MGWCC #525

crossword 6:38*  
meta 1 hour 


hello and welcome to episode #525 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Change Your Tune”. for this week 4 puzzle of guest constructor month, we have Peter Washington, pgw on the leaderboard, who challenges us with these instructions One of this puzzle’s clues needs to be rewritten to complete the metapuzzle’s theme. Which is it, and what is a suitable rewrite? okay. well, what are the theme entries?

actually, let’s back up a bit. i had a great deal of difficulty filling the crossword at all, and when i stopped the clock with the grid filled, i had two wrong letters. at 1-down, for {Lazy people} i had LOLLERS instead of LOAFERS. i’ve certainly never heard of the initialism {IDs on property tax bills} APNS at 17a, nor {Soft bigotry?} FATISM. apparently that’s pronounced with a short A sound, as in fat-shaming, not fate-ism. honestly, i felt a little lucky to only have two errors, as the grid was absolutely stuffed with entries i’d never heard of, many of them crossing each other. i’ll mention OLOA, ECONLIB, DENON, EASIN’, MG GUPTA, ECKARDT, ERI, AGWAH, and SHELL ICE as falling into this category. i also frowned at UPITT (only ever heard them referred to as PITT; their website is at and the first line of the wikipedia article says “commonly referred to as pitt”), and both OMI and chris RIX rang only the faintest of bells. what i’m saying is, the crossword was tough.

anyway, when i went to google the crossings for LOLLERS and realized it was LOAFERS, the penny dropped (so to speak), because i realized that it must be relevant that LOAFERS is a men’s shoe style, symmetrically opposite to WINGTIP clued as {Men’s shoe style}. however, i didn’t see where to progress from there. 63a CROC is also a shoe, although it’s a brand rather than a style, and it’s not especially for men.

when i came back to the puzzle later on friday afternoon, the other shoe/penny dropped, because i took another look at 25d POUNDER, clued as {Tenderizer}. during the solve i had noted to myself that {Quarter-___} would have been a better clue, and that’s when i realized that it was symmetrically opposite to 24d {Whopper competitor} BIG CARL (from carl’s jr, a chain i only know from my california days). that was my second big aha. the third was that not just LOAFERS but PENNY LOAFERS was the relevant men’s shoe style.

the ahas kept on coming. PENNY goes with the clue at 1-down, and QUARTER at 25-down. what about NICKEL and DIME? yup, there they are at 5d and 10d: {Brilliant shade of yellow} CADMIUM (not a definition i knew for that word!) can become NICKEL CADMIUM to match the symmetrically opposite clue, {Battery type} TRIPLE-A. and {Put away} STORE at 10d can become DIME STORE to match {Seller of low-cost novelty goods} RONCO.

that’s a lot of ahas! but i still didn’t know the meta answer, because it looked like the theme was already complete, so how were we supposed to complete it? were we looking for the half-dollar at 50? no, 50d is in fact RONCO itself, so there’s no way to go back to its symmetric partner STORE and stick half-dollar in front of it.

what about the title? we’d already used “change”, certainly, in noticing that the key words to add were all names of coins. but tune? i didn’t see what that was doing…

… until i did. the across answers at the coin values (1, 5, 10, and 25) also fit the theme. that was a jaw-dropper. so we have:

  • at 5a, {Precolonial Georgian} CREEK becomes NICKEL CREEK to match the clue for 67a, {California band} TESLA. i had been wondering about the latter clue—was it just imprecise, or maybe an actual typo for “brand”? turns out, it was imprecise, but very much on purpose. i don’t know anything about the band nickel creek (definitely not the most famous band name starting with nickel!), but i’ve heard those two words together.
  • at 10a, {There was a famous one in Rome} is a strange way to clue SACK, but it does sufficiently distance the meaning from the bag meaning of sack. and a DIME SACK is a {Drug dealer’s quantity}, like a KILO? i suppose it must be, although i must admit i’ve only ever heard it called dime bag rather than sack.
  • and at 25a, {King Cole request} PIPE can become QUARTER-PIPE to match {Piece of skate park infrastructure} RAIL. çeçi n’est pas une pipe, indeed.

