MGWCC #374

crossword 4:43
meta about 10 minutes 
mgwcc374hello and welcome to episode #374 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Shifting Alliances”. for this week 5 puzzle of guest constructor month, crossword jesus patrick berry gives us these intriguing directions: This puzzle has several different possible solutions. Pick the one that yields an appropriate pair of words, four and eight letters in length, for your final answer. so what’s going on? well, the puzzle appears to have four rebus squares. however, precisely which four is ambiguous. how so? well, take a look at the four long answers:

  • {Narrow-bladed cutting tool} is a COMP(a)SS SAW. this is not a tool i am familiar with, but i think i remember reading that patrick built his own house or something, so he probably knows quite a bit more about carpentry than your average constructor. (hey, carpenter was also jesus’ day job. coincidence???)
  • {Bunch of letters delivered to parents?} is a REPO(r)T CARD. this is a very nice clue.
  • {Call-in show’s many} are PHON(e) LINES.
  • {Progression with “natural”, “harmonic” and “melodic” variations} is a MINO(r) SCALE. hooray for music theory.

the reason i’ve left one letter in parentheses is that it isn’t clear where that extra letter goes. for example, with COMP(a)SS SAW, both of the crossings on the letters on either side of the missing (a) work just fine: {Large can’s contents, perhaps} for PINT and {Big get-togethers} for FESTS. however, both of them also work with the A added: a large can might contain PAINT, and FEASTS are also big get-togethers. whoa. that’s one of the “shifting alliances” of the puzzle theme: it could either be PA vs S, or P vs AS.

the same thing happens in the other theme answers:

  • {Embed} is INSET or INSERT, and {Round opening that’s got travelers looking out?} can be either POTHOLE (where “looking out” means “being wary”) or PORTHOLE (where “looking out” means literally peering through from the inside).
  • {Common female middle name} is either ANN or ANNE (although the former feels more common), and {Pass away, as time} is LAPSE (like a membership that’s good for one year, say) or ELAPSE.
  • {Breaks open} is BUSTS or BURSTS, and {Organic sedimentary rock} can be either COAL or CORAL. that second one is a particularly beautiful science clue, i think.

so what is the answer to the meta? well, in each of the four cases, you have two choices about how to separate the two key squares into a one-letter square and a two-letter rebus square. so to get the four-letter and eight-letter words of the meta answer, it makes sense to take the four key one-letter squares and then the four rebus squares. here is what i wrote down on my paper:


then i started looking for a four-letter word reading across the columns. i found it almost immediately: SOLO, which leaves the other eight letters spelling PARTNERS. now that is indeed an appropriate pair for this “shifting alliances” puzzle.

well, i loved this puzzle. this is a ridiculously elegant construction, a fact which cannot surprise anybody who has ever done a patrick berry puzzle. the dude has set the bar awfully high, most recently with this cryptic from last month that is the closest thing i’ve ever seen to a crossword going viral on social media. and the hype is entirely justified! (i won’t say why, because spoilers.) if you are not an experienced cryptic solver, it will probably take you quite a lot of time and effort to even get enough answers to start putting letters into the answer grid, but keep plugging away, because the payoff is totally worth it.

anyway, back to the mgwcc: beautiful puzzle, five stars, would solve again.

i hope to see many of you at lollapuzzoola 8 this weekend! i’ve constructed one of the tournament puzzles, which i hope will be a fun solve.

your thoughts?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to MGWCC #374

  1. drdans says:

    Too bad about the appropriateness qualifier; I liked the answer Opal Snorters.

    • joon says:

      the actual answer involves no anagramming—you read off the four-letter word top to bottom and then the eight-letter word top to bottom. the two letters stuck together in rebus squares stay together. OPAL SNORTERS requires both reordering the special squares and also breaking apart the rebus pairs (the E from PHONE LINES goes with neither the N nor the L).

      as usual, patrick finds the most elegant construction.

  2. George says:

    Arrgh! I was so damn close, I was convinced there was another place in the puzzle with a shift. I also focused only on the single letters that shifted, a r e r, and not their partners. Oh well. A really nice puzzle that I enjoyed and hated at the same time. Thanks!

  3. DBraun91 says:

    Submitted this answer at 11:58 this morning after sitting on it all weekend. It felt too easy for a week 5, still a great puzzle.

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    For me, this was my favorite guest puzzle ever. So extraordinarily well done. I can see why Matt wanted to save it for last, though solving it was considerably easier than Week 4’s fine puzzle. I was impressed by the first layer of rebus squares and Schroedinger clues, but when that didn’t work out to produce a meta solution, I was blown away to find the double set. I wonder how many of us saw them on the first pass. Maybe Eric, judging from his time? Five plus stars from me.

  5. Abide says:

    Bummed out. I had anagrammed out SOLO PARTNERS from all the letters yesterday, which sounded appropriate, but since those letters were in every combination, I wouldn’t accept it. Instead I read the instructions to mean you had to take one of the new four and eight letter words. I submitted “coal porthole” at the eleventh hour.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 208 right answers this week. Which means that I should have scheduled it for Week 4 and Victor’s for Week 5, but it was tough to gauge the difficulty level on both of these.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I think this could have been a Week 5 difficulty with less helpful instructions. If the instruction had been something like “This week’s contest answer is an oxy-moron appropriate to the theme,” I probably would not have solved it.

      • ICDogg says:

        I don’t think I would have gotten it from that clue either.

