MGWCC #399

crossword 4:12 
meta 3 days 


mgwcc399hello and welcome to episode #399 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Episode 399: The Force Awakens”. for this tough week 4 puzzle, matt asks us to find a six-syllable word whose fourth syllable is stressed. intriguing. what are the theme entries? it took me a while to figure this out, but i was leaning towards these six from the start, and i turned out to be right:

  • {Shade similar to aqua} is OCEAN BLUE.
  • {Hunter vehicle of note} RAISING ARIZONA. holly hunter, that is, along with nic cage in this early coen brothers film. i’ve never seen it.
  • {Capital city with an apostrophe} is SANA’A, YEMEN.
  • {Connery commanded it} RED OCTOBER.
  • {She’s feeling the Bern} HILLARY CLINTON.
  • {Algebra class instructions} SOLVE FOR X. that seems more like an instruction than instructions plural.

anyway, i spent a long time getting absolutely nowhere with this meta. the peculiar wording of the instructions (why give the length in syllables, rather than letters?), along with “force” in the title, led me to think we were looking for something about rhythmic or metrical patterns. since i was looking at (i thought) six theme answers, maybe we could get a syllable from each one somehow?

well, as i spent three days finding out, no. we can’t. the key isn’t anything to do with the pronunciation (or spelling) of words in the theme answers. instead i started thinking about their meanings. X and OCTOBER can both represent the number 10. does that lead anywhere?

no, but i was close. the sticking point was SANA’A YEMEN, and i knew neither of those were associated with numbers. but it was only a small step from there to the right idea—each theme answers ends with a word that comes third-to-last in a canonical ordered list:

  • BLUE is fifth of seven in the standard color spectrum. absolutely legit; however, i feel i shouldn’t let the opportunity go by to reiterate that indigo is garbage and newton only pigeonholed it in there because of numerology.
  • ARIZONA was the 48th state to join the union, shortly after new mexico in 1912.
  • YEMEN is third to last in an alphabetical ordering of nations, before only zambia and zimbabwe. this was the weakest connection for me, since alphabetical is a pretty arbitrary ordering. after all, you can order set alphabetically, but there is no particularly canonical way of ordering the countries. area or population would make more sense to me, though.
  • OCTOBER, of course, is the tenth of twelve months.
  • CLINTON (not hillary but bill) was the 42nd president out of 44 (so far).
  • and of course X. technically, this is also by alphabetical order, but of course, alphabetical is a very reasonable ordering for the letters of the alphabet.

so what’s the meta answer? why, it’s a 6-syllable word that means third-to-last: antepenultimate. the stress does indeed fall on the fourth (i.e. antepenultimate) syllable, which is a nice touch, and i suppose it’s why the instructions were worded the way they were. but boy, did that make it tough to see what was going on.

the title was also singularly unhelpful—nay, antihelpful. i mean, yes, they will make two more star wars movies and when they do, the force awakens will be antepenultimate. (of course, by then, bill clinton will no longer be the antepenultimate president—but maybe hillary will?) but that’s a pretty weak connection to the meta, providing no way to forward-solve, and i’m not seeing another connection. so that could help to explain why so few people have gotten this one (just 49 as of this writing, around midnight eastern on monday night). and there’s another week left in january!

all that said, i loved the theme and meta mechanism. it was a great “aha” moment, so i’m giving this five stars regardless.

the fill was also very good considering the six theme answers (including two stacked pairs) and relatively low word count of 74. there’s just a couple clues i’ll point out, one for being clearly wrong and the other debatably so:

  • {Seventh point of a game, usually} AD IN is wrong. the seventh point of a tennis game, if there is one, is always deuce, because the first six points have to have been split 3-3. AD IN could be the 8th (or 10th, 12th, etc.) point; likewise for AD OUT.
  • {Super Bowl to be held in 2022} LVI is debatable. i mean, you could call it that, but the nfl has already announced that they’re dropping roman numerals for super bowls. the panthers-broncos game in two weeks is branded as super bowl 50, not super bowl L.

neither of those can diminish my enthusiasm for this awesome puzzle, but anyway, that’s all for me. how’d this one treat you?

