MGWCC #574

crossword 5:41 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #574 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Search Party”. for this week 5 puzzle, the instructions ask us to find an eight-letter name. okay, what are the theme answers? it’s not clear, but the longest across answers are:

  • {Inadequate amount of something} DEFICIENCY.
  • {Those too big for their britches, maybe} UPSTARTS.
  • {The A in ACPT} AMERICAN. crossword puzzle tournament, is the rest of it.
  • {Another name for B1} THIAMINE. vitamin b1, that is.
  • {Deep breaths, say} LUNGFULS.
  • {Horses’ courses} RACETRACKS.

there are a couple of other 8s and 9s among the downs, but i wasn’t sure they were theme answers. anyway, after thinking about these for a while, i noticed that THIAMINE DEFICIENCY is a phrase—in fact, it is a phrase that suggests the disease BERIBERI, which is an 8-letter word fraught with wordplay. that seemed like it might be relevant. a short time later, i noticed that AMERICAN can also pair with {Margaret Mead visited it} SAMOA (not one of the longest answers, but still) to form AMERICAN SAMOA, the overseas territory whose capital is PAGO PAGO. now i knew that wasn’t a coincidence, but i was unable to find anything else to go with it. i thought perhaps something could be paired with UPSTARTS to suggest HOTSHOTS, another 8-letter answer that doesn’t look like it follows the same pattern as BERIBERI or PAGO PAGO but actually does. but nothing was clicking loudly enough.

i looked at the puzzle several times over the next couple of days (on the metro and on my flight back from DC), and on something like my fourth or fifth viewing, i finally noticed what probably should have been my first in, which is that there are a whole lot of clues consisting of two rhyming words. sixteen of them (!), to be precise:

  • {Pipe type} PVC.
  • {Blue hue} AZURE.
  • {Hound sound} GRR.
  • {Hot spot} OVEN.
  • {Great hate} BILE.
  • {School tool} ERASER.
  • {Horses’ courses} RACETRACKS.
  • {Bay, say} INLET.
  • {Stewed food} PRUNES.
  • {“Wings” things} AIRPLANES.
  • {Don John} GOTTI. i enjoy this clue because it reminds me of keanu reeves.
  • {Grape shape} OVAL.
  • {Funny bunny} BUGS.
  • {Scanning Manning} ELI.
  • {“Scandal” handle} is, fittingly, (shonda) RHIMES.
  • {Dome home} IGLOO.

read off in clue order, the first letters of the corresponding answers spell PAGO BERI (among the eight acrosses) and then PAGO BERI again among the eight downs. this is a great deal of confirmation, and i guess it does mean there isn’t a third reduplicative 8-letter answer suggested by a pair of entries, but it doesn’t really provide anything new. most relevantly, it doesn’t get us any closer to the meta answer.

so what is the meta answer? i still don’t know. i’ve had some ideas and followed up on some leads, but none of them have amounted to anything. the one i liked best was hoping that the eight PAGO BERI across answers each intersected one of the PAGO BERI down answers, but no, they don’t. RHIMES intersects both BILE and RACETRACKS, but most don’t intersect any, and none of them intersect THIAMINE, DEFICIENCY, or SAMOA.

some questions i still don’t have answers to:

  • what does the title mean? nothing about anything i’ve done so far is particularly related to searching or parties. it almost makes me wonder if there’s a word search element to the meta, but i haven’t been able to find anything on the diagonals or anything like that.
  • why are THIAMINE/DEFICIENCY and AMERICAN/SAMOA in the grid? the rhyming clues alone are plenty enough to get us to PAGO PAGO and BERIBERI, so i suspect we’re actually supposed to do something with these other four entries.

grid-wise, here are some considerations i’ve been thinking about. most of the longest answers in grid are thematic in one way or another. the exceptions are {It may be saved at a ball} LAST DANCE, the symmetric partner of AIRPLANES, and a handful of 8s: UPSTARTS, LUNGFULS, TRIREMES, and SAND REEF. LAST DANCE is noteworthy because it’s in an area of the grid where there isn’t already a lot of theme, and also it intersects the very weird answer {Eating it clears a Pac-Man board} LAST DOT, which is not only a totally roll-your-own phrase but also a dupe of LAST. so i think there is probably something constrained here. DANCE in the context of reduplicative names suggests either cancan or cha-cha(-cha), but i can’t see any evidence that those are necessarily related to anything here.

