MGWCC #473

crossword 3:01 
meta 15 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #473 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “We Match”. for this week 4 puzzle of guest constructor month, we have a puzzle by (newcomer?) mike grier, and the instructions ask us for the one grid entry that would make a valid sixth theme entry. simple enough. what are the theme answers? the five long across answers, *ed just for extra imprimatur i guess, relate to scrabble:

  • {*A skill Scrabblers are adept in} ANAGRAMMING.
  • {*Bonus squares Scrabblers aim for, casually} TRIPLE WORDS.
  • {*Professional Scrabblers know them inside and out} TOURNAMENT RULES.
  • {*OK to use, like entries in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary} PERMISSIBLE.
  • {*He invented Scrabble in 1938} ALFRED BUTTS.

so what’s the meta answer? well, i have played a lot of scrabble in my day (though not in tournaments), and a few of these might be scrabble-related terms. 68a SNEAK might have something to do with cheating during the tile draw, and maybe 42d TAILED is slang for hooking off the end of a word or something. are we supposed to interpret 39d ASIDE as A SIDE, and if so does that relate to scrabble? but the instructions seem pretty definitive that there’s only one possible valid answer, so it can’t be anything this vague.

when i couldn’t crack it right away, i teamed up with andy, and we had it pretty soon thereafter. andy had the idea of looking at the words in TRIPLE WORD (score) positions, since both a scrabble board and a standard crossword are 15×15. (indeed, i have made use of this fact before: my very first crossword was constructed on a deluxe edition scrabble board, with two sets of tiles for the letters and pennies as the black squares.) but we had no luck ANAGRAMMING those letters, IROTSYDY, into anything PERMISSIBLE. and even if we could have done that, it wouldn’t have satisfied the instructions.

so we took a fresh start. what’s the title about? not scrabble, on the face of it. what’s this about matching? but once again, andy had the key idea: what if the scrabble scores match? lo and behold:

  • ANAGRAMMING = 1+1+1+2+1+1+3+3+1+1+2 = 17.
  • TRIPLE WORDS = 1+1+1+3+1+1 + 4+1+1+2+1 = 17.
  • TOURNAMENT RULES = 1+1+1+1+1+1+3+1+1+1 + 1+1+1+1+1 = 17.
  • PERMISSIBLE = 3+1+1+3+1+1+1+1+3+1+1 = 17.
  • ALFRED BUTTS = 1+1+4+1+1+2 + 3+1+1+1+1 = 17.

so we’re looking for the only fill answer with a scrabble score of 17, and it’s 51d PROXY (3+1+1+8+4 = 17). pretty much everything else is well under 17, with the exception of 3d BRAZIL NUT which is 20.

i loved and also didn’t love this meta. it’s a very cool mechanism, and it’s very elegant that five words and phrases that, for the most part, are very natural-sounding and obviously scrabble-related all have the same score. the part i didn’t like was the instructions. the theme of the puzzle is, patently, terms related to scrabble clued in relation to scrabble. PROXY is clued as {Authorized agent}, and if it’s a scrabble term, it’s certainly not one i’m familiar with. if the instructions are to be believed, the theme isn’t scrabble-related terms at all, but merely terms with a scrabble score of 17, and the fact that the five long ones happen to be *ed and scrabble-related is just a big hint. i just think that strains credulity. the way i see it, if the theme is terms related to scrabble, then there just isn’t a sixth theme answer, which means there’s no valid answer to the meta. that seems like a flaw.

i’m not sure what would have been a better way to phrase the instructions, but i feel like there has to be something, because the mechanism itself is unambiguous (and quite elegant). maybe instead of asking for which entry would make a valid sixth theme entry, it could have just asked for which fill entry matches the theme? i dunno. that doesn’t look too different but it wouldn’t have felt so off to me.

i’m probably the only one who was bothered by this, so … let’s hear from the rest of you.

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38 Responses to MGWCC #473

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 327 right answers this week.

    It’s a nice idea, but I think a 17-point Scrabble term as the answer would have allowed the meta to be short-circuited too easily.

  2. Bret says:

    “What grid entry shares something in common with the theme answers, relating to the theme.”

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    With Scrabble clearly SPELLed out as this meta’s theme, I didn’t have to wRACK my brain unTIL Early on I saw the path. I was COUNTing on a quick time, but unfortunately, my first three tries drew a BLANK. After that TRIPLE WORD failure, I yelled BONUS when I finally SCOREd 17 with proxy. I thoroughly enjoyed the CHALLENGE – well done, Mike and MATT -ELegant idea. This HAS BROught us keen expectation for a rousing week 5.

