MGWCC #487

crossword 6:07
meta 30 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #487 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Long and Short of It”. for this week 5 puzzle, matt tells us that we are looking for a three-letter name. okay. what are the theme answers? there’s a lot going on in this 19×19 puzzle, but for starters, there are seven long across answers with parenthetical numbers in the clues:

  • {Chemical element discovered in 1964 (4)} RUTHERFORDIUM.
  • {Zodiac sign for Britney Spears and Ben Stiller (3)} SAGITTARIUS. i don’t know when their birthdays are or when in the year this sign might be.
  • {Best Director winner for “Gandhi” [this one’s a tie] (7)} ATTENBOROUGH, who won for gandhi. richard, that is. his brother david is also quite famous (life, planet earth, etc.)
  • {Month when you might be solving this (6)} SEPTEMBER. indeed, i solved it in september, although it’s now october.
  • {Current U.S governor of Colorado (1)} john HICKENLOOPER. i hadn’t heard of him.
  • {Best Supporting Actor winner for 1937’s “The Life of Emile Zola” (5)} joseph SCHILDKRAUT. nor him.
  • {Color in a Crayola Classic 16-pack named for a flower (2)} CARNATION PINK.

in addition, there were seven more short answers with *ed clues:

  • {Reversible magazine*} ELLE.
  • {It’s often epic*} FAIL.
  • {Arizona city*} YUMA.
  • {Taunt*} GIBE.
  • {Pose a challenge to*} DARE.
  • {Only*} SOLE.
  • {Suggestion*} HINT.

so what’s going on? let’s look at the long theme answers first—and that’s very apt, because they are long. in fact, each one is the longest member of a particular canonical set. which set? the set defined by the start of each clue:

  • the {Chemical element} with the longest name is RUTHERFORDIUM.
  • the longest {Zodiac sign} is SAGITTARIUS.
  • the longest {Best Director winner [this one’s a tie]} surname is ATTENBOROUGH. why the tie? michel hazanavicius, who won for the artist, is also 12 letters.
  • the {Month} with the longest name is SEPTEMBER.
  • the {Current U.S governor} with the longest name is HICKENLOOPER. now you know why the clue says “U.S.”, because otherwise {Current governor of Colorado} would certainly identify hickenlooper.
  • the longest {Best Supporting Actor winner} surname is SCHILDKRAUT.
  • and the longest {Color in a Crayola Classic 16-pack} is CARNATION PINK.

so far, so good. but from the title, we also need “the short of it”. what are the shortest members of each set? as it happens, they’re all three letters. putting them into the order specified by the parenthetical numbers:

  1. current u.s. governor: david IGE, of hawaii
  2. color in a crayola classic 16-pack: RED
  3. zodiac sign: LEO
  4. chemical element: TIN
  5. best supporting actor winner: mahershala ALI, the most recent winner (for moonlight)
  6. month: MAY
  7. best director winner: ang LEE

we’re almost there! actually, not quite, but the next step is pretty clear. remember all those *ed clues? each led to a 4-letter answer, and each of those 4-letter answers matches up with one of these three-letter shortests, by adding a single letter (and anagramming):

  1. GIBE = IGE + B.
  2. DARE = RED + A.
  3. SOLE = LEO + S.
  4. HINT = TIN + H.
  5. FAIL = ALI + F.
  6. YUMA = MAY + U.
  7. ELLE = LEE + L.

those extra letters spell out BASHFUL. that’s not a three-letter name, so it can’t be the meta answer—there’s one more step. bashful is, of course, also a member of a canonical set—the seven dwarfs from snow white and the seven dwarfs. (does anybody remember mgwcc #002?) and, of course, it’s the longest dwarf name. the shortest is doc, and that’s the meta answer.

this is a jaw-droppingly intricate and beautiful meta. there are so many steps, and yet each step is clearly hinted/implied once you get there. every step of this puzzle was a joy to solve. five stars.

it’s been quite a weekend for matt. this puzzle, the equally wonderful wsj meta, and most importantly—he’s now a dad! congratulations to matt and his wife kristin! let us know when the kid starts writing metas, will you?

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35 Responses to MGWCC #487

  1. Justin says:

    This is excellent, I wasn’t even close. Week 5, amiright?

  2. Rosebud says:

    Congratulations Matt!

  3. Jim S. says:

    Unbelievable meta! I never got close, but it’s very elegant and the layering is very impressive. 5 stars from me.

    Ironically, my 9 year old was trying to list all seven dwarfs this weekend and she couldn’t remember Doc!

  4. Amy L says:

    An amazing meta. I can’t believe so many people solved it. (I didn’t even know where to begin.)

    Congrats, Matt. Post a picture of the little one sometime so we can ooh and aah.

  5. John says:

    Wow! I knew this was going to be complicated and after missing last week, i didn’t have the drive to roll up the sleeves. I figured out step one, but didn’t immediately think to look in the same category for the short and instead thought the *ed clues pointed to the short of it. Ah, well. When that fizzled out, so did I. But the biggest thing I take from this is:

    CONGRATS, MATT!! All the best to you and Kristen!

  6. MountainManZach says:

    This means that the heir apparent will have just turned 10 when the last MGWCC drops. The perfect moment to pass along the family business.

