go with them. Then I started looking at the multiple TLA answers throughout the grid, trying to see where they crossed theme entries, lining them up to see if the lists of TLAs spelled anything, etc. Complete wild goose chase. I wound up submitting THREES because of all the three-letter abbreviations, but I didn’t connect the theme TLAs to their components elsewhere in the grid until I was walked through it. This was a beautiful meta.

    • Joe says:

      That was *precisely* my experience in solving! I knew I was missing something and now that I see it, of course it’s brilliant. Glad I got my correct answer in, even if I was damn lucky.

  10. jefe says:

    The clue for 60D is inaccurate. It should refer to gold medals only, not simply “medals”.

    I guessed Full House, thinking (very strainedly) that the grid numbers in each themer referred to two scoring rolls, and we were looking for the one that wasn’t represented. Also sidetracked by the multitude of entries that were “not a word”, such a multi-word entries, abbrevs., proper nouns, foreign words, etc.

    The actual solution is pretty clever though; another “I can’t believe I didn’t see that!” meta.

  11. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    This was Week 3 of August? Played like a Week 5 for me; i.e., I got nothing. I was looking at some three letter “not words”, but mostly in the downs: EMS, PVT, BMX, USC, STS, etc., which led nowhere.

    • Bob Kerfuffle says:

      And to boot, I have never played Yahtzee and had to look up the rules, which at first seemed confusing to me!

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, I’ve never played Yahtzee either, and what little time I had to devote to the meta this weekend was largely spent trying to understand what “upper boxes” and “lower boxes” and so forth are.

  12. Jonesy says:

    agreed with all the above, but was slightly less elegant due to “in aid of” and RIP… but needless to say, can’t imagine that messing anyone up… (especially as the other words are all full answers themselves)

  13. Mutman says:

    I certainly got my ‘A’ (in CYA) kicked here, but managed to make a guess of THREES anyway. When looking at the theme answers, I was thinking of the ‘one letter from each answer’ tactic. CHANCE was the only other six letter option. But I did see that you could pull one letter from each to make THREES but not CHANCE, so I went with that. Lucky , sure, but I’ll take it.

    Nice work Matt!

  14. Dave C says:

    A somewhat incomplete victory for me, as I submitted THREES at the last minute, but mostly due to all of the 3 letter words in the theme answers, all of the 3 letter acronyms in general, and references to things like trigrams. I had never heard of TLA at 14D, and it’s for that reason that I solved the meta. I was so sure there was something wrong with it that it caused me to scrutinize all 3 letter entries over and over again.

    Question – isn’t Ficticious spelled incorrectly in 21D? Since it correlated to the meta title, I spent some time trying to figure out an angle there.

  15. Anne E says:

    I was thrown off by both the misspelling of “fictitious” and the use of “Ecuadoran” instead of Ecuadorian – Matt never does something like that even once in a puzzle, so to have two things like that in there, along with the title, made me sure that was where the meta was going. Did notice all the 3s right away and was trying to spell things out with them, which didn’t work. Finally deciding I was overthinking it and sent in the correct answer – without, however, noticing the elegant use of the words that were part of the acronyms. Wow! Wish I had!

    • Matt says:

      Sorry about “ficticious” — I typed in “fictitious” and it looked ridiculous so I switched it…

      What’s wrong with “Ecuadoran” tho?

      • Anne E says:

        I think “Ecuadorian” is preferred, though I didn’t trouble to Google it at the time. If “fictitious” hadn’t been misspelled, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          “Ecuadorian” Googles best of the three, but they’re all sanctioned in M-W

          • Lk says:

            Unfortunately, I was also a THREES submitter who didn’t see the meta all the way through. I wonder how many of the 117 were like me and didn’t quite deserve it… :-/

            Sorry to nitpick here, but to add onto the corrections, I think it should also have been “16 compass points” instead of 8?

          • Jonesy says:


            I think either 8 or 16 would work but because it’s specifically in a crossword. 8 is fine, as the answer must be at least 3 letters and only 8 compass points fit that criterion. That being said, seems hard to argue against using 16 as well… just personal preference

  16. The abundance of sub-par fill and TLAs in an 80-word grid (with regions in the upper-left and bottom-right connected to the rest of the grid by a single square) ticked me off right away that there was more going on than just the theme answers.

