MGWCC #465

crossword 4:54 
meta 1 day* 


hello and welcome to episode #465 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Creative Destruction”. this week matt challenges us to find something I’ve done several times in this crossword’s clues — and what you need to do in the grid. okay. what are the theme answers? well, there aren’t any long across answers, but there are six clues with an interesting parenthetical tag:

  • {Spoof in the horror section (tricky one!)} SCARY MOVIE.
  • {Person who drives another person crazy by lying constantly to them (tricky one!)} GASLIGHTER.
  • {Toronto paper (tricky one!)} STAR.
  • {Shot to deep right, sometimes (tricky one!)} TRIPLE.
  • {Palindromic Reddit session (tricky one!)} AMA.
  • {Indian cricketer ___ Mishra (tricky one!)} AMIT.

not sure what’s especially tricky about any of those, except for this AMIT mishra who seems terribly obscure to a u.s. audience. anyway, one other clue is interestingly meta-related: {Fail to enter the numeral 4 somewhere while working this meta, say} ERR. okay. so there’s a 4 involved. where would you enter it? presumably in the grid, given the instructions. but there doesn’t seem to be a place for that.

i was once again co-solving with andy, and we noted that all of the “tricky one” clues were downs in the lower part of the grid. so do their symmetric partners at the top have anything to do with the meta? these include CROSSPIECE and RIVER DELTA, tied for the longest entries in the grid. CROSSPIECE suggests, perhaps, the letter T, or maybe even the numeral 4 which does have a cross piece; and DELTA is itself a letter (albeit greek) and a shape. but IN TOWN, SOHO, LPS, and AWED don’t seem to offer any help about this.

and what’s with the title? what do we need to destroy? ultimately neither andy nor i could make head or tail of it, so we decided to peek at the hint, aka the alternate title: “Reaching New Lows”. aha, that at least tells us that we should be focusing on the bottom of the grid.

from there, it only took a few minutes to hit upon the key idea: all of the downs that reach to the bottom of the grid can be extended. 56d CRUM, for example, really wants to be CRUMB. LATE could be LATER or LATEN or LATEX, but probably LATER given that it follows CRUM(B). the tricky AMIT could be AMITY or A MITE. and so on.

what about this 4? well, it would have to be SCARY MOVIE 4, one of the many sequels in that franchise. once that’s in place, it becomes clear what phrase wants to emerge below the bottom of the grid: BREAK THE 4TH WALL, as in the screenshot above. that’s the answer to the meta.

indeed, matt did break the 4th wall several times in the clues:

  • {Work, like you’re doing this grid} SOLVE.
  • { (where to find the solution Tuesday at noon if you don’t get it)} WWW. hey, you’re here. good job!
  • {Meta moment I hope you have this week, really I do!} AHA.

and it’s also what we had to do with the grid: bust that bottom wall of the grid to put another row of 15 letters below it.

what about those “tricky one” clues? they’re tricky for three different reasons: STAR(K) and AMA(H) have to jump over a block of three black squares before being extended. AMIT -> A MITE, TRIPLE -> TRIPLE A, and GASLIGHTER -> GASLIGHT ERA have to be reparsed with spaces. and of course the 4 in SCARY MOVIE 4 is a little different from the way the others work.

this is a terrific meta. i’ve seen metas that involve hidden words outside the grid before, but i love the idea of reinterpreting “break the 4th wall” this way. the previous ones i’d seen were a lot easier, because they clued the extended word rather than the shorter word. so here you had to just notice that the words could be extended, rather than having to extend in order to make the clue work. in that way, it’s a little like the cassius clay/muhammad ali meta from last month.

could this have been solved without the hint? sure, but i don’t regret looking at the hint. i think the “tricky one” parentheticals made it harder, rather than easier—they definitely gave the impression that those six clues were the ones to focus on rather than all 15 downs at the bottom of the grid. without any parentheticals, the solving path would simply be “look for something weird about this puzzle and figure out why it’s weird”, like any other week 4 puzzle, and that would be more fruitful than trying to figure out what to do with these six clues.

the original title didn’t help at all—it could be a confirmation step once you’ve already solved the meta (BREAK/”destruction”) but suggests nothing about how to go about actually solving it. the original instructions were also quite misleading—to me (and andy), there were plenty of weirdly worded clues, not just the ones that break the 4th wall. so while it’s certainly possible to notice the right things and solve the meta, and i congratulate anybody who did so, my opinion is that you’d have to simply ignore a lot of (intentional and unintentional) distractors in order to do it. that’s a little dissatisfying. so i’m going to give this puzzle 5 stars with the alternate title, but only 4 with the actual title.

that wraps up a pretty great april for metas. what’d you all think?

