MGWCC #464

crossword 4:15 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #464 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “What Has Come Between Us?”. the instructions for this week 3 puzzle ask us to find a familiar phrase of three words totaling 19 letters. what are the theme answers? the 17×17 grid contains seven long across answers with silly phrases, each of them a one-letter change from a familiar base phrase:

  • {*Charisma so strong it needs no spoken words?} SILENT MOXIE. movie.
  • {*Person who’s always trying to get Danson to argue?} TED BAITER. baxter, of mary tyler moore.
  • {*Nail place where everyone’s British?} ANGLO SALON. saxon.
  • {*Videos that are supposed to be six seconds but wind up running ten or fifteen?} LONG VINES. lines.
  • {*Moves like Jagger’s?} MICK SHAKES. milk.
  • {*Digestion aid at a cook-off?} CHILI PILL. chill.
  • {*Tricky part of a highway in South Dakota’s capital?} PIERRE CURVE. curie.

the first thing to note is that each of the letter changes involves a substitution of one roman numeral for another: V->X, X->I, X->L, L->V, L->C, L->I, and I->V, respectively. that much was apparent from the start.

everything i’ve tried to do from there, though, has led to gibberish. with a 19-letter answer, it’s clear we need to get more than one or even two letters from each theme answer. it can’t be something as straightforward as taking the letter from the correspondingly numbered square in the grid, since there’s no square 100 for C. the title suggests looking at what’s between, perhaps between the old letter and the new letter, but i couldn’t get anything interesting out of either taking the average of the two numbers, or the middle, or drawing lines between them in the grid (again, no 100).

there’s a sense in which V is the roman numeral “between” I and X, but there are plenty of pairs such as V->X where there isn’t any symbol in between.

a handful of the theme answers could be alternately parsed as two-symbol roman numeral changes instead of one. for example, MOVIE->MOXIE could be interpreted as VI->XI instead of just V->X. similarly, LINES->VINES could be LI->VI. but these changes do not really lead anywhere. and speaking of XI, ELEVEN is also in the grid outright at 68d, but that doesn’t seem to mean anything either.

in short, i am utterly stumped. 150+ people have solved this, so it’s tricky for a week 3 but not impossible. but i have no idea what to do. going to put it aside for a little while and hope the extended deadline this week helps.

[a few hours later]

hey, that worked! i was chatting with andy, who was similarly stuck, and he suggested subtracting instead of averaging. in fact, that is a thing i had tried, but i had somehow misread three of the seven numbers/letters, so i was getting gibberish. but if you don’t misread them, here’s what you get:

  • MOXIE-MOVIE is a difference of 5 (and it doesn’t matter whether you interpret it as V->X or VI->XI)
  • SALON-SAXON = 40
  • LINES-VINES = 45 (again, irrespective of whether you include the extra I)
  • MICK-MILK = 50
  • CHILL-CHILI = 49

i’ve circled those seven squares in the screenshot above. ordered numerically, they spell out OPINION, and to find these letters, we took differences. so what has come between us? a DIFFERENCE OF OPINION, which is a three-word phrase with 19 letters. neat!

i’m feeling pretty lucky to have squeezed this in before the deadline. what will week 4 bring?

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46 Responses to MGWCC #464

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Oh, for Pete’s sake. I thought TED BAITER was supposed to be changed to RED BAITER, which is also an in-the-language phrase (I have never heard of TED BAXTER). I certainly noticed that the other changed squares all had Roman numerals, but concluded that it was a red herring because the idea that RED BAITER might not be the intended substitution never occurred to me.

  2. Bret says:

    Oh man, I had the Roman numerals except I was going with Red Baiter, giving a T to R switch so I just figured that wasn’t the right direction. Also, the first letter in the puzzle is U and the last is S so I played with that a while.

  3. dbardolph says:

    I’m a moron. I did everything right, up to the correct seven letters, but in the wrong order. Since it didn’t spell anything meaningful, and it was only seven letters, I ditched the idea. I hate myself.

