MGWCC #348

crossword 5:00
meta 3 days, with help from andy 

hello and welcome to episode #348 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Stick It to ‘Em!”. for this week 5 puzzle, matt informs us that One letter in this grid needs to be changed to complete this puzzle’s pattern. Which letter is it, and what letter does it change to?. okay. this was a really tough meta that i got nowhere on by myself, so i once again enlisted the aid of the brilliant andy kravis to co-solve with me. so, what are the theme answers? there are six long acrosses:

  • {Christmas decoration} POINSETTIA.
  • {Meat substitute for vegetarians} EGGPLANT.
  • {Especially wide banner} is the QATARI FLAG. indeed, it’s got an aspect ratio of 11:28, making it the only national flag over twice as wide as it is tall.
  • {Helianthus annuus members} SUNFLOWERS.
  • {Mint family plant} LAVENDER.
  • {Heat sphere} BASKETBALL. nice tricky clue. also note that it works in both the literal and figurative sense of “sphere”.

so, about these things. they appear to have nothing at all in common, or so it certainly seemed to me at first glance. andy correctly pointed out that they all have distinctive colors: a POINSETTIA has bright red leaves (and a little bit of green), an EGGPLANT is purple (and a little green), the QATARI FLAG is maroon and white, SUNFLOWERS are yellow (and green), LAVENDER is … lavender (and a little green—i guess this will happen when you have lots of plants in the theme), and a BASKETBALL is orange (and black).

okay. so there are colors. what else? and what does the title mean? here we were stymied for a while. eventually i noticed the very suggestive clue for TAMU at 73a: {College Station sch. (think: its football jerseys, etc.)}. not only that, TAMU itself stands out as being a pretty poor choice for a fill entry there: TAME/ALOE is a lot cleaner than TAMU/ALOU, to mention just one single-square fix. so there is definitely something meta going on with this entry. and that something is this: the texas a&m football jerseys are maroon and white, just like the QATARI FLAG. aha!

so … what’s going on here? it looks like maybe we need to pair off things in the grid that are the same colors, but maybe one of them will be unpaired unless we change a letter in the grid? let’s go to it.

CORN is yellow (with some green) like SUNFLOWERS, so that’s a pair. LAVA can be orange and black like a BASKETBALL. but we struggled to find other pairs. the unusual rasta word IRIE at 3d caught our attention—if you change the last letter to S, you get an IRIS, which is basically the same color as LAVENDER. so this looked like a possibility, but the instructions did say to change one letter in the grid, not one letter in a grid entry. that means you need to change the E to S in the crossing entry, too. so we really didn’t like the fact that it would leave 20-across as SWSAT, which is nonsense.

but back to colors. in scouring the grid, we found a few other things that are not paired with our theme answers, but are notably colored:

  • {Southern, in some atlases} OCEAN. tough clue, but it’s a reference to the southern ocean. anyway, the OCEAN is blue.
  • {Grouch in a can} OSCAR. he’s green—and it seems like matt deliberately chose this clue (as opposed to the golden statuette or just any famous oscar) for its greenness.
  • {Vivaldi’s “___ Concerto in A Minor”} OBOE. oboes are black.
  • {Tough material} DENIM. blue.
  • {Good source of vitamin C} PEAR. green.

interestingly, OSCAR and DENIM are symmetrically located—and they each have a matching color (green PEAR for OSCAR and blue OCEAN for DENIM). so now it looks like there are 8 symmetric theme answers, and each one has a same-color pair in the grid. sixteen theme answers! no wonder the fill is awfully strained.

so we’ve got a partner for OSCAR, QATARI FLAG, SUNFLOWERS, DENIM, and BASKETBALL. they aren’t exactly the same shade, but both EGGPLANT and LAVENDER are purple (with some green), so it’s possible that they just pair with each other. (okay, so “only” fourteen theme answers.) that just leaves POINSETTIA as the one needing a red and green partner. so far, all of the colored entries have come from the acrosses, so we scoured the acrosses for places to change one letter to get something red and green.

