MGWCC #516

crossword 3:26
meta 5 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #516 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Exactly Right!”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a two-word group. okay. what are the theme answers? there aren’t any overtly marked as such, but there are a whole bunch of across clues that suggest numbers without actually having them appear in the clue or answer:

  • {He broke a baseball record in a fitting way, considering the year in which he did it} roger MARIS, who hit 61 homers in ’61.
  • {Amount that’s much closer to a dozen than a gross} SCORE, or 20.
  • {Radio superstar known for hosting a long-running show} casey KASEM, of top 40 fame.
  • {Company known for ketchup and many other condiments} HEINZ, with the 57 flavors.
  • {They demolished the Redskins in a lopsided shutout in the 1940 NFL championship game} BEARS. the final score of that game was 73-0.
  • {Highway one might sing nostalgically about} ROUTE. certainly the most famous song about one concerns route 66.
  • {Super secret agent Jack} BAUER, played by kiefer sutherland in 24.
  • {Last word of a Hitchcock title} STEPS. the title is the 39 steps.
  • {Two trios plus a duo} OCTET. that’s a group of 8.
  • {Gas from the Greek for “strange”} XENON, element #54 on the periodic table.
  • {It’s played on a checkered board} CHESS. with the explicit mention of the board, this suggests the number 64, which is the number of squares on the board.

certainly my first thought was to look at the letters in the squares numbered with those numbers, but that fizzled out when i got to the 73, because the numbers in the grid only go up to 71. so then i took a closer look, and in particular i gave a good long look to the long central across answer, {Parking lot find} FREE SPACE. well, that’s not normally how you’d describe an open parking space, but it is how you would label the central square on a bingo card—and that’s the key. the puzzle’s title is also a clue for BINGO, a nice confirmation.

so how does this work? well, in bingo, the numbers 1-15 appear in column B, 16-30 in I, 31-45 in N, 46-60 in G, and 61-75 in O. so each of the numerical-suggesting entries above corresponds to one of the letters B/I/N/G/O. taking those theme answers in grid order (61 20 40 57 73 66 24 39 8 54 64) spells out… well, it spells out OINGO OINBGO. is that a two-word group? no. it is not. however, it is extremely close to OINGO BOINGO, which is a two-word group (featuring danny elfman, also famous for being the composer of tv and movie themes) and the answer to the meta. it’s certainly the longest legitimate phrase you can spell with just those five letters, so it’s a good meta answer.

but what is going on with that misplaced B? i’m not sure, really. it’s possible that OCTET is not meant to suggest the number 8 and hence the letter B; that would be inelegant, but i can’t really see another way to make the answer work. (perhaps putting 8 explicitly into the clue, like just {Group of 8}, might have made it clearer that it’s not supposed to be in the theme.)

that still leaves the question of where we’re supposed to get the B. somewhere between the first OINGO and the second OINGO, there’s supposed to be another theme clue that suggests a number between 1 and 15 inclusive. i see three possibilities:

  • the central down answer, crossing FREE SPACE at the S, is {Superstar in a Barcelona (or an Argentina) jersey} is soccer great lionel MESSI, who wears #10 for both his club team barcelona and his national team argentina. all of the other theme answers are acrosses, so it would be a little inconsistent to have this one down answer, but the clue does mention the jersey, so i think this is probably what matt intended.
  • {Famed infielder, in headlines} A-ROD. alex rodriguez wore #3 for the mariners and #13 for the yankees; either number would work for B. this answer appears just before ROUTE, so it’s in the right place, and it’s an across. against that, however, nothing in the clue suggests considering his jersey number.
  • the third, and least satisfying, possibility is that there isn’t an explicit theme answer suggesting the B. instead, we’re just supposed to use the central FREE SPACE: OINGO _OINGO can only be completed in one way to spell out a two-word group. i like this least because on a bingo card, the FREE SPACE is always in the N column, since it appears in the center of the card.

so that’s the meta. i’m not sure exactly how to rate it. i enjoyed the mechanism a lot—it’s a nice twist on the usual ways we’ve seen before to extract letters from numbers suggested by clues or answers. however, that B is rather problematic, and i have to regard it as a significant flaw in the puzzle. really two flaws, since OCTET should have been avoided if possible, and all of the three possibilities that i could find for what matt actually intended to give the B have issues as well. so i think the execution of this puzzle warrants a significant demerit.

the crossword grid is pretty good considering how many theme answers there are (11? 12?). i didn’t know {Water-powered air compressors} TROMPES. {Geometry class calculation} AREA could have been a theme answer for 51->G with a different clue; likewise {Take advantage of a weakness in} GAME could probably have been lots of things, notably 21->I.