    • Johnny Luau says:

      Same here (I had them in the same order as the clues). Argggh!

    • pgw says:

      i had them in the wrong order at first too; but it was pretty easy to anagram OPINION, and then I realized that in grid order that’s what they spell.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        With help from the title hint, I also got to PININOO quickly. Then it took an hour of stumbling around until I remembered Matt sometimes arranges his answers in order of smallest grid number to largest. This one was very good, I think. I’m constantly amazed at how often Matt comes up with fresh ideas that work extremely well.

    • Garrett says:

      Well, damn! That’s exactly what I did: before and after letters to the right of each row in the margin. Original letters no good because of the C, and the new letters did not spell anything, so I took the difference of each and wrote that letter in the margin, vertically, and that was PININOO. I’m like, “that’s not 19 letters and it doesn’t make any sense anyway.” Pfft.

      Kicking myself.

    • BarbaraK says:

      Me too. That’s in my notes from early on. Gave it up and went on lots of wild goose chases.

  4. Eric Conrad says:

    This was a real grinder, but I got it.

    I stared at “pininoo” for far too long…

  5. ajk says:

    Tried subtracting and dividing and tried correlating numbers with grid but never put it all together. Oh well. :)

  6. Mutman says:

    Loved it! Pays to be a ‘mature’ solver, having seen Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore show when I grew up. (There were only 3 real TV stations to choose from back then!)

    Title tipped me off to the subtraction.

    Great meta Matt!

  7. I made a few mistakes (one grid error, one circling the wrong number in the grid) and ended up with OPUNMON, which anagrams to MOON PUN. I scratched my head trying to think of a 3-word/19-letter moon pun that related to the puzzle but came up with nothing, until I decided to double-check my work and figured it out.

    • Asdanf says:

      I also made one grid error and one circling-the-wrong-number error! PANINGO seemed vaguely promising, but I wasn’t able to turn it into anything. And I didn’t take the step of checking my work :(

  8. kaes says:

    Oh no! I tried subtracting at the very beginning, but I had somehow put U in the #9 square instead of I and never realized my mistake. I looked at the result, thought, “Funny, that almost anagrams to OPINION… but not quite,” and spent the rest of the time fruitlessly casting about for other ideas. Curses!

    Cool meta, though — I like roman numeral ones. Hopefully I can redeem myself next week :)

  9. Kaille says:

    Not sure I would have ever figured it out, but I am giving myself a swift kick in the behind. The first thing I did was find the difference between each number in the starred clues. I had them lined up just like Joon has above. I compared each number to the corresponding numer in the grid and came up with PININOO. And promptly blew it off without bothering to put them in numerical order, or even checking for an anagram. Feeling like quite the bonehead right about now.

  10. Don Lloyd says:

    After much squinting and head scratching, this one fell into place with such a resounding multi-layered *click* it should win an Orca for sound effects.

  11. Amy L says:

    I came up with RED BAITER and not TED BAXTER, so I never had a chance to do the math since R and T aren’t Roman numerals. I don’t think I would have followed the path correctly to the solution, however.

    I still want Andy’s phone number–calling him seems to be the best method to solve these tough ones.

  12. Kaille says:

    I am curious: Was anyone thrown by the clue at 50D? I thought it had to be significant since the number 2 was included in the clue. Because the answer was NIA, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” would have yielded the same answer. Same for 1D – I thought including the year was superfluous to figuring out the answer to the clue. So, the numbers in the clues became a bit of a red herring for me.

    • Meg says:

      Kaille: I’ve spent hours looking at superfluous information in clues. The week that I tell myself I’m not falling for that again is the week when it is part of the meta. The man is devious.

  13. Garrett says:

    This meta answer reminds me of an old biologist’s joke. He asks the class if anyone can explain the difference between a crow and a raven. Nobody could, so he explained that a crow has five pinion feathers, while the raven has only four.

