MGWCC #564

crossword 3:30  
meta dnf 


hello and welcome to episode #564 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Early Learning”. this week, matt challenges us to name a two-word phrase. fine. what are the theme answers? i don’t know, but there are four long(ish) answers, all reading across:

  • {Surfing the web without leaving a footprint} PRIVATE BROWSING. in chrome (my browser of choice), this is called incognito mode.
  • {“Never Surrender” and “Sunglasses at Night” singer} COREY HART.
  • {Navy or maroon, e.g.} DARK COLOR.
  • {Common crossword clue for CRIMEA} YALTA’S PENINSULA. this is indeed a common clue… but far from a common answer, as it’s not really a phrase on its own merits. so this seems like it must be thematic.

what’s the theme, though? these answers don’t appear to have anything in common. matt claims that this is (yet again) an attempt at a week 2 difficulty, but boy, i have not had the slightest idea where to go with this one. lots of things look like they might be a little relevant, but all of them have very quickly turned into dead ends, or only apply to one of the four theme answers. for example, YALTA’S PENINSULA contains both ALTA and ASPEN (overlapping at that second A), two skiing meccas. PRIVATE BROWSING has BETA hidden backwards, and DARK COLOR has LOCK backwards. but COREY HART doesn’t really have anything.

the theme, if there is one connecting those four entries, ought to be related to the letters rather than the semantic meaning of those words, since YALTA’S PENINSULA is patently made up (and if there is a semantic connection, it’s to CRIMEA, which is explicitly given to us in the clue).

after talking it over with my equally stumped solving buddy andy kravis, the one tenuous connection we were able to find to all four theme answers is the color black. it’s obviously a (the) DARK COLOR; crimea is a peninsula in the black sea; corey hart’s “sunglasses at night” connotes darkness/blackness (and if surrender is a white flag, then perhaps “never surrender” as the opposite of that might be said to be black in a way); and, um, there’s also PRIVATE BROWSING, which is the most tenuous of tenuous connections. but incognito mode in chrome has a spy in dark glasses and hat as its icon.

how are we supposed to arrive at a two-word phrase, anyway, from these four theme answers? that at least suggests we’re not doing something like extracting one letter per answer. and what does the title have to do with anything? “early learning” is related to things like pre-K and head start, or maybe even the ABCs (and ABC is itself an entry in the grid, clued as {“The Bachelor” network} at 22a). both “early” and “learning” contain EAR, but that doesn’t seem to matter either.

or does it? PRIVATE can be followed by “eye”, and if you stick “eye” in the middle there you can get EYEBROWS. that … also goes nowhere, alas, even though HART is a homophone of a body part. certainly YALTA’S can’t be followed by anything, and let’s just all pretend we don’t see the body part that’s almost hidden in PENINSULA.

another early education staple is the “three R’s”, but that doesn’t appear to be relevant either. PRIVATE BROWSING, COREY HART, and DARK COLOR all have two R’s, but YALTA’S PENINSULA has zero.

one thing andy noticed was that the clue for john KASICH, {Republican who won one state in the 2016 primaries}, notably omits the state ohio; and KASICH crosses {“Understood”} OH I SEE at the I. so it’s almost like the second O of OHIO has changed to a SEE (homophone of “C”). but this doesn’t really relate to any of the four long answers. maybe the central across entry {Half of a college football song title} BOOLA is also thematic, and the omitted YALE is close to YALTA’S in a similar way as OHIO to OH I SEE? but that’s also kind of weak.

i’m giving up, i guess. as a hail mary, i’ll try HEAD START, since it is a two-word phrase associated with early learning that might also lend itself to interesting wordplay of the sort that almost relates to several things in this puzzle. let me know in the comments what i missed.

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61 Responses to MGWCC #564

  1. Cindy says:

    Ivy league schools – like the two and a half men puzzle – just something to see and nothing to do!

  2. tabstop says:

    Each of the words of the theme entries start with the first three letters of an IVY LEAGUE school (PRInceton, BROwn, CORnell, HARvard, DARtmouth, COLumbia, YALe, PENn).