if there isn’t anything else in the thematic in the grid or clues, i wonder if we’re supposed to find a meta answer that rhymes with PAGO BERI? that would kind of tie both aspects of the theme together, although it wouldn’t explain the title (unless the answer itself had something to do with either search or party). a complicating factor is that PAGO can be pronounced either “pah-go” or “pango” (i think the latter is closer to the pronunciation in samoan).

an alternative idea is the meta answer is another 8-letter reduplicative phrase. it might well be HOT SHOTS, i guess, both because it is mildly suggested by UPSTARTS, and also because it is a rhyming (well, near-rhyming) 2-word phrase, like the sixteen rhyming clues, as opposed to the same four-letter word twice. i just don’t have a strong enough “click” for it—although it is the title of a movie, it isn’t what i would call “an eight-letter name” as per the instructions. and if it is the meta answer, the inclusion of {Hot spot} as the clue for OVEN would seem to be a pretty significant inelegance. nevertheless, if i don’t come up with anything better, i’m going to try HOT SHOTS and hope it’s right.

it’s pretty frustrating to have come this far and not get to the meta answer, but i’m well and truly stumped. i don’t even know if i’m supposed to find the next step in the puzzle itself, or if i’m supposed to just leap to the final answer based on what i already have. there is already a ton of theme material in the grid, but it’s a 19×19 and it does seem like there’s just enough room for one or two more theme answers.

well, that’s all for me, i guess. somebody can let me know what i missed in the comments.

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73 Responses to MGWCC #574

  1. pgw says:

    The answer is LANCELOT. Here’s how you get there:

    First, all those rhyming clues yield PAGO PAGO and BERIBERI. Then you see AMERICAN, SAMOA, THIAMINE, and DEFICIENCY in the grid. So far so good …

    I was stuck at this place for over three days. I tried really hard to find a way to keep going with the repeat-the-same-four-letter-word theme, and it didn’t help that the grid has a bunch of other stuff that seems related to Oceania/Polynesia – SAND REEF, ISLE, BIKINI – and a lot of the other available repetitive eight-letter things come from that area, language group, etc. – mahi mahi, Bora Bora, tiki-tiki (which is a treatment for beriberi!), …

    But none of that has anything to do with it. Instead the puzzle veers in a totally different direction, which I finally saw when at the last hour I thought “let’s look at the part of the grid that has very little theme in it” and noticed – not for the first time – that it was weird how LAST DANCE and LAST DOT (itself a weird entry) cross each other. What I did notice for the first time was that both of those phrases contain the sequence ASTD – as in AMERICAN, SAMOA, THIAMINE, DEFICIENCY. Remove those letters from the two entries and you’re left with LANCE and LOT.

    I’m a little [36d] TORN ON how to feel about this puzzle. It’s intricate and challenging, which I like – you get the first couple insights pretty quickly and feel like you’re moving right along, and then you hit this wall, and it’s clear you need to do something with those four quasi-theme-entries, but … what? The final solution totally clicks once you see it … but it’s weird. It has nothing to do with anything that came before, which makes it feel a little random and haphazard; but then when you think about it more, it’s pretty amazing that Matt could extract something from that pair of entries, sharing that sequence of letters, themselves yielded pretty naturally by two phrases that share the same sing-song quality (and that, misleadingly, are also eight letters, making you think the meta answer is going to be another phrase like that). I’m really curious in which direction this meta evolved, because it’s hard for me to imagine putting this stuff together in this way from any of the possible starting points.

    So in the end, 4.5 stars from me – .5 stars off because nothing ties any of this stuff together, but otherwise full marks because it was really challenging, the answer was surprising and hard to find but clear once you got there, and it’s super-impressive construction because Matt had to weave together so many different mechanisms – not to mention to even think of doing so to begin with! But I feel like if I hadn’t gotten it I would be annoyed in a sour-grapesy kind of way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some complaints show up in the comments.

    • Lance says:

      Dear god. I didn’t get it, and I am annoyed, perhaps in a sour-grapesy kind of way, or perhaps because I expect a puzzle to actually have something that leads you to the answer. I did indeed stare at LAST DANCE and LAST DOT, but…the…I mean, *why* would you remove the first four letters of the four entries that corresponded to the…that just literally makes no sense. (And what *does* the title even mean?)

