MGWCC #335

crossword 5:26
meta DNF3 days, ultimately with help 

mgwcc335hello and welcome to episode #335 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Costume Changes”. this week 5 puzzle has a lengthy and intriguing backstory: You’ve been invited to a Halloween party tonight — but extreme danger lurks about! One of the five guests you’ll meet is not what they appear. Though presenting as a normal human being, this guest is actually a supernatural, evil beast that seeks to slake their bloodlust by inflicting unspeakable harm on you and the others there. Can you warn your host in time? This week’s contest answer is the secretly evil guest, and what kind of beast they really are. well then. who are the five guests?

  • {First you meet WALLY, who works for a web company that specializes in ___} BLOG HOSTING.
  • {Then you talk to ALICE, who’s writing a history of ___} VAUDEVILLE.
  • {Soon you’re in a conversation with JULIA, who’s been enjoying a few rum drinks called ___} LATIN MANHATTANS. i guess you could say she’s getting oiled up. *rimshot*
  • {Next you’re chatting with ISAAC, who was going to go as ___ with his girlfriend for Halloween, but they broke up a week ago so he’s here alone} BRANGELINA.
  • {Finally you talk to WENDY, who tells you she operates the ___ at a large hotel in town} SWITCHBOARD.

so, first the easy part: the obvious costumes, which are just hidden in the theme entries. wally is a GHOST, alice is a DEVIL, julia is the TIN MAN, isaac is an ANGEL, and wendy is a WITCH. fine. but who’s the supernatural evil beast? as a further hint, there are two more marked theme clue/answers:

  • {Like Halloween candy*} SWEET.
  • {Halt Satan**} clues DO GOOD, which seems like a slightly less-than-in-the-language phrase. however, i’d accept it with the clue {Silence ___ (Ben Franklin pen name)}.

so, um. what to do with this information? i have no idea. it seems like it must matter that satan is in one of these clues and DEVIL is one of the costumes (alice’s), but what the connection is, i have yet to fathom. nor do i know what’s going on with SWEET. nor do i know what to make of the five guests’ names, which are all five letters long but seem to have no other connection to either their costumes or the leftover letters when the costume is taken out. (i don’t actually think that those remaining letters have anything to do with the meta, because how unlikely would that be? it’s hard enough just to find decent costume containers.)

okay. having gotten well and truly stuck at this point, i decided to team up with andy kravis, who was stuck at exactly the same point. putting our heads together, we actually solved it. here’s how it goes:

andy noticed that the clue {Halt Satan**} is unusual and striking—it is not how you would clue DO GOOD if all you had to do was clue DO GOOD. we both remarked that it looks like an anagram—and indeed it is an anagram! it is, in fact, an anagram of LAHATTANS, which is what you have left over if you remove TIN MAN from LATIN MANHATTANS. so this led us to the conclusion that julia was the evil beast. but what is her true nature, and what is going on with {Like Halloween candy} SWEET?

neither SWEET nor {Like Halloween candy} looks like anagram fodder. but that’s fine, because if the two *ed clues were supposed to be used in the same way, they would have both had a single *, rather than * and **. andy noticed that SWEET can change one letter to become SHEET, which is in fact what you would wear for a GHOST costume (for wally). likewise, each other costume has a one-letter-changed entry in the grid:

  • {Dances in a circle} HORAS, which can become HORNS for a DEVIL.
  • {Ramblin’ Rose?} AXL, which can become an AXE for the TIN MAN of oz, also called the tin woodman. now, there’s also {Leave at a loss for words} AWE, which could likewise become AXE. i thought AXL had to be thematic because otherwise it would be terrible to use AXL crossing NATL instead of just AXE/NATE. but the presence of AWE is, i think, inarguably a flawe in the construction.
  • {Clue room} HALL, which can be come a HALO for an ANGEL. we first tried looking for an entry that could become WINGS but this is actually better, since it’s more specific to an ANGEL costume.
  • finally, {“Holy ___!”} MOLY can become a MOLE for a WITCH. now this one, on the other hand, i like less than something involving BROOM, but a MOLE is definitely a valid part of a witch costume, so it’s perfectly fine.

