MGWCC #539

crossword 3:52  
meta 10 min 


hello and welcome to episode #539 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Sixth Mix”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt gives us the following instructions: There are 11 theme clues/entries in this puzzle, five of which have asterisks. Which of the remaining six is the odd one out? (You can submit either the clue number or its entry.) okay. well, what are the theme clues? the five *ed ones are easy, as not only are they *ed, they also occupy the five longest spaces in the grid:

  • {*Eponymous blues-rock debut album of 1971} BONNIE RAITT. i wouldn’t have thought of her as debuting this early, or in that genre.
  • {*What my son, Tilghman, will be on Tuesday} ONE YEAR OLD. happy birthday, little buddy!
  • {*Toasted type of pasta} ISRAELI COUSCOUS.
  • {*Theodore Roosevelt program} SQUARE DEAL.
  • {*Say something funny, maybe} BREAK THE ICE.

so, what’s the theme? i don’t know that i would have ever noticed it if not for the title, which suggests six different arrangements of something. there are six ways to permute three items, such as the letters E, A, and R, which appear together in each of those answers. at this point it certainly caught my eye that ONE YEAR OLD also contains not only EAR but also EYE (!), but that was already the answer to week 1 this month.

however, the EAR is certainly relevant, as each of the five answers above contains one of the arrangements of EAR (in bold, and also circled in the screenshot). the only one missing is AER.

so far, so good. but there are 11 theme answers, matt says. what are the other six? well, logically, they ought to correspond to all six of these orderings. and the odd one out is the one associated with AER, since it doesn’t have a *ed partner.

once i started thinking along these lines, it didn’t take that long to find what i was looking for:

  • {“Where ___ you?”} clues WERE, but of course, ARE would be an equally valid answer.
  • {Letters on some European planes} clues SAS, but it could also be AER (lingus).
  • {Body part which may take a ring} is LIP, but could be many other things (TOE, NAVEL, TONGUE, etc.); however, most commonly, and certainly most relevantly for this meta, it’s EAR.
  • {“Diff’rent Strokes” actress} is, apparently, PLATO. now, i knew that in ancient greek drama, men played female roles, but i still would have thought this ’80s sitcom was a good long while after PLATO’s heyday. however, zillions of previous crossword clues have taught me that this clue almost always refers to grid-friendly charlotte RAE.
  • {“Michael Collins” actor, 1996} is liam NEESON. hey, speaking of grid-friendly, stephen REA is also in this film.
  • {Rival of Gain and Surf} is the detergent ALL, but it could also be ERA.

so that’s it. the answer is 50-across or SAS. i submitted 50-across, but clearly the instructions allow for either one. i have a sinking feeling that some people will have submitted AER, and i feel like that shouldn’t be an acceptable answer, because not only is it not a grid entry, it also doesn’t demonstrate any evidence that a solver found the other six theme clues. but i can certainly imagine a solver fully grokking the meta mechanism and just submitting AER due to a less-than-careful reading of the instructions. i hope that wasn’t you!

having said that—this was a very cool meta. i have only two criticisms of it:

  1. temporal placement. the subtlest part of the meta mechanism (“this clue can also work for this other answer”) was an echo of last week’s mechanism, making it fresh in my mind and easier to suss out than if this had run as any other month’s week 4.
  2. the other part of the meta mechanism was more than a little reminiscent of this week 1 puzzle from last year. that’s a lot longer ago, but it’s also quite a bit more specific as a mechanism.

let’s take a look at the fill:

  • {Estado de Laredo y Lubbock} TEJAS. not sure i’ve ever seen this spanish spelling in a crossword. it’s perfectly reasonable, mind you.
  • {Be human, it’s said} ERR one and {Before, to Browning} ERE look like they want to be part of the theme, but they just aren’t. maybe {“___ Blues” (Beatles song)} YER, too, albeit slightly less so.
  • {Iowa town where the house in “American Gothic” is located} ELDON. i didn’t know this one.
  • {Order from a swing} PUSH ME. tilghman’s only 1, but trust me, matt, the days are coming.
  • {City of Martin Gardner’s birth} TULSA. this is certainly a clue i’d never seen for TULSA, but i love martin gardner so it was pleasing.
  • {“___ Bayou” (1997 Lynn Whitfield movie)} EVE’S. never heard of this movie, or this actress. i so wanted it to be HOW’S.
  • {“___, bro?”} clues U MAD. okay, it’s a partial, but i giggled.
  • {Rocker some roll with} ASTLEY.

that’s all i’ve got. cheers to matt for another month of great metas! how’d you all like this one?

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24 Responses to MGWCC #539

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 166 right answers this week.

    How do you remember those old metas? Scary. I barely recall that one myself.

    • What a difference a few letters makes. I remember getting the INFLUENZA answer much quicker just because the F/L/U letters stick out way more than A/E/R do. It’s so easy to pass over those letters as irrelevant.

      Also nice that you avoided any combination of A/E/R everywhere else in the grid.

    • joon says:

      it wasn’t a specific memory of that puzzle; i just had the spidey sense of having seen “six permutations of a trigram” used in a meta before. then i just searched “mgwcc permutations” on this blog and found it.