    Central entry maybe a hint, as it is the fight song for an Ivy school.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Specifically, it is one half of the title of the fight song of an Ivy League school (specifically, Yale’s), because the full title is Boola Boola. That was what got me looking at partial sections of the other theme entries and led to the solve.

      Congrats to our weekly blogger for his Stamford success!

    • Seth says:

      So the answer is IVY LEAGUE? I had absolutely no clue.

      But also, isn’t the school University of Pennsylvania? So shouldn’t it be UNI, or at least UPE for UPenn?

      • Matthew G. says:

        It’s commonly known simply as “Penn.”

        And yeah, the two-word phrase was Ivy League. I didn’t have the most rock-solid click ever, but between the Boola Boola clue and Matt’s emphatic statement that he intended this as a Week 2, I decided that there was no subsequent step of the meta. Thankfully, that was true.

  3. Justin says:

    I feel for you Joon, I had lots of rabbit holes myself. For example, your ASPEN and also EBRO in PRIVATE BROWSING evoked “Tree” and “River” in the clues for me. However, I eventually looked at the first three letters of each word in each themer and everything fell into place.

  4. Jeff says:

    Count this Brown grad completely stumped.

  5. pgw says:

    I was similarly scratching my head, and then I saw it. Not super satisfying – you just have to stare at it long enough – and yeah, also didn’t strike me as a week 2. When I saw it I thought “haven’t we done this one before?” and yeah, there’s this one:

    I wonder if Matt constructed these two in tandem and decided to hold this one long enough to keep them from seeming immediately repetitive.

    I didn’t notice until looking at joon’s grid screenshot above that the central BOOLA is vaguely thematic … I wonder if that was on purpose.

    Okay – last time I’ll do this in this comments section – go solve my metapuzzle (and, this week, a second bonus puzzle!):
    twitter @pgwcc1

  6. Jim S. says:

    Hey, if the second place finisher at this year’s ACPT is nearly as stumped as me, then I don’t feel all that bad! Congrats Joon!

    I extracted the first 3 letters of the first words in the theme entries based on “Early” in the title but those 4 didn’t seem to be anything at all – perhaps because the vowel sound in PRIVATE and YALTA are different than in Princeton and Yale? Oh well, I wasn’t alone…

    • David Harris says:

      Seconded on all fronts—congrats Joon, and even while looking at bigrams/trigrams of the theme words, I never got anywhere close to this one!

      The most promising thing I found was BETA going backwards, like Joon said, combined with PSAT going backwards in the last themer. So I tried for a while to think of other possible “tests” that might be hidden. But COREYHART killed basically everything I tried about letter sequences within the combined themers.

    • Les Yonce says:

      I think that’s a meaningful part of what made it harder – the different vowel sounds for those two, esp. Princeton as the first one. Followed almost all of Joon’s paths, with multiple visits to Boola Boola / Yale / Yalta, before it finally fell into place.

      Fwiw I didn’t get the one where we had to use “hard c” for concrete, etc. Another sound-it-out puzzle.

  7. astrokurtis says:

    I went down the all same rabbit holes as joon and even listened to a recording of Boola Boola but the Ivy League connection still didn’t come to mind. It’s obvious now that y’all point it out and, in retrospect, seems like a week 2 construction, but my mind just never saw the connection.

  8. LKeigwin says:

    I didn’t overthink this one, unlike last week. I stared blankly for a few minutes, then focused on YALTA and Yale sprang to mind. Seconds later I was done.

    Felt week-2 level to me. But clearly not for most. Only 182 correct answers.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Yeah, it felt very gettable, but that was only after I got it. I had nothing all weekend — concentrating mostly on a literal interpretation of early learning, since ABC is in the grid. YALTASPENINSULA broke it open for me, too. As Joon notes, it’s not a phrase, so it had to be in there for a reason. Since the others are two words, also, I looked at both halves, then finally saw YALE and PENN.

