MGWCC #391

crossword 4:27
meta about 2 minutes 


mgwcc391hello and happy december, everyone! welcome to episode #391 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Side Project”. thanks to matt for filling in for me last week! for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to find an eight-letter noun. what are the the theme answers? well, it’s not entirely clear at first blush, with an unusual grid pattern featuring a few long downs and one long (non-central) across answer:

  • {It’s studied by a lepidopterist} BUTTERFLY.
  • {Figure skating figure (also, a column to ignore for this meta)} NUMBER EIGHT.
  • {Building whose name means “every god”} THE PANTHEON.
  • {Target of much scanning technology} HUMAN FACE.
  • {LBJ’s domain} BASKETBALL COURT. that’s lebron james, not lyndon baines johnson. i assume.

a couple of different factors led me to recognize, more or less immediately, that we were dealing with a theme of bilateral symmetry. one is the unusual grid shape, with its … bilateral symmetry (as opposed to the usual rotational symmetry of crossword grids). the other is that all the theme answers are notable for bilateral symmetry. in fact, BUTTERFLY was a theme answer earlier this year in a puzzle whose theme was BILATERAL SYMMETRY.

what does that clue for NUMBER EIGHT mean? well, in a 15-wide crossword grid, the 8th column is the axis of symmetry, so it sounded to me like we were supposed to look for symmetrically placed letters. so i started doing that, and just a few moments later i’d solved the puzzle. the relevant squares (circled in the screencap above) spell out DUMBBELL from top to bottom. DUMBBELL is an eight-letter noun, and also another object with bilateral symmetry. (in fact, if you squint, you can kinda make the sixteen squares look like a dumbbell… well, maybe.)

anyway, i liked the meta, and the extraction mechanism was quite elegant. it can’t have been easy to construct a grid like this, with only those sixteen squares (and no others!) matching up.

just a couple of clues caught my eye:

  • {82-year-old singer with 4.7 million Twitter followers} ONO. i guess she provides some of the “vocals” on revolution 9, but i don’t really consider her a singer. on the other hand, this clue reminded me of andy murray’s mom trolling ono on twitter, so that was entertaining.
  • {First name of a poet whose surname anagrams to “unread”} PABLO. i am familiar with the works of PABLO neruda, but this was a curious clue.

all right, that’s all for me this week. how did you all like this one?

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to MGWCC #391

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 141 right answers this week.

    My original goal was to have the meta answer be WISHBONE, since this one ran the day after Thanksgiving, and then have the eight symmetrical letters form the shape of a wishbone in the grid. Didn’t work out, but you must have goals.

  2. Ephraim says:

    A friend suggested and I totally agreed that the theme clues seemed designed for alternative answers involving other symmetric objects. A lepidopterist might study a MOTH. Another LBJ’s domain was the WHITE HOUSE. Tape comes on a REEL. A LOOP is another skating figure. Another building whose name means “every god” is, well, er, hard to find. Kind of got stuck there and never recovered.

  3. Dan Seidman says:

    I didn’t think of the corresponding letters right away, but I think it was made a little easier by the Merl Reagle tribute puzzle having a similar mechanism. I wonder if this one was already in the pipeline when the tribute was written.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    Nice meta, though I didn’t get it.

    I couldn’t make myself believe it was a coincidence that the German word for “eight” (ACHT) extended out of the “side” of the entry NUMBER EIGHT in a puzzle titled “Side Project.” I thought that had to be relevant, and ended up going with “infinity” for the meta answer (the number eight lying to the side).

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Man, that’s a rough one. Tough to let go once you see it.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yes, but I knew it wasn’t fully formed enough to be correct (although I held out hope that there was some other justification for “infinity” that I was missing). I actually thought about the symmetry of the long theme answers, but didn’t think to apply them to the grid squares–instead, I gave in to confirmation bias and thought, “Hey, the infinity symbol is symmetrical too!”

  5. Abide says:

    Sometimes you never really have a clue. This was one of those. I noticed “shapes” at one time and that proliferation of B’s, but not much else. Additional confusion on my part: ignoring column with 8-Down instead of 8th column. Best dead end: When turned to side, PRO-boscis (butterfly) and PRO-file (human face).

  6. Mike W says:

    Another brilliant puzzle. I was sidetracked by 21-down (“MME”) and 65-down (“TRY”). I was looking for the “SY” to complete the eight letter noun SYMMETRY.

  7. Wayne says:

    I saw eight thematic entries. The three answers in column 4 (SPOOL, TUSH and SKIS) also have bilateral symmetry. I figured that each of the eight entries somehow contributed one letter to the meta answer. Either that or something was going on in column 10 (which is column 4’s mirror).

    And then I got stuck. In the weeds. With the ticks. And poison ivy. And sadness.

    In the end, I hail-maryed AUTOMATA because that is the only common eight letter noun composed entirely of the letters that are bilaterally symmetric (AHIMOTUVWXY). That wasn’t right, but at least I had a robot friend to keep me company. In the weeds.

  8. Amy L says:

    I got nowhere. I kept thinking of the things that project to the sides of the long answers. A butterfly and a basketball court have wings but the Pantheon doesn’t; faces have ears. Obviously, symmetry was part of the meta. CIS in the center (“on this side of”) turned out to have been a red herring.

    So clear and obvious now–another neat meta.