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39 Responses to MGWCC #465

  1. ajk says:

    Thought about extending down after looking at the hint, but got stuck by restricting focus to the ‘tricky’ ones. Oh well.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    Now that I’ve written a few metas, I can fully appreciate how difficult it is to produce even one innovative, entertaining, and crisply executed challenge, something Matt’s done week after week for years. I loved the idea and the pay-off. My only quibble is, as Joon comments, the six (tricky one!) clues distracted far more than they helped. I concentrated for a long time on this set, particularly the pivoted Xi shape of the three to the right, and the stairs shape of the three to the left. I wonder if these were intended to deceive. Fair play, of course. Matt warns us to beware about this every week. More likely, they’re meant as examples of breaking the fourth wall, though I think that “Meta moment I hope you have this week, really I do” sounds much more like an aside on stage. And yes, I did love the AHA. Great fun as usual – well done, Matt.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Paul. The original idea for this meta, when I abandoned it in December, was that first solvers would have to BREAK THE 4TH WALL as here, but then take the first letters of the six 4th-wall-breaking clue answers to get the meta answer, which was ANSWER. But testers just short-circuited that and went right to the ANSWER answers without even finding BREAK THE 4TH WALL. So that was one iteration of this idea. There were a couple of others as well.

      I liked and still like the concept of breaking the 4th wall through the bottom row of the grid, as an actor may break the proscenium, especially since it’s a noteworthy trend in crosswords in the past 10 years or so. But it was extremely tricky to implement and I’m certainly not sure I optimized the idea here, despite putting in maybe 3x-4x the normal time and effort for a Week 4/5 meta.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Scary Movie 4 was my entry into this before the second title. As I imagine you intended, this was the only place 4 could go, if we believed the ERR clue was a hint. Yes, as several have noted, there were multiple possibilities for words on most of the extensions, but I was convinced the answer would reveal itself if I just kept trying. Gaslight Era was the trickiest for me, since I thought only GASLIGHTERS could go there. Even once I had the rest, I wondered what the heck’s a Gaslighter A (I even googled it.)

        • BarbaraK says:

          I wonder if someone at google HQ is trying to figure out why people are googling “Gaslighter A” and even “Gas lighter A”. That was the one I found trickiest too.

      • George says:

        I’ve been waiting to find out which puzzle was the last minute cancelled effort from December. Thanks for letting us know, it’s interesting to see into the design and testing aspect of metas.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 125 right answers this week, including 14 who didn’t use the hint.

    This was the Week 5 puzzle that I had to postpone in December, and it’s probably the most tested MGWCC so far in the entire series (between Dec. and April). Every tester thought it was really tough but opinions varied on how to go about de-toughening it. It was so fragile — one hint this way or that seemed like it could swing the correct number of entries from 25 to 125+, and these were tough to gauge, and there were so many ways to do it.

    In the end the alternative title seemed to do the trick, as 124 on a Week 4/4 is about ideal.

  4. Mutman says:

    Loved the meta! Took me entire time to get.

    Once I extended down, I thought I was on right track. If I had been more familiar with the answer, it would have fallen earlier.

    Only weak point in my view was the ‘A MITE’. But the tiniest of blemishes on what I thought was a superb meta.

    Great job Matt!

  5. Robert Hutchinson says:

    … is that really why those were labeled tricky ones? My inability to pin down that intention made me delay my entry for a day or so. I thought there might be some further cluing going on elsewhere in the grid, especially given the northeast corner. (And given AMITE, which is really rough.)

    I did enjoy the puzzle, though. Don’t want my criticism overshadowing that.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Another idea tossed around was to put “2 wds.” indicators on the GASLIGHTER and AMIT clues. I think we deemed that as too much of a giveaway later, but the tradeoff was that having six clues labeled “tricky” for three different reasons was confusing for some solvers.

  6. Pete Rimkus says:

    I noticed the way the bottom down answers could be extended and I started heading in that direction, but there were soooo many possibilities (and didn’t even see GASTLIGHTERA). Kudos to all who stuck with it!

