MGWCC #450

crossword 3:46 
meta dnf 3 days, sort of 


hello and welcome to episode #450 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Secret Parking”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt asks us, What two makes of car occupy this puzzle’s secret parking spots? this puzzle was sent out at the exact same time the mystery hunt started, and i managed to solved the crossword but not the meta before the hunt puzzles were released an hour later. and then, even though my team finished hunt considerably earlier than expected, i never managed to find time to really sit down with the meta. so here we are on tuesday morning and i should probably solve this, since i’d rather not go down in flames on a week 2.

what are the theme answers? well, there are two long answers in the grid, but unusually, both of them read down:

  • {Learned to work alongside} MADE RAPPORT WITH.
  • {“Better luck next time!”} YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL.

i am not especially confident that either one of them is a theme answer, because a whole bunch of clues get *s:

  • {*Ohio college} KENYON.
  • {*Cord} BAND.
  • {*Encouraged to attack} SICCED ON.
  • {*Rose ___} OIL.
  • {*Fall into the sea, as a coastline} CRUMBLE.
  • {*Subject plumbers know something about} PHYSICS. i know a lot about physics, but i still need to call a plumber. we’re going to need a new water heater and that is going to be expensive.
  • {*Easily fooled person} ASS.
  • {*White House name for another week} SASHA.

beyond those, there is one obvious theme clue at 41-down: {Condition of some car deals…and a good place to look for parking} ZERO DOWN. okay. so what does that mean? obviously there’s no entry numbered 0-down in a crossword, but there are several down entries whose numbers end with zero:

  • 10d {Some Windows systems} NTS. i’ve always hated this entry. not only is it terribly dated by now, but NT never struck me as something you could pluralize anyway. when i worked in computers, a machine running windows NT was not called “an NT”. we called it an NT machine or NT box or NT [some other synonymous noun].
  • 30d {Charged particle} ION.
  • 50d is one of our *ed clues, {*White House name for another week} SASHA.
  • 60d {Kaitlin’s role on “It’s Always Sunny”} DEE.

i … do not know what to do with those. i suppose that it is possible they anagram to two car makes, but i know for a fact that simply anagramming them into two car makes can’t be the full meta, since it doesn’t use those *s.

let’s go back and look at those *s. some of the clues are pretty weird. like, that is now how i would clue PHYSICS. granted, as somebody who used to be a physicist, i would probably not clue PHYSICS the way any other constructor would; but even so, it seems awfully arbitrary to use plumber in that clue. similarly, “cord” and “rose” for BAND and OIL are odd. and the clue for ASS is more suggestive of DUPE or MARK or SAP, at least to me.

okay. what if this is one of those “what else could fit this clue” metas? a more well-known college in ohio is XAVIER or perhaps OBERLIN. {Fall into the sea, as a coastline} suggests ERODE to me more than CRUMBLE. i don’t yet know where this is going, but it is striking that ERODE and OBERLIN have lots of letters in common with ZERO DOWN. hmm. {Cord} could be ROPE, which likewise shares many of those letters.

on the other hand, the other *ed clues are a little too vague to pin down an alternate answer without some constraints. i’m not sure the letters of ZERO DOWN are really doing it. maybe they could be answered with makes or models of cars, which would make sense given the instructions, but i don’t see that either. maybe anagrams of cars, but wow, that would be brutal for a week 2, and 300+ people have already solved the meta, so it can’t be something all that complicated.

i haven’t tried using MADE RAPPORT WITH or YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL. but … i don’t see what to do with it.

ohhhh okay, i got it. i just noticed that BERLIN is in the grid, and it could take an O in front to make OBERLIN college. immediately upon seeing that, i saw that 17a RODE AWAY could become ERODE AWAY with a prepended E. and now i feel dumb, because there really are two cars hiding at 0-down, or rather the secret entry that would be numbered 0-down if we stuck the 8-letter answer OPEL OLDS to the left of 1-down. check out what happens to the eight across answers up there (see my updated screenshot for a visual):

  • {They lost to Clemson this week, casually} BAMA becomes OBAMA, the alternate answer to {*White House name for another week}.
  • {And so forth} ET AL becomes {*Rose ___} PETAL.
  • {Left on a horse} RODE AWAY -> {*Fall into the sea, as a coastline} ERODE AWAY.
  • {Ending for labyrinth} INE -> {*Cord} LINE.
  • {Central European capital} BERLIN -> {*Ohio college} OBERLIN.
  • {Coup d’___} ETAT -> {*Encouraged to attack} LET AT.
  • {Old jeans features} RIPS -> {*Subject plumbers know something about} DRIPS.
  • {Charming troublemaker} IMP -> {*Easily fooled person} SIMP.

there you have it. well, that is a very clever meta. it felt hard to me for a week 2, but i suppose ZERO DOWN pretty well tells you exactly where to look, and it just took me a while to see it. i’m very glad some of those *ed clues seemed so weird, or i would never have thought about those alternate answers.

whew. how’d this one treat you?