      I gave this one 1.5 stars. I appreciate everything that led up to that last step, the PAGOPAGO/BERIBERI and rhyming clues and entries in the grid cluing those reduplicated words. But it’s like getting 7/8 of the way through a marathon and suddenly you’re supposed to be playing dodgeball instead.

      • pgw says:

        > I mean, *why* would you remove the first four letters of the four
        > entries that corresponded to the…that just literally makes no sense.

        I mean, no, it doesn’t *literally* make *no* sense. It’s not the most elegant thing in the world, but it literally makes some sense.

        If you find yourself with four one-word theme entries, looking at the sequence made by their first letters is a pretty natural thing to do. In this case, that sequence on its own is gobbledygook, so it would be a pretty weird coincidence if it showed up twice in the grid, crossing – and it’s especially surprising, as joon noted, that those two entries are so duplicative. So to me the answer to your “why would you remove …” question is just “because they’re there.”

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I’m surprised that that last step was so difficult, and that it would be considered unfair.

        I figured a solver would write ASTD on their paper at that point, and that the obviously weak entry LAST DOT would jump right out, especially crossing another ASTD entry.

        • I think a couple of things made that last step very hard to see (though I wouldn’t necessarily call it unfair):

          1) The ASTD letters aren’t in order in the grid; they’re spelled out as DATS. Obviously you match the two pairs up with each other, but it’s tough to jump from “PAGO pairs come first and BERI pairs come second” to “pull them in that order from two other answers.” It’s easy to think you’re supposed to consider the order TDAS since DEFICIENCY is the first of those Across entries. (I wondered if the A of ACPT and the B1 of Thiamine in their respective clues was a further hint to putting them in that order?)

          2) ASTD, even as the first letters of the relevant pairs, is still a nonsense letter string. You see PAGO and BERI and know instantly that those are part of a repeating pair. ASTD is very easy to dismiss since you’d never expect them to repeat, even if you notice the duplicated LAST D answers. LAST DANCE crossing the bizarre LAST DOT jumped out as a red flag very early on and I still couldn’t make sense of it.

          But as I should emphasize, even though I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the outcome on this one, I’d never have the courage to ever publish a Week 5, so I’m consistently impressed that you do so all the time.

        • Maggie W. says:

          The last step was also the toughest for me, as it was for everyone I spoke with about the puzzle. I think somehow — by virtue of the Week 5-ness or the seamlessness of the earlier steps — people had high and intricate expectations for the final step, so people were looking for something complicated. I know I did, initially. I don’t think it was unfair at all, but that’s my sense as to why people found it hard.

      • Katie says:

        I’m with Lance here. There’s nothing cluing “now do something completely different — take the first letters of these four entries and remove them from these two other entries, and don’t expect any of that neat rhyming stuff in the answer.” That strikes me as unfair.

        I’m interrogating my reaction to this a bit because I didn’t get it either — but I don’t think it’s just a case of sour grapes. Usually, if I don’t get it, when I see the solution, I think, “Oh, in retrospect, that makes sense.” Not this time.

      • Tyler Hinman says:

        +1 to Lance. I got exactly as far as joon did and expected to feel really dumb when I saw the last step. Instead I just rolled my eyes.

    • Seth says:

      Yeah, put me in the didn’t-get-it sour-grapes camp. When I solve these puzzles, I really try to rely on the title to give me my first clue, because usually that’s all you get. And as far as I can tell, the title has absolutely nothing to do with any part of the solution.

      Also, as my own personal preference, I don’t like metas that rely on the clues. I solve on an app on my phone where you see one clue at a time, so it’s tough to see any kind of pattern in the clues.

      • Seth says:

        I guess LANCELOT was a search party, as in one who searched, but…the title shouldn’t only make sense once you get the solution. The title should help you get there.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Joon —

    Puzzle answer LANCELOT, intended path being:

    1) Notice 16 rhyming clues (all the two-word clues rhyme, in fact)
    2) Get PAGOBERI on the Acrosses which isn’t much, but then x2 on the Downs = PAGO PAGO and BERIBERI, so must be on the right track
    3) Notice AMERICAN SAMOA and THIAMINE DEFICIENCY, so again must be right track
    4) Extract ASTD from those four words; only two ASTD strings in the grid cross at LAST DANCE and LAST DOT
    5) Remove ASTD from both leaves LANCELOT, the party who searched for the Holy Grail

    78 right answers, 28 of whom got it solo.