      But hey, on the bright side, since Matt’s difficulty meter still seems to be on the fritz, maybe he’ll go easy for Week 5.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    182 right answers, so a Week 5, especially since this had a higher % than normal of group solves.

    So my three attempts at a Week 2 (400-500 correct answers) puzzle yielded a Week 3 (307 right answers), a Week 4 (250 right answers) and now a Week 5 (182 right answers). I don’t know what to say — I thought these eight would pop right out at people.

    I can guarantee the missing Week 2 this week, however. Since I was unable to write one, a friend has taken pity on me and has created what both I and he think is right down the middle for a Week 2 in terms of difficulty.

    • Mutman says:

      I’ve heard that (two times) before …

    • Margaret says:

      Sadly, getting three weeks right in March is now out of reach for me! No matter how easy next week is…

      • BarbaraK says:

        With the unexpected difficulty of this month’s puzzles, maybe Matt could make it only 2 required for Lucky March.

    • Evil Steve says:

      Are you sure that a week 2 instead of a proper week 5 is really what people want? Can we at least take a poll or something?

      • pgw says:

        Personally I vote for week 5. But the good news is, we don’t have to wait long for another month with 5 Fridays – that happens again in May.

        • Evil Steve says:

          Maybe May will get nerfed as well.

          Does anybody really look forward to puzzles that are basically solve-on-sight? What’s the point?

    • Gideon says:


      Was the central BOOLA intended as a nudge? That was my initial entry into the theme – primed me to see college names.

  10. Myelbow says:

    I feel comforted by the fact that I went down literally all the same dead ends as Joon did, without coming anywhere close to cracking this one. Nice work, everyone who figured it out. You all deserve a scholarship!

  11. john says:

    I was ATSEA until i googled the heretofore unknown term Boola. Not getting anywhere all weekend, i figured the central BOOLA answer may be helpful if i understood it. Upon seeing it was an Ivy school i immediately thought that would be a nice play on the title. I first looked at DARKCOLOR as a hint to Brown, but that fizzled. It was not long before the first three letters of the themers stood out.

  12. sharkicicles says:

    I blame my Midwestern upbringing… Ivy League schools are nowhere near anything on my radar. I think I mistook “Boola Boola” for “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham.

    Nice puzzle, but yeah, went through a whole bunch of rabbit holes and got nowhere near anything resembling the final answer.

    (PS congrats joon!)

  13. Jeff says:

    Only nit i would pick is that my alma mater had four letters in the grid (BROW) instead of the three. 4.5 stars.

  14. Margaret says:

    Goodness knows I have a West Coast bias (born and raised in San Francisco, have spent all sixty years within a few miles of there) so I mostly know Boola Boola from old movies and cartoons, and a puzzle based on Cal and Stanford and Santa Clara would be more up my alley… but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t have Ivy League schools as an automatic reference point! Every time this happens I’m like, Huh, that’s right, those schools are a big thing for some people.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Matt should do a geographic breakdown of this week’s right answers and see if it skews northeastern. I didn’t go to an Ivy myself, but I live in NYC and my wife went to Columbia, so both of those factors certainly helped.

      • Laura says:

        Pretty sure that having a high school junior in college search mode helped me! (Even though she’s not looking at Ivies…)

    • Katie M. says:

      Same here. I grew up in TN, and have lived in TX 40 years. I had a similar problem trying to solve the New York Boroughs meta. They are just not in the forefront of my mind.

  15. Garrett says:

    I just wasn’t on the right thought-train to get this one, though I like it!

    Some odd things coincidences I noticed:

    OWS in PRIVATEBROWSING is also at 53A

    ASP in YALTASPENINSULA is also at 25A

    ART in COREYHART ends BOGART at 23D

    Congrats to Joon on ACPT second place!

    • Dan Seidman says:

      I spent a lot of time looking for entries that were substrings of COREYHART and DARKCOLOR.

