MGWCC #573

crossword 4:00
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #573 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Character Development”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions ask us to find a six-letter word that’s a group of characters. okay, what are the theme answers? i have no idea. there aren’t any particularly long answers in the grid, and nothing appears to be indicated as a theme answer except for {Group of characters} ALPHABET at 17-across. the longest answers are a pair of 10-letter downs, {ChapStick competitor} LIPSMACKER (which i’ve never heard of) and {Al known for his newspaper illustrations} HIRSCHFELD. the latter suggests the possibility of looking for NINAs hidden in the grid, word search-style, but there aren’t any.

i suppose the next thing suggested is to look for something related to ALPHABETs. other than our own, the most likely candidate alphabet (in the sense that the letters and their names would be familiar to solvers) is the greek alphabet, and there are in fact six across entries that hide greek letters:

  • ALPHABET is itself one of them, as it contains ALPHA.
  • {Employee at a retro diner} CARHOP has RHO.
  • {Make fun of} TAUNT has TAU.
  • {Refuse to speak further} CLAM UP has MU.
  • {It typically includes wings and mozzarella sticks} BAR MENU has NU.
  • {Lung passages} BRONCHI has CHI.

it’d be great if those letters spelled something, but APTMNX/ARTMNC isn’t a word in either english or greek. this feels significant because there are exactly six, and because they all appear in across answers, but this doesn’t seem like it can be the entire theme, because it’s a very small amount of theme material, and doesn’t explain why there is a 78-word grid with large amounts of grid far from any theme answer.

oh, wait, i see it. if you replace each greek letter by its letter, you get a new entry that can answer a different clue in the grid!

  • ALPHABET becomes ABET, which can be the answer to {Aid’s partner, in a legal phrase} instead of COMFORT.
  • CARHOP becomes CARP, which goes with … what, exactly? maybe {Eater of small crustaceans} AUK (it’s possible that CARP eat krill), or possibly {Cause to feel uncomfortable, maybe} STARE AT if you think about CARP in the verb sense.
  • TAUNT becomes TNT, which is an {Explosive material} i’ve heard of (unlike OCTOL, which i haven’t).
  • CLAM UP becomes CLAMP, a {Tool in a woodworking shop}, as is a RASP.
  • BAR MENU becomes BARMEN, which could be an answer to {Their workdays may include pitchers and a nightcap}, like UMPS. this is a creative way to double-clue.
  • BRONCHI becomes BRONX, which is a {Word on New York City borough maps}, like STATEN.

taking the first letters of those other answers gives C?ORUS, so hmm, apparently the missing answer starts with H. oh, i see it now. i’m replacing RHO not with R but with P, because that’s what a capital rho looks like. (for the other five letters, the latin letter it resembles and the letter it is equivalent to are the same.) so the relevant word is CAPP, which goes with {Al known for his newspaper illustrations} HIRSCHFELD. anyway, the answer is CHORUS, which is indeed a group of characters, especially in the context of a greek chorus. well done.

that’s quite a brilliant meta. it can’t have been easy to find that many words where you could replace the name of a greek letter with the letter itself and still have it spell something substantively different. not only that, but the grid was further constrained because you couldn’t have a stray PI or ETA contained in any of the entries. (the others feel less likely to crop up by accident, although PHI, PSI, and perhaps XI are at least plausible.)

five stars. that’s just amazing.

hope to see many of you this weekend at the indie 500!

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25 Responses to MGWCC #573

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 160 right answers this week.

  2. Laura E-D says:

    WOW. At 11:58 I decided to try the first letters of the related clues. I only had R, H, S, and C but that was enough to find CHORUS and submit. Definitely my most last-minute solve ever.

  3. Matthew G. says:

    Gorgeous. I saw ALPHA, TAU, and CHI, but missed MU, NU, and RHO, and decided that I was barking up the wrong tree with Greek letters, especially since ALPHA was so much in plain sight. Wish I’d stuck with that avenue a little longer, because I bet this was a thrilling click for those who got it.

    Five stars without question.

  4. David says:

    Dang it! I found the six Greek letters, but couldn’t figure out the next step—which is very clever, now that I see it. BRONCHI->BRONX is particularly inspired, very nice find by Matt. Also confirms some background thoughts, like that OCTOL must have been forced by the theme. Wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the entry point for a lot of folks, as the clue really evoked TNT, and [TAU]NT is then right there—I tried just removing the letter for NT, can’t believe I missed that connection!

    Thought about CHORUS at one point as a Hail Mary, but then it slipped my mind and I tried out TROUPE at the end. Oh well.

  5. ===Dan says:

    Wow indeed!

  6. Laura E-D says:

    Also, I can’t believe LIPSMACKER wasn’t part of the theme! Half my notes are about what an obscure entry that was.

  7. Seth says:

    Holy crap. I didn’t solve this one, but it’s my first true week-4 puzzle since subscribing, and boy I’m impressed. I really really wish I’d figured it out. I actually did see CHI, but the phonetic PY in PYROXENE pulled me down the wrong rabbit hole.