the first one we found was 51a MAIS, which could become MARS, the red planet. this was at least a possibility, but we didn’t like it for three reasons: one, MARS is zero percent green. all of the other multi-colored entries (mostly i’m talking about the plants, but this also applies to the maroon and white pair QATARI FLAG/TAMU) had partners that shared both or all colors. two, this letter change suffers from the same problem as IRIE -> IRIS, namely that it makes the crossing down entry garbage (I’D SAY -> RDSAY). and three, if that’s the answer to the meta, then the title of the puzzle seems to have nothing to do with anything. so we kept looking.

we didn’t have to go very far before finding the winner: {Fictional traveling salesman} gregor SAMSA (of kafka’s the metamorphosis) can become SALSA, which is red but with some chunks of green—a perfect color match for the POINSETTIA. not only that, this change improves the grid, with SAMSA/MALA becoming SALSA/LALA instead of introducing a nonsense crossing down entry. finally, the title “Stick It to ‘Em” can be read to mean that we’re sticking something (in this case, the letter L) onto this “em” (M) to find our answer, so there it is: the M of SAMSA becomes an L.

this was a cool and difficult puzzle, but there’s a strange aspect to it: you don’t need to notice that OSCAR/PEAR and DENIM/OCEAN are in the theme in order to solve it correctly. heck, you could even leave the longish symmetric EGGPLANT/LAVENDER pair out of it and the theme still works the same way, just with far fewer theme answers than you’d expect in order to justify some really shaky fill all over the place. (it’s much more forgivable when you notice how far he went with seven pairs of theme answers instead of four.)

the fill is also shakier in some places than the theme would appear to dictate. i still don’t know why IRIE is in there. that little KEE/ELVER region at the bottom is an eyesore. the center of the grid is admittedly pretty constrained by the two long themers running through it, but two partials (one foreign and one proper), a plural abbr, a suffix, and a very unusual name is still awfully rough for one little area. against that, i have to acknowledge that the top middle is miraculously clean considering there are three theme answers stacked on consecutive rows there.

(i can’t in good conscience end my blog post without admitting that matt has informed us that our submitted answer was not his intended correct answer. but i’ll leave that one for him to explain and adjudicate.)

what’d you all think of this one?

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71 Responses to MGWCC #348

  1. genefaba says:

    I submitted the same answer and I also thought the title “Stick it to EM” means that I should stick an L on the M on SAMSA

  2. Scott Rogoff says:

    This puzzle had a billiard ball theme. The Nth row of the grid had an item of the same color of ball number N, except for row 11. I didn’t come up with a good answer, although your MARS suggestion seems plausible. I was thinking the corresponding down answer would have to spell a real word though.

  3. Tyler Hinman says:

    I submitted MAIS/MARS and was apparently correct. The top seven lines had items that were yellow, blue, red, purple, orange, green, and maroon, in that order. Same for the bottom seven lines, except the line for red didn’t have anything. Thus my answer. Of course, RDBET is nonsense, and I don’t understand the title or any reason for that specific sequence. So I await the intended explanation.

    Edit: Ah, how did I miss that? Well, at least I got it.

  4. Al says:

    Wow, did anyone else submit changing the O in 15 to U to get CUE? I thought we had the colors of the eight solid pool balls. Red, Maroon, Blue, Purple down the left side, Black (assuming eggplant is black, I’m colorblind so I’m at a disadvantage with color themes), Green, Yellow, Orange down the right side.

    I figured we still needed the white ball and noticed you could change COE at 5 down to CUE. The Stick It to Em title points to CUE STICK, and the entry is pointing vertically down at the “pool balls” which further enhanced my confidence in my answer.

    I really thought I had this one. Sigh.

    • bunella says:

      LOL I had no cue and even if i had the “L” would still have had no clue.

      Oh well maybe i’ll get it this week.

      Kudos to all the smarties who figured it out.

  5. Evan says:

    My note to Matt on my desperation guess:

    “Because Metamorphosis! And because take that, letter M! Also I have no clue.”

    Sometimes dreams do come true. Win!

    (Edit: wait, what? Not correct? Looks like I jumped the excitement gun too fast after seeing joon’s bolded answer was the same as mine.)

