MGWCC #485

crossword 2:52
meta 3 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #485 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “See Span”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt tells us that we are looking for a fitting 10-letter adverb. simple enough. what are the theme answers?

… once again, answering this question was the key to solving the meta. sure, there are some long answers, and yes, they turned out to be theme answers, … but. well, it’s a starting point, anyway. here they are:

  • {Televised emergency broadcast, sometimes} STORM WARNING.
  • {“From Dusk Till Dawn” star} GEORGE CLOONEY.
  • {Metropolis frequently discovered throughout crosswords} ESSEN, GERMANY.

notice the weird wording on that last clue? why “discovered”? that seems striking, doesn’t it?

i’ll tell you what else seemed striking: the clue {Go “Is it OK?” or “Is Mr. Ed on TV?”} for ENQUIRE. in the first place, those are two totally arbitrary questions. (in the second place, it’s usually INQUIRE, with ENQUIRE as the variant, but that’s not especially relevant.) in the third place, and most relevantly, that entire clue is made up of two-letter words. is that interesting? in fact, there are ten across clues consisting entirely of words of the same length, all at least four words long. here they are, in order from 1 to 10:

  1. {Á, Í, Ó, y Ñ} LETRAS. i was a little surprised to see the spanish word for “letters” show up here. yes, it’s a cognate, but that’s still a weird fill answer. ah, but it turns out it’s not fill at all, but theme.
  2. {Go “Is it OK?” or “Is Mr. Ed on TV?”} ENQUIRE.
  3. {“The Old Man and the Sea,” for one} NOVEL. ish. i’d call it a novella, for sure, but i’ll let it slide. these distinctions are never quite as clean as one might like.
  4. {“From Dusk Till Dawn” star} GEORGE CLOONEY. nifty. all’s well that ends well also contains only four-letter words, although perhaps the apostrophe is a flaw.
  5. {Sweet baked items often using fruit} TARTS. another strange wording that was a tip-off.
  6. {United States Senate member Kamala} HARRIS. this one, too. “senator” would be the normal way to say “senate member”.
  7. {Doctors Without Borders locales, usually} WAR ZONES.
  8. {Anterior cruciate ligament problems} INJURIES. another clue that’s overspecific enough to catch the eye during a solve.
  9. {Televised emergency broadcast, sometimes} STORM WARNING.
  10. {Metropolis frequently discovered throughout crosswords} ESSEN, GERMANY.

taking the first letters of these ten answers in order spells out LENGTHWISE, which indeed could not be more apt.

lovely meta—i quickly progressed from “well *that’s* weird” to “aha!” and then the rest of the rest of the solve was a delightful rush.

bits & pieces:

  • {Weak, as an excuse} THIN. erik agard (and others, but primarily erik, at least in my case) has brought my attention to the troubling use of clues like this for the entry LAME. i’ve certainly been guilty of it in the past, and even patrick berry did it last weekend. and i had the sinking feeling this was going to be LAME again, so it was a pleasant surprise when it turned out not to be. constructors, how about just deleting (or at least downgrading) LAMER and LAMEST from your word list? we could all try to be less ableist.
  • {Amusing comic Megan} AMRAM. she is indeed amusing. have we seen her name in a puzzle before? i do not think i have. it’s a fairly tough corner down there next to SCARNE and ARNICA, all crossing kamala HARRIS. (at least it wasn’t KAMALA in the grid.)
  • {Newspaper with a weekly contest xword} WSJ. sly plug, matt. this clue comes very close to breaking the fourth wall, as does {“Undercover High” channel, if you write it out like nobody ever does} A AND E.
  • {“Darn it!”} RATS. sorry to overshare, but we cleaned our basement last weekend and found out that yes, someone has indeed been stealing our socks. darn it, indeed.
  • {Golfer Vijay Singh, e.g.} FIJIAN. okay, wise guy, name another one. i double-dog dare you.
  • {She dethroned Jennings on “Jeopardy!”} nancy ZERG. whoa. is this trivia that everybody remembers? she’s certainly part of jeopardy! lore, but wow. i’d clue this as the starcraft race, not that everybody will know that one either.

that’s all i’ve got. how’d you like this one?

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37 Responses to MGWCC #485

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 190 right answers this week.

    Test-solver and I came up with some absurd ideas for the two-letter clue. I think the best was “Is it OK if Li Na or Mr. Ed is on TV?”

    I was going to use “All’s Well That Ends Well” for the four-letter clue but there’s no major character that starts with G. Was very pleased to find G. Clooney as the star of this one, and got lucky with the H on the Kamala Harris clue.

  2. Diana says:

    I didn’t get this one. I recall a few weeks ago he said he wouldn’t be doing a counting slog puzzle for awhile. I did learn that “preceder” is not a word recognized by dictionaries, so I went down that rabbit hole for awhile.

  3. Diana says:

    I failed at this. I recall a few weeks ago he said he wouldn’t be doing a counting slog puzzle for awhile. I did learn that “preceder” is not a word recognized by dictionaries, so I went down that rabbit hole for awhile.