    • Giovanni P. says:

      I’m sorry *what*? How does that last step follow from the others?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      And if you notice thiamine deficiency and American Samoa relating to beri-beri and Pago Pago BEFORE those rhyming clues pop up, you’re perhaps even further removed from focusing on ASTD.

  3. Dan Seidman says:

    This was the first time I sent in the right answer and was surprised it was the right answer. I followed the path described above, but I felt like I was missing something — either something to provide more guidance or something that would use more of the longer answers. The one click is that it resolved the two biggest mysteries after the first few steps: how “Search party” related and what LASTDOT was doing in a crossword grid.

  4. David Glasser says:

    Add me to team “found AMERICAN SAMOA / THIAMINE DEFICIENCY before (in fact, instead of) finding rhyming clues”.

    The final step here seems completely unmotivated to me.

    • David Glasser says:

      I guess I do like that finding the rhyming clues gives you an ordering for AS vs TD.

      I was all set to post a comment about the wacky red herring that leads nowhere that is beriberi and Pago Pago :)

    • Psumcoleman says:

      I agree. Got to American Samoa and Thiamine Deficiency in 5 minutes and was stuck there for 5 days. I guess I could have searched and found but now that I see the solution I’m not bothered. Feels less eloquent than typical. Matt sets a high bar.

    • David Glasser says:

      I think I’d consider this puzzle to be fine if the useless-til-the-end title had been a hint to the mechanism of the last step rather than to the answer itself. “Redundant Initials” or something.

  5. I’m curious if others got stuck at noticing that, in addition to the duped LAST of LAST DANCE / LAST DOT, there are two clues with “last” in them (in the clue for OPEN NET and GO A). The biggest rabbit hole I fell into was thinking OPEN NET and GO A had to be relevant for this reason, even going so far as to extract a bizarre URL instruction like “go open dance dot net” but finding nothing of interest at

    • MarkR says:

      Yes, I saw DOT and NET and figured it was about web searches. I tried constructing a URL, and also looked for EDU, GOV, and other domains. I was also distracted by the island-theme words.

      I did write down ASTD, but it seemed meaningless. The path from there to the answer was too much of a left turn for me. I guess that’s what made it a Week 5.

  6. Eckless says:

    At least I have some solace that I submitted the same thing Joon did (“HOTSHOTS”). :) I’ll agree that it seems weird the last step has nothing to do with 1) the rhyming thing nor 2) “abcdabcd” words – that would have made the meta “click” better. But kudos to those that solved!

  7. Steve Blais says:

    I eventually noticed the rhyming clues, saw PAGO PAGO and BERIBERI, followed quickly by THIAMINE DEFICIENCY and AMERICAN SAMOA and then… nothing. I got excited when the first letters of these entries gave me D-A-T-S and I briefly considered DR. WATSON (a search party with Holmes) as the answer, thinking R-W-O-N would reveal themselves in time, but unfortunately there were no W’s anywhere in the grid. My Hail Mary was BORA BORA, it counts as a name (in my book anyway) and does follow the pattern of an eight-letter repeater. I can’t say I was surprised when it turned out to be wrong.

  8. Les Yonce says:

    Agree with pgw. As I posted on the Muggles Forum, I thought the last intuitive leap would be too far for me. And it was.

    I did think for a short while on ASTD (in that order because PAGO was before BERI so that was fair), and I thought lastdot/lastdance were weird early on, but so obviously so I thought they were a red herring – sadly I didn’t return to them. I even highlighted the areas with theme entry so I definitely could have looked at the part with no theme material. Just didn’t come together.

    In the end, it’s just one puzzle and there will be more soon. Already excited to see Peter’s next offering today.

  9. Cindy says:

    I had this thought after the fact about what Matt may have intended. I could be wrong.

    Rhyming clues led to grid entries where you used the first letters to get the next step. Once you found the next step you again used the first letters to get to last dance/last dot.

    None of this stopped me from spending an inordinate amount of time looking at Samoa/Samba and trying to do something similar with the other words.

    Lancelot searched for the Holy Grail.