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    My intended answer is MAIS –> MARS in the 11th row. The color pattern was important and not random: yellow-blue-red-purple-orange-green-maroon-black-yellow-blue-?-purple-orange-green-maroon suggests (with the title, “Stick It to ‘Em”) that you’re looking at billiard balls, so you need something in Row 11 that becomes red. Hence MAIS–MARS.

    I don’t consider it important that there’s a little of some other color in most of the theme entries. Yes a basketball has a little black and corn has a little green etc., but not very many things are 100.00% one color.

    I am a bit concerned about the SAMSA–SALSA thing. It’s not on the right row, but it does make something red, and it has the extra “Metamorphosis” connection, and it forms a coherent crossword entry on the down, which I didn’t clarify was unnecessary in the instructions. So I might wind up accepting it, but am interested in hearing pros or cons for that here.

    80 people got MARS — MAIS. 15 submitted SAMSA — SALSA.

    • Justin says:

      That’s a heck of a theme. But I would agree with the concept that the down answer should make sense with the letter changed, since you said change a letter in the grid.

      P.S. you kicked my behind this month, Mr. Gaffney!

      • Justin says:

        Too late to edit my comment, but even though I think it’s a bit inelegant that the changed down entry in the grid isn’t a word, I don’t think SALSA should count. The billiard pattern, row by row, is clearly not completed with SALSA.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Right, but the counterargument would be a solver saying: “I was choosing between MAIS–> MARS and SAMSA–>SALSA, and couldn’t decide which inelegance was more important, that the down didn’t form a cluable entry on MARS or that SALSA was in the wrong row.”

          If I’d just clarified in my instructions that the crossing entry didn’t need to be anything, then this wouldn’t be a problem.

    • pgw says:

      Ah – billiard balls! That explains the black oboe. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t figure that out, and I’m a little surprised that Google didn’t reveal the answer.

    • pannonica says:

      I wouldn’t accept SAMSA/SALSA. It’s in the wrong row. Even if people didn’t get the billiards connection, the repeating sequence in rows 1–7 and 9–15 practically demands it be 11/MARS.

      Incidentally, I wasn’t even close on this meta.

      • Pete Rimkus says:

        The billiard ball theme ties this together perfectly. There are 15 lines in the grid, every line has a colored item (except one), and the order of the colors matches the colors of the billiard balls from 1-15.
        Any answer other than MAIS –> MARS has to be … what is it called when you sink the cue ball when you’re not trying to? A Scratch?

    • jpdavidson says:

      Matt, I think the reason that it becomes important that there’s a little of other colors in most of the theme entries is that the TAMU clue is clearly designed to get you to think about the colors there, and then the exact *two* colors of the Texas A&M jerseys match those of the Qatari flag, rather than just them both being maroon as intended.

      Search for Texas A&M’s jersey colors and you’ll get a special box indicating that:

      likewise for the Qatari flag:

      I didn’t get either answer but I was definitely fully down the path of looking at pairs of colors – Poinsettia is listed at as being “known for its red and green foliage” for the purpose of Christmas displays. So if color pairs were truly unintentional, it felt very easy to go down this path.

  7. pgw says:

    My answer, MAIS -> MARS, was counted as correct. I’m not sure why SAMSA -> SALSA would be, because that doesn’t preserve the “pattern” – yellow – blue – red – purple – orange – green – maroon. This sequence appears in that order in the top seven rows of the puzzle, and again in the same order in the bottom seven rows but there it’s missing the red stripe. So we needed something red in the 11th row. I too was bothered by the nonsense down answer, but the color pattern was too strong for me to consider any alternative answer.

    I also think there’s something else going on with the puzzle’s title. I found this site –;action=display;num=1404946681 – referring to the same sequence (it calls maroon “plum”), but no one solved the puzzle there. It gives the hint that it refers to some kind of game. I could not find anything else Googling the color pattern.

    I was impressed by the large amount of theme material and this extra constraint – Matt couldn’t include anything else in the grid that has a characteristic color! (True, oboes are black – but black isn’t really a color.)