but what about 1a? {Coach Kiffin} LANE can become PENNY LANE, certainly, but that doesn’t match 68a {Assist} HELP… unless you rewrite the clue to be something like {Beatles song}. that’s the answer to the meta, and that’s changing your tune indeed.

this is an amazing meta. not only are there sixteen theme answers, but they have to occur at specific places in the grid (because the numbers there have to be 1, 5, 10, and 25, plus their symmetric counterparts), and they have to be in pairs with each pair beginning with the same letter (for the upper theme answers) or ending with the same letter (for the lower theme answers). so two words that can follow PENNY both starting with the same letter, two words that can start with NICKEL starting with same letter, etc.; and then two words whose lengths match the PENNY themers that end with the same letter and can match the same clues (!) as the corresponding answers, and so on. that is just a tremendous construction.

on the other hand, the result is that the grid itself was stuffed with entries i consider undesirable. i won’t list them again, but there were definitely enough that just filling in the grid was a major challenge. and not the good kind, either—the “i don’t know either of these crossing answers, which letter looks plausible here?” kind. i’m inclined to mostly give the shaky fill a pass, because the meta was so good and peter is a beginning constructor (matt says this is his first published crossword, which, wow).

your thoughts?

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39 Responses to MGWCC #525

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 175 correct entries this week.

    Fill obviously super-rough, but there was no way I wasn’t going to run this beauty. Bravo to Peter.

  2. dbardolph says:

    Agree that the grid was really hard and full of unfamiliar stuff – but egad, the construction was pretty spectacular.

  3. Docison says:

    Just brilliant and so many layers to this one. Fill rough but justified by the meta complexity. What a debut!

  4. HomeSkooled says:

    Amazing puzzle. Solved like an onion, as one piece peeled away to expose another. One aha after the other, each time progressing a step closer. The grid was a bear, but this puzzle was a beauty!!

    • HomeSkooled says:

      Also wanted to mention: Early on, before I noticed there were two “coin” phrases sharing those corners, I was having a hard time seeing any [NICKEL] answer. I assumed this was the meta — find the clue that could be changed (pronunciation or parsing, I thought) so that it could follow [NICKEL]. I won’t say just how long I spent trying to make [NICKEL] (A) TESLA work, but at least it was less time than I spent working on [NICKEL] AGWAH (mispronounced Central American state?). But was in both those rabbit holes for a while!

  5. Gideon says:


  6. David Harris says:

    Echo everything Joon said—rough fill, tons of stuff I didn’t know or had to double-check (same mistake on LOllERS even!), but totally understood once realizing how extensive and ambitious the meta was.

    Saw the POUNDER connection first, since they were so close together, but then once I corrected LOAFERS, that popped out. Thankfully, those two were visible enough to make me look for NICKEL and DIME, guessing that’s how a lot of folks went. Unluckily, I wasn’t really familiar with the across themers other than (PENNY) LANE, which had the non-matching clue, so while I noticed that 1A could also use the coin, I wasn’t 100% sure how that fit into the meta. Guessing it took me a bit longer than Joon to realize that the acrosses were just as symmetrical, and even after solving the meta, didn’t realize that the coins were placed on their values until reading the write-up.

    Great idea and puzzle, now terrified for the Week 5 that could come after it!

    • slubduck says:

      Ditto on missing the fact each coin was in its corresponding number box in the grid – holy moly – and I was ridiculously proud of myself for getting this, yet I’ve obviously still missed one of the most unbelievable parts of the construction ……. shoot, he can have unsightly city-blocks full of black squares anytime if the meta is this involved-yet-gettable. Incredible debut Peter.

  7. Garrett says:

    Damn! So close. I had noticed Penny Lane and penny loafer, Quarter Pounder and quarter pipe Monday. I looked at 5 & 10 and nothing connected (like Joon I have only heard dime BAG, not sack). Nickle Creek rang a faint bell which I intended to follow up on but never got around to, because yesterday was crazy busy. I intended to work on it again this morning but I never found time to look at it again. I wish I had thought to look at the symmetrical opposite locations because had I it probably would have clicked then. Alas.

    Pretty darn clever.

  8. Amanda says:

    Better start stretching now if there’s going to be another puzzle harder than this! Dang these 5-Friday months.

