MGWCC #299

crossword 3:25
meta about 2 minutes 

mgwcc299hello and welcome to week #299 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Side Effects”. this week, the instructions tell us that This puzzle looks like it only has five theme entries, but there’s a sixth one lurking somewhere that completes a pattern. Which one is it? well, let’s take a look at the five overt themers:

  • {Pool rack item (regular)} is a STRIPED BALL. in fact, there are seven of them.
  • {U.S. paper money figure (irregular)} is THOMAS JEFFERSON, in this case on the $2.
  • {Home plate shout (irregular)} is “STRIKE THREE!”.
  • {Utah is where this musical begins (irregular)} is THE BOOK OF MORMON. strangely stilted phrasing, no? {Musical that begins in Utah} would seem to be much more natural.
  • {50-pence coin face (regular)} is ELIZABETH II.

for whatever reason, i picked up on the theme immediately (without even noticing the title). the theme clues (not the answers) begin with objects that are shaped like polygons with an increasing number of sides. certainly the parenthetical regular/irregular was a hint:

  • a pool rack is a regular (i.e. equilateral) triangle
  • U.S. paper money is in the shape of an irregular quadrilateral (in this case, a rectangle)
  • home plate is an irregular pentagon
  • utah is an irregular (non-convex, in fact) hexagon
  • the 50-pence coin is a regular heptagon

so to complete the pattern, we’re looking for a clue that begins with something octagonal. the canonical octagon, of course, is a stop sign, and indeed the clue for 19a is {Stop sign color}. so that entry, RED, is the answer to the meta.

when i solved this on monday night, there were a relatively small number of correct submissions already, so i was a little worried. but then it turned out to be quite straightforward for me. i think perhaps the reason was that the clues, rather than the answers, had the pattern to be continued. some people really don’t like it when matt does that (and it’s only every once in a long while, like less than once a year). personally, i’m fine with it, at least in moderation. what do you think?

fill bits:

  • {“Night Nurse” singer Gregory ___} ISAACS. never heard of him, but i’m glad to see this clued as the name of a particular person instead of multiple people named ISAAC. if it were me, i’d have gone with jason ISAACS, who plays lucius malfoy in the harry potter movies.
  • {Osu Castle’s city} is ACCRA, ghana, the westernmost metropolis in continental africa. i don’t believe i could have named anything located in ACCRA, but i wonder if OSU is going to start stealing clues from (the) ohio state university… or oklahoma state or oregon state, for that matter.
  • {White or Burgundy} clues RON. that is devious—i was certainly thinking about colors and wines. who’s RON white? apparently some kind of stand-up comic.
  • {He played Robin in 1938} ERROL. not batman’s sidekick, who would not exist for a few decades yet. we’re talking robin of locksley, a.k.a. robin hood. and of course this is ERROL flynn.
  • {Between families and species} GENERA. i don’t care for this cluing style, which uses a prepositional phrase to clue a plural noun. but i’ve seen it before, especially in older puzzles.
  • {Port across the Black Sea from Sochi} ODESSA. hey, gotta work those sochi references in while you can.
  • {“Lisa Has ___” (“Green Acres” episode)} A CALF. a curious partial. i wonder what this title means? is lisa a human or a cow?
  • {Driving force} EGO. not sure i understand this clue. what exactly does the EGO drive?

that’s all for me. it’s been a fairly easy month so far—week 4 should be a doozy!

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43 Responses to MGWCC #299

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 186 right answers this week.

  2. Noam D. Elkies says:

    19A:RED’s placement relative to the sequence of long theme answers suggests it should be 2- rather than 8-sided, but I’m willing to let bigons be bigons. (I guessed what was up once I saw the 50p clue though I had to check Utah’s shape. Pity the 50p clue wasn’t phrased for 15-letter BENJAMIN_BRITTEN.)


  3. sps says:

    Lisa was the name of Eva Gabor’s character on “Green Acres”.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    Ugh. I was going berserk trying to figure out what “regular” and “irregular” referred to, but didn’t think of geometry–I was fixed on verbs, and trying to find reference to verbs in both the clues and the answers.

    After getting nowhere with that, I thought it had to be significant that the puzzle referred to the rarely remembered two-dollar bill, and that therefore the number two would factor into the answer somehow. Then I noticed that ELIZABETH II has a two in it also, so there’s a pair of twos. One STRIPED BALL is the fifteen ball (in fact, it’s the last one), and there are fifteen books in THE BOOK OF MORMON, so there’s a pair of 15s. So I needed a pair for STRIKE THREE, and I decided it was ODESSA, the third-largest city in Ukraine.

