MGWCC #429

crossword 3:58 
meta DNF4 days 


mgwcc429hello and welcome to episode #429 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Finishing Touches”. for this week 3 (only?!?) puzzle, matt challenges us to figure out what you need to do to solve the meta. well, that’s sort of what we need to figure out every week, isn’t it? (i guess not last week, when you could get moscow just from the title and instructions.) anyway, i have no idea how to solve this meta, but the deadline is approaching so i’m going to blog it anyway. there are three grid-spanning answers:

  • {Its strategies include the Vertical Stack and the Clam Defense} ULTIMATE FRISBEE.
  • {Rio event of August 21st, 2016} CLOSING CEREMONY. timely!
  • {HBO show since 2014} LAST WEEK TONIGHT.

these all start with synonyms, obviously: ULTIMATE, CLOSING, and LAST all match the “finishing” from the title. there’s one more theme answer: 24-across is {How many times to do what you need to do} TWELVE. and, other than that, i have absolutely nothing. i would guess that the meta answer is going to be 12 letters, and we can get one letter each from 12 different entries in the grid. i don’t think it’s the clues this week, as they mostly read very naturally to my ear, but the grid has a higher word count and a little more cruft (ISD at 39a was an unpleasant mystery) than you’d expect if there were only three 15s and a 6 constrained by the theme.

here are some things i’ve noticed/tried that didn’t go anywhere:

1. FRISBEE is a synonym of DISC, and CEREMONY of RITE. this is unlikely to go anywhere because WEEK TONIGHT obviously doesn’t have a synonym (in fact, even WEEK and TONIGHT individually are pretty much lacking in synonyms), but i couldn’t unnotice DISC + OVER at 23d, especially since OVER is yet another synonym for finished, etc. and DISCOVER seemed like it could be the start of “what you need to do to solve the meta”.

2. the shortest and most obvious word suggested by ultimate/closing/last is END. one of the weaker entries in the puzzle is DIST at 52d, but you could tag END on the end of it and get DISTEND, an actual word. however, it seems very unlikely that you could do this 12 times to other words.

3. plenty of entries in the grid could get a new letter at the end to become largely unrelated entries, e.g. SPUN(K) or MOPE(D). but there are unresolvable ambiguities (e.g. MAR could become MARA, MARC, MARE, MARK, MARM, MARS, MART, etc.). if any of these managed to somehow also fit the clue, or work with the crossing entries, that’d be something, but i didn’t see any way of doing that.

4. the two long symmetric entries REVENANT and THE RAVEN are near-anagrams; change an N from REVENANT into an H and they’d be anagrams. this goes nowhere.

5. there are twelve squares in the grid that are the ends of both an across and down answer. in order, they spell out MAKE ENDS MEET. holy crap, that’s the answer. holy crap!

man, i should’ve noticed that earlier—a lot earlier. one thing i almost always do when i’m stuck on a meta is check the puzzle’s word count. a trick i learned a long time ago from byron walden is to look at the highest-numbered clue (64, in this case) and add the number of squares that start both an across and a down answer, so i had already counted 12 such squares. and because of rotational symmetry, of course that means there are also 12 squares that end both an across and down answer.

it’s now 11:55, so that gives me just enough time to change the screenshot and then post this. phew! man, this one was tough. how’d you all fare?

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49 Responses to MGWCC #429

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 112 right answers this week, amusing because of the theme TWELVE.

    • Lance says:

      The website only lists 110…? (Then again, my name’s not on there–“Tahnan”–even though I’m pretty sure I submitted the answer around, oh, 2am today. Typed in a comment about the rabbit holes I wandered down, involving sports-themed clues, of which there are twelve, and clues with words ending in O, of which there are ten. Hope I remembered to hit the “submit” button!)

      • Evad says:

        I don’t know specifically about your situation, but often the count on Matt’s leaderboard is lower than what he reports here as some solvers choose to submit only with an email address and thereby don’t show up on the board. (They are still eligible for monthly and annual prizes, and of course, bragging rights.)

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        You accidentally entered your email address instead of username. I’ll ask Evad to fix.

        • Lance says:

          Lord, again? I have got to kick my browser’s autofill function. :-P

          • Evad says:

            I think you’re all set now. It was tempting to mark my own entry as correct when I was in there, but I avoided the temptation! :)

  2. jpdavidson says:

    Wow, I got this for a totally different reason. I was looking at answers which were still words after you removed the last letter, e.g. NOR+M=NORM, BET+A=BETA. By sheer luck this got me close enough to MAKE ENDS MEET (~MAEEDSMEET) that I figured that had to be the answer, even though I couldn’t fully make it work. Whoops! Funny that so many of the letters turned out to be the same.