  9. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I think this was actually my first late-month negative meta time solve: I ended up backsolving the center right from the two ‘B’s, after initially choosing the wrong word for “Awesome” that matches _A_ and buying that genetic testing scanned the HUMAN RACE. The right mechanism was the only thing that came to me as something you could do with a bilaterally symmetric grid where you should be told to ignore the center column.

    I thought the pattern of black squares looked a bit like a cartoon weightlifter once I’d gotten the answer, although not one using the right sort of free weights.

  10. Mutman says:

    Very satisfying to finally go 4-4 this month. A rare occurrence for me.

    If I did not get Dumbell, my guess would have been ‘Symmetry’. I even tried to backsolve it and got close, but that led me to the other path.

    Wondering how many ‘symmetry’ guesses there were?!?!

    • Amy L says:

      I thought of submitting SYMMETRY but it didn’t have that AHA feeling that thrill seekers like me look for in Matt’s metas.

    • jefe says:

      I was about to give up and guess SYMMETRY when it clicked for me. Haven’t been doing well on late-month metas recently so I was glad to finally get one!

  11. mnemonica says:

    I was so sure this would be a Thanksgiving-themed puzzle — or at least food-related — particularly with the title “Side Project.” And with BUTTER and BALL in long entries. And THE PAN. And there’s NARC, which is CRAN upside-down. And PEA. And PILAF. I couldn’t figure out what the human face had to do with anything, except that people stuff it. And so, when I realized I had no idea what the meta was, I threw in “stuffing.” I’ve never been so far from correct.

    • coreen says:

      I totally had this thought process, too although I didn’t submit an answer – thought of submitting “leftover” just for the hell of it.

  12. I finally cracked this when I did a frequency analysis on the grid and noticed that there was an unexpectedly high number of B’s (eight) in the grid. When I looked at all of the B’s, the symmetric pairs in BLAB and BARB stuck out to me, and it all clicked. I really should have gotten it sooner, though.

  13. MountainManZach says:

    The direction of each of the theme answers is also its axis of symmetry. Very impressive.

    • pgw says:

      But note that a basketball court has two axes of symmetry (also, how do you know how to orient it in the first place?) as does the number eight. As does a dumbbell, for that matter.

  14. Garrett says:

    I did not have access to a printer this weekend, so I downloaded the puzzle on my iPhone and solved it there (you get a very limited view of the grid that way). After failing to get anything, I leafed through some unsolved crosswords I had and found a Fireball that had a pretty close grid, and copied the grid off my iPhone to the paper grid, adding black squares where needed, and writing over gray squares where there was a conflict. I had what I needed to solve the puzzle except one thing — I had not remembered what 5 down’s clue said. The weekend went by.

    Yesterday I printed-out the puzzle and noticed the 5D clue’s parenthetical. I realized that removing that 8th column made the puzzle (as Joon said) bilaterally symmetrical. I literally cut that column out and put the panels side-by-side. And a funny thing jumped out at me at 61A — a double L (from LIL, clued as Wee). That was all I needed, and within a minute or so I had the answer. And boy, was I happy about that, because I was really bothered by what BASKETBALLCOURT had to do with *anything* in that puzzle!

    I liked the PABLO clue. Rating this meta a five.

  15. Jim S. says:

    Never even close. Thought of many things – perhaps the horizontal basketball court was supposed to lead to baskets on the sides somehow, saw a slew of 3 letter palindromes including 1 each starting / ending with a e and o and thought maybe the palindromic letters meant something – but never even sniffed the symmetrical letters – noticed the grid symmetry but only in the basketball court meta possibility…

    Nice meta – my ego sure hated it though! I don’t get many week 4s, but when I see 100+ with the right answer and I don’t even know where to start… Stings a little :)

  16. Norm says:

    Can someone explain the point of the “ignore the column” in five down? You’re supposed to ignore the placement but not the answer itself? Sorry. Even for week 4 that’s just too twisted for the likes of me.

    • Evan says:

      At first I’d wondered if the parenthetical meant we were supposed to ignore the answer NUMBER EIGHT, but I figured it’d be pretty unusual to refer to a down answer as a “column” if it didn’t span the whole grid. Plus, it was that parenthetical that helped open the floodgates for my wife and I when we looked at the puzzle — we saw that each of the themers were themselves symmetrical things, and the middle column was supposed to be the axis. So we knew the answer had something to do with symmetry and that we’d have to notice something on each side of the puzzle (Columns 1-7 and 9-15), thus we could safely ignore Column 8. From there it was a matter of finding out how the symmetry worked, and that’s when we noticed the symmetrical letters.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      If you didn’t ignore the center column, you would have to include all the letters in that column as well as the eight others that appear in the same place in the reflected grid.

  17. Jason T says:

    Can I just observe that it is awesome that the entry “NUMBER EIGHT” is both a theme entry cluing us to the idea of symmetry AND an indication of the column that needs to be ignored? For it is awesome, as is the puzzle.

  18. ML Perry says:

    Yoko Ono – Plastic Ono Band – rock historians, and old folks like me know this!!! Very big in the early 1970’s. Even though I was pretty young, I found it difficult to listen to – avant garde and them some!

  19. dave glasser says:

    Funny, I saw that the puzzle had mirror symmetry, saw the parenthetical on the NUMBER EIGHT clue, and guessed the method immediately… And just figured “well I guess there are no theme entries this week, kinda weird!”

Comments are closed.