  9. I expect I will be in the minority on this, but I come down on the side of the meta not being worth the fill in this grid. I can accept some iffy entries in the service of an ambitious or heavily constrained theme, but not when the grid gets overwhelmed with them. The coins being at the exact numbers is neat, but it constrained the grid a lot more and it didn’t really feel necessary to me since I only noticed that after I found the missing coins; maybe it was an inroad for others. Anyhow, I offer those criticisms as someone who thinks the meta itself was very creative, certainly way more clever than anything I’d have ever done for my first crossword.

    I also thought it was bizarre that “quarter” was in the clues (for RIX) where the other coins were not. Before I got the right answer I thought the idea was to change that clue to something money-related, and apparently there was a European coin from a few centuries ago called the Rix-dollar. That has nothing to do with changing a “tune” and the real solution is better, but I wonder if anyone else got stuck there.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      I didn’t even notice the clue numbers corresponding to the coins — although it was a nice touch, I agree that it forced an awkward grid. I’m on the fence as to whether it was worth it. But overall very impressive and fun to solve.

    • Tyler Hinman says:

      Yeah, as much as I like the meta, I have to agree. The crossword feels like it’s actively getting in the way of the meta rather than being a vehicle for it.

    • Eric Conrad says:

      IMO: the meta justifies the means. That meta was simply beautiful: the solution revealed itself in layers. I can’t imagine ditching it because the fill became challenging.

  10. tabstop says:

    Saw “quarter”, decided for no good reason that we were supposed to be trying to find fractions, and got no further.

  11. pgw says:

    Thanks, joon and others, for the gratifying comments. Matt also deserves big thanks for putting in a lot of time as an editor to help me complete this idea. We may not have polished it all the way smooth but I think we got it pretty close given all the constraints imposed by the theme.

    I know the fill was rough. I think a more experienced constructor could probably have done better with the upper left, where frankly I couldn’t bear to start over once I found something that pretty much worked. As for the middle it was never going to be “clean” with MG?G and A?DT gumming things up.

    Evan B., I totally understand that the grid may have felt too ugly to justify the meta. Only things I’ll say in response are (1) the grid-numbers-as-coins constraint was the seed idea for the whole thing and to me the meta might be solvable but would not make any sense without it; and (2) for my money the meta is more the fun part than the crossword, so I’m more apt to slog through clunky crossword fill to get to an interesting metapuzzle. That mileage varies for some is understandable though.


    • Noam D. Elkies says:

      “for my money“? ISWYDT ;-)

      Amazing meta concept.


      • pgw says:

        Unintentional, but I’ve had coins rattling around in my head for weeks so maybe it was inevitable that I’d gravitate to that idiom…

  12. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Why the ç’s in “çeçi”? The cedilla softens a C that would normally be pronounced hard, as in François or façade; but C followed by E or I is soft by default, and indeed the word is spelled “ceci” with no diacritics.

  13. Mutman says:

    Sorry pgw, I kinda agree with Evan about the full.

    Clever meta though!

  14. LuckyGuest says:

    I absolutely loved this meta, and kudos to Peter for a grand debut! I understand that criticisms are generally offered as a way to improve subsequent offerings, but in my opinion, they’re barely warranted — certainly not as a main premise of a post — for this elegant puzzle.

  15. Peter says:

    What are the odds: if you believe a comprehensive list of coins is penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half, dollar, and (more obscurely) eagle, you can make all the answers work if you switch in half pipe, dollar store, and Eagle Creek (a California b[r]and to go with Tesla). The inelegance of “eagle” and, err, the band Tesla changing their tune(?) did seem a bit disappointing…but the actual meta is fantastic!

  16. Jack Sullivan says:

    I’m with the minority here, and I hope it doesn’t sound like sour grapes. The grid is ugly, the fill is loaded with bizarre and obscure entries, and dime sack is just wrong.

    I went wrong with rail/pipe. Thought it was HALF pipe to go along with penny, nickel, dime, and quarter. That led me to search for the dollar coin to complete the meta. I never saw the double references or the clue number/coin feature.

    Despite my negative feelings about this one, I really admire the meta construction. Pure genius.

  17. CFXK says:

    I hated this puzzle while doing it. I hated the constructor while doing it. WTF is all this fill here i never heard of? Why is this constructor so evil? It was excruciating….

