MGWCC #321

crossword 4:26
meta 2 days 

mgwcc321hello everyone, and welcome to episode #321 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Chain Reaction”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we’re looking for a whole number between 1 and 9 (inclusive of 1 and 9). what are the theme answers?

well, that’s part of the problem. there are no evident theme answers. none of the answers are particularly long, and the longish (8-letter) answers don’t appear to be thematic. however, the title suggests chaining something together, and the clue {Title character in a famous fairy tale} PRINCESS caught my eye, because it seemed like it was written to have more than one answer. and indeed, i quickly found BRIDE in the grid, clued as {Half of the equation, at (most) weddings}. so the fairy tale character can be just PRINCESS (as in the princess and the pea) but also the PRINCESS BRIDE. in turn, the clue for BRIDE can also describe BRIDE GROOMS, and so on down. here’s the full chain:

  • {Title character in a famous fairy tale} PRINCESS (BRIDE).
  • {Half of the equation, at (most) weddings} BRIDE(GROOMS).
  • {Wedding day stars} GROOMS(MEN).
  • {Dudes, collectively} MEN(FOLK).
  • {Bob Dylan genre} FOLK (ROCK).
  • {Mountain climbing danger} ROCK(SLIDE).
  • {Drop precipitously} SLIDE (DOWN).
  • {Direction from New York City to Atlanta} DOWN (SOUTH).
  • {Warm region, with “the”} SOUTH (PACIFIC).
  • {“The Love Boat” setting, with “the”} PACIFIC. and i only just now looked up that the boat on the show was called the PACIFIC PRINCESS, so we’ve come full circle.

anyway, so that is 10 theme answers that chain together with their clues. so what’s the answer? well, that part i couldn’t figure out for a couple of days. i tried tracing lines from one link in the chain to the next, to little effect:
i wanted it to trace out a number, but it didn’t.

anyway, a couple days later i picked the puzzle back up and looked at the numbers i’d circled: 6, 12, 18, 24, 25 (whoops, this should have been 30), 36, 42, 48, 54, and 60. well now, that clears it right up, doesn’t it? those are all the multiples of 6 in the grid, and no others. so 6 must be the meta answer. neat!

the construction feat involved in this puzzle is rather staggering if you think about it. first, the ten words need to chain together (in a loop, no less) to form compound words or two-word phrases. that is not so difficult; see this old sunday NYT for a much more involved example. but the same clue needs to work for both the entire phrase or just the first half of it. finally, as the pièce de resistance, the ten words have to be located at specific numerical positions in the grid. wow.

given all those constraints, the grid is actually pretty good. there were some things i’d never heard of, for sure, like {Nicholson Baker book about his obsession with John Updike} UANDI (i’m guessing U AND I) and {Place to escape to, in British English} BOLTHOLE. {David of “The Sopranos”} PROVAL doesn’t ring a bell. but overall, it’s a nice grid, with a normal word count of 76 despite the lack of long answers.

some other clues of note:

  • {British general in the Revolutionary War} GAGE. i recently discovered that fellow british general john burgoyne, in addition to being a (rather famously unsuccessful) revolutionary war general, was also a significant playwright.
  • {You may have a yen to travel there} JAPAN. i’ve heard it’s expensive—might want to bring more than 1 ¥.
  • {Famed teacher ___ Esquith} RAFE. i’d not heard of this guy, but he sure sounds interesting. there aren’t really many “famed” elementary school teachers, so it’s cool that at least one of them is sort of a celebrity.
  • {Chess grandmaster Khmelnitsky or Novikov} IGOR. gratuitous chess clue. never heard of either of these guys.
  • {Billionaire co-founder of Yahoo!} is david FILO. the other co-founder is jerry yang. did you know that the company was originally called “jerry and david’s guide to the world wide web”? i gotta say, the new name is much catchier.
  • {Musical that becomes a website if you change its last letter} EVITA. this precise bit of wordplay (EVITA/EVITE) was in a cryptic i did recently. neat.

that’s all for me. how’d july treat you? matt mentioned that guest constructor month might be coming up in august—if so, i guess this is the last official gaffney for a while. of course, i’ll be doing the puzzles during guest constructor month anyway. and i hope to see many of you at lollapuzzoola 7 next weekend in manhattan!

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29 Responses to MGWCC #321

  1. ant says:

    Using the letters in the grid, you can spell every number between one and nine (inclusive)…except SIX.

    • Abide says:

      SIX was going to be my Hail Mary guess for that reason. By Sunday I saw the “chain” but without connecting them to the clues, my chain was unlinked, starting with GENTLE–MEN–FOLK –to –GROOMS.

      Monday morning I started with a fresh grid, and saw the clue double duty. It still took another hour to get to Six.

      Among other technical achievements, the clues stop at 65. I give this puzzle 6 stars!

