MGWCC #372

crossword 4:24 (across lite)
meta DNF2 days 
mgwcc372hello and welcome to episode #372 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Time and Time Again”. for this week 3 puzzle of guest constructor month, indie constructor evan birnholz challenges us to find a two-word description of something missing from the puzzle. so what are the theme answers?

… yeah, i don’t know. there are no long answers. there are just a couple of 9s, PRONOUNCE and SCARSDALE. in fact, it’s a very strange grid, with 82 words (well over the usual limit of 78 for 15×15 grid), so i figure the most likely thing is that every answer is a theme answer. it’s not a lipogram, like one of those puzzles that doesn’t use the letter E or something.

okay, i just got it. i was looking at the title again, and “time” plus CLOCK across the middle caught my attention. funny story about the word CLOCK: it’s only five letters long, and it’s a common word with lots of nice cluing possibilities, but it had never appeared in a new york times crossword under will shortz until surprisingly recently—within my solving lifetime. so it definitely caught my attention. a word with consonants like that doesn’t just fall into a grid by accident.

as soon as i started thinking about clocks, i pretty much had it. TARA across the top at 5-across is clued as {Fictional neighbor of Twelve Oaks} (emphasis mine, of course). as i looked around the grid, i kept finding more clues with the numbers 1-12 (spelled out), in the correct location in the grid. in fact, i found one of everything except 11.

but what was the answer? i took another look at the title… and then another look at the clues. in fact, there are two crossing answers that use each of the clock numbers. lo and behold:

  • {Asmodeus, for one} DEMON crossing {World Cup star about whom Ronaldinho said “Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats”} MESSI at the E. now, that is a long quote clue for MESSI. ronaldinho was not actually present at MESSI’s birth, of course, but they were teammates at barcelona when messi broke into the first team as a teenager.
  • {Actress Katherine with two adopted daughters} HEIGL crossing {Two-bit} LOUSY at the L.
  • {Three ___ Men} WISE crossing {Olympic event with three-minute rounds} EPEE at (the final) E. nice touch having CLOCK and then WISE across the middle row of the grid.
  • {DuVernay whose film “Selma” was nominated for four Golden Globes} AVA crossing {Four Seasons head} frankie VALLI at the V.
  • {“I’ve Got Five Dollars” singer Fitzgerald} ELLA crossing {“Bad ___” (Ben Folds Five tune)} IDEA at the E. a very musical crossing here.
  • {Diligent six-footers} ANTS crossing {Six-pack element} CAN at the N.
  • {Show that garnered seven Tony Awards the year after it debuted on Broadway} EVITA crossing {Republic comprised of a seven-island archipelago} MALTA at the T.
  • {Winslow who painted “Eight Bells”} HOMER crossing {Painter who spent eight months in a Danish psychiatric clinic to battle alcoholism and depression} edvard MUNCH at the H. crossing painters, nice. i consider myself a painting buff, and i know both of these painters, but i don’t know that homer painting (although the title makes sense, as he’s very famous for seascapes), nor did i have MUNCH off that clue. in fact, i was really trying to make either MONET (although i know a lot about his life and i’m sure he wasn’t in a psychiatric clinic, danish or otherwise) or MANET fit there.
  • {Nine Inch Nails hit from “The Downward Spiral”} HURT crossing {Something to try on at Nine West} SHOE at the H. at this point, the johnny cash cover of HURT might be more famous. what do you guys think?
  • {Part of a set of ten} TOE crossing {“The Ten Commandments” actress Yvonne De ___} CARLO at the O.
  • and, as mentioned above, {Fictional neighbor of Twelve Oaks} TARA crossing {Beast with quills “twelve paces long,” according to Marco Polo} ROC at the R. that is a big bird, but i guess they supposedly fed on elephants, so they must be pretty big.

notice the locations of these crosses: as indicated in my screenshot above, they’re symmetric and perfectly arrayed around the face of the clock in the correct locations, except that there’s a missing one. as i mentioned, there’s no eleven in the clue for either TABU or DUNE, crossing at the U where 11 should be. but, reading the letters off in clock order from 1 to 12 gives eleventh hour, the answer to the meta.

okay, so this is a really good one. reeeeeally good. it was clear from the grid that something quite elaborate was going on with the construction here, but this is pretty mind-boggling. there are somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-five theme answers in the grid! (it depends on whether you count TABU/DUNE as a theme answer. the U at their intersection is forced by the meta answer, but the words are otherwise unconstrained.) the clues are in no way tortured or forced—the numbers appear in them quite naturally. and the final answer is the perfect capstone to this chronometric meta.

about the only thing that didn’t fit, for me, was the fact that i actually solved this monday night, instead of tuesday between 11am and noon as i often do for the toughest metas. i’m sure i’ve used the words “eleventh-hour solve” before when blogging the mgwcc, and this one seemed to be headed that way earlier in the weekend when i didn’t see anything on my first pass. but it fell rather quickly upon a second visit, and i’m grateful for that, because it’s fantastic.

can’t wait for next week’s puzzle. guest constructor month has been great so far! what did you all think?

