MGWCC #551

crossword 3:42  
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #551 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “In Other Words”. the deadline for this puzzle is on christmas day, so i’m writing this blog post in advance, even though i haven’t actually solved the meta. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a two-word phrase. what are the theme answers? there are six medium-long acrosses whose clue is just a single letter and either “for example” or “and others”:

  • {“M,” and others} are OLD MOVIES.
  • {F, and others} are MUSICAL NOTES.
  • {L, for example} is a (roman) NUMERAL.
  • {K, for example} is a VITAMIN.
  • {P, and others} (that’s a capital rho, i guess) are GREEK LETTERS.
  • {B, for example} is a BLOOD TYPE.

what next? well, i have had various ideas about what to do, but none of them have gone anywhere. my first very good idea was that i noticed that 13d, {___ Vegas Raiders (soon-to-be NFL team)} LAS, could also be interpreted as the plural of LA, and hence could be considered MUSICAL NOTES. that looks good, doesn’t it? unfortunately it’s the only one like that in the grid.

what about {- (abbr.)} NEG? that looks like it must be related somehow to BLOOD TYPE, right? but how? well, you could combine the B from the clue with NEG to get a more specific blood type. do other things work like that? … no. it’d be cool if there were HIS or SIS (or IS, if two-letter words were allowable) that you could combine with P to make PHIS/PSIS/PIS, which are greek letters. but none of those are in the grid. lots of things could combine with M, too, to make other old movies; ARTY comes to mind.

i do think the title does suggest looking at other entries in the grid, or perhaps the clues. so does the fact that the grid has 80 words and a couple of cheaters, neither of which seems entirely necessary if the six theme answers above are the only grid entries constrained by the meta mechanism. there’s also some pretty clunky fill in areas without much theme constraint, so i think there must be more theme. if i had to guess, i’d say probably 6 extra theme answers.

with all these one-letter clues, i was drawn to some other clues with letter homophones, some of them seemingly forced:

  • {“See ya,” when texting} BAI. C is a musical note, roman numeral, and vitamin.
  • {Landing spot for a bee, maybe} IRIS. of course, there’s also “soon-to-be” in that LAS clue, but maybe we ignore it because it’s part of a longer hyphenated phrase? anyway, B is a musical note, vitamin (a whole complex of vitamins, actually), and a greek letter. and of course it’s already in the clue for BLOOD TYPE.
  • {“Gee!” “No, ___” (1980s ad lines)} GTE. G is a musical note.
  • {“Don’t ___ Me Why“} ASK. Y is … i guess it’s a greek letter? that’s what a capital upsilon looks like.

now, there are plenty of letter homophones in any sufficiently long block of text. (it’s almost surprising there isn’t a “you” or an “are”.) so this would ordinarily not be worth remarking on, but it does seem in all four cases like matt went out of his way to include the homophone word. the thing is, if this is the mechanism, there really ought to be one of these for every theme answer, and there just isn’t. in particular, OLD MOVIES is a tough one, because the only other old movie of any note with a one-letter title is costa-gavras’s Z (1969), and that’s just not in the grid or clues.

of course, if we’re looking for alternate answers in the clues, nothing says they have to be one letter. they might also be disguised in some way—anagrammed, or perhaps one letter changed. the clue {www.iona.___} EDU definitely caught my eye, because matt could have used any school name there, but he chose one that’s a letter change away from iota, a greek letter. but this feels like entirely too wide-open a space to search, especially because most of the categories really are just sets of single letters.

is there another way to interpret the title? well, “in other words” could just mean alternate names for things. for example, the musical note labeled F is also called fa (in the default key of C major); the numeral L is also 50 (or fifty); the greek letter P is rho. so that’s interesting. but the film M is just M, and vitamin K is just vitamin K (it has a few different named vitamers, but those aren’t alternate names for vitamin K itself), and blood type B is definitely just blood type B.

welp, i’m giving up. i wish i’d had more time (and, more importantly, head space) to work on this one, because it seems interesting, but with the holiday, that just wasn’t possible. merry christmas to you if you celebrate christmas, and if not, have a great day!

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21 Responses to MGWCC #551

  1. Scott says:

    I submitted ID EST and it was marked correct. I was hoping to come here and find out more because it was a Hail Mary guess.

  2. Mary says:

    A similar struggle for me. I also thought I was on to something with NO(a)IR for Old Movies, (i)TUNES for musical notes, (b)MI for numeral, B(a)I for vitamin but couldn’t find a greek letter or blood type.

  3. BarbaraK says:

    M and others = M et al = Metal, alternate answer for 38A ALLOY (Brass or steel)
    F and others = F et al = Fetal, alternate answer for 68A TUCK (_ position – rolling the body up in a ball)
    L for example = L eg = Leg, alternate answer for 1A THIGH (Piece at Popeyes)
    K for example = K eg = Keg, alternate answer for 72A STEIN (Beer container)
    P and others = P et al = Petal, alternate answer for 70a IRIS (Landing spot for a bee)
    B for example = B eg = Beg, alternate answer for 10A HEEL (Command to a dog)

    Initials of alternate answers, in grid order, spell THAT IS

    • jefe says:

      Oh, that’s good. Mad at myself for not getting it. I even started typing FETAL before I saw it was 4 letters!

      • BarbaraK says:

        I did put in METAL, though of course none of the crossings worked. But when I saw M et al, that was still fresh in my mind.

        • David says:

          I did the exact same thing with FETAL/TUCK, obviously stopped by the word length—when I later cracked the trick to the clues, that definitely helped resolve the final step of the alternate answers quickly.