reading the changed letters in order of associated costume from GHOST down to WITCH, we get WALLY, who is actually the beast. not julia at all! (the new, changed letters spell out HNEOE, which isn’t anything relevant.)

so what are we supposed to do with this halt satan/LAHATTANS anagram? andy realized that it’s a hint for how to figure out wally’s true identity: take the letters left over once his costume is removed and anagram them. (so much for my intuition that the leftover letters were already too constrained!) BLOG HOSTING without GHOST is BLOING, which anagrams to GOBLIN. eek! but we’re onto you, fiend!

whew, that is an intricate meta. first of all, the fact that you can anagram GHOST + GOBLIN into BLOG HOSTING is a wonderful find. secondly, the other four costume containers are very natural. the extra layer of having the one-letter-changed costume parts in the grid was nice, and the pièce de resistance of hinting at the anagram was really something. small wonder that matt couldn’t fit all this into a 15×15 grid, so we ended up with a 17×17 treat (and trick) for this halloween. fantastic stuff.

it’s now super late and i need to sleep, but i couldn’t let the blog opportunity to go by without commendation for {Non-binding purchase?} EBOOK, a truly inspired clue. bravo!

how’d this one treat you?

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71 Responses to MGWCC #335

  1. Kman23 says:

    I had no clue what the * clue had to do with anything, but it wasn’t necessary for the solve. “Bloghosting” happened to have the only leftover letters that anagrammed to anything relevant.

  2. mrbreen says:

    Extra layer/Additional anagrams: VAUdevilLE: VALUE at 67A. BRangelINA: BRAIN at 76D. SwitchBOARD: SAD, BRO at 39D

    This meta was outstanding!

    • Abide says:

      I went this way only, with Wally being the odd man out. Figured I was missing a layer but glad to get it right.

      Not sure why the double star was necessary…?

      • mrbreen says:

        To differentiate that in one set we are to use the clues, and in the other we are to use the grid.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Same here. Couldn’t figure out why Halt Satan was starred and not Value, Brain, or Sad, Bro. Also didn’t know why the clue for sweet was starred. Got the goblin easily enough, but only picked Wally because his name was in the clue for BLOGHOSTING. For me, that seems the only flaw. 4.5 stars.

  3. Tyler Hinman says:

    I got this right without grasping a big chunk of it. I think you missed that in addition to HALT SATAN, BRAIN, SAD BRO, and VALUE also appear as clues, leaving Wally’s leftover letters as the odd one out. Once I had that, I had my answer. No need for the letter changes. I didn’t submit until last night because the single asterisk was nagging at me, as well as why only HALT SATAN was double-starred, but I never got there and threw caution to the wind.

    Seems like there were two strong paths to the meta. Anyone else take mine?

    • Evan says:

      Yes, I did. I could never figure out why SWEET was single-starred, nor why DO GOOD was double-starred. I thought it had to do with the fact that SWEET has the same letter pattern as WALLY (the A-B-C-C-D pattern), but the same is true for ISAAC as well. So I figured, screw it.

      • Giovanni P. says:

        That was also how I arrived at the answer. I was looking for ways to decode SWEET into a different word, and I had found four pairs of clues in the grid that differed by one letter (ABE/AWE, CMT/EMT,BELLA/BELLS and ENO/ONO), which happen to encapsulate 4 of the 5 letters of SWEET. ABCO- didn’t look like anything though, and I ended up assuming it matched to WALLY due to the letter pattern like Evan.

        Of course, none of that matters, as I forgot to put an answer in. See you next week; nice meta Matt.