    So I guessed ODESSA, even though I was fully aware that I had not explained regular/irregular and was therefore surely off base. Oh, the things one can contort into making sense when one isn’t seeing a meta!

    • Evan says:

      I went down the same regular/irregular verb rabbit hole for a while, though it helped big-time when I started over and just typed “regular irregular” into Google, and one of the first things to show up in the drop-down search was polygons. That’s what broke it open for me.

      A tough but really satisfying meta in the end.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Regular/irregular had me stuck on verb forms, too. I eventually tried reg/irreg plural endings because of the numbers and also the heavy presence of the ordinal endings th and st. Failing there, I also googled regular and irregular, but unfortunately, all I got was a long list of sites dealing with verb forms. In retrospect, this was one I wish I’d gotten, as I always take a long look at the clues. For me, it seems very fair. Good job, Matt – 4.5 stars. I have a feeling that meeting the 48/52 mark will be exceptionally tough.

    • Neville says:

      This was also my first tack. Fortunately, I recently gave a lecture on regular and irregular polygons, and had even pointed out that Nevada is very nearly a trapezoid. Didn’t bring up Utah, though!

  5. Wayne says:

    A meta that’s gettable without looking at the grid does make for a less enjoyable solve (imho). But there was a lot to work through in this puzzle, so I didn’t mind it:

    – The misdirection of all those double letters in the theme answers.
    – Deciphering the “irregular”/”regular” hint.
    – All the other numbers hinted at by some the theme answers.
    – The many different things that “Side” could have referred to.

    I’d say the difficulty was right on for a week 3.

  6. Mutman says:

    My kind of meta! Love math/geometry puzzles. I didn’t grasp it all at first. Thought the sphere/circle was ‘regular’ as was the pence piece. Noticed Book of Mormon and 2 dollar bill were irregular quadrilaterals. Bells went off that Stop Sign was lurking. But further thinking in my car brought all clues home with shapes going from 3 to 7 sided and the ‘aha’ hit.

    Great job Matt!

  7. Garrett says:

    I don’t know if I would have ever gotten this meta. My focus was entirely on the grid, but even when I started looking at the clues more carefully, shapes just weren’t coming to me. It is very clever.

    I noticed all kinds of interesting things working on the meta. For one, double letters in all of the theme answers, and double-letter words either crossing them or being adjacent to them. I spent a lot of time trying to make something of that. I kept thinking it odd that ISAACS was all by itself.

    And then that there were TRs and THs in every one, with both in Strike Three.

    And about the STRIPEDBALL, to the immediate right of that is RED, and a red striped ball is the eleven ball. This made me look for number sequences. Jefferson’s bill is a $2, three is in 34A, and II in 58A, and The Book of Mormon has two acts.

    So, I 27A that I did not snap to the theme.

    • David Cole says:

      I did the exact same thing, starting with the 11 Ball, right down to the 2 acts of Book of Mormons. Paired up the $2 bill with Book of Mormons, the 11 of the pool ball with the II at the end of Elizabeth II. That left Strike 3, so I just went with TRICEP. Let’s just say it was not an aha moment….

  8. CY Hollander says:

    I got a little thrown off by “completes the pattern”, as a series going from 3-8 seems no more complete to me than a series going from 3-7: either is a more or less arbitrary cutoff point for a series that in principle goes on forever. I should have said “continues the pattern”.

  9. Dan Katz says:

    I was stuck on this for a long time, though once Joon said on Twitter that it was easy (them’s fightin’ words!), I went back to it and polished it off fairly quickly. Before that, I had gotten hung up on the fact that the paper money and coin had other things on the opposite sides, and also that every theme entry had exactly one double letter. (Awkward coincidence!)

    I almost always have trouble with metas that are exclusively in the clues (clues plus entries is fine) because it doesn’t feel natural for me to look there and completely ignore the entries in the grid. I’ve mentioned this to Matt before, probably on this website, but what I don’t like about this type of meta is that you don’t make any additional progress by solving the puzzle… everything you needed to solve the meta was given to you in the first place, if you ignore that pesky grid! Well, except for the answer RED, but (not to toot my own horn) I didn’t need too many crossing entries for that one.