    I await a fuller explanation of what was going on. Great puzzle though!

    • pannonica says:

      Names of colors are subjective and arbitrary. Even so, I’d say the consensus is that the color of 7/15 (solid/stripe) is maroon and not plum (nor would I call the purple of 4/12 plum). Factette: sometimes the 7/15 balls are tan.

  8. John says:

    I did the SAMSA/SALSA shuffle. Funny how close it is to the actual answer. I think the billiards thing was significant though and i and the others missed it. If i was one of the 80, it would chafe to have you give it to the 15, so i vote against me.

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I know “pear green” is a color concept, but so many pears are yellow (, red, or russet-brown. Botanical debit, minus .5!

  10. Paul Coulter says:

    I followed much the same path as Joon, Andy, and Neville. I rejected Mars because I didn’t believe Matt would let a nonsense Down entry result. Then I was torn for two days between Salsa/lala and roan/anoa. I picked the latter in the end because in addition to roan being a reddish color (for a horse,) anoa also has a distinctive color, in this case black, to stand for the eight ball. And I had a hunch that Matt might like to use the crosswordese anoa for the odd “eight ball.” Overall, I can’t rate this as highly as some of Matt’s stellar Week 5s. 3 stars. But as for whether these answers should be counted, I’d vote no. We should have recognized the billiards connection – despite the inelegance of MARS/RDBET, this wasn’t dirty pool.

  11. pgw says:

    I thought PEAR was a little weak. Anjou pears stay green, but Bartletts (which are far superior) are yellow when ready to eat. There are also red pears and brown pears. No matter, though, the color pattern was clear enough.

  12. Bri Nebulae says:

    Even if you didn’t see the repeating color pattern and even if you didn’t make the pool ball connection, SALSA is still somewhat problematic because it doesn’t fit the pattern of one color word per row of the puzzle. If it wasn’t Week 5, I’d say SALSA should get credit, but I’d vote against it here.

  13. Jim Q says:

    This puzzle was a lot of fun to figure out. Title and the Qatari flag led me to believe that we were looking for things with points… anyone else go down that path? (points in basketball, points on a poinsettia, the leaves at the top of an eggplant are sorta pointy…)

    Was sure that it had to do with points! I’m slowly learning to abandon my instincts.

    Didn’t realize the billiard thing, but did catch the pattern. Great puzzle, Matt.

  14. Dave C says:

    I’ve never had so much fun getting the wrong answer. Instead of 2 groupings of 7 with a missing row, I devised 3 groups of 5 – each had the same 5 colors (but not in the exact order, which is why I figured I was wrong):

    Set 1 – Corn – YELLOW, Ocean – BLUE, Poinsettia – RED (or multiple?), Eggplant – PURPLE, Lava – ORANGE

    Set 2 – Oscar – YELLOW (the statue, not the grouch), Qatari Flag – RED (well, Maroon), Ural – PURPLE (as in purple mountains majesty – a stretch), Sunflowers – Orange (or multiple?), Denim – BLUE

    Set 3 – Row 11?????, Lavender – PURPLE, Basketball – ORANGE, Pear – YELLOW (not green), Tamu – RED (well, Maroon)

    From Row 11, I was looking for something blue or with multiple colors, and OBIS fit that description; OSIS to OBIS).

    There were a few too many contrivances in my thinking for me to think it was right, but it seemed semi-viable.

  15. Wayne says:

    I knew there was going to be a lot of theme answers, since the fill was merely NYT-quality, not Gaffney-quality.

    To be honest, I like the Joon/Andy solution a little better, for the reason that Joon and others mentioned: The prompt clearly says “one letter in this *grid* needs to be changed”. Leaving garbage in the crossing entry seems like a violation of the spirit of that instruction. If the prompt hadn’t used the word “grid”, I would be less sympathetic.

    4 stars for MARS.
    4.5 for SALSA.

    • pgw says:

      I understand your reasoning but the problem is, the prompt also asks us to “complete [a] pattern.” That screams out for turning row 11 red.

