MGWCC #499

Crossword 5:17
Meta 2-3 hours 


MGWCC #499 - Cardin - Solution

MGWCC #499 – Cardin – Solution

Laura here, sitting in for Joon, covering a guest puzzle by Nate Cardin, who is sitting in for Matt. I’m super thrilled to be blogging my friend Nate’s puzzle, since much of what I know about solving metas I owe to him!

This week we’re looking for two eight-letter words. I was pretty stumped once I got through the grid, which itself seemed pretty ordinary. Luckily since I didn’t have a perfect record this year, I’ve been exempt from Matt’s request that solvers not collaborate for the last five puzzles of 2017. Buoyed by a brief hint from someone in my solving group, I took another look at the title: “The Sixth Element.” While I have a great regard for the 1997 film The Fifth Element (1997), in which the fifth element is [spoiler alert] the friends we made along the way, I suspected that the element in question here was carbon, element #6 in the periodic table, with the chemical symbol C. I then noticed that all the Cs in the grid were placed symmetrically (noted in red), and that there were eight.

Given that this week’s answer is a pair of eight-letter words, I suspected that the Cs in the grid would somehow lead me to both of them, and they would be related to carbon. Were they on either side of each C? Top and bottom? I tried different combinations, finding a lot of gibberish, before discovering that the first letters of each down entry containing C spell out DIAMONDS (noted in blue), and the first letters of each across entry containing C spell out GRAPHITE (noted in green). What’s particularly cool is that diamonds and graphite are allotropes of carbon; i.e. they are chemically identical, with their molecular structures configurated differently — much like the entries in the grid!

Lovely work, Nate.

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47 Responses to MGWCC #499

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Very nice! I guessed that Sixth Element meant carbon, and I circled the Cs in the grid, but I didn’t find the next step. Great meta, Nate.

  2. Pete says:

    I had the right idea (apparently) but got hung up on one pair of C’s (PACT & HECK) being “not quite” symmetric.
    I should’ve looked past that … darn!

    • Matt says:

      I can’t recall exactly whether I noticed this and thought it didn’t matter so didn’t ask Nate to change, or whether my eye was fooled and I thought they were all symmetrically placed.

      • For what it’s worth, when I found the C’s my eye got completely fooled into thinking they were symmetrical.

        • Matt says:

          I think that’s what happened. They look symmetrically placed, even at second glance. Although it’s Week 4 of 5, so red herrings can fairly exist.

          Nate if you’re here, 1) intentional red herring, 2) thought you had placed them symmetrically, or 3) just trying to get everything to fit, had to be in 8 different regions of the grid, and 3 of the 4 just happened to be symmetrical? I’m guessing 3).

      • The symmetrical counterpart to the C of PACT/MCAT is the E of HECK/LIEU.

        Like I said, I didn’t notice this when I got the a-ha. It’s like an optical illusion.

  3. Lance says:

    I thought about the Cs. Unfortunately, I got distracted by several other things, like the fact that there are six isolated black (carbon?) squares, the letters around one of which can be anagrammed to spell both NICENESS and INCENSES. Or the fact that, symmetrically placed, there are two answers containing LEAD, and two answers containing TIN. Just never got past these things.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks, Laura — 192 correct entries this week. I had guessed 185 for this puzzle and Nate guessed 195, so he wins by 2 entries. Unless we play “Price Is Right” rules, in which case I win both showcases.

    Thanks for the puzzle, Nate — very subtle and elegant, and uses his chemistry knowledge in a way that even non-chemistry-fluent people like myself can appreciate.

  5. Craig says:

    So frustrating. I had all the carbons, but I was completely thrown off by the NNW and MADNESS in the middle. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at the first letters of the words.

    Worse, the red herrings of the LEAD and TIN scattered around the grid — MISLEAD, hardy-har-har — didn’t help matters.

    I have a master’s in chemical engineering, but I still always manage to get tripped up on puzzles involving anything in chemistry.

    How annoying.

  6. Joshua Kosman says:

    Nice puzzle, but there’s one thing I didn’t understand. Like Laura, I was gratified to find that there were eight carbonate C’s in the grid, and that they were symmetrically placed. But my next discovery was unnerving: They’re not symmetrically placed. The C’s in MCAT/PACT and ONCE/HECK are one square off from each other. As a result, I started to wonder whether I’d just stumbled onto a strange coincidence (hey, it happens).

    So my question is: Why? This didn’t seem like a particularly constrained fill (24 required letters out of 191). Wouldn’t it have been relatively simple to place the C’s symmetrically? What am I overlooking here?

    • LauraB says:

      The MCAT/PACT and ONCE/HECK Cs are indeed symmetrical, since the grid has standard crossword rotational symmetry instead of of left/right symmetry. That did throw me off for a moment until I double-checked the placement of the center black squares.

      • pgw says:

        No they’re not

      • Joshua Kosman says:

        They really aren’t. Check again ;-)

      • tabstop says:

        Well, no; the PACT C is three columns in from the edge and the HECK C is two columns in, so they won’t line up with each other. Since I originally also thought they were symmetrical, I decided that the testers had also overlooked it and carried on regardless.