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

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23 Responses to MGWCC #516

  1. tabstop says:

    Maybe Defcon 5? (I submitted Bingo card as a hail mary, probably actually after the deadline, but never tried converting to the letters themselves (tried to somehow make the grid work as a bingo card instead))

  2. PJ Ward says:

    I was fine with the Messi entry. The answer requires eleven entries. Ten are symmetric pairs. The eleventh was going to be odd. In more ways than one. That it crosses FREESPACE in the exact center of the grid and references Messi’s jersey made it a likely candidate for inclusion.

    • joon says:

      oh, i didn’t notice that the other ten were symmetric. that makes it less bad.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      That’s right — since many stray entries could suggest a number, I placed them symmetrically in the grid, hence MESSI’s placement.

  3. mpstable says:

    I interpreted “freespace” as sufficient for the B and never questioned it. Seemed like a nice way for that entry to figure into the final answer and be more than just a sign to look for Bingo numbers. Never noticed Messi.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I never noticed Messi either. I assumed that A-ROD’s No. 13 was meant to be the B, but perhaps that was my Yankees homerism shining through. The lack of symmetry didn’t bother me because BOINGO is already one letter longer than OINGO, so there had to be an extra themer somewhere.

  4. pgw says:

    I think MESSI is clearly intended to supply the B. It preserves both order and symmetry, the jersey is referenced in the clue, and – crucially – it’s five letters long, like all the rest of the theme entries (and the word BINGO.) That it isn’t an across doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I was slightly bothered by AROD’s presence in the grid since he could suggest another jersey number, but it’s not five letters, doesn’t appear in a spot symmetric with the rest of the theme, and the clue has nothing to do with his jersey number so that doesn’t concern me too much. Five stars.

  5. MountainManZach says:

    Placement + cluing of MESSI made it pretty clearly theme for me. I got hung up for way too long thinking “3 bears,” which almost foiled me.

    I’ve been expecting a Bingo puzzle for a few years now. I was hoping it would somehow turn the grid into a Bingo board! I also wonder if Matt was considering spelling something from within each theme answer, as each was 5 letters (eg MARIS is 61, 61-75 is O in Bingo, therefore S in MARIS)

  6. Stribbs says:

    I was quite sure Messi 10 was theme and had the 11 numbers. Never ever thought of bingo, even after considering freespace as a possible hint (and Wikipedia’ing it! No bingo mention there.) Seems fair regardless and it was nice to have 73 as a choice to dissuade us from referring back to the grid. But yeah I don’t understand bingo as an activity. It just seems sad… especially on cruise ships where you could be enjoying the sunshine and not stuck in a room letting pure chance ruin your day. Rant over :)

  7. BarbaraK says:

    I got the B from DEFCON. Didn’t look at the down answers. And when I read that Oingo Boingo was an octet, I decided to consider that one an Easter egg.

    MESSI is definitely a more elegant approach.

  8. Eduardo says:

    The ten theme answers getting to “oingo oingo” are symmetrically placed and all five letters in length, so I’d think “octet” is out as a theme answer. “Messi” would work as it is centrally placed albeit the only down theme entry, and, in retrospect, probably a theme answer for the “B”. I got to Oingo Boingo by thinking I could use any letter in the middle position using the across “Free Space” as a wild card, but Joon’s point about the “N” is a good one.

  9. Jon says:

    The symmetry eliminates OCTET and includes MESSI. From there you get OINGO BOINGO just fine. And even if you were off, as you were, the letters should make you think of the band and that you can then notice the symmetry of the themers.