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64 Responses to MGWCC #399

  1. Justin says:

    Thank you Joon for letting me off the hook. Difficult meta but as usual fair in 20-20 hindsight.

  2. Ephraim says:

    FORCE and SOLVE FOR X made me think of physics. X, Y, and Z each appear exactly twice in the filled grid, suggesting a hidden diagram of some sort. Which I couldn’t find, of course, because it wasn’t there.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 77 right answers this week.

    Re your two points at the end: I think it’s just for this Super Bowl that they’re ditching Roman numerals, and that 2022’s will indeed be LVI.

    I guess the tennis thing is semantics. The score after the 7th point of a tennis game is usually AD-IN. That’s the score at the beginning of the 8th point, but it seems less logical to assign AD-IN to the 8th instead of 7th.

    • Abby B says:

      I think they didn’t like the look and phonetics of “Super Bowl L” (bowlllll). Once there are more letters there, they may change it back.

  4. CC says:

    Wow, impressive.

    I thought maybe the fact that 399 was in the actual title meant that perhaps it had to do with roman numerals, i.e. Episode CCCXCIX: The Force Awakens.

    I didn’t get it this week but it was a lot of fun.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    This played tougher than I expected; I guessed 150-175 range, and my tester who got it right guessed 169. The tester who didn’t get it during testing? Also didn’t get it during the real thing.

  6. Mutman says:

    Could not make the connection, despite hours of trying. I really thought there was some sort of movie theme here, what with “i am sam” and “Avatar”. Toss in a few other film answers (along with the themers) and I took a stab with “cinematography”.

    I really wanted some help with the puzzle title too, but got none, since it is really a 7th theme-type answer.

    Congrats to all those who got it right and especially ‘george’, the antepenultimate correct solver!

  7. george says:

    Wow, maybe my first ever blind luck hail mary. I had written down a few choice six syllable words that fit the requirement, and tried to back solve, but just never got there. I also was unsure on the inclusion of Ocean Blue and Solve For X (two theme answers stacked above one another, yikes), so I only half considered them. I submitted the guess at 11:55 and chalked it up as a miss. It’s my lucky day, maybe I’ll go back in time and buy a powerball ticket.

  8. Zifmia says:

    Was posting about Super Bowl numbering, but too slow.

    As far as the meta, I had no clue, which is typical for a week 4, and even most week 3s.

  9. Jim S. says:

    Not even close. Abandoned the six long answers when I saw a color theme going on – ocean BLUE, RED october, algae (GREEN), (BLUE) danube, etc. figured maybe the letters where these entries crossed could morph into the answer, but no dice. Good puzzle, very rough meta. Frightened for Friday’s week 5!

  10. Paul Coulter says:

    I focused early on the syllables, given the unusual parameters of the required answer. But I couldn’t force the themers’ syllables into a word, one from each, top to bottom. Bottom to top had more possibilities, using phonetic spellings which produced tion or sion at the end. Walked around the house all weekend saying various strings aloud, confirming my granddaughter’s belief that all adults are crackpots. Finally, I turned to a back-solve. Like Joon, I asked myself why Matt had phrased the directions as he had. Then I remembered that a word whose emphasis is two syllables back from the last is antepenultimate. But I had a hard time convincing myself this was right, since only two or maybe three of the theme answers read this way. Talked out loud around the house again – maybe it’s true we all do turn daft at a certain age – trying to hear those antepenultimate accents. Couldn’t convince myself they all worked because, of course, they don’t. Then, again like Joon, I noticed October and X are both two before the end. This led to understanding Clinton, Arizona, and Yemen, but I couldn’t really explain blue. I was a bit worried about that, but I had nothing else, and was pleasantly surprised to be correct. No disappointment with the answer this week – it’s a peach of a self-descriptive word, and well worth a meta. The technique was outstanding, and once I read Joon’s explanation for blue, I’m delighted to rate this at 5 stars.

