MGWCC #290


joon is probably tied up with Christmas celebrations with his family, so here’s a brief commentary of Matt’s weekly crossword contest and I’m hopeful joon will add more when he’s done putting bikes or baby carriages together. (Particularly about his affinity (or not) for the men of MAN U.)

So the title of this one was “December 21st, xx13” and the grid was a surprisingly small 10×10. Two 10-letter answers spanned the grid and I was led to assume these two entries and the title were all the help I was going to get to the meta.


Matt Gaffney, December 21st, 2013

Those entries were:

  • [100-year anniversary, like today is for the crossword puzzle] or CENTENNIAL
  • And probably the most helpful (from a meta-grokking perspective): [Living without modern technology — or where most of the letters in this puzzle have to go to reveal our meta answer] or OFF THE GRID

I’ve solved a few “off the grid” puzzles and what they have in common is that letters are placed outside of the grid to complete entries. (I think there was a Fireball with the revealer “MAN OVERBOARD” with “MAN” being these common letters placed outside a grid to complete entries within.) Here, though, I didn’t see any clues that implied the entries were incomplete, although I did notice entries like HIC, PAW, ARI, REES, etc. could become CHIC, PAWN, SARI, FREES (or TREES), with the addition of a letter outside the grid. I also noticed some very strange entries like the partial PAID A, KEARN and the German surname VOGEL, which implied some pretty serious constraints on the fill, such as diagonal entries.

These didn’t seem to be a fruitful avenues to solve the meta, since I was confident that 72 of the 82 letters in this grid had to be removed (put “off the grid”) to reveal our 10-letter Brit’s name.

I went back to the title and thought more about the timing of this puzzle being exactly 100 years to the day of the original Arthur Wynne puzzle of 1913. The “xx” of the puzzle title also implied the connection between the 1913 puzzle and this one of 2013. So I went searching for the solution of that original puzzle and found this on the ACPT site:


Arthur Wynne, December 21st, 1913

My first thought was to in some way overlay this grid over Matt’s (or vice versa) and perhaps see 10 letters “off the grid” or not covered. But the overlaying process did not work well, especially thinking, as I originally did, that NARD was the common entry between the two and would overlay each other.

Finally, I decided to count the letters of the Wynne grid, came up with the magic 72 and it wasn’t long after that I followed the path of removing these 72 letters from Matt’s grid, leaving these 10:


Anagram that, and you get KING ARTHUR, which was the correct solution to this week’s meta. Not only was Arthur Wynne British-born, but one could even call him the “King” of crosswords for his original invention.

Very tough week 3 in my estimation, and appropriately, just over 100 correctly solved it this week.

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28 Responses to MGWCC #290

  1. I figured out how the meta worked pretty quickly, but I then had a surprisingly hard time anagramming the letters AGHIKNRRTU. ARTHUR isn’t in the Internet Anagram Server’s word list, and the quick and dirty program I wrote to search other word lists had a stupid bug in it. I finally found and fixed the bug and the answer popped right up as it should have.

  2. Puff Daddy says:

    This puzzle has to be in the running for puzzle of the year. The idea of taking the 72 letters from the first and then adding King Arthur is genius. Hats off, five big stars.

  3. John L. Wilson says:

    Thanks, Evad. Simply incredible. I had dug out the original word-cross and tried fiddling with the contents of the 34 numbered squares (matching Matt’s grid), but never thought to extend that idea to ALL the squares.

  4. Jeff G. says:

    Thanks Evad, and Merry Christmas to all! I knew the xx13 referred to the original Arthur Wynne puzzle, but I kept looking at the words, and never considered the individual letters. Excellent puzzle and well done as always!

  5. Abide says:

    Didnt get there but agree that this was a great tribute and puzzle. I did go down several avenues of trying to figure out how to delete 72 of the letters, counting off and deleting every 13th letter(xx13), every 19th letter, 20th letter(since the xx could stand for either).

