MGWCC #352

crossword 3:51
meta 5 minutes 

mgwcc352hello and welcome to episode #352 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Numbers Game”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to identify a two-word phrase you might utter once you’ve gotten the meta. what are the theme answers? … well, that’s a very good question. it turns out there sort of aren’t any. the theme is in the clues—in particular, in these clues:

  • 2d: {Trojan War overview} ILIAD.
  • 4d: {Favorite of Uncle Rico} FOOTBALL. i honestly don’t know if uncle rico is supposed to be somebody we’ve heard of, or if it’s just a generic dude.
  • 5d: {Finds it very evident} IS SURE. not my favorite entry, but the clue pretty much captures the gist of it.
  • 6d: {Stunning, in Xochitlan} GUAPA. i believe that’s the feminine form of the spanish adjective “pretty”, but i only know that because of this guy.
  • 10d: {The Entebbeans’ nation} UGANDA. slightly out-of-place-looking leading article here. this was a subtle hint. anyway, entebbe is the one ugandan city you can name if you can name a ugandan city, unless you’re one of those people who likes to memorize world capitals.
  • 12d: {The wildest emotion, like volcanic eruptions} RAGE. the highly unusual wording of this clue was a less subtle hint.
  • 40a: {Feed one’s rumblings, to Yankovic} EAT IT.
  • 50a: {Famed infielder for the Yankees} DEREK JETER.

okay, so you’ve all seen what’s going on here, right? the above clues all have the interesting property that if you take the first letter of each word, you’re spelling out the clue number itself: TWO, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, TEN, TWELVE, FORTY, and FIFTY. (the title is another hint that numbers are important.) circling those squares in the grid, as i’ve done in the screenshot above, reveals the answer message: I FIGURED. that’s a perfect answer to a wonderful meta, considering “figure” can also mean “number” or “datum”.

after last week’s well-chronicled debacle, i’m sure matt was feeling the pressure to knock one out of the park, and in my view, that’s exactly what he’s done. this is a terrifically elegant meta, the extraction mechanism is lovely, and the final answer is just the icing on the cake. some of the numerical “acronym” clues are a little awkward (but just awkward enough to be clueful, in my opinion), but others are just so perfect that i have to wonder where the idea for this puzzle started. “famed infielder for the yankees” and “trojan war overview” were so good that i was pretty sure one of them had to be the seed. for whatever reason, there are always people who complain when the key “aha” is in the clues rather than in the grid, but i’m not one of those people. five stars.

as i’m writing this up on monday night, only 65 people have solved the meta, a pretty low number. it came almost immediately to me, but i guess it wasn’t an easy one. the tip-offs were partly those clues for UGANDA and (especially) RAGE, up there in the northeast corner with the very unusual and easily avoidable {Common fishing boat, or a machete} PANGA at 19-across. it’s a trivial change to put PANDA there and then PURLS/LADE at 9a/12d, so i was sure there was a theme answer up there somewhere. looking closer at the RAGE clue cracked it for me, and then it was just a matter of finding the others.

as you might expect, with the theme density concentrated in the upper part of the grid, the fill is quite a bit better near the bottom. QUIZ SHOW crossing SNEEZES was a pretty touch.

okay, i’m falling asleep at my keyboard here. let me know in the comments what you all thought of this one, then be sure to come back later in the day for the next installment of the 2014 orcas.

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45 Responses to MGWCC #352

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 92 correct entries this week.

    When you get to six letters, as evidenced by the 12-D clue, syntax starts to fall apart on these. So the theme was foreordained by the puzzle gods to include a bunch of entries on the top row, then FORTY and FIFTY.

  2. Pete Muller says:

    Aaaaaaarghhh! So obvious in hindsight. Bravo.

  3. Evan says:

    CRAP CRAP CRAP I guessed IT FIGURES at the last minute. SO CLOSE…..