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35 Responses to MGWCC #372

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    231 right answers this week. Thanks, Evan! This one was indeed extremely clever and intricate.

  2. Ephraim says:

    Started meta-solving at 11:30. Finished at 11:53. How’s that for last minute eleventh hour work?

    I really like this one.

  3. George says:

    Really impressive meta. Stumped me. I saw clock, and realized the shape of the grid probably had something clock face related, but couldn’t see it. I went with Second Hand as my eleventh hour Hail Mary. I always forget to look at the clues. Either way, fun puzzle and hopefully I learn from my mistakes.

    • Evan says:

      As a matter of fact, in my original submission to Matt, 65-Across was HAND. He thought that SECOND HAND might be a possible solution, and technically it would have been kinda correct, but not very satisfying. Hence the change to HARD.

  4. Wayne says:

    Very nice! My favorite metas are the ones that hide in plain sight. And this certainly does that. Wish I’d gotten it.

    I fixated on CLOCK_WISE. I figured that it couldn’t be a coincidence that they were adjacent in the grid. I figured wrong, and never really recovered.

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed it. My first thought as I found eleven missing from the numbers was Elevenses. Guess I was feeling hungry, since I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. (For those who haven’t spent much time in Britain, it’s a mid-morning snack.) Then checking the instructions, I saw we wanted a two word phrase, and I thought Eleven Plus. But I didn’t think this exam would be known by many Americans, so I dug further and found the letters at the crossings spelling out the answer. Great job, Evan! Five stars from me.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Elevenses is a real thing? I’m embarrassed to admit I thought that it was a fictional meal eaten by hobbits.

      Anyway, this was an awesome and satisfying meta. Probably my favorite MGWCC guest puzzle to date.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Winnie the Pooh and Paddington also enjoy their elevenses. But Second Breakfast purely belongs to Hobbits.

  6. KZ Condor says:

    Hated this puzzle for about 65 hours, then absolutely loved it. It managed to provide two great “A-ha!” moments – once when finding the numbers embedded in the clues, then when realizing that you need to take the squares where each set of “hour” clues intersect.

    To pull this off with only a couple instances of questionable fill is just top freakin’ rate.

  7. Justin says:

    Yet another meta that I got, but didn’t get all the way. I wrote down the list of numbers on another sheet of paper, copied over the crossing letters, and saw ELEVENTH HO_R pop out (missing the 11 of course). What I did NOT see was that they were perfectly placed like a clock. Whoa. Agreed, this was some cool construction. Looking forward to Friday for a few reasons.

  8. Joe says:

    Nice meta, but the instructions are a bit confusing. “Eleventh hour” isn’t missing from the puzzle. It’s right there in the grid, as pointed out by Joon.

    I submitted “two elevens” because that is what is missing from the puzzle. There are two ones, two twos, etc. But the two elevens are missing. Matt did not accept this answer. He did accept “eleven o’clock,” which is also missing, and not spelled out by the letters in the clock positions. Based on that, I’m not sure why he didn’t accept “two elevens.”

    • Slow Stumper Solver says:

      I agree, the wording was strange. I got all the clues with their numbers, noticed 11 was missing, pondered the time theme and the central clock, and sent in “eleven o’clock”. Never bothered to see the individual letters at the crossings. You’re correct that “eleventh hour” is NOT missing from the puzzle. A better-worded instruction might have been, “The answer is 2 words you can see which describe what you can’t see” or similar. That strange instruction is the only thing detracting from this rather perfect puzzle. Well done Evan!

    • Evan says:

      I’ll agree that perhaps the instructions could have been worded a little differently, but even though the ELEVENTH HOUR is spelled out from the intersections, the idea is that it’s missing from where it’s supposed to be. It’s missing because all of the other clues have the appropriate intersecting numbers where the clues for TABU/DUNE do not.

