MGWCC #529

crossword 3:36  
meta 2 days 


hello and welcome to episode #529 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Pick Six”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to name a six-letter entry in the grid (you can submit either its clue number or the entry itself). okay. what are the theme answers? well, there’s only one pretty obvious theme answer, the long central across answer: {They come with backgammon sets} DOUBLING CUBES. if you don’t know what these are, they look like dice, but they’re not intended to be rolled—instead, they just have a number on each face, and whichever number is currently face-up indicates the current stakes. at points during the game, one player can propose to double the stakes, and the other player can either accept the higher stakes (in which case they turn the cube), or immediately forfeit and pay out the current stakes.

anyway, what does this have to do with the meta? well, the title is pick six, and we’re looking for a six-letter entry, and a cube has six faces. in particular, the six faces of a doubling cube are 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. circling the letters in the grid in those squares, we get RUBIKS, which is of course also a cube. and it’s six letters, but it can’t be the meta answer because it’s not a grid entry. to be extra-clear, matt included a parenthetical saying we could give either the entry itself or its clue number, and it definitely doesn’t have a clue number.

this is where i got stuck for two days. i went over the list of six-letter grid entries many times, trying to figure out what might be connected to a rubik’s cube. here’s the list:

  • {“Alternatively…”} OR ELSE.
  • {Leave no room for doubt} ENSURE.
  • {Brain covers} CRANIA.
  • {Historical last straw} TEA ACT.
  • {To a smaller degree} LESS SO.
  • {Roughly, briefly} APPROX.
  • {Stand for a photography session} TRIPOD.
  • {The Joker player} ROMERO.
  • {Flying fish killer} OSPREY.
  • {Pelts} STOLES.
  • {Low points} WORSTS.
  • {Increase in the amount of} GROW BY.
  • {Possible ways to go} ROUTES.
  • {Threaten with dirt} EXTORT.

none of these really have anything to do with a rubik’s cube, so i was a little stuck.

eventually i got myself unstuck by thinking along these lines: it doesn’t make sense to build a 15×15 grid so that you can put one 13-letter theme answer plus six other theme squares in various places. it doesn’t even make much sense to have a grid that size for all that plus one more six-letter theme entry somewhere. so what is the rest of the grid doing? it’s a reasonably clean grid, and at only 74 words it is likely that there’s not a *great* deal more theme content, but i figured there had to be some.

so, what and where is it? a reasonable place to look would be the next longest across entries, MONOGRAMS and IVORY SNOW.
MONOGRAMS suggests looking at initials. my first thought was the initials of erno rubik. maybe E.R. has something to do with how we can single out one of those six-letter entries? but this went nowhere.

well, what about the other one? IVORY SNOW is white, which is one of the colors on a standard rubik’s cube (the others being red, blue, orange, green, and yellow). perhaps we should be looking at the initial letters of those colors? quite suddenly, i had solved the meta: GROW BY is the only six-letter entry comprised by the initial letters of the six colors. it’s a strange entry as fill, but it makes sense for a meta answer. in some ways it’s surprising you can spell anything at all from a random collection of six letters.

i thought this was a curious meta, and a not entirely satisfying one. getting to RUBIK’S was easy, and the rest was quite hard because it felt underclued. IVORY SNOW just happens to be one of the colors, and MONOGRAMS really only refer to initials of a name (of a person, corporation, etc.). so those two hints both felt very imprecise, enough so to diminish the “click” upon finally hitting upon the right answer. it would have been more satisfying to have symmetrically opposite pairs of entries somehow representing the correct pairs of colors on opposite faces of a rubik’s cube (white/yellow, blue/green, red/orange), although i admit that mechanism does not exactly lend itself to an extraction.

well, that’s all i’ve got for this week. what did you think?

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25 Responses to MGWCC #529

  1. Reid says:

    I think it was potentially underclued to make it fit more as a week 3, but I also didn’t think it needed to be clued anymore than it was.

    My solving logic went something to the effect of: “what is on the sides of a doubling cube?” to, “what is on the sides of a rubiks cube?” It felt like a totally natural next step.

