MGWCC #400

crossword 4:04 
meta dnf 


mgwcc400hello and welcome to episode #400 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Frequency Modulation”. for this week 5 puzzle, matt asks us for the letter that goes in box 29. NOTE: in order to receive credit for this meta, you must provide a sentence or two explaining your logic along with the correct answer! we’ve never needed to show our work before, have we? i don’t think so.

anyway, the letter that goes in box 29 is either V or H. i have it as V in the screencap, but who knows? (not me, yet.) either VEXING or HEXING could be a correct answer to {Causing great distress to}, and either VERBS or HERBS could be a correct answer to {Mint and bay, e.g.}. (SEXING and SERBS are also both valid entries, and i suppose SEXING a chicken may cause it great distress, but i don’t think SERBS can be made to fit the mint and bay clue no matter how hard you squint.) so we need to figure out what is going on with the puzzle’s theme.

what are the theme entries? well, there are five starred clues (none of which is 29a or 29d):

  • {Sticky stuff*} SCOTCH TAPE.
  • {What Hillary conquered*} EVEREST.
  • {Nine-digit number for the IRS*} TAXPAYER ID.
  • {Character-forming organization*} YOUTH GROUP.
  • {Once passed on*} COULD’VE HAD.

now, i don’t know what is going on with these, but i also think that this isn’t the only thematic material in the grid. for one thing, there has to be some relationship to square 29. for another, the top-left corner has awkward partial name KON and hideous abbreviation VIT despite being a pretty small corner with only one theme entry. WISE/EON is an in-situ improvement over WISK/KON, and similarly 1a MAIZE or MAINE (with 1d MIST) or JAIME (with 1d JEST) would be better than WAIVE; i find it unlikely that matt just missed these simple fixes, so there is probably a reason for these letters.

what about the title? well, frequency modulation is the fm of fm radio, but it could also refer to letter frequencies. that was my first thought (maybe every letter appears in the grid a different number of times), but … well, that’s not true, and it also doesn’t explain why some clues are starred. i also thought about the frequencies of just the letters in the starred answers, but that didn’t seem to have any bearing on square 29, which is not part of a starred answer.

i also noticed that there were a lot of roman numeral letters in the grid (particularly a surplus of V’s), but i think that’s coincidence. at any rate, i wasn’t able to do anything with the roman numerals, which are generally not put together in a valid way (e.g. ID in TAXPAYER ID can’t be part of a valid roman numeral).

i also started thinking about alternative answers to the starred clues, just because it feels like it’s been a while since we saw that trick. SSN is a pretty obvious one for the TAXPAYER ID clue (although it does contain “number”, which is in the clue); {Sticky stuff} could be lots of things, but {Character-forming organization} could have something to do with people who write (using “characters” to mean letters), and {What Hillary conquered} could refer to a different hillary, perhaps even hillary clinton (a theme answer last week), although to my knowledge she has not yet officially conquered anything. and {Once passed on} is an intriguing clue, both because it could clue something simple like USED and also because it contains “once”, which is a frequency. that said, none of this seems to hold together as an actual theme.

i keep coming back to this idea that there’s more, maybe a lot more, theme material than just the starred clues. a lot of the awkward fill seems to be in areas where a V has been forced in (e.g. 4d VIT, 32a TRIV, 15a AVEC), which leads me to believe that the V is the right letter for 29, but that hardly constitutes a complete explanation.

well, my time is about up, and i just don’t have it this week. let me know in the comments what i missed.

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

30 Responses to MGWCC #400

  1. Matthew G. says:

    I ran down the same ideas as joon, especially the roman numerals and alternate answers for the starred clues, but likewise couldn’t find the pattern. Looking forward to hearing the solution.

  2. Evan says:

    The starred entries are associated with a letter-number combo, based on the frequency of each particular letter in the grid.

    EVEREST: K2.

    And there’s the slogan “COULD’VE HAD a V8.” So V is the answer.

  3. Matt says:

    176 right answers this week. Each of the five starred entries suggests an alphanumeric term: SCOTCH TAPE is made by 3M, 4-H is a big YOUTH GROUP, EVEREST is the tallest mountain and second is K2, W-9 is the TAXPAYER ID request form, and you COULD’VE HAD a V-8.

