MGWCC #524

crossword 2:20  
meta 5 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #524 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Except After”. for this week 3 puzzle of guest constructor month, we have Anna-Marie Ruoff, who challenges us to find a five-letter word that describes the theme entries. okay. well, what are those theme entries? that turned out to be the big question, because there aren’t any long answers in the puzzle. there are a few 7s and 8s, and that’s it.

it does stand to reason that there might be five theme answers, because we’re looking for a five-letter word as the answer. it took me a little while to realize that they aren’t long answers; in fact, they’re five-letter answers. which ones? well, the title is the big hint. “except after” refers to the spelling rule “i before e, except after c”. so we are interested in the five words that contain EI or IE:

  • {Consider carefully} WEIGH.
  • {Skater’s figure} EIGHT.
  • {More frozen} ICIER.
  • {Govern} REIGN.
  • {Put on a pedestal} DEIFY.

all of these are violations of the spelling rule—four of them because they have E before I, and ICIER because it has I before E even though the preceding letter is a C. reading off the first letters of these in top-to-bottom order in the grid, we get WEIRD, which is an apt description of the rule-breaking theme entries.

i thought this was an unusual puzzle, for a number of reasons. the biggest is that there are only five short theme entries in the grid. that made it a little more challenging to identify which theme answers there were (although it still ended up being a lot easier than week 2), but it also made the crossword itself a bit less satisfying to solve. with no long answers, i expected there to be more medium-length answers, but this was just a lot of short answers, leading to a very high word count of 84, for a crossword that had only 25 theme squares. so that was a little surprising, and not in a very good way.

i did enjoy the meta mechanism, and i liked how ICIER put a twist on the others by violating the spelling rule in the opposite way as the others. that was cute. but perhaps if this is the meta mechanism, the meta answer should have been a little longer, so that there could have been more theme content in the crossword itself. off the top of my head, i don’t have a great suggestion for a better answer. RULE BREAKER is a little too long. what about I BEFORE E itself? that might work—eight short-to-medium theme answers is enough for a 15×15 grid.

the other feeling i had was that the title was a little too spot-on—it tells you basically exactly what to look for. so now i’m imagining the alternate puzzle where the answer is I BEFORE E, the instructions are something like “the answer is a rule broken eight times in this puzzle”, and the title somehow hints at the rule a little more obliquely. i dunno.

that’s all i’ve got this week. your thoughts?

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20 Responses to MGWCC #524

  1. HomeSkooled says:

    Liked the puzzle and the meta, but I agree the title gave too much away. I don’t think there is any other distinguishable use of the phrase “except after” other than as used in the “I before E” rule. As a result, all of the “EI” answers jumped out at me. Without that title, or with one a bit more tricky, I think this puzzle would have been a lot more challenging and the “aha” a lot more rewarding.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon and Anna-Marie. 448 right answers this week, so in retrospect I should have swapped this one with the Week 2 puzzle.

    • Ephraim says:

      Yes, this was much easier than the actual week 2 puzzle.

      I thought the meta was clever, fun, and cute. While many of us learned extensions to “I before E except after C”, I think most of know those extensions are varied, incomplete, and obscurer than the first part of this sad attempt at a rule.

  3. BarbaraK says:

    The way I learned this was, “I before E except after C, or when sounded as A as in neighbor or weigh.” So three of the five, I don’t even count as exceptions.

  4. e.a. says:

    perfect mid-month meta for me – got a clear foothold from the title, but still had to flounder a bit before cottoning onto the correct solving mechanism. the meta answer following the pattern of the theme answers, while describing them perfectly, was very satisfying for me. to convey such an intricate concept, providing multiple aha moments along the way, in so few theme squares – imo that’s efficient and impressive and aspirational, not a demerit.

    • joon says:

      oh, i totally missed that WEIRD itself is also a rule-violator. well, that makes it much better than my I BEFORE E idea.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Yeah, my only real issue with this puzzle is the title, which basically told me the theme before I filled in any of the grid. But I’m sitting here trying to think of a title that would have been less of a giveaway while still adequately confirming the theme, and I … can’t do it.

        This theme hits close to home. My last name has an “ie” in it but people always want to misspell it with an “ei.” I’ve never understood why the latter feels more instinctive to people — particularly given the mnemonic.

  5. tabstop says:

    It was only a nagging doubt that maybe WEIRD would be in the grid kept me from submitting the answer without actually doing the puzzle, given that the title took me straight to the spelling rule and “weird” is (at least in my head, maybe not in the real world) one of the best-known examples of violations (and also fit the “descriptive of theme answers” portion of the prompt). In fact, I didn’t even bother trying to derive the word from the other answers once I saw that it wasn’t in the grid.

  6. Mac says:

    What is weird about the five answers? Weird is defined as strange or uncanny or bizarre or quirky or crazy . . . . Maybe unconventional but as BarbaraK points out, three of the five do not even count as rule violators. Very weak descriptor for the meta answer, imo.

  7. Joe says:

    I remember learning the sentence “Neither leisured foreigner seized the weird height.” Slightly off-topic, but still. It’s been 40 years since I learned it. And it’s the first thing I thought of when working on this.

  8. Al says:

    I actually thought “I bet the answer is WEIRD” as soon as I saw the title. So, while I liked the meta mechanism, I agree that the title was way too much of a giveaway. Otherwise, very enjoyable, thanks, Matt and Anna-Marie!

  9. Jeff C. says:

    Neat idea! Maybe going down to an 11×11 or even smaller would have been better; more appropriate for the themer lengths. Yes, tiny grids are odd … or should I say WEIRD!

  10. Jim S says:

    Kicking myself. I knew it was IE/EI related, but there were also 5 five-letter words that started with ‘I’… that threw enough doubt in my mind that I didn’t concentrate on the IE/EI enough. I’m looking at my sheet – the 4 EIs and 1 IE are circled in red and I couldn’t see the dang answer!

  11. Tyler says:

    I’m really interested to know if there was a reason for such a high word count.

  12. Justin says:

    Personally, I loved this one because not only was it a fun concept (including the meta answer as Erik points out above) but also because this appears to be a new female constructor. Seems unnecessary to pick on a high word count…

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