MGWCC #365

crossword 4:49
meta 1.5 days 

mgwcc365hello and welcome to episode #365 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Start to Finish”. for this tough week 5 puzzle, we are looking for a secret word that can be formed by anagramming an entry in this puzzle’s fill. what are the theme answers? the clues for the four longest entries have a parenthetical number affixed:

  • {He had his own mother assassinated (1)} EMPEROR NERO.
  • {Event of February 5th, 2006 (2)} is SUPER BOWL XL. that was the steelers-seahawks super bowl marred by grossly faulty officiating.
  • {Power roll (3)} in a game of dice is DOUBLE SIXES.
  • {Philanthropist who started the Imagination Library (4)} is country superstar DOLLY PARTON.

this took me a good long while to crack, in fits and starts. i printed it out and solved the crossword before heading to washington for last weekend’s indie 500 and post hunt. the first thing i noticed was that EMPEROR NERO is bracketed by ENERO, the spanish word for january (and beloved crutch of crossword constructors). also that was theme clue (1), matching the first month. so i combed the other theme answers looking for other spanish months… other foreign months… other things that were 2nd or 3rd or 4th in a canonical list. nope. nothing.

the next morning on the metro ride into DC for indie 500, i looked at the puzzle again. it occurred to me that many of these clues suggest numbers: SUPER BOWL XL outright contains the number 40 in roman numerals, DOLLY PARTON is famously associated with 9 to 5 (song, movie, stage musical), and DOUBLE SIXES might be suggesting 12 or 66 or perhaps even 36. so i started checking out those numbers in the grid. 9 and 5 are L and R, respectively; 40 is E; i wasn’t sure which letter to take for DOUBLE SIXES, but it might have been O or N or M. EMPEROR NERO, however, didn’t really suggest a number, except that he was the 5th emperor of rome, but it seemed like we wouldn’t be using the 5 twice.

then, i had an aha moment (the second of several): the title is “start to finish”, and dolly gave me 9 to 5. maybe i need all of those squares! and in fact, since 5-across is RESOLD, 9 to 5 gives LOSER, an actual word. whoa. that is some heady stuff.

i quickly looked up the score of SUPER BOWL XL: it was pittsburgh 21, seattle 10. and “21 to 10” in the grid gives the first four letters (in reverse order) of 10-down, DROWN: WORD. another success. EMPEROR NERO ruled from 54 to 68 AD, so i got the first four letters of 54-down, CODEX: CODE.

at this point i had CODE WORD ??? LOSER. all very promising. but i didn’t know what to do with DOUBLE SIXES. i tried lots of things, but i wasn’t happy with any of them giving me a numerical range like the others had done. then i got to my destination and put the puzzle aside for the day.

after the tournament, on the metro ride back, i tried to tackle the meta from the other end: what word suggested by some kind of LOSER anagrams to a grid entry? i went through the grid and looked for words with anagrams. my eyes lit up when i found {Seehorn of “Better Call Saul”} RHEA at 49a. now, i don’t know who that is, but RHEA anagrams to both HERA and (relevantly) HARE, the storied race loser from aesop’s fable.

i liked that a lot. but before i submitted it, i wanted to be extra sure, so now i went looking through the grid, word search-style (but only beginning and ending on numbered squares), for something that might describe the hare. RACE, FABLED, STORIED, TORTOISE, something with AESOP… nope. i couldn’t find any of them. the scales finally fell from my eyes when i realized that AESOPIC was stretching along the main diagonal from 35 to 1—which are the odds against rolling DOUBLE SIXES with a pair of normal dice. bravo. i’d actually thought of 35 to 1 while brainstorming number pairs for DOUBLE SIXES earlier, but dismissed it because 1 and 35 weren’t in the same grid entry. i hadn’t considered diagonals.

