MGWCC #404

crossword 4:38 
meta about 45 minutes, with help 


mgwcc404hello and welcome to episode #404 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Across the Board”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to find an 8-letter word. okay. what are the theme answers? uh, good question. it’s a small (11×11) grid with no long answers. i don’t think there are any theme answers.

the most striking thing about the puzzle is that the cluing is really weird. the clues are uniformly short and a lot of them are awkwardly worded or extra-vague. that triggered my spidey-sense for “another answer fits this clue”, especially when i tried CCCP before USSR for {Tereshkovan’s abbreviation}. but no, there was nothing doing, so i put the puzzle down after about 10-15 minutes of staring.

later friday evening, andy kravis and i started looking at the meta again. we commented on the difficulty of the crossword (4:38 to solve an 11×11 is pretty much off the charts for me) and the impenetrability of some of the clues. the fact that the clues are all super-short struck me: at first glance i thought they were all 3 words or fewer, but then i noticed {Blois & Orleans’s river} for LOIRE. why would there be an ampersand in that clue instead of an actual “and”? “blois & orleans” isn’t a thing; rather, blois is a city on the loire and orleans is another one.

focusing on the ampersand led andy to the “aha” moment: each clue corresponds to a square on a monopoly board that shares the same initials. in this case, the B & O railroad has an ampersand, not an “and”. that explains why every clue is short and so many of them feel stilted.
looking at it closer, it’s really an amazing construction: the 11×11 grid has 40 squares on its perimeter, same as a monopoly board. every across answer either starts on the left side of the grid or ends on the right side; the square where it starts or end determines which monopoly property it corresponds to, if you orient the monopoly board with GO in the lower right as is standard. likewise, every down clue either starts on the top edge or ends on the bottom edge. the exceptions are where there is a black square on the edge of the grid; in that case, you just look at whichever answer you could slide to the edge of the grid if you removed the black squares in the way.

still confused? all right, let’s go through the whole damn list, in monopoly order. that means we’re starting at the lower right, with 26-down:

  • 26-d. {Guffs} SASSES. go.
  • 25-d. {“Must” antonym} NEEDN’T. mediterranean ave.
  • 24-d. {Cartoon cat} ARLENE, from garfield. community chest.
  • 34-d. {Bring (along)} DRAG. baltic ave.
  • 20-d. {“I ___ tired!”} AM SO. income tax.
  • 28-d. {Really ruminating} MOPEY (not a very good clue-answer match, if you ask me). reading railroad.
  • 36-d. {Operational ability} USE. oriental ave.
  • 22-d. {Charge} VASSAL. chance.
  • 32-d. {Visually appropriated} APED. vermont ave.
  • 31-d. {Cranial area} PATE. connecticut ave.
  • 30-d. {Jolt verbally} SLAM. just visiting. here we come to something interesting: each of the grid’s four corners appears in both an across and a down answer, of course. in the other three cases, the clues have the same initials, but here we have “just visiting” on the down, and …
  • 40-a. {Intermingled jumble} MEDLEY. in jail, for the across. neat!
  • 38-a. {Sergeant’s “chill, private!”} AT EASE. st. charles place.
  • 35-a. {Enthusiastically consumes} LAPS UP. electric company.
  • 30-a. {Sumptuous accommodations} SPAS. states ave.
  • 27-a. {Venus’s abridgements} ARMS, as in the venus de milo. virginia ave.
  • 21-a. {Perform responsibilities} SERVE. pennsylvania railroad.
  • 18-a. {Sonneteer’s “just preceding”} ERE. st. james place, and a very nice clue for a tough set of initials.
  • 15-a. {Cloggable channel} GUTTER. another community chest.
  • 13-a. {Tereshkova’s abbreviation} USSR. tennessee ave.
  • 11-a. {Neil Young anthem} OHIO, although i needed all the crosses. new york ave.
  • 1-a. {Fun prancing} ROMP. free parking.
  • 1-d. {Face powders} ROUGES. free parking again, on the turn.
  • 2-d. {Kiddingly, “Alright!”} OH, SURE. kentucky ave.
  • 3-d. {Chap} MISTER. another chance.
  • 4-d. {Island area} PORT. indiana ave.
  • 16-d. {Interminable ages} EVER. illinois ave. sneaky that these two adjacent red properties, which share initials, aren’t adjacent in the down clues list because EVER starts down in the fourth row. not sure that was intentionally done to conceal; at any rate, the free parking/free parking pairing at 1a/1d was right there in the open.
  • 5-d. {Blois & Orleans’s river} LOIRE. B & O railroad, as discussed.
  • 6-d. {Accounting apparatus} ATM, although i really wanted it to be ABACUS with something funky going on. atlantic ave.
  • 7-d. {Vermicelli, actually} NOODLE, and another clue that screamed out that something weird was happening. what is the “actually” doing in this clue? and why isn’t the answer NOODLES? ventnor ave.
  • 8-d. {Winged warbler} DOVE. water works.
  • 9-d. {Marlon’s guru} ELIA kazan, and we’re talking marlon brando. marvin gardens.
  • 10-d. {Graceful tailed jumper} DEER. go to jail.
  • 5-a. {Got (the job)} LANDED. go to jail again, and this is a very nice pairing for another tough three-initial clue.
  • 12-a. {“Phantoms” actor} O’TOOLE. pacific ave.
  • 14-a. {Noted cinematic app} IMOVIE. north carolina ave.
  • 17-a. {Closely cherished} DEAR. the last community chest. i thought with DEER crossing DEAR there might be something going on there, but nope.
  • 19-a. {“Parmigiana” awesomeness} VEAL. pennsylvania ave.
  • 23-a. {Statistics lesson} MEANS. short line. i don’t think i noticed until just now that this is the only railroad without “railroad” in the name.
  • 29-a. {Chris ___} REA, and if you don’t know who that is, well, you’re not alone. the third and final chance.
  • 33-a. {Plenty plus} OODLES. park place.
  • 37-a. {Larkin’s team} REDS. luxury tax.
  • 39-a. {“___ Boleyn”} ANNE, but i have no idea why this clues is in quotes. boardwalk.
  • 41-a. {Grasps} GETS. and we’re back to go.