    My initial encounters with the concept of a metapuzzle come from the MIT Mystery Hunt, so I’m biased in that direction; there the whole point of a metapuzzle is that at first you have no way to solve it, and so you put effort into solving feeder puzzles until you have just enough answers to crack it. If there was a puzzlehunt meta that didn’t use any answers from the puzzles in the round, I would be pretty disappointed by it; especially if I’d already spent time solving those puzzles.

    But this is a matter of personal taste. It’s Matt’s contest, so he gets to make the rules, and clue-based meta gimmicks are fair game in Gaffneyland, even if they don’t float my boat.

    • Dan Katz says:

      “If there was a puzzlehunt meta that didn’t use any answers from the puzzles in the round, I would be pretty disappointed by it; especially if I’d already spent time solving those puzzles.”

      I should clarify this before somebody in puzzlehuntdom nails me for being inconsistent; I’d be disappointed if a puzzle hunt meta used neither the puzzle answers nor additional information given to you in exchange for solving the puzzles. The answers don’t necessarily need to plug into the meta, but there should be some way in which solving each puzzle makes the meta more approachable.

      (Again, this is a puzzlehunt style detail, not a MGWCC style detail. Sorry to go off topic.)

    • CY Hollander says:

      Well, except for the answer RED

      Even that: I submitted “Stop sign”.

  10. ant says:

    The series STARTS at 3.
    Try drawing a 2-sided polygon!

  11. Shawn P says:

    Funny that comments above that incorrectly guessed the clue were thinking of pairs and twos, while I incorrectly guessed based on the number three! My clues were STRIPED BALL which is colored in thirds (the top and bottom being white while the middle is colored) paired with RED which is the third pool ball of each type. THOMAS JEFFERSON was the third US President. STRIKE THREE is not only the third and final strike in strike count, but is also equal to one third of an inning. The Book of Mormon is a musical written by Trey (three) Parker. Finally, ELIZABETH II was third in line for the throne. Pair that with ADA, I thought of Ada Elizabeth Sage, a noted third-class passenger on the Titanic. The title “Side Effects” made me think of triangles and I went with TRICEP.

    I was also thrown by the theme of “Side Effects” with the weight loss drug ALLI right in the middle top portion of the grid.

    • DannyBoy says:

      I also sent in Tricep as a guess, though for a different reason, since the singular and plural is really triceps. I couldn’t really justify this with a pattern in the theme answers, but I thought it might be linked to the irregular and regular hint.

  12. Scott says:

    I got stuck on the double letters in the theme answers and never moved on.

    • JustinR says:

      I fiddled with several ideas, including using the clues instead of the entries, before settling on the double letters.

      I love this puzzle, Matt, despite not having solved it. I really appreciate the effort after CONSECUTIVE topical metas on “easy” weeks, which I find highly undesirable, as I want my crossword puzzles to be solvable at any point in time.

  13. icdogg says:

    Not being familiar with the 50 pence shape, I was stumped until I did a google image search for the 50 pence coin. Once I saw it, I was able to solve within a minute.

  14. Cyrano says:

    STRIPED BALL near RED led me to 11, which paired nicely with ELIZABETH II…Then I had the 3s of JEFFERSON, STRIKE THREE and The THREE Witnesses in TBoMormon…and then I went nowhere…I knew with the stilted wording of some of the clues that the solution likely lurked there but my Google of regular/irregular also only turned up verb references…great week 3 meta Matt

  15. wobbith says:

    “Utah is where…” was a dead give-away that the clues were the key to the meta, but I just never saw the pattern. If only I’d Googled 50-pence coin, I’m sure I would have seen it.
    Oh, well.
    EAT MY HAT (crossing 3 themers) is marvelous fill.

    I have no problem whatsoever with metas not involving the grid.

  16. Jonesy says:

    intentional nod to “taylor made” at Erik Agard’s site from November 6?

    EGO for driving force I took as the reason some people are ambitious or driven… ego for some may be what makes them want to be successful and is the ‘driving force’ behind that success

    I much prefer metas that incorporate the clues… Though using exclusively the clues (technically apart from RED) seems kind of boring in my book, but I really enjoyed this one. Second the point that it would’ve been more elegant for RED to be below ELIZABETHII

  17. Bencoe says:

    Gregory ISAACS is a Jamaican reggae singer. More of a pop star than a rasta, but he had some great albums.