  16. Joe says:

    Totally missed the billiards thing, so I get that I’m wrong, but…

    I found every last answer *in the grid* that was color (I didn’t consider TAMU because the university itself is not a particular color)and they all had matches except the black oboe. So I went BEAU/BEAR. I also justified the title because an oboe is stick-like.

    CORN/SUNFLOWERS – yellow
    OCEAN/DENIM – blue
    LAVA/BASKETBALL – orange
    OSCAR/PEAR – green
    OBOE/? – black

    • pgw says:

      Didn’t Matt’s parenthetical in the TAMU clue make you reconsider? I think for many of us, that parenthetical was precisely what got us thinking about color at all.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Right — that’s exactly why I included the parenthetical, because the university itself isn’t maroon. In the other cases the object itself is the color in question.

        It’s amazing how few unambiguously maroon things there turn out to be in the world. I also learning while writing this that “maroon” comes from the French word for “chestnut.”

        • Joe says:

          pgw, I totally would have reconsidered had I looked at the clues again. I was so excited to figure out the colors thing, it never occurred to me to go back. I’m just glad I was on the right track!

        • Abide says:

          Once you see the billiard ball “pattern”, MAIS is the obvious answer. Even if you miss the billiard reference, there is still the “pattern” of the order of the colors (as Tyler found).

          SALSA is a fortuitous find but I would vote no. I think Al’s CUE is a better answer than SALSA.

          • Joe says:

            For the record, I’m not arguing that my answer should be accepted. I was just sharing my solving experience. Now that I see the intricacy of the pattern/puzzle Matt developed, I am in awe (as usual).

  17. Mutman says:

    I knew colors were part of the solution, but couldn’t put it all together

    Racked my brain for a while!

    Maybe if the bottom colors all had white stripes with them I would have gotten it … But I doubt it.

  18. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I really need to learn to stare at anything in parentheses and come up with a good explanation of why it’s there. The “(think: its football jerseys, etc.)” doesn’t make any sense for filling in the grid, since the jerseys actually don’t say “TAMU”, so it’s got to be for extracting meta information.

  19. Mark says:

    I’m fortunate to have gotten this one correct (and very quickly for me…), but interestingly I only half understood WHY this was right. I immediately saw the colours with help from the TAMU clue, and the question references a pattern, which was apparent looking top to bottom. So the answer had to be Mars. My only quibble with the puzzle is that the Billiards connection was not needed to solve this one (I literally figured that part out 3 days later by accident). I personally would have preferred it if the solver needed to identify Billiards as the game (referenced by the title) in order to solve the meta. Without that element, the puzzle was just “fill in the missing color in a repeating pattern” for me.

    That all being said, I wouldn’t accept Salsa. The meta was very specific, even without understanding the Billiards connection.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I was a little concerned that you didn’t necessarily have to see the billiards connection to find the pattern, but the existence of only one black object/ball, plus the missing meta color from one row, did randomize the pattern a little bit. At least enough to make a solver wonder if they had seen everything, and then hopefully spot the pool connection.

      • wobbith says:

        Worked for me. Saw that MAIS/MARS completed the color per row pattern, but was reluctant to send it in because of RDBET. Thinking of sticks led to pool cue… and the first thing that came to mind was “wait, isn’t OBOE on the eighth row?” Yup.

  20. Ale M says:

    Since everything theme-related was in the across answers for this puzzle, it didn’t bother me about the crossing entry when I changed MAIS to MARS. Because of the repeating pattern, it had to be correct. (The other two “red” answers I considered in that row were OBIS or MAO’S.)

    As someone who plays OBOE for a living, I’m glad I got this one!

    • Mark says:

      Matt, did you consider reworking that particular section of the puzzle so that changing the letter for the meta did in fact create reasonable entries both across and down?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I think it’s impossible. Just getting 15 entries of the right colors on the right rows was extremely tough and I sort of lucked into it working at all. Especially so since QATARI FLAG is set in stone on Row 7, which is right in the middle of things, considering that I couldn’t find much else that was unambiguously maroon. But what I should’ve done is clarify in the instructions that the cross wasn’t necessarily going to make anything.