  2. Flinty Steve says:

    Was it just an accident that exactly six clues contain e-a-r permutations? Sure threw me off. I submitted 58A because it was the only one that spread its permutation out across three words and also contained an alternate answer to the clue. Oh well . . .

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      There are a couple of alternate answers I’m sending to the panel today. This is one of them.

    • sharkicicles says:

      FWIW, I submitted the same answer for the same reason. Still a fun meta though, even if I didn’t get it!

    • David Benbow says:

      My girlfriend and I noticed that as well and all of them were EVEN numbered clues except 1-Across, which is why we chose that as the ODD one out!

    • Dr. B says:

      Same approach for me as well, Flinty. I thought of 58A like you did but decided against it because the ERA in BonniERAitt also spanned across more than one word. In the end, I just gave up. I’ll be interested in the alternative answers. Matt’s is clearly elegant.

      • Katie M. says:

        I thought of 58A too, but besides BonnieRaitt’s ERA spanning two words, the permutations in the clues didn’t include all six, or even the five in the grid – there were duplicates. That’s why I kept looking, and eventually found the intended elegant answer.

        I guess it wasn’t intentional? But it was tricky since there were exactly six of them.

    • Gwinns says:

      I went down this exact same rabbit hole. Kept trying to make it work, but the solution just didn’t feel clean.

    • Barbara Hartwell says:

      I did exactly what you did!

  3. Lance says:

    Didn’t even get close on this one (small defense: I was out of town until late Sunday night, so I had less time to think about it…maybe with more of a chance to set it aside and come back to it?). Distracted by trying to rearrange other things: the fact that the last six letters of ONEYEAROLD can be rearranged to spell LAREDO, which is in the clues; [squa]REDEAL –> LEADER and [bonni]ERAITT –> ATTIRE, which aren’t in the clues, but by then I was looking at other six-letter substrings, or maybe other substrings, or maybe other…needless to say, I never got back anywhere near the AER-arrangements.

    (I’ll probably also have to sleep on whether I liked this one or not. Is there a signal-to-noise issue with taking three letters out of ISRAELICOUSOUS and BONNIERAITT, with no particular pointer to wanting three, or which three? I don’t know. Clearly it didn’t stop people from getting it…)

  4. Qatsi says:

    I got thrown by noticing that the letters of ISRAELI COUSCOUS are found in SUpERCALIfragiliSticexpialidOCIOUS and spent too much time looking for the other theme entries in other clues.

  5. Big Cheese says:

    Bummer. I thought that I had it with 37D OSU, which I think is still a valid solution.

    There are repeating 3 letters in the 5 long across clues that have down words that also cross them:

    bonNIE raITT – 4D anNIE & 9D ITT crossing it sharing 1 imminent letter. For example:

    a I
    n T
    bonNIE raITT


    ONE year old & thrONE
    SQUare deal & SQUire
    break tHE Ice & ohsHEIla
    Israeli cOUScous & OSU

    OSU is the only one out of order. 2 times three letter would be 6 or Sixth Mix.

    Seems like a logical answer.

  6. Scott says:

    These are great puzzles. But this is another one that I did not get and should have. I spent a decent amount of time on it but I went down too many rabbit holes.

  7. Dave says:

    Did anyone else not find all the corresponding clues? It took me a while to find the clue for RAE and I never found the one for REA. But even without those it was pretty clear what the right answer was.

    • Mutman says:

      The last one to fall for me was the Plato/Rae answer. I would have submitted the answer without grokking it, but I finally did get it.

      This was a rare ‘easy’ week 4 for me. I thought about ERA/ALL for 62D. When I randomly saw ERA inside Bonnie Raitt, it all came into place.

      Nice work Matt!

  8. Norm H says:

    I almost never get Matt’s Week 4, so was surprised to suss this one very quickly. I’m wondering if it was on the easy side — how does 166 compare to the average Week 4?

    I echo Joon’s small ding regarding the “repurposed clue” mechanism, which we saw a week ago. Felt too familiar, and I suspect it contributed to this being easy for me.

    Still, Matt’s seemingly endless supply of metas is astonishing.

  9. slubduck says:

    i have SAS circled in my grid and AER written in the margin with an arrow towards SAS, yet i never sussed the whole thing and didn’t submit anything …… i actually feel good about getting some key parts of a week 4 though.

    so didn’t anyone else note that the 6th letter of each starred entry are EALET, which anagrams to 35d. ELATE ?? How Matt gets these coincidences into these things is pure genius (because unintended, i assume).

  10. Adam Thompson says:

    I thought it might involve Playstation games, because the long answers hide NIER, ICO, and Playstation EYE (and SQUARE and EA, which don’t work as neatly). I didn’t get the meta.

  11. wordsmix says:

    Also found these clues, which delayed me a bit :

    Ang behind the camera : ERA
    Mother of pearl : EAR
    Estado de Laredo y Lubbock ARE
    Great admirer of Nicola : REA
    1985 #1 HIT BY Ready for the world : REA ( 2nd occurance )

    When I didn’t find AER and RAE, I realized we are bound to get these triplets as they are fairly common.

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