MGWCC #526

crossword 3:14  
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #526 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Make It Brief”. for this week 5 puzzle of guest constructor month, we have Will Nediger of bewilderingly, who challenges us to find a three-letter word. okay. well, what are the theme entries?

… i don’t know. i haven’t solved the meta, and i am running out of time to do so. but i might as well write out my ideas and see if something clicks.

the title suggests abbreviating, and there are a handful of entries in the grid that are (or include) a short form of a longer word or name:

  • {Sheila’s college} UNI(versity). this is australian slang.
  • {March honoree, familiarly} ST. PAT(rick).
  • {Juan Soto’s team, for short} NAT(ional)S.
  • {NBC comedy named after a high school science class} AP BIO(logy). never heard of the show, but it was inferable from the clue.
  • {Free version, often} DEMO(nstration).
  • {“Wicked!”} RAD(ical).
  • {Curry or Rice} TIM(othy).
  • {Stereotypical frat members} BRO(ther)S.

what do we do with these? i don’t know. there’s also one in the clues ({Defib expert} for EMT); that may or may not be relevant. and as usual, there are a handful of actual abbreviations and initialisms (including ST and AP in the above answers, plus things like EMT, OPEC, and IMHO) in the grid; those seem less likely to me to be relevant to the theme.

i was looking at the parts that got abbreviated out, like -versity, -ical, etc., and wondering if there were other beginnings for those endings, like DIVERSITY or LEXICAL. or, if the bits that we had left could also be the short for something else, like UNI could be uniform, or RAD could stand for radian (or radiation absorbed dose). and indeed, RADIATE is in the grid also; i believe it’s the only grid entry that starts with one of our (hypothesized) theme answers. wait, no, there’s also UNIT. but there’s no click yet.

other than NATS and BROS, the other theme answers are all followed by a black square in the grid, which seems like it might be important. notably, RAD and TIM are short answers that are followed by cheater squares in the southwest corner, necessitating a somewhat unusual-looking grid pattern. if NATS and BROS aren’t theme answers (because the part that got abbreviated away isn’t at the end of the word), then maybe we’re supposed to do something like write in the extra bits in the black squares? i dunno.

looking at the bigger picture, is eight (or even six) very short theme answers enough content for a 15×15 grid with a pretty high word count and a hefty number of black squares, including six cheaters? i think not, especially not for a highly talented and experienced constructor like will. so there’s probably a handful of other theme answers, but i’m guessing not a lot more, since there’s nowhere in the grid where the fill obviously suffers from too much theme.

i’m a little disappointed that i didn’t really give this one my best effort, as i was away for much of the weekend and didn’t get a chance to look at the puzzle until monday. oh well. i strongly suspect that this one had a good payoff, but i didn’t get there. somebody let me know in the comments, okay?

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34 Responses to MGWCC #526

  1. pgw says:

    This puzzle was amazing. Six theme entries which can have three letters removed to result in a synonym of the longer word, e.g. charisma-sia=charm. And sia is in the grid. The first letters of the 3-letter remainder words spell out sculpt, from which you can remove lps (also in the grid) to leave contest answer CUT.

  2. Tyler Hinman says:

    Six answers could have the letters of a three-letter answer removed and still fit the clue; e.g. COD LIVER could lose CDR and become OLIVE. The initials of those three-letter answers from top to bottom spell SCULPT, which matches with the answer LPS to give the final answer, CUT.

  3. Eric Conrad says:

    After I solved this Crypdex pointed out a term I wasn’t aware of: Kangaroo words:

    The 6 long answers are kangaroo words:

    CHARISMA – CHARM (leaving SIA)
    CODLIVER (OIL) – OLIVE (leaving CDR)
    ROUTINE – ROUTE (leaving UNI)
    SALVAGE – SAVE (leaving LAG)
    RESPITES – RESTS (leaving PIE)
    IMPOSTER – POSER (leaving TIM).

    The three letters left in each longer word are also in the grid as three-letter answers (as shown above)

    In order, those three letter words form SCULPT. Delete LPS (also a 3-letter answer in the grid), leaving CUT.

  4. Jeremy Smith says:

    Ouch!!! I typed in CUT, but before I hit the submit tab, I noticed the plethora of Ps in the grid. I changed my submission to CAP.