(afterwards, i was kicking myself for not looking there because i had noticed from the fill that there had to be more theme in the top left corner. if the only constraint is the start of EMPEROR NERO, there is no way a little 4×3 box in a corner would necessitate fill like CDE at 1-down.)

anyway, to recap: we have derived CODE WORD AESOPIC LOSER from our four theme answers, giving us HARE which anagrams to RHEA.

this is an absolutely brilliant meta. at least three successive ahas were involved in getting from point A to point B. not only that, but the construction itself is remarkable. look how much is going on near the top of the grid: the diagonal AESOPIC triply constrains all the fill in the upper left quadrant. plus, you have both LOSER and WORD hidden in the top middle section, and on top of all that, the theme answer EMPEROR NERO as well. the four words hidden in the grid have to be hidden in very specific numbered positions, and those have to correspond to the theme answers. it’s all absolutely mind-boggling. my jaw hit the floor so hard i can’t even bring myself to ding matt for making up the word AESOPIC. just wow.

the fill was very good, too. if you like a scrabbly grid, this one had a couple of J’s, four X’s, and a Z. there was one word i’d never seen: {Greek yogurt brand} OIKOS. but the rest was quite clean.

that’s all from me this week. it was great to see a bunch of you last weekend. bravo to matt (with whom i had the pleasure of having lunch during the tournament, by the way) for a really fun 5-week month of metas. how’d you do this month?

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29 Responses to MGWCC #365

  1. Justin says:

    I was similarly impressed at the feat of constructing this… it still solved very smoothly too.

  2. Jim Q says:

    Hands up for thinking that DOUBLE SIXES referred to the “30 to 1” bet on a craps table! (got the meta off of CODE WORD __ LOSER anyway though). Great puzzle, Matt!

    Also, after anagramming most entries in the puzzle, I am now going to refer to my friend MELISSA as AIMLESS.

    • Maggie W. says:

      Hand up. I was wondering what the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation had to do with the meta. Got it eventually, though.

      • Jim Q says:

        Me too!! I wonder if they got a spike in Google hits. I also thought it might mean something like American Hockey East Division Conference- which is kinda a thing that exists (The NJ River Rats lost this year btw).

  3. Jed says:

    Ouch, that one hurts. Forgot until 11:40 to review the meta – too late to finish the solve. I got CODE WORD __ LOSER but not time to finish. To know you grokked a little too late to do anything about it.

    Next month…

  4. mps says:

    this puzzle was incredibly fun, and the construction mind bogglingly impressive. it was also my first ever 5/5 month and my 100th correct answer on the online submissions. so i’ll always remember this one fondly.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 117 right answers this week. Great seeing you in DC.

    I was a little unlucky on this one, but then a little lucky: none of the Roman numeral two-digit Super Bowls had helpful scores, like 42-28 or something. Instead they were all either blowouts (which would put the two scores too far from each other in the grid) or lowish-scoring ones like the 21-10 I wound up using, which really got things cramped up top since 9 to 5 and 35-to-1 were set in stone. But then (to my surprise) the fill up there managed to work out OK despite all the theme material (including the 7-letter diagonal), so that was fortunate.

    PS — AESOPIC really is a word! And useful, since it’s so odd looking, plus running up and backwards, that even if someone were scanning the diagonals they were unlikely to notice it.

  6. Al says:

    I got to the CODE WORD ??? LOSER part, but couldn’t come up with that third word. I agonized between AIMLESS and HARE and picked the wrong one. Aargh.

    • abide says:

      Al, I woke up aimless this morning and scanning the winner board I saw you must have been deliberating. I should have contacted you for a group solve–I think I could have gotten it from where you were.

      I didn’t have any of the hidden words but thought “Start to Finish” indicated a race, which made RHEA/HARE a plausible answer. I would have submitted that except HEARS (HARES) was also present. I went with TILE since the fill was scrabbly, and my finished grid looked like a mahjong board by the end.

  7. I noticed early on that the grid clocked in at a whopping 84 words (78 is normally the max for a Monday NYT, though sometimes an 80 squeaks through, IIRC), so I knew there had to be something more in the grid than just the 4 theme answers.