    That is a really great meta, though, I have to admit. In fact, now I kinda get why that CCCLI fill is there on the left (I guess, though maybe it’s just there to distract people?). UNCLE can easily fit in that space with some refilling, but Uncle Rico is in the FOOTBALL clue.

    p.s. joon, Uncle Rico is the sketchy character from “Napoleon Dynamite” who loves football.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Exactly right, Evan. I had UNCLE there at first but the Uncle in 4-D’s clue is too important to the theme to dupe in the grid. As several solvers pointed out, its replacement (CCCLI) = 351, which was the number of last week’s debacle.

    • Pete Muller says:

      I thought the same thing…But CYCLE also fits…Matt, why CCCLI instead of CYCLE?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I tried it but couldn’t make it fit nicely. Did I miss a good fill?

        • Pete Muller says:

          while solving, I thought I found a good one…which made me think CCCLI had to be part of the meta….but looking again the best I get is ENCLS / VIAL / INS …

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Yeah I saw ENCLS but thought it was worse than the Roman number

          • Mike W says:

            Excellent puzzle!! Good balance of red herrings (answers related to numbers and other long clues not related to the meta) to distract from the meta. As far as ways to eliminate the “CCCLI” answer, how about the following: 26 Across “Are”, 30 Across “Rawly” – Eastwick from the Cincinnati Reds, 36 Across “Aral”, and 39 Across “Its”? Thanks!

          • Chris K says:

            How about CACTI, OPAH, and ASS? That gives you FOOTBATH (Clue: For overly used runners?)

            There must be a better clue…any takers?

    • joon says:

      thanks, evan. i’ve seen that movie, but it did not make enough of an impression on me to cause me to remember that guy’s name.

  4. peedee says:

    Your write-ups always make it seem so easy! What an elegant meta that I wasn’t even close to getting. I was clueless on this one (not unusual for a 4th out of 4th week for me.) Once again, Joon, your thinking process — as well as Matt’s!– amazes me.

  5. Ephraim says:

    I got lost in the idea that most of the long answers are associated with numbers. A RONDELET has 7 lines. There are 11 on a FOOTBALL team. DEREK JETER is #2, while UP AND UNDER master McHale was #32. The game on QUIZ SHOW was “21”. And that just left CASH TRADE.

    Furthermore, 11, 21, and 32 were also the numbers of what I thought were theme answers.

    • Molson says:

      I was trying this connection as well. I had “zero” for cash trade, as in a zero-balance transaction. But I couldn’t make the numbers 0, 2, 7, 11, 21, 32 into anything.

      I saw a bunch of weird fill, but didn’t notice anything in the clues at all. I find it really hard to pick up on anything in the clues that isn’t blatantly obvious since there are always attempts made in clues to be cute or clever.

    • bunella says:

      I was going to that connection too and trying for game shows with numbers or money amounts.

      I’d sure like to partner up with someone on the same level as I am to try and get some week 3’s and 4’s. Anyone interested can email me at

      I can usually get week 1 and 2 but I’m pretty new to the concept and struggling later in the month.

    • pgw says:

      Ephraim, I found the same numbers connection – and it was my road to the solve.

      I had Jeter->2, Quiz Show->21, rondelet->7, football->11. The number connections were getting a little less solid at this point, but anyway I was looking for something to do with these numbers and luckily 2 was among them because after a while I thought “let’s look at the first letters of the clues with those numbers” and I went to write them out. I wrote “2:T” and then for some reason decided to write out the initials of the entire clue. “2:TWO” looked pretty darn promising, and it didn’t take long to find the rest.

      This was a twist on the same idea employed in MGWCC #103, and I think Matt waited long enough to go back to that well. Once again well done writing clues that were in many cases unusually wordy and/or oblique, but really only in retrospect to me. “Famed infielder for the Yankees” was especially well-hidden, and I’m guessing some missed it and submitted “I FIGURE” instead of “I FIGURED.” I only found it because I made sure to check all of the plausible numbers for which you could make an acrostic (after twelve, only the multiples of ten are very likely.)