    Until Joon so kindly reveled and explained the meta.

    Then I completely changed my tune. Glorious!

    And I am imagining that tune-change in the solving experience as a meta upon the meta — one that Peter intended all along! And even if he didn’t, he should not hesitate to take credit for it anyway. Then he doesn’t have to apologize for rough fill! ;)

    Amazing work.

    • pgw says:

      That fourth level of title significance (beyond “change” as coins, the “change” you have to make per the instructions, and the “tune” involved in the answer) did not occur to me, but I’ll take it. Thanks for your forgiveness …

  18. BarbaraK says:

    I love this puzzle.

    While filling the grid, I was thinking that if Matt had written a grid that clunky, I’d know it meant that there was a ton of theme material he had to work around. But with a guest constructor, and a first timer at that, I didn’t really know if it was necessary or if this new guy just wasn’t very good.

    Once I found the meta, all was forgiven. It was totally worth it. And this new guy is really good.

  19. Toby says:

    I agree with those who said this is a completely brilliant puzzle. I did have to look up some things (I’m a little bit rusty on Rumi translators, etc.) but unlike sometimes I didn’t think my research was a waste of time and I learned a few interesting things in the process. I loved the gradual way things fell into place once I saw the “change” connection (nickel came first). And having the coins fall on the appropriate numbers left me breathless with admiration.

  20. Craig Mazin says:

    Count me among Team Worth It.

    You could pretty much tell before you started that this grid was going to be, ummm, special. Those huge clumps of black squares screamed “I had to force things in here,” and sure enough, the fill was nightmarish.

    That said, fill serves a different purpose for me in metas than it does in standard puzzles. I don’t mind challenging fill, because it’s fair game to Google answers on a meta, whereas on a regular puzzle, Googling = cheating.

    I tried my best to fill this one honestly, but had to cheat a bit in the NW.

    Now, if the meta is blah, then the bad fill is inexcusable. In this case, the meta was flat out awesome, and I also loved the mechanism of rewriting a clue. It’s nice to be able to provide some unique flair on a submission; I went with “Lennon-McCartney tune” myself.

    My personal rabbit hole: California band = TESLA… huh? Hmmm, Tesla was a HEAVY METAL BAND, and CADMIUM is a heavy metal, so if CADIUM = CA on the periodic table then….

    …nope. :)

    Congrats Peter Washington. The Meta Was Worth It™.

  21. Joshua Kosman says:

    Another member of Team Worth It. Kudos pgw, and thanks for all the fun.

  22. PuzzleCraig says:

    Amusingly, for “Piece of skate park infrastructure”, I had RAMP instead of RAIL, and it didn’t detract from the solve.

    After all, I’ve never heard of KAI Ryssdal, and KAM seemed perfectly reasonable.

    And while I can’t imagine that anyone would consider the non-existent “BIG CARP” sandwich a competitor to the Whopper, I guess it depends on whether you want fish or beef. :)

    • Meg says:

      I had “Big Carp” for more than a little while…..

    • Craig Mazin says:

      Kai is my neighbor and friend, so I am very excited to tell him that he was Bad Fill. ?

      • pgw says:

        Craig, you can also tell him that the constructor’s son is named Kai, in (small) part because of him …

        Anyways y’all need to consume more public media; if you haven’t heard of Kai you’re missing out on the best economics show on the radio, and if you haven’t heard of cadmium yellow you’ve obviously not watched enough of delightfully soft-spoken, frizzy-haired PBS painter Bob Ross, may he rest in peace.

        • CFXK says:

          Yeah. One of the glaring weaknesses of this puzzle is that Phthalo Blue is no where to be found…..

        • KW says:

          As Pete’s sister (and fellow Bob Ross fan) I was delighted to see the name Kai in the puzzle. (Aside: an entry referring to Pete’s daughter’s name is in there too as an Easter egg.)

          I was very irritated with myself that I didn’t get the meta–I got stuck on music (in part because of my longtime acquaintance with the constructor and his interests) and there were a lot of music-themed clues plus “tune.” I spotted loafers/wingtips and the Big Carl/[quarter] pounder parallel but never made the leap.

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