    There are 2 K’s in the grid, 9 W’s, and 3 M’s, so to get exactly 4 H’s and 8 V’s the letter in box 29 has to be a V.

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    TAXPAYERID – W9 (form to request it)
    EVEREST – K2

    So it had to be a V in Box 29 for the V count.

    Given the V/H square and Frequency in the title, I first looked for other V/H possibilities, then U/H, E/H, and S/H. Nothing there, but returning to the Vs, TRIV stood out as unnecessarily bad fill for that area. Assuming the V had to be there, I looked for a wave pattern. It didn’t work, but during my solve, I’d jotted V8 next to COULD’VE HAD and 3M next to SCOTCHTAPE. I had BSA/GSA for YOUTHGROUP and SSN for TAXPAYERID, so I changed these to 4H and W2/W4. Counting the letters worked once it became W9, and the K2 connection was readily apparent. My only nit is that this one feels a bit different than the others, which relate to the answer itself, not a comparison. Otherwise it was an enjoyable challenge and yet another new wrinkle from the meta master. 4.5 stars from me.

  5. Abide says:

    Not sure I’ve heard of a V-count. I did have 3M, K2, 4H and W2 (instead of 9) as a possibility. But did not suss out V8 so discarded that idea.

  6. Wayne says:

    Bah! Hiding in plain sight. Again. 5 stars. Wish I’d gotten it.

  7. Todd Dashoff says:

    The V8 was the key for me – the answer of “Could’ve had” was so tortured that Matt had to be steering us to V8. From there it was an easy jump to 3M; the rest took a little work, as I originally thought of W2, but eventually I got them and since there were so many V’s in the puzzle, and TRIV suggested another forced answer, I started counting. After that it was easy.

    Am I correct in my belief that VERN is not a Jim Varney character? I know he did Ernest P. Worrell, whose catchphrase was “Hey Vern, KnowwhutImean?”, but we never saw Vern in any of the commercials or movies. (I see Abide has confirmed my belief.)

    • Matt says:

      Oh damn, you’re right. Vern is unseen.

      • Matthew G. says:

        I was about to say the clue is still correct because Jim Varney created Vern, and he is still a Varney character, even if unseen. But it turns out that isn’t true — an advertising agency created Ernest (and thus Vern), so I guess the clue isn’t quite valid.

      • Puff says:

        This may be a bit nit picky. Vern is actually his character just not the one he portrayed in the ads/movies. As the creator I think it counts.

  8. Dave says:

    Spent a lot of very unprofitable time chasing alternative answers to the starred clues before I hit on the alphanumeric thing. 3M actually came to mind fairly early on, but I was busy chasing other ideas before I got serious about it. With a nudge from “Frequency” in the title, I got a little tingle when I counted three Ms in the grid, and when I finally thought of 4H as a youth group – and found four Hs – I knew I was onto it. Great puzzle.

  9. Ken Stern says:

    I didn’t get to give much time to this (and hence was nowhere near a solution), but having seen nothing in the grid to go on, I came to the recap preparing to be grouchy about whatever it was. Boy, was I wrong. Everything a tough meta should be — vague but strongly directional hint in the title, using the starred/theme and other parts of the grid, not obvious but straightforward with 1-2 ahas only. Five stars.

  10. Amy, I could’ve written your breakdown of your process. It’s exactly how I saw it. Having a background in clinical audiology (in a different life) one of my first thoughts was the word Hertz in relation to the frequency modulation – thus the letter H. But that quickly went nowhere. I also saw v’s in a diagonal but that was a dead end obviously. Tried to do something with 3M but then went BSA for Youth group and SSN for tax payer. It all looks so simple and awesome when you see it spelled out. Five stars.

  11. joon says:

    oh boy, that is good. “could’ve had a v8” doesn’t ring a bell for me, which is a shame—it’s solvable without knowing that in advance, but it would have been a lot easier to see if i’d twigged to that earlier (especially since i was thinking about letter frequencies and i was counting V’s already).