    • Vraal says:

      I solved this the same way as Tyler – couldn’t figure out why SWEET was asterisked, and just figured Wally the Goblin was the only one whose identity wasn’t anagrammed as a clue. While I think the overall complexity is amazing, the short-circuit is as much a flaw in the meta as AWE was a flaw in the construction.

      Still pretty terrific though, I agree that GHOST+GOBLIN -> BLOGHOSTING is a wonderful find.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Yeah the AWE thing I missed (and after having specifically looked for it — and I changed ALE at some point for this exact reason).

    • pgw says:

      I also took Tyler’s path. I noticed the SWEET/SHEET possibility but never got beyond that.

    • Dan Katz says:

      That was my path too, though I knew I was certainly missing something.

  4. Evan says:

    This is bizarre — I sent that answer (WALLY is a GOBLIN) to Matt’s e-mail, but haven’t been counted as correct.

    I think there’s actually an easier solution. All of the non-costume letters in each theme answer anagram to one of the clues. VAULE in 33-Across anagrams to value (for ESTEEM), LAHATTANS as described above, BRINA anagrams to brain (for MIND), and SBOARD anagrams to “Sad, bro!” (for LAME — the trickiest find in the grid). The only one that doesn’t anagram to a clue is BLOING in 19-Across. I figured that since it anagrammed to GOBLIN, that had to be right.

    • Evad says:

      Once Matt and I go through those who tried to submit while the form was down (forgot to reset for the end of DST!), you should see your results updated on the leaderboard.

    • Pete Rimkus says:

      That’s exactly what I did, but even after using the same logic I was left with what to do about the starred clues…so I never submitted… I guess I should’ve…but its a little ‘meh’ to have those stars there and not mean anything.

  5. Leo says:

    I guess I kind of ‘backsolved’ this one. Didn’t know about the individual changed letters at all, though I thought something similar was going on because of ‘Costume Changes’. Instead, I anagrammed all the leftover letters from the 5 characters’ answers. The other 4 anagram to VALUE (67A), HALT SATAN (31A), BRAIN (76D), and SAD BRO (39D), which are all other clues in the puzzle. GOBLIN didn’t appear as a clue, so I thought it had to be that one, but didn’t know why.

  6. Norm H says:

    joon, I think there were a couple of ways to get this. You pointed out the LAHATTANS/Halt Satan anagram, but three of the other four theme entries also had “leftover” letters that anagrammed to clues: VAULE/Value, BRINA/Brain and SBOARD/”Sad, bro!” That was how I discovered GOBLIN, which had no corresponding anagram among the clues.

    I tried forever to figure out why the SWEET clue was starred (endless time spent anagramming “Halloween candy” which of course includes “wally”) but I never did, so I just assumed that since Wally’s extra letters spelled GOBLIN, he was the one.

    Wow, super intricate! Amazing, Matt!

    • Pete Rimkus says:

      That’s exactly what I did, but even after using the same logic I was left with what to do about the starred clues…so I never submitted… I guess I should’ve…but its a little ‘meh’ to have those stars there and not mean anything.

  7. DBraun91 says:

    I solved this meta in a pretty different way. I noticed that the leftover letters in LATINMANHATTAN leave us with Halt Satan. Then I started looking at the leftover letters in the other theme answers. I noticed that all of them , except the ones in BLOGHOSTING (GOBLIN) can be found in the clues. VAUDEVILLE leaves us with VALUE, BRANGELINA leaves us with BRAIN, SWITCH BOARD leaves us with SBOARD (which took me a while, but eventually I found “Sad, Bro”. Now, for the {Like Halloween candy*} clue, that is where I got stuck for a bit. I was pretty confident the answer was WALLY as the GOBLIN. But whats going on with this starred clue!? It took me some messing around, but I found that BLOG HOSTING can possible be VLOG HOSTING (with FAB and FAV working for the clue {Stellar}). If the answer is VLOG HOSTING, the leftover letters leave us with LOVING, which can aptly stand in for {Like Halloween candy} to clue SWEET. The GOBLIN can present himself as LOVING. Making WALLY quite sneaky.

