MGWCC #334

crossword 7:53
meta 15 minutes 

mgwcc334hello and welcome to episode #334 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Symbol Plan”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt informs us that we are looking for a six-letter word relevant to this puzzle’s theme. well, what is that theme?

as the title suggests, there are some symbols in the grid. or at least kind of in the grid. at first blush, there seem to be six squares that have a symbol in them reading in one direction, but then are blank in the other direction:

  • {Religious wounding} is STIGMA_, crossing {Artist’s studio} [AT]ELIER, or @ELIER.
  • {Find a location for} is SIT_E, crossing { place} RES[TAU]RANT, or RESτRANT.
  • {Get a jump on the day} is [STAR]T EARLY, or ★T EARLY, crossing {Basement bar, in Germany} _KELLER.
  • {Busybody} [YEN]TA, or ¥TA, crossing {Possessing a certain facial feature} BROW_ED.
  • {Time to make a baby, maybe} H[ONE]YMOON, or H1YMOON, crossing {Mike Trout or Albert Pujols} ANGEL_, as both are players for the los angeles angels of anaheim.
  • {Structure for genes} _STRAND, crossing {Kind of pony} SHETL[AND], or SHETL&.

okay, so with these six squares… now what? the first letters of each rebus spell out ATSYOA, which neither spells nor anagrams to anything relevant to the theme.

it took me a lot of staring, and a return to some niggling doubts i had about some of the special squares, for me to finally work out what was going on. rather than being a rebus one way and a blank square in the other direction, all six are actually plain old rebus squares with the symbol reading both across and down—except that in one direction, you have to read it backwards. thus:

  • {Religious wounding} is STIGMA[TA], with the @ reading to the left.
  • {Find a location for} is SIT[UAT]E, with τ reading to the left.
  • {Basement bar, in Germany} is [RATS]KELLER, with ★ reading up.
  • {Possessing a certain facial feature} is BROW[N-EY]ED, with ¥ reading up. incidentally, this is just a much better crossword entry than BROWED, which doesn’t really seem like a standalone word but i could imagine as a combining form, like unibrowed or furrowed-browed.
  • {Mike Trout or Albert Pujols} is ANGEL[ENO], with 1 reading up.
  • {Structure for genes} is a [DNA] STRAND, with & reading to the left.

i’ve rotated the symbols in the grid screencap above so that the usual “across and down” orientation relative to the symbol itself matches up with the way the letters must be read in each of the words. and if you take the last letter of each rebus symbol, reading left-to-right, top-to-bottom in the grid gives TURNED, which is indeed a relevant 6-letter word.

well that is just brilliant. not only is it wildly creative to consider a rebus that reads up or left instead of across/down (this isn’t even an issue you could imagine having when there’s only one letter in each square), but to have the key clue fit the answer with or without the backwards symbol is just insane. i had to pick my jaw up off the floor once i realized what was going on. bravo, matt!

the fill was pretty rough in places, but i’m not going to ding him for that. i’ve never heard of {Former “Today Show” presenter} ULENE, apparently a dr. art ULENE. when i googled him, the first link mentioned his television appearances, and the second was (i kid you not) his linkedin page. maybe not the most famous celebrity on the internet. {“It is,” in Iserlohn} ESIST is not the most familiar german word to non-speakers. {Second half of a phrase about annual performance} YEAR OUT feels like a bald-faced 7-letter partial. i’ve never heard of {2013 reality show hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson} THE HERO, but at least those are words that might plausibly be the title of a show. {Nervous system cells (hidden in PAGLIACCI)} GLIA got the “this is so obscure i’m going to give you an extra container clue” treatment, perhaps because the I crossed another not-that-common german word SIE. all that stuff, plus EBT and ADOS and EGGER was in the grid, but it’s still an amazing puzzle.

there were some nice bright spots:

  • {Cause of dry scalp} is a devilish clue for RAIN HAT.
  • {Fantastic Mr. Foxx} is REDD foxx. not hard, but fun.
  • {Car that’s one letter away from being a country} is the chrysler LEBARON. nice find! we had a LEBARON when i was in high school. it finally died just before i got my driver’s license, so i never actually drove it. cool story bro.
  • {Hopeful} ASPIRANT. a lovely word, and the clue works as either a noun or an adjective.

that’s all from me. can’t wait to see what matt has in store for us in week 5!

