MGWCC #438

crossword 3:43 
meta 10 minutes 


mgwcc438hello and welcome to episode #438 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Scales Fell from My Eyes”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to identify a noted 20th-century American. what are the theme answers? seven clues get *s:

  • {*It awarded prizes of $516.32} THE GONG SHOW. never seen this classic game show. i think there was a gong.
  • {*Retirement party gift, sometimes} GOLD WATCH.
  • {*More students took it than the SAT last year} ACT TEST. probably redundant, as i would guess the T of ACT originally stood for test. but i guess it likely doesn’t stand for anything now.
  • {*Matthew, recently} HURRICANE. CONSTRUCTOR didn’t quite fit.
  • {*Important aspect of making shampoo, per some ads} PH-BALANCING.
  • {*Prairie blasts} WINDSTORMS.
  • {*Midwest movie maven} ROGER EBERT.

so with a hint from the title, we can see that these answers are all associated with numerical scales. the pH scale goes from 0 (very strong acid) to 14 (very strong base)… sort of. it’s true that neutral water is a 7, but the scale is defined logarithmically in terms of H+ ion concentration, and this is already probably more technical than anybody cares about, so… anyway. let’s just say it goes from 0 to 14, because it typically does.

what about the others? well, wind speeds are classified by the beaufort scale, which goes from 0 to 12. originally i had that slotted in for HURRICANE, but of course it’s better suited to WINDSTORMS, which is a superset. HURRICANEs are classified from category 1 to category 5 on the saffir-simpson scale.

the ACT is scored on a 36-point scale (i don’t know why or how). per wikipedia, as i discovered, THE GONG SHOW has a max score of 30 (three judges each give a score up to 10). okay. i think we’re on to something.

i was not sure about ROGER EBERT—he and siskel were known for “two thumbs up” for movies they both liked, but is that a numerical scale that goes up to 2? ebert also rated movies from one to four stars (see this interesting essay on the usefulness of movie ratings scales), so let’s try that. after all, the grid has ROGER EBERT, not SISKEL & EBERT.

that brings us to GOLD WATCH. now, there are two things going on here: GOLD and WATCH. any watch is basically a numeric scale, in the sense that it measures the passage of time, which is represented quantitatively. so it could be considered a scale up to 12 (that’s the largest number showing, and the “high” end of the hour scale) or 60 (minutes). there is also GOLD, whose purity is measured using the karat scale, where 24k is 100% gold. i didn’t like the multiple layers of ambiguity on this answer.

at any rate, i was pretty sure i knew how the extraction was going to work: take the top end of each numeric scale and find the letter in the correspondingly numbered space in the grid. i wasn’t quite sure about the ordering mechanism, since the theme answers include five acrosses and two downs, but i tried a few different things and decided that the most likely candidate was just read them in increasing numeric order, i.e. circle the appropriate spots in the grid and then read off the circled letters left to right and top to bottom. on my first pass, with 2 instead of 4 for ebert and 60 for GOLD WATCH, i got MICHERP, which looks almost like it could be somebody’s name but not a famous 20th-century american.

taking a step back, i thought, “well, what is the answer going to be?” matt had the freedom to put almost anything he wanted in those letters (only the P in square 60 is also part of a theme answer), so he could make the answer anything. wouldn’t he want to make it a name associated with numeric scales? that’s how i got off MICHERP and onto andy RICHTER, the sidekick of conan o’brien, who became popular in the very late stages of the 20th century. he’s still around here in the 21st but with a lower profile, having been shunted off to TBS late night.

anyway, RICHTER requires 4 instead of 2 for ebert (that’s fine) and 24 instead of 60 or 12 for GOLD WATCH. that’s all well and good. i wish GOLD WATCH had been some other phrase with an unambiguous numeric scale associated with it, but luckily i had enough of the rest of the meta to piece it together. (i should also note that GOLD WATCH crosses another theme answer WINDSTORMS at the T, so it was hardly a free choice of GOLD ___ phrases.)

it’s a very good idea for a meta, and i enjoyed solving it. the execution wasn’t flawless, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that not only does the grid contain seven outright theme answers of moderate+ length, there are also seven other theme letters that had to be placed in specific numbered squares. that is not easy to do, and matt pulls it off with aplomb. the grid clocks in at 80 words, and everything in it is fine. there’s not much room for long fill, but that’s okay.

how’d you all like this one?

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42 Responses to MGWCC #438

  1. PJ Ward says:

    Maybe the answer is Charles Richter of earthquake scale fame?