  3. sharkicicles says:

    I ended up trying to do something with the Rs in the puzzle since it was the only letter that appeared 12 times.

    • austin says:

      same here. i thought ULTIMATEFRISBEE and CLOSINGCEREMONY and LASTWEEKTONIGHT were all registered trademarks, and adding the ® would be a “finishing touch” to those themers, and there are other entries and clues that could double as registered trademarks (ERA, AERO, AMOCO, Time, etc.) (but not 12, i don’t think), and there were 12 Rs in the puzzle, so I submitted CIRCLE THE Rs. this didn’t give me a very satisfying click but it was all i had.

      anyway, MAKE ENDS MEET is a way better answer.

  4. KZ Condor says:

    I totally back-solved this one. I was brainstorming possible answers and once I thought of “make ends meet” I was certain that was the answer. Just had to justify it.

    I tried looking at last letters of across entries and noticed that there were three nearly-contiguous blocks that spelled the three candidate answer words, so then it was a short jump to find the intended mechanism.

  5. Qatsi says:

    Dang it – I was JUST looking at the two diagonals where the last letters of grid entries meet, but only noticed those six entries and not the other six on the perimeter of the puzzle, and moved on. So close and yet so far…

  6. Mike W says:

    The ISD answer at 39a and NOTOK at 5d led me to look for answers that ended in two-letter state abbreviations. Unfortunately, I found more than 12 of them. With “touches” in the titles, I thought about such abbreviations that “touched” other abbreviations (such as the RI and UT in the lower right corner or RI and OK in the upper center). Not elegant, but I found 12 such pairings.

  7. george says:

    Rats, I noticed that exact thing too late, and didn’t try to read them in order, just noticed the ending squares, glanced, didn’t see it, and moved on.

    I was stuck for a loong time on the symmetrical near-anagrams, even though I couldn’t connect it with the “final” theme. In addition to theraven/revenant, there is beta/tape, oiled/nolie, and ref/era. There was also notok/notme that caught my eye, though a slight variation. I got so lost down that rabbit hole I never looked up. Oh well. Fun puzzle, and another notch in my “this year is worse than last year” performance. Thanks Matt!

  8. Paul Coulter says:

    My first thought was that we had to “finish” the puzzle by editing dodgy places. ISD/ERODE could easily change to ISS/EROSE and DIST/TAUT to DISH/HAUT. NEONATOM and SORTDATA both seemed like roll your own-ish entries. This path didn’t work out, but it led me to the logical technique of identifying intersecting word endings. One quibble from the Pedant’s Corner – solvers don’t exactly “Make Ends Meet” to answer the meta. It was the constructor who did that. We’ve simply found them and submitted the words spelled out. 4.5 stars from me – enjoyed it very much.

    • pgw says:

      I did notice the same (extremely minor) quibble, and thought maybe the instructions should have been “what I had to do to construct the meta” and “how many times I did what I had to do.” that would have been very bemusing initially, not sure if it would have made the puzzle more difficult.

      I did not deem this worthy of any deduction. 5 stars.

  9. Jason T says:

    In my case, I wrote out ALL the final letters, row by row, hoping that maybe something would emerge. Fortunately, I spotted “MAKE” in the first few rows of letters, and made my way to the answer from there – and then back-discovered the elegant reason. This was lovely – so simple and perfect when found, but so hard to stumble upon.

  10. The near-anagrams of REVENANT/THE RAVEN and OILED/NO LIE were my biggest traps. Having one pair of symmetric near-anagrams is one thing, but two of them….that does not Just Happen. The fact that those single different letters in both of those pairs were symmetrical in the grid made it even tougher to let go of the idea.

    I’m glad I did, because it was quite the nice a-ha once I saw the answer (which I backsolved, but still).

    • Jon says:

      I couldn’t let go of this and so never figured out the meta this week. I mean, c’mon, the fact that all the single different letters in both pairs were symmetrical in the grid?!?! What a wicked trap for Matt to lay.

  11. pgw says:

    Great meta, so simple in concept but so hard to see.

    I also want to point out how perfect the title is – you find the answer by finding all the across/down word pairs whose finishes touch.