    Matt’s usually so good with symmetry that I then wandered down the path of what to do with the symmetric answers to the ‘tricky ones’. And you all know where that got me… nowhere.

  7. Hmm, I’d say I liked but didn’t love this one. It’s a really neat concept and it was a great a-ha moment, but I found some of the fill at the top (like ABCD / CLAVE / EPI / ENGRS / SEA OOZE) to be pretty distracting. I think it was joon who mentioned last month that whenever there are some odd answers in a MGWCC, the first thought is always, “Matt did that for a reason, it’s in service of a complicated meta, etc.” At the bottom it’s obvious why CRUM / AMIT / EROO are there. At the top, though, they’re pretty far away from the meta material and don’t appear to be necessary.

    It’s possible I may have missed some subtle hint with those northern answers or their clues, or it could have been just a red herring to make things tougher for a Week 4. Either way, I spent way too long thinking that they had to be relevant somehow and ended up feeling confused that they apparently weren’t.

    I say all this with the utmost respect to Matt. It’s rare that I don’t fully dig a meta of his, especially one that’s as original as this.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      How dare you criticize me in public! You’ll never publish in this town again. (What town? I have no idea)

      Some of that is vestiges from when I had ANSWER spelled out as part of the meta (AHA and NAME were the first two letters of that). If you don’t need NAME anymore that maybe that corner can be cleaned up though I don’t see how at a brief look (I thought SEA OOZE was pretty funny, and ABCD I think is OK, and ENGRS is tough to change because of GASLIGHTER(A)).

  8. Matthew G. says:

    This is great. I strongly suspected that the answer involved adding letters to the bottom of the grid, but I spent the the weekend caring for a sick baby and never had enough time to work through the details. I was so much closer than I knew; wish I’d found another hour or so for it. Five stars.

  9. Jon says:

    Matt, first off, great meta; it was quite hard and only with the alternative title was I able to work on the bottom row. But even that took work and the whole weekend for me. I first had the bottom row as BYRD THESE DSLN. This seemed like nonsense so I took about a day’s worth of a rabbit hole where I tried to really dissect the clues before a friend gave me an idea and got me on the correct path.

    Matt, I have to ask, what was up with some of the odd wording in the clues? Was this meant to distract from the self-referential clues? For instance:
    5-A: Cousin of a cabbage. Wouldn’t “cousin of cabbage” work as well?
    17-A: Extremely small amount of aluminum. “of aluminum” seems superfluous when “extremely small amount” would have worked just as well.
    20-A: Work, like you’re doing this grid. Isn’t this clue missing the preposition “on” in it?
    70-A: Try again on. This time the extra “on” seems unnecessary.
    All of this plus 12-D: [Surname of a mean Tito (“A mean Tito” would have worked fine as well; seemed to me like “surname of” was extra)] made me sure the instructions were that we had to find the extra or missing words in the clues, put them in grid order, and they might form a sentence that would be either the meta answer or more instructions that would clue to what (tricky one!) was all about.

    Other thing of note: for a long while I was sure that 6-D: Big fan of maps? was supposed to clue to RAVER DELTA.

    Again, great meta; super challenging. I’m super glad my solving streak is continuing this year.

    • Amanda says:

      I can only defend 20-A. You work a crossword grid like you’d work a jigsaw puzzle. No “on” needed, in my opinion.

    • LuckyGuest says:

      Those were exactly my thoughts as well! “What I’ve done several times in this crossword’s clues…” I’m like “he ended several clues with prepositions? And I have to do it in the grid as well?” Okay, I can see “Care [for],” “Solve [for],” “Clap [for],” “Here [for],” etc. Then when I saw “FORMA” (and the ‘instructions’ to write a ‘4’), I said, “He wants us to FORMA [numeral] 4 in the grid!” Um, no, he did not. 5 stars for sure.

  10. Jeff Mizrahi says:

    Not sure the end justified the means on this one…vast number of possibilities + some of the words/concepts I’ve never heard of (gas light era, freest, amite) + arbitrariness (latex v laten v later, scary movie 2/3/4/5)…

    Might be sour grapes on my part but i would put this in the bottom half of matt’s (unbelievably great) work.