  18. Paul Coulter says:

    I meant SW, not SE

  19. Jim S says:

    I got lucky. I noticed a combination of clues and answers matching the regular/irregular. In my mind, striped balls = sphere (regular), bill = rectangle (irregular), home plate = 5-sided (irregular), book = rectangular block (irregular), coin = circle (regular). With 2 regulars and 3 irregulars, I needed 1 more regular, which was the stop sign. So I submitted “red”. It wasn’t until laying in bed the next morning that I realized the triangle, rectangle, etc. trend and realized that I lucked into the right answer.

    Tricky little puzzle – I’m a math fan, so the regular/irregular thing didn’t take too long to latch onto. However, I’m new enough to metas that I still don’t always find the foothold, hence my waffling between clues and answers prior to submission. I think my discovery after the fact and on my own is a step in the right direction for future metas.

  20. lorraine says:

    I started down the same rabbit hole as others by focusing on numbers (TJ being 3rd US Pres, strike 3, eliz II being 3rd in line, etc., etc.). When i couldn’t get anywhere (beyond trying to figure out if the 9-15 balls could refer to being factors of other numbers), and really not having a clue about the regular/irregular thing, I started thinking of shapes (striped ball starts in a triangular-shaped rack, utah is a 6-sided shape, coin is circular [yeah, i know — i never googled the image, just assumed it was circular]) but couldn’t get a “shape” for thomas jefferson (i thought, “hmmm, does monticello have a shape??”). I tried scanning the grid but got nowhere (does ALSATIA have a shape?? does CALIF??). I finally thought to check the clues. while i ultimately got RED (since i’d started thinking of octagons early on), i still thought the 50-p coin was circular, so I didn’t get quite the AHA moment I would have expected (my “series” had what i thought were “no-sides” [the circle], 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 sides). SMH for not googling the 50-p image!

  21. ===Dan says:

    Regular and Irregular had me stuck with verbs. I also noticed that three of the theme answers ended in double letters, and all five had double letters somewhere. And from Striped Ball I could see Striped Bass. But that was a RED heRRing.

  22. BrainBoggler says:

    I eventually solved it but not without earlier trying to make something of these connections:
    1) home plate shOUT –> strike three –> OUT –> OUTSIDE.
    2) pool rack item –> pair all 3 with side –> POOLSIDE, SIDE RACK, SIDE ITEM

  23. Amy L says:

    I too looked at the double letters and the numbers (for some reason I thought the striped ball is the 8-ball), but that UTAH stood out so much. I’m not really sure how I made the jump to the shapes, but I did make it, even without knowing what regular/irregular polygons are and thinking that the 50-p coin is a circle.

    That the meta came from the clues only was fine with me–I actually submitted the clue as my answer, not the grid entry RED, and Matt accepted it. What I like about Matt’s puzzles and this forum is how much richer the puzzles seem once all the details are pointed out. I always miss things that are revealed here, even when I get the meta.

  24. J. T. Williams says:

    So what is the answer to the meta? Is it “STOP SIGN” or is it “RED”? It seems that Matt accepted both, which I think is a fair approach. But the instructions refer to “theme entries.” Aren’t the theme entries in this puzzle the triggering words in the clues rather than the answers in the grid? Just curious.

    • Jonesy says:

      Ditto that I think accepting both is a fair approach. I think most would say that RED is the meta answer, considering that theme entries are usually considered what is contained in the grid as opposed to the clues (regardless of if the clues were what mattered) and the meta asked for the sixth theme entry. The pattern would be something like ‘grid entries that are clued using an n-sided shape’

      Take yesterday’s NYT for example — the theme was clearly in the clues (ETUI, EPEE, etc as the CROSSWORD Es) but the theme entries were the corresponding answers in the grid…even though they could’ve been lots of possible answers

      • CY Hollander says:

        I dunno. I thought about “RED” vs. “stop sign” before submitting and decided on the latter. The actual pattern is in the clues not the solutions—using your logic, you could construct any number of derivative patterns like the one you described: for instance, “grid entries directly underneath grid entries clued using an n-sided shape”.

  25. Ken Stern / Cazique says:

    I’m an idiot, I was submitting in a hurry and thought about it for about 30 seconds too little and submitted STOP SIGN. Oops. I liked this meta even if it felt more like a week 2 – I cottoned to it instantly.

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