MGWCC #541

crossword 3:07  
meta 4 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #541 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Brains Over Brawn”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt asks us, Which two entries in this grid combine to make a good title for the puzzle? okay. what are the theme answers? there are four long entries in the grid in a pinwheel pattern:

  • {Common item used in arts and crafts} PIPE CLEANER.
  • {Their tracks are small} MODEL TRAINS.
  • {Trendy electrical engineer} NIKOLA TESLA.
  • {Tries from the 15-yard line} EXTRA POINTS.

based on the title and the presence of {Bodybuilder’s pride} MUSCLES in the grid, i hit on the theme pretty quickly. i’ve highlighted them in the grid, but each of these two-word phrases contains the informal shortened name of a muscle across the word break: PEC(toral), DELT(oid), LAT(issimus), and TRAP(ezius). i’ve never heard trap used in this context, but it was inferable.

so definitely MUSCLES is going to be part of the answer. what other word pairs with MUSCLES that would make a good title? this was the least satisfying part of the meta solve for me. i settled on TORN MUSCLES, because that’s an actual phrase, and i guess you could say that putting the muscle name across the word break is “tearing”, but it didn’t quite click for me the way it would have for, say, BROKEN BONES (hey, there’s a meta idea), because we call that division a word break, not a tear. but i sent it in and it seems to have been right. there weren’t a lot of other options; maybe ANKLES and DISEASE are at least potentially anatomy-related, but neither one of them really makes a phrase with MUSCLES. (MUSCLE DISEASE sounds like it could be a thing, but MUSCLES DISEASE not so much.) did anybody try a different answer with MUSCLES?

not much else to say about this one. i thought the fill was nice, with PF CHANG’S and SANSKRIT beautifully anchoring two sections of the grid. {The L of LMM} for LIN-manuel miranda looks like a shameless attempt to curry favor with the blogger, and what can i say—it worked. thumbs-up to this one.

that’s all for me. what did you think of this one?

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47 Responses to MGWCC #541

  1. MeanMrMustard says:

    You forgot AB in SEABASS.

  2. HomeSkooled says:

    Also, AB in the middle entry, across SEA BASS.

    False Aha Moment: Upon seeing ENO sitting directly above MUSCLES, I had to double check that the title wasn’t really “Brians over Brawn.”

  3. genefaba says:

    There is also AB in Sea Bass for abdominals.

  4. joon says:

    good catch, everyone. i did wonder if there was another theme answer, but i was not looking for a two-letter muscle name.

  5. Amanda says:

    I didn’t enter an answer because I wasn’t sure if it was torn muscles, muscles at rest, or long muscles. The muscles weren’t torn; the words surrounding them were. I figured maybe muscles itself was a trick and there were two other words you could put together that would be more elegant, but I couldn’t find them. Usually there’s another layer at the end that brings it all together, and I just didn’t see it.

  6. harry says:

    what about purely muscles?

    • David Benbow says:

      We went back and forth between TORN MUSCLES and PURELY MUSCLES (because there was no ‘brains’ component, purely ‘muscles’). We just didn’t think they were torn enough, so we chose PURELY.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 387 right answers this week.

    I think my Click-o-Meter was a bit off for this one. I thought the muscles being “torn” across two words was clear, but two things seem to have made it less clicky than it should have been: 1) some solvers apparently *expect* hidden words to span two or more entries, so that didn’t seem unusual to them, and 2) the “brains” part of the title was a little random/unhelpful/confusing, since it doesn’t describe any part of the mechanism.

    End result: a Week 2 # of right answers, but with many of them not hearing the click loudly. Not good. This one will probably not go into the next book.

    • Mary Flaminio says:

      I also was thinking it spanned across 2 different words. Looking for Brawn and Brains. Knew it couldn’t be nerdy and muscles. But couldn’t get past the two fill words. Saw the muscles but not the brains.

      • Jim Schooler says:

        I sent in TORN MUSCLIES but toyed for a day about sending in NERDY MUSCLES with the suggestion of “Brains over Brawn.”

    • Matthew G. says:

      I have to concur in Matt’s self-assessment. I got this one right, but maybe the biggest sign of my doubts is that I figured it out on Friday afternoon and waited until Monday evening to submit because my brain wanted there to be another layer—either to confirm TORN or to fully explain the “Brain” in the title. Eventually I looked at the leaderboard and decided that if that many people had it right, the apparent answer had to be the right one.

      Not a bad meta, but a bit off Matt’s usual excellence.

  8. Norm H says:

    Took me forever to figure this out. Only on my fourth “clean” look did I see the MUSCLES, just about an hour before the deadline.