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29 Responses to MGWCC #450

  1. sharkicicles says:

    Welcome to bizarro world, I guess- got week 1 wrong and solved this one in about 10 minutes. I really enjoyed this one- I figure that upper left was pretty tough to fill.

    • Ephraim says:

      My experience was like yours. When I finally sat down to do the meta this morning, I knew something had to go down the left. My eye fell on SASHA and BAMA and I knew what to do. It helped that 0 down started with an O. Sort of a visual pun.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    I thought this was a fun, fast meta, just right for a Week 2. But if there’s a tie-in between cars and the technique, I don’t see it other than in the wording of the ZERODOWN clue. But zero down can apply to many types of deals. Yes, I suppose people might have their favorite little-known parking spots, near an airport, say, but have any of you heard of such a thing as Secret Parking? Overall, four stars from me.

  3. Jason says:

    Will this Friday’s Week 3 1-Across be RUMP?

  4. Clint Hepner says:

    I wonder if this is the “random Week 5” alluded to in the instructions for #448. It certainly felt like a Week 5 to me, especially before I managed to figure it out. (My solve rate plummets after Week 2.) I didn’t pick up on the zero-down reference until reading it here.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Joon — 353 right answers this week. The reasons for OLDS and OPEL are 1) they start with O, echoing the 0-down entry; 2) they’re seen in crosswords more often than on the road these days.

      • sharkicicles says:

        So true– even Oldsmobiles, which sold by the boatload in the 80s and early 90s, are thin on the ground here.

        Most Buicks sold in the US these days are actually Opels.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Clint — it’s not.

  5. CFXK says:

    Solved this without even paying attention to the starred clues. Figured out what ZERO DOWN down meant right away; then saw OBERLIN and OBAMA almost immediately; plugged in the first two names of cars with 4 letters each starting with O that came to mind; and there it was. It helped that I grew upon a GM family, and that both cars were/are GM products.

    It was only reading Joon today that I thought to look back at the starred clues and puzzle out what the heck they had to do with the meta.

    • Jesse says:

      I couldn’t make sense of the starred clues either, but I saw “Opel” at zero-down right away. I searched online for another four-letter maker that started with “O” for a while but gave up before I considered shortening Oldsmobile.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Kind of an amusing genesis: driving down the road and I see a billboard offering ZERO DOWN in huge letters. Oh, that’s a great idea for a puzzle — a hidden 0-down entry. Pull into the house and please God let no one have done this before. Type “zero down” + “crossword fiend” into the Goog and glory be nothing came up!

  7. This is one of my favorite MGWCC metas to date. It’s still mind-boggling how Matt put it together, considering:

    1) All of the Across northwest corner words needed to be legit crossword entries with and without the OPEL/OLDS letters.
    2) All of those words mentioned in #1 had to stack on top of one another and create real crossing Down words.
    3) There were eight other starred theme entries and ZERO DOWN in the puzzle, all in areas outside that northwest corner, and…..
    4) He did it all in a 15×15 grid.

    I can pick a few nits here and there with the fill, and maybe it’s odd that the 15-letter answers don’t play a role in the meta. But I thought this was excellent.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Evan — it started with the ZERO DOWN idea as I mentioned. The grid took about 3 times as long as a normal Week 2. Went through several iterations including one where there was a 2-letter across entry in the middle of the stack, but I didn’t like it; stuck out too much. Finally find the fill I used; liked the OBAMA/BAMA and OBERLIN/BERLIN pairs, and the OPEL/OLDS idea. But took a long time to make everything fit.

      Wavered between making it a Week 3/4 without the stars or a Week 2 with, but in the end I thought the click wouldn’t be strong enough without starring the eight clues so decided its natural home was Week 2. 353 right answers so that turned out to be correct.

      • Slowpoke Rodriguez says:

        Ha. I was telling my wifey-thing that I thought you missed a great opportunity for a devilishly clever week 4/5, without the stars and the second half of the ZERO DOWN clue. Since ZERO DOWN stands out so much and the BAMA/SASHA pair really jumps off the page, I’m imagining people might still have managed a click (or two).

