MGWCC #521

crossword 3:58  
meta 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #521 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Dressed to the Nines”. for this week 4 puzzle, we have pete muller pinch-hitting for matt during a difficult week. pete challenges us to name an object used in some constructions. what are the theme answers? there aren’t any obvious ones, but there is a two-part clue that echoes the instructions: {With 52-Across, objects used in construction} are TWO-BY / FOURS.

along with the “nines” in the title, this is a strong nudge, but i just couldn’t get anywhere with it at first. i was certainly looking at the nine-letter entries in the grid (UNCHANGED, GET IT DONE, TASTE TEST, ANNE MEARA) but couldn’t find anything to do with them. i wanted to split them up into a pair of fours plus one more letter, but there was no obvious way to do that.

there are also other numbers in the grid: {Individuals} ONES (which is actually kind of a dupe with {Indie film with the Best Original Song of 2007} ONCE), and {Conf. for George Mason or George Washington} A-TEN, an informal way of denoting the atlantic 10 conference. but those didn’t go anywhere either.

the other thing that TWO BY FOURS could mean is a pair of 4-letter words side-by-side, like SHOR stacked on METE in the top left corner. i wanted to add a letter here (and anagram?) to make a word. it turns out there are a lot of ways to do that (HEARTSOME, OHMMETERS, THREESOME, SMOTHERED to name a few), but nothing that is really indicated.

coming back to it a few times, i tried again with the 9s in the grid. TASTE TEST has the same four letters (TEST) twice, plus an A. that’s certainly 2x4ish… but the other 9s don’t work like that. maybe you could make ANNE MEARA by joining two 4-letter words in the grid and adding one more letter? well, you can’t. not only that, but it would be absolutely insane to try to put four 9-letter words, eight 4-letter words, and TWOBY/FOURS itself into a single 15×15 grid. it’s just too much theme content.

however, once i had that realization, i was able to see the right thing to do, which is just to disregard the 9s in the grid and turn pairs of 4s into a 9 with the addition of one letter—but not stacked pairs. instead, it’s two 4s separated by a black square in the grid. in each of the 8 places where this occurs, you can add a letter in the black square (with no anagramming) to make a 9-letter word:

  • {New York City “saloonkeeper” Toots} SHOR + {“Rock of ___”} AGES becomes SHORTAGES with the addition of a T.
  • {Allocate} METE + {Bat mitzvah, say} RITE becomes METEORITE.
  • {Staff on a ship} MAST + {Puts on} DONS becomes MASTODONS.
  • {Again} OVER + {Individuals} ONES gives OVERTONES. i mentioned that ONES kind of dupes ONCE in the grid; well, OVER is also part of {Not listed on the NYSE, say} OTC (over the counter). that’s less of a dupe, but maybe it would have been better to explicitly cross-reference the two.
  • {Puts away forever?} OFFS + {Fighting spot} RING gives OFFSPRING.
  • {Kwik-E-___} MART + {Takes home} NETS becomes MARTINETS.
  • {Invent} COIN + {Tagged, briefly} IDED = COINCIDED.
  • {See 70-Across} THAN + {With 69-Across, <} LESS is THANKLESS. that's a great find, with LESS THAN being a standalone two-by-four phrase that becomes THANKLESS under this transformation.

i’ve included the added letters in the screenshot above. reading from top to bottom, they spell out TOOTPICK. and of course, TOOT and PICK are a pair of four-letter words that can take a central H to become TOOTHPICK, an object used in some constructions. i like the idea of imagining the four-letter words as marshmallows, with the added middle letters being the toothpicks joining them together. fun!

this was a really cool meta. it feels like it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a meta mechanism where you add a letter in a black square, which is perhaps why it took me so long to see this one. but it was well-hinted and very fair. slight demerits for the dupes that i mentioned, plus some ungainly fill in places (the ALY/A LEG/ARNE and A-TEN/TENN/FEM sections, where the theme content was densest, were not pretty), but overall this was a fun solve. and for me, this landed perfectly at a week 4 difficulty, although having it occur during the week and with one day less to work on it amped up the stress.

thanks for the meta, pete! how’d the rest of you like this one?