    Like Joon, I found CODE WORD ??? LOSER after some thought, but it took some time to crack AESOPIC. I found it forwards by thinking about phrases “X to Y” that could be associated with DOUBLE SIXES, and tried 36-to-1 at first, but the grid squares 36 and 1 didn’t connect cleanly; then I remembered it should be 35-to-1 odds, not 36-to-1, and it all clicked into place.

    Brilliant, 5 stars.

  8. Evan says:

    My first 5-for-5 in ……. ever? I can’t remember if I’ve done that before. I got this off of ___ ___ ___ LOSER. That is not because I have mutant meta mind powers. It’s because I saw the “number-to-number” pattern, saw that 9-to-5 in the grid spelled LOSER, and then got completely stumped trying to make sense of the gibberish of ALL the numbered squares from 21-to-10 (WOPREUODSOSD) and 54-to-68 (CJLLIOWDOLTONAE). Plus I had no idea what to make of the DOUBLE SIXES — 35-to-1? 2-to-12 (for the number of dice sums)? 6-to-6?!

    But I saw RHEA, then figured, well the HARE was a famous loser, so let’s go with it.

  9. Paul Coulter says:

    The meta was, as Joon says, brilliant. I wasn’t even close, though I did have 54 to 68AD, 21 to 10, 1 in 36 odds, and 9 to 5 scattered among my three pages of notes. At the finish, I took an “aimless” guess of Melissa. My only track that started well was Nero starting a fire. Then the title suggested moving the E of Emperor to FIR. It seemed significant that this was the central entry. But none of my paths to find the rest worked out. Starting rookies featured prominently in S.B. XL, so maybe add the S of Superbowl to rookie? If these were 1 and 2, then we’d have F. R. I hoped maybe Matt was spelling FROM, but I couldn’t see the O word unless the biblical Obed has something to do with twelve or 36 or double sixes, then I guessed M for Melissa (which anagrams to aimless as others have noted) to make Start From. Outstanding! 5 stars from me.

  10. wobbith says:

    Just wow is right. This is just a brilliant meta. Kudos, Matt.
    I wracked my brain all weekend and never got anywhere close.
    I was certain that the “Start to Finish” meta had something to do with a trip
    across the US.
    Starting in EUGENE, Oregon, taking Interstate 5 (Nero) to Southern CA,
    Picking up Interstate 40 (Superbowl) to Oklahoma City, then old route 66
    to Chicago, then maybe US 6 to Providence and from there taking Interstate 95
    (Dolly) to … somewhere. Dang.

  11. Rachel says:

    Wow. The irony of the many rabbit holes I went down and the actual answer being HARE is not lost on me.

    I got caught up in the parentheticals referring to prior weeks. Spent lots of time trying to get the relevant numbers to pick up intelligible words that way. I also fell into a whole Pittsburgh Penguins thing. And a study of the significance of so many “of”s.

    I am humbled once again. Thanks Matt.
    Can someone please do an up close and personal story on this Jangler for those of us not in the inner circle?

  12. pgw says:

    Fully agreed that this was an amazing puzzle, both in terms of solving experience and impressiveness of construction. I enjoyed how each of the four themers evoked one of those “x to y” phrases in a different way from the rest, as well as how the puzzle title gives a subtle nudge to both key solving steps without giving either away. My comment upon solving was “[11 to 37]!”

    By the way, joon, Matt didn’t make up “aesopic.” I know because when I figured out the crux idea of the meta, I still didn’t have the middle of the puzzle filled in. At that point in my grid I knew the “35 to 1” word was of the form ?ESOPIC so I went to and put that string in, which yielded two options (aesopic and mesopic.)

  13. John says:

    I was looking at anagramming the answers associated with these numbers: LAR, ROOKIE, etc. I grokked it too late to re-adjust my thinking. What a great meta! I love the diagonal AESOPIC. Cool cool cool.

  14. Mutman says:

    I agree with the brilliant comments, but unfortunately could not come up with the answer. Like many, I had notes all over the place with the numbers, but to know avail.

    I tried my best anagram with SHARE, hoping sharing of letters was part of the meta.

    Maybe Matt will believe it was a typo?!?! HARE is in there, no?!?

