MGWCC #512

crossword 3:25
meta 8 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #512 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Triple Play”. for this week 4 puzzle, we were looking for a well-known group of three. okay. what are the theme answers?

  • {Courtesies granted at intersections} PITTSBURGH LEFTS. as ben zimmer has noted, what you call it depends on where you’re from.
  • {Home to some cute critters} CHIPMUNK NEST.
  • {Some jazz quartet members} TENOR SAXOPHONES.
  • {Where the rent is $4} BALTIC AVENUE (in monopoly).
  • {The original pie} NEAPOLITAN PIZZA.

the first step in what turns out to be a rather intricate meta: each theme answer’s first word refers to a well-known group of three:

  • PITTSBURGH has the three rivers (ohio, monongahela, allegheny)
  • the CHIPMUNKs (alvin, simon, theodore)
  • the three TENORs (pavarotti, domingo, carreras)
  • the three BALTIC states (latvia, lithuania, estonia). hey, STATES is also a monopoly avenue. that’s kinda neat.
  • the three flavors of NEAPOLITAN ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry)

no problem there, i hope, for most of you. the next step was probably the trickiest: the initials for each of these five trios were represented in the grid by a three-letter entry:

  • {He met with Nixon} MAO. monongahela, ohio, allegheny.
  • {Sgt. Hank Voight’s employer, on an NBC show} CPD. i don’t even know, but i’m guessing this is chicago police department? anyway, this one can also stand for carreras, pavarotti, and domingo.
  • {Chain with pharmacies} CVS. chocolate, vanilla, strawberry.
  • {Wing} ELL. estonia, latvia, lithuania.
  • {Took a chair} SAT. simon, alvin, theodore.

so that’s pretty slick, but we’re not done yet. the next step is to notice that these five three-letter answers occupy symmetric across positions in the grid… except that SAT, the very last entry in the puzzle at 73-across, has no symmetric partner in the theme.

or does it? the answer at 1-across, in a corner not highly constrained by the theme, is {868 years ago} MCL. (frankly, i would have rather seen the ligament clued here; with steph curry’s recent injury, it would be very timely.) taking the next logical step, then, if we treat this as another theme answer, then there must be another famous group of three whose initials are M, C, and L.

and indeed there is: the three stooges, who in their most famous lineup consisted of moe howard, curly howard, and larry fine. there may well be an acceptable alternative answer to this; i have not attempted exhaustively to think of one. (if it had been the more famous knee ligament, the ACL, we could have had the three fates from greek mythology: atropos, clotho, and lachesis. i’m all about the highbrow over the lowbrow, but even i’ll admit that the stooges are more famous.)

this is another grade-A, five-star meta by matt. i loved the intricacy of the construction and the clarity of the solving path, with several aha moments along the way. (on a selfish level, i also got a confidence boost seeing my name atop the leaderboard heading into acpt weekend.) some of the fill was a little bit strained due to the requirement of five long and six short theme answers, totaling 87 squares, but even that was handled with considerable aplomb. the areas of the grid where three theme entries are stacked of necessity are actually remarkably free of junk.

that’s all i’ve got for this week. great to see many of you in stamford last weekend, and i’m looking forward to week 5. you?

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22 Responses to MGWCC #512

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Sigh. By Friday evening, I had found the groups of three in the theme entries and had also found the three-letter abbreviations of them in the grid. But somehow, even with the extra day, I never figured out where to go from there–even though it was just a pure symmetry thing.

    2018 just has not been my year when it comes to MGWCC!

  2. ajk says:

    Huh. Had the groups of 3 and the 3 letter words in the grid within half an hour. Never got the last piece, despite explicitly considering symmetry. Guess I need to work on my symmetry.

    Not 100% sure I’d have gotten to the Stooges, as I did spend some time trying to parse MCL, OOO, and ITR when I was thinking horizontal 3s might be special. Maybe a more clear focus on MCL would have gotten me over the hump though. :)

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    As Joon notes, the correct first step was clear almost immediately. For me, the next two steps also fell easily and I quickly identified MCL as the answer’s likely initials. But from there, I found this one fairly annoying. I searched for over an hour for some trio it could be until I finally hit on the search technique I should have used in the first place. Entering “three *” on OneLook’s search box produces Three Stooges right in the pop-down list as one of the most common examples. “Why I oughtta…” I exclaimed, poking myself in the eye, then delivering a knuckle sandwich right in the old kisser.

  4. dbardolph says:

    Nailed it, in under an hour. Five minutes after I sent in the wrong answer. I hate myself.

  5. B Hamren says:


    I noticed your name at the top of the leaderboard with a time of 12:13. Mine usually arrive in my mailbox around 12:30. This week it was early at 12:19. I always think it is funny that by the time I get mine, there are already people on the leaderboard.

    But then I am at work and not available (usually) to do my puzzles until the evening so I am not trying to be first anyway. I did this one for the first time on my phone during an afternoon meeting using Puzzazz. First time I have used the app. I think better with paper so I printed out the PDF later and copied my answers. Once I colored in CVS (the most obvious one) ELL, etc. it became clear that MCL was the missing one. I didn’t think it would be OOO. This led easily to the Three Stooges.