      I can’t speak for Matt about what he would accept as alternate solutions, but here’s the thing about ELEVEN O’CLOCK: I could understand if people saw the numbers, got the connection with the CLOCK, saw that the clues intersected at roughly the correct clock positions, and then figured they were done — without checking to see if the intersecting letters spelled out something relevant. ELEVEN O’CLOCK is not as on-target of an answer because it’s not spelled out by the intersections, and because CLOCK is sitting in the middle…..but it’s an equivalent phrase to the intended solution.

      Ultimately, I think it’s strangely appropriate that solvers could be right about a broken clock meta in two different ways.

      • Joe says:

        “…even though the ELEVENTH HOUR is spelled out from the intersections, the idea is that it’s missing from where it’s supposed to be.”

        No, it’s not missing. It’s right where it’s supposed to be. It’s in the fourth column over, second row down. It’s the grid square that contains a U. If it were missing, how could it be in the grid, and thus in the puzzle?

        “It’s missing because all of the other clues have the appropriate intersecting numbers where the clues for TABU/DUNE do not.” [Emphasis added]

        Exactly. The clues for TABU and DUNE are missing the “two elevens” which would point to the grid square that corresponds to eleven o’clock. Everything else is there. Only the two elevens in the clues are missing.

        • joon says:

          are you claiming that ELEVENTH HOUR is not correct? because that’s perverse. i (and many others) interpreted the “hour” to be the names of the hours in the crossing clues. without those, there is absolutely no reason anybody would have noticed the ELEVENTH HOUR letters around the clock face.

          the U in that one grid square isn’t the eleventh hour. it’s just a U. now, names of hours in a pair of crossing clues, which cross at the location of that same hour on a clock? that’s an hour.

          for what it’s worth, i think you have a perfectly reasonable case for “two elevens” (despite it not really being a phrase) if answers such as “eleven o’clock” are being accepted.

      • dave glasser says:

        I agree. I had exactly that solving process… saw the clues intersecting at the clock positions, saw that eleven was missing, tried to decide if “ELEVEN O’CLOCK” or “ELEVENTH HOUR” was right, submitted the right answer somewhat randomly (or based on thinking it was a nicer answer phrase)… and then ten minutes later saw the letters. While getting it right was partially luck for me, once I saw the right answer it was pretty clearly right.

        (My initial instinct was just to answer “theme entries” though :) )

  9. Joe says:

    Unreal. I finally solved it at about 2 minutes before the eleventh hour. On vacation and came back to the hotel to give myself an hour to give this meta some attention. So glad I did because what a great A-ha!

  10. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    After much hopeless contemplation, I noticed all the numbers in the clues and wrote them out in numerical order. I noticed that “eleven” was missing, but I also noticed that there were exactly two of each. More important for my downfall, I noticed that the clue for 22 D was “Half-assed thing?” But I could find no matching “half” elsewhere in the clues. So even though I couldn’t really back it up, I decided that the “something missing from the puzzle” was a SECOND HALF.

  11. Molson says:

    I got that it was something clock related but I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I saw that the word after CLOCK in the grid was WISE so I tried doing clockwise strings of letters looking for repeated words/phrases (“Time and Time Again”) but didn’t get anything.

    I hate it when metas involve the clues in a way that isn’t obvious. The numbers in the clues were not obvious or memorable at all to me when solving the puzzle.

    Even seeing the solution I’m not really sure how “Eleventh Hour” is missing from the puzzle – the U is right there at 11 o’clock like it should be?

    Impressive construction and a nice meta idea and execution. I just found it really hard for a week 3/5 since the clues didn’t pop out to me.

  12. Jeff G. says:

    I really liked this one! Excellent idea and very well done!

  13. Evan says:

    Thanks for the kind words, joon, and for everybody’s feedback!

    When I was building this thing, the real trick was (as joon mentioned) finding words where I could reasonably write clues that I didn’t have to torture into oblivion, but at the same time they needed to stick out enough such that solvers could notice their significance. I had to stretch a little bit for the clues for IDEA, MUNCH, and ROC, though the clue for the latter has been done before. The clue for MESSI is indeed long, but I thought it was an interesting quote and I didn’t want to editorialize by writing something like [He’s considered by many to be one of the best soccer players in the world], even though that’s probably a true statement.

    After that, the game was just a matter of filling the puzzle as cleanly as I could. I thought that would be relatively easy since there weren’t many long words to worry about….but of course I was wrong. The northwest and southeast corners drove me insane for a while, and so did the northeast corner, although that’s because I insisted on having a [… for one] clue up there since it’s such a common crossword convention.

    Also, the WISE next to the CLOCK was serendipitous. But a nice bit of serendipity, I think.