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    My first thought was that the meta had something to do with glass, since a word in the first 6 theme answers could be paired with another word to make a glass object – show window, watch glass, test tube, hurricane lamp, balancing lens, wind chimes (though admittedly, these are more often made of metal,) then it fell apart with Ebert. Checking on OneLook for words to go with him, Ebert Test leapt out as an appropriate phrase to go with Scales in the title. So I thought it would be the first letters of Beaufort, Saffir-Simpson, etc., but when this didn’t work out, the rest fell quickly with some Wikipedia research into the scale parameters. I made Joon’s mistake of 2 thumbs, but picked 24 for gold immediately. When I corrected the 2 thumbs to 4 stars, Richter SHOOK out. I liked this one quite a lot and rate it at four stars (Crossword Fiend, not Ebert.)

  3. Neil B says:

    24 is for Karats and Siskel and ebert 1 to 4 stars. Richter is for Richter scale for earthquakes. Very good meta. I usually don’t get week 3 but saw ph had a scale and went from there

  4. George says:

    I identified the finite scales pretty quickly, and pre-guessed that the answer was Richter, of Richter Scale fame. But I never quite got the week 3 level connection of the boxes. Luckily a perusal of scales named after people yielded very few 20th century Americans, so even though I knew I hadn’t fully cracked the meta, I was confident enough to submit a guess. Fun puzzle, thanks Matt!

  5. PJ Ward says:

    I’ve noticed that people occasionally collaborate on the more difficult metas. I’d like to find someone to work with on some of these. The ideal person will be at my level. I almost always get weeks 1 and 2. Those that I didn’t were when I was distracted, tried to solve on the fly, and then forgot. I don’t get very many after week 2. Not many at all. I was on the right path with this one but didn’t get past associating numbers with the theme answers.

    If you’re interested in co-solving, drop me an email at

  6. Jeffrey K says:

    1) Figured out they were all scales
    2) Figured out numbers of the scales
    3) Saw FEMA – thought of earthquakes and the (Charles) RICHTER scale
    4) Sent it in.

  7. Matthew G. says:

    Like joon, I didn’t care for the fact that GOLD WATCH was a less fully thematic answer than the other theme entries, and for a while this had me wondering if GONG was meant to used solo as well, pushing us toward a scale for sound. But when I didn’t find a sound-related scale that has an upper limit, I googled “The Gong Show” and learned of its thirty-point scale (I remember it being on TV when I was a kid, but I have no memory of ever actually watching it). Managed to find the boxes and send in the correct answer with about half an hour to spare.

  8. Wayne says:

    I take issue with the “noted” in “noted 20th-century American” prompt. I’m a big fan of the scale. (Who isn’t?) But until this puzzle, I couldn’t have told you what century or country its inventor lived in.

    Maybe “eponymous 20th-century American” would have been less misleading and not too leading for a week 3?

    • Blanche Schulz says:

      Agreed. I was looking for the name of a composer.

    • slubduck says:

      Matt’s instructions to find a “well-known” _____, have been the source of much rancor for me …… well-known HOW?!@##$? I have come to peace with the fact that my own notion of “noted” or “well-known” is not Matt’s or this puzzle’s audience’s either (last week was it, we had “famous athlete” Max Scherzer for heaven’s sake)

      • Matthew G. says:

        Baseball is one of the four major North American sports, and Max Scherzer is either the best active pitcher or close to it, so he inarguably qualifies as famous. To me, asking about a current great in his field is less troubling–and much more refreshing–than the tendency of so many constructors to fill up their grids with the proper names of old-timey actors and singers who’ve been dead since before Technicolor was invented.

  9. pdwadler says:

    I had no trouble with the GOLD WATCH. I didn’t even think of a watch as a scale of any kind (Duh). I originally had 3 for the Gong Show because I (mistakenly) remembered that if an act got 3 gongs they were out. Then I read Wikipedia and found the 30 point scale. The hard part for me was the anagram. I wasn’t assuming the answer to the meta had anything to do with scales and had a devil of a time getting to Richter. I thought this was a great puzzle and a great meta. I don’t often get Week 3 puzzles.

  10. Dan Seidman says:

    I thought it was pretty likely GOLD was the key rather than WATCH, because I don’t think of hours and minutes as being on a scale — they are divisions. Besides, digital watches can be set to 24-hour time, so you could argue 24 works for both.

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 220 right answers. Including one “Andy Richter.” Amusing.

    Agreed that GOLD WATCH is a blot but it was so restricted there. I wanted GOLDSMITH and GOLD PLATE and other less ambiguous things but that 36 box has to be an R and there is no way I could find to use a different grid pattern. But I figured that with the rest of the letters figured out solvers would get that they were looking at the 24-karat scale.

    No one submitted him but apparently there is a composer or conductor named Sviatoslav Richter (musical scales, that is) so I would’ve take him if anyone had submitted.

    • He was a pianist; one of the very best. I wish I’d thought of that!