  21. RPardoe says:

    While I did get the billiard ball connection, and eventually the correct solution, I did pause halfway through the solve with another billiard ball solution that almost works. Thought I might share it just to spice up the SALSA discussion above.

    That solution was changing KNOW to SNOW for the WHITE cue ball, based on the following premise:

    I was immediately struck by Qatari Flag as a theme word as MAROON is the prominent color, and one that is not seen commonly. With the puzzle’s title of “Stick it to ’em”, I quickly came to billiard balls and cue sticks. OK, what did I see in the puzzle:


    almost all the colors of billard balls, just missing GREEN and BLUE. Looking at the grid, I quickly see OSCAR and DENIM connecting QATARI FLAG and SUNFLOWERS so now I have 8 theme words arranged in sets of 2 spanning the grid “going bumper-to-bumper” as it were across the grid’s pool table.

    If I were to consider EGGPLANT as BLACK and LAVENDER as PURPLE, I now have a complete set of colors missing only the WHITE cue ball which is the one thing I would use with my cue stick to get “to ’em” (the balls).

    From the grid, I see KNOW > SNOW to complete the set of billiard colors adding the missing WHITE.

    I had stopped there for quite a while wondering if this was the solution or not. It seemed consistent, it had all the colors, billiard balls MUST be the theme, but was uncertain if EGGPLANT to “BLACK” was considered acceptable. (I do see in the comments above that others did consider this as well.)

    I find it interesting that there (possibly) another billiard ball solution. With hindsight, not as good as the final answer, but certainly complete and good enough to make me pause my solve to seriously consider if I were done at that point or not.

  22. pj says:

    I was all over Kansas…and Oz. i fixated on the title’s Em as referring to Antie Em from W of O because of the GALES clue along with CORN and SUNFLOWERS, plus you can spell out AUNTIE in the middle fill ( a bit circuitous, though). S, I started to see what I could stick to M in the puzzle and liked that if you change the first I in IMIT you get EMIT, literally sticking IT to EM! But there was no pattern, so I knew that was incorrect. Submitted E for U in ALOU/TAMU to form ALOE/TAME “sticking to” the M idea. No cigar, Arthur Ashe!

  23. Amy L says:

    I kept seeing yellow everywhere: CORN, SUNFLOWERS, PEAR (they’re yellow!), OSCAR (the statuette, then I looked up the Grouch and found he is green). I got stuck on yellow Post-It notes. The title seemed to confirm sticky notes. So I submitted changing the S in MAIS to Z to make MAIZ–another nice yellow item. Then I realized it’s spelled maize in English.

    I didn’t know lava is orange–I thought it’s black. I looked up the TAMU jerseys and found all kinds of colors.

    I need to write myself a sticky note to play pool more often.

  24. Giovanni P. says:

    I *did* get this one off of the pool connection, shockingly enough. I’m sticking with it too, since it was my fastest solve of a week 5 ever.

    As for SALSA/SAMSA, I’d say give them at least some credit for submitting it. It’s less elegant than MAIS/MARS IMO, but the path is reasonably logical to get to it.

  25. DBraun91 says:

    Saw the color pattern and the missing RED which could be fixed by changing the I to R in MAIS, but had no idea why that pattern was significant. So I spent some time trying to figure out the importance of those colors, eventually landing at a very weak “original Crayola Crayons connection”.
    They are yellow, green, orange, blue, violet (sorta like purple…I convinced myself), brown (again, sorta like maroon? to a colorblind person, maybe? weak..I know), red, black. Still had no idea why the pattern repeated. But I was sure that the missing RED did complete the pattern. I tied this all into the title by the whole Crayon being a coloring “stick”.

    I would have submitted MARS regardless, I just wanted something to convince myself that the colors were not just random colors repeated. The billiards theme is definitely a lot stronger.

  26. Rachel P says:

    I’m sure nobody is making it through all these comments to mine but, may it please the court, here is my argument for my solution:

    I saw all the colors all over the grid– a patchwork pattern of colors, if you will.
    I read the title.
    I saw Elver.
    Change it to El-M-er. Like the glue (stick it). And you have changed the L “to ’em” (M).
    And you get Elmer, like the patchwork elephant (Google the children’s series). YES!!