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    A bit too easy for Week 4, wasn’t it? One or two of the key clues were nicely cast – I especially like “Trojan War Overview” for ILIAD – but with eight of these, it wasn’t long before I tumbled to their awkwardness. Like Joon, it was the unnecessary The before Entebbeans’ nation that I spotted first. Before considering these, however, I felt certain I was on a correct path involving number associations, similar to Ephraim’s above. Football (11) took me to 11D Rondelet (24 lines) to 24D OBI. QUIZ SHOW (it was about the actual show Twenty-one) to 21A UPANDUNDER (the move produces a 2 point basket) to 2D ILIAD (24 books) to OBI again. DEREK JETER (#2) to ILIAD to OBI. I kept wondering why they all led to OBI, and which number I should use for it. At different periods in Japan, there were different characteristic lengths and widths. Also, it bothered me that this was too similar to something Matt had done before. Ah well, the path proved meaningless in the end. Instead, we had an apt numerical pun, which might have been better as GO FIGURE. For me, the meta would have slotted nicely at Week 3. 3.5 stars.

    • joon says:

      “A bit too easy for Week 4, wasn’t it?”


      • jps says:

        I think it was on the easy side for a week 4; that may be because I rarely get week 4s any more (i.e. if I get it, it must be easy). Everything you needed to solve this was in plain sight; no need to research on Google, or refer to Wikipedia lists, or look up a peninsula on a map, or already know some bit of arcana. I tumbled on to this quickly but kept looking for some next step.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      92 correct entries, so exactly what I want for a Week 4. Obviously too low for a Week 3.

      You do comprehend that not every single puzzle will be exactly the same difficulty for every single solver, correct?

      • Dan Seidman says:

        To me, the numerical connections from the long entries, mentioned above, were misleading enough to make it very difficult. I didn’t notice the actual mechanism until I looked for weird clues, but that was after a long time of trying to make something with 2, 7 and 21.

      • Mark says:

        I agree with Paul that this played more like a week 3 (to me, anyway). It was one of those “you either see it or you don’t” puzzles. I personally find the puzzles requiring multiple solving steps to be the most difficult and satisfying, as the solver needs to be fairly confident / persistent to spend time pursuing a solving string to its concussion. This one was only 2 steps. But I thought it was a very nice meta all the same.

        • Mark says:

          …but in all transparency, I was 96% sure the answer was going to be “gin rummy” for about an hour. Not worth going into all the details, but some of the implied numbers in the grid correspond to rummy scores.

  7. Abide says:

    I solved from the bottom up, so when I got to the top some of the weird cluing started registering. The Uncle Rico clue was so bizarre, the FoUR came into view pretty quickly, and it was game on. (“Focus of university receivers” was the best alternative I could come up with.)

    I was solver #30 so I said something like “Triumphantly having it’s right tally, yes?” in the comment box.

  8. Rachel P says:

    I took the bait on so many different things (the most ridiculous: “why would Matt use the words uTTer and goTTEn in the instructions? We just did double letters?”).

    Interestingly, my first thought before even working on it was “go figure.” But then I allowed the crazy to take over. Assumed the Deborah (Kerr) response was leading us to Steve Kerr. And that Wade was Dwyane Wade. Derek Jeter was Derek Fisher. Cash Trade was Swin Cash. Up and under had to be McHale… but the clue was basketball fake. Aha! Basketball is a fake out– must be baseball. There’s a Buddy Kerr, Wade Boggs, Troy Tulowitski, Jeter, Hank Aaron, Merl Combs…. You can find connections anywhere if you want them badly enough. And the clues had some baseball references– leading, stealing, stick, second, first, out, force…. With all the shortstops and Boggs at third I thought … What would they utter?

    And then I realized every letter appeared in the grid except X. Roman numeral. Maybe that was why CCCLI was there? Should I multiply everything by 10? Is it batting 1,000? That’s three words. Gah!