    I also noticed the misspelled “ficticious” and “Ecuadoran”, which along with the title caused me to spin my wheels a bit and scrutinize the spelling of every clue word. But I figured that two typos were more likely than those being relevant, especially given the grid smells mentioned above. It also surprised me to see that SERVICE wasn’t clued with tennis, which kind of had me thinking that the answer might be ACES if Matt was intentionally trying to avoid indicating tennis.

    Took me about a day to actually identify the theme answers and then realize that they all had a TLA in them, and then another few hours to realize that those TLAs also had one of their words in the grid. Beautiful meta, but not the greatest grid.

  17. Giovanni P. says:

    Well, based on the title, and on the entry BCDE, I thought we were looking for something that couldn’t conceivably be called a word. I went with “small straight” due to the resemblence of BCDE to the Yahtzee hand and snapped my streak by not taking some time to think about it.

    • - kip - says:

      I entered small straight too. Saw 59 across SML and read straight across to UPS AND DOWNS. Since SML isn’t a word, I figured maybe that was enough for an easy week 3. Feel like a dunce now after reading how clever the actual meta was. Nicely done, Matt! I don’t think I would have gotten this one in a million years. But all the more reason to keep on trying!!

    • gifo says:

      I stared a while at BCDE. Pretty sure it was a “not a word” meant to deceive :-)

  18. VU-Prof says:

    Boy, was I on the wrong track. I noticed TLA, surmised that TLAs weren’t “words,” then found some other TLAs in the short answers — indeed, I found a total of five of them (there were more, but I only found the most obvious, like CYA and TLA itself). Five threes — Yahtzee! Never even looked at the longish answers.

  19. Sean Molley says:

    I missed the TLA angle completely, fixating on TWOS because of the four diagonally connected O-O characters which look (to me) like pips on dice. There are four of those, and five would have been a YAHTZEE, but four TWOS is a nice thing to have in the upper section of the scoring sheet. I further convinced myself that DUO and BTWO were there to reinforce the answer (and possibly rule out FOUR OF A KIND, the other thing you could score with a roll of four twos).

    I didn’t feel great about it because of the presence of other Os in the grid, which I suspected would not have been there if creating visual dice was really Matt’s intent, since a single O also looks like a pip, but I didn’t have anything else, so that’s what I went with.

    Of course, the real answer (and the method of getting to it) is much better. :)

    • CY Hollander says:

      I had the same thought about dice for a while. Rejected it partly for the reasons you give and also because if the two O’s represented pips on a die, I’d expect there to be a space between them (diagonally).

  20. Crossword Beast says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Matt didn’t just choose =any= letter from each thematic TLA, he chose the specific letter that the TLA’s theme entry indicates!

    I.e., the number of =words= =after= each TLA in each theme entry is also
    the number of =letters= =before= each letter chosen from the TLA for expansion!

    RIP and ERA end their theme entries; their first letter was expanded.
    WHO is followed by a single word; its second letter was expanded.
    SAT, DOE, and UPS are followed by two words; their third letter was expanded.

    Had I been the constructor of this gem, I don’t think I would ever have thought to attempt this. I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not put the six TLA/theme entry pairs into a table. Talk about going the extra mile!!!

    Three cheers don’t begin to be enough! Magnificent!

  21. Mutman says:

    Speaking of ERA, does anyone under 40 know what the Equal Rights Amendment is?

    Didn’t think so …. and that’s not really a bad thing.

  22. Crossword Beast says:

    Early on in my solving process, I was looking at anagrams. Since I’ve missed two metas in the past forty-nine, both because for some reason I didn’t look at anagrams, which I “always” do, I’ve been sure since then to anagram things when I’m stumped.

    Doing so, I found that DENISON at 48A anagrams to DIONNES, the famous identical quintuplet sisters. That could qualify as a Yahtzee!

    Nothing else anagrammed though, making this irrelevant to the meta. But I thought it might amuse you all, hence this note.

    Oh, once I got the meta, I found it amusing that, counting TLA, the number of theme entries is also the number of Yahtzee scoring rolls.

    It doesn’t take much to amuse me.

  23. Jeff Louie says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has pointed this out, but 84 of the 181 open squares in this grid are thematic, or 46%. That seems ridiculous to me. Isn’t this unusually, jaw-droppingly high? I have no idea how Matt keeps pulling stuff like this off every week.

  24. Crossword Beast says:

    Make that 86, Jeff. TLA, the key to all the rest, is therefore thematic as well.

    That thematic density more than explains the unusual grid layout, with at least ten more threes than Will Shortz would normally accept in a 15×15.