    “So you see,” he concluded, “it’s a simple difference of a pinion.”

    … Otherwise known as a PININOO. ;->

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks Joon — 175 right answers this week.

  15. Jim S. says:

    So frustrated! I did the right math but I have this fatal flaw of never considering going back to the grid. I looked up the order of states entering the union (50 was the max number), I looked at Super Bowl facts, I even went through the alphabet to try to find something to do with the letters between the various replacements. I never even considered looking at the squares in the grid corresponding to the differences. Argh! Maybe I need to dig up Jangler’s meta tips and have them handy – I’m sure he recommends going back to the grid at some point. Great puzzle nonetheless.

  16. Margaret says:

    I took the difference in the letters, but in addition to being convinced that Matt would never resort to a simple anagram (not realizing that they were in numerical order, not random), I was certain that the repeated UPs (UPtop, UPsala, bidUP, openUP) and kcaR and kcaL had to be hints. Overthinking it I guess.

  17. Lee Sammons says:

    Though I had it when I discovered “Random Roman Numerals” was three words and 19 letters. Dang!

    • jefe says:

      He did say it was a familiar phrase, otherwise I would’ve gone with Roamin’ Roman Numerals :)

  18. Norm says:

    I actually had a couple of wrong letters (since I wanted LONGVINES to just drop the V for LONGINES and I was trying to make sense out of MOCK SHAKES), but OPINION cried out at me from the five correct letters I had and that sent me back to recheck my “math” (at which point I finally saw LONG LINES and MILK SHAKES. Rare [extremely] for me to get a week 3, so i was very happy.

  19. PatXC says:

    I’m a pininoo too, and since that appeared to go nowhere, I added the values between the Roman numerals and arrived at one hundred ninety-six. 3 words, 19 letters.

  20. Small Wave Dave says:

    Cool puzzle. I spent hours doing the same things as many of you.

    I, too, fell for RED BAITER at first but fixed it pretty quickly since I already had the other six and was convinced they all had to be Roman Numerals. Luckily I’m in the Mary Tyler Moore Show age group, so TED BAXTER was easy.
    In fact, I’m old enough to have seen plenty of MTM’S earlier series, so I could have figured out that ALIEN BRADY = 49. (Even though his name was Alan, not Allen)

  21. Dan Seidman says:

    I found PININOO and was baffled for a bit. Then I realized the significance of the fact that all seven letters existed — it would have been much easier to come up with entries using M and D than V and X, and the one C was paired with something high enough that that difference was on the grid too. So I decided those letters must mean something after all, so I highlighted them in the grid and that was the trick.

    My sympathies to those of you who don’t know who Ted Baxter was — not for missing this puzzle but for missing out on one of the greatest shows ever.

    • Matthew G. says:

      It’s funny, I was a Nick at Nite addict back in high school, but I don’t think the Mary Tyler Moore Show (whose original run ended when I was a toddler) was in their rotation at that time.

      Meta was totally fair, and I am sure there are those who hadn’t heard of TED BAXTER but found him with a Google. I absolutely should have gone back and reconsidered whether RED BAITER was right once I saw the Roman numerals elsewhere, but I didn’t. I even started with subtracting but stopped myself. There was something nice and Zeitgeisty about RED BAITER so I let myself stay too attached to it.

  22. jefe says:

    Argh! I had totally written down the following:
    X I L V C I V
    V X X L L L I
    5 9 40 45 50 49 4

    I don’t think I’d even made it to PININOO :(

  23. Molson says:

    So close… I got PININOO and even noticed it anagrams to OPINION but then I couldn’t do anything from there. I looked around for some way to get 2 other words out of the grid or the numbers and of course failed miserably.

  24. Dogpole says:

    Do we want to start a whispering campaign to get pininoo into common usage, and the the dictionary? Start using it at least once a week in non-crossword forums and see where we get to?

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