MGWCC #444

crossword 2:40 
meta -1 minute 


mgwcc444hello and welcome to episode #444 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, appropriately titled “Puzzle 444”. for this week 1 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a U.S. state capital that would have made a good theme entry in this puzzle. i normally try to solve week 1 without looking at the instructions, but this time i saw them inadvertently in the email. (and it’s probably a good thing, because i don’t know that i would have been able to guess this otherwise.) what are the theme answers?

  • {New Year’s Eve song} AULD LANG SYNE.
  • {Creepy Tom Cruise movie} EYES WIDE SHUT.
  • {NFL playoffs event} WILD CARD GAME.
  • {Take a good thing too far} PUSH YOUR LUCK.

the title pretty much gives it away: these 12-letter answers are all enumerated (4, 4, 4). what state capital fits? salt lake city, the only one that’s three words long.

this was just about a perfect week 1 meta. it’s a title that could only be used on this particular puzzle out of matt’s planned 1000 mgwcc puzzles. there are four lively theme answers and the meta solution is as plain as day. not only that, it nicely evokes moses malone, a lagniappe for nba fans of a certain age. so that is all excellent.

fill bits:

  • {#1 hit for Prince} KISS. this is actually not one of the prince songs i know.
  • {Drug for the socially shy} PAXIL. and this is only vaguely familiar. apparently i need to listen to more prince and do more drugs.
  • {Dangerous, as winter driving weather} SLEETY. anybody else remember SLEETY BATHFUL, a theme answer from mgwcc #3? i’m not sure why it made such an impression on me that i remember it 441 weeks later, but for some reason, i do.
  • {Cuban city?} DALLAS. that’s mark cuban, owner of the dallas mavericks, who in turn own the nba’s worst record of this young season.
  • {Wide receiver Beckham} ODELL. i like the inclusion of this sensational young star athlete instead of tv host nancy o’dell or children’s author scott o’dell.
  • {117, for Emma Morano, current oldest person in the world} AGE. this is a timely clue, as she just turned 117 last tuesday. better yet, matt didn’t jinx her, because as far as i know, she’s still alive. whenever i do something like this, the person in the clue immediately dies.
  • {“Hamlet” and “Hamilton”} PLAYS. #yayhamlet! but a minor deduction for the dupe in the clue {When things really start to heat up in a play, often} ACT II.

that’s all i’ve got. lovely week 1 puzzle.

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16 Responses to MGWCC #444

  1. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Fine puzzle as always, and meta couldn’t be simpler.

    But I must report a bit of crossword synchronicity, one of those odd co-incidences:

    Just a few days ago, after I had sent in my answer to Matt, I did a Stan Newman Newsday crossword from October 2, 2011 (don’t ask me to explain!) in which the theme answers were:

    The puzzle was titled: 4 x 4’s: Making 16’s, naturally

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 534 right answers, which is a new record (507 was the old one).

  3. Wayne says:

    So easy, it gives one hope that week 5 will be solvable by mere mortals.

  4. Jon says:

    Nice easy meta this week, Matt.

  5. Bret says:

    Was anyone able to work it without the instructions? Given that Gaffney’s WSJ the week before was also looking for a state capital it strikes me as plausible someone could do it.

  6. CFXK says:

    Salt Lake City came to me immediately, but seemed much too obvious. It was so obvious (and arbitrary) that I figured there had to be something I was missing, so never submitted.

    Which really, for me, raises this question (which I ask as a low-level crossword and meta neophyte): shouldn’t a meta be something intrinsically related to the puzzle rather imposed on the puzzle by an extrinsic question? What I mean is this: there is nothing in the puzzle that would lead you to a state capital; the puzzle leads only to three word phrases comprising words of four letters. That the meta is a state capital is arbitrary, that is, something imposed from the outside. Were I to do this puzzle without the extrinsic question, there would be nothing to lead me to Salt Lake City over other three word phrases comprising four letter words. Perhaps I am asking way too much, but I am left feeling unsatisfied by a meta like this because it is arbitrary.

    Though not enough to cancel my subscription!!! Matt is almost always amazing! Thanks.

    • joon says:

      two things.

      1. “too obvious” is not actually a thing. if it fits the puzzle and the instructions, it’s right. (“too obvious” is especially not a thing in week 1.)

      2. as to your question of whether a meta must be intrinsic, i would say that is certainly a kind of meta, and it might well be your preferred kind of meta (it’s arguably more elegant), but it is not the only kind of meta. here, the instructions were quite straightforward that we were looking for a state capital that would have made a good theme entry. all of the theme entries had enumerations of 4, 4, 4. only salt lake city fits the theme.

      if you wanted to restrict matt to only “intrinsic” metas, then either he wouldn’t be able to do this delightful (simple, tidy, and timely) week 1 theme, or he’d have to figure out a way to recast it somehow to not rely on an external instruction. either one seems unsatisfying to me.

      i do think that there’s an interesting discussion to be had on what makes a good external constraint for a meta. you could certainly imagine (and i have seen) metas where grokking the theme is the easy part, and the external search is the hard part. the most recent example i can think of is #408, a meta which (as you can see from the link) set off quite a storm of discussion in the comments. i didn’t have a problem with it, but plenty of others did.

      • CFXK says:

        Joon: Thanks for your very thoughtful and helpful response. Still trying to figure out this whole “meta thing” and all its angles. I’m grateful that you took the time to engage my question. I won’t get scared off by “too obvious” again!

        • Matthew G. says:

          I definitely remember having the “too obvious” problem when I first started doing the MGWCC. In particular, I remember MGWCC #153, a tribute puzzle to a retiring constructor that simply had her name spelled out in circles. I thought there had to be at least one inferential step involved for something to be a meta, but no, there will be times that it’s as simple as it looks. Especially, as joon says, in a Week 1.

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