    I was actually really surprised to find growby, because when I first hypothesized it might be the initials of the colors, in my head it looked something like WBGORY, which couldn’t possible be a word!

  2. Jeff says:

    Funny. Thought it played like a Week 1. Massively easier than last week…

    • Matthew G. says:

      I don’t know about a Week 1, but this was definitely easier than Week 2 for me. I was obsessed with backgammon once upon a time, so I got the significance of the doubling cube and followed it to RUBIKS immediately; then, the first thing I thought of when I thought of “six” was the Rubik’s Cubes six sides, which are distinguished by their colors. Done. So a lot easier than last week, which involved a lot of one-word movie titles I wasn’t familiar with and took a bit of time to fumble through.

      I’m looking forward to meeting some fellow MGWCC solvers at Boswords this coming Sunday. This will be the first time I’ve traveled away from NYC for a crossword tournament; does that officially transform my crossword habit from a hobby to a obsession?

    • Amanda says:

      Same here. It’s weird how sometimes a week 3 takes a minute, but a week 2 can stump me all weekend.

  3. pannonica says:

    I guess GROW BY also echoes how a DOUBLING CUBE works?

    • Matthew G. says:

      I didn’t make that connection, but yes, that adds an additional layer of elegance to the meta — and also partly answers joon’s criticism that the final step is underclued.

  4. Jon says:

    I got the meta rather fast for a week 3. I had to use the backgammon wikipedia entry to find out about the faces of the doubling cube (until then, I thought maybe we had to look at the double of cubes in the grid: 2, 16, & 54) and then found RUBIKS. From there I looked at all the 6-letter entries. For some reason when I got to WORSTS, the W made me think about the white side of a Rubik’s cube and then I wrote out all the first initials of the puzzle toy. That’s when I was able to see GROWBY.

    So I completely missed that MONOGRAMS and IVORYSNOW was supposed to be more clues. And I’m not sure if I concur that Ivory Snow is the name for the white side on a Rubik’s cube. Because I did Google IVORY SNOW and nothing about Rubik’s cube came up on the 1st page nor was it included in any of the additional search suggestions. In fact when you Google “ivory snow rubik’s” it still doesn’t pop up (except for this very blog page). To me everyone calls the white side “white” and not “ivory snow.” But I could be wrong on this.

    • Dave says:

      I’m pretty sure Joon’s statement was that IVORY SNOW is white, and white is a color on one face of a Rubik’s cube, not that IVORY SNOW is the name for that side of the cube. Either way, it seems doubtful to me that either MONOGRAMS or IVORY SNOW is intended to be a hidden clue. Taking the first letters of each color and making a word from them is an old meta trick, but it’s not really a monogram (at least not how I would think of monograms), and it doesn’t feel very Gaffney-like to just throw one random color in there as a clue that we need to use colors. If Matt says differently, however, I retract this statement :)

      • paul coulter says:

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure IVORYSNOW and MONOGRAMS weren’t intentional hints. As for the meta’s difficulty, this played very much like a Week 3 for me. Like others, I found RUBIKS quickly, then stumbled around for the next step. I feared this would have a mathematical basis, which I tend to do poorly on, but I investigated cubes and cube roots. Finally, I asked myself, What’s the most obvious attribute of a Rubik’s Cube? The six colored sides, of course. Since we’re looking for a six-letter word… I was delighted when the Wikipedia page showed Green, Red, Orange, White, Blue, Yellow. Not in that order, but I knew I had it solved. Good job, Matt. Another clever idea.

  5. Mutman says:

    Snow is white. Tea is orange. Tanks are green. Oil has a red hue to it. Pabst is a blue ribbon beer. Arizona’s flag has yellow in it.


  6. ===Dan says:

    Very nice. Didn’t solve, but in retrospect I think “Ivory snow” is a herring of a particular color (even though the two words are types of white). The color is represented by a W in the answer word.

    (I was hung up on numbers, noticing the two symmetrical downs ending in ONE and ATE. Obviously a doomed approach on its “face,” but there’s the connection to the doubling cube.)