  4. Martin Davis says:

    Argh. There are 10 clues that reference movies or television shows (22A, 29A, 35A, 60A, 6D, 9D, 20D, 27D, 28D, 36D). Of course these are things you can “See,” and I could not get away from this. I “Span”ned all the clues and answers in every permutation I could think of.

    I’m kinda glad I was down the wrong track entirely so I know I didn’t have it just out of grasp.

  5. pannonica says:

    This is a (fancy) LAME:

    (see sense 4 at

  6. Amy L says:

    I’m not sure I understand why it’s called “See Span.” (I am sure I was nowhere near getting this.)

    • joon says:

      “span” is a synonym for length. you’re supposed to see the length-related hints in the clues.

      • Jimmy L. says:

        imho, a bit of a stretch

        • Kaille says:

          I was stuck on the movie/book/tv angle for a LONG time. Then I got stuck trying to do something with all of the adverbs – for TWO DAYS. (Helpful hint – if you’ve been working a fruitless angle for two days, perhaps it’s time to regroup.) I can’t tell you how much time I spent on this puzzle before I noticing the word length in some of the clues. I was pretty much ready to give up last night before I gave it another go. I owe my solve to a friend who told me to let go of the adverb angle.

          • Kaille says:

            The above was supposed to be a reply to whoever posted about the tv/movie/book angle. Not sure how the post ended up here. Anyway, in case anyone might be wondering why I’m talking about that in this thread, that’s why.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Even after I solved the meta, I found that the title gave less of a click than most MGWCC titles do. But I think it works: in order to solve the meta, you have to see the “span” (i.e., the length) of the words in each of the theme clues.

  7. Personally I wouldn’t delete or downgrade LAMER as that can at least be clued as the Debussy composition, but I take the point about avoiding ableist language.

  8. dbardolph says:

    Loved it. I saw the oddly-worded clues, and it did occur to me that when Matt words his clues oddly, it usually means something – but then I filed that idea and went off in lots of other directions. The click, when it finally happened last night, was probably loud enough to wake the neighbors.

  9. Joe says:

    I noticed it was a pangram save the X. I was X-ing all over the damn place looking for diagonal “spans” and refused to go anywhere else.

  10. Eric says:

    I was hopelessly distracted by finding 10 adverbs in wordy clues that were time (span) related including two in 52A alone.

  11. Garrett says:

    I think the method of identifying the theme clues is brilliant, but I did not twig onto it. Maybe if the title were merely “Span,” I might have thought about length. Where my mind went was to the “See” part. First thing I thought of was CSPAN, and then I thinking that “See” was phonetic for the letter C. This had me looking at the Wiki Alphabet

    I was thus looking for things like bee, cee, dee and em, en, oh, ar… etc. There are things like that in the grid, but I could not make it go anywhere.

    As for the weirdness of the clues for the theme answers, I think I have become inured to some of the MGWCC odd clues. Here’s one: “Undercover High” channel, if you write it out like nobody ever does.

    The clue for LETRAS did not strike me as odd in any way — only the word LETRAS itself struck me as odd. The clue for ENQUIRE seemed no stranger than the one for AandE.

    I did make a pass through the clues looking for anything strange, and the only one that really made me stare at it for a while was {Metropolis frequently discovered throughout crosswords}, but as this pointed at ESSENGERMANY (which was an obvious theme fill) I just chalked it up to another odd clue.

    I hate to admit it, but this is three out of three for me this month (that I did not get). Quite embarrassing, actually.

  12. Rosebud says:

    I took the first letter from LETRAS the second from ENQUIRE the third from NOVEL, etc., and got gobbledygook. Took me a while to realize I was over thinking it.

    • pgw says:

      I don’t think you were overthinking it – this is what I wanted the mechanism to be also. (Though I was prepared for it not to be and was ready to check first letters if the more elegant method didn’t pan out)

  13. Clint Hepner says:

    I also got hung up on “see” as a phonetic spelling for C, along with Essen/SN and Ziti/ZT

  14. jefe says:

    Ooh, that’s good. Wish I’d been able to figure it out!

    There was enough esoteric fill in the grid that the theme clues (which were generally fairly naturally constructed!) didn’t stand out at all.

  15. Jon says:

    This one took me until Sunday morning to figure out. I’m just not there with Joon or a lot of y’all when it comes to being able to spot or notice unusual wordings in the clues. To me, as still a relatively new crossword solver, I still see the wordings to clues as creative or artistic license. So taking extra words to say something doesn’t activate my Spidey-sense at all. Using “senate member” to say “Senator”? Seemed fine to me. Using “metropolis” instead of “city” also seemed typical.

    Rabbit holes I went down before I saw the same word lengths thing: patterns around the letters C in the grid (C-SPAN to See Span); hidden words spanning the theme entries; pairs of words used in the clues (city was used twice; cover and discovered; closer and close; etc). Then the C- turning into See made me think about words that were abbreviated and spelled out, like TV and Televised or xword and crossword.

    Then Span made me think of bridges or arches and parenthesis could be considered those. And “(Carell)” was just sitting out there and I as SURE that was an odd wording in a clue. So I checked all the words in the parentheses. I even looked for a pattern in the words after commas.