        • Matthew G. says:

          I admit it’s hard to think of more challenging instructions that would also have been fair. The only slight imperfection in this almost flawless puzzle is that “SOLO PARTNERS” isn’t an in-the-language phrase, and so to make the meta fair the instructions had to be explicit in some way that we were looking for two words, not a phrase. And explicit instructions drive the difficulty down.

          Not that I’m complaining, since solving Week 5s is not exactly my strong suit.

  7. Evan says:

    My experience on this was very strange. At first I never saw the fact that there were two down answers crossing each theme entry that could hold a rebus square. That’s because when I first filled out the grid, I somehow put the rebus squares in exactly the right places — only a 1/16th chance of that happening, right? (4 rebus squares, two possibilities for each). Basically, I had the correct solution from the start, but didn’t know it. So I saw that the rebus squares spelled out PARTNERS immediately. I also got that the extra letters (A/R/E/R) could be taken out of those four down answers and still fit with the clues, but I never thought to shift them over one square. It wasn’t until I collaborated with another solver that I finally grokked that bit.

    About the only thing I was confused by at the end was that SOLO PARTNERS isn’t really a standalone phrase. The instructions didn’t specify that and of course the answer fits with the meta theme, but I figured the answer would be a familiar phrase.

    Still, this was pretty damn cool. It’s Patrick Berry, after all.

    • Mutman says:

      I also had a 1/16 experience — I had the left side rebi and was making no headway on the meta.

      I did notice that BUSTS could be BURSTS and made a note. Eventually, I saw FESTS/FEASTS and saw the other 4 rebus squares. I submitted SOLO PARTNERS without fully grokking at around 10:30, and then noticed the elegance about an hour later, when I noticed the shifting rebus squares spelling out the answer — sans anagramming.

      I loved this puzzle — great job Patrick!!

    • Al says:

      I’m not sure SOLO PARTNERS is intended to be a standalone phrase. The SOLO indicates the letters that are standalone in the intended solution. The PARTNERS indicates the letters that are paired up in the intended solution. As usual with Patrick’s variety puzzles, the multiple layers of solution are mind-boggling.

      • Evan says:

        Yes, I get that — if they wanted a standalone phrase, the instructions would have specified it. Like I said, the answer is appropriate to the meta (the correct grid solution has “partnered” letters in the rebus squares, one “solo” letter in the adjacent squares). It’s just that normally with Patrick’s metas, I usually expect the final answer is going to be a standalone phrase that ties it all together. That this one wasn’t made it slightly confusing at the end, though obviously still very impressively done.

  8. wobbith says:

    Wow. I got this by brute force anagramming of the 12 letters involved.
    No aha! – I had all 4 rebuses in the “wrong” squares, but I couldn’t come up with anything better, so I sent it with a Hail Mary. Now I see the amazing elegance of the meta.
    Kudos Patrick!

  9. Jim S. says:

    Wow, that was really cool. I had 3/4 right on the first pass, and noticed porthole/pothole and busts/burts while solving. Took me awhile, though, as I thought the “puzzle” in the instructions meant the meta, not the grid, so I briefly looked at trying to take the long themers and figure out multiple possible meta answers to then whittle down to the best of the group. Once I spotted the rebus trick on all 4 places, I did something similar to Joon and got it quickly.

    I’m not a constructor, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to build something like this – 5 stars from me!

  10. Lee Sammons says:

    Close as I’ve come on a Week 5 in a long time, but no cigar. I got all the multiple grid entries and even wrote down the 12 key letters. But when I entered them in an anagram decoder it told me there were no answers???? Even if it had given me SOLO PARTNERS I’m not sure I would have recognized it as the correct solution. As noted by others, that is not a common phrase in it’s own right and I was looking for words in the grid, like the COAL PORTHOLE @Abide noted.

    • Abide says:

      You need to use the Anagrams tab at It has bailed me out several times.

      Al’s explanation makes a lot of sense to me, and gives the visual of the two alliances shifting back and forth. I thought the instructions were a little hard to parse but with so many getting it right I can’t complain.

  11. ICDogg says:

    Well, I missed week 2 and 3 this month, but got week 4 and 5. Not sure what that says.

  12. Andy says:

    Wow. I think this might have been one of the best guest constructor months ever. I’m pretty sure I went 0/5 (I was traveling a lot, though that doesn’t entirely let me off the hook), but every meta was great!

  13. pgw says:

    I agree with joon; five stars, great construction, satisfying solve, yada yada. I did not notice that you can arrange things such that SOLO and PARTNERS read top-to-bottom; I just anagrammed the twelve letters in play.

    My only quibble was with the instructions – until just now I always read it as suggesting that the meta has several different possible solutions, and I disagree with that. Now I see that maybe what was meant was that there are several possible ways to solve the grid, which is sort of true (although I would argue that the only true “solution” to the grid would be along the lines of an animated gif – hey, two weeks in a row!) But if that is what the instructions mean, then they should really end with “…, and submit that phrase as your final answer” because otherwise the instructions seem to be suggesting that the meta answer should be the entire grid filled in as in joon’s graphic above.

    I mean, whatever; it’s not like this was confusing. I just never could get on board with the idea that there’s any possible solution to this other than the intended one.

  14. Jim S. says:

    One thing I forgot to mention that I saw while solving and had me wondering about a possible meta angle… The running letters in aFGHan and duRST… I was on the lookout for other trios of consecutive letters but didn’t spot any. Might make a good meta if it hasn’t already been done…

  15. Andy says:

    Help! I finished the grid on the linked “Middle of the Road” puzzle but I can’t quite figure out exactly how to do the next step.

  16. pgw says:

    Just did the cryptic linked to above; holy hell that’s amazing.

Comments are closed.