  12. Jesse says:

    I got hung up on the near-anagrams — not just REVENANT/THE RAVEN, but also BETA/TAPE, OILED/NOLIE, REF/ERA and NOT OK/NOT ME (which doesn’t really fit the pattern but was the only other real option to get to 12 letters), all of which are symmetrical entries — and could never get past that. Oddly, taking the 12 changed letters from each of those entries still got me MAKE, but the rest of the letters never fit anywhere.

  13. Kaille says:

    Having yet to solve a Week 3, I was bound and determined to solve this one, but was handed another epic fail. I tried to recall various solving mechanisms, even thinking about the somewhat similar Seven and Seven/KAMIKAZE puzzle (and my first MGWCC), but was so wrapped up in going down many of the rabbit holes mentioned by Joon and the rest of the commenters that I completely overlooked what now looks like such a simple solution. I wondered if the word “end” would figure into the solution somehow; unfortunately for me every path I took led to a DEAD end. (groan)

    Another fun puzzle though!

  14. LuckyGuest says:

    I got hung up early on seeing that PONE and NEON (upper left) could be formed both across and down, with PO/NE and NE/ON being separated by the themed entry; the same was the case for DATA and TAUT in the lower right. Therefore, (in my head), PONE and NEON “crossed the finish line” (“finish” = “ultimate/closing/last”). Seeing similar stuff with THERAVEN/REVENANT and OILED/NOLIE kind of — kind of — gave me the justification I needed… these up-and-down words crossed a themed entry (“finish line”)about 12 times. The other choice I was fooling with for my answer was “wrap things up;” again, like a Down answer wrapping itself back up to a different finishing point. Great meta…

  15. Astrokurtis says:

    I got stuck after noticing that many of the clues seemed to involve numbers overtly (SURI, NEON ATOM, CLOSING CEREMONY, SKIP). So I ended up forcing numbers to the long entries and to other symmetric clues, sorting the entries by the number, and reading off the last letters of these entries (it was hard finding 12 such entries, but the determined mind can find patterns where they don’t exist). Where I really got into trouble was when I “discovered” the words “rank” and “date” among my set of letters, and so I tried backsolving by juggling which numbers I used (do I use jersey #24 or #25 for RIK Smits, or his date of retirement? 08, 21, or 2016 for CLOSING CEREMONIES?). I was so certain that the answer was going to be “Rank em by date” if I just found the proper clues and numbers…

  16. Wayne says:

    I got hung up on the 12 i’s in the grid, and “dotting your i’s” being a “finishing touch”. Couldn’t figure out what to do with the 16 t’s. But I spent all weekend trying, because I was sure that I’d gotten the first step of a multi-step solve. And then this morning someone saw the puzzle on my desk and helpfully pointed out that I’d made an error. There are only 11 i’s.

    Great meta. Wish I’d gotten it.

    (And no, I’m not going to tell you what my error was. It’s too embarrassing.)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Tell us…

      • Wayne says:

        Let’s just say it involved a profound ignorance of sports trivia, combined with a stupefying ability to convince myself that any vaguely Latin looking string of letters is an element in the periodic table.

        • Matthew G. says:

          Wayne, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone down a periodic-table rabbit hole solving a MGWCC.

  17. Amy L says:

    So glad the puzzle didn’t hinge on adding “eer” as a finishing touch to anything.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I’m truly at a loss for that one was received so poorly. What’s so objectionable about words that share a certain suffix? It’s not like it’s a very common suffix, -tion or -ly or something; there are only about 20 common words that take it, so not a very large set. A normal number of people got it right for a WSJ, so there seems nothing unfair about it, either, so still don’t get why some seemed to completely deplore it. Mysterious. It’s not complex, but metas don’t have to be complex.

      • austin says:

        yeah, i thought that meta was just fine. just curious, how many people are submitting/getting it correct for wsj? or do they not release those numbers?

        • Amy L says:

          That meta WAS just fine. For total numbers of correct answers, see the comments section at the WSJ crossword contest page. Mike Miller, a WSJ staffer, usually comments on Monday with an estimate of how many got the answer and how many missed it.

      • Meg says:

        I regularly post on the WSJ blog. I can tell you that some of those people a) have no idea how easy your WSJ metas are, and b) really, really want a WSJ mug.

      • Jim Schooler says:

        I loved that puzzle and meta! I regularly solved the WSJ for years before the recent beginning of the ‘meta era’ and could not understand the grousing that went on about the metas from the “old guard” so-to-speak. I guess they could only handle one puzzle a week.

  18. Dele says:

    Nice save, joon.

    I was nowhere close to solving it, but this was an excellent meta. Thanks, Matt!