  5. joon says:

    oh wow, that’s good.

  6. dbardolph says:

    I figured there had to be a reason for IMPOSTER rather than the usual -OR spelling – but it got me nowhere. Great puzzle.

  7. Eli says:

    Dang, so close. I took SCULPT to be the shortened version of the word, and submitted RUE, which could be added to create SCULPTURE. Sculpture in the verb form isn’t as common, but it’s in the dictionary, so I went with it. Knowing that RUE wasn’t in the puzzle certainly gave me pause, but like Joon, I didn’t have a chance to get to the puzzle until Monday afternoon due to travel, so I may have caught on with a little more time. Very impressive (but frustrating to figure out so much of the meta and fall short)!

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon and Will — 179 right answers this week.

  9. pannonica says:

    That’s very, very good. The only stretch is the equivalence of COD LIVER and OLIVE as types of the same thing rather than being synonymous or near-synonymous.

    • george says:

      the answer pairs aren’t synonyms, but rather the clue actually clues both answers, in this case “oil source”, so cod liver oil and olive oil.

  10. Eckless says:

    Very nice meta – wish I had figured it out! :) I got too tied up with all of the [letter] [letter] [word] entries (“AP Bio”, “AA Bond”, “UV Lamps”, even “Mr Pibb” and “St Pat”) and couldn’t let that go given the title was referring to “brief”.

  11. ajk says:

    Man, I had everything but ROTE and didn’t get it. Facepalm.

  12. Joe says:

    Also impressive is the fact that the theme words are all symmetrical and the three-letter words removed are adjacent or damn close (to their theme word)!

  13. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I really liked the execution, but this puzzle didn’t give me the “grokked” feeling that most do. I was worried that the answer could have been LPS since it was the three-letter entries in the grid that got one to the next layer (rather than the remnants). I also spent several hours looking for stronger patterns after I’d seen sCUlpT.

    • ASB says:

      My click here was that “Make it brief” would be the clue for SCULPT/CUT.

      • Les Yonce says:

        Agree the link to the title was the last part of the click, although I missed the LPS part and am sorry I did. This one was genius.

        • pgw says:

          I thought it was ingenious, but you made it brief and cut out an unnecessary ion.

          • Les Yonce says:

            Oh that’s good! (In)geni(o)us even. As was your Change Your Tune puzzle a couple of weeks ago. Hope to see you construct more!

    • pgw says:

      > I was worried that the answer could have been LPS

      But LPS isn’t a word, which the instructions asked for. (Also, CUT is thematic.)

      > I also spent several hours looking for stronger patterns after I’d seen sCUlpT.

      Different strokes, I guess, but this pattern struck me as very strong. Before I even filled the whole grid I had SCUL__ and knew the last two would be a P and a T and the final answer would be CUT. (I did finish filling the grid to confirm.)

      This one jumped out at me early. While filling the upper right I was puzzling over what the “oil source” could be; I had most of the letters of “olive” from the crossings and had a thought like “this has too many letters.” Charisma/Charm was already there and not too hard to spot, and unusual entry SIA was right there at 1-A in a spot that would have been easy to fill without resorting to a not-terribly-famous singer, two initialisms and a two-word, four-letter phrase (e.g. PER, ACE, PACT, ECHO, READ.) So I went back and saw CDR, helpfully tucked right next to its thematic partner, and I filled the rest of the grid looking for more examples, which made it easier to solve the crossword itself.

  14. Mutman says:

    Well done – I never had a shot and went down a previously mentioned rabbit hole with the abbreviated grid entries. Nothing.

    I wonder if Will tried to find 6 kangaroo words where he could have used the remaining letters in order? Clearly 3 met this criterion, but I imagine it was nearly impossible finding 6, unless you were to use trashy fill like IMT and such.

    Again, kudos to all who solved!

    • Will Nediger says:

      Yep, I would have liked to have all of them in order (or none of them in order), but just couldn’t get it to work. I found a few others where the remaining letters spell a word in order (W[E]A[KE]NING, DI[S]M[AL]), but not many at all.

      Just for kicks, here are some other fun pairs that didn’t make it into the final version:


      • john says:

        Just brilliant, Will.

