MGWCC #468

crossword 3:52 
meta 5-10 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #468 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Decisions, Decisions”. in this week 3 puzzle, we’re looking for a word suggesting versatility. okay. what are the theme answers? there are five long across answers, some of them fairly unusual/arbitrary:

  • {Desert competition} CAMEL RACING. yeah, never heard of this. i mean, obviously i know what those two words mean individually, but … do people actually race camels?
  • {Decide not to dribble or pass, for NBA players} TAKE THE SHOT.
  • {One of a quartet that blackjack players usually like to be dealt} ACE OF SPADES.
  • {When Valentine’s Day is} MID-FEBRUARY.
  • {Appropriate gift for some anniversaries} FINE DIAMOND. again, somewhat arbitrary two-word phrase here.

in addition to those, we have two unusual features of the grid: first, the lower-right square, which is (of course) not the start of an across or down answer, is given the non-sequential number 75. second, square #3 appears to contain a hyphen, where {Support group since 1951} AL-ANON crosses {Half___ (like a proverbial glass)} -EMPTY, a bonkers answer that relies on a fill-in-the-blank clue where the blank is not separated from the preceding word by a space. so you’ve gotta figure those two squares are both relevant to the meta somehow.

… and they are, but not in a way that really lends itself to forward-solving. the key is to look at the theme answers in the context of both the clues and the instructions. my first in was the ACE OF SPADES, clued as a blackjack card. in blackjack, aces are versatile in the sense that they can count for 1 or 11. i was co-solving this with andy, and as soon as i had pointed this out, we got the rest of the meta. a CAMEL can have 1 hump or 2; a SHOT for an NBA player is worth 2 points or 3; FEBRUARY can have 28 or 29 days.

and then there’s the DIAMOND anniversary, typically the 60th but it could be lots of others depending on which system you’re using. in the traditional U.S. version, though, i guess it’s mostly 60th or 75th (a pretty rare anniversary at any rate). this uncertainty didn’t slow us down at all, because it was already quite clear that the oddball 75 square had to be used for something, so we were always going to try it here.

anyway, if you read out the letters (or characters, in the case of square 3) in the squares corresponding to those numbers, in order, you get ALL-AROUND (with hyphen), a word that indeed connotes versatility.

so: this is a slightly goofy meta. i like the idea of it, and the execution is interesting, but i am definitely of the opinion that the artificial 75 is inelegant, and the hyphen is also a bit much. were either of these avoidable? it’s hard to say. if the 11-letter ACE OF SPADES is your central entry, then it’s awfully hard to get up to square 75 naturally in a 15×15 grid because you’re forced into four pretty wide-open corners. perhaps that’s an argument for going to 17×17 here, or maybe just ditch DIAMOND as a possible theme answer in favor of something involving, say, president GEORGE BUSH (41/43). i don’t know how that would fit in with the other theme answers (all 11s), though. TAKE THE SHOT could be TAKES A SHOT, i guess.

as for the hyphen, it’s a shame that neither VERSATILE nor VERSATILITY has an even number of letters, making it impossible to use either one as the answer. (i suppose in theory you could have a theme answer with three possible numbers instead of two, although i can’t think of what that would be right now.) there are some other suitable answer phrases of even length, perhaps EITHER/OR, FLEXIBLE, etc.

so, what’d you all think?

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31 Responses to MGWCC #468

  1. David R says:

    I thought that the two odd squares were curiosities until I solved the puzzle and then they felt like short-cuts to get the meta to work. Similarly I didn’t like the repetitive use of certain squares to fill out the meta answer. Overall liked the meta logic but not the execution.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      There weren’t many other choices for things that could be one or another value. I thought of Grover Cleveland but he’s really 22 AND 24, not one or the other. George Bush is cute but they’re different people so not really usable IMO since the others are all the same thing.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 214 right answers this week.

    The choice of meta answer was severely restricted by the 1-2 of CAMEL, the 2-3 of basketball SHOT, and the 1-11 of ACE. so it had to be a phrase that began with a 1-2-2-3-1 letter pattern. Nothing relevant fit, but then I hit on the ALL-AROUND idea and liked that solution.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    I enjoyed this one. The technique was new and interesting and just about hard enough to make a good Week 3. I imagine most solvers were like me, initially thinking the “empty” square at 3 above the Down entry “EMPTY” was important. Of course, as Joon figured out immediately, square 3 turned out to hold a dash. I only saw this once it emerged that Matt was going for ALL-AROUND.