  6. Ephraim says:

    Solved this with an office-mate Tuesday morning. (Slow day at the office.) Knowing we had to cross out letters was the easy part, but which ones? That step came clear as soon as we looked at Crossword #1 and saw the letter count was 10 less than this one’s. I picked out KING immediately from the surviving letters, making ARTHUR easy to find.

    As I commented with my submission to Matt, constructing this had to be hellish. A fixed set of letters, a fixed size, and the need for both topical and hinting content.

  7. icdogg says:

    So close and yet so far. What an amazing feat, to construct the puzzle this way.

  8. Norm says:

    Dang. I was fooled by the XX in the title and tried removing the letters from twenty (2013) and nineteen (1913) — which got me nowhere. Never thought of the original puzzle as the guideline for what to remove. That’s why I remain a week 1-2 solver (at best).

    • Justin Rinehold says:

      Likewise, it never occurred to me that the original puzzle might exist and be accessible. D’oh!

      And let me echo everyone else’s kudos for filling a puzzle with 82 preselected letters. I realized you must have been working under some constraints when I saw you crossed eKe and Kearn instead of the simpler eYe and Yearn.

  9. Andy B says:

    Hoo boy. I got 95% of the way there, staring at the original crossword grid for a long time, but didn’t quite get to 82-72=10. But I did find an unbelievable red herring which I convinced myself had almost no chance of being a coincidence.

    11A – CENTENNIAL is also a city in Colorado (it’s a decently sized suburb of Denver)
    28A – OFF THE GRID hinted (to me) at an electrical grid

    Put both of these together, and you’ve got references to both of the last 2 weeks’ metas. So I called up both of those puzzles, and here’s where it gets crazy.

    I understand that there’s relatively little variation in a typical crossword grid. There *can* be quite a lot, but usually there are roughly 9 blocks of letters, leading to a particular “default” overall grid structure. But if you look at the grids for Matt’s last two puzzles, they are allllmost identical. In fact, they differ by exactly…10 squares!

    So I figured I was going “off the grid” by getting the meta answer from the last 2 weeks’ grids instead, but those letters were HSAHGSSFES which didn’t anagram to anything I could tell (too many S’s and not enough vowels). After beating my head against a wall for a few days, I finally had to admit defeat.

  10. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    How wrong can you get? Try this, from an expert on getting these things wrong:

    I despaired of even getting a toehold on this, but I noticed that Matt’s precise words were, “This week’s contest answer is a famous Brit with 10 letters in his name.” Not, “. . . whose name is 10 letters long.”

    So I turned it over in my mind, and came up with FATHER CHRISTMAS, who is quite British and only uses ten different letters to spell his name.

    No, I did not bother to submit, as there was absolutely nothing to hint at this answer.

  11. Jeff L. says:

    No one seems to have pointed out two other meta clues yet: 19- and 20- down. In combination with the puzzle title, REFER to the 1913 puzzle and INFER the answer using the (current) 2013 puzzle.

    • bwouns says:

      This was actually my key to solving. Before I noticed the 19-20/Refer-Infer connection, I had a vague idea that I might have to refer to the 1913 puzzle, but not enough motivation to search out the solution grid etc. It seemed like too much extra work for a typical Gaffney puzzle. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that all I had to do was count the squares in each puzzle to see if I was on the right track.

  12. Evan says:

    Just going to throw in my “wow” comment late on Christmas Day. Any puzzle that makes every single square relevant to the meta is nothing short of amazing. It has to be extremely difficult to pull off even in a 10×10 puzzle. Obviously some of the fill suffered because of that, especially in the southeast corner (DNR, KEARN, ADV, PAID A, REES, VOGEL* — though I figured NARD was a playful wink to the original puzzle more than anything). Even so, it’s still a really ambitious and elegant construction.

    I was glad I caught on to the trick more-or-less right away when I counted the number of letters in both puzzles and confirmed that each one had exactly three V’s. It’s possible I never would have gotten this, however, if I hadn’t seen that Rex Parker posted a copy of the original grid on December 21.