  11. KZ Condor says:

    I went down so many rabbit holes on this one. Spent a lot of time thinking that the title mapped V to 3 and I to 9 (so VII => 399) and trying to find what X might map to (SOLVE FOR X),

    I had written down a few possible hail marys and was turning them over in my head in preparation for giving up when I finally twigged that one of them actually fit the theme entries. Super gratifying solve.

  12. Qatsi says:

    I noticed that ANTEPENULTIMATE fit the pattern but didn’t see how it fit in with the theme entries, so I went with RESPONSIBILITY as a “Hail Mary”. #headdesk

  13. Jim S. says:

    Ps – I am awful at rating puzzles on my iPhone. I select it in the drop down but fail to hit OK before I click Submit, so I more often than not end up giving a puzzle 3 stars :(

    Evad – you’ve hooked me up in the past – can you change my ‘3’ to a ‘5’?

  14. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    OMG! My first ever last-minute, correct submission! Sent it in at 11:50 AM (though I see I wasn’t the last to be accepted.)

    I had looked at the puzzle in my usual late-month, desultory fashion (because I assume I have no chance of getting the meta.) The statement of the challenge had said “antepenultimate” to me, but I wasn’t picking up on the connection to the clues!

    I was going to skip submission, since I don’t like to waste Matt’s time with blind guesses, but then I remembered the puzzle when “tmesis” was the answer, and figured a slightly obscure term wouldn’t hurt.

  15. Robert Hutchinson says:

    Well, at least the wild guess I forgot to make would’ve been wrong.

    I’d like this one a lot more if A) the title wasn’t such a hindrance to solving (Star Wars? 399=VII? Forces? Waking up?), and B) I hadn’t found about a million red herrings:

    – Change one letter in “Hunter vehicle of note” (to hunteD) and you get another clue for RED OCTOBER

    – A couple of the clues can work for other entries (“Polished” for SANDED instead of SUAVE, “Prefix used in weather forecasts” for ISO instead of MID)

    – There’s a + of Roman numerals in the middle

    – Various other almost-sortas, like the other big city of Yemen, ADEN, almost being in the grid, “Bern” pointing to SANDE(rs)D as well as more world cities, my strong desire to change “Andean ‘A'” to “Indiana” …

    This definitely felt like a week 5.

  16. Norm H says:

    I noticed X and October, but interpreted them as ten, not as third-from-last. I also learned a bunch about Sanaa Lathan in the process.

    I thought about submitting quadricentennial in honor of Matt’s 400th next week, but I knew it wouldn’t be correct.

    • KZ Condor says:

      Sanaa Lathan starred in “A RAISIN(G ARIZONA) in the Sun”, which for a while I was convinced was key.

      Another red herring that tripped me up for a long time was that two clues reference the Super Bowl – 38A mentions Super Bowls VII and VIII, the product of which is LVI, the answer for Super-Bowl-mentioning 58D! I was convinced that was the starting point.

  17. Giovanni P. says:

    Submitted ANTEDILUVIAN as a lob on this one…well, only four syllables off. :P

    Why did I drop a meta only four weeks into the year…

  18. pgw says:

    I loved this one. My path was 100% backsolving – I had noticed only the four longest theme entries and had no idea what to do with them, so I decided to come at the problem from the other end – I googled a list of six-syllable words and started writing down examples that had the fourth syllable stressed. When I wrote down ANTEPENULTIMATE and considered its meaning, I was immediately struck by the cool happenstance that its stressed syllable is in fact the antepenultimate syllable in the word. It didn’t take long to verify that Arizona, Yemen, October, and Clinton are all antepenultimate in the most obvious ways of listing their categories. (I disagree with joon that alphabetically isn’t the best way to order countries for purposes of this puzzle, but whatever.) Only after submitting the answer did I realize that blue and X also fit the bill. The realization that there are six theme entries paralleling the six syllables turned what I already had rated as a five-star puzzle into, well, worthy of a sixth.