  4. ASB says:

    WE MATCH is 17 too. Nice touch.

    • pgw says:

      Ooh – I hadn’t noticed that. Nice touch indeed.

    • Garrett says:

      Yes, and not only that, but PROXY lands on a spot in the grid/board which is a Triple Word, it contains the only X in the puzzle grid, it shares a P with triPlewords and Permissible, and follows an interesting characteristic of anaGramminG and tripleWords, which have the only Gs and the only W (respectively) to be found in the grid (as proXy has the only X). Pretty wow meta.

  5. David says:

    I think a year of Victor Barocas confirming meta answers with Scrabble scores made this mechanism seem more obvious than it would have otherwise.

  6. Andy says:

    I agree that “proxy” neither being a Scrabble term nor having a Scrabble clue makes it not a 6th theme answer at all (at least for the ostensible Scrabble theme), but I noticed an additional thing that I wonder if it was intentional.

    The first theme entry is at 17A, meaning its clue number matches its score. Also, PROXY going to the corner means it gets a TWS and its score is actually 51, again a match with its clue number of 51D.

    This doesn’t hold up for the other 4 theme entries, but a nice little Easter egg (or coincidence) anyway.

    • Jeremy Koenig says:

      I almost went with PROXY for this reason, the 51 = 51D, but right before hitting submit I realized the the R in PROXY sits in a double letter score. So close to submitting the right answer for the completely wrong reason. :)

    • pgw says:

      I noticed that the point total and clue number matched for 17-A before filling in any other theme entry, so for a moment I was hoping all five clue numbers would match. Alas, I quickly realized this wasn’t possible because both 5-A and 5-D have this property. (Also, it would be pretty tough to come up with a 62-point 11-letter phrase –
      try cluing HAZY ZYZZYVA.)

    • Jon says:

      As long as we’re doing the TWS, might as well include the DWS, TLS, & DLS too. I did this and had PROXY as netting 54 pts. Also because of this I didn’t have the theme entries having the same points. Also some of the point scores stretched believability since they were so long, like TOURNAMENT RULES.

      I also was confused because if all the themes are Scrabble terms, then many of the fill could have been valid: SNEAK, TAILED, MERIT, ADD, BAD, A SIDE. So how was any one of them more valid then the other? And the “we match” part of it confused me. Did 2 pairs of the themes match in some way and so the odd-man-out theme had to match a fill?

      A friend suggested ignoring the bonus squares and at first that didn’t help either as I skipped adding the theme’s values. Perhaps two of the fill had matching point totals and together they make a term? But that would seem to ignore the instructions. When I finally added up the theme point totals and saw that they were all 17, that clued me into that PROXY was the meta answer.

      But I agree with Joon, the fact that PROXY isn’t a Scrabble term like the rest of the theme entries makes the directions completely wrong.

    • Garrett says:

      Oooh, that’s almost creepy.

  7. Amy L says:

    I really laughed when I realized what the meta mechanism was. I found all five theme entries added up to 17, then I realized I would have to check the entire puzzle to find another entry with letter values adding up to 17. I actually wrote down the value of every letter on the puzzle, and finally found the answer, in the lower left corner. It was very satisfying after all that.

    Yes, Joon, I think you are a little overly sensitive here. Think of the theme as “words and phrases adding up to 17,” with all the Scrabble clues giving directions for how to get there.

    How did the fast solvers do it? Do they know the Scrabble letters scores without looking them up?

    • Cole says:

      Once I suspected what was up I found a site that did scrabble math and plugged in some of the likely suspects.

    • Ephraim says:

      Not that I was a fast solver (11:30 Tuesday!), but I saved work by finding an online Scrabble score calculator and running all the likely-looking answers through it.

    • I knew the Scrabble letter scores beforehand. But just to be absolutely sure that PROXY was the only 17, I punched in all of the answers in this Scrabble score calculator.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Though I saw the meta device almost immediately, I was given some pause by the instructions. Not for the reason joon says, though. The words “the one grid entry” seemed like new phrasing from Matt, since in the past he’s usually just said “a grid entry” when he gives instructions like these. This left me wondering whether PROXY, which surely seemed right, was a distraction from a more correct answer.