    What a great week 5, I thought, as I hit submit. Wait, wrong?

    • Ale M says:

      I considered Elmer the Elephant too, and that would have been my Hail Mary had I not seen the repeating pattern. (I also thought it could be Elmer Fudd’s red and brown hat).

      • Rachel P says:

        My problem was that I (incorrectly) had lava as red. I wanted eggplant as indigo too so we’d have the rainbow. Plus maroon.

  27. Gwinns says:

    I would vote to accept SALSA.

    I did not even send in an answer– spent my morning digging snow out of my alley instead– but in my work earlier in the weekend, I missed the billiards connection but found the color-pairs, like Joon. I was most thrown by not knowing if LAVA would be considered red or orange, so I didn’t know what color I was looking for (and had red up in row 5, preventing me from seeing the repeating pattern). Also, I didn’t know all oboes were black.
    Finally, I read the title as “Stick ‘IT’ to ‘M’, ” and so thought there was an MIT reference going on in honor of the puzzle hunt. (MIT’s colors: cardinal red and gray). So I had lots of problems this week.

    But back to my vote: All of my previous Gaffney experience, combined with the instructions to change a “letter in the grid,” led me to assume that the changed letter would also make a viable word going down. I saw MAIS–> MARS, and rejected it out of hand because RDBET doesn’t make sense. Matching pairs of colors qualifies for “completing the puzzle’s pattern.” And changing the M in SAMSA satisfies the title.

    I understand the comments regarding not having a theme entry on every line, but given the lack of clarity in the instructions, and the awkwardness of RDBET, I think– and I say this with the utmost respect to Matt Gaffney, who is my favorite constructor out there–
    that taking MARS but not SALSA is just choosing one type of inelegance over another.

  28. Evan says:

    As someone who submitted SAMSA –> SALSA, I’m not in a position to be objective about whether Matt should accept my entry. While I did notice color patterns for the longest across entries early on, I never thought about matching them up with other entries in the grid. So I never really grokked this one.

    However, I think Matt should at least accept joon’s and Andy’s guess based on joon’s explanation — they noticed the color matching (albeit not the billiards connection), and considered but decided against MAIS –> MARS because the crossing RDBET seemed too far-fetched to be correct. Maybe it’s the constructor in me, but I had the same reaction. I started backsolving this last night and checked all squares in the grid to see which ones could make a plausible, crossword-acceptable switch. I found maybe about 27 or so combinations that worked, and dismissed all others if the crossing entry became absurd. I submitted SAMSA –> SALSA for some of the same unsure-but-logical reasons: the title sorta implied taking out a letter EM, SAMSA is associated with “Metamorphosis,” and the crossing entry worked. That, plus it was a clean switch (I did consider TAME/ALOE, but TAMU seemed like such an obvious outlier in the grid that I figured it had to stay in).

    For my money, the meta itself is an amazing idea and really well done in retrospect, but the RDBET crossing sorta leaves me with a bit of a bad taste. I’ll understand if Matt doesn’t accept my guess since I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but I think in fairness joon and Andy deserve credit for theirs.

  29. Abide says:

    Love the billiard ball theme. I saw all the colors of the rainbow except cyan/light blue. Tatari flag is cyan. Knew it was wrong but had nothing else but tame/aloe.

  30. Abby says:

    I got it right with maRs, but I wasn’t super happy until I reread the clues to see Oscar was the green grouch not the gold statue (though golden pears are a thing). Then it was clear the colors repeated from the top and seemed, uh, solid, but I didn’t think of the pool balls thing until later when I was trying to figure out the title. That would’ve made it easier still and explained what black was doing in the middle. D’oh!