    • Lance says:

      But “using the first letters” is an incredibly common puzzle step. It would be like tasting a complex spice rub and commenting that one ingredient was “salt”–it doesn’t stand out as a defining feature.

      Whereas rhymes/reduplication–used twice, once in the clues to get you to the sixteen answers, and then once in the result of doing that–do stand out as a defining feature. That’s unusual and interesting and provides the main flavor so far.

      That’s why “use the first letters again” doesn’t stand out as a sensible next step from AMERICAN SAMOA / THIAMINE DEFICIENCY, whereas “find another reduplicated word” looks like it’s where it should be going.

  10. Rachel says:

    I ended up in the same place as Joon (although my Hail Mary was tautonym). It’s funny, my first reaction to the puzzle/title was noticing the many TSA (AST, TAS) combinations in the grid (thinking of TSA agents as parties who search). Then I thought I was working too hard to make something click so I started again. I don’t think I would ever have looked for the ASTD string. (Maybe if they had been BASH? Or FETE? Or something that pushed me to the next step?) The letters weren’t working, but at one point I was trying to force Bud Light/Dilly Dilly. Alas, Lancelot is more of a mead guy. Oh well. Thanks Matt!

  11. Jon says:

    I was very, very surprised I found the correct path on Saturday and also solo. I’m not sure where Matt land on his philosophy of making sure multiple-step metas use the same mechanisms, but for me a week 5 meta is fair game to use completely different crossword mechanisms for each step. Like how a “themelesss” crossword is hard to complete than a normal one with thematic long fills. In my solving group, I’m usually the one that cannot see the route & I have to ask for subtle hints so it was quite odd for me on the role reversal. Almost everyone got to the American Samoa Thiamine Deficiency step and it was a challenge to give subtle hints on that last step. I gave the hints “each step is a different mechanism” and “you could interpret the title being applied to the last step.” For me, I hunted (my own individual search party) for 5-letter fills that had the letters ASTD and one extra letter left over. Perhaps there would be 8 of these? (This was after trying to anagram ASTD & finding rhyming words for “dats” or “stad”) It was on this hunt that I stumbled upon the ASTD in LASTDANCE & LASTDOT. In hindsight, I should have noticed this since I thought it weird that Matt used the word “last” in 2 different fills. Finding LANCELOT from that & seeing the reference to the Holy Grail in the Wikipedia entry was a wonderous moment.

    Of course solving it on my own alters how I think about the meta. I have no idea if I would be as complimentary of the construction had I not seen the final step. But I loved it.

  12. Bill Katz says:

    When I realized “Last Dance” was likely important, I really wanted the next step to take the LAST part of AMERICAN and make CAN-CAN

  13. Magoo says:

    Yeah, pretty dissatisfied like some others. Obviously I would be feeling very different had I got to LANCELOT. I like “I figure solvers would write down ASTD on their paper” – man, there’s a lot of other stuff I would have written down before that despite having found American Samoa and Thiamine Deficiency. Still not clear what the title has to do with it – ref the Holy Grail? There was an awful lot of weak fill around to go with LAST DOT: eg SAYS A, SURE I, SO NEAR, OPEN NET – tough to limit it to LAST DOT for consideration. But Week 5 is not meant to be easy – and to be hard, it obviously has to push the fair/unfair line sometimes. Nice idea and implementation down to step 3 anyway!

  14. B says:

    I also submitted Bora Bora, as it could be described as SAND REEF + ISLE.

    However, I thought that the 3 Greek letters were part of the meta:

    Beta=Beri Beri
    Rho (clued as P) = Pago Pago

    so I spent a bit of time looking for a T— T— name that could be clued by two of the grid entries (to no avail, obviously). Glad to know that this was far enough off the path that I don’t feel all sour-grapes-y about it!

    • Small Wave Dave says:

      Same here on BORA BORA. Even BIKINI suggested atoll, which BORA Bora is.
      And you can spell it with exactly half the letters of PAGO PAGO and BERI BERI.
      But it was a desperation move with no real click.

      I guess I never wrote down ASTD (even though LASTDANCE and LASTDOT were so obviously weird) because I immediately thought of BERI BERI and PAGO PAGO just seeing THIAMINE DEFICIENCY & AMERICAN SAMOA in the grid.