    I just hope this doesn’t mean Matt has decided to make MGWCC #401 his last!

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Seconded! And amen on your penultimate point, too.

    • joon says:

      for the purposes of this puzzle, sure, alphabetical’s as good as anything else. but unlike the other five theme groups, there isn’t a canonical way of ordering countries. the colors are ordered ROY G BIV by wavelength (or frequency), which is not coincidentally also rainbow order; the states are ordered chronologically by admission to the union (this is why delaware is “the first state” and hawaii is “5-0”); the months are in calendar order; the presidents are chronological; and the letters of the alphabet are also ordered in a way that everybody agrees on.

      however, there is no clear and necessary relationship between alphabetical order and the list of countries. i would be bothered if, say, the color used in the theme had been red because it is 5th out of the 7 colors alphabetically, or if the month had been november. (using west virginia would have been similarly bad, although not quite as bad, because there is at least a well-known song with the states in alphabetical order.)

      using the third-smallest country by area would have been better, not that i am at all confident what that is. (monaco? i am pretty sure vatican city and nauru are the two smallest.) really, though, the problem is that the countries of the world canonically comprise a set, but not a list (i.e. an ordered set), so it wasn’t an ideal choice. it didn’t cripple the puzzle, by any means, but i regard it as inelegant.

  19. Matthew G. says:

    Drat! I thought about putting the theme entries in lists, and thought in particular about Arizona being the 48th State and Clinton being the 42nd President. But I thought to myself, “Yemen isn’t a part of any obvious lists,” so I discarded that line of thought and went elsewhere.

    Great meta. Wish I’d gotten it.

  20. mpstable says:

    OCEAN BLUE suggested Christopher Columbus. RAISING ARIZONA gave me Joel and Ethan Coen. Suddenly i was looking for 6 syllable tie-ins to all the long answers, trying to pull one from each to create a new word. I got nuclear submarine, and secretary of state. Never got anywhere with SANAA, fumbled around with X. Classic mistake of overthinking and making things too complicated. As ever, this one was clear and simple once laid out.
    What’s really head slapping for me is that in an attempt to backsolve I found an article about pronunciation rules, and what structures require stress on the antepenultimate syllable. In skimming that I noted to myself “that really is a cool word. I’m glad they used it.” UGH.

    • pgw says:

      Sana’a – capital of Yemen (which, okay, is pretty redundant with both the clue and the grid entry, but hey.)

      X – Roman numeral ten; it marks the treasure spot; common variable; the letter before Y; multiplication sign; horizontal axis; feminine chromosome; adult-only rating; DJ Terminator … so many possibilities

  21. Evan says:

    Alright, I have to tip my cap to Matt for beating me on this one. I never saw the pattern, and wasn’t really that close, though I and another co-solver may have sniffed around the edges a little. But it was ultimately a fair if very tough meta.

    My one question is: why ADIN? I was convinced this had to be relevant since ACES seemed like a better option in that spot. Was it supposed to be an extra hint to look for a number order, or a penultimate thing? It’s symmetrical with I SEE, and the “Aha!” clue sorta points at that.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I really wanted BAKU for the Kasparov clue. Do you consider AD-IN to be subpar fill? As a tennis player and fanatic, this would never cross my mind. UNA, slightly subpar, yes.

      • Evan says:

        I figured you were gunning for the chess clue on BAKU, and I have no problem with BAKU as an answer. AD-IN, though…..I’m the furthest thing from a tennis buff, but I feel like every time I’ve watched it, I’ve heard it as “Advantage Williams” or “Advantage Sampras” rather than AD-IN or AD-OUT, which I hadn’t seen at all except in crosswords. So to me, it’s not the most desirable fill; but maybe tennis players and hardcore fans hear it a lot more than I would.