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55 Responses to MGWCC #334

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 216 right answers this week, on the high end of the desired range for a Week 4/5.

    I think this was implied in Joon’s post, but just to be clear: the reason it’s not arbitrary that you use the last letter in each symbol to form the meta answer is that, half the time in this puzzle, that last letter is actually a first letter.

    • Justin Weinbaum says:

      Just for the record – I jumped right to “backwards” and had NO idea the answers read fine without the symbol. Props, Matt.

      • Noam D. Elkies says:

        Same here. So the metapuzzle was easier because I didn’t actually get the entire point of the puzzle!

        BTW as far as I’m concerned GLIA is a perfectly fine word and it’s the (Nat)icky intersection of the YAWN entries ULENE and FERRERA that needed an extra hint (e.g. “contained in ANNULENES”)…


      • pannonica says:

        Mein Gott! I did, too.


    • Garrett says:

      I don’t see anything in what Joon wrote or your clarification that explains how there is a lock there, which to me would be a tie-in between TURNED and the title of the puzzle. I had all the symbols and in fact used them in the grid while solving the rebus areas (neater). I later wrote-out all of their rebus letters, forwards and backwards, and saw TURNED easily. But I’ve done things like this on other puzzles and found words that float out of whatever logic I was applying only to toss them away because I did not see a lock. I just could not connect “Symbol Plan” with TURNED.

      I eventually began to consider that the location of the symbols could be a plan (or plot) to create a connect-the-dots drawing of a symbol, and went that direction.

      I’d feel a lot better about the meta answer if it could be explained how the title and TURNED go together.

      Other than that, I loved it.

      • Dan Seidman says:

        The title and solution don’t have to go together with each other — they both have to go with the puzzle.

      • pgw says:

        To me the aha moment was in realizing that, for example, T is the first letter of “TA,” which is the “turned-around” version of the symbol @. And so on. So for me it’s not just that these letters are first letters half the time – they are all the first letters of the things (reversed symbols) that constitute the key concept of the puzzle. Moreover, the solution word itself references that concept.

        It is surprising to me that you saw the word TURNED easily, and dismissed it as possibly random when the other candidates one might investigate (ATSYOA, AUSNOD, TTRYEA) are all gibberish.

  2. Aaron says:

    Ugh. I feel as if I should’ve gotten that, but just ran out of time. Saw the codes, saw the reverse in one direction, but I started looking for other symbols that could be reversed to make a six-letter word that fit the theme and ran out of time, having to shoot a Hail Mary with “Macros,” which I knew wasn’t correct.

    Sure enough, looking at my paper, I can see TURNED sitting right there at the end of my six rebus squares, but I guess I just overthought this Week 4 (or 3).

    • Popgun says:

      My experience as well… I went with “Olderr” who wrote the Reverse Symbolism Dictionary but alas…

      Even attempted to anagram ATSYOA to no avail. This would have been my best chance at backing into the answer.


      Well done Matt.

  3. Jim C says:

    Got all of the “rebus” squares (TA/AT, UAT/TAU, STAR/RATS etc) but did not recognize the corresponding symbols tau, at, star, etc). Thus my best guess at the six-letter word was MIRROR. I knew it wasn’t true mirror image but that’s all I could think of. Did not get TURNED. Wait ’til next week…

  4. Mlou says:

    Argh!!! Somehow, I got stuck on trying to find some sort of mathematical significance in the Alt codes for all of the symbols…not the rabbit hole to go down, BTW! Thanks for the enlightenment!

  5. Math Teacher Dave says:

    Hm, interesting. I also saw that the clues were bent or angled. I went with “SIGNAL” (as in “sign-L”) as a six-letter word that fit with the theme. Any chance that’s a valid alternate?

    Regardless, I can’t wait for week 5.

    • Math Teacher Dave says:

      If it helps, here is how I had written the “symbols” in the puzzle:







      • CY Hollander says:

        For what it’s worth, you don’t have to actually enter the letters of the theme squares twice that way for it to read properly in both directions. If you enter the letters diagonally, going from the bottom left of the square to the top right, then they will be in the correct order both vertically and horizontally.