        Granted, that carrying on was mostly trying to make NNW do some kind of duty in the meta, until I just wrote all the words down.

    • Joshua Kosman says:

      So, not to be too curmudgeonly about this, but I’m a little less inclined to shrug off the asymmetry as “just one of those things.” This is not, after all, a puzzle with four big honking long theme entries; it’s in the harder genre of “first, figure out where the theme even is.”

      And one of the key markers in that quest is, “hey, I found something in this grid that is very unlikely to have occurred by chance.” Like, say, all 8 C’s being placed symmetrically. But if you don’t actually have a perfect pattern, then the possibility of random coincidence goes up dramatically and it becomes much harder to feel confident that you’re searching along the right path. It certainly impeded my solve FWIW.

      • Matt says:

        I mostly agree, but I’m curious to hear from Nate whether this did in fact happen coincidentally. It might have, since with this theme idea the eight C’s would need to be in different regions.

        As I mentioned in another comment, it was either 1) intentional red herring 2) he thought he had placed them symmetrically (as I believe I did) 3) total coincidence. It it’s 1) or 3) then he (and I as editor) are (mostly? debate could still legitimately ensue on other questions) off the hook. If it’s 2), then that looks like a ding, since I should have noticed and asked him about it.

      • John says:

        I definitely feel that the “Sixth Element” of the title is plenty guide to the meta and i myself didn’t note the symmetry. I knew they looked placed evenly throughout the grid but figured that was necessary to get all the acrosses and downs working together. If the initial toehold was only vaguely hinted at, I think symmetry might be critical. In this case, not.

      • tabstop says:

        I think one of the reasons it didn’t slow me down much is that some large percentage of themes/metas are across-only, and even though the C’s themselves aren’t symmetric, the across answers are (and a lot of times that’s all that’s there). By the time I realized that the Down answers were important, I was basically already there so the asymmetry didn’t re-occur to me.

  7. Stephen McFly says:

    I too got hung up on LEAD and TIN presence in grid. If you Google LEAD, TIN and CARBON – they are all part of the same column in the periodic table (the “IV Group”) and I could not let it go. Seemed too coincidental. Alas…

    On to #500!

  8. bwouns says:

    So TIN and LEAD had nothing to do with it? How MISLEADing.
    They are in the same column as Carbon on the periodic table, so there’s that.

  9. pgw says:

    Who gave this one star and why?

  10. Paul Coulter says:

    I, too, was convinced the solution must involve lead and tin. Otherwise the two leads are dupes. I was convinced a constructor of Nate’s quality wouldn’t do this, and that Matt wouldn’t allow it if he had. The symmetricity of the two crossing pairs supported this, leaving XTINA looking for a partner as the “sixth” element. Now that I see the solution, I do like the technique.

  11. Ajk says:

    Huh. Not sure how I didn’t get this. As a chemist, the title obviously led to carbon (though I was a bit wary that it did so too obviously), and I noted that there were 8. And I swear I looked at first letters of those words. Lol. Oh well. :)
    Pretty sure I’m 0-for-2 on metas constructed by fellow chemists. :)

  12. Jim S. says:

    Saw a lot of what everyone else saw – near symmetry, multiple ‘lead’ entries – and nearly stumbled into it. I took ‘leadins’ to imply the entire set of letters preceding each ‘c’ – many more than 8 letters, so never dug further with that :(

    While the entries with ‘lead’ seem to force a ‘leed’ pronunciation, I next took them to be a reference to the element. ‘Mislead’ and ‘leadins’ pointed me to graphite (it’s ‘fake’ lead and takes its place in writing implements), and since carbon is in graphite, I submitted ‘graphite molecule’. Half right!

  13. Amy L says:

    I first googled Nate and, when I found he is a chemistry teacher, I googled carbon. I then found some interesting diagrams of carbon molecules and I suspected a visual element to the answer, especially with the one pair of asymmetrical Cs. I was going to submit “graphite molecule” when GRAPHITE popped out at me. Then I quickly found the DIAMONDS. I would never have solved this without the little science lesson from google.

    Great puzzle.

    • Small Wave Dave says:

      I think I recall reading that the chemist who determined the structure of the benzene molecule figured it out in a fever dream where C’s and H’s were dancing around and finally joined hands in a ring.
      That’s also my meta solving technique of last resort!

      On this one I started writing the across & down “C” entries in two columns and was delirious to see GRAPHITE and DIAMONDS crystallizing before my eyes. Shrugged off the imperfect symmetry and never had time to be distracted by LEAD and TIN.
      I liked the puzzle.

      • ajk says:

        The story was that Kekulé had a day dream about a snake catching its tail, which inspired his suggestion that it should be a ring. Unsurprisingly, the evidence for the story seems thin (he also didn’t quite get the correct final answer, but pretty close).

  14. Nate says:

    Nate (constructor) here. I’ll candidly admit that the asymmetrical C was an oversight. (I had four people check it over and none of us caught that – apologies!) The LEAD and TIN bits were also fill based on what I needed to make things as un-DICY as possible – again, unintentional.

