MGWCC #443

crossword 4:09 
meta 1 day 


mgwcc443hello and welcome to episode #443 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Shadow Boxing”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a two-word phrase. what are the theme answers? well, it actually looks like there aren’t any. there are no long answers in the grid, just a whole bunch of 7s and a couple of 9s, RICE FIELD and AMERICANA.

i saw nothing out of place on my first pass, so i put the puzzle aside. when i came back, it hit me right away: a handful of squares in the grid can be left blank and still have the clues fit the answers. to wit:

  • {Based in reality} FACTUAL crosses {Stiffly formal} FRIGID at the F in 1-across, but ACTUAL and RIGID also can satisfy those clues.
  • {Dislodged} ROUSTED and {Vast whitish expanse} RICE FIELD can be OUSTED and ICE FIELD. this is the one that should have tipped me off right away, since i remember thinking “this really could be ICE FIELD, is something weird happening?” while i was solving the crossword.
  • {You can take notes on it} IPAD and {Amusing announcement of one’s presence} IT IS I can become just PAD and ‘TIS I.
  • {Set in the cellar, maybe} AGED and {Put pressure on} URGED can, due to the tense ambiguity of both “set” and “put”, also be just AGE/URGE.
  • {Name meaning “rightly guided”} RASHID(A) and {John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe, e.g.} AMERICAN(A) is the weakest of the theme pairs in my view. AMERICANA is an intrinsically plural noun, so i don’t think the clue, which is singular due to that “or”, really works for the answer in the grid. it is not trivial to write a solid two-way clue for AMERICAN(A), but maybe something like {Descriptor for John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe} would work. (it would also work for AMERICANS but that is not relevant, since RASHIDS isn’t a name.)
  • {Fresh fruit source} GROCER(Y) crosses {Annoying term some use for the knight in chess} HORSE(Y). that is a fun one. i’m sure matt has been following the world chess championship, whose regulation matches have ended in a 6-6 tie (one win each for sergei karjakin and magnus carlsen, plus ten draws). the rapid tiebreak matches will be held tomorrow to determine whether the heavily favored carlsen will retain his title.

so what is the meta answer? well, the six option letters spell out FRIDAY, so that is certainly one of the words in the answer. the title, as well as the puzzle’s timing, suggest the complete phrase: BLACK FRIDAY, which is when this puzzle was posted. you could turn each of those six squares into a black square and still have a valid crossword: note that in addition to the two-way clues, the six theme squares are placed symmetrically. turning all of them black would take the grid’s black square count from 35 to 41, a little higher than the typical maximum for a 15×15 crossword, and you’d have a bunch of clunky-looking cheater squares, but nothing that would be a real deal-breaker.

this felt easier to me than a typical week 4, but given the timing, it could hardly run earlier in the month (or in any other month, for that matter). plus, it’s a pretty cool puzzle. it hasn’t been all that long since we’ve seen the double-duty clue trick, but the last time beat me up so i was happy to redeem myself this month. incidentally, it seems like week 2 might end up being the toughest puzzle of november. has that ever happened before?

that’s all i’ve got this week. hope you had a nice black friday!

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15 Responses to MGWCC #443

  1. Matthew G. says:

    joon is right that Week 2 was the hardest of the month, but overall this was the easiest MGWCC month I can recall. Matt, was this a record? Has there ever been a month before when every week had 190+ correct answers?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      It could be. Dave S. might know?

      • Evad says:

        The “easiest” month so far has been April, 2015 where 241 was the lowest weekly correct count. Other “easy” months were:

        June, 2014 – 185 lowest week
        October, 2014 – 183 lowest week
        September, 2015 – 194 lowest week
        December, 2015 – 196 lowest week (bodes well for this December?)

  2. Jim S says:

    Dang it! I saw the most obvious FRAY letters but missed the I and D :( I noticed FRAY were each part of the only 4×4 blocks in the puzzle, and I was convinced that the title referred to these being boxing rings and that somehow the position of FRAY in each “ring” meant something.

    To make matters worse, I was really thrown for a loop by the “stack” of DEDUCE, ROTATE, and ANAGRAM in the west section. When I was stuck on FRAY and couldn’t come up with a 2 word phrase, I started rotating the grid, anagramming, etc. Seemed like too much of a coincidence.

    Great puzzle nonetheless.

  3. Mutman says:

    I enjoyed getting a week 4 relatively quickly for a change.

    We were wondering whether Matt had considered blackening the ‘FRIDAY’ squares ala the ‘escalator’ puzzle of a few years back. That definitely would have made it harder.

    Nice job Matt!

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    As Joon and Matthew note, it was an easy Week 4. Rice field was an early giveaway for me. I had fun racing to the answer, but I’m not entirely convinced about the underlying rationale. It seems less solid than we’re used to with Matt’s metas. It’s not exactly squares that MUST amount to Black Friday. For me, it’s more a case of squares spelling FRIDAY that were they black instead of white, they wouldn’t change the clues. 3.5 stars from me.

  5. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Agreed, very, very easy for a Week 4.

    But I managed to create a little confusion for myself at first by noting that several entries in the NW corner became words, perhaps somehow related, after the removal of the first letter: 15 A, RELAPSE/ELAPSE (something to do with time?); 19 A, GAWK/AWK (I saw something that elicited a mild scream?); and, 27 A, DEDUCE/EDUCE (some logical connection?). Couldn’t take it any further, of course, but since the puzzle was issued on BLACK FRIDAY the answer came fairly quickly.

  6. Wayne says:

    This fell easily for me because the marquee Down clues kind of stuck out. Rice fields are green, not white. And things can be Americana, people–as far as I know–cannot.

    I’m not complaining mind you…

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    223 right answers this Week. Yes, the difficulty levels were way out of wack this month. Not on purpose! But I’ll make sure the year-ending Week 5 is hellish.

  8. Don Lloyd says:

    The dearth of theme entries mislead me to perceive the central across line as extra instructions: ANAGRAM LININGS.

    Spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what kind of lining a shadow box might have. FRAYed ones?

    ‘Fraid not.

  9. Norm H says:

    Damn. Like Jim S, I found the FRAY letters easily, but despite scouring the grid numerous times, the I and D eluded me. Thus rooted in my error, I considered FRAYED EDGES or FRAYED CORNERS before deciding on CHEATER SQUARES, which each of these would be if they were black.

    Elegant meta as usual. Very frustrating to figure out the central idea but do so incompletely. I would rather have figured out nothing.

  10. Dbardolph says:

    Like others, I got as far as FRAY and ran stuck for a bit, then spent way too much time trying to make something of ANAGRAM LININGS. Walked away from it for a bit, and then it occurred to me that I should look for more double-duty clues.

  11. Garrett says:

    I also got my start on the ROUSTED and RICE FIELD, which stuck in my mind as I was solving. I just thought that rousted sounded so wrong for the clue, and every picture of a rice field I’ve see is green! As I solved I just thought, whatever! But later when I found nothing obvious in the grid I refocused on that and realized that if I just made the R intersection a black square (shadow it in, and it is a box of a sort) then the clues and the answers made a whole lot more sense. So then I went looking for other things like this and I had Friday. I set it aside and checked my email, and had all kinds of Black Friday emails, and I knew that’s what it had to be. I liked this one a lot.

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