MGWCC #420

crossword 7:02 
meta DNF3 days 


mgwcc420hello and welcome to episode #420 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Advance Directives”, by guest constructor jeff chen. for this week 3 puzzle of guest constructor month, jeff challenges us to name a color. sounds simple enough, but the puzzle is wicked hard. as in, i have no idea what is going on even though this is only supposed to be week 3 of 5. not only that, but it took me over 7 minutes just to fill in a 14×14 grid. (that’s the same solving time as last week’s 21×21, for reference.)

there are four long answers in the grid, but i don’t have any reason to think they have anything to do with the meta:

  • {Unleaded mixture} DECAF MOCHA.
  • {“You’re such a Potsie” sayer} RALPH MALPH. from happy days. i only know this name from playing peter gordon’s celebrity: get a clue app. (did you know there’s a new version out?)
  • {It might arise from a lack of conditioning} BAD HAIR DAY.
  • {Sheepish offering?} LOIN OF LAMB.

here are the other things that struck me about this puzzle:

first, the clues are very long. despite the smaller-than-usual grid size and only 72 clues, the clues were long enough that they wouldn’t fit on a one-page printout unless i shrank the font to 9-point. also, many of them are worded very unusually. one, i think, contains either an outright error: {Jazz trumpeter who recorded “Olio” (seriously!)} clues THAD, but his name is actually thad jones. so the clue has to somehow convey that it’s the first name that goes in the grid. (the easiest way would be to put jones in the clue.) still, matt assures me this omission has nothing to do with the meta, so i’ll leave it. but that little corner took me at least a minute, with the what-the-hell-is-that clues {Ambani who co-owns the Mumbai Indians cricket team} for crosswordese stalwart NITA and {J. Edgar Hoover was a regular contributor to its magazine} for PTA, and the i-also-think-this-is-an-error clue {Pro of 2015} for IPAD. the ipad pro came out in 2015, but … the ipad pro is not a pro. it’s an ipad.

anyway, back to the clue length: it seems to me that many of these clues are written strangely enough that perhaps they either have to contain a specific word, or start with a specific letter. the NITA and PTA clues certainly stand out in that regard—that’s how you’d clue PTA pretty much only if you absolutely needed the clue to begin with J. and i don’t know about NITA ambani—you could clue NITA straightforwardly starting with A as {Actress Naldi}, but maybe there’s something else important about ambani or mumbai (nearly an anagram of ambani) or something.

second, the grid is … weird. there are 72 words and 36 black squares (including 4 cheaters), which is a whole lot for a 14×14. not only that, but there are plenty of places where it looks easy to improve the fill by making small changes. (to cite a simple example: PUR/PUPA could become PAR/PAPA with ease.) this leads me to believe that the grid contains many more than 4 theme answers—perhaps even all 72 of them.

the letter distribution is also highly unusual. it’s not especially scrabbly, but there are only two E’s in the grid; you’d typically expect dozens. the other vowels are represented in fairly usual proportions, but the consonants are also a little strange: only two S’s and two N’s but lots of R’s, L’s, P’s, and C’s.

what to make of the title? i have no idea. “advance” suggests several things to me. advance to go (but we’ve had a monopoly meta recently). loaning money. moving letters forward in the alphabet, or within a word. “directives” can just mean instructions, but it may also be an allusion to cardinal directions, or other directions like forward/backward/up/down/left/right/diagonal.

wait, hang on a sec. if there are fewer than the expected number of E, N, and S, that could definitely mean we’re doing cardinal directions. let me try drawing a map. aha! there are exactly 2 each of the cardinal directions N/E/S/W. but… i don’t know what to do with this map. there’s actually an NW together in {Arabian Prince’s group} NWA; i wonder if that’s north and west separately, or meant to be taken together as northwest. either way, i’m not sure what’s going on, but here:

  • {Unleaded mixture} DECAF MOCHA.
  • {___ Lingus} AER.
  • {Beethoven’s first?} LUDWIG.
  • {Arabian Prince’s group} NWA.
  • {G.I. Joe’s outfit} U.S. ARMY.
  • {Sheepish offering?} LOIN OF LAMB.
  • {Gross statement?} PAYSLIP.
  • {Itinerant ethnic group} ROMANI.

they seem to be in pairs: two crossing each other, and two adjacent along parallel rows/columns.

ahh, okay. if we just look at the letter adjacent to each of these eight squares in the indicated direction, they spell out CARDINAL, which is indeed a color (and a very apt answer for this meta). here’s a bigger screenshot:
well dang, that’s rather intricate, and actually i guess i was wrong that the four long answers aren’t theme answers, since all eight letters of the final answer come from symmetric spaces in those answers. the fact that you need symmetric central pairs explains why this is a 14×14, and not a grid with a standard odd size. very elegant in the end.

the rest of the strained fill must just be due to the constraint of not being able to use N/E/S/W (mostly E, and to a lesser extent S). i have no idea why the clues are so strangely worded and long, since the meta ended up having nothing to do with them, but man i stared at a bunch of red herrings for a long time.

okay, now it’s 11:50 and i just have to post this and go pick up my kids from their last (half-) day of school. wow, was this a brain-crusher for only week 3. how’d you all do?