  7. Bill2RD says:

    I liked this one, but I had to do some research to solve it. I’m not a backgammon player, so I had to look up what a doubling cube was. That led me to Rubiks. Then, since I am also not a Rubik’s Cube aficionado, I had to look that up as well and noticed the six different colors on the faces.

    Nicely done, Matt.

  8. HomeSkooled says:

    MONOGRAMS also points to RBG, which are the color controls on a TV set (right?). And lots of NINES in the grid (or nonets), which are the number of tiles on a side of a Rubik’s Cube. These all helped me to think about colors. Fun puzzle!

  9. BarbaraK says:

    I wasn’t crazy about this grid. Too many proper names I don’t know and clues I quibbled with. (Ex 9D A pelt is not a stole. It can be used to make a stole, but so can many other materials, and pelts can be used for other things too.)

    When it takes me a while to solve the meta, I often forget any complaints about the grid. But since I got this quickly, as soon as I realized I didn’t really know just what a doubling cube is and googled it, I was still grumbly.

  10. john says:

    Fun meta. I also got it quite fast following the exact logic Reid noted. Just goes to show that you can sometimes simply not hit on something fairly obvious for a while. I like Mutman’s tortured logic for the colors being a secondary clue. Part brilliance, part nonsense.

  11. jefflouie says:

    I’d guess that IVORYSNOW and MONOGRAMS weren’t meant to have anything to do with the meta. The grid had to be 15×15 in order for the number count to get above 64. Given the other limitation of the RUBIKS letters needing to be in their particular squares, this seems like a good, clean, relatively open grid to me. (The clueing might have made it thorny for some, but the fill itself is pretty clean.)

  12. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 259 right answers this week.

    I didn’t intend for MONOGRAMS or IVORY SNOW to be theme or hints, just fill. I thought another clue wasn’t needed for the RUBIKS –> GROWBY step since you do the same thing as the first step, taking information from the six sides of a cube. I liked the echo there: info from the six sides of the first cube takes the solver to the second, and then info from the six sides of the second takes them to the meta answer.

    • Squonk says:

      The fact that those clues were just fill is especially surprising, given that the other exact center entry besides DOUBLING CUBES is NINES, and MONOGRAMS/IVORY SNOW are the only other nine-letter entries. An amazing coincidence that they still led people (like me) to get the theme!

  13. jefe says:

    found Rubik’s right away, then stuck.

    Monograms suggests RBG in the grid, which led me to GROWBY as the least unreasonable answer. Ivory Snow has YOW in it (extracted how??). Hail Mary’d it. Never thought of colors.

  14. Wayne says:

    Loved the meta. I think that the heavy cluing of SIX in the title and the prompt made it play more like a Week 2. The prompt could’ve simply been “…an entry in the grid…”.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I agonized over whether to make it “an entry in the grid” or “a six-letter entry in the grid.” Changed it back and forth several times before going with the slightly easier version.

  15. Gwinns says:

    I went down a false path of the math definition of “doubling cubes.” 2×1=2, 2×8=16, etc.
    Also, Ivory Snow was “99 44/100ths pure” and 99 and 44 are double numbers.

    Eventually I looked up the backgammon definition and it fell quickly. I had no trouble after finding “Rubik’s.” I just asked myself “how do I get a six-letter answer out of a cube?” and looking at the six sides was obvious.

    • Margaret says:

      The doubled numbers of Ivory Snow threw me off for a LOOOONNNGG time. Tried so long to make MONOGRAMS part of the theme since IVORY SNOW clearly was. Or, you know, not.

  16. ab says:

    Got RUBIKS really quickly. I couldn’t get from Rubik’s to GROWBY- but it’s probably the curse of knowledge. Nobody ever uses the names of the colors for anything. Sides are called by position (Up, Down, Left, Right, Front, Back, most commonly) and have been since the early days when I did most of my cubing work. (Heck, my brand-name Rubik’s cubes are old enough to be green-yellow/blue-white, unlike modern ones.)

    GROWBY isn’t a monogram- it’s an acronym- so that was the opposite of helpful for me. I almost guessed it because of the clue, but thinking the numbers had significance (led astray by the directions), I went with 2 6 (doubling, cube) since it was the only one that seemed to make any numeric sense.

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