        I thought that was kind of neat—a new spin on multi-letter squares, without making them actually require different entries for different directions—though that wasn’t the point of the puzzle, as it turned out.

  6. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Yup, there it is, right in front of me: Those last letters spelling out TURNED where I noted the six symbols on the side of the page.

    But I thought I was looking for another symbol that could be turned (not using that exact word, of course), and since we were asked for a single six letter word, I thought the reversed symbol would have to work both ways inside one word.

    The best I could come up with was OPTION/POTION (wherein the OP changes direction), but since neither my computer nor my phone has an OP key as such, etc, I didn’t even bother sending it in.

  7. Norm H says:

    Got the rebus and reversals pretty quickly, although H[ONE]YMOON/ANGEL[ENO] took a while. But the answer eluded me for two solid days until, TURNED finally showed itself. It also took me a long time to realize that the reversed symbol words could be omitted from their entries with no change in meaning. That extra bit was impressive, Matt.

    It doesn’t fit the construction or theme, but I kept thinking that “Something made in the ’80s that you might find in Cleveland” could have been used to clue LEB[A]RON.

    • Vraal says:

      It doesn’t help at all that I had HAY MOON and frowned at ANGELA for the longest time.

      HAY MOON. It’s a good time to have babies. It is.

      Anyway, yea, I had the same issue as several here, instantly latching on BROWN-EYED without ever seeing BROWED in the first place (etc.) could answer the theme clues.

  8. mathgrant says:

    That bloody simple, really? The last letters of the bloody symbols? I hereby forfeit all rights to be considered a respectable person in the puzzle community. :(

    • Giovanni P. says:

      Overthinking strikes again?

      I wouldn’t forefit your rights just yet Grant. These late-month metas can get pretty stealthy/subtle, and oftentimes its a lot simpler than your brain might be making it out to me. Trust me, I’ve had more than a few metas (i.e. the HARVARD meta, the DIG IT meta) where I’ve discarded the right, simple thing for something more convoluted. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back, clear your head, and look at the puzzle fresh.

      Consider it a learning experience–you’re a little bit wiser on how metas can hide information, and hopefully you can recognize it in the future. Like with anything, recognizing a meta mechanisms is a skill that can be honed with practice.

      As to the meta itself: I sorta missed the detail that the words worked with and without the turned symbols (sorta, becaused I had convinced myself for a while that SITE was the correct word). That is a nice touch–good job Matt.

  9. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I’ve only ever heard the “religious wounding” sense of stigma in the plural, so I’d been trying to fit the extra letters in from the beginning, and entirely missed the fact that treating the backwards symbols as missing gave acceptable answers.

    I’ve seen crosswords involving writing two letters in some squares, arranged diagonally (so that they either the same way or opposite ways in across and down). Of course, those puzzles had explained the mechanic and included some examples.

    There’s also another clue in the grid: the black squares in the central 7×7 area form a percent sign, written sideways.

  10. Shawn P says:

    Cool screenshot joon! I managed to eke that one out, but thought it was one of the most difficult MGWCCs puzzlewise. Especially considering that having REHAB, EPEES, and ONWARD, I went directly with BEARDED as “Possessing a certain facial feature” and had a really hard time filling out the NE region of the grid.

  11. Jon says:

    I had the rebuses & the symbols (@τ*¥1&) but got stuck there. I looked for synonyms for “plan” and since ¥ looked like a Y, I was thinking perhaps the meta was SYSTEM but the M didn’t fit with any of the symbols. I entered in DESIGN as a stab in the dark. Oh well, so close yet so far.

  12. Molson says:

    Ugh, got the puzzle and saw the “trick” (but didn’t notice that the “key clue fit the answer with or without the backwards symbol,” only that the backwards symbol did.

    I didn’t get the “last letter of the symbol” bit at all. I was trying to anagram the letters that the symbols sort of look like: @=A, *=O, &=G, etc. and got nowhere.

  13. Paul Coulter says:

    This well-crafted puzzle tricked me into spending an hour searching for three letter symbols that could be made into a six letter palindrome. Funny thing is that my first move was to list the symbols Matt used, both top to bottom and left to right. I checked their first letters, then checked for anagrams. Finally, I saw the answer spelled at the end letters of the list I’d made an hour earlier. RATS! But it TURNED out a four STAR meta for me.