    Maybe if I keep doing more crosswords, I can someday notice those so-called unusual choices in clue writing to help me out in week 3 and above metas. I mean, it still takes me about 30 minutes to complete the fill and a lot of the time I have to give up and turn to Google to figure out entries. How anyone can solve a grid and the meta in under 10 minutes is still mind boggling to me.

    Which makes me inquire, how can you practice or work on speed solving? Is there some sort of online tutorial that helps or points out tricks of the trade for people that would like to try to solve their puzzles faster?

    • Jim S. says:

      Ditto your sentiments about clue-based metas… at some point, I’ll say to myself, “Ya know, nothing in the grid is clicking – why not look at the clues?” However, I’m still not there after a couple years of MGWCCs – call it idiocy, stubbornness, laziness, who knows? I just rarely make that leap, and as a non-constructor I’m not sure I’d catch many of the clue oddities.

      Nothing against the meta here – it was very solid and I felt it was fair for a week 3. I’m just not meta-evolved enough yet to solve this kind. Maybe I’m still a single- or double-A meta solver looking to improve enough to reach the big leagues some day!

    • “Which makes me inquire, how can you practice or work on speed solving?”

      You sorta answered your own question — the best way to get faster at solving puzzles is to practice. Just solve a bunch of puzzles. Solve many different kinds, from crosswords in newspapers to independent outlets like MGWCC. Perhaps purchase a crossword book or two and work through those. You may not notice improvement in solving speed immediately, but over time it does happen.

      One other thing you could do is to try constructing crosswords. When I first tried it, I don’t think I could have consistently finished any Thursday-level or harder NYT puzzle. But after several months of attempting grids and looking at clue databases over and over, I noticed I was getting better at recognizing common letter patterns and clues that show up repeatedly. My solving ability and speed improved somewhat dramatically, too, since I could consistently finish Saturday NYT puzzles about a year later.

      • Jon says:

        How do you even go about constructing a crossword? I can see how coming up with a theme is the easy part. But then how do you select the grid layout? And don’t constructors use programs to help them with their fills?

        Isn’t there a way to study the consonant/vowel patterns of crosswords without getting into constructing puzzles?

        Evan, what crossword making program do you use?

        • “How do you even go about constructing a crossword?”

          Too complicated for a single comment, but I’d highly recommend buying the “Crossword Constructor’s Handbook” by Patrick Berry if you want to start building puzzles.

          “I can see how coming up with a theme is the easy part.”

          On the contrary — coming up with a theme is the hard part. Though there are some well-worn, simple kinds of themes that have been done probably thousands of times (i.e. add the letter T to phrases, change an M to a P, etc), editors are always looking for original themes with clever execution.

          “Isn’t there a way to study the consonant/vowel patterns of crosswords without getting into constructing puzzles?”

          You can examine grids after you’ve solved them, or look up answer keys on Crossword Fiend or in books or in puzzle databases like Xwordinfo. Even just commenting on crossword blogs like this one can help you retain info from a puzzle you’ve solved.

          “Evan, what crossword making program do you use?”

          Crossword Compiler. That’s the standard for PC users. For Mac, it’s CrossFire.

  16. Marc says:

    Uncharacteristically terrible dupe at 32D/52D in the same column sidetracked me for a while.

  17. Abby Braunsdorf says:

    I got hung up twice because of the title. First, I saw TRAM with CAR below it and tried to “Span” over some more black squares. Fortunately, that didn’t really pay off. Then I tried to use words that sounded like letters (“See”), but they really don’t spell anything. Then I looked at the clues and got it.

    This was a week where I was out of the office on Friday, so I solved on my phone. That makes it much harder to study the clues than the grid. If I’d hit the page quicker, I probably would’ve got it a lot faster.

  18. Jim S. says:

    I had a couple very false starts – lots of ‘IN’ in the upper middle, lots of ‘SE’ in the southwest, a circle of ‘SENSE’ in the SW, the M above the black square over the ‘E’ in ESSEN which spanned to spell out MESSENGER,… Enough there for me to spin my wheels and never consider the clues.

  19. Matthew G. says:

    In a bizarre coincidence, the day after this puzzle’s submission period closed, Jeopardy had a category called “SEE ‘SPAN.’”

  20. Heather Kennedy says:

    So, I took “See” and “Span” and connected the “C”s that appear in the boxes. If you connect them in a dot-to-dot fashion, they look almost exactly like the lower-case Greek letter Lambda. Upon googling uses for that symbol, I found the main usage is to denote “wavelength.” Which led to me trying to find an appropriate 10-letter adverb. Which went nowhere. But it seemed like it was going to work because a wavelength is the “span,” often of light you can “see.”

    Ugh. Rabbit holes. Never came close to seeing the length of the clues. Still getting used to this meta thing. I don’t know all of your tricks yet.

    • Heather Kennedy says:

      This is all to say that I could have potentially stumbled into LENGTHWISE, just because I was working off of WAVELENGTH. Which would have been very weird.

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