        • Matthew G. says:

          “Ad in” and “ad out” are the official terms. When you’re watching famous players, the names get used for convenience, but at any lower level of play, it’ll be ad in and ad out so you know whether the advantage belongs to the serving or returning player.

  22. Wayne says:

    Very nice touch that one of the theme entries was in the antepenultimate row, which is unusual. I noticed the unusual cheater squares that this necessitated. But I assumed that this was done to hide other theme material in the grid.

    Brilliant meta. My only quibble is that the title was obnoxiously misleading.

  23. Dave says:

    I wrote a script to list six-syllable words with a stressed fourth syllable, hoping to backsolve. The only words that caught my eye were extraterrestrial (a few of those in Star Wars) and intermolecular (a type of force). I turns out that antepenultimate is not in the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary. Even if it had been, I may not have noticed the connection.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      My original instructions asked for “A 15-letter word whose 13th letter is A,” but one of my testers pointed out that this is backsolvable in large part because ANTEPENULTIMATE starts with an “A” so it appears early in any lists of common 15-letter words and is obviously meta-suggestive.

      The same tester also suggested the 4th or 6th syllables ideas, which keeps the antepenultimate reference but also makes it tougher to backsolve.

  24. dbardolph says:

    Loved it. Like pgw, I Googled for six-letter words, hit on ANTEPENULTIMATE (fortunately, Matt didn’t pick a word that came a lot later in the alphabet or this might have had a different outcome) and alarms started going off right away. And unlike others, the title really did nudge me in the right direction.

    • pgw says:

      Interestingly my list was not at all alphabetical – but luckily antepenultimate showed up on its first page anyhow:

      • dbardolph says:

        Odd – I wound up on the same web site, but I swear the list I saw was alphabetical. Or, as you might say, ABECEDARIAN, since that was the first word I tried to make work.

        • Slow guy says:

          Quite sure I backsolved from the same list. Mine was non-alphabetical, but luckily antepenultimate came 11th (discarding obscure technical words) among those which had stressed 4ths after biodiversity, responsibility, voluminosity, extraterrestrial, mesopotamian, accountability, veterinarian, indefatigable (nice trait to have if searching lists), encyclopedia and enthusiastically.
          My only notable backsolve ever, and it was strangely satisfying, especially with the answer fitting the category itself.
          Why do all the impossible metas (which I never get) have either a misleading or meaningless title? Rather resigned to a truly impossible week 5 now.

  25. pj says:

    I went down the “warpath”at first. Could it be a coincidence that four long answers relate to warships? USS Arizona, USS Clinton, Red October (fictional submarine), and USS Cole (hit in Yemen?), the last a bit obscure. I thought maybe the title referred to military force. I looked at the class of warships, the hull numbers (did you know that the Arizona is BB 39… Like BB 8?). Of course I was way off. Submitted INCOMPREHENSIBLE because that’s what it was to me this week. Great puzzle, Matt. I am quaking over week 5’s puzzle!

  26. Brian says:

    Probably just bitter at all the time spent on this one to no avail, but seeing the answer now, it’s not my favorite. These puzzles with no obvious starting direction hinted at by either the title, instructions, or some clear relation between the theme answers are often times more frustrating then fun. In this case, the orderings don’t seem extremely natural to me (I’ve never thought of colors as having an order, and if we’re ordering countries alphabetically, why not states, or anything else?). The 2 word pattern of all the theme answers except for “SOLVEFORX” led me to think either this wasn’t a theme answer, or it was somehow special, maybe a hint of how to look for the meta, which led me down a lot of dead ends (as did the full-on star wars theme in the title and syllable “clue” in the instructions). Something like “MALCOLMX” (if it had fit) would have been much better for this one, and I think there’s a good chance I’d have seen the pattern then. The presence of two colors among the theme answers was also an unnecessary red herring. Overall I like the idea, but the execution could have been better, and led to it being unnecessarily difficult.