    Hope you all enjoyed the meta, whether you cracked it or not.

    • john says:

      Evan – when i submitted (11 o’clock) i mentioned to Matt that i didn’t think this puzzle was worthy of the master (but, hey, who is?). Even though i had highlighted the answers in the grid and the intersections were clear to see i just stopped and thought, 11 o’clock, 11am and 11pm? No real click here. Well i stand corrected (and somewhat lazy). Brilliant effort. The symmetry of the intersections and the spelling out of the answer were inspired and beautifully executed.

  14. Amy L says:

    While filling in the answers, it seemed that all of the clues were really convoluted–I thought they must have something to do with the meta. Then I saw CLOCK in the middle and no obvious theme answers, so I looked at the top to try to find a twelve. There it was! I quickly found all the other numbers except for eleven, and the answer ELEVENTH HOUR just popped right out.

    I didn’t notice the letters actually spelled out ELEVENTH HOUR until I came here. Fantastic!!

    • David R says:

      That was my solve as well. I thought for a second about why the numbers were noted both in the across and the down clues but I was sure I already had the answer so didn’t pursue it any further. I assumed the CLOCK in the middle was a nudge to get you in the right direction as far as what to look for.

  15. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I only got as far as noticing some questionable cluing with gratuitous FITB clues (“Three ___ men” for WISE is an awkward way of extracting that answer from that bit of knowledge). Most of these were hiding numbers, and I suspect that the rest were there to make the theme clues stand out less. “___ by Dana (perfume brand)” is a very odd clue– Tabu is a famous perfume brand, but it’s relatively rarely referred to as “Tabu by Dana” as opposed to “Dana Tabu” or most commonly just “Tabu” with small print nearby. Likewise, cluing HARD by its presence in a title, when you have to clue the title extensively, is an odd choice. Of course, cluing IDEA with an extensively-clued title is equally odd, but required to get “five” into the clue.

    I also briefly considered the batch of artists clued by relatively obscure works, many but not all of which had numbers in them. In addition to the effort required to construct this puzzle, I’m impressed at the attention to making the other clues fit the style required for the theme clues.

  16. Todd Dashoff says:

    I noticed the (seemingly) unnecessary words in the clues fairly quickly, since it looked obvious that there weren’t enough theme answers in the grid (proven wrong subsequently ). The first one I focused on was the one for ELLA (I’ve Got Five Dollars” singer Fitzgerald); why add all that extra wordage when Evan could have just used the last two words? From there it was on to finding all the rest of the number pairs, then seeing that they intersected, AND at the correct points in the grid. At that point, I thought about submitting “letter u”, since that’s what’s not clued from the phrase “eleventh hour”, but I wasn’t sure that u could be considered a word. Bravo to a fellow Philadelphian!

  17. Abide says:

    Really enjoyed this one. So many layers.

    I did notice if TABU and DUNE had been clued as movies, you would have “Film at eleven”.

  18. pannonica says:

    I fail to see how this has anything to do with one-thirty.

    • Maggie W. says:

      Ha! I was wondering if anyone was clued-in by that. Fortunate or unfortunate coincidence, depending on your perspective…

    • Gideon says:

      Was that an amazing coincidence or what??

      For those who don’t follow the discussion: the Saturday NYT puzzle was also styled as a clock face. What are the odds?

      • Matthew G. says:

        I actually didn’t get around to that NYT puzzle after I had cracked the MGWCC, so it had no effect on my solve.

        And I’m glad, too, because I thought that NYT puzzle was awful. I am rarely happy to see a themed puzzle on Saturday, but that one was particularly bad. The grid-spanning entries were admittedly good, but the medium-length entries were horrid, and then there was DAST.

  19. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    “the clues are in no way tortured or forced—the numbers appear in them quite naturally.”

    I am inclined to disagree with this. With clue metas I almost always need to print out the puzzle before finding anything untoward, but in this case I noticed not only that there were somewhat more longer clues than usual but also that the “winning X Tonys/Oscars” appeared more than once in the .puz.

    That said, I found it to be the appropriate difficulty and was quite amazed at the tidiness of the grid. Definitely one of the best metas I’ve seen in my solving time here (~110 puzzles).

  20. Katie says:

    I solved this one completely backwards. Noticed CLOCK – WISE and thought, Maybe I’m supposed to read around the edge clockwise. Nope, but maybe it’s the letters at the hour positions. Aha, that spells ELEVENTH HOUR. But how does that describe something missing from the puzzle? I scratched my head over that one for most of a day before noticing the intersecting clues. Whatever, it counts!

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