MGWCC #520

crossword 3:15
meta 3 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #520 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Work Your Way Up”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a two-word phrase. okay. what are the theme answers? it’s not immediately obvious—there are no long answers in the grid, and the two longest (GOOD ADVICE and JOSEY WALES) turn out to be non-thematic—but there are a whole lot of foods.

  • {Fajitas ingredient} ONION.
  • {Confit source} DUCK. you could clue this as a non-food (e.g. as the verb), but clued this way, it’s definitely a food.
  • {Tapas protein} CHORIZO.
  • {Flapjack} HOTCAKE.
  • {Blocks made for over 2,000 years} TOFU.
  • {They’re sold dried} SPLIT PEAS.
  • {Bread in a dhaba} NAAN.
  • {Future guacamole, maybe} AVOCADOS.
  • {Carving station stuff} ROAST BEEF.
  • {Pit holders} CHERRIES.

the next step is quite easy to see if you’ve circled all the foods in the grid, and quite difficult otherwise: the food entries form one continuous path, each food intersecting exactly two others (except for the first and last foods in the path). so you just take the letters at the intersections of the foods, starting from the bottom and working your way up (as the title instructs). these intersections spell out FOOD CHAIN, which is the very apt answer to the meta.

i liked this meta! it seems so simple once you get it, but it’s quite constrained as a construction, as the letters have to appear in order, and they have to be shared by multiple foods. i suspect matt started out trying to make the foods occupy symmetric positions in the grid, but found that it just wasn’t working out. (i’m pretty sure that with a central black square, it’s not possible for the path to be symmetric if you stipulate that the path can’t cross itself.)


  • {Words after any letter of the alphabet} AS IN. as in, “z as in zebra”.
  • {It should be taken} GOOD ADVICE. but what if you didn’t take it? would that be … ironic?
  • {“…stays in ___”} VEGAS. i find it curious that the vegas golden knights, the NHL expansion team which has now advanced to the stanley cup finals in its first season of existence (!), is called the vegas golden knights, and not the las vegas golden knights. it’s sort of the opposite of the tampa bay teams, in that tampa is a city but tampa bay isn’t (it’s a body of water).
  • {1974 hit sung by David Spade and Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy”} ERES TU. that’s a clue i haven’t seen for this repeater.
  • {Mr. Burns’s long-lost teddy bear, on a “Simpsons” episode} BOBO. loved this episode.

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

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18 Responses to MGWCC #520

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 243 right answers this week.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    This was a nice break from my recent late-month habit of getting the initial insight and then becoming stymied. On this one I had no insights at all! But a great meta even though I didn’t get it. Maybe I should have solved on an empty stomach.

  3. paul coulter says:

    I enjoyed this one. It was easy once all the food items emerged, but still a clever concept and fun to follow the answer along its path. Back when I started teaching Biology, we used the term Food Chain, but for a long time it’s been Food Web. This signifies the complex interdependence of trophic levels. Some still use the term food chain for a straight line relationship within the web. Nonetheless, the phrase “moving up the food chain” is solidly in the language, so this takes nothing away from the meta’s validity.

  4. Tyler Hinman says:

    Had probably about the same stats as joon, provided “minutes” is replaced with “days.” Really having to work for it this month…

  5. Jon says:

    Lovely meta; elegantly constructed; wonderfully vague yet helpful title.

    Took me days to figure it out. I was stuck for a long time on a route where I took the “your” in the title and found other foreign language words. The TU of ERES TU is what got me. Then I found SEU in RISEUP. And then ANDA in AMANDA. I forget which languages “seu” and “anda” were your, but I found them via good ole Google translate. It wasn’t until I stepped back and realized that this was more apt for a week 5 meta that I realized I was on the wrong path.

    A vague hint by a friend helped me see the overlapping food chain. Wonderful meta.

  6. Gideon says:

    A lovely meta: original, visually appealing, nicely punny. Matt always comes through with a winner after a controversial week…

  7. Garrett says:

    Well done, Matt! Very creative.

  8. aries says:

    An interesting tidbit I learned recently was that the NHL prohibits team names comprised of more than three words, so they couldn’t name themselves the Las Vegas Golden Knights as per league rules. It will be interesting how pro teams based there will refer to the city – so far the NHL team is just Vegas, while the new WNBA team is the Las Vegas Aces (hello, new clue for ACES!). I suspect with the Knights’ rapid success (they will win the Cup this year, and on top of that they have a great set-up for future drafts; their winning ways will likely not end for quite some time), and more importantly the recent legalization of sports gambling, that all of the major sports leagues will have a team there, probably within a decade (the NFL is already coming), so I am curious to see how those team names will be handled.

    • Alex B. says:

      I guess Salt Lake City is never getting an NHL team?

      (on further reflection, they could call themselves the Utah something)

  9. Norm H says:

    Very nice meta. I solved on Saturday, noticed the prevalence of foods, but didn’t have time to get much further than that. I returned on Monday, briefly considered “bon appetit” as Hail Mary but knew that was way too pat, then finally noticed the chain and the links. Quite satisfying.

    Thanks to @Aries for the three-word limit tidbit regarding NHL team names — I guess that means Sault Ste. Marie shouldn’t expect an NHL franchise!

    Seriously, my wife and I were in Las Vegas two weeks ago, and the fervor for the Golden Knights is off the charts. We were eating at a restaurant in Caesar’s Palace when the VGK closed out the Sharks in the second round, and the entire service staff, as well as the workers in the adjoining casino, let out a collective whoop. How amazing it must be to have your first major-league level franchise be a wholly home-grown enterprise that, oh by the way, just happens to be really good in its very first season. As transplants, the Raiders won’t have nearly the same effect, and I suspect that many of their in-person attendees will fly in from the Bay Area for the weekend.

    • Diana says:

      I’m not a hockey fan, but I’m aware of the Vegas team. I lived in a Vegas when all the other teams couldn’t “run with the Rebels.” It was everything to us. I got caught up in the fervor myself. All of a sudden I was obsessed with college basketball. You can’t help it. It just sucks you in. That was decades ago, but I can imagine how Vegas feel about the Knights and I’m so excited for them. I liked your story.

      To make this on topic, I will say – I liked the meta. I thought it was cute and I thought I should have got it a lot sooner than I did. Cheers!

      • Ex-Vegan (long A not long E!) says:

        I was there too. In almost any residential part of the city, if you were away from traffic noises and such, there was a slow, wafting lilt that said, “Reeee-bellllllls! Reeee-belllllls!” It was surreal in a city that is surreal in itself.

  10. Mary Flaminio says:

    I am just not that good at this! Learning all the time. Thanks.

  11. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I have a habit of discarding my solved grid and then filling it again the next day, sometimes only bothering with the words I think are part of the meta. It’s been a while since that actually made things more obvious, but this time it really made the answer stand out.

    • Lance says:

      I did this exact thing this time! Not out of habit, but because I’d solved it on paper, and the paper got folded and put in a pocket and generally wasn’t in great shape, so I opened the puzzle in AcrossLite and just filled in the food words. Previously I’d been trying to read first letters of foods, or intersections top to bottom, and getting nothing useful. Having the clean grid with just the theme answers definitely helped with this solve.

  12. Pam I Am says:

    Yellow highlighter helped me get this one. I couldn’t see the foods connecting until I highlighted them, then it was pretty obvious.

    • Gwinns says:

      Me too! I had zero foothold for two days, lots of vague ideas going nowhere, until I said, “Well, I guess I’ll highlight the foods.” Solved it 10 minutes later.

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