  2. David R says:

    I figured with some of the unusual fill that this meta was going to encompass much of the puzzle. The entry way into this one was SOUTH and PACIFIC right next to each other. I figured since the meta was a number that the highest probability connecting the fill would be the cluing. I then saw it was multiples of six and the chain reaction heading put the rest of it together. It would have been perfection if the quantity of clues finished at 60.

  3. Ken Stern says:

    Good god. This meta is staggering.

    (I was nowhere near it, only had a few partial connections, but that feels quite besides the point.)

  4. DBraun91 says:

    Ooph I never even had more than the smallest inkling that both BRIDE and GROOM and FOLK and ROCK sitting in the grid probably factored into the solution somehow.
    2-2 this month. Challenging month indeed. Looking ahead to August.
    I guessed 8 just because I like that number. I would have felt guilty if it was right because to get such a beautiful meta right off of a guess kinda seems like it devalues the puzzle.

  5. Todd Dashoff says:

    And using the clue ROMAN at the top of the grid, you can find every roman numeral from one to eight by moving from square to square, but not nine. I was sure the confluence of I’s and a V in the bottom right had some significance, but that wasn’t correct either. Oh well.

    I actually noticed the pairing of BRIDE and GROOM, wondered whether PACIFIC was actually where the Pacific Princess sailed or just the name of the ship (anyone know for sure?) and also thought that the “plain” answer for WARM REGION (south) was kind of nondescript, but never managed to make the jump to the next step.

  6. Evan says:

    Blast! I had my foot in the door this time but couldn’t make sense of it all. I saw the SOUTH PACIFIC and DOWN SOUTH connections, went looking for other pairs like that, and saw BRIDE and GROOMS….then nothing.

    I just went with 7 because I wondered if Matt was subtly plugging Lollapuzzoola 7. So close, yet so far.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Not Lollapuzzoola 7, but MGWCC Year #6, the tip jar for which opens, coincidentally, on Friday…

  7. Dan Seidman says:

    Many of us of a certain age would see “Love Boat” and immediately think of The Pacific Princess. That combined with — as David R. noted — the juxtaposition of SOUTH PACIFIC got me started. (Although at first I though South Pacific was related to another entry, EVITA.) I was very impressed that Matt was able to pull this off.

  8. mps says:

    I submitted 9. I got the entire chain, starting with down south and ending at rock slide. I stopped with rock slide because it itself is a chain reaction, and thus a good end point. There were 9 clues in the chain so I felt very confident with that answer. Only after I saw that my name didnt pop up on the board did I even notice the clue numbers.
    I feel like I got to a perfectly reasonable and satisfying answer in a way that the puzzle intended but made sense without the multiples of 6. Am I the only one who made this mistake?

    • Anonymous says:

      Aren’t there ten clues in the chain?

      • mps says:

        i had 9 clues circled: 60a, 36d, 42d, 30a, 48d, 12d, 24a, 6d, 54d. i didn’t use 18a because to me the chain started at DOWN SOUTH and ended at ROCK SLIDE. i guess i was looking at it as a one way street that ended at a phenomenon that is itself a chain reaction, so when i got there i didn’t need the clue. i also considered 60a and 54d as the start and end because they were the most tenuous single word answers.
        if i’d had two different words as my last pair maybe i’d have completed the circle and seen the numbers in the first instance. ah well

  9. peedee says:

    After I recognized the chain (ROCK/SLIDES was the hook for me; I knew ROCK wasn’t a danger for mountain climbers) I had a devil of a time figuring out a whole number for the meta. Then I decided to subtract the total of the numbers of the down clues from the total of the across clues to see what I’d come up with. That’s when I noticed the multiples of six. That’s also when my head exploded.

  10. Ben Vincent says:

    loved it, even more now that i realize that each clue referred to the pair and not the individual word. that level was completely lost on me. i’ve hit my foot on a ROCK while hiking so i didn’t think twice, but yes, ROCK SLIDE. much more dangerous.

  11. Joe says:

    Dammit! Found the chain. Marveled at it. Got awfully proud of myself. Wondered why there were ten “links”. Pestered Matt about it. Submitted 1. For 1 big chain.

  12. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I was sure there was something weird going on in the fill, with 4 crossing words starting with “PR”, OPINE crossing PIN in the middle, and another 4 with “AS” crossing, but couldn’t come up with anything there.

    SOUTH PACIFIC jumped out at me as probably important, and then DOWN SOUTH as a way to make 60A’s answer good.

    I was glad that the chain’s length (once it was a cycle and there weren’t any answers that could be improved with the addition of another word in the grid) wasn’t a valid answer, because that was my first thought.

    I’ve (finally) learned the habit of collecting all the information I can get, even if it’s not going to be important, and then peeking at it periodically for the next few days. In this case, I got the answer as I was trying to get the data together.

