MGWCC #280

crossword 3:20
meta 5 minutes 

hello and welcome to episode #280 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Separation Anxiety”. this week’s instructions ask us for a necessary but somewhat irritating group of people. what are the theme answers? well, there’s only one long answer in the grid: {English class no-no, for some reason} clues SPLIT INFINITIVE across the center. in addition, seven clues have some parenthetical numbers:

  • {Axe cousin (“sell,” 4, 3)} is a TOMAHAWK.
  • {Doing a best man’s job (“puncture,” 6)} is TOASTING.
  • {Dresses nicely (“dine,” 1)} is TOGS UP.
  • {How balm is applied to the skin (“partner,” 8, 11, 12)} is TOPICALLY.
  • {Source of stress (“guide,” 2)} is a TORMENTOR.
  • {9th-largest city on the Great Lakes (“perform,” 10, 13)} is TOLEDO.
  • {Two days after yesterday (“propel,” 5, 9, 7)} is TOMORROW.

the first thing i noticed is that the parenthetically quoted clues refer to the endings of each of the corresponding grid entries: HAWK, STING, SUP, ALLY, MENTOR, DO, and ROW. okay.

the second thing i noticed (and really, this ought to have been the first thing, but hey) is that all seven answers begin with TO. aha! onto the third thing, which is that all of the hidden endings are clued as verbs, even HAWK which is more naturally a noun. (ALLY and MENTOR are also more naturally nouns, but the clues for those work as either nouns or verbs.)

with a nudge from the SPLIT INFINITIVES central answer, i saw that we were looking at words that could be broken down as TO + [something] + [verb]. now, the [something]s weren’t adverbs, so these aren’t really split infinitives, but in each case, the number of letters in the [something] corresponded to how many parenthetical numbers were given in the clue. matching those letters up and ordering them 1 to 13 gives GRAMMAR POLICE, which is the answer to the meta. i’m more familiar with a variation of that term, but far be it for me to run afoul of godwin’s law here on this blog.

this is a really creative theme, and it was a fun solve. pretty much the only thing that i didn’t love about it was the fact that the extraction mechanism (associate numbers 1 through N with letters and then order them) was used quite recently. in fact, it was only three weeks ago in the “Playces, Everyone” NFL puzzle of week 277. seeing it again so soon was slightly jarring, so although the idea was terrific, i’d have been happier to solve this puzzle a couple of months down the line.

i don’t have time for a full fill roundup, but i’d like to commend AZARENKA and ALL-PROS as some excellent fill in this puzzle. i didn’t know the {Mythological king of Crete (NOTARIES anagram)} ASTERION, and i fancy myself something of a mythology buff, so that surprised me. but the extra hint in the clue helped, as i often forget whether {___ lily (Utah’s state flower)} is SEGO (yes) or SaGO (no).

your thoughts?

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17 Responses to MGWCC #280

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    456 right answers this week, which is more than Week 1. And this Friday’s isn’t that tough, either! Guess Week 4 will have to be hellish.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    The difference between this puzzle and “Playces . . . “? This one I could solve!

    (P.S. to Matt: I was away awhile, and in trying to catch up on my return, I found that your daily crossword started posting on Saturday and Sunday as of 9/21. Where was the big announcement posted?)

  3. Wayne says:

    Some Puzzle! Terrific! Radiant! Humble!

  4. Karen says:

    I had the women’s tennis player as Aderenka, the Nixon chum as Rebodo, and the Nobel winner as Ramen. Glad that corner wasn’t necessary for solving the theme.
    The puncture/sting dyad was the weakest of the lot, imo.

  5. Jeff G. says:

    I thought the idea was clever and the meta was well executed. The answer made me chuckle. Definitely needed but somewhat irritating group! Thanks Matt.

  6. bananarchy says:

    Joon, I’m also surprised ASTERION was new to you. ASTERION was the name of the minotaur slain by Theseus in the labyrinth, I believe. I’m not much of a mythology buff but I am a Borges fan, and his “The House of Asterion” is a personal favourite.

  7. Bunella says:

    Bob Kerfuffle

    you said exactly what I was going to say. I’m just learning to do metas and I got last week and this week but I didn’t get the Playces last month.

    Hoping to get better and be able to do harder ones.

  8. Abby says:

    My thought process was exactly the same as dictated in the writeup. I noticed the endings before the TOs which I mostly caught on the 38D clue. Weird.

  9. pgw says:

    I’m not sure what’s necessary about grammar police. I was hoping the answer would be “congress.”

  10. Archie says:

    I believe that, properly, the phrase “but somewhat irritating” in the instruction should be set off by commas.

  11. Mean Old Elaine says:

    If the TO and the [verb] are separated, it IS a Split Infinitive. It is not necessarily split by an adverb, though most people think of the example “To boldly go”. Matt’s splits are of course artificial.

    I had no time to spend on anything but the solve (nice puzzle) but some weeks are like that.

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