oh, and i should probably mention that the 8-letter meta answer is just monopoly.

to my mind, this is a second consecutive jaw-dropper. i know there will be those who dislike it on principle because the theme is in the clues, and the answers don’t really matter. well, i’m not one of them. this is a beauty. five stars, no question.

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43 Responses to MGWCC #404

  1. "C" Fogarty says:


  2. Paul Coulter says:

    I’m in awe of those who solved it quickly. I knew there was something weird going on with the clues, but I was fixated on chess and the promotion of a pawn, since so many of the strange Across clues featured words starting with a P. I also thought Matt might be forming scores in Scrabble, since there are nine letters absent from his grid, including all the very scrabbly ones. But I kept coming back to the weird clues, particularly “Parmigiana awesomeness.” What a superb meta it turned out when I finally got my brain to work. “My old noodle! Oh, please! (comments when I couldn’t see it) Outrageous! Lovely! Yes! (comments when I finally did) Five stars from me. “Puzzle awesomeness” would be an appropriate clue for this sterling effort.

    • sps says:

      “Parmigiana awesomeness” was what made me most aware that it might all be in the clues—then I noticed “Graceful tailed jumper” plus the shortness of the clues and thought of state abbvs. From there, it was an easy jump to Monopoly. An amazing feat of construction.

  3. Justin says:

    I hope Matt can take the time to comment how he went about constructing this. Must have been darn near impossible to pull off.

  4. Jared Dashoff says:

    I went looking for 11×11 game boards right away. Couldn’t find one with 121 squares that made sense.

    Stalled staring at the clues and the odd blanks and quotes.

    Never put the clues together with a game board that wasn’t 121 squares, rather just 40 around the edge.

    Great puzzle and an even better follow up to last week, even if I didn’t get the meta.

  5. Jim S. says:

    Wow! I knew something was up with the clues but didn’t get there. Funny too – this is the first MGWCC grid that I couldn’t solve and it turns out I didn’t even need to! Well done, sir.

  6. Evan says:

    I’ve made puzzles before where the first letters of the clues were relevant in some way, and it’s sometimes very, very difficult to get a non-tortured clue when you’re forced to start a clue with a J or a Z or some other uncommon letter. But I’ve never made a puzzle where I had to make the first letters of multiple words in the clues relevant. To be able to do that, and to have all the clues be terse and not require extra information (like a year number or a job description), and to have them all work reasonably well …. is pretty mind-boggling.

    Bravo, Matt.

    • Evan says:

      Hell, those clues aren’t just lacking in extra information like a year number or a job description. Matt used no conjunctions or really common prepositions at all. He used “I” and “the” only once each, but no other pronouns or articles that I could find.

      The amount of restrictions on those clues impresses me more every time I look at them.

  7. Wayne says:

    Brilliant. I was nowhere close on this one. But it was totally gettable. The title and prompt were perfectly phrased for a week 4. The novelty of an 11×11 grid was another nudge towards the solution. I agree with joon; 5 stars.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks Joon — 138 right answers this week. I was hoping the mysterious ampersand would be many solvers’ entry.