    * I should add that Frank VOGEL is the current coach of the Indiana Pacers, so perhaps if they win a title under him he’ll become more common crossword fare.

  13. Zezito says:

    This was a great puzzle. One of the best ever. It just amazes me that Matt could take a set of 88 pre-chosen letters and make them work in a crossword grid. How difficult must that have been.

    I’m just sad that when I finally figured this all out at 11:10 am this morning, the submission form had been prematurely removed from Matt’s site. So close, yet so far. At least I can claim the moral victory, even if my stats don’t show it!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I’ll mention this on the site on Friday, but if anyone was zapped by the submission form glitch then please e-mail me so we can look at getting you on the scoreboard.

  14. Mutman says:

    Geez! It is Christmas night, I have a bromance going with Matt and his crossword metas, but I am just not feeling the love on this one.

    I get what has been said, and I usually have to do some research on late-month metas, which I enjoy. But this seems a bit stretched to me.

    Maybe I ate too much this Christmas and am bloated. Maybe my mind is too caught up in the Holidays. But needing a 100-year old grid to solve the week 3 meta just went beyond me.

    Bring on 2014!

  15. Quicksilver says:

    As others have already said, Matt has crafted an(other) excellent and wonderful puzzle. Over the four days of looking at it, I felt wonder — initially, the curious and questioning kind on seeing the unusually small grid — that lasted until an hour before the deadline, upon finally seeing through and unlocking the puzzle, when it became the amazed and awed kind of wonder. I can’t imagine a greater tribute on the centenary of the crossword.

    Even after five years of following MGWCC, Matt can still very much surprise and delight me with his meta-cruciverbal art. I’m very much looking forward to see what other crossword magic Matt has up his sleeve in the next year or five or ten.

    By the way, though I submitted “KING ARTHUR” (by email because of the form glitch), I also found an alternate answer. ;-)

  16. Jim S says:

    I’m not a constructor, so I’d love some insight from Matt about how he pulled this one off. Was King Arthur his first choice and he made it work? Did he perhaps head into it with a different length name (8 or 12) but couldn’t get it to work so he eventually “landed on” King Arthur? Or perhaps he had a different 10 letter name in mind (J.R.R.Tolkien, anyone)? It seems like this was a Herculean feat, so I’d love to see if he’s just “that good” and could have made anything work, or if he really had some fits and starts to make it happen…

    Regardless, great puzzle and meta (which I didn’t get – King Arthur crossed my mind as a guess, but I eventually landed on a pure guess of JRRTolkien)

    • pannonica says:

      I’m guessing King Arthur was an early decision. As others have mentioned, it has a conspicuous nominal relation to Arthur Wynne.

    • Quicksilver says:

      Hi. I imagine the sequence to be this. Since the puzzle commemorates the very first crossword, Matt first came up with the method/gimmick of concealing an answer in a 10×10 grid along with the letters from Wynne’s original. He then decided on an apt answer, such as KING ARTHUR. (KING ARTHUR works as a clever honorific for Arthur Wynne. I’m missing how J.R.R. TOLKIEN would fit the occasion. ) He then built a grid out of this set of letters, one that must include entries that serve the theme and meta. Thinking up a suitable description for the meta answer — in this case, “famous Brit with 10 letters in his name” — would be a later if not last step.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Spot on. The only thing I’d add is that this is one of the very few metas I’ve constructed where the easiest method was to use a Scrabble board and tiles. No graph paper or electronic system was nearly as useful (although I’m sure someone could’ve filled the grid electronically with a good database, and if anyone tries it, please send me the results) because keeping track of which letters I’d used was a pain. And yes I needed to add some handmade paper tiles for R, E and V and A I think it was.

  17. Bunella says:

    I, too, looked at the original 1913 solution and couldn’t put it together.

    I only found one Brit with a 10 letter name and that was Paul Revere and
    coincidentally he was born on December 21 but in the wrong year. oh well.

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