        I eventually decided not to worry about it and just sent in PROXY. I figured that either (a) the phrasing came from the guest constructor or (b) Matt has decided to use this phrasing from now on when he wants to make clear that there is one non-debatable right answer.

  8. Pete M says:

    Spent a little too much time trying to anagram the 25(!!) 3-letter words before hitting on the values.

  9. austin says:

    i overlaid a scrabble board onto the grid and found the entry whose clue number matched the point total for the entry, including bonus squares. POSSUM at 22D was the only one that did that and i was very surprised to find out this was the wrong answer!

  10. e.a. says:

    i was mildly dissatisfied with the final answer until i realized a guest constructor is a sort of PROXY

  11. Jeremy Koenig says:

    I’m w/ Austin- overlaid the Scrabble board and arrived at POSSUM with a value of 22 matching 22D. The clue, [“Playing” critter], I took as confirmation that POSSUM was correct- Scrabble, game, playing, etc. The *ed answers = 17 and PROXY = 17 was a bit of a let down after my AHA moment w/ POSSUM.

  12. Chris S. says:

    I went with ASIDE, since it sat on what would be a triple word score space and was the only “permissible” entry in such a space under tournament rules, in that all of the two letter words (DA, ES, LI, AD, YE) it formed by being next to DELAY were also allowable in SCRABBLE.

    • pgw says:

      I’m not sure how you decided to stop at 2-letter words, but note that IRATE at 5-A fits your criteria also – ES, RE, AR, TI and EF are all good.

      • Chris S. says:

        I didn’t think IRATE was anagrammable in the way that ASIDE was, but you have a point about the arbitrariness of stopping at 2-letter words. It all made sense at the time.

  13. Kaille says:

    Wow, I cannot believe I am going to post this because I am going to expose myself as a complete bonehead. Before paying any heed to the Scrabble theme that was everywhere, I noticed something in the theme answers that had nothing whatsoever to do with Scrabble, but I couldn’t let go of it. Whoever reads the comments that I was also dumb enough to supply with my submission (please, please don’t be Matt, but I’m sure it is) must have been doing some good head scratching.

    What I saw in the theme answers was: anagRAMming & alfredBUTTs and TRIPlewords & TOURnamentrules. So silly me thought I needed to look at words embedded in PERMISSIBLE and find a synonym for one of them in the grid. WE MATCH! Get it? So I found ERRs, which was a good synonym for MISS, however, it was not truly embedded in a larger word. So I went with A LAbaster, thinking “a la” could be synonym (albeit a weak one) for PER, used in the sense of “in accordance with.” I never once thought about letter points. And I blew the best streak I ever had. Not too smart.

    I’m looking forward to pushing that rock back up the hill next week!

    • Jim S says:

      I almost went down a path that I now consider to be embarrassing as well, but I eventually got it. I was thinking that maybe the common element was that the words were all goofy names that Bart Simpson used when calling Moe’s… Ana Gramming, Trip LeWords, Tour Namentrules (the most questionable), Per Missible, and Al Fredbutts. That left Al Abaster as the obvious answer. However, the duplicate “Al” forced me to look deeper, and I realized that Scarbble must play a bigger role… Whew! I don’t watch The Simpsons, so I have no clue if any of those were ever used (probably not). Maybe a good idea for a future meta or at least theme?

  14. Abby Braunsdorf says:

    I looked for a word that was permissible that hit a TW square in the puzzle and was an anagram of other TW squares. OK, maybe stupid (especially since “Scrabble score” is in my toolbox), but it seemed to make some sense. If I weren’t completely slammed by work this week I probably would’ve tried to do it the right way.

  15. Paul S says:

    Unfortunately, I was able to anagram IROTSYDY and came up with DIY STORY. Since DREAMS are a sort of DIY stories, that’s what I went with. I suspected I was wrong since it didn’t seem very elegant…

  16. Richard K says:

    I followed the same reasoning as Austin and Jeremy and felt pretty proud of myself for discovering POSSUM as the unique answer. I think we should get bonus points for the extra effort. (Oddly enough, my first thought went toward the Scrabble-y entry PROXY, but I never got past the idea of matching point values to clue numbers.)

  17. I’m late to the party here, but I’m surprised nobody (Joon especially) mentioned MGWCC #156, in which solvers had to overlay a Scrabble board on the grid and read off the letters from the spaces corresponding to the TRIPLE WORD SCOREs.

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