        Even so, it was a fun solve as was.

      • Eli Selzer says:

        I was travelling and had to solve in my Crosswords app rather than on paper, and I either completely missed the stars or the app didn’t display them (which happens more than I’d like and is a big reason I solve your puzzle on paper every week). I got the answer, but can confirm that it was week 3 difficulty without the stars and I definitely had hesitation in submitting because it felt like I had missed something. Knowing this, the comment I left on the puzzle when I submitted now makes no sense. Please continue to disregard it.

  8. J B says:

    Is “Let at” a well-known thing? I feel like “Set at” made more sense with 28A but obviously didn’t work with the meta. Maybe I just don’t know my “?et at”s.

  9. Jared Dashoff says:

    I stared at it for a while before a dinner reservation. Came back and my girlfriend wanted to take a look. As she sat next to me, holding the paper aloft, I could see BAMA and BERLIN backwards, which stopped them from being words in my eyes and just the letters. Brain clicked. Just took working out which *ed clues I had left to work with after that.

  10. Garrett says:

    I was never able to understand what zero down meant, other than there being a column zero, which just did not make any sense to me. But I did notice that SASHA could drop the trailing A and the S could be N to make NASH. CRUMBLE could drop the C and change the U to A and add an R to become Rambler. Similarly KENYON could become YUKON. and there is only one G in the grid, at 44D. and if you scan from that point upward you can find GMC in PHYSICS_HELMING. But that is in the “Hmmm, interesting coincidence!” category and did not include other things in the 8 starred answers. Incidently, the DE in HIDEHO could precede SOTO on the same row.

    Yes, very clever meta. Too clever for me.

  11. Pete Rimkus says:

    My immediate thought for the answer to 8-across was Oberlin, but it didn’t fit.
    When Berlin came along soon after at 24-across I figured the * on 8-across would connect the two somehow.
    Imagine my surprise when I was right!

  12. Small Wave Dave says:

    Liked it.
    Took me a few hours to figure out how to use ZERO DOWN; blindingly obvious in hindsight, but I was stuck thinking it referred to letter O’s in the grid, so I futilely tried to make car names from all the letters below O. So I felt like a lunkhead as I watched the leaderboard filling up.

    I was also convinced that the two full-length down entries must mean something. Saw they contained MADERA, PORT, WINE, and MALL–how the heck could that relate to the theme? Are wine malls a thing? And do they have secret parking places?

    Ultimately got it while staring mindlessly at BERLIN and musing that I’d never heard of KENYON but I knew OBERLIN.
    Oh, and I started by writing a long list of car makes. Did me no good, and after solving I looked at the list and saw neither OPEL nor OLDS was on it!

  13. David R says:

    My solving experience, in a hurry finish puzzle quickly on Friday put it down and come back to it Sunday night. Completely forget the hint and the asterisk clues, try to find meta in the fill, give up after half hour. Monday night comes look at grid again and then think maybe the answer has to do with the cluing and then see the asterisks and the hint. Solve meta in five. Most difficult part of the solve was simply following directions.

  14. slubduck says:

    I got this after 2 days of casting about. Looking for car makes in the grid, found TESLA and SCION, and only 1 letter off from having Honda, Acura, Kia, Subaru and Saturn. Finally realized that the placements of none of these corresponded to the starred clues. Also tried the thing that Joon mentioned about 10, 30, 50 and 60 down. And tried the thing that someone else mentioned about “all the letters below every O”. Nice puzzle, but definitely tough for a week 2 if you didn’t suss it early on.

  15. Norm says:

    I sent in a totally different “solution” that Matt and/or his review committee were evidently willing to credit as adequately meeting the meta, the title, and the ZERO DOWN hint, although it was far from as elegant as the real solution. Actually, I’m not sure it would even be in the running for “elegant” since it was basically a week 1 solution to week 2 puzzle … but I’m not giving it back!

  16. DCBilly says:

    If one of the answers in zero-down had not started with a P, I might not have gotten it. On my about 16th stab at something, I tried to see if putting a “P” or two (for “Parking”) in the “secret” column might be a part of it all. It made Petal and Pine; then I saw that the starred Rose __ clue connected with Petal, and there it was.

  17. makfan says:

    I think I’m regressing lately. Had no clue, but couldn’t turn back to it after solving the initial grid. Doesn’t help that work has been nuts. The thing I was trying was to find cars in the areas where the black squares blocked created sections that looked like parking spaces (NW and SE corners).

  18. Scott says:

    I loved it. I solved it in London while waiting for the play Amaluna to begin.

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