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42 Responses to MGWCC #420

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon and Jeff. 106 correct answers this week.

    Note that this is Week of 3 of 4 in Guest Constructor Month, not 3 of 5! July 1 is a Friday.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Nice 96th hour save, too, joon

  3. George says:

    I consider this a win simply for completing the grid. I almost had the meta, but a step shy. I got the NSEW connection, and was looking at the letters between each set of letters, which didn’t yield anything. I ended up deciding whatever the answer was, it was probably related to a compass/directions. So I guessed rose (as in compass rose). I don’t think I would have guessed cardinal without fully seeing the meta, but at least I was correct that the color was related. Tough week 3, but very nice puzzle and a fun challenge.

  4. Mutman says:

    Never got close, despite lots of hours of thought.

    Tried ‘ginger’ since Ralph Malph was one and there was a hair reference. There were lots of Gs also, which is unusual.

    Well done Jeff

  5. Justin says:

    Wow. That is amazing. Thanks for letting me off the hook Joon. So did the parentheticals mean anything??? I mean, “sigh, seriously, I’m rooting…, fanboy squee)?

    • LuckyGuest says:

      Yeah, it was the parentheticals that threw me; especially so since they played such a prominent role in the puzzle Matt offered as an example of Jeff’s work. I never did get out of that rut; i.e., trying to add something to the original entry that corresponded to the additional information in the parens (e.g., for “(sigh),” I added “me” to the end of PARIAH, giving me “ah, me”… kind of a sigh. And “ah me” sounded like “Army,” as in Army Green. Throwing in other (ahem) support for shades of “green,” there was, or could have been, Olive [OYL], another instance of ARMY… and even “Advance” in the title told me I had the Green light. And now I’m just green with envy over the people who did solve this great puzzle.

  6. ajk says:

    Dangit! I had noticed the letters, and even tried reading from them in the directions indicated. But I never thought to stop after one letter. :(
    Oh well. :)

  7. Matthew G. says:

    I kept plugging away at this one longer than I normally would with a difficult Week 3, because I had faith that I would eventually find a pattern in the grid letters, given the otherwise-awkward fill. That attitude eventually paid off with an even later save than joon’s (in fact, it looks like I was the last person to send in the right answer).

    So this was especially satisfying. Nice one, Jeff!

  8. Sam Donaldson says:

    I was *sure* “Advance” meant GO, and “Directives” meant to look at the squares after all the GO bigrams in the grid (six of them, to be exact). But couldn’t make anything of those letters. It’s reassuring I was nowhere close. At least I got last week’s meta right!

    Kudos to Jeff for a grid that hid a pretty severe construction constraint very cleverly.

    • Justin says:

      “GO” was my rabbit hole too. There were four weird parentheticals (in my opinion), a few of which pointed to “GO XXX” phrases. I’m rooting for everybody = GO TEAM, the pariah = GO AWAY, or maybe GO HOME, seriously = GO FIGURE. That was a bad hole to get stuck in. I guessed “GOLD” by the GO connection.

    • Garrett says:

      I tried going down this route too.

  9. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Always attracted by a potentially simple answer, and perhaps influenced by the length and complexity of many of the clues, which made me wonder why certain ones had question marks, I noted that the first four grid entries with “?” clues began with GOLD. Unfortunately for this theory, the remaining four began with ALPA. Did not submit a guess.

  10. jefe says:

    Clever, but to put it lightly, the fill was less than stellar.

  11. Paul Coulter says:

    Wow, Chen really got in my kitChen with this one. I was having kitTens all weekend trying to crack it, but didn’t get close. Ten is how many pole stars this puzzle deserves, though we can only give it five.

  12. pgw says:

    Color me frustrated. I dismissed the notion that the four tens were thematic in any traditional sense, but never could get away from the thought that the weird parentheticals were important. Ended up submitting INDIGO on nothing more than a nudge from the title. I’m kicking myself for not thinking to look for cardinal directions, but this was very well hidden.

  13. Stribbs says:

    Late save, after noticing in my last gasp that there were only 2 E’s and that’s weird… I thought for a long while that the high number of acronyms, and the decent number of longer entries whose first two letters were acronyms, must have been involved. Guess it was just a symptom of the letter constraints!