    • DBraun91 says:

      After reading comments, it seems more like joon and andy solved it in the different way.

      • Abide says:

        Today I learned you can group-solve a meta (#127, #128). I call dibs on Jangler!

        • joon says:

          it’s true. this is the second time i’ve team-solved the mgwcc; the first time was back in mgwcc #120, with amy.

          i believe the only rule about team-solving is that you can’t team-solve with somebody who’s already solved it, because that amounts to just being told the answer. see matt’s comment on the link above (2nd one down).

          so if you are going to co-solve with jangler, you better be quick about it, because his answer is usually in by about 12:10 pm on friday. ;)

  8. David R says:

    I got the whole anagram the remainder of the letters and get WALLY with GOBLIN while the remainder anagrammed to clues. I did not get the point of the asterisk clues other then one happening to be the clue to Julia’s anagram. It seems once you got the anagram concept even though the meta wasn’t completely understood you had your answer.

  9. neil B says:

    I also missed some of the solving and saw goblin as the leftover letters from Wally. I assumed was not right as only had 2 steps and did not involve sweet and dogood. I am always skeptical when I get a week 4 or 5 correct it must be wrong like Groucho Marx not wanting to be a member of a club that would allow a guy like him in

  10. Bencoe says:

    Add me to the list of people who got this without figuring out the single-starred SWEET’s relevance. Pretty impressive; I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to get the costume connections and the pointing towards WALLY.

    • Bencoe says:

      I’d also like to say that in terms of overall thematic content this is probably the most intricate meta construction I can remember seeing. Good job Matt…5 stars!

  11. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I was actually much closer than I thought: I noticed the LA…HATTANS/Halt Satan bit, and eventually tried anagramming the other answers’ extra letters, but what I came up with for Wally was GLOBIN, on account of an earlier suspicion that he was a vampire. Entirely missed the SWEET/Costume Changes part, and the general idea of treating the costumes as more meaningful than words in a category, but I wouldn’t have really needed it if I’d anagrammed more thoroughly, since the others didn’t anagram to anything relevant. (Of course, Isaac is probably going to get attacked by zombies who want his BRAIN, but that’s obviously not part of the answer.)

  12. Dan Seidman says:

    I got the costume changes (SWEET -> SHEET, HORAS -> HORNS, etc.), so I knew it was Wally, but I never figured out what DOGOOD was for. So I guessed that he was a real ghost (rather than a man in a costume).

  13. bergie says:

    Did the one star clue indicate one way of figuring out the meta and the two star clue indicate a second way? If so, that’s some crazy geniusness going on.

    If not, then I’m confused as ever (though I got the right answer via the two star method).

  14. Joe says:

    Did anyone find any connection between the meta and the five letter names of the guests? Seems like Matt wouldn’t have put the names in all caps and made them all five letters long without a reason.

    I also submitted Wally is a goblin as my answer. But I had no idea why it worked. There seemed to be too many loose pieces floating around in this meta.

    • Abide says:

      On reflection, they are random names but they are all five letters so you can spell W-A- L-L-Y ( from each of the five costumes) or one of the other five-letter names.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Exactly, I didn’t want the five-letter name to be guessable because five theme entries, so I made them all five. The other four are just meant to be suggestive of random wordplay (WENDY being W???Y like WALLY, ISAAC with two A’s, etc.).

  15. David Stein says:

    Wow great Meta Matt. Count me as someone who didn’t see the intricacy. I also saw the other entries anagrammed with the leftover letters and I anagrammed Wallys leftovers to become GOBLIN. I didn’t really see what the stars meant. But really cool now that I do.