  31. Jason T says:

    Can I just say how unutterably fabulous it is for Matt to have come up with a theme that matches one row of the standard 15×15 crossword for each of the 15 billiard balls? How perfect is that? How has no one ever hit on this before as a theme? (Or maybe someone has, I don’t know.) Sure, some of the color connections are a bit questionable – I also got confused for a while thinking pear = yellow Bartlett pears, Oscar = gold statue (though the clue clearly references the Muppet). And sure, it was possible to solve the meta without spotting the billiards connection: I found the color pattern before I reverse-solved to explain the title. But who cares??? This is brilliant and original, and once I found the 15 color entries, one per row, ordered in the numerical billiard ball order no less… well, all objections seemed paltry compared to the achievement. Well played!

  32. Bob J says:

    I actually like that the letter switch doesn’t form a valid down entry. If that were forced it would narrow down the possible answers a bit too much for a week 5. Plus, as Matt said, there’s a ton a thematic fill (over half the grid!) which has to greatly constrain the construction. The elegance of one themer in every line with the colors in order is much greater than the inelegance of RDBET, imho. Kudos Matt.

  33. JimS says:

    I’m much lamer than most everyone here. I noticed the colors for the theme entries but couldn’t get anywhere. I then looked at the title and noticed very few ‘M’s, so I took it literally – “stick ‘IT’ to ‘M'”. On the left side of the grid, every occurrence of ‘M’ has an “IT” attached to it already. On the right side, there are no “IT” attachments for ‘M’s, but there’s a clue that references Livorno and therefore had me thinking Italian and jumping to “LA” as Italian for “IT”. Every ‘M’ in the right side has a “LA” attached to it with the exception of the ‘M’ in “AMORE” (which was clued by “Livorno”!). There’s already an ‘A’ above the ‘M’, so I figured that changing the ‘C’ in “OSCAR” to an ‘L’ would satisfy the pattern and solve the meta. Not overly elegant, but seems to fit a fantasy pattern and the title. Drat!

  34. Jeff M says:

    For the record: I took “Stick it to ’em” as a reference on a pH stick…and then Google Imaged them…getting this:

    Then i found 13 references to colors:
    Corn, Ocean, Poinsettia, Eggplant, Lava, Oscar, Qatari Flag, Sunflowers, Denim, Lavender, Basketball, Pear and Mais (thought it was acceptable spelling)

    Tried to match these up to the pH scale (or “stick”) and came up with Salsa red as the missing link (confirming “salsa” was a color on this web site:

    QED Salsa.

  35. Gideon says:

    My vote: accept SALSA only for people who declare they saw MARS but chose their preferred inelegance. I think grokking the billiards theme should be required for getting your entry to count.

  36. Jon says:

    I’d say MAIS/MARS has to be the only correct answer. The horizontal rows taken in order from 1 to 15 each contain the color of the pool ball that also has that number on it. It has to be a word on that specific line and Mars is the only thing that works. Salsa is not on the appropriate line of the puzzle.

  37. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Has anyone mentioned that although Mars is called the Red Planet, it’s really not red at all? Certainly nowhere near pool-ball red or poinsettia red. It looks to be more orangey-brown.

  38. Mike W says:

    How about another alternate answer? I saw the colors in the puzzle, but not the billiard ball references. Also, I thought of “lava” as red, instead of orange. Thus, basketball, not poinsettia, was unmatched (I had denim-ocean, pear-oscar, eggplant-lavender, Qatari flag-Tamu, sunflowers-corn, and pointsettia-lava). I saw “osis” as the symmetric pair with “lava” in the grid. Could “osis” be transformed to make an orange item – perhaps Isis? Yes, in two potential ways – on Wikipedia, the goddess Isis is depicted wearing a long orange dress; more notably, in recent days, Isis has infamously dressed its captives in orange jumpsuits (admittedly, not a pleasant puzzle topic). Although nowhere near as elegant as Matt’s desired answer, this approach addresses the dilemma of not using fourteen different rows for the color pairs.

  39. Richard Kalustian says:

    MARS was a lucky last-minute guess for me, because I never thought of billiard balls at all, just tried to match colors. What tipped the scales for me was finding out that the “Mars Red Poinsettia” is a real variety. (And I couldn’t think of anything better.)

  40. Lance says:

    If only you’d racked your pool balls instead of your brain!

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