  13. Mutman says:

    I managed to get this, but barely at the end — thank goodness for the extended time!

    I was convinced that this would be a ‘visual’ meta and that the answers would somehow form an integer. 2 and 9 seemed likely given the grid shape. I finally noticed the ‘Down South’ and ‘South Pacific’. Didn’t really recognize ‘Down Slide’ so that side got stopped and couldn’t make ‘Pacific’ work. Was ready to give up, until I Googled Love Boat and saw ‘Pacific Princess’. Sadly I am old enough to know this, but didn’t, despite watching the show!

    Once found, I knew this has to be the right track. I then started writing the phrases I had with the clue numbers, and the multiples of 6 jumped out at me! I was then able to fill the rest.

    Great meta, Matt! Got me to 3 out of 4 this month.

  14. Norm H says:

    Interesting solving experience. My first angle was noticing that ONE, FIVE, NINE and TEN can be found Boggle-style in the grid. In fact, the NINE and FIVE are laid out in identical Tetris-piece configurations in the East and Southeast, respectively. So, I started looking for others, thinking that the lack of an X could only mean that SIX was the one missing. But, of course, so were TWO, THREE, FOUR, SEVEN and EIGHT, so that was a dead end.

    Then I thought that the title meant something about chemisty, so I looked for a square numbered between 1 and 10 that was the atomic number for the letter(s) starting its entry. Thus, if Fe (iron) had atomic number 1, that would have worked. Alas, another dead end.

    Finally, I did the reverse of how Joon got there. I started thinking of multiples of small numbers. Multiples of 6 was actually the first one I chose. I wrote down all those answers, and only then did I figure out the chain that Joon figured out to start.

    Surprisingly, all of the above did not take much time. A lucky Week 4 for me, based on prior history.

    I agree that this meta is a masterclass in construction. Not only to the theme answers all have to be in specific numerical positions, but each of those positions start only a single entry so there was no need to guess whether the Across or Down entry was the relevant one. Astonishing.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      Actually, two of the numbers had both an across and a down, but the alternatives were PROVAL and BOATHOLE, which wouldn’t have been hard to eliminate if you were solving it that way.

  15. CY Hollander says:

    Wow, I missed half the details of this one. Didn’t know about the Pacific Princess, but my bigger oversight was not noticing at all that each clue could be answered by the full pair rather than just the word appearing in that entry. Very elegant, indeed.

    By the way, were anyone else’s eyes drawn by ROMAN MATRON. Not part of the theme, of course, but it did help nudge me to keep an eye out for word pairings like that. I wonder whether Matt intended that as a subtle hint or it was just a coincidence.

  16. Brilliant. I found the circular chain of 10 bigrams, but I didn’t even notice that they still worked with the clues (!) and that the clue numbers were all multiples of 6 (!!). I thought the grid was impressive enough as it was without that extra constraint. I thought that SLIDE DOWN and DOWN SOUTH were rather weak as bigrams on their own, but given that they satisfy the clues, they make much more sense now.

    I guessed 9 as a Hail Mary, though I mentioned in my comments to Matt that I would’ve guessed 10 if that were allowed.

  17. pgw says:

    Agreed that this was a great idea and really well-executed. One of my favorites of all time.

    Adam, I also agree that SLIDE DOWN is slightly weak, but DOWN SOUTH is solidly within the canon of American idioms. Norm, note that two of the multiples of six did start both across and down entries. Didn’t matter to me, though.

  18. Scott says:

    Brilliant construction but I failed to get it.

  19. Archie says:

    Didn’t anyone else notice that the central entry, EGOLESS, hints that the number should not contain E, G, or O? The only number that fits this restriction is SIX.
    I guess I took the easy way.

    • CY Hollander says:

      “the easy way”

      More like the lucky coincidence, I’d think: I doubt Matt meant to embed a totally separate hint to the answer that way.

      • Archie says:

        It’s obviously an “Easter Egg” hidden in plain site. I would be very surprised if it were coincidental. Matt?

    • Mutman says:

      Nice! And I wasted all that time doing it ‘the hard way’ …

  20. Wayne says:

    For me, the word “chain” in the title made this a pretty easy solve. There are only so many kinds of chains that can be hidden in a grid, and they are well-known to long-time MGWCC fans. I looked for a word ladder, didn’t see it, and then spotted the compound words and I was off to the races.

    At the same time, it seems like the word “chain” prevented some people from seeing the full beauty of the meta: i.e., that it was a complete loop. People thought “links in a chain” and strung the clues together, and that was that.

    Maybe a title a different title would have been less suggestive (after all, this is a week 4), and more descriptive of the meta. “Lovers’ loop”? “Solver’s cycle”? “Circle jerk”?

    Anyway, that’s just a quibble. Brilliant, brilliant puzzle.

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