MGWCC #403

crossword 4:28 
meta about 5 minutes 


mgwcc403hello and welcome to episode #403 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Business Is Booming”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a message from you to me about this puzzle. okay. what are the theme answers? there appears to be only one, located in the center of the grid and related to the puzzle’s title: {Classic computer game with simple rules} MINESWEEPER. oh man, did i spend hours on this game in the 1990s. my high school physics teacher aptly renamed it “mindsweeper”.

anyway, the other notable thing about this grid is that there are a gazillion M’s. just lots and lots of M’s. combining this with the MINESWEEPER hint, it looks like we’re supposed to actually play (or sort of play) minesweeper in the grid, with each M standing for a mine. for those who don’t know the game, each square in the grid is either a mine or not a mine. if you click a square that turns out to be a mine, it blows up and you lose; if it’s not a mine, the square will turn into a number that indicates how many mines are (orthogonally or diagonally) adjacent. if that number is 0, the cell is blank and it automatically opens up all adjacent squares.

well, in this crossword grid, almost every square is orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to a mine. i’ve circled the letters that aren’t in the screencap above; the message they spell out is THANKS I HAD A BLAST, which is the meta answer.

i have a few thoughts on this meta. i’ll start with the negatives first: the grid is … strained, to be charitable. there are lots of entries that made me shrug or wince, like {“Please tell me!” in chatrooms} IMK (i assume it’s “i must know”, but i’ve never seen this) and the totally unfamiliar {First name at New York’s Noguchi Museum} ISAMU and {Eleanor of NOW} SMEAL (part of the same stack!), {Same, in Spain} MISMA, {Winemaker Paul and family} MASSONS (unfamiliar and a plural name to boot), 6-letter partial {R.E.M.’s “What If ___ It Away?”} WE GIVE, and a few other of the usual undesirables (short partials, roman numerals, abbrs, etc.). so solving the crossword part wasn’t as much fun as usual.

on the other hand: this is a very cool, and as far as i know totally original, idea for a puzzle. the nostalgia factor was definitely very high for me in particular, but mostly i admire the creativity on display. it is reminiscent of the battleship meta from a few years ago. in a good way, that is; that battleship puzzle was one of the most memorable mgwccs ever (and also, if i recall, an orca award finalist that year). transcribing all the mines as M’s and leaving the message in the blank squares is truly inspired, and the actual message itself was hilariously apt. the constraints of the meta were all over the grid, so of course the fill was compromised, but not to the point of being an absolute mess. and there was plenty of good stuff, too.

so yes, thanks as always, matt. i did have a blast! i’ll give this one 4.5 stars.

stuff i liked from the fill:

  • {Lee Daniels show} EMPIRE. i don’t watch it, but this show is getting a lot of INK (28-across) right now.
  • {Lead character in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”} TAMINO. this is an opera that i know, and one of the few that i have actually seen performed.
  • {Pete Muller’s term for the year-ending puzzle at his crossword contest site} MEGAMETA. whoa, that’s … meta.
  • {Mother of Hermes} MAIA and {Goddess of the harvest} DEMETER. a good day to know your greek mythology! MAIA has the distinction of being the namesake of one of our months. (i’ll give you twelve guesses.)

that’s all i’ve got. what did you all think?

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27 Responses to MGWCC #403

  1. Bret says:

    I loved, loved, loved this to the point it makes me wonder if Gaffney has a stash of ringer puzzles he pulls out the week after a less well-received one. Was relieved to see the “winning” time was 12 minutes, I was half expecting some wizard to get it done in five. I thought the difficulty was spot on for a week three, but the nature of this just took some time. I’d imagine 12 minutes is pretty high for a Week 3

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 231 right answers this week.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    From the title and instructions, I thought we’d have something like “It was a blast!” My hunch felt even stronger as LAST emerged in the SE. Glad I didn’t guess so soon. I finished the puzzle, then it was simply a matter of looking up the rules to Minesweeper and highlighting all the M squares. Since there were a lot fewer letters that didn’t touch the Ms than did, I jotted these down and BOOM, the answer came. Thanks, Matt, this one WENT DOWN well. I’d say you have A HIT. Sort of easy for Week 3, and I agree with Joon about the fill, but like a naval strategist, you laid down your grid impressively with yet another fresh idea. 4.5 stars from me.

  4. Amy L says:

    This was amazing. Each square was either an M, a square next to an M, or part of the answer. Plus there is MINESWEEPER and, last but not least, LAST.

    How did you figure this out, Matt? Did it take hours and hours? I hope you will compile your best metas in book form so they don’t disappear in the cloud.

  5. Norm H says:

    This is an absolutely wonderful meta. I didn’t get it, however, despite spending a ton of time over all five days. I noticed the preponderance of Ms as well as the central MINESWEEPER, but I couldn’t make the proper connection. Among the myriad rat holes I went down:
    — Imagining that the “message” might have something to do with all the chatter about last week’s meta.
    — MINES and BOMBS both being things that “boom”.
    — Numerous “add-a-letter-and-rearrange” sequences (such as MMA >> IMAM >> MISMA >> SAMIAM or ALMS >> SMEAL >> EMAILS).
    — Similarly…IDEM, IMED, DEMS…add a letter and scramble to DEISM.
    — MEGAN crossing ETA and together being one letter off from MEGAMETA.
    — 38 instances of ME found word-search style in the grid. Thought this might have something to do with the instructions of “you to me”.
    — Symmetrical ARAB IMAM.
    — Literal letter substitution instructions: “M is MA”, “DE is M”, “is AM U?” Never mind that these are Week 5 complicated and impossible to reconcile with one another.
    — The bizarre coincidence that putting MAL in the three black squares hanging from the NE results in IMAM, PARA and ALMS all being spelled backward from their respective points.