  16. Michael A. says:

    I figured out GOBLIN based on the anagram hints, but was very confident that the party-goer in question was JULIA. WALLY, first of all, seemed too easy, given that he was also in the BLOGHOSTING clue. But as I tried to figure out the asterisked “Like Halloween candy,” I noticed that the letters of party-goer WENDY appeared in order in that clue. Looking through the rest of the clues, I found that each party-goer’s name except for JULIA appears in order in one of the other clues: ALICE in 27-Across; ISAAC in 4-Down; and WALLY in 59-Down. JULIA doesn’t appear, so she must be the GOBLIN. I’m amazed that this could be a coincidence.

    • Evan says:

      That’s an interesting strategy and find, though I think if Matt had intended it, he likely would have made sure that there weren’t any other stray letters of those people’s names in the same clue. Like in 27-Across, just taking the party-goer’s letters, you’d spell ALIICCEI. That’s probably a bit too random.

    • mnemonica says:

      I found this, too. That left me with:
      Four * clues and answers (the answers were LABATTS, ARA, ALIBI and SWEET)
      Four ** clues (everyone but Wally), whose answers were ESTEEM, DOGOOD, MIND and LAME. In each case, the clue with the asterisk was the first of its kind in clue order.

      I tried anagramming pairs; I tried reading the answers phonetically; I tried everything I could think of. Finally, knowing it must be wrong, I sent in the answer I’d seen at the beginning, since Wally’s leftover letters spelled goblin. I was astonished to learn I was correct.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I also wanted Julia at one point, because hers is the only non-5 letter costume. But I couldn’t justify that as a better reason than Wally appearing in the clue that led to GOBLIN* as a container for GHOST. It seems to me that all of these half-grokked solves could have been avoided if Matt hadn’t said who was wearing what. It could have been a list of names we knew were at the party, but since they were masked, we didn’t know who was wearing what.

  17. pj says:

    Like others, I doubted myself because I figured out right away that WALLY’s GHOST costume left a GOBLIN when disrobed, while none of the others had a creature attached at the hip. Couldn’t be Correct? Week five will be much more convoluted. Well, I guess it was with all the other changes to Horn, Halo, Mole and Sheet, but I didn’t quite grasp that. It was all swirling around there in the miasma but I couldn’t see it clearly. So I waited until after 8am PST this morning, and the submission was closed! I emailed Matt with my answer and he graciously alleviated my concern with a reply to not worry. DST I already miss you.

  18. Horace S. Patoot says:

    Well I took a bit of a wrong turn that led to an arguable answer, but not THE answer. All the costumes are five letters long, as are the names of those who wear them, with the exception of TINMAN, so TINMAN doesn’t belong. Removing TINMAN from Julia’s drink leaves an anagram of the double asterisk clue, HALT SATAN. Removing that leaves Julia with neither a drink nor a costume. If the one asterisk clue SWEET is added to the clue for Julie (not subtracted from the grid like HALT SATAN hence the single star) the clue becomes a SWEET rum drink. What SWEET rum drink has six letters (lIke TINMAN) and also matches the narrative description of the puzzle? A ZOMBIE.

    Darn. I did see GOBLIN but thought it a coincidence.

  19. Garrett says:

    Unless I missed something in reading Joon’s comments and everyone else’s, I still don’t get what the ** was for, but I can tell you it hosed my answer completely. Like Tyler and Evan and I’m sure many others, I got the anagrams GOBLIN, VALUE, HALT SATAN, BRAIN, and SAD BRO, and the link to clues for all save GOBLIN. I also noticed that the answers to the VALUE, HALT SATAN, BRAIN, and SAD BRO clues in the grid were interesting because:

    # DO GOOD is to the left of VAUDEVILLE
    # ESTEEM is to the right of BRANGELINA
    # MIND crosses SWITCHBOARD

    So, with GOBLIN hanging out there and nothing adjacent to BLOGHOSTING in this way, the obvious answer was WALLY is a GOBLIN. In fact, it seemed too obvious to me. I kept wondering, “What do these stars mean?”