    Matt must have had his reasons, but I’m not sure why he chose DIAMOND for the last theme word, necessitating the extraneous 75 in the SE corner. I’d guess there are many phrase-worthy words associated with a choice between two numbers in the 1-65 range, besides George Bush that Joon pointed out. I take Matt’s point that they’re really two different entities, not bivalent. Before reading Matt’s comments above, I assumed he thought we needed the glaring 75 to nudge us in the right direction. Actually, I had ALL-AROU by the time I came to the final theme line, so I just skipped it and submitted the answer.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      If anyone can think of others I’d like to hear them. I spent a long time trying but couldn’t find a satisfactory one. The Bushes don’t really work IMO.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        You’re right – it’s harder than I first supposed. Nolan Ryan might have worked (with CAMELRACE, instead of CAMELRACING.) He wore two different uniform numbers, 30 and 34, and they were both famous enough to be retired by his teams, 30 by the Angels, and 34 by both the Astros and Rangers.

      • Mike W says:

        Holding in the NFL is a 5 yard penalty on the defense but a 10 yard penalty on the offense. Clue – “Football tackle infraction” Answer “Holding Call”

        A weaker one would be Michael Jordan’s number as a Chicago Bull (either 23 or 45). Clue – “Teammate of Scottie Pippen (#33) on 6 NBA champions”. Answer – “Michael Jordan”

      • Garrett says:

        Here are some ideas. Some have numbers in the clue, some in the answer, and some are inferred.

        Diamond count?: Facets
        The modern round brilliant diamond consists of 58 facets — or 57 if the culet is excluded.

        Well-known constant route?: Pi calculation — Pi can be calculated by dividing 22/7

        “25 or 6 to 4” group: Chicago

        The New Pornographers have a song on the album “Twin Cinema” called “Three or Four”

        “Six Days, Seven Nights” actress: AnneHeche

        Short or Tall? Starbucks sizes. Short is 8 oz., while Tall is 12 oz.

        Half an idiom used to compare two things that are the same: Six of one

        Small woman?: four to six
        Woman’s medium?: eight to ten

        Typical weather forcast range: six to ten day(s)

      • pgw says:

        One suggestion, which I realize suffers from the same deficiency as Bush 41/43: Carolina 8/12 or Dakota 39/40.

        Another: “Highway through New Baltimore” cluing PA TURNPIKE, which at New Baltimore is both 70 and 76 (alas, those numbers are also large enough that they don’t naturally appear in this grid.)

  4. Jeff says:

    Really good meta, but I had no shot at this one. Went down several rabbit holes, none of which were particularly interesting. I agree that the hyphen and the D aren’t ideal, but I appreciate Matt’s attempt to represent the hyphen.

    That’s two nice metas that I had really no chance of cracking but love after the fact, on the heels of course of Patrick’s l lovely Fireball. My last hope for redemption is the Aries meta, which I’ve made significant progress on with the meta (I think), but then again who knows with my recent meta performances.

  5. e.a. says:

    one of my favorites this year. the hyphen is genius, and the 75 box amused me more than it ineleganced me

  6. jefe says:

    Shoot, should’ve had this from backsolving. All-around is one of the top synonyms for versatile on, and given the hyphen and 75=D, should’ve been looking for a hyphenated word ending in D!

    • Abby B says:

      This is, in fact, how I got there first. I guessed that maybe there were other squares that needed numbers (66-74 or 66-75(D)) and one of them must be the – because it was weird. If I hadn’t hit the right length that way, I may never have gotten there.

  7. Mutman says:

    I liked the meta! No complaints.

    Clue: First roll pass-line winner in craps
    Answer: Natural

    And that could be 7 or 11.

    Not sure this site has enough craps shooters to make this relevant enough.

  8. Jim Klachan says:

    I liked it but maybe that’s because it was a rare week 3 solve for me. I picked up on the 2 numbers fairly quickly but I confess I had to back-solve to all-around when I started with 2/14 for mid-February. That stupid logic may explain why I haven’t solved many week 3 or 4 metas.

    Would this theme solution work? Clue: Baseball ironman
    Answer: Cal Ripken Jr
    Meta-values: 5/6 (the positions he played).