  7. Evad says:

    Talk about rabbit holes with this one! I first assumed we were looking for long and short vowels and then I hit upon Morse Code today, and what’s funny ATTENBOROUGH in Morse Code actually has 15 dots and 15 dashes (a tie! Same for CARNATION PINK, tho.) Just couldn’t figure out how the short entries fit in.

    September and Sagittarius being the 9th of a sequence of 12 is also another (I guess) unintended trap. I thought the number crayons in the pack of 16 had import as well, I suppose now in retrospect it’s because there are longer color names in the larger packs?

    Anyway, an incredible meta and glad I was able to solve it just under the wire.

    • Lance says:

      I also went through “vowels” and “morse code”! I ended up stuck on this for a long time, and it wasn’t until last night, as I was staring at it trying to see if there were short ways to express some of the entries (“Sep”? “John”? “Rf”?), that something clicked for me. I’m not even sure I could recreate the thought process at this point.

      • dbardolph says:

        I didn’t try the long and short vowels, because it seemed too much like last week, sort of. And I’m deeply thankful that I didn’t hit on the Morse Code idea – no telling how many hours that would have cost me.

        • LuckyGuest says:

          I too looked at the long/short vowel sounds, but decide Matt wouldn’t do one so close to the “macron” meta. Then I tried the Morse Code angle, hoping that the long/short (dash/dot) codes for the *’d words could be parsed differently and show up as a 3-5 letter sequence in the enumerated acrosses, which, when put in the correct order, would ask the/a meta question. Got pretty excited when I found that the Morse code sequence for “GIBE” could be reparsed as /GUES/… but it never got better than that. Looked at it the next morning with a fresh brain and got it. 5 stars for sure.

  8. ajk says:

    Wow. Didn’t have time to work on this one. Now kinda wishing that’d I tried before looking it up. Impressive!

  9. Mutman says:

    I had no shot. Just a dismal 1-5 month.

    But my wild guess of ‘ART’ feels good because this was certainly a work of art!

    Great job Matt and congratulations on your first child!

  10. Joe says:

    Great puzzle! IMHO, this month’s puzzles ranked in difficulty: 3, 4, 5, 2, 1

  11. Jared Dashoff says:

    I got September and May, Carnation Pink and Red, and Rutherfordium and Tin all on Friday night. However, Friday evening was also Kol Nidre, so by the time I had left work, filled in the grid, eaten, and gone to services, I was noting the holiday by not using the internet/technology. First step after the end of Yom Kippur? Forget getting dinner, I was looking up U.S. governors!

  12. Toby says:

    After trying something like a thousand things, I figured it out enough to get to BASHFUL, so of course the short version of BASHFUL is SHY…I checked and found enough people with first name SHY to be really really confident of my answer… Oh well….

  13. bwouns says:

    Mahershalalhashbaz Ali is literally the long and short of it. I’m not going to bother to look it up to confirm.

    Dwarves are short.

  14. Craig Mazin says:

    My god. I was a million miles away. Beautiful meta there.

  15. Richard Kalustian says:

    I was nowhere near solving this one, but I think it may be one of my favorite metas — elegant, surprising, but super-logical! As soon as I read Joon’s comment about the longest member of a canonical set, it all dropped into place.

    Congratulations on the new baby, Matt! Thanks for all the puzzling enjoyment you’ve given us for several years.

  16. Mike W says:

    Brilliant puzzle – the epitome of an outstanding difficult meta. Very intricate, very challenging with all of the information needed in plain sight using very familiar (or at least very Google searchable) groups. All combined with an elegant puzzle (seven letter name that aligns with the Seven Dwarfs) and a new solving twist made this my favorite Gaffney meta of the year!

  17. Matthew G. says:

    I’m guessing we’ll see a lot more two a.m. updates to the Leaderboard in the months ahead.

    Congratulations, Matt!

  18. azmat says:

    Congrats Matt on multiple 5-star creations this week. (Add the WSJ to the MGWCC and the MKBABY)

    Work project has kept me away from many puzzles recently, but was able to put some time in this week, which was so worth it!

  19. spotcatbug says:

    OMG. That is incredible. Really. Hardly even seems possible to construct such a thing. I’m kind of glad I gave up early. Halfway through all that I would have been absolutely sure I was deep into some crazy, dead end rabbit hole. Although, I must say, I would have LOVED to have solved that one. Gaffney is a genius.

    Have to disagree about this week’s WSJ meta, though. One star from me.

  20. pannonica says:

    I wonder if M Gaffney ever takes cues from reported failed approaches, for use in future metas.

  21. BarbaraK says:

    This is Matt’s first? I’d assumed that that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles puzzle meant he had children.


  22. Abby Braunsdorf says:

    I did not have the time to dedicate to this that I’d’ve needed to get to the finish, but I should’ve got farther than I did. While the lists of months, dwarfs, zodiac signs, and colors are all things most people know enough to noodle out, the other ones need a bit much reference material for my taste. (And this is from someone who keeps a local copy of the IMDb to do elaborate searches on.)

    “Long” and “short” weren’t enough to get me there (I got caught up first on abbreviations and then on vowels like a lot of other people), but any reference to a superlative might have been. I need to be a lot more careful when my days off line up with late-month MGWCCs, I guess.

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