    I finally came to the conclusion that the first * told us that SWEET was important, and as it was to the right of BLOGHOSTING that just helped cement that GOBLIN was the supernatural beast, and possibly WALLY, but what about the HALT SATAN** thing? And this is where I went astray.

    At this point I noticed the A-B-C-C-D pattern that Evan also mentioned. “Wait!,” I thought, “SWEET, WALLY, and ISAAC all fit this same pattern.” So now I was convinced that the single * pointed to SWEET for this purpose. This is when I decided it must be ISAAC, but I needed for it to hang together.

    How I got there was to take the answer for HALT SATAN (DO GOOD), take the GOOD part of it because it was on the same line as DEVEL which could also be EVIL, and associate GOOD with ANGEL. ANGEL is part of BRANGELINA, which is the answer for the ISAAC clue. Thus, I reasoned that the double star was to imply two levels of indirection.

    Now, this meta already has too many moving parts, but when I read in Joon’s write-up that we also can find parts of the costumes for the different Halloween roles, this blew my mind. Had they spelled ISAAC I would be one very satisfied solver.

    I was very impressed with the quality of the fill for all of the constraints that had to be placed to acheive all the interlinking going on. And the meta is mind-blowing. But I am sure that some number of people missed the entire gestalt of the thing, having seen goblin hanging out there and Wally associated with it they just submitted that and went on with life.

    • Garrett says:

      I forgot something in my write-up that I considered early-on to seem important.

      64A’s clue is [Next you’re chatting with ISAAC, who was going to go as ___ with his girlfriend for Halloween, but they broke up a week ago so he’s here alone.]

      Now this is the only clue that mentions costumes. With the fill being BRANGELINA, Isaac cannot be going in his intended costume, because it requires the girlfriend to complete it, with one being Brad Pitt and the other being Angelina Jolie. Therefore I though that Isaac would have to have gone to the party as something else. It just made a whole lot of sense to me that it would be as a ghost, camouflaging hist goblin identity. I had this thought Friday, and it took till last night to be able to find support for it via the other mechanism I mentioned. Finally, this is the only clue that contains the word Halloween besides the clue with the single * at 21A, and that also seemed like a possible link. Taking all these things together the case seemed very strong for Isaac. Sigh.

      • Bencoe says:

        I had noticed that too, and considered it for a while. Poor ISAAC…I also noticed his leftover “BRAIN” and had the thought about zombies.

    • Magoo says:

      Here’s another thing about the answers DO GOOD, ESTEEM, LAME and MIND. They all cross at one end with a word of the same length at its own end (STOWED, ETCHED, LABS and MARC). I knew that couldn’t be a coincidence … except it was.

  20. joon says:

    oh gosh. andy and i even noticed that you could get VALUE and BRAIN from the leftover letters, but totally missed that they were clues in the grid. (SAD BRO did not occur to us; we were thinking maybe BROADS.)

    that does, in fact, produce two entirely independent solving paths to the meta answer. in addition, it riddles even more holes into my confident assumption that the leftover letters from the container theme answers can’t possibly be meta-significant. sheesh!

  21. Stribbs says:

    I got WALLY from the costume changes before verifying GOBLIN. As for AXL vs. AWE (or ABE), I was thinking the changed letter had to be in the person’s name (hence L but not W or B is in JULIA, so AXL is the right one). But then I wondered why make ISAAC the fourth name? It matches SWEET in letter patterns, so maybe red herring. It also makes ALICE the only name that has letters from every other name in the proper order. So we want a name with a C and an L to match the letter pattern to keep the red herrings and make the letter substitutions unambiguous. CLEET?

  22. Meg says:

    The letters affected by the costume changes (WALLY and HNEOE) anagram to HALLOWEENY.

  23. Bri Nebulae says:

    I couldn’t figure out the change-a-letter twist with SWEET, but I did have another interpretation…

    The clue was “Like Halloween Candy*” which could also describe “individually wrapped”.