  14. Jim S. says:

    I first noticed all of the initialisms – GMO, ACLU, APB, etc. – and got nowhere. Then threw in the partial initialisms – ORdoc, APbio, LLcoolJ – to no avail.

    That revealed the low number of Es and Ss, but I connected the directional pairs to no avail. I was convinced that the lines connecting each direction were somehow involved – the 2 Ws were on the same row, the Ss in the same column, and the N’s and Es were perfectly diagonal. That couldn’t be a coincidence, but I guess it was. It was slightly simpler than I was making it out to be.

  15. Flinty Steve says:

    So many distractions (perhaps due to the letter constraints required by the meta): all the acronyms/abbreviations in the fill; the symmetrical placement of rhymers BOA/MOA and PROG/GROG; the APB/APBIO columnar echo, with the first letter of the lower one standing for “advanced” (!) . . . I never could get any traction.

    • CC says:

      BOA/MOA and PROG/GROG had me stuck for a while. I was thinking that maybe letters in the grid needed to be “advanced” from B to M or P to G.

  16. CC says:

    I put VIOLET, since all the letters of ROY G BIV appear in the grid except V.

  17. Jeff says:

    Sorry everyone for the unintended distraction re: the parentheticals! That’s just my cluing style — I hadn’t even considered it would lead to rabbit holes.

    Happy for those that enjoyed; apologies to those who got frustrated.

  18. Abide says:

    Joon, that’s cool how you typed out cardinal in your write up before you had the answer. Puzzle constraints were amazing, with only two E,S,Ns. But how does the word “Advance” work in the title? Seems like “Primary Directives” would have made this bear a little more friendly.

    • Jeff says:

      My original title was “Follow the Directions” but that seemed too easy. My wife is a palliative care doctor, so I hear the term “Advance Directives” all the time. Advance one square from the listed direction…

      • ajk says:

        The advance part was pretty clear to me. The one letter part, less so. :D
        Got all excited when ARMY was S from the S in US ARMY. “Ooh, maybe they will all lead to different kinds of green.”

        Real answer was of course much more clever. :D

  19. Lance says:

    I wish I had catalogued all the rabbit holes I went down before (at 3am Tuesday) finding the right answer. They included:

    * “Advance” = GO (in general and in Monopoly); “Advance Directive” = green light; lots of Gs in the grid, several with or near Os
    * Lots of initialisms and partial initialisms, as noted above
    * Lots of clipped words (only the “advance” parts?) — DOC, CLE, BIO…
    * Many repeated trigrams (OCH in OCHOA/MOCHA, OOH in OOH/HOOHA, RAG in RAG/CRAG, etc. etc.)
    * An unusual preponderance of As and Os and Rs
    * The letters in MOCHA being used to spell so many other words (OOH, HOOHA, OCHOA)
    * Greek letters at the end of LOIN OF LAMB[da] and RALPH MALPH[a]
    * The unusual size (14×14), which among other things led me to try rotating the grid 180 degrees to see which letters lined up (answer: BORA BORA in the upper left/lower right, and the letters in GAGA through the LL/UR diagonal)
    * Some weird clue phrasings (AMBER right there in the first clue? Another traffic light indication? Why clue BOA as something a queen would wear? Why the parentheticals?); the fact that the fill is, to put it gently, really weird in places (NITA, MOA, all those initialisms) made me sure it was a fact about the letters in the grid, but I wanted something to guide me there, and maybe the clues had it…

    I did get there, as I said, but I really felt like this need more, pardon the expression, direction. “Certain letters are particularly rare” seems like a tough thing to expect solvers to stumble across, even when one of them is E–as I noted, I ended up far more focused on why certain letters were particularly common instead.

    By the time it was 3am, I was happy to find the right letters at all, so I missed the way they were arranged; that does add a degree of elegance (and somewhat balances out the fact that I did spend a minute going, “Why is each pair of letters in a straight line? Should I take what’s between them? IRA, ARMY PAY…?”). I’ll grant it as an impressive construction, but personally I didn’t find it that much fun to solve, because the fill was so weird and because it just took forever to stumble across the right insight about the letter distribution.

  20. Garrett says:

    I noticed the odd letter distribution too (how could you miss it?) but was not able to make the leap to cardinal points. I thought I was on a roll looking for letters like E that appeared only twice in the grid, but it fell apart for me when there was only one N. As I was “at sea” on this one, I moved on to the WSJ contest and the “Marie Kelly” Fireball meta. Actually, all three of these metas were brilliant. Even if you did not solve them, I’d recommend reading the write-ups on them here in ‘Fiend.