    I was quite happy to solve a week 4 for the first time! All set for week 5 (even though I missed week 1 this week for the first time).

  6. Norm H says:

    When you can’t even get to the first step — identifying groups of three in the theme answers — you’re not nearly as good at this meta thing as you would like to believe.
    — Me, to the mirror, just now

    • sharkicicles says:

      I always find the first step is the hardest. Most of the time, if I get the first step I figure it out. This was not one of those times.

  7. tabstop says:

    The fact that there were three remaining three-letter entries was a fact I was completely unable to ignore.

  8. Garrett says:

    I did not get anywhere with this puzzle for quite a while. But I was bothered by PITTSBURGH LEFTS because I knew I had seen it before, but where? Finally, I was convinced it was from another MGWCC meta, and I went looking for it. It was in MGWCC #398, and in that meta we were supposed to figure out that each city was on a river named for another state. It used PITTSBURGH LEFT — no trailing S.

    And then I remembered from back then that when I looked Pittsburgh up it had *three* rivers: The Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio. There — a trio. Oh, wait… just below FTS in LEFTS we have MAO.

    Here is a link to the #398 write-up by Joon.

  9. Seth Canetti says:

    I liked the (coincidental?) placement of OOO (out-of-order) under MCL, with the initials out of their conventional order. Same with the chipmunks and ice cream!

  10. Pete Rimkus says:

    That was my other choice! I think I even put that in my “comment” when submitting.
    What I didn’t like about it is that it didn’t use all 3 of the remaining 3-letter words like I expected it to.
    I looked at the 3 remaining words and saw they began with M, O, and I. I looked at the title (“Triple PLAY”) and PLAY jumped out at me … I see… it’s gotta be Checkhov’s Three Sisters (Masha, Olga, and Irina).

    Waaaayyyyy overthought in hindsight… I deserve a couple eyepokes and a ‘nyuk, nyuk’ for this

    • Katie M. says:

      I had the Three Stooges pretty quick, but the remaining across 3 letter words OOO and IRR, had me thinking there must be another step. Since I missed two in January from failure to find the last step, I was worried. OOO and IRR were also symmetrical. I couldn’t find anything. I tried to find an MOI trio also. Good for you, Pete for finding one! I guess I’m lucky I didn’t! Not finding any other answer or reasonable step, I submitted Three Stooges.

  11. Zifmia says:

    I did send in the correct answer, but I stared for quite a while at the other two three-letter across entries trying to decide if they were also part of the meta that I was missing.

  12. Bill2RD says:

    I loved the construction of this puzzle. I caught on to the “three” characteristic of the five theme answers early on, but it took a lot longer to finally see the three letter entries that eventually led me to the meta.

  13. Reid says:

    This was by far the fastest I’ve ever gotten a week 4 (usually my time on a week 4 meta is DNF) so of course this was the week I never got around to solving.

    Identified the trios pattern before i finished, and got the initials almost immediately, but took a few minutes of staring to see the symmetry. Fun meta, though I’m fearing next week, as I can only assume next week will be a killer given the relative ease of this week.

  14. jefe says:

    ARGH. Just didn’t make that key connection…

    I was a misled by the first entry. The other 4 entries are clear groups of 3: 3 chipmunks, 3 tenors, 3 baltics; Neapolitan is a group of 3 flavors. But Pittsburgh is not – there aren’t 3 Pittsburghs nor is it a set of 3 things. So, failing to otherwise advance through the meta, I just said Pittsburgh was the odd one out and submitted Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela. There were also two rivers in the grid, clued as rivers but not with “rivers”; I spent forever checking for a third.

  15. pgw says:

    Before I noticed the near symmetry of the three-letter theme entries, I found a few pretty promising red herrings. Most notably – when I noticed SCTV I was sure the mechanism was going to be “4-letter entries with one extra letter from the five thematic threes.” Then when I did see the mechanism, it took me a long time to call the Stooges to mind, and when I finally did I would describe it as a “near-aha” moment.

    Oh and joon, I had the same thought about the Curry injury but that didn’t actually happen until the evening after Matt published this puzzle. But as a Curry fan (and as someone who’s sprained an MCL himself) I’d have preferred that clue.

    • Crypdex says:

      Neapolitan was my entry into the meta, and I too discovered SCTV and thought “4-letter entries with one extra letter from the five thematic threes.”

      I then went for the chipmunks (SAT) and found them in SCTV’s symmetrical opposite, ASST.

      I had to backtrack when I could only find the Tenors in CPD.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, the fact that the TLAs for three out of the five theme entries could also be found in some four-letter entries, with one additional letter, was a major rabbit-hole for me.

  16. pj says:

    Ok. I got the first two steps, but didn’t see the next one. My cruci partner steered me to the last letter in the clues: MAO, CPD, CVS, ELL, SAT (ODSLT) which anagrams to DOLTS. not a perfect synonym for STOOGES, but close enough for us. Was this just a coincidence, Matt? Looked for Moe, Curly and Larry but missed the MCL.

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