          Since the theme answers and the focus on single letters ended up both being total red herrings, this one feels very easy to miss—so many paths to go down. I can’t remember what made me think about eg/et al, or which clue jumped out first, it was just a lucky turn.

          Potentially very tricky, but also very clean, meta, loved the resolution to this one!

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            I wouldn’t say that the theme answers and the focus on single letters were total red herrings, since they were the simple consequences of the chosen theme, rather than complications added to mislead. Adding “etal” or “eg” to turn one clue into another is only reasonably feasible when the original clue consists of a single letter. The [single-letter, e.g./et al.] clues, in turn, dictated the nature of the theme answers.

  4. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I saw the abbreviation pattern and just submitted Id est given the puzzle’s title. I perhaps should have caught on to the fetal/lotus alternate answer, or perhaps the stein one.

  5. Jon says:

    And others can be written as et al. For example can be e.g. Take those with the letter themers and you get
    These match with the cluing of other fills.
    METAL 38a Brass or steel – ALLOY
    FETAL 68a __ position (rolling the body up in a ball) – TUCK
    LEG 1a Piece at Popeyes – THIGH
    KEG 72a Beer container – STEIN
    PETAL 70a Landing spot for a bee, maybe – IRIS
    BEG 10a Command to a dog – HEEL
    Put the new fill words in grid order you get:
    The first letters spell out the 2-word phrase “That is…” which is another way to say the title “In Other Words…”

  6. Jim S says:

    Wow, “has TO”, “came TO”, “went TO”, “open AT”, and “lap AT”, and the repetition of the 2-letter words, had nothing to do with the meta? Add “EAT ME” and that’s 6 items, a count which matches the number of theme answers… no wonder I got nowhere…

  7. David Glasser says:

    I was pretty stuck on trying to make clue or answer words from the full sets of letters (ABO, ABCDEK, etc). That the answers to the themers wouldn’t matter never occurred to me! I did notice the “and others” vs “for example” but figured it was just about fitting the answers in the grid (lengths changing based on pluralization).

    • I also assumed that the “and others” vs “for example” was just to make the theme answers fit symmetrically in the grid and ignored that aspect of it >_<.

      I figured the specific letters chosen for the clues (MFLKPB) had to be those for a reason but couldn't find what that reason was. I was trying to see if I could change those letters in interesting ways to make the clues still work, but I came up empty for other 1-letter old movies, and nothing I tried with any of the other ones really went anywhere.

  8. Mutman says:

    Wow. Matt accepted id est?

    Thank him for the Christmas present!

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I’m also surprised he accepted that without requiring further elaboration, since it’s not the two-word phrase that the puzzle spells out.

  9. mpstable says:

    this is a great meta. i noticed the and others/ for example differences early, but wrote them off assuming the singular or plural was for symmetry. then i got stuck looking for other instances of the 6 letters in the grid. BAI/EBATE seemed so clunky that i assumed a B and not an L there had to be meta-related. i guess it was one of those words intended to deceive.

  10. Justin says:

    Didn’t get it. But that is beautiful.

  11. Sherman says:

    Nice. Wish I’d figured that one out.

  12. Eckless says:

    I’m happy to admit defeat on this meta – I wasn’t even close, yet it was completely fair. Thank you, Matt!

  13. PJ Ward says:

    This one was quite the adventure for me.

    I was e-maiing with a friend about the WSJ late Friday morning as well as doing a couple of things around the house. Then the MGWCC arrived and I looked at it. After a few come and goes with my computer I cracked the WSJ. I was so excited (and confused) I submitted my answer at A few minutes later I was on the board. After lunch I sat down and saw I still hadn’t solved the MGWCC. I went back and forth from puzzle to puzzle, website to website, and saw that the puzzle I had solved was WSJ, not MGWCC. I thought I was tripping. I emailed Matt and asked him what I submitted. He confirmed that I had submitted ENTER and that he had marked it as correct. I guess that can happen when you have two live puzzles. He said if I got MGWCC there’d be no harm, no foul, but if I didn’t my MGWCC entry would, very reasonably, be marked as incorrect. Needless to say I doubled down on the MGWCC since I didn’t want to be taken off the board. I was relieved when I cracked it later Friday afternoon.

  14. Lance says:

    I did get this, but I was sort of sad that the apparent theme answers really were wholly irrelevant. My slightly lower rating for this is based on that, and the fact that I was disappointed when they were *almost* relevant in a way that didn’t pan out…

    “F and others” = MUSICAL NOTES / TUCK; the only musical note in TUCK is C
    “L for example” = NUMERAL / THIGH; the only numeral in THIGH is I
    “K for example” = VITAMIN / STEIN; the only vitamin in STEIN is E
    “P and others” = GREEK LETTERS / IRIS; the only Greek letter in IRIS is I

    Which doesn’t work for “B for example” = BLOOD TYPE / HEEL, though it did work when I had ASK for HEEL (ASK being a synonym of BEG; I had to double-check the clue to realize that ASK was clued in a way that didn’t allow BEG there). As for OLD MOVIES / ALLOY, well, who knows what’s considered an “old movie” at this point; “O” (the modern retelling of Othello) is seventeen years old at this point…. I mean, I also wasn’t spelling anything out of CIEIAO, but it looked like a much more interesting use of the theme clues and answers than just reading the first letters of THIGH, HEEL, etc.

  15. Richard K says:

    I thought I had figured out the theme of abbreviations, but I bit hard on the first red herring I saw, which was ERIE. I was already looking for i.e., and it seemed to correspond to the pattern of theme clues, so I submitted, with confidence, the two-word phrase EMERGENCY ROOM. It was only after seeing I wasn’t on the leaderboard that I went back, looked at the non-theme clues, and put the rest of it together.

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