    • Evad says:

      Granted this is just one solver’s experience, but the oddly-worded instructions were exactly what set me on the path to the correct meta solution. I asked myself “what’s that word that represents the third-to-last syllable in a > 3 syllable word…I know penultimate is second-to-last…oh yeah, antepenultimate.” And then I began to see how the ends of all of the theme entries were the third-to-last in a relevant series.

  27. Bob D. says:

    Here’s how I ended up with SUSTAINABILITY:
    Figured the 6 themes represented individual syllables, so SOLVE = SUSS, BLUE = STAIN (a type of fungus), SANA’A = A, CLINTON = BILL, RED OCTOBER (from the novel) = LIT, and ARIZONA = TEA. Put them together phonetically and you get the word that aptly describes both the Star Wars franchise and your 399-and-going-strong puzzle franchise, Matt.

  28. Garrett says:

    Like Joon and Paul, I spent a great deal of time trying to get a syllable from each one of the six theme answers. My first shot was to see if the 4th syllable of each would yield something — that would fit the meta clue. Then I tried any syllable and came up with nothing. I tried various other things that went nowhere.

    Yesterday I started asking myself what these had in common. With the exception of the X theme answer, I decided they all yielded either blue or red. I tool Ocean Blue to be a pointer to blue, and Red October to be a pointer to red. So here are the others I came up with:

    – Arizona: a “red” state (or, the state colors are blue and gold)
    – Yemen is by the Red Sea
    – Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, so blue.

    Because of the fantastically misleading title, I started thinking about the Star War movies, and it hit me that the lightsabers are either red or blue. But that led nowhere, other than to create a tie to the movie.

    So I started thinking about X and I thought of maps (X marks the spot! and The X Coordinate is always written first in an ordered pair of coordinates (x,y)). That movie was all about maps! The droid BB-8 escapes on the planet Jakku with the map to find Luke. It turns out that it is a partial map, and you need the rest of it (which is in R2D2). But I could not find a 6 syllable word that would go there.

    So, starting over again, but still with maps in mind — and the late thought that maybe the title did not mean anything, I started thinking about the colors in terms of maps, and I thought about Red State Blue State maps. That’s where I finished up, with no word that really fit the meta directions.

    I’m going to have to remember to look for sequence positions in the future. I think I’ve been burned missing this type of thing before. My mind was just not going there. Rating it a 4.5, because of the title.

  29. John says:

    Was no one else taken by the plethora of As in the grid? Five answers had 3 As in them, all in the top part of the puzzle: RAISINGARIZONA, BAZAAR, AZALEA, SANAA, and AVATAR. How could that be a coincidence? At least that is what i thought. I wasn’t getting this anyway but i couldn’t let go of that in the short time i had to devote to the meta this week.

  30. Scott says:

    Never got close. But I still think it was a great puzzle.

  31. Amy L says:

    I was so bummed out by not getting last Friday’s WSJ puzzle, that I couldn’t start thinking about this. I was sure it would have something to do with Star Wars. I can’t believe 77 people got it. And those who didn’t get it came up with some pretty clever tries.

  32. Abide says:

    This is how you back-solve. Made note of the yougowords website and thought about accented fourth syllables. Started thinking that each theme entry represented the prior six movies. Once I read that Episode 8 and 9 have already been planned, the title is #7 of 9, and it seemed like ante penultimate fit nicely. It still took me an hour to figure out why the answer was right. And I never noticed the stress on the word is on the ante/pu sylabble.

    Dave I tried to give this 5* but not sure I did.

  33. Ale M says:

    I eventually got this (and my Hail Mary would have been right, too) but I went down so many rabbit holes …

    Among them, I thought early on that poetry and meter were going to lead to the answer. I saw interior anagrams of LOVE (sOLVE for x), LYRIC (hillaRYCLInton), ODE (rEDOctober), and maybe EME (Early Middle English) in sanaayEMEn. So that was Friday.

    SOLve FOR x had the first three letters of SOLO (Han) and FORD (Harrison), but that lead nowhere.