  14. hibob says:

    Aha, I didn’t realize it was the last letter of the symbol. I looked at the words that could have had the symbol left out and put the reversed symbol in and then took the first letter of the reversed symbol. Oh well maybe next time.

    • Dele says:

      Well, that’s just another way of saying the same thing, isn’t it? I did the same: I made a table with the symbols, the spelled-out symbol names, and the reversed symbol names. Didn’t see any patterns in the first two columns, but noticed the word formed by the first letters in the third column.

      And I’ll add myself to the lengthy list of people who got the right answer without realizing that the crossing entries also worked without the reversed symbols.

  15. George says:

    Rats! I think I got held up on the symbol part of it. The first clues I got were “at, star, and” so I jumped to symbols above the keyboard numbers. I then knew this wasn’t it after I got Tau and Yen, but couldn’t shake it. I ended up thinking it was “parens” because it is a symbol that also has a reverse symbol. At least I solved the Times meta, which felt like a week one…

  16. Clint Hepner says:

    I doubt I would have found TURNED on my own, as I actually had *seven* symbols in my solution. Darlene Rodriguez was also a former presenter on The Today Show. DAR reversed is RAD, which is the symbol for the SI unit of angular measure, radian. (I guessed at Darlene, which Google confirmed, but it never occurred to me to Google the “obviously” nonsensical ULENE. The possibility of YEARORADT ending in an unfamiliar acronym was enough for me to accept the DAR/RAD pairing.)

    In any case, I submitted the wrong-but-plausible REWIND. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to solving the puzzle this late in a month.

  17. Wayne says:

    I thought there’d be more to the meta. I noticed that SIT_E and SITUATE both fit the clue, but I thought it was a coincidence; I didn’t notice that six of the theme answers were doing that. And indeed, that a-ha wasn’t necessary to solve the meta solution.

    • Matt says:

      Right, but it made it more likely that you would, since otherwise there’s no logic to taking the last letters of the symbols instead of the first.

    • TimM says:

      But if you had to reverse the symbol names to answer the clue, you could still pull the first letters of the reversed symbol names in order to get the answer. I also felt that the duplicate answers (e.g. SITE/SITUATE) were a distraction that didn’t give me the “click”.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        That was exactly the logic: only if you realize that the symbols have to be reversed in one direction do you get the hint to use the last (now first) letter of those symbols.

        That the clues worked without the symbols at all in one direction wasn’t arbitrary; its point was to conceal the whole idea (and it worked on Joon, for example, at least for a few minutes)

        • TimM says:

          The difference between my solving experience and Joon’s was that I entered the backwards symbol names when I first entered the answers, then saw that they were not needed after I completed the grid. I get your reasoning for concealing the idea now, though. Well done.

        • abide says:

          Well, I had them backwards from the start and you still concealed the idea from me for a few days. But that extra constraint is mind-boggling to me after reading the write-up. Well done!

  18. Jason says:

    So I got the symbol/reversal early as well but then was stuck. I put an A down for AT and in a moment of stupidity put X down for TAU. YEN was a Y and ONE was the number 1 which I convinced looked like the letter I. For DNA I also convinced myself that the symbol was an X. With STAR I just said it’s an S. So we have AXSYIX or X-Y AXIS. Nice to know I was just slightly offbase on this one.

    • Dave C says:

      I fell into a rabbit hole on the X for DNA as well. Instead of the ampersand in AND, I focused on the X-shaped helix of DNA. Sheesh. So I had A-X-I-T-Y for AT, DNA, ONE, TAU and YEN. STAR didn’t fit anywhere, so for the hell of it I submitted the completely irrelevant LAXITY.

      I did at one point write down the rebus answers similar to how Joon noted, but missed the backward angle (fixating on DNA vs AND didn’t help). Not confident I would have gotten it anyway…

      • pannonica says:

        I went there too, with LAXITY, but dug elsewhere after the L wasn’t forthcoming by any means. Rather than using DNA, my entry to × was taking ‘and’ to be a plus-sign and rotating it. I’d overlooked RATSkeller at first, so the star/asterisk hadn’t yet precluded my (over)wrought ×.