      Another rabbit hole was that CRATES could be part of SOCRATES, which would fit the theme of Early Learning. And PAT is two letters short of PLATO, but nothing beyond that.

      I eventually figured it out around midnight last night — I spent a lot of time on this one.

  16. Mutman says:

    The title never helped me as was about 15 years too young, thinking of Pre-K, ABC and the 3 Rs.

    Count this PENNinsula grad in the fail column.

  17. Dr. B says:

    Any significance to the use of all caps in CRIMEA in the clueing?

  18. Andrew Bradburn says:

    First time commenter here. I went down all the rabbit holes mentioned here, plus a few more. If ABC were not in the grid, I might have solved it sooner (I did finally see that the YAL from YALTA brought to mind YALE and the rest fell into place late Sunday night). “Early Learning,” to my mind, had to be”ABCs.” So I spent a looong time staring at the ABC and wondering how to use it. I counted all the As, Bs and Cs in the grid, and they came out to a mathematically meaningful 27, 3 and 9 respectfully. 3 to the third, first and second powers. Had to mean something right? Not in a ‘week two’ puzzle, apparently.

    Also, there were a lot of reversals, AVID and DIVA, YADA appearing backwards in SPA DAYS, etc. I feel very fortunate to have gotten this one in the end.

    I second all the others in congratulating Joon on a great result at ACPT!

  19. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    Of all the rabbit holes listed above, I went a long way down in looking for phrases that include one of the words but not the other. Many related to school, e.g. private SCHOOL, PRIMARY/SECONDARY color, UPPER/LOWER peninsula. Many could also related to EYE (private EYE, EYEbrow, EYE Chart, EYE color). But nothing doing.

    I got it when I was doing something else and thought “Hey, March Madness is topical.” This reminded me of the Ivy League, and I realized that these schools were old (early) and that I had come across word “browning” in my prior attempts. The rest fell into place.

    Given that Boola connects college, sports, and Yale I probably should have seen it sooner. I had noted the similarity of Yale to Yalta’s, and the letters in “Yalta’s Peninsula” to Pennsylvania quite early on. I can see how one might have thought it was a week 2/3.

    Has the number of solvers gone up? I thought the target for Week 5s was more around 100 solves, not 180.

  20. Reuben says:

    As a Brown grad who just submitted an application to a Harvard master’s program, this is probably the only time I’ll get a meta so quickly. Savoring it while it lasts.

  21. joon says:

    ouch, i probably should have gotten that one. maybe a more week 2-targeted instruction might have been “the meta answer is a two-word phrase, the first of which is three letters”? even looking at the trigrams, if i had chosen to do that, would not necessarily have helped me, but as it was, i just never got anywhere close. it’s not like the ivy league schools are like the names of the weekdays or months which are commonly abbreviated to their first three letters.

  22. Al says:

    No clue here. Plus, I mistakenly assumed we’d get an extra day due to ACPT as I think has been the case in previous years, so forgot to put in a hail mary (which wouldn’t have been right anyway). Oops.

  23. Thurman8er says:

    Not sure why I got this one, other than plain old perseverance. I spent a LOT of time thinking about the title, and just happened to see YAL and BROW at the same time.

  24. Lance says:

    Maybe my mistake was not treating it as a week two. I feel down any number of rabbit holes–like other people, thinking about “ABCs” (with ABC right there in the grid!), or colors, or shapes, or other things that happen in early learning. My best guess rabbit hole involved the number of entries that started or ended with a letter sound–the string at the end being …ICKLE (from IRE, ATSEA, TAKEI, NILE, ETHOS), though it sort of depends on how you pronounce “Nile”, and maybe “cigar” should really be in there, but…anyway, obviously, it went nowhere.

    Honestly, to make this more like a week two, I think the four theme clues needed to be starred. Without that, I looked at PRIVATE BROWSING and YALTAS PENINSULA, saw nothing in common, wasn’t sure that COREYHARD and DARKCOLOR even counted, and started scouring the grid for anything else I could find.