    Justin — it took a long time. My WSJ meta which was due last week didn’t get turned in until this morning because #404 consumed all its own allotted time plus all the time id allotted for the wsj. And I needed about 4 testers to go over this one before it was presentable.

  9. genefaba says:

    I noticed that all of the clues for CHANCE starts with a CH and 2 out of 3 of the COMMUNITY CHEST clues start with C** CH**.

  10. pgw says:

    joon, I agree with your final paragraph and had the same thoughts. While I often think it’s reasonable to gripe a little when the fill has nothing at all to do with the meta, this one is such a good idea, and just so beautifully constructed, that it gets five stars from me.

    The title had me thinking board games from the jump. Alas, there are few games played on an 11×11 grid. You can play go on such a grid but it’s not standard; there are some extra-weird chess variants; Hex is 11×11 but they’re hexagons; and, coincidentally after last week, there’s a two-player variant of Minesweeper that’s played on an 11×11 grid. None of these, of course, led to any decent ideas. My entry point to the actual solution was also the B&O clue.

    • Evan says:

      My first thought was a computer keyboard, given how he only used 17 letters of the alphabet in the grid. I first if Matt hid something in the “opposite” keys (where a P in the grid would be a Q in the meta, an O would be an W, etc.), as though the keyboard were reversed horizontally. But when the resulting “opposite” grid looked like this:


      That got me nowhere. If there’s some way to create an 11×11 puzzle where every single letter can be changed using the same pattern and STILL get a resulting grid….that would have to be the Puzzle to End All Puzzles.

      (Also a hand up for having the ampersand be the key; although my wife was the one who pointed out that the clue sorta reminded her of B & O Railroad if this were about Monopoly. So she wins the meta this week.)

  11. John says:

    Did not get this but its a stunner, and how people made the leap to ‘Monopoly’ is nearly as stunning. I saw the clues as strange for all the doubled first letters but never got beyond that. Looking now, they are all abnormally short. Sheesh. In awe. 5 stars for sure.

  12. Amy L says:

    The ampersand did it for me. I saw that and got the meta from there. Matt is usually so fastidious about his English. I gave “alright” a pass as being almost standard these days, but then realized the clue couldn’t use “all right.”

    Paul C’s phrase is great: Puzzle Awesomeness!

    • pgw says:

      “Alright” has been alright since the early 19th century – and many (myself included) would contend the word has a different meaning than the phrase. As used in Matt’s clue, “alright” is definitely all right.

  13. Garrett says:

    I never made the game board connection — it must have been a wonderful sensation to get that, then think of the Monopoly board, and see the clues work for that.

    What I focused on first was the unusual amount of Es in the grid. Then I started noticing groups of them: Two pairs going down; three pairs going diagonally down, left-to-right; five pairs of them going diagonally down, right-to-left. This led me to notice other pairs, and I tallied them up and came up with five pairs going across, and five pairs going down. Hmmm. Odd coincidence.

    But then I started thinking about the clues — the number of them. The puzzle has 22×22 clues, across and down. This is exactly double the number of across and down squares, 11×11. Another odd coincidence.

    Then I thought about the grid again. With one black square dead center, and the way it is laid-out, it has 90 degree rotational symmetry, and that is one too many coincidences for me, so I decided the word must be symmetry.

    Now when you take all that and add to it the things that Joon and Evan pointed-out, this truly is a mind-boggling puzzle and meta. The French have a term for something like this — nonpareil.

  14. jefe says:

    Brilliant! First miss of the year for me.

    I noticed a lot of weirdness in the clues, particularly a bunch of super long words. “Across the Board”, with an 11×11 grid, suggested to me to look at 11+ letter words in the across clues, and there are exactly 8 (Tereshkova’s, abbreviation, awesomeness, responsibilities, abridgements, accommodations, enthusiastically, intermingled). This of course led me nowhere (there were also 3 11+’s in the downs).
    Then I noticed that there were 8 clues with quotation marks, some of which, as joon pointed out, didn’t really need them. Also went nowhere.
    Desperately tried to put letters in the black squares to make words a la Alphabet Soup, which worked for a few but nothing substantial.
    Threw a Hail Mary but unfortunately focused on Across and not Board.

    Great work Matt!