    • ant says:

      I did something similar. The @ sign looks like C; tau looks like T; the star looks like an A (well, it did when I drew it on my page); ¥ can be either Y or V; 1 looks like an I; and & looks like an E. Using the ¥ as a Y yielded nothing – but using it as a V, the letters anagrammed to ACTIVE. I didn’t really see how it was relevant to the theme, but it was all I had…

  19. Jim S. says:

    I wrongly ventured into l33t-land, and tried to take the letters that the symbols frequently replaced in passwords to come up with the answer. It didn’t help that I missed the star completely – I had “skellar” because that’s the common nickname of bars in the US called “Rathskellar” and I know no German, and tried to find a symbol for “s?early”. “Tart” almost worked as a word, assuming “A-List Rat” was a thing, but I certainly wasn’t familiar with a “tart” symbol. Never went back to revisit “skellar” and couldn’t get the other 5 to do anything, in any direction. Excellent puzzle nonetheless – the forward and backward use of the symbols must have been crazy hard to construct. Maybe my l33t idea will lead to a future meta from Matt (assuming he hasn’t already done it).

  20. icdogg says:

    For me, this was actually the easiest one of the month so far!

  21. Dan Seidman says:

    I’m another one who never noticed that the entries with the reversals would also work with blanks — that probably made it a lot easier for me. That’s why I always check this writeup; sometimes I can’t imagine how Matt pulled off something so clever and I find it was even cleverer than I thought.

  22. Joe Eckman says:

    The two answers in each rebus box make a (nonsensical) palindrome, so my thought was to find a 6-lettered palindrome, where one syllable also could be a symbol. I answered “degged,” with degree being implied. I wasn’t surprised that it was wrong, but I couldn’t anagram the symbols’ first letters, and I couldn’t find an acceptable letter representation for each symbol to anagram, either.
    Thanks, Matt, for your awesome website! I look forward to every Friday, and I have proselytized in your name, converting many!

  23. Scott says:

    All I can say is I GOT IT … and for me, on the 4th out of 5 weeks, that is good.

  24. Nor says:

    One can “turn” in many directions, so I’m not sure that TURNED really does it for me as the equivalent of “reverse.” Like others. I thought of MIRROR, but that wasn’t accurate since not all the letters (whichever letters you were looking at) were mirror images. UTURNS kept begging me to send it in, but I couldn’t make it tie in to anything. Meta not so great, in my humble week-2 level opinion, but I really, really liked the puzzle.

    • pannonica says:

      Turn (and conjugations thereof) is a very common reversal signal in cryptic crosswords, a simpatico genre.

    • Lawrence D says:

      I missed it, too, but looking back I think TURNED fits perfectly well for the puzzle, since the rebuses were turned 90 degrees to fit whatever they crossed with

      • Norm says:

        I’ll have to agree with you. I was looking at (for example) tau-uat as a 180 degree reversal, but, in the grid, it’s 90 degrees. This is why I seldom get past week 2 but keep trying.

  25. Avg Solvr says:

    Does Matt work for the NSA?

  26. Lawrence D says:

    Looking back in my notes, I too had TURNED sitting there staring me in the face the whole time, but never noticed.

    I went the “symbols as letters” route as well and ended up with LAYOUT (in order: ONE, STAR, YEN, AT, AND, TAU). Getting a U out of ampersand was maybe a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t come up with anything else, and with the title “A Symbol Plan,” I thought LAYOUT written with symbols fit rather nicely. Alas…

  27. Scout says:

    I had all the symbols figured out but was trying to relate them to a keyboard. @ and & and * and 1 were there, but not yen and tau. But when I clicked on “insert”, they were all there as symbols that could be entered. So “insert” could be a symbol plan. What do you think, Matt?

  28. Mean Old Elaine says:

    I guess the heart-breaky part of this puzzle, for me, was the fact that I got the back-front readings, got most (but not all) of the puzzle bits, and just had no clue what to do with them. I wish I could think that this meant I’m closer to ‘getting’ meta-puzzles, but I think it just means I will constantly butt my head against the bars, getting bloodied and (alas)_ bowed.

    You da Man, Matt.

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