  12. Reid says:

    I googled Scotch Tape images and saw the 3M on Saturday, but nothing clicked, and I didn’t have time to get back to it until Monday night…where still nothing clicked.

    I always try and give these one last look when I wake up in the AM on Tuesdays, and as soon as I counted the M’s I figured I was on the right track. Googled “Taxpayer ID” and saw the W9 and it was all good from there.

  13. Jim S. says:

    I started counting letters too, but began at the beginning of the alphabet, didn’t see anything obvious, and stopped. As I struggled for a Hail Mary this AM, nothing came to mind; only after reading the solution did I notice that the roll of Masking Tape in front of me has “3M” and “Scotch” clearly visible on the inside liner! Doh!

  14. John says:

    I credit a bit of serendipitous mismatching for the fact this meta took me about 20 minutes to crack. As soon as I saw “Frequency” in the title and the out-of-whack number of Vs and Ws in the puzzle, i knew this was a thread to be followed. I started writing down the standout letters and frequencies in the margins: V – 8, W – 9, Y – 3. As i settled in to look at H, i figured placement within the alphabet may come into play so i left a big space between the end of the alphabet letters and H, but in so doing i changed to the notation: 4-H. While looking for other odd-frequency occurrences, i suddenly noted, hey, 4H and V8 are both things in themselves…

  15. Cole says:

    I was moving toward the solution and googled “Could’ve had” and v8 popped up as one of the first hits and there I was.

  16. Garrett says:

    Loved this one.

  17. Jason T says:

    Brilliant and elegant!

  18. aries says:

    Too many leaps for me to ever get this one. 3M, 4H, and W9 make sense, but if EVEREST is supposed to somehow clue me in to a *different* mountain, I don’t think I’d be able to make that connection.

    Still, a pretty nifty puzzle; more of a comment on my solving deficiencies than anything. Don’t know how you expert sleuths do it!

    • steve smith says:

      I, too, thought the connection to K2 from HILLARY was the weakest link, but with the magic of Google, I found that Sir Edmund’s son Peter Hillary has not only climbed Everest but also K2. He is apparently quite famous as a writer and mountaineer, having achieved the “seven summits”, climbing the tallest mountains on all seven continents.

      Matt, was your HILLARY the father or the son? Or were you intending people to try to make the leap from Everest to K2 (so to speak) in another way?

      • pgw says:

        It seems to me the intended links were simply between the alphanumeric thing and the theme entry – not necessarily its clue. 3M makes scotch tape but is not sticky; V8 is something you could’ve had, not something “once passed on”; a W-9 is used to request a taxpayer ID but is not otherwise associated with 9-digitedness. (It is true that 4-H, as an example of a youth group, is likewise a character-forming org.)

        To me the link between Everest and K2 is obvious – it was one of the first of the letter-number things to leap to my mind. Everest is notable for being tallest; K2 for being second. Probably most people would not know the name of K2 if not for its runner-up status. If someone mentions K2 to you, do you not immediately think “oh yeah, that mountain that’s taller than all the other mountains except Everest”?

        Granted, it is less likely to work in the other direction – mention Everest and I don’t automatically think of K2 – but once one or two of the other things have come to mind, K2 is the obvious thing to link with Everest. This is what I especially love about Matt’s metapuzzles – their solutions are often arrived at by recognizing associations or patterns or whatever that can’t really be described by any rigorous set of rules, but that once you see them are (usually) solid enough for you to go “aha!”

        Of course, different solvers will have different attitudes about individual puzzles. To me this one was very clever and well-executed, but your mileage may (and apparently did) vary.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          If you had the idea and weren’t sure if it was K2 or not, you could always just count the K’s in the grid and see that that’s correct.

  19. Jim Schooler says:

    “I COULD’VE had a V-8!” is an expression I often use with a head slap when I read joon’s meta reveal on Tuesday’s Crossword Fiend.

  20. JeffP says:

    In addition to W-9, request for a taxpayer ID, I also wondered about the SS-5, application for a social security card. I counted 5 words with two s’s: Suns, seeks, dissent, SXSW, and The Abyss. I probably overthought that one, though…

Comments are closed.