    Matt, I do wonder if you, in weighing your various grid design choices, deliberately leaned towards more rather than fewer threes, thereby creating more “words (and nonwords) intended to deceive.” All those threes deceived me for the longest time, but on the other hand, had I not come up with the clearly correct answer, I was going to submit THREES because of their preponderance, as I see some, including Joon, did. And because this is a week THREE.

    So one could say that the presence of all those threes made this meta not only harder, but also easier, to “solve.”

    Adam wrote “but not the greatest grid” above. I disagree.

    • joon says:

      just to clarify: i went for THREES over CHANCE not because there were lots of 3-letter answers in the grid, but because the six answers i had identified as themers contained (in order) T, H, R, E, E, and S. that left the very real possibility that by some extraction i was not seeing, we could arrive at THREES.

      i agree with you about the grid, though. it’s fantastic given the thematic load.

      • Crossword Beast says:

        Oh my, yet another senior moment. I should know better than to rely on my faulty memory. Sorry about that!

    • Given the constraints of the meta, the grid is pretty good all things considered (way better than I could ever hope to make). But judged on just itself, the grid does not stand on its own — as you said, at least ten more threes than Will Shortz would accept for an NYT weekday puzzle.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        “at least ten more threes than Will Shortz would accept for an NYT weekday puzzle.”


        • Crossword Beast says:

          To Adam: I said “… would normally accept.”

          But I see that even that is not accurate, as, just this year, by my quick count, not using, Will has published 22 (of 195) 15×15 dailies with more than 23 threes. The top five: 30, 31, 31, 34, … and a whopping 44 in Joe Krozel’s May 24th eye-popper.

          Back in prep school days, the professors of 12th-grade American History gave essay tests only, each requiring the use of argument-supporting facts. If even one “fact” was in error, the grade for the entire test was a big fat zero. I guess I’ve earned a couple of those today. :-(

          At least I was correct about 86 versus 84 theme squares. That’s 47.5% of 181.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Bob. I didn’t intentionally put a lot of threes into the grid; given the many constraints it was inevitable.

  25. Jeff G. says:

    OMG ! (Outstanding Meta Gaffney) :-) I turned the puzzle every which way and the only thing I saw was WHO upside down is OHM. Brilliant meta as always.

  26. ICDogg says:

    I wasn’t even close

  27. Karen says:

    To me DOE means Dyspnea on Exertion (and the similar SOB means Short of Breath). However, as I was nowhere near figuring this one out, not that vital. I enjoyed solving the puzzle, though.

  28. sandirhodes says:

    Well, shoot! I got up early this morning because I knew if I were going to solve this, it would have to be before I left for work, as there would be no time later. I’d been wondering about several paths towards the meta, and lo and behold, this morning it all fell together! I typed up a brilliant comment and left for work, confident that I actually had a shot at a monthly sweep for the first time in years. I just now got home, and grabbed the laptop to check out joon’s write-up.

    And then I saw that I had failed to send in the answer. It was still sitting in my browser on Matt’s page. Geez!

    Sigh. Not a Chance. I didn’t even try to send it anyway — didn’t wanna break anything. Just came here to cry.


  29. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I suppose I had the advantage of having taken the SAT 3 months ago. That, in combination with RIP, set off the trend. Saying them out loud while pacing, I realized that a few of them were familiar. “Health,” “rest,” and “energy” all rang bells, so I asked my mom to write them down (we do these together; it’s good bonding). I came back to glance at the grid to find the rest, and then went back to pacing, wondering what they could mean. That’s when she informed me how simple it was. But now I’m seeing how deceptively difficult such “simple” puzzles can be.

    My first thought on ERA was “estimated time of arrival” (I had gotten ~4 hours of sleep), and then “Equal Rights Amendment.” Neither of us is into baseball, but my mom hinted that it might be a baseball term, which I had fortunately heard of. I suppose that’s why the pretty “Diamond Girl” meta flew well over my head.

  30. Dave says:

    I didn’t notice Test, Health, etc., so I went with threes just based on TLAs in the theme clues and elsewhere in the puzzle. Another interesting and probably unintended feature of the puzzle: I count 9 nontheme TLAs that are clued as TLAs (i.e., not including words like EMS that can also be TLAs). 9 is the “par” score for Threes in order to get the top-half bonus (you either need three each of ones through sixes, or some other combination that gives 63 points.) And if you add the six TLAs from the theme clues, you get 15, which is the maximum score you can get on Threes in Yahtzee.

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