MGWCC #517

crossword 3:32
meta 5 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #517 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “It Takes Two”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt asks us: What U.S. vice president, past or present, should be in this grid but isn’t? okay. what are the theme answers? it’s not exactly clear, but there are four long across answers in the grid:

  • {Superior coder} ALPHA NERD.
  • {Vehicle since 1986} JEEP WRANGLER.
  • {Outback sign} KANGAROO XING. curiously, this is only a bigram short of KANGAROO BOXING.
  • {Autumn Harvest Uprising leader} MAO ZEDONG.

they’re all two-word phrases, but the thing that struck me about these four is that they start with unusual letters. in particular, KANGAROO XING has to be just about the only phrase you could plausibly put in a crossword with the initials K.X.

that turned out to be the key, actually. these aren’t the only four theme answers; there are twelve of them—all of the two-word entries in the entire grid. together, they span the alphabet, as the first initials go from A to M and the second initials go from N to Z. in order:

  • {Superior coder} ALPHA NERD.
  • {Get in the zone} BE ON.
  • {Batter’s place} CAKE PAN.
  • {The king of Argentina} EL REY.
  • {Was in the doldrums} FELT SAD. kind of a roll-your-own.
  • {Visit} GO TO.
  • {Hosted in the penthouse} HAD UP.
  • {Like some biology experiments} IN VIVO.
  • {Vehicle since 1986} JEEP WRANGLER.
  • {Outback sign} KANGAROO XING.
  • {Sentiment on Valentine’s Day candy} LUV YA.
  • {Autumn Harvest Uprising leader} MAO ZEDONG.

the only missing pair is DQ, so the vice president who should be in the grid is dan quayle. i wonder if matt considered any of the other options for DQ?

this was a cool meta, executed deftly. and, of course, much subtler than the superficially similar week 1 meta i linked above. there were a few iffy entries, to be sure, in both the theme (BE ON, FELT SAD) and the fill (looking at you, BCDEFG) but it’s very impressive that these were literally the only two-word entries in the grid. even ONAN, usually clued as {___ even keel} or {___ empty stomach}, was carefully clued as the {Wasteful Biblical figure}.

this seemed a little easier than a typical week 4 to me, but the number of solvers on the leaderboard looks pretty normal. i wonder how many people will just guess dan quayle based on a general vibe of pangramminess. the puzzle is, in fact, a pangram—i suspect matt was careful to work a Q in there so that people wouldn’t be able to quite so easily backdoor the meta by completing the pangram.

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d you like the puzzle?

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22 Responses to MGWCC #517

  1. Martin Davis says:

    i wonder how many people will just guess dan quayle based on a general vibe of pangramminess.

    Guilty as charged.

    • PJ Ward says:

      That was going to be my Hail Mary for the very same reason until someone I solve with sussed it out. It’s good to solve with better solvers.

    • Mutman says:

      Also guilty. I first considered Schuyler Colfax because of its ‘Scrabbliness’, but then went for the more current Dan, the Q helping in that decision.

    • Mike says:

      I also guessed Dan Quayle based on the general vibe, but ironically, Matt’s adding the Q made me more convinced it was Quayle, not less.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 196 right answers this week.

    My consigliere suggested adding the Q to the NW corner to make it less obvious that a Q was missing from the grid.

  3. I noticed that the the second words’ initials of the 4 long answers were +13 from their respective first words’ initials, and DAN QUAYLE was the only vice president that satisfied that constraint, so I sent it in without much hesitation.

    I didn’t realize that there were 8 other theme answers in the grid. The thought did cross my mind at one point to check for those, but I didn’t follow through.

  4. Dan Seidman says:

    Took me a couple of days, and I went down a few rabbit holes along the way. There were three entries that were first names of people who shared last names with VPs (although one is spelled differently): Magic (Johnson), Trot (Nixon) and Lon (Chaney). Also there were three entries that combine with NUMBER to make a phrase (MAGIC, ODD, ERDOS). But when I finally realized what was happening and that there were 12 theme entries, I was really impressed.

  5. pj says:

    I thought I found the key after struggling over the meta for four days. What did “It Takes Two” mean? Trying to sleep last night, I wondered if the occurrence of some letters was the key. Lo and behold I checked all the VPs with the one-only letters: J, Q, U, X, Z. There was only one: Hubert Humphrey, the only VP with 2 U’s. Aha! It takes 2, so he’s missing from the grid. All other VPs can be found. Alas, this isn’t the correct meta.

  6. Garrett says:

    Anal awesome. 5 *

  7. Jack Sullivan says:

    I spent too much time on HUbert HUmphrey, based on the title and the number of consonant sequences in the grid. I saw the pangram but not the relationship between the initial letters of the themers .

    Executed deftly, indeed.

  8. PatXC says:

    Easiest week 4 solve for me and maybe my 3rd ever. I the 13 letters between the first letters of the 4 long answers and made a list of all possible initials from there. DQ stuck out like a sore thumb. Did not notice the rest of the two-word answers. What an amazing meta!

  9. Jeff says:

    The grid itself was so thorny that I put it down…and forgot to pick it back up!

  10. Justin says:

    This should be a shoo-in for Orca consideration. Very impressive!

  11. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I initially only noticed that the long answers have initials exactly 13 apart, starting with ALPHA NERD and MAO ZEDONG, with M-Z being notably unusual initials, and A-N being not otherwise special at all. Due to a history of reading ROT-13-encoded spoilers, I just knew these pairs, and going through the list for initials I recognized led to the right answer. It was only when I was thinking up a comment on that mechanic (“pretty clever crossword puzzle you let us have”) that I realized that they were all in order and then that shorter answers in the grid fit the pattern.

    It would have been funny if DAN QUAYLE were in the grid instead of ALPHA NERD, so 4 long answers with Scrabbly initials DQJWKXMZ would lead to the initials AN.

    • pgw says:

      I had the same luck – in fact I had put the meta down in frustration and was reading a rot13-encoded spoiler when I had the aha moment.

  12. Debbie says:

    Meant to rate it a 5 (even though I wasn’t remotely close to solving it) but I accidentally gave it a 3! Sorry, Matt! Excellent puzzle!

  13. Richard K. says:

    I totally missed on the meta this week, but now that I see it, I have to admire the mind-boggling difficulty of this construction. Fantastic, Matt — one of your best!

  14. John says:

    Once again, beaten by my favorite metas. I love this and was nowhere near solving it. I briefly looked at all the two-word grid entries but when they didn’t lead directly to a VP (no Malcolm Zoolander) i abandoned the idea rather quickly. Ugh!

  15. David Glasser says:

    Wow, I got this one quickly but somehow missed that the initial pairs were all 13 apart. Really impressed now!

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