    Kinda like how GOBLIN wraps around the GHOST and the other anagrams wrap the other individual costumes.


  24. Wayne says:

    It always bothers me when I correctly solve the meta without using all the elements in the puzzle. It makes me feel that I’m somehow not giving the puzzle the respect it deserves.

    And there were so many obviously unused elements here, that I wasn’t even sure that I had gotten the right answer, and so kept going in circles long past the “a ha” moment. So…5 stars for the impressive construction, 3 for the overall solving experience.

  25. Dele says:

    Like most of the other successful solvers, I found Value, Brain, and “Sad, bro” but was clueless about what to do with SWEET, and figured I was missing another layer. I’m stunned to learn that that extra layer was even more intricate than the first. Mindblowing, Matt!

    But now I’m really kicking myself for my Bananagrams fail two weeks ago (I solved it correctly but simply forgot to submit the answer). Cost myself my first ever 5-for-5!

  26. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Three easy steps to the solution:

    1. Noticed the five creatures in the long answers:


    containing the hidden message: HOST EVIL IN AN ITCH!

    Have no idea what this means.

    2. Notice that the outer-outer letters of the first theme entry anagram to GOBLIN. Have absolutely no idea what this has to do with the asterisked clues or the other names and costumes (Let’s see . . . there’s Wendy the Witch. Isn’t she a character somewhere?)

    3. Decide I have other (not necessarily more important) things to do, only way I can clear my mind is to send in Wally/Goblin, astounded to see that it is correct.

    • Mark M says:

      Ditto on #2 and #3, was equally astounded to see it was correct and equally astounded at Joon’s post on how to work with the starred clues.

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    OK, sorry I’m a little late getting here. 182 correct entries received, including a few who e-mailed me when the submissions form closed an hour early (sorry for that, we forgot to set it back for Daylight Savings). If you had WALLY / GOBLIN and didn’t get to submit because the form closed, please e-mail me at and Dave and I will add you manually.

    Let me explain how this strangely-structured meta came about: 5th Friday and it’s Halloween, so I wanted to go big and go scary, of course. Hit upon the idea of a masquerade party where one guest is really some sort of evil creature under their costume. Seemed like it’d be difficult to pull off, but decided to spend a half-hour looking at the possibilities and seeing if I could make it work.

    Started to make a list of costumes, and the first one was GHOST. Didn’t even get to (I brainstorm “manually” first and only then hit onelook, otherwise I get lazy) before I saw that 1) GHOST hides in BLOG HOSTING, and that 2) the leftover BLOING anagrams to GOBLIN. Whoa! That’s gotta be incredibly lucky, and fits perfectly the idea of a partygoer wearing a costume but really being something evil underneath. Really, couldn’t believe my luck.

    But then I saw the problem: This has to be Week 5 difficulty level, and what’s to stop solvers from seeing the GHOST costume and then just anagramming the other six letters right off the bat to the solution? Hmm. That’s a shortcut I couldn’t find a way around, so decided that the best tactic would be to distract people away from that (with things like starred clues). Plus I hoped that most solvers would see the costumes and assume (as Joon did above, I liked reading that since it was my exact hope) that the leftover letters wouldn’t spell anything since just finding a phrase to conceal many of these is tough enough.

    So from there I got the ideas to 1) use the replaced letters in pieces of each costume around the grid to spell the name of the evil guest (WALLY — choices constrained there, too, since the letters had to be in order of the costumes in the grid because I didn’t want randomgramming) and 2) to hint at the method of using the remaining, non-costume letters in the theme entries to form four of the clues (“Value,” “Sad, bro!”, “Halt Satan” and “Brain” were the others) to hint at GOBLIN.

    So this was like playing hide-and-seek in a huge mansion and choosing to hide in the coat rack right next to the entrance: I knew some people would find the GOBLIN right away, but hoped it wouldn’t be too many, and that those who didn’t spot it off the bat would have to take the longer, intended path. Or at least that those who did see GOBLIN right away would see the two starred clues and feel like they had to suss those out to be sure that WALLY/GOBLIN was right.