    • pgw says:

      In my mind “gold” and “watch” do double duty, both pointing to 24 (though gold does so more precisely and less ambiguously.) In fact I didn’t even think about 24 karats – I only thought about hours. It’s true that isn’t very elegant since most watches only use a 12-hour scale, but really I just wasn’t thinking all that hard about it because I strongly suspected the answer was going to be Richter before I ever starting hunting for letters – so when I found the T at 24 and gold watch was the last theme entry I needed to correlate with it, I just shrugged and thought “okay, 24 hours – good enough for me.”

  12. I also used 2 (thumbs up) for ROGER EBERT at first and was scratching my head trying to figure out what MICHTER’S Distillery had to do with anything. Michter’s wasn’t even named after a person, it was named after a portmanteau of the then-owner’s sons’ names, Michael and Peter. I found my error after not too long.

  13. Margaret says:

    What with the “noted” in the prompt and the seven theme answers, I was certain it had to be a musical scale and couldn’t get past it. I tried dropping out all the letters A – G (the scales were falling) and trying to make them into an identifiable tune, like maybe Rhapsody in Blue for the answer George Gershwin or something like that. Finally Hail Mary’d Ezra Pound because… pound. Somehow I never ever think about the numbers relating to the number of the clue or answer no matter how many times it happens. One day I’ll catch on!

  14. Rachel says:

    To add to the confusion on gold, I first thought of the Mohs scale. Gold can be a 2 or a 3.

    And I learned something– the gong is associated with a pentatonic (5 note) scale. Those 5 notes are, when you look at the 7 note scale, notes 1,2,3,5 and 6….. Which anagram to the clued prize money on the Gong Show $516.32. According to Wikipedia, the gong show prize money was SAG scale for a day’s work or something. So this is just another pure meta coincidence.

  15. Bob says:

    Any comments on the puzzle title, specifically on “Fell from My Eyes”?

    • Matthew G. says:

      I pondered briefly the possibility that subtraction would be involved, because of the word “fell.”

      Then I discovered that the title is a reference to the Bible, and I came to the conclusion that it was mere wordplay, and no more.

      It is from Acts 9:18 —

      • Garrett says:

        Yes, I got the Acts reference right away, and Saul went from being completely blind to seeing again, so I thought of eye charts and the way vision is classified. That was Saturday. I submitted something that was wrong.

        Monday I googled for “Highest score on the Gong Show” and got back 30. That gave me Richter once I got the Ebert thing right. But it was too late for me!

    • Maggie W. says:

      I was briefly sidetracked by the number of theme answers containing words related to eyes: SHOW, WATCH, STORMS, HURRICANE.

    • Abide says:

      Reference to Saul in the Bible, but also the third “eye” puzzle this month
      ( I see, Field of Vision)

  16. Amy L says:

    I thought scales related to fish, the Supreme Court (scales of justice), or musical notes, and it was clear none of those was going anywhere. So I didn’t come close at all, i.e., the scales never fell from my eyes.

  17. makfan says:

    I didn’t get this one at all, but I think of time as 24 hours and not 12 (my computers are all set to display 24 hour time). So I don’t see GOLD WATCH as that ambiguous.

  18. Molson says:

    Ugh, I figured out the scale thing but used 1 for Ebert since “two thumbs up” was Siskel AND Ebert and Ebert was 1/2 of that, and 10 for the gong show since the first thing I saw about it (never actually watched the show) said rated on a 1 to 10 scale (by 3 judges, hence the 1 to 30). I also used the EF scale for windstorms instead of the Beaufort scale. As a result, my letters were a bunch of gibberish after referencing the grid. So I went looking for other ideas and had nothing.

    Disappointing. I like the idea for a meta but wish that this was just a little tighter on the scale references.

  19. bwouns says:

    I got this but for a slightly wrong reason. I applied the Beaufort scale to HURRICANE and the Fujita (tornado) scale to WINDSTORM.

  20. Kali says:

    I really wanted:
    an actor that —
    was on the Gong Show
    was in an ACT toothpaste commercial
    in a shampoo commercial
    a meteorologist
    then we went to bible verses (you can find *something* for everything except Ebert)
    –then I learned a lot about the gold reserve act… I get so distracted learning new things when I need to turn back to meta solving!!!

    Oh well.

  21. Asdanf says:

    I got distracted by “Acts”. The title is a verse from the Bible book Acts; ACT test has “ACT” right there and it’s in prime middle placement in the grid; The Gong Show is a series of variety acts; pH-Balancing suggests “balancing acts”; hurricanes and windstorms are both “acts of god”. It was frustratingly different sorts of connections for each theme entry, and I couldn’t find a way to get “gold watch” in there, but it seemed too much of a connection to ignore :-/

  22. ajk says:

    Had everything except the right number for Gold Watch. Too focused on watch, so tried 60 or 12. Decided 12 wouldn’t dupe, but and couldn’t see RICHTER from RICHERP [using 60]. Frustrating to be that close and not get it. But, probably would have if I’d had time over the weekend to think harder. :)

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