    Ultimately I settled on the jerseys that doubled. Jeter, Fisher, Tulowitski (2– I) and Swin Cash and McHale (32– C) PLUS the many awkward clues that had “ic” in them (levitICus, YankovIC, escherIChia, VatICan, RICo). IC = I see. Which I might utter once I got it. Defensible, but wrong. Ugh. I’d utter that too.

    I was so close looking at Yankovic and Rico I could kick myself. I tip my hat to all the solvers. And to Matt. Thanks.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      “But then I allowed the crazy to take over.”

      This is one of my favorite Fiend comments of all time. I’ve totally been there while solving metas. “This can’t be right…OR CAN IT? Must spend two hours finding out…”

    • Maggie W. says:

      I had the ICs for a while, too! Leviticus, Apologetic, Drastic, Stick, Yankovic, Ridiculous, Fictional, Vatican, Rico, Escherichia. And, like others, had the numbers associated with the “games,” 2, 11, 21, 32. I even looked at “WhaT WE’VE learned from the story” and considered a meta where letters were eliminated from spelled-out numbers. So much being led astray by words (not) intended to deceive.

  9. neil bellovin says:

    I too got caught up in that Jeter is 2 Quiz show is 21 and football is 11, etc. and kept doing combos with those numbers. i knew uncle rico was a weird clue but couldn’t see the FOUR initials of that. Very good meta appropriate for week 4

  10. Donimo says:

    I eventually got there, but spent a lot of time trying to work a sports connection. Did anyone else focus on the symmetrically placed WADE (Boggs) and TROY (Aikman)?

  11. Garrett says:

    I missed this one, but you might find my logic and answer interesting. (and by the way, great meta!!!). I thought the grid looked kind of odd, and AGOAT also got my attention for some reason. So I did a letter distribution and found that the puzzle was pangramatic save for an X. I felt so strongly that this could not be a coincidence that I tried to think about why the X was missing. Then Jim Schooler pointed out that CHI in the grid — besides being ‘life force’ is the name in the Greek alphabet which is X.

    That’s wild, I thought. So, how is that a numbers game? For some reason, the term “X Factor” popped into my mind, and then I remembered Simon Cowell’s show called “The X Factor” which features singers singing songs in competition. “Aha!” I thought. A “numbers” game show. So I submitted X Factor.

  12. Tom says:

    Anyone else notice ABE (16) and CHI (22) in symmetrically placed locations in the grid? That kept me in the entry = number rathole for a good long while. Also WADE & TROY (as pointed out above).

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Good find. I also had CHI as 22, but I had ABE as 5, for the US banknote. I like your 16 better, though.

    • Amy L says:

      I too noticed the ABE and CHI. I thought they both were replacing the missing X, then I remembered that Abe is on the $5 bill and not the $10. (Duh!)

  13. I noticed there were lots of uppercase F’s in the clues (and lots of lowercase F’s too) and thought the clues might be important, but I couldn’t figure out where to go from there. I didn’t see any thematicness in the longest answers in the grid and figured they probably weren’t the theme answers; some of them led to obvious numbers (DEREKJETER ==> 2, QUIZSHOW ==> 21), but no interesting set of symmetric pairs did so (CASHTRADE has no obvious number, for example).

    So close, yet so far.

  14. David Hanson says:

    Well, I was nowhere near getting this. I did notice the almost-pangrammacity of the puzzle, but didn’t connect the CHI to it. My biggest diversion was noticing that UPANDUNDER and DEREKJETER both ended in strings that could anagram to a number if the letter H is added to them (100,3). However, the other long answers didn’t work like that with an H or other letter. So simple and elegant when it is spelled out. Nice puzzle.