  9. Sweepmonkey says:

    I liked it but maybe that’s because it was a rare week 3 solve for me. I picked up on the 2 numbers fairly quickly but I confess I had to back-solve to all-around when I started with 2/14 for mid-February. That stupid logic may explain why I haven’t solved many week 3 or 4 metas.

    Would this theme solution work? Clue: Baseball ironman
    Answer: Cal Ripken Jr
    Meta-values: 5/6 (the positions he played).

  10. Jared Dashoff says:

    I didn’t have such a problem with the 75 square or the hyphen, although I kept trying to figure out what synonym for EMPTY was six letters. By the time I got to how either was used in the meta, I more or less had it anyway.

    For some other either/ors:

    “Non-president who appears on Federal Reserve notes” could clue BEN FRANKLIN, who appears on the front of the $100 and the reverse of the $2. (Not that fitting a 100 square would appear in the grid any more elegantly than the 75).

    “Group with a hooker and some props” could clue RUGBY TEAM, which could be 7 or 15 depending on what version one is playing.

    And, although, again, not elegant, “computer code element” could clue BINARY DIGIT, which would be a 0 or a 1 (likely with 0 being a space).

  11. Jim S says:

    Almost submitted the right answer as a Hail Mary – ‘all-around’ is one of small set of ‘versatile’ synonyms that came up – but figured that wasn’t honorable. Kicking myself, though, because the reason I googled the synonyms was to try to backsolve – very annoyed that the hyphen didn’t click for me and trigger something to dig deeper into.

  12. Stephen McFly says:

    Only significance of 75 I could find was in the range in BINGO. Thus I fell down that rabbit hole, never to return.

  13. Margaret says:

    I spent a LOOONG time on the Valentine’s Day clue, since Wikipedia says that the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Valentine’s Day in July (July 6 or 30.) I decided my either/or for that one was 2/14 OR 2 /7. Took me until Monday afternoon to broaden my view from the specific Valentine’s Day date to February in general and thus get to 28/29.

    I also spent too long trying to do something with the word count. If I was doing it correctly, there were 74 words in the grid counting normally but 75 words if Al Anon counted as two separate words. I was certain that the 75 in the bottom right square related to this word count even though I couldn’t make it apply.

  14. J B says:

    After reading the alternatives people are suggestion, I really appreciate the relative elegance of the diamond anniversary clue :)

  15. WeThotUWasAToad says:

    This is complete nonsense trivia but wasn’t there a coffee commercial back in the 60’s which began with the words, “Decisions, decisions…” and would then continue with something like, “Do I want coffee with a smooth rich texture or one that tastes great?”

    I didn’t solve the meta anyway :P but that line kept coming to mind each time I looked at the title.

    Oh the things that occupy our minds from childhood. I still remember the Spiegel Catalog ZIP Code from the end of “Let’s Make Deal” when the announcer would say, “Spiegel. Chicago, IL 60609”.

  16. LuckyGuest says:

    I loved this meta… I had no issues with the “75;” in fact, because I knew that the 75th wedding anniversary gift is Diamond, it’s what got me looking at the connection of themed entries to corresponding numbers, and using the letters resident in those numbered squares. It wasn’t until I looked again at the title that I saw that there were two numeric choices for each themed entry, and when I (excitedly) started writing down the choices in order and saw the answer magically appear? Perfectly elegant construction… (and yes, Patrick Berry’s Fireball deserves Crossword of the Month/Year consideration).

  17. Jason T says:

    To me, the hyphen and the “75” were features of the puzzle, not bugs – they made it more fun! It’s not always both the elegance! Also, both gave me some crucial assistance in cracking the meta, especially the proximity of the word “DIAMOND” to the 75.

    Loved this one. Amazed Matt found five instances of could-be-one-of-two-numerical-values. No complaints!

  18. Lance says:

    The thing that struck me about the meta is something that I’m surprised no one has mentioned yet: the fact that some of the numerical ambiguities were solely about the entries (CAMEL RACING, MID-FEBRUARY), and some only made sense in the context of the clues (TAKE THE SHOT is only “2 or 3” in a basketball context; DIAMOND is only “60 or 75” in an anniversary context). In fact, for MID-FEBRUARY, you had to ignore both the clue (any ambiguity about Valentine’s Day is irrelevant) and the MID- part.

    I kind of liked the hyphen, and I could have let the “75” slide, but I found this inelegance too striking to ignore.

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