    That said, I’ve learned the hard way that metas are always full of fruitless rabbitholes – almost always unintentional. Writing metas and having them solved by hundreds of people has certainly given me more appreciation for others’ metas and for how tough it is to make a solid one – the constructor can try to minimize rabbitholes or confusion as much as possible and yet hundreds of brilliant solvers will still find patterns or connections that weren’t at all intended. Should I have caught LEAD? Probably, but as one other commenter mentioned, it’s pronounced differently so it didn’t click as the element. I can’t see what I can’t see – that usually means I can’t see the right way to solve a certain meta (early hello to the upcoming week 5!), but it also means I can’t see or predict other people’s rabbit holes. This isn’t a defense, rather just something learned along the way. Rabbit holes are par for the course in metas, and I promise never to grumble about them in Gaffney’s puzzles again! :) Again, apologies for anyone who stumbled into an unintentional rabbit hole in my grid.

    I’m pleased that nearly 200 people got the meta correct, though, so I’m comforted that the red herrings weren’t a dealbreaker. Thank you everyone for solving! It genuinely means so much.

    • Matt says:

      Great comment, thanks. The asymmetry is my responsibility as editor; I should have caught it and asked Nate to fix. I think I saw the LEADs as well but thought they must be an intentional red herring? Not sure, crazy week that led up to this. Either way, those issues are my responsibility to flag and fix so my apologies to Nate and solvers for that.

      • Matt says:

        Although I should add that, as Nate mentioned, 192 solvers did get the correct answer, which is even a bit high for a Week 4/5. So none of the red herrings were dealbreakers, and since they weren’t intentional…hmm, a bit conflicted here, if you can’t tell. I guess if I had it to do over I would have removed one of the LEADs, but then wouldn’t the single LEAD stick out anyway, along with the TIN? As Nate mentioned, you can’t remove every possible wrong path.

        • Pomona47 says:

          What would be the point of the puzzle if you DID remove every possible wrong path? Half the fun of the metas is finding the right rabbit hole, especially in these later weeks. For me, finding the answer would be far less satisfying if there were only one possible path to follow from the beginning.

          Great puzzle, Nate! I thoroughly enjoyed the solve.

          Happy Holidays to all of the writers and solvers, and best of luck in the upcoming week 5 (shudder)!

      • Nate says:

        I should clarify that LEADINS wasn’t a red herring – it was a hint that solvers should look at the leadins to each word containing C.

        • Matthew G. says:

          Well, it wouldn’t have been a red herring if it had been the only appearance of LEAD in the grid.

          That is not a complaint. Red herrings are fair game.

    • Bill Katz says:

      I also noticed that a large number of across grid entries started with two-letter element abbreviations. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it was pleasant to notice after it had been disregarded as important to the solution.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, the fact that both 1-A and 1-D start with “AU” was the second-biggest red herring in the grid, after the LEAD and TIN repetitions.

  15. Bob says:

    All eight C’s could have been placed symmetrically, although with lesser fill:
    instead of

    All of the replacement entries have appeared in A-list crosswords. One entry some might question, SAPHO, was clued as [Massenet opera based on a Daudet novel] in Arthur Schulman’s 9/17/2009 NYT. No worse than DICY! :-)

    BTW, I had to chuckle at the repetition of LEAD in the symmetrically-opposite MISLEAD and LEADINS; cluing MISLEAD as [Dupe] is a masterstroke!

  16. Garrett says:

    I am astounded that no one has mentioned the five elements in the first row:



    This makes SI the fifth element. So the question for me was, what is the sixth? Is it U in the next row, or AT (Astatine)? I is single letter, so I decided AT must be tight. The problem is that there are not 8 AT formations in the grid.

    So now the devil creeps into this meta as I realize the U in AU could be the second element, and look — there is I (Iodine) hiding in SI!

    Then I went for a walk and asked myself, “How many Cs?”

    And Bingo was his name-o

    • Garrett says:

      I’ve edited the “I is single letter, so I decided AT must be tight” line three times now with no success. It should read:

      U is a single letter, so AT must be right.

  17. John says:

    I get the symmetry issue, but not the “red herring” problem. I too noted the 2 LEADs and TIN and briefly tried to see if that might point somewhere, found it didn’t, and moved on, as i have done a hundred times before. If that is a reason to fret about the quality of a puzzle, I have a lot of ratings to go back and adjust! :v)

  18. Dogpole says:

    Great meta, and the second week in a row when I thought “how did I not get this one?”
    Week 3 = 3 red herrings equation seems to be holding up.

  19. Eric Conrad says:

    Three tins and two leads make SOLDER (which is 60/40 tin/lead). Then I tried to join (solder) words together. That is the most signal I have ever seen for a dead-end rabbit hole.

    I also noticed the first five acrosses began with element symbols (as Garrett did).

    This one was *much* easier if you missed those, and went via the 6th element and eight (non-symmetric) C’s. Unfortunately: I went deep into those rabbit holes before backing up and working the carbon angle.

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