  15. Jim S. says:

    I got caught on the numbers in the “theme” answers too. Jeter’s 2 pointed me to Iliad; rondelets 7 pointed me to “Oprah”; Quiz Show’s 21 pointed me to “UpAndUnder”. I took that to indicate that I was to look under the previous numbers and look vertically. I found “Uri” and “cede” and thought “You reseed” might be a nod to the craziness going on in college basketball prior to March Madness (lots of mock polls out there that need to be reseeded nearly every day). Oh well. Good puzzle and very fair meta – I’ve not gotten to the point where I can recognize oddities in the clues yet, so these types of metas will continue to stump me.

  16. Dave says:

    Most of the longish entries and several of the others have connections to years or numbers that end in 4:

    Marty Feldman was born in 1934 and played Igor in Young Frankenstein in 1974. Derek Jeter was born in 1974 and retired in 2014. Ransom Olds was born in 1864, and GM stopped making Oldsmobiles in 2004. Napoleon Dynamite (from the Uncle Rico clue) came out in 2004, as did Motorcycle Diaries (“Role for Gael”). Oprah was born in 1954 and the clue “recent Oscars attendee” could be a reference to her nomination for Selma, which came out in 2014. Quiz Show came out in 1994. “Eat It” was released in 1984. Then there’s “44 hectares”, the quote from Leviticus chapter 4, and 24 books in the Iliad.

    Now obviously if you get stuck on a pattern, you can find yourself shoehorning every clue into it. But birthdates and release dates are very natural years to associate with a clue, and Olds is even clued with a reference to his birth. And well over half of the clues in which I looked for a year fit this pattern. Furthermore, if you look at just the last two digits of the years, my list above includes the full sequence 4, 14, 24, on up to 94, with very little duplication. Weird.

  17. J Bowzer says:

    I went waaaay down the rabbit hole for awhile.

    Other than the obvious number connections (Derek Jeter = 2, Quiz Show = 21) I started thinking there were alternative valid answers for the 6 long grid entries which all alluded to numbers.

    It lost to “Forrest Gump” could also be FOUR weddings and a funeral.
    Basketball fake could be DOUBLE pump.
    Short French poems could be TRIOlets.
    Yankee infielder could be BUCKy dent or Wally PIPp (bit of a stretch)
    Security transaction could be THIRD party loan.

    But then I got stuck on the Favorite of Uncle Rico clue for a long time, scoured the script of Napoleon Dynamite looking for hints, until F.O.U.R. popped out. Had that specific clue not applied, I would have been stumped.

    • Ale M says:

      I went down this exact rabbit hole. For. A. Long. Time.

      4 Weddings and Funeral
      Double Pivot
      Villanelles (19 lines each, and plural could make them 38, connecting them to the 38D theme clue)
      Lou Gehrig (#4)
      And Uncle Rico sold tupperware in sets of 24 or 32.

      When I saw the “4 Weddings” opening, I thought that was the key. Alas …

  18. WendyH says:

    Missed it, and it is vey elegant! Also, thanks for the 23 and 25 across clues for my friend Deborah Wade! She’s thrilled that it was the correct spelling of Deborah and not Debra…

  19. Dele says:

    Excellent meta! I filled in the puzzle in a roughly circular route, ending up in the northeast corner. I’d noticed some of the unusual fill and interesting clues in the top half of the grid, though nothing had set off a major alarm bell yet. But as soon as I hit that bizarre volcanic RAGE clue, I stopped everything. That clue was just too weird not to be important.

    I thought this was an amazing construction, given all the constraints: coming up with the 8 clues which spelled out numbers–and which led to entries that started with the letters in I FIGURED, in the right order; designing a standard symmetrical grid into which those entries could be placed in the appropriate numerical positions; and finally getting the rest of the fill to reasonably cross those (often adjacent or nearby) entries. Really stunning. Kudos, Matt!

  20. David Stein says:

    Great meta this week. I got this one by staring at the Derek Jeter clue. “Famed Infielder for the Yankees” is way too boring of a clue for Matt Gaffney, particularly for a ten letter entry. There had to be something there, and indeed there was!

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