  11. Lance says:

    I fear I fall in with the people who didn’t like this one. With the original-title hint, I was trying to do the right thing, and certainly CRUM[B] stood out, but after that there were just too many options for everything, usually involving a T (TRIPLET, START, FORMAT, LEAST, ERST, FREEST, AMAT, CARET, TOOT). So many of the down words just had so many options (TRIPLE could be T, X, S, D, possibly R…and none of those are even right), and some of the right options aren’t even particularly apparent (AMAH? CAREW?)–valid crossword entries, but not words I’m going to fill in without clues for them. So, yeah, I don’t know; it’s a fine idea, but I’ve seen much cleaner implementations of “fill in letters past the edge of the grid”, some of them even from Matt.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah, the difficulty level of filling in an entire edge of the grid (which I don’t think has been done before) reared its head here.

    • Justin says:

      Ditto, Lance. I saw there could be “extensions” but it wasn’t obvious to me which to pick, nor did I end up feeling like devoting the time to all combinations. Just not my cup of tea.

  12. Garrett says:

    I totally agree with Joon’s comment that the ‘“tricky one” parentheticals made it harder, rather than easier—they definitely gave the impression that those six clues were the ones to focus on rather than all 15 downs at the bottom of the grid. ‘ I also agree that there were “a lot of (intentional and unintentional) distractors,” only I’d change that to intentional OR unintentional.

    And Amit was just weird! I could see going to amity, but to Amite? Not a word, although Amite City is a town in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. Perhaps the intent there as, “A mite.” Did not know there were four Scary Movies, let alone five! (Just read this, this morning), so adding the 4 there did not cross my mind.

    Also, after reading this write-up I still don’t know the answer to the implied question of (What has Matt) “done several times in this crossword’s clues.” I thought I had something and went down a major rat hole.

    What I noticed was that there were a number of clues which had a first word that could be followed by a homophone of 4, i.e. “for,” and also in the grid.

    In the Clues: Test for, Present for, Work for, Mad for, Keep for, What ever for?, Try for, Big for, Fall for, and Pro for (which is an odd one, because the clue was Pro ___ and the answer forma).

    In the Grid: Here for, Solve for, Late for, Demo for, In Town for, Care for, Vie for, Name for, and Clap for.

    Lots of words, and lots of ways to play with them.

    Some other odd observations:

    There are four pairs of clues that are back-to-back with the same first letter (38A:40A, 41A:42A, 51A:53A, and 56A:60A).

    AMA anagrams to MAA (both in the grid). ATOM in the same row as THOM (A Tom is Thom). HERE in the same row as NORA (neither here nor there, eh?).

    If you google the clue [Bath flyers] the first hit you get is “Bed Bath & Beyond Weekly Ad Circular” (BeFrugal).

    Was really surprised at the answer to 5A (CRESS), and looked it up! “In addition to watercress, members of the Brassicaceae family include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collards, and kale (all cultivars of one species, Brassica oleracea), Chinese kale, rutabaga (also known as Swedish turnips or swedes), seakale, turnip, radish, and kohl rabi. Other well known members of the Brassicaceae include rapeseed (canola and others), mustard, horseradish, and wasabi.”


    And did you know there is a soup made with napa cabbage, watercress, and dinosaur kale, made heartier with a cubed russet potato? Never heard of dinosaur kale? It is also known as Lacinato kale in Italian and often in English, and is a variety of kale with a long tradition in Italian cuisine, especially that of Tuscany. It is also known as Tuscan kale, Tuscan cabbage, Italian kale, dinosaur kale, black kale, flat back cabbage, palm tree kale, or black Tuscan palm. It is a traditional ingredient of minestrone and ribollita (a famous Tuscan soup).

    Did you know there is a Vegetable soup ASTI style (Minestrone d’Asti)?

    In that same row with CRESS are ABCD and ISBN (alphabet soup). Surely you’ve heard of Alphabet Minestrone Soup!

  13. pgw says:

    I used the hint, and I’m sure it worked its way into my subconscious and helped me get the solution, but in contrast to joon’s solving experience I actually found the original title more directly helpful. Basically I’d puzzled over this thing for days and not really gotten anywhere, and then I woke up Monday morning going “oh, all of those meta-clues break the 4th wall, which uses the number 4 and relates to the original title!” From there the ability to extend below the bottom of the puzzle and its tie-in to the hint title felt for me like confirming steps rather than the direct path to the solution. In reality I’m sure it was all part of a web of connections that led me to the answer.