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15 Responses to MGWCC #521

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon and Pete — 250 right answers on this one.

  2. Ephraim says:

    So happy to see Joon say 3 days for the meta! Solving partner and I started meta-solving at 11:30, had our answer at 11:55 with five minutes to spare. That never happens in week four.

    The hardest part was spotting the interior two-by-four blocks, which we missed at first.

  3. hibob says:

    The clue for 61D (NOH) was a big help in the add a letter thought process.

  4. dbardolph says:

    And the clue for 61-Down gave you the central H. The crosswordy NOH, parsed differently – NO H?

  5. BarbaraK says:

    I was wondering if I should get scissors and cut out the 2x4s in the grid so I could move them around and see what they built when I finally realized that I didn’t need to move them at all.

  6. Norm H says:

    Wow, very elegant.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t get numbers out of my head — ATE and TENN had me certain that something numerical was up.

    I thought about submitting “cheater squares” as a Hail Mary, but decided not to waste Matt’s/Dave’s time. Turns out, that answer, while clearly wrong, wasn’t as far off as I would have imagined!

  7. Katie M. says:

    The central column above NO-H: ETE, ATE and TET, all contain letters in ETA, which is H in the Greek alphabet. Is that on purpose?
    Fun meta!

  8. ajk says:

    Wow this is one that just fell into place for me. So easily that I was feeling cheap about making the top 15(!) on a week 4, like maybe it was going to just be an easy one for everybody. Think it was almost the first thing I tried.

    I guess that’s how it works sometimes. Nice to be on the good end, as I’ve certainly spent lots of time on the everyone-else-got-it-instantly-why-am-I-dense end. :)

  9. Garrett says:

    Interesting to me that I saw SHORTAGES but did not notice METEORITE. Had I noticed, I would have been off racing!

    I did notice a couple of interesting things (that led nowhere).

    UNCHANGED contains HAN which is also the answer to 29A [Solo on the screen] and is part of SHANIA crossing THAN.

    GETITDONE contains ONE, which as Joon already pointed out is similar to ONCE and is in 32D. Also, I note, part of ONEIL. ONES and ONEIL are in the same column headed up by 10D

    TASTETEST contains both ETE and TET, which are two of the four words in the central column of the grid. Also, ETE is part of METE.

    ANNEMEARA contains EAR which is also in LEARNER (strange clue on that one, eh?) but nowhere else, and that’s when I decided this was going nowhere. Alas.

    By the way, ANNEMEARA also contains Nemea. Hercules’ First Labor was the Nemean Lion.

    Anyway, *awesome* meta!

  10. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I was stuck on all the numbers and the two places that another three-letter number appears in longer answers going across and down, joined by the first letter, as well as appearing going up elsewhere.

  11. Mutman says:

    Last week I immediately saw the FOOD CHAIN when others didn’t.

    This week, it was I who could not see it. Funny how that works.

    I couldn’t help but keep thinking there were some 2×4 blocks of letters I had to anagram or relate to other parts of the grid. But alas, that was not it.

    I really liked the solution though and thought it was very fair as a week 4.

    Nice work Peter!

  12. Jeff Mizrahi says:

    This is great. No clue how one could rate this anything but 5 stars. Kudos.

  13. Jack Sullivan says:

    Great meta by PM.

    The first thing that hit me for constructions was math, where you construct shapes using a ruler and a compass and/or protractor. All the letters of “straight edge” are contained in the four nine letter entries. Obviously this led nowhere.

  14. Lance says:

    Chiming in late: I also thought this was a particularly lovely meta. TWOBY/FOURS is a clever way to use both “here’s a construction thing” and “here’s a guide to finding the answer”. (Not that I got there immediately. In fact, my hail-mary was going to be CHEATER SQUARE, since that’s used in some constructions, and I think that made me think, “Well, are there cheater squares in the grid? Could any of these squares be filled in with letters?”. I’d already been considering the four across 2x4s; I hadn’t yet noticed the down ones.)

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