  21. joon says:

    i didn’t blog about all the dead ends and red herrings i found too, but there were many. a couple i haven’t seen others mention yet:

    1. O.R. DOC crosses PROCTOR such that if you took a downward turn at the C, you get O.R. DOCTOR.
    2. WILD PIG is a victim in lord of the flies, but so is PIG(GY). and that crosses RALPH, the other main character.
    3. some clues seem like they would make more sense with one extra word. drag in {Queen’s adornment}; jones in the THAD clue; something in the IPAD clue; whale in the THAR clue.
    4. words in the clues that are part of a canonically ordered list and then “advancing” them to the next item. e.g. LBJ in the CLE clue -> nixon (or RMN), hoover (in PTA) -> FDR, comet -> cupid, india(ns) -> juliet. maybe even strange (in the TILDA clue) -> charm.
    5. the financial company KKR, which i’ve never heard of, stands for something kravis something. andy kravis and i definitely considered whether he was somehow involved in the meta.

    • Matthew G. says:

      ORDOC(TOR) was my biggest rabbit hole before I got to the right answer (well, that and the parentheticals (he says in parentheses)).

      • LuckyGuest says:

        Right, I forgot that rabbit hole! I “advanced” the expected answer around the corner a few times; ORDOC to catch the rest of docTOR, BADHAIR… to WIG, and the Lord of the Flies WILD… to RALPH. If it was just one puzzle, okay, but I took a solid kick in the ego this week, with streaks broken in MGWC, MMMM and Fireball. I’ve spent too much time in rabbit holes. I long for warren peace.

    • My biggest trap was seeing that the clue for BUD could possibly also work for MOCHA DECAF and that the clue for BAD HAIR DAY could plausibly work for pouch, if you think of pouch as a bit of fat on your abs. That made me believe that the answers right before the long ones would figure into the meta somehow. No dice.

      Fortunately, I knew there was a lack of E’s/N’s/S’s, and last night I had the epiphany when I was washing the dishes. I immediately turned the faucet off mid-plate and said to my wife, “WAIT. How many W’s does it have?” The things I do for metas.

  22. Evad says:

    Did anyone else take the title literally and see the entry COMA clued strangely about comets (and not in a medical way), and also how MOCHA has all four of those letter in it? I began to wonder what other medical conditions might be found in the other theme entries.

  23. Small Wave Dave says:

    “Rabbit hole” doesn’t do justice to my 4 days of fruitless mental pandemonium–more like visiting every dead end in a fifty-acre prairie dog town.

    -Advance Directives: Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Do Not Resuscitate Orders–Code BLUE!
    -DECAF MOCHA: an order at Starbucks, whose logo is GREEN! Also anagrams to FAMED COACH, maybe Ara Parseghian, Notre Dame Fighting Irish–GREEN!
    -LOIN OF LAMB: served with mint jelly–GREEN!
    -RALPH MALPH: red hair–opposite of GREEN!
    -BAD HAIR DAY: makes you BLUE; also envious of people who aren’t having one–GREEN!
    -LOIN OF LAMB anagrams to FINAL BLOOM: Lilies at a funeral? WHITE!
    -the 6-square stairstep pattern in the middle of the grid: Advancing up a career ladder? Advanced degrees ? (you can find AA, BA, MA, and Ph. in the 10-letter entries) Or maybe 6 of the 7 of ROYGBIV?
    -Advance = STEP? Dance steps? Like MOCHA CHA CHA or LOIN OF LAMBADA? (What color are dances? Go back to sleep!)
    – DECAF includes FACE reversed: Are Advance Directives orders like About Face! Forward March! Charge! ?? USARMY–GREEN!
    -(I’m rooting for everyone!) Carrots are roots–ORANGE!
    -(seriously!) serIOUSly? Are IOUS “Advance Directives?” LOAN OF LAMB? (go back to sleep!)
    -A four-letter color plucked from the four long entries? CYAN!
    -Or another printer ink color–MAGENTA! Contains AGENT; AGENT ORANGE! USARMY–GREEN!

    Oh well. My modest streak is broken, but this was an impressive construction, and for me a humbling but valuable introduction to the mind of Jeff Chen. Looking forward to more from him!

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Dave! Especially after days of struggling — I definitely know what that feels like.

      Never having made a meta before, I sure learned a lot from all this feedback.

      • ajk says:

        Would ‘8 letter color’ have made it too easy? I ask from a purely selfish perspective because I think it would have gotten me from where I was to the end. :)

        But given my relative new-ishness on the solving side it’d probably be overkill for the real experts.

  24. Jason T says:

    Sigh – noticed the odd letter distribution, and even worked out all the amounts per letter, and noticed the 2 Es and 2 Ss… but never thought compass directions. I was too busy fixating on the letters that DID show up a lot, like all those As! Perfectly fair, though… and perfectly clever!

  25. Garrett says:

    Yep, two Ns. Ugh. V8 moment

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