  25. Craig says:

    I’m a Princeton grad; my husband went to Brown. I had no clue where this was going, and nor did he.

    I feel like I’ve stumbled on an Ivy League related meta before, but Matt’s last one looked pretty simple, so I’m pretty sure I got that one.

    Oh well, still smarting over the football term I missed in puzzle 6 this weekend, that knocked me down 32 places. :(

  26. Jimmy says:

    I really don’t feel bad about not getting this one. I’m going to assume Matt had a rough parenting week and was sapped of creative energy. Lord knows it happens.

  27. Ale M says:

    Even though I’m in the minority here, this seemed like a week 2 because “Early Learning” had me thinking about old, early-established schools. (I first thought ETON might be part of the solution before I filled in the grid.) When I saw YAL at the “earliest” (front) end of the last theme entry, I was off to the races. Early-established schools at early-ends of the theme words = that’s so meta.

  28. MichaelJ says:

    The rabbit hole we fell into and never got out of was OHISEE and ATSEA, which made us think there was something happening at one of the many C’s in the grid. Even CRIMEA felt like an attempt to get one more C in there. Oops.

  29. Silverskiesdean says:

    I think we are not giving Matt the credit he deserves. The fact that there are 8 IVY LEAUGE schools and he managed to put all of them in 2 word answers that were not contrived, is terrific.. That is to say, all four answers are actual phrases which means that we all see things in our every day lives, but the fact that he is always on a “low level meta mode”, as he puts it, means he sees things that nobody else does.
    Congrats. This puzzle reminded me of the “Purloined Letter” by EAP. We were all looking for something that was in plain site.

  30. LuckyGuest says:

    I followed all the same rabbits listed above, but I also carved out another one… I thought the title might have been referring to educational toys, children’s books and/or Sesame Street (thinking of Matt’s new daddy-dom), so I spent an inordinate amount of time, effort and “squinting” (that’s what I call “well, if you kind of look at it this way, it almost comes close to something”) trying to find that kind of stuff embedded within the themed entries. There is a company called TEBRO toys (found in PRIVATEBROWSING), and REY (COREYEHART) wrote the Curious George books, and there is a toy called “Baby ASPEN”… But I realized I was getting way too convoluted for a Week 2, so I looked again at the usually-important central entry, and when I saw whose song BOOLA [BOOLA] was, the rest fell into place…no need to squint.

  31. TimF says:

    I also fell into the “Early Learning” ABC hole.
    Thought for sure that the hidden letter sounds inside many answers – Oh I See (OIC), Acacia (K), Takei (A), Agassi (C), Wii (E) , etc., etc., would have to end up somehow spelling something.

  32. Silverskiesdean says:

    All this talk about Ivy League schools makes me say “USMA rah- rah”
    And I didn’t have to pay a nickel. Thanks good taxpayers.

  33. really? says:

    Round these parts, we call that tune Boomer Sooner. No, not trolling! It should be realized that the timelines are close enough to be independent rather than copies (original but not unique). And hooboy, I also realize how outnumbered I am on this site!! Okie out!

  34. Magoo says:

    I was absolutely certain this puzzle was about the Three R’s (reading, riting & ‘rithmetic). Not only were there answers to represent each (Private Browsing, Essay and Science), but ARS was actually an answer in the grid (along with ABC), and there were exactly three AR’s in the acrosses (in Corey Hart, Dark Color and Cigar). To clinch it, the correct spellings of the three R’s should actually begin with R, W and A – and that was in the grid too (RWANDA)!

  35. Dave S. says:

    Lately I have had trouble with even Week 2 puzzles, but when I completed this one, it took a minute or two. I guess with some metas, sometimes it’s just luck that allows you to see it. I felt it had all the trappings of an easy week: obvious key clues and a title that was pretty direct (in my view). I think the hardest metas involve two or three step approaches, and not involving obvious key answers. While I can see that the number of correct answers suggest it was hard (including Joon of all people!), I can also see how Matt could have considered it easy.

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