    I submitted TORN MUSCLES, because it was the only combo that felt like a real phrase (unlike, say, MUSCLES ATREST, which I briefly considered). Problem is, even TORN MUSCLES was not very satisfying, because the MUSCLES aren’t TORN. If anything, it’s the other way around — the theme answers are TORN by the MUSCLES.

    Unless Matt reveals a different answer or some other wrinkle, I’m going to count this one as one of his weaker efforts. No biggie — I’m sure Mozart wrote a crummy tune every once in a while.

    EDIT: OK, having now seen Matt’s explanation, I see how the MUSCLES are TORN across two words. Still, as he says, not a great “aha” moment.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I mean, honestly I still don’t see how it’s not clear that they’re “torn” because there’s a space between the two words they span, as in Joon’s “broken bones” example above. But enough people brought it up independently that it’s got to be me and not them.

  9. Jon says:

    I was going to submit NERDY MUSCLES since the title seemed to suggest it. But it’s not really a known term & I also didn’t think the muscles were really torn per se. Because muscles actually attach to 2 different things (or words in this grid). You wouldn’t have a muscle attach itself to the same bone because then it wouldn’t be able to move that bone.

    My solving group helped me to see “torn” as the “right” answer. But my question: how many submitted “nerdy muscles?”

    • Jesse says:

      I was on the fence between these two as well, mostly because of the title. I submitted Torn Muscles in the end, though.

    • Peter says:

      Yeah, I confidently submitted that. Aside from the AB I didn’t see, all the themers related to nerdy things in my mind: pipe cleaners for model builders, model trains, Nikola Tesla as a nerd icon, extra points on tests. It seemed the more precise answer than torn muscles, since as noted hidden words are almost always split between words. I suppose SEABASS throws all that out the window though.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I’m sending NERDY MUSCLES to the panel. About 25 submitted it.

  10. Les Yonce says:

    I liked this one because I had to think (over-think?) a lot more than is typical for a week 2, but can understand the “click” concerns.

    Stared for a while at “ate muscles.” As in “eight muscles.” Or the theme entries “ate” the muscles. Discarded it for 2 reasons: (1) I could only find 5 muscles; and (2) “snarf muscles” is kind of the same thing, and that usually means neither option is right.

    And I interpreted “torn” to mean, for example, “pec” was “torn” from “pectoral.” Didn’t entirely click – and I wanted to find “-toral” somewhere else in the puzzle – but it made sense, at least to me.

  11. BarbaraK says:

    I did today’s Puzzle Society Crossword, and what a surprise to see the same theme there!

    I wonder if that helped anyone who was stuck on MGWCC.

  12. Amy L says:

    I got the puzzle on the three across muscles. I kept looking for LAT but never found it. I wouldn’t have found TRAP.

    When abbreviations are in the answer, the clue always says something like “Short ____” or “Little ___” to clue in that the answer is an abbreviation. I took the “Torn” to be like that.

    Did anyone else notice the TORAL wrapped around the AB and go looking for the ends of the other muscles?

    • Craig Mazin says:

      I sure did, Amy! It’s a rare rabbit hole that I *don’t* go down. It’s my signature move.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Yep, me too. And I did this _after_ I had already found the correct answer, so this was part of why I waited till late Monday to submit.

    • Les Yonce says:

      Oh that’s a good find! I went looking for -TORAL and other endings but saw nothing.

  13. Jim S. says:

    I got it, but I flirted with submitting “UNI MUSCLES” – each of the 5 muscles is typically seen in plural form… abs, lats, traps, pecs, delts. Very rarely do they appear in singular form but TORN definitely seemed stronger so I went with it.

    • Margaret says:

      Same here, I was stuck on the singular vs plural issue for a LOOONG time. And since the title was Brains (plural) over Brawn (sort of singular) I kept looking for brains all over the grid.

  14. Pancho says:

    I, too, considered LONG MUSCLES, but that didn’t really seem to be what they all were. So TORN had to be it, especially thinking as a constructor might—we all love those hidden little words that bridge across two larger words. And, by the way, I’ve had two editors pass on my proposal for a BROKEN BONES theme. Not a pleasant image, they said.

  15. Bret says:

    My backup would have been Muscles Aisles. Not exactly a thing but the way the muscles break over two words, it’s like there’s an aisle in the middle.

  16. James says:

    Well, now that I see the answer, I acknowledge that it works. However, I still love the answer I submitted: ITSME ITSOK.
    “BRAINS OVER BRAWN” has two words next to each other alphabetically, also perhaps descriptive of a certain someone.
    “It’s OK, it’s me” would make the most clever wink of an answer. It so amused me to think that Mr. Gaffney had given us a meta where he humbly suggested he is better known for his brains than his brawn.