        I likely would have never got this except on solving the grid, i was convinced OLIVES was going to be in the answer when i discovered that the down was CDR. Later, a friend mentioned if you take out CD, you have OLIVER and that CDR flashed in my mind i and i thought OLIVE again. It was fairly straight forward from there.

        • Garrett says:

          Yes, brilliant. I almost did not get the toehold I needed on this one. After trying lots of things Saturday and Sunday, I finally put it away and slept on it again. Monday morning I was idly going through the words in the grid over coffee when I randomly thought to myself, “If I slide the D to the left one in CODELIVER I get CDOLIVER.” Later that morning I realized that removing CDR left OLIVE, and with CDR coming down into CODLIVER at the R I got the Aha Moment.

  15. KZ Condor says:

    Got this one fairly early, but was briefly rabbit-holed by LOOM and PLUM and their relationship to the title.

    This was a very nice puzzle. I’d’ve liked not to have the unused three-letter-words in the grid, but otherwise top marks.

  16. David Harris says:

    Great puzzle, at some point it went pretty quickly from no idea whatsoever to confidently fitting everything together for a solid answer. I was in the same boat as lots of folks, focusing at first on AA/AP/UV/MR/ST, along with other abbreviations—curious if there was any intentional red herring in there, but I’m guessing it was just a coincidence. But the abbreviated terms were so lopsided in the grid, which has often been a sign that I’m totally chasing the wrong meta. An idle thought about abbreviating CHARISMA as CHA, like on a D&D character sheet, somehow led me to CHARM, I think, through some lucky connection.

    Spent a while on RUT instead of ROTE, though, as that felt like it more directly matched the longer answer, and definitely needed to compile a list of the 3-letter entries so that I could reverse engineer OLIVE—which clarified that the embedded words were alternate answers to the clue, rather than synonyms. Having a few answers where the leftover letters were in order really helped—seeing LAG and PIE was a big tipoff to look more closely for the other remainder letters in the grid.

    Great puzzle, impressive meta!

  17. Chris says:

    This list of kangaroo words on Wiktionary would have been nifty to discover before this weekend.

  18. Jeff D says:

    I’m very thankful this week for @pandamagazine’s daily puzzles on Twitter, as I’m not sure I would have gotten this one had I not learned of this concept there a few months ago:

    (CHARISMA was even in both lists!)

  19. slubduck says:

    Dang. Stuck for 3 days with the plethora of 3-letter acronyms abounding in the grid, 7 or 8 of each going across and down,
    VLA (really, having APB and VLA kind of convinced me, since it’s really really hard to get those threes into a grid, for any reason, isn’t it?)
    STP (had to look this one up, not sure if it was really an acronym, but it was)

    Then went looking for diagonal threes to try to flesh my wrong idea out, and found more of course …… harrumph, a long and futile attempt that was sort of fun. Nice tons of misdirection Mr. Nediger!!

  20. Lance says:

    I fall into the “loyal opposition” on this one. Mind you, I rate it at four stars, but it got a couple of half-stars knocked off from five due to…

    1. I’ve seen too many (non-crossword, hunt-style) puzzles about kangaroo words. I’ve no doubt it’s exciting to someone who hasn’t seen them, and a lot of people haven’t, but when I finally caught the theme my immediate reaction was “oh, god, again?”.

    2. Having the leftover letters in the grid was a very clever touch…but then, having two of the six leftover sets of three be not in order felt like it detracted just a little from the elegance.

    3. The red herring of RUT as a word within ROUTINE nearly sunk me. I was looking at the leftover OINE, and at the grid, and at the letters, and the grid, and started to think, “Maybe it’s ONE, which is clued by the leftover I?”.

    4. The title also felt like a huge red herring: I, too, spent an awful lot of time looking at all the various abbreviations in the grid, both of the UNI[versity]/PAT[rick]/BIO[logy] kind, and of the AP/OPEC/IMHO variety.

    5. The final answer didn’t really click for me. Maybe because my first thought for sculpting was clay, in which you build up, rather than, say, stone, where you cut things out? But I looked at CUT, and it just wasn’t popping as a synonym for SCULPT, to the point that I was genuinely worried that I’d talked myself into another red herrring. Once I finally saw LPS in the grid, I felt confident, but not until then.

    Again, let me stress, still a four-star puzzle; I appreciate its cleverness. Just not quite at the five-star level for me.

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