    A marvelous construction. 5-stars

  10. Mutman says:

    I let you smart people find the elegance. I had all the letters plus the stray B for defcon, a stray B from octet, a stray G from diocese (District 51: cue Xfiles music) plus the B for Messi.

    Since the FreeSpace immediately made me think of Bingo, and I lived through Oingo Boingo in the 80s, it was clear this was the answer.

  11. I had a few numbers I wasn’t sure about that I put ?’s for: AROD (B3/B13), DEFCON (B5), and OCTET (B8). Didn’t notice the symmetry, and didn’t consider MESSI since it wasn’t an across entry. But it was enough where I could tell that OINGO BOINGO was going to be the answer, under the assumption that a few of those were wrong. (They were.)

  12. dbardolph says:

    Once again, I was most of the way there. Had all of the numbers, including MESSI’s 10, noted the symmetry, figured FREESPACE had to mean something… but since Bingo is just not part of my world, I got no farther. No complaints, it was a good puzzle, but I wasn’t ever going to get there.

  13. teri L says:

    The missing B is obviously for Barbara K!

  14. teri L says:

    An amazing puzzle. Well done all!

  15. Abby Braunsdorf says:

    I had the numbers pretty much immediately and could not close the deal. I don’t think the method is particularly clever or justified, but unlike puzzle contests and other feats of skill, I try to avoid random crap like bingo, so maybe I’m just out of the loop. Count me in the irritated column.

    • pgw says:

      You’re perfectly entitled to your opinion that this wasn’t particularly clever, but I’m really struggling to understand the use of the word “justified” here … as though your unfamiliarity with Bingo is a matter of, like, ethics or morality? I too was pretty unfamiliar with Bingo, needed a nudge from the puzzle title, and had to do a fair bit of research to solve the puzzle. But whether or not it’s good or cool, Bingo is a thing in the world, with a ruleset and structure Matt was able to construct a perfectly cromulent meta out of. Are you proposing that Matt limit his subject matters to only those pursuits worthy of us intellectual elites? ‘Cause that sounds boring.

  16. Garrett says:

    I got all the numbers that Joon got and tried to do what he tried to do using the grid, and came to the conclusion that this must be another grand coincidence like so many other times I thought I was on to something. So I focused on the title and FREESPACE for a time and came to the conclusion that we were looking at pleonasms. “Free” seems redundant, I think because when you find a “space” in a parking lot that’s all you need — a space. While I know that people say “Exactly Right!” it seemed to me that “exactly” and “right” are sufficient.

    Consequently, I spent a large amount of time going through the clues looking for things that had unnecessary words in them, and found quite a few! I fell asleep doing this last night and today had no more time for this puzzle. Busy morning!

    I don’t think I have ever played bingo. That meaning of Free Space went over my head.

  17. - kip - says:

    I saw the number implications right away and noticed they were mostly symmetrical (other than the AROD and the OCTET which haunted me quite a bit this weekend). My first thought was to look at all those associated grid number’s letters, order them like I’d think Matt would do, and there you’d have it! But … no.

    So, after giving up on solving this puzzle by myself, my sister an I put our stupid heads together and she pointed out that if you look at those associated ENTRIES in the grid they are incredibly symmetrical:
    61A Irma and 20A Elia
    24A Moesha and 54A Defcon
    66A Ogive and 16A Cohan (you’ve got to think about 16 chess pieces for this one)
    10D Coen and 57D Devo
    39A Freespace – centered in the middle – doesn’t need a pair

    Of course, there were the Bears and that 73-0 victory and what to do with that? But surely it must work somehow, right?

    Anyway, the point is, I’m wondering if all that perfect placement was intentional or does that kind of symmetry happen to Matt when he’s not even looking?

  18. Jim S says:

    My stubbornness struck again. COEN and COHAN crossing in the NE and it’s not involved in the meta – couldn’t get past that coincidence. I spotted the bingo references, divided the grid into 5×5 blocks and looked for similar crossings – ABALONE and ABODE are pretty similar, but couldn’t move on from there. Perfectly fair meta and pretty impressive feat of construction.

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