    So a little odd in structure in that there were several paths to the right answer. You didn’t need all the information but the more you had the better you felt about it (and some solvers did see the GOBLIN but guessed a non-Wally guest for various reasons).

    • Garrett says:

      So is the ** on Halt Satan actually just a red herring?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        No, it points you towards using leftover letters in the theme entries to find GOBLIN (not necessary for you since you’d noticed it right off the bat, but that was the “official” way to get there for those who didn’t)

        • Joe says:

          Oh, now I finally see the brilliance in this meta. Matt told us that the meta answer had two parts: “the secretly evil guest, and what kind of beast they really are.”

          The single star, {Like Halloween candy*} SWEET, helps us find the first part of the meta answer, Wally.

          The double star, {Halt Satan**} DO GOOD, helps direct us to the second part of the meta answer, goblin.

          The problem for me was that I saw goblin right away. Without following any of the other clues, I thought that the secretly evil guest would be Wally. But, this didn’t feel like a complete answer because it didn’t click like Matt’s metas usually do.

          I feel like the math student who got the right answer but shouldn’t get credit because I failed to show my work.

        • pgw says:

          Similar to many others, I never figured out the significance of the starred clues. I found the four clues that were anagrams of the “leftovers” from the theme entries. It was curious to me that one of those was starred, but it never occurred to me to think that it was starred merely as a representative of the set. I just figured it was doing double duty, once as an anagram and once in some way I never understood. I’m not sure I’ve seen this before – starring a clue to hint that we should be looking for other examples of the same phenomenon. I found those other examples without even considering the starred nature of the clue. (I think VALUE was actually my entry point.)

          My reasoning was: to solve the puzzle, you take off each guest’s costume to see what is thereby revealed. In four of five cases, what you’re left with is an anagram for another clue. In the fifth case, you’re left instead with an evil monster.

          This half-solve would have suggested the wrong answer had the names appeared in different clues; but I think that would have been a little dissatisfying too, because the natural assumption is that each person came dressed in the costume that is contained in their associated theme entry, and that really highlights (1) the cool coincidence that inspired the puzzle in the first place and (2) the fact that in real life, the only one of these costumes in which a goblin could avoid detection is the classic sheet-with-eyeholes ghost.

    • pannonica says:

      Yes, I got tangled in all the cobwebs. Especially the two asterisked clues, which turned out to be models and not complete within themselves.

    • Mutman says:

      Well I was dumb the whole month (was 1 for 4 up to this point) and was going no where.

      I did see the leftovers spelling goblin but could make no more connections anywhere.

      So I threw up my hands and submitted it on a whim and to give my brain a rest.

      Go figure!

  28. Chris says:

    I was on the right track of an anagram once you remove the costume. With BRANGELINA, I came up with ANGEL + BRAIN and thought ISAAC / ZOMBIE

  29. Debbie says:

    That’s what I came up with too, Chris. Although I knew that answer was way too easy for a Week 5. I also originally filled in ExLax for the ‘non-binding purchase’ clue, which I thought was pretty amusing! Scary good meta, Matt!

  30. Andy says:

    Just chiming to say that, having gone through the entire intended solving process, this is one of my all-time favorite meta-puzzles. That said, it’s really disappointing that one could do away with about 75% of the decoding process and still arrive at the correct answer.

  31. tabstop says:

    I got sidetracked by noticing that ** is almost a Caesar-shift of * (sweet + 10 gives cgood, and if you decide to use the C-major scale (and why wouldn’t you!?!), then c = do). The unusual six-letter costume is also (solfege note)+(four other letters), but that’s where everything stopped.

  32. Brilliant meta. I quickly noticed the hidden costumes in the theme answers but didn’t get much farther; though I didn’t really spend much time trying to solve it due to life busyness.

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