  19. Garrett says:

    I’m curious about your comment Joon. “look at the highest-numbered clue (64, in this case) and add the number of squares that start both an across and a down answer” [snip].

    What then do you do with the resulting number, and how does that help get insight to the meta?

    As for me, I did not stumble across the intent of the meta. With another 15 minutes to go this morning I noticed that you could make the gerund form of a number of grid entries and I thought of the title then as Finish-ing touches and so submitted that as a Hail Mary.

    • joon says:

      it tells you the word count. this is maybe something that only constructors think about, but i’ve found it useful when solving metas, too. generally, the higher the word count, the more constraints there are on the grid. if you don’t need the grid to include any particular answer, you can open it up and get more long answers in there. (this is why themeless puzzles have lower word counts than themed puzzles.)

      so when i’m stumped on a meta, i always check the word count: if it’s low (72 or 74, say, for a standard 15×15 grid), i am steered towards the idea that there isn’t a lot of extra theme content in the grid i haven’t noticed yet, so i’ll look at what seem to be the obvious theme answers and try to think about how they’re connected. either that or i’ll check to see if the key is the clues. if the word count is high (78, which is the usual maximum for a 15×15, or sometimes even more—matt’s done 80 and 82 for particularly constrained grids), i’ll look for ways in which other constrained answers might be dotted about the grid beyond just the longest entries.

  20. AK37 says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite MGWCCs. Getting the puzzle title and meta answer (FINISHING TOUCHES and MAKE ENDS MEET) to nearly perfectly describe what is going on in the grid is no small feat. Throwing in 3 excellent grid spanners that could provide a solver an inroad to the answer is great too. So awesome.

  21. wobbith says:

    At first glance, I found a dozen 4 letter entries that could lose the last letter and leave a valid 3 letter entry (NORm, BETa, POPe, etc.). On closer inspection, there are more like 15 or so. But, unfortunately for me, the last letters of the first twelve I saw included an anagram of LETTERS, and with that I dug myself into a very, very deep hole.
    Brilliant, beautiful meta. Thanks Matt!

    • Matthew G. says:

      Yup. This is what got me, too. I found the anagram of “LETTERS” in the same place you did and I never let go. In fact, I then found most of the letters in “ERASE” as well, and then it all seemed to make sense: ERASE LETTERS is twelve letters long, and I was erasing letters from the ends of four-letter words. So I sent in ERASE LETTERS as my answer.

  22. Daniel Barkalow says:

    Looking at the ends of all the answers, noticing “MAKE” and “ENDS”, and backsolving was definitely the way to go. (Is it really backsolving when the instruction you’re following is the answer you guessed?) I notice that the sequence of last letters goes …MAK?E…E?NDS…, which would be hard to use as a clue, except that both of the ?s happen to be E.

    Also, the full sequence of last letters contains “EASE” and also “TODO”. I certainly solved it with EASE using this technique. Maybe Matt was leaving himself a note to make this not work so well?

  23. DSB says:

    I would have never gotten that, except by guessing. I figured the phrase would include a synonym for “finish.” I tried to think of one with “end” in it but couldn’t. I just went with “complete the puzzle, ” even though that fits no pattern in the grid.

    Anyway, very clever. This is my first challenge here and I think after some training, my brain will be able to work in new ways.

  24. pgw says:

    I too noticed what joon noticed about word count (76 – 64 = 12), and I thought to myself, I bet that will be the basis for one of joon’s patented eleventh hour blog-solves.

  25. CFXK says:

    I’m still not getting something…

    Yes there are twelve “meetings” of ends of words in the grid.

    But to form the phrase “make ends meet,” I have to create only eleven “meetings” between the twelve letters (i.e., m-a; a-k; k-e; e-e; e-n, e-d; d-s; e-m; m-e; e-e; e-t).

    So, in answer to the question “how many times to do what you need to do,” I would answer “eleven.”

    I would answer “twelve” only if the clue referred to the constructor – not to me – who, indeed, had to see that ends met twelve times in the grid. But the clue clearly refers to me as the one attempting the solve, not to what the constructor had already done in the grid.

    To solve the meta, then, I needed to take those twelve ends and make them meet eleven times. So “eleven” seems to me to be the number of times I needed to do what I needed to do.

    So, am I missing something?

    • Norm says:

      Had the same thought this morning, although I was going to suggest “nine’ as the right prompt for putting together three blocks of four letters each. E.g., M+A+K+E = only 3 instances of making the ends meet. Not that it would have helped me solve the meta at all. :)

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