  15. Dave C says:

    Spectacular! I solved this in a bar Saturday night while watching a France-Wales rugby match (as well as my Bulls getting creamed by the Hawks), and my only initial inroad was the goofiness of so many clues. That led me to discovering GJB (Got (the job)) and Graceful tailed jumper. From there, I wrote down all examples of repeated letter codes, which led nowhere, and then ALL of the letter codes on all of the clues. The prevalence of 2nd words beginning with A provided aha moment #2, cuing Avenues and, finally, MONOPOLY.

    I was a little confused as to why the corners required two answers (FP – fun prancing, face powders = Free Parking), and didn’t catch on that final layer of brilliance till after I submitted. Very excited to have cracked this one, and I give it 5 stars as well.

    • slubduck says:

      Same thought process for me. Was stuck on GTJ, FP, CC, VA, etc. and trying to make something of the first letters of their entries. Also thought about a “connect the Across clue to it’s associated Down clue by drawing a line for each pair”, as the clues are so short and line up perfectly with each other. All to no avail. Finally clicked due to the ampersand on Tuesday morning. Until reading the write-up just now, I’d not had time to notice how the entire puzzle actually corresponds to an actual Monopoly board ….. shivers.

  16. Norm H says:

    For some reason, I got this quickly. After filling in the grid (very hard, as Joon notes) my first indication was that he clued Peter OTOOLE using one of his least well-known films. Then I saw B&O, and it clicked.

    But sometimes submitting an answer quickly means you miss out on the true genius. I looked at ten or so clues and confirmed they were all Monopoly spaces, but the order seemed random. I also noticed that the grid had 44 words, compared to the 40 Monopoly spaces, but I knew I had the right answer, so didn’t pay it too much mind.

    This is a stunning construction — I only wish I had realized that while I solved.

    By the way, my initial answer for the Tereshkova clue was FRWL. :-)

  17. dave glasser says:


    I actually almost just guessed MONOPOLY based on “board”, 8-letter answer, and the grid size, which would have given me my first ever perfect month. But it would have felt unearned.

    I noticed that all clues had 1-3 word names, and thought it was perhaps trying to clue dice rolls that would walk around a Monopoly board, but got nothing there. Should have realized initials were relevant since Phantoms was such a ridiculous O’Toole choice.

  18. Thomas says:

    Wow. I knew the clue initials were important, I knew to put them on the perimeter, but I convinced myself that the repeated ones were the key. There are the three pairs on the corners (FP, GTJ, G) and two pairs that are on the same side (IA, PA). Then there are three sets of three (C, CC, VA), and notably each member of a set is on a different side, so these are the only ones that “cross the board.” I spent so much time drawing lines between them, trying to get them to indicate eight letters that would spell something, to no avail.

    That was a good one, though.

  19. Dan Seidman says:

    I was extremely impressed by this one, and enjoyed going through every clue. And, as Joon said, the In Jail / Just Visiting is wonderful touch.

  20. Norm H says:

    It takes
    Much genius
    To assemble
    Such a
    Perfect puzzle.
    Matt’s amazing!

  21. Jim Schooler says:

    I looked at the grid as a chessboard (which the title suggests too), even though it is 8X8, not 11X11 like the grid itself. The pieces on the chessboard are Pawn, Rook, Knight, Bishop, King and Queen. I noticed at first that there were no Bs in the grid, so I thought of Bishop, then noticed that there were no Ks (Knight and King) nor Qs (Queen). At some time during play, Bishops, Knights, Kings, and Queens can move diagonally on the chessboard, but Pawns (with the exception of taking another chess piece) and Rooks cannot. Could the eight-letter contest word be “diagonal”? Admittedly it was a stretch, but I submitted “diagonal” anyway.

    This is perhaps the most masterful meta I’ve seen after reading joon’s writeup. 5 stars from me.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      CHESSMAN was going to be my Hail, Mary before I cracked it at almost exactly the eleventh hour. I thought that maybe the King was represented by OTOOLE, who played one several times, Queen by ANNE (Boleyn,) Pawn by VASSAL, Knight by DEER (since Graceful tailed jumper could refer to Horse,) Rook by SPAS (since Sumptuous accommodations could refer to a Castle) and something equally forced for Bishop that I’d rather not admit.

  22. Abide says:

    The title had me thinking monopoly or scrabble, but I couldn’t justify either. I did find an old 11×11 Gaffney meta involving scrabble, so monopoly was my Hail Mary. Working a fresh grid last night, the B&O almost jumped off the page. Funny, the clues never seemed forced to me, just week 4 toughish.