    Anyway, this one was super-cool.

  14. CFXK says:

    Of all the metas I didn’t solve, this is the meta I didn’t solve the most.

  15. Joe says:

    Damn! Before the hint came out I noticed the possible extensions from the lower down answers but with the massive amount of possibilities I missed it. The fact that I couldn’t see anything other than a Y being tacked onto Amit is what really screwed me. The B and R were obvious but starting with BRY- is what stopped me from getting the rest.

    But to all the people who say the parenthetical notes distracted them or resulted in them focusing on only those clues, I don’t see why. The clues saying “tricky one!” implied to me that there were other non-tricky ones, so I’m not sure why you assumed the tricky ones were the only ones. I just spent some time trying to decide which ones were the “easy ones.” I also wasn’t sure if “tricky one” referred to the clue, meaning what Matt did to it might not be obvious, or the answer to that clue, meaning what you had to do to it might not be obvious.

  16. WeThotUWasAToad says:

    Hint? What Hint?

    When/where is it available and does using it disqualify your answer submission?


    • Matthew G. says:

      Matt sent out a hint in an e-mail a few hours after the original e-mail went out on Friday. At that point, I think, only two answers had been sent in.

      You have a fantastic user name. It would fit in well with the most recent Fireball meta.

      • WeThotUWasAToad says:

        OK, thanks for the clarification. I found the email just now so I realize the hint is not a regular part of the weekly contest.

        I don’t subscribe to the Fireball but I’m glad you like the username. It’s my favorite line from my favorite movie and I squealed when the idea dawned to employ it as a username. I still chuckle every time I register somewhere.

  17. Kaille says:

    While completing the grid, I noticed that Matt was “talking to us” in several of the clues. This made me almost completely sure that “Break the Fourth/4th Wall” HAD to be the answer. I also figured that because of the location of the “tricky” clues, and the fact that they were all vertical, that I needed to be doing something at the bottom of the grid.

    Initially I assumed that the clue about using the number 4 was simply because it would have to be included in the answer, but wasn’t thinking about adding it anywhere. So I spent many hours trying to figure out how to slide the various columns down through the bottom of the grid to reveal a new answer along the bottom, but continually came up fruitless. When I finally looked at the hint, it only encouraged my madness.

    Finally, someone reminded me to think about the number 4. I couldn’t believe it when I finally got it. I’d had the answer all along!

    I thought it was a fun meta.

    • Laura E-D says:

      I also had the actual answer (“Break the 4th Wall”) based on the weird meta clues long before I figured out the bottom of the grid part. It made the solve less stressful since at least I had a decent shot at getting it right no matter what!

  18. Jimmy says:

    Fun meta. Solving partner and I filled in the B at the front, the LL at the back, the 4 at SCARYMOVIE, found a reasonable THE to add right before the 4, and things pretty much fell from there. Used the hint, but could totally see how one could do it without (even though we probably would never have gotten there).

  19. So close on this one. I had the right idea (the hint helped a lot) but didn’t have all the right letters. I had:


    I had no idea what to do with STAR and AMA, since I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to add 1 letter or 4 (across the 3 black squares plus 1 under the grid); STAR???? had way too many possibilities, and I didn’t like any of the AMA? possibilities (AMAT seemed the most likely).

    I considered but rejected AMITE. Parsing it as GASLIGHT ERA never occurred to me, and the only thing that I thought worked there was making it GASLIGHTERS.

    With the dearth of vowels and a few missing/wrong letters, I couldn’t eke out the answer.

  20. Margaret says:

    I also dropped letters below the grid but like so many others, chose poorly among the many options (I had BRYTLEE to start the string, and while I’d heard of Scary Movie, it never occurred to me that there was more than one.)

    I was also thrown off by the fact that many many of the down answers could have extra letters added, and so the “new lows” didn’t point me to the bottom of the grid but rather the lowest part of each down answer. For example, AHA could be AHAB, BET could be BETA, DEMO becomes DEMON etc. (MAA became MA’AM! ACL became ACLU!) I was overwhelmed with options and never concentrated on just the bottom. So close yet so far.

  21. Magoo says:

    I would have thought AMID/AMIDE/MEDE was a better fill than AMIT/A MITE/METE, even though for me AMIT Mishra was a write-in as one of the best Indian leg-spinners of the last 10 years …

    Lovely meta, but a monster with the original title.

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