    I spent the most time, by far, on the theory that theme clues led to the first words of other down clues. Consider:

    12A Shade similar to aqua –> 6D Green
    16A Hunter vehicle of note –> 9D Grace (her more recent TV role)
    32A Capital city with an apostrophe –> 23D Ulm’s (which was once a capital)
    40A Connery commanded it –> I thought it could be either horse, prefix, band, or Cuban, depending on the movie.
    56A She’s feeling the Bern –> 28D Jane (Bernie Sanders’ wife, which makes the original clue quite funny!)
    60A Algebra class instructions –> 35D Prove

    With the exception of the Connery clue, the rest were pretty convincing, as in too much of a “click” to be not the right path. I tried anagramming everything, clues and grid entries, taking individual syllables, replacing parts of the original themes with the new words … anyway, that was Saturday, Sunday and Monday for me. Thank goodness I didn’t find a six-syllable word out of that, or else I would have submitted it. Did anyone else go down this path?

  34. LuckyGuest says:

    Went down several (seemingly promising, but wrong) rabbit warrens: All six were research centers of some sort, all six were brands of footwear, tried every combination of one-from-each-themed-entry syllables to get a six syllable word, learned more about forces than I’ll ever need to know – as well as how many people named Sanaa there are – plus the normal kind of serendipitous “connections” — SNIP tells me I can go from SHULA to SULA, for one. “ADIN” and “SOLVE FOR X” gives me a hint to “add in an X” to the themed entries, excitedly giving me “AXEMEN” in the Sana’a clue. In the end, no click, so my (modest) streak starts from scratch. Hats off to a good meta, and certainly to the people who solved it.

    • Ale M says:

      And also “snip” one from I AM SAM (plus anagram) and you get MIAMI. I spent some time trying to find grid entries that did this, too!

  35. MountainManZach says:

    I feel like I’m in a thrift store… everyone else’s trash is my treasure!

    In a coincidence, I never thought of AZ being the antepenultimate by order of admission, rather by backwards alphabetical ordering. By comparison, the alphabetical ordering of countries seemed natural.

    I’m also of the opinion that the title doesn’t need to be a clue to solving the puzzle, particularly in late month. It provided a nice head check once I thought I had a good answer. (Now that I think about it, many of the titles even in early month puzzles don’t make sense until you have the solution… but maybe I notice it a lot more when the meta is difficult.)

  36. Abby B says:

    Actually started with the right word directly from the instructions, but didn’t see why it was right for a while. That’s pretty embarrassing, but I’m glad I would’ve guessed right if I’d guessed. Lesson learned from cryptic solving: it’s OK to write in the answer before you can justify it.

  37. Math Teacher Dave says:

    I saw the link for Yemen, October, Clinton, and X, but I got really worried when Arizona was third from the front alphabetically in a list of states. I thought “raising” Arizona might be a cryptic-style reversal but I wanted to be sure that antepenultimate couldn’t also mean “third from the beginning” (with some weird alternate meaning for ante- and ultimate). A search on Merriam-Webster online told me that antepenultimate as a noun means the third to last syllable, and that’s what convinced me to submit with only 80% certainty. Really fantastic puzzle.

  38. rvkal says:

    Sheer dumb luck for me this week. I resorted to backsolving and found “antepenultimate” to be a tempting answer, but I only went with it because I forgot what the word actually means. I noticed that the four longest theme entries were all accented on the next-to-last syllable. That seemed compelling enough, and it never occurred to me that I was thinking about “penultimate.” Don’t deserve it, but I’m not giving back my correct answer.

  39. Asdanf says:

    Is no one else annoyed by the Zapata clue? “Quinn played him to a Best Actor Oscar.” Anthony Quinn played Eufemio Zapata (who is never who is meant when someone says “Zapata”) to a Best *Supporting* Actor Oscar. I’d forgive using the brother (though it did lead me down a siblings rabbit-hole, with the Luke/Leia clue), but I don’t think it’s fair to describe a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as a Best Actor Oscar.

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