  17. jefe says:

    The muscles were plainly torn across the entries. The trick was finding them in the first place, since they’re all very short and in the uncommonly used singular form.

  18. mkmf says:

    When I found the muscles, not realizing that they spanned two words, I saw “torn” and knew it made a good title phrase. But I talked myself out of it and kept looking, because it just didn’t seem strong enough. Then since all the muscle names had been shortened, I tried to find something to do with muscle contractions. I tried “muscles in on” ideas. I never found any good answer. When I finally saw that the muscles spanned two words*, I remained too fixated in those other mindsets to revisit “torn.” Arrg – lesson learned.

    *Haven’t seen any comments about the way the spans were constructed. They didn’t just span; the last letter of the muscle was the first letter of the phrase’s second word in all cases. Cool!

  19. Thurman8er says:

    I almost settled on “Torn Muscles,” but I just didn’t consider it a good enough answer to enter. I was still looking for a better answer at the deadline. I probably should have just submitted my best guess. Lesson learned.

  20. Scott says:

    My only nit that I have with the puzzle is similar to what others have voiced. I figured TORN MUSCLES meant that the muscle hidden in the grid was torn, i.e. DELT/S, LAT/S, AB/S, TRAP/S, but the grid entry containing PEC had no S toward the end. unlike all of the other entries. This confused me a little but in the end, I decided that there was no better answer than TORN MUSCLES. Thanks Matt – it still was a very fine puzzle.

  21. Mike says:

    My problem with the meta is that it was too easily guessable without even seeing the muscle short names. Actually, that’s how I solved it. As soon as I saw “muscles” I inferred from the title that was one of the words. “Torn” was right below itand seemed like the only word in the grid that would go with “muscles”. That just left finding the hidden muscles. Even for a week two, that seemed a little too obvious.

  22. Mike Miller says:

    I thought torn made perfectly good sense because the muscles were all shortened (torn) versions of their full names.

  23. Daniel Barkalow says:

    My first thought was “MUSCLE SCAN” (if the theme entries involve changes to spacing, why not the answer), but that’s not really a thing. I looked for a couple of extra theme entries to make MUSCLE SEVEN work (particularly with each theme entry holding distinctly one muscle rather than multiple similar ones), but settled on TORN MUSCLES.

  24. CFXK says:

    For me it clicked as soon as I saw it. But that may have been conditioned by the fact that I first spent a minute or two playing with “taxing muscles” – as in straining them by stretching them across two works. Then, consideration of another synonym for taxing, back-breaking, almost clinched it for me – as in, the back (last latter) of each muscle was broken off onto the start of a second word. Though I thought this was really esoteric and convoluted logic, I still came within 4 nanoseconds of submitting it. Then I saw “torn” – which, being far less logic taxing – clicked immediately. But perhaps it may not have clicked so readily had I not been taxing my brain with taxing.

  25. Janet Tolopka says:

    I went with Moral Muscles. I googled the phrase and it means basically mental toughness. For me that fit the theme of Brains over Braun. And it is also alliterative like the puzzle title.

  26. Jon says:

    I’ll add that since hidden words usually lay across two or more words, I visualize that more like a bridge spanning the word “gap” between the words. So that may be why I & others didn’t view the muscles as “torn.” I would never look at a bridge spanning a river as “torn.” For my brain, had the hidden words’ letters been split up & placed at either ends of the themer fill, I might have seen it as torn. I offer this example not as a “this is what it should have been,” I would never do that because I’ve never constructed a crossword before & I realize constructing them is super hard. I only offer this as a visual aid to what I’m talking about. Something like “DELayed tesT” being the fill, DELT being the hidden muscle, & a possible clue like “would possibly make a brainiac mad” to fit the “Brains Over Brawn” title.

  27. Gwinns says:

    I also felt TORN MUSCLES was a good-but-not-great answer, but in those cases I usually think about it backwards, which helps me not overthink. So this is what I thought:

    TORN MUSCLES is an existing phrase (at least, people talk about pro athletes having muscle tears all the time)
    TORN MUSCLES could be construed to mean “split over the two words”
    And it satisfied the title, in that Brawn clearly referred to the muscles and Brains could be the mental effort to solve the puzzle.
    Then I looked for any other loose ends… aspects of the theme answers, or clues, or hints, or anything that could be used to *disprove* TORN MUSCLES as the answer. Didn’t find any.

    So, even if it wasn’t the intended right answer, I submitted it with confidence that Matt/the panel couldn’t conclude it was the wrong answer.

  28. Coreen Steinbach says:

    I thought that Torn Muscles was a good and logical answer simply because they were shortened forms of their proper names;i.e. they were “torn” from their original form.

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