  8. Bill2RD says:

    Loved it! I also took a wrong turn with CARP, but after getting the other five letters. I reverse engineered the need for the H, realized it was CAPP and finally finished late Monday afternoon. Great construction.

  9. pgw says:

    > five stars. that’s just amazing.

    Totally agree. Really clever idea to begin with. The double-clue for BARMEN/UMPS was great (I saw it as a misdirection from the beginning, but never could decide which meaning seemed more natural.) I also liked the Capp/Hirschfeld find. And I wanted COMFORT to be ABET as soon as I read the clue, so that was a good in to the meta solve.

    The constraint of having to avoid accidentally burying a stray greek letter somewhere else seems *really* challenging. (There *is* an Old English letter in there – ETH in TETHER – which made for a brief rabbit hole but didn’t distract for long.)

    I also liked the twist of RHO representing the letter it resembles rather than the letter it sounds like. Ditto for CHI, actually, which looks like an X but actually sounds like the CH in LOCH; the Greek letter that best approximates X phonetically is xi.

  10. Paul Coulter says:

    This was one of my favorite MGWCCs in a while. It was very satisfying to peel back the layers on this well-disguised idea. At first, I was convinced we were working with ordinals, particularly since “1719 years ago” appeared in the clues, while two of the Greek letters we needed to account for were Rho and Tau, the 17th and 19th. After sleeping on it, I found Matt’s clever second step – I especially liked how Rho changed to a P for carhop/Capp. From there, the last step produced the very appropriate result of (Greek) CHORUS.

  11. Max W says:

    Agreed on all fronts—a masterpiece. The (to me) unexpected answer to the “aid’s partner” clue, along with ALPHABET in the grid, was my in. BRONCHI → BRONX is wonderful.

  12. PJ Ward says:

    i loved the puzzle! i would give it 4.5/5 because unlike the others, the alpha in alphabet is the greek letter.

  13. Garrett says:

    I don’t recall seeing such a devious meta before. I was not even close to getting it. What i noticed most was how difficult it was to fill the grid. There were words I’ve never seen before (OCTOL and PYROXENE, for two) and people I did not know. Another humbling experience.

  14. Justin says:

    Just wanted to add to the chorus my praise for this puzzle. Really outstanding top to bottom.

  15. Adam T says:

    Amazing puzzle, and I made it most of the way but was tripped up by CARP/CAPP. Would like to point out that when you mix those up and assume AUK is the related answer, the first letter of those six *clues* reads “A TWEET” (also clearly a group of characters) in reverse order, which is either the most amazing coincidence or the most amazing misdirection I’ve seen in a while.

  16. Kaille says:

    Well, at least I was stuck in the right rabbit hole; I was beginning to wonder. I had the Greek letters, but could not find the next step. Brilliant puzzle!

  17. Mary says:

    As I was working through the solution and had CHOR__, I was certain that the answer was CHORDS which are musical notes represented by a group of symbols or characters. So, I quickly looked at the D words and found Dampens (Makes less dry) and thought that’s so clever as it perfectly describes what barmen do. I carried on to find the S and with great certainty submitted my answer. Doh!

    • Jonesy says:

      I actually thought the same thing and have a lot of sympathy for this answer. I don’t think it’s solid enough to count as an alternate (given the other 5 are clearly answers to their respective “Greek” clues, rather than just things related to them) but yea it is an unfortunate coincidence that DAMPENS relates to BARMEN like it does and CHORDS is a perfectly legitimate answer with all the trappings of CHORUS.

  18. Steve Faiella says:

    I started solving these meta puzzles (Matt’s, Peter Gordon’s Fireball, and Pete Muller’s Monthly Music Meta) about 4 months ago, and I find myself humbled by this new (for me, anyway) twist on XWPs. I really dig this challenge! I’m a fairly adept solver, but these Metas make me feel like a N00b! Thanks to all of you for giving me a new goal to aspire to!

  19. slubduck says:

    Had the entire mechanism but slipped up on identifying the correct paired entries, twice! Used CARP instead of CAPP, leading to AUK (totally says that carp feed on crustaceans on Wikipedia, it’s tough to backtrack and think that’s wrong for any reason). Missed UMPS and used instead MOB as a pair for BARMEN, because “Crowd of hooligans” is pretty easy to use as a description of ‘bar patrons’ …….. so i tried forever to anagram CROMAS, and finally decided my M must be a T, leading to my confident guess of ACTORS, which fits the answer hint as well. I know it felt “just off” for some unknown reason, but it’s very tough to have gotten as far as this and not succeeded. Very fun meta, very unsatisfying near miss.

  20. john says:

    Yeah, busy weekend, not a greek alphabet guy so this just wasn’t ever going to go anywhere. Brilliant as all get-out though. Beautiful, Matt.

  21. Wow. I had nothin’ on this one, but this is brilliant and is easily a contender for Meta of the Year. I knew OCTOL had to be relevant to the meta (that corner could have easily been rewritten without it otherwise) but never saw the Greek letters.

  22. Andy says:

    @joon, there was indeed a NINA in the grid, if you bend around a corner from rotiNi to alANIs.

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