  23. george says:

    wow. Even reading through the list, I still didn’t quite catch the reason each clue connected, I had to re-read the write-up just to fully grasp it. I noticed the key things, small grid & unusual cluing. I also had the same thought as Joon, I was thinking the entire grid could have been completed with alternate answers, but didn’t get anywhere. I felt bad about missing last week’s puzzle and breaking my perfect year, but I can pretty firmly say I don’t think I would have ever gotten there with this. An incredible puzzle, impressive in its construction, but just beyond my brain-span. Thanks Matt!

  24. Dele says:

    Astonishing! I can barely comprehend how such a construction is even possible.

    I realized the clues had to be involved, but the closest I got to a useful lead was finding a handful of answers hidden in their clues (e.g. LOIRE within “Blois & Orleans’ river”). Utter amazement at the actual solution!

  25. Scott says:

    I didn’t get the answer. But I am amazed at the construction. Five stars for sure.

  26. Pj says:

    Just plain AWESOME! My PP (Puzzle Partner) had the aha moment when I said aloud the Bois & Orleans River. B&O Railrod. Coupled with FP (Free Parking) he hit on the answer. We both marveled at the way Matt was able to clue the board in order. I made the mistake at first of NOT thinking a board game because of last week’s game meta. Never underestimate the wily nature of my favorite cruciverbalist.

  27. Daniel Barkalow says:

    The only thing I was worried about was whether we were looking for the name of the game, as opposed to some other 8-letter word related to it. I’d have liked having my attention drawn to the black square in the center of the grid, which would have confirmed that we were looking for what is written there on the board. It’s too easy to overlook the incredible clue placement if you just see that the clue initials are all initials of Monopoly spaces in the right quantity.

  28. Mathdanmom says:

    So frustrated to figure it out too late. I solve on the computer, and if the meta isn’t clear right away, I print the completed puzzle to stare at later. I was stuck until this morning, when I looked for a message in the first letter of each clue. Nothing there, but B&O jumped off the page and slapped me. Glancing through the clues, it looked like each had initials matching a Monopoly space. So Monopoly is my answer, right? But there must be more to it, and I had just enough time to list each Monopoly space in the order from the clue list, and compare with the board to make sure they are all there. I was missing Oriental Avenue, and Oriental has 8 letters, and my time was up, so I sent that in. Now that I studied the locations of the Monopoly spaces compared with the grid entries, I see that my printout listed the 36 down clue under the grid instead of in the list of clues. I just didn’t see it earlier. And the pattern of clue initials matching the positions on the board is an amazing feat of construction and cluing. Even though I screwed it up, I love this meta.

  29. Debbie says:

    I have a feeling we’ll be seeing this puzzle again around this time next year…

  30. Jim Curran says:

    When I saw the title “Across the Board” the 8-letter word MONOPOLY came to mind immediately. I tried for three days to justify that answer but couldn’t. I submitted MONOPOLY as my answer at 10:00 Tuesday AM. It’s better to be lucky than be good.

  31. Mike W says:

    Brilliant puzzle. Kudos to Matt in constructing and to those who solved it!!

  32. Dave says:

    I noticed the awkward clues right away, then the abundance of last words starting with A, and the clues with the same initials: two GTJ’s, two FP’s, two G’s, all crossing at a corner square. But why the mismatch at the fourth corner? And why three VA’s, none of which cross, but did seem to go “across the board”? So many things that couldn’t be coincidences but didn’t seem to make a coherent meta. Finally thought about GTJ long enough that Go To Jail popped into my head, and it was an easy step to the answer. Nice additional “a-ha” when I realized why the jail was clued with IJ and JV!

  33. Jason T says:

    This meta already seemed plenty brilliant enough to me from what I noticed, which is that each clue’s initials corresponded to the initials of a Monopoly square. How much more brilliant to learn that the clues actually correspond with the spaces around the board! This puzzle is a marvel.

  34. LuckyGuest says:

    I noticed the odd phrasing of the clues right away, but took “Board” the wrong way at first; spending a lot of time (and close hits) looking at NASDAQ/NYSE/etc. ticker symbols. That didn’t pan out, so I went to the garage to carve. I started thinking “board…board…board…” I spent a second thinking maybe they were medical codes or something. Then I said “Wait… Across the Board… board games maybe?… what games…? And in that instant — nowhere near the puzzle or the initials — I said “Whoa… Monopoly? But no, that would be too… he couldn’t possibly have… are you even kidding me!?” And when I went in and re-checked the clues/initials, I could not get that stupid grin off my face! Genius! (and I don’t mean me)…

  35. Jeff M says:

    Can we just eliminate the one three-star vote? It was probably an errant click of the mouse anyway…if it was a 4.5 or even a 2.5, I’d believe it…

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