    Lesson? Keep it simple, stupid.

  6. ML Perry says:

    Well, I didn’t get it…I decided that each instance of the “ME” combo represented mines as in minesweeper…

    And, it sure looked like a tough game to win… so my answer was the message when one loses in Minesweeper “Sorry you loose. Better luck next time.” Almost from “you” to “me” – literally!

    Oh well. The real solution is so much more elegant!

  7. Jason T says:

    Took me a while to go down a few false paths – at first I thought I had to find all the letters in MINE, or all the letters in MINESWEEPER… but once I figured out the mechanism for the Ms functioning as mines that explode all the surrounding squares, my mind found this meta magnificent! This is one of those brilliant ones for me where the theme and the execution come together perfectly, the entire grid is basically theme-related (what a constraint, placing all those Ms!), and the idea is novel and utterly pleasing. MMMMM, good!

  8. Jim S. says:

    ARGH! %#*^#%+!

    I couldn’t get past so many MEs, and only 1 E that wasn’t beside an M. Thought that the mines were alternate forms of the possessive ‘mine’ – me and mi – for some reason. :(

    So, so, sad that I couldn’t see what was right in front of my face. Awesome puzzle, though. I’m astounded every time I run into one of these leftover-letter puzzles… The amount of gymnastics involved must be insane. 5 stars from me (I’m not on my phone, so maybe I’ll actually rate it correctly for a change!).

  9. J Bowzer says:

    I took a circuitous path to get this one and thought it made the puzzle even more brilliant.

    In addition to all the M’s in the grid, I noticed the high number of A’s and the grid entry ABOMBS. For awhile, I tried to solve assuming the A’s were the mines. What got me unstuck was seeing the final row entries ARAB and LAST, seeing that the word BLAST could come out of that, thinking that was no coincidence (and thinking there must be a pun on the word BLAST in the answer) and noticing that M’s were not near those letters.

    Just enough of a red herring and then a hint to get back on the right path. Awesome meta!

  10. Jon says:

    I couldn’t get past the fact that there was only 1 U and the hint of “a message from you to me.” From U to ME? I noticed so many MEs in the puzzle. But that lead to nowhere. Then I tried to think of how the 37 Ms factored into “Business is Booming.” I never thought of booming as a term for explosions but now I see that I should have seen that association with Minesweeper.

    This is an amazingly crafted puzzle. Bravo, Matt.

  11. dbardolph says:

    I was all over it – looking at all those Ms as mines – and failed to go the last step. Absolutely brilliant. The puzzle, not me.

  12. LuckyGuest says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Once again I marvel at a meta that had to have been more difficult to construct than to solve. I — as is usual lately — went way wrong in trying to make sense of 30-something instances of “me” (in all directions) and 20-something more “I’m” clusters. And what a cluster I turned it into; ultimately making the answer/puzzle “all about me”…or “that’s me all over” or some such nonsense. Now, going from meta-searching to soul-searching: I’ve only been a member here since around November, but now “me” is wondering if I even belong puzzling with all you geniuses. My hat’s off to all of you who seemed to have no trouble getting this one (12 minutes!?) And especially to Matt. Dude, you rock.

  13. Brilliant, 5 stars.

    Were all of the Japan/WWII-related words in the grid intended to be a set of thematic answers? Or was that just a coincidence? EMPIRE/IWOJIMA/ABOMBS/ATWAR, arguably ARMYMAN, and maaaybe ISAMU.

  14. Abby B says:

    Took this one to lunch with my partner and spitballed ideas on what to do. Once we got the idea to eliminate mines, she started scratching off the letters and when we got a word, I figured we were doing it right. One of the neatest construction jobs ever, for sure.

  15. Jason says:

    I colored in all the M’s hoping to see something and didn’t get beyond that.

  16. Chris King says:

    So, it looks like I went too deep. If find the letters that would be assigned a 0 in minesweeper assuming all Ms, Is, Ns, and Es were bombs, the anagrammed letters come up with the message “THAT BAD?”

    I swept the Ms fast, but thought I should have kept sweeping the others ones as well!

  17. John says:

    Big time redemption. A classic. Another x-word legend didn’t dub him ‘Miracle Matt’ for nothing.

  18. Gideon says:

    One thing about mgwcc: when you get a (very rare) bomb, you can bet it will be followed by a blast!

  19. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I took the wrong part of the title, missed the significance of the central answer, and noticed the large number of occurrences of M and A in the grid, and considered asking if Matt wanted to buy my puzzle-construction business. The fact that we were supposed to send a message about this puzzle ruled that out, but now I’m curious as to the strangest things Matt has gotten as wrong answers to puzzles.

  20. Scott says:

    I’m a smart guy. At least I used to think so. But lately I’ve been having a hard time getting the metas on these puzzles.

    • Makfan says:

      You aren’t alone.

      I spotted all the Ms and I thought that Minesweeper was important give the title but I couldn’t see how. I started down the incorrect path of looking at all the ME combinations, too.

  21. CC says:

    Quickest Week 3 solve for me yet and possibly my favorite solve yet (I swear those two aren’t related.)

    I typed the puzzle into Word on my Mac and colored all the Ms in red. The effect as I colored all the surrounding letters in a lighter color, leaving the message to develop in black, was simply astonishing.

  22. Adam T says:

    I didn’t get the meta but that solution is totally reasonable.

  23. sandirhodes says:

    I didnt do this puzzle, but Im tempted to give it 5 stars simply based on the recap!!

    (I didnt)

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