  15. magoo says:

    Yes, brilliant. And I didn’t get close either, despite pondering some of the numbers involved, like 9 to 5. Dolly’s 69, Nero died in 68, Double sixes make 66, why couldn’t Superbowl XL have had 67 points? Solution, and idea, are excellent – and hats off to the 117. Nice one, Matt.

  16. Garrett says:

    Matt wrote: “PS — AESOPIC really is a word! And useful, since it’s so odd looking, plus running up and backwards, that even if someone were scanning the diagonals they were unlikely to notice it.”

    I did scan the diagonals, and did not see it. I did not think to scan them backwards! Good hide.

    The meta and puzzle were just bomb diggity!

    I got hung-up on letter patterns. I could not see how the 4 theme answers had anything to do with each other this weekend. So I stacked them one on top of the other and looked for patterns, and noticed PER on top of PER in the 1st two, and DO on top of DO in the 2nd two, pointing to ‘doper’. And oddly enough, from the D in Dolly diagonally up to the right, the word ‘dope’ is spelled-out. I went around anagramming everything in the grid except the theme answers but never thought about looking at partial fill backwards, otherwise I may have associated hare and loser.

    It was not until this morning that the thought of ranges came up, and as time was running out (minutes to go) I just thought about all the anagrams I had come up with and threw spate out to see if it would stick.

    I was gobstruck when reading Joon’s write-up and finally getting how it all worked.

    Like I said… Bomb Diggity!

  17. mathdanmom says:

    What a great meta! I was never even close, because I got hung up on the four X’s in the grid. I kept searching for letter strings Boggle-style which ended next to the X, and never thought about numbers of the form ___ to ___. For some reason, after I start down the wrong path, it’s very hard for me to stop spinning my wheels and think of a completely different approach. I’m looking forward to an easy meta next week.

  18. Peedee says:

    Not even close this week. Sigh. I got hung up on DOUBLE SIXES associated with (3) and decided the mets had to have something to do with the four previous puzzles in May. The third puzzle was the basketball jerseys with double numbers. I spent all weekend on different permutations using all five puzzles. The meta was brilliant this month. I, unfortunately, was not.

  19. pannonica says:

    Had no time to devote to this puzzle, but wish I’d had a crack at it, though I doubt I’d have solved it.

    “there was one word i’d never seen: {Greek yogurt brand} OIKOS.”

    “An oikos (ancient Greek: οἶκος, plural: οἶκοι; English prefix: eco- for ecology and economics) is the ancient Greek equivalent of a household, house, or family.” Wikipedia

    It’s also the title of a scholarly journal focussing on environmental studies.

  20. Joe says:

    I am not worthy.

    This was amazing. Can one of you people who solved it in less than fifteen minutes tell us how you possibly accomplished it without using sorcery or time travel?

    • PJ Ward says:

      After completing the fill I wrote out the theme answers. Didn’t see a connection as a group. Went after each of them individually. Nero’s reign hit me as locations in the grid. Going from 54 to 68 got me CODE and I was pretty sure I was on the right trail – grid # to grid #. Dolly was a gimme, as was the Super Bowl. Felt like the dice could well be payout or odds. Went craps then odds.

      Aside – My first month to get a meta past week 2. And I got 3, 4, and 5. Unfortunately, I didn’t get week 2 so I didn’t have a perfect month.

  21. Mac says:

    Wasn’t even close so I guess I am still striving for a perfect month. One question, though. Why is the answer is a “secret word.”? Why not just a word. I spent a fair amount of time on that rabbit hole of the Secret Word skit on both SNL and Groucho fame. Don’t get me wrong – it was fun and funny – just not relevant to the meta.

  22. Abby says:

    Could not suss what double sixes was, but had the other TOs. Couldn’t figure what to do with them or if I was right because I had “10 to 21” for the Superbowl (as the Wikipedia page has it written) and that didn’t make a word. So I wasn’t sure what was going on and without the fourth as a tie-breaker, I just guessed. Unfortunately, I didn’t go with my first (right) guess, so I missed it. :-(

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