      Then after I saw the rhyming clues I couldn’t figure out why we were led to PAGO PAGO and BERI BERI via two independent paths, but I was convinced that they were the critical words. So I pretty much ignored AS & TD for the next five days.

  15. David says:

    That arbitrary last step was arguably unfair but inarguably inelegant. I’m quite content not having solved this since the necessary solve path would have been a futile goose chase in a satisfyingly constructed puzzle.

  16. john says:

    I submitted Bora Bora too. It matched the doubled word angle and if you crane your neck and look slightly askance there are also words in the grid to suggest it (as with Pago Pago and Beriberi): it was famously a “US BASE” in WWII (inspiring the play and movie South Pacific) and known for its incredible AZURE water (also an ISLE with a famous INLET). It didn’t click hard and so i wasn’t surprised I didn’t make the leader board but the path to the answer is a fraught as any I’ve seen from Matt. I still think my click is stronger. Oh, bother. Matt is so good we expect the world i suppose.

  17. Norm H says:

    I didn’t even get to the first of Matt’s five steps, so not only are my grapes not sour, they haven’t sprouted yet.

    I spent some time word-searching the grid and found ATIE running SW to NE from the middle of MAS to the middle of SEC. ATIE is also something you often find late in a soccer or hockey game.

    So I got that going for me…which is nice.

  18. George says:

    oof, tough one. Matt warns us against red herrings, so fair play, but Beriberi and Pago Pago were big red herrings. I’m shocked the repetition didn’t play into the puzzle, other than the flourish of splitting them up. If they were non-repetition words, then the concept of initial letters more strongly ties part one and part two of the puzzle together. The fact that they repeated seemed crucial, and was ultimately irrelevant.

    This actually felt like two meta ideas combined, rhyming clues whose answers spell out words tied to other answers in the grid, and a set of theme answers that must be rearranged in some way to then find other theme material. I wonder if that was how this came about.

    Overall, the week fiveiest week five we’ve seen in a while. I’m impressed with everyone who got it, great job. Alas I have to wave goodbye to dreams of a mgwcc tote bag once again. No need to remove those 5 years of dust from my tote sitting in your closet Matt, it can wait another year.

    Cue a certain Bill Murray meme: but I was able to solve the Muller Music Mega Meta last month, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

    • john says:

      that is exactly right. the fact Pago Pago and Beriberi are so obviously rare and similar in the language made it seem integral to the meta, and thus their irrelevance a fairly severe inelegance. that they are 8 letters also pushes that idea. If the rhyming clues had led to random words that nonetheless were suggested by other grid entries would have been a better route to the conclusion, IMO.

  19. lee says:

    Difficulty porn.

  20. PhilB says:

    Oh, the endless possible rabbit holes in a grid of this size!

    The combos of American + Samoa and Thiamine + Deficiency jumped right out at me after solving the puzzle but I never noticed the rhyming clues as a way of confirming. Oddly LASTDOT jumped out at me as well in the search for double-answers. After inferring Beriberi and Pago Pago I thought Waka Waka (Pac-man sound) might lead to another step or a fourth double-phrase. Somehow the double LAST answers never registered, so I remained stymied and tried other avenues.

    Like others, I noticed some of the clue word answer word doubling mentioned by others. CALICO clue has the word color in it, which crosses the answer COLOR. PHTEST has base in it and USBASE is an answer (brief foray looking up US Base names on islands like Samoa and Malta). None of these went anywhere either.

    But then I noticed there are eight pairs of down and across 3 letter answers that are only 1 letter different.

    RAO – RHO
    AVE – ARE
    ERA – ERE
    EVA – AVA
    DEC – SEC
    ADA – ADO
    EMO – ENO
    Having two possible down pairs for MAS was the only thing that gave me pause in this line of reasoning – but it seemed likely that I was on the right track. You can also make pretty long word ladders out of the 3 letter answers – GPS GAS MAS TAS TAB TAU / ADO ADA AVA EVA ERA ERE ARE AVE – but that never became significant either.

    Unfortunately there was no returning from the 3 letter rabbit hole, so a DNF for me!

  21. Ale M says:

    I got to LAST DANCE and LAST DOT at the end because I thought it was highly unusual to have LAST as a word repeated in the grid. So I thought LAST was like the neon sign pointing us to “Last part #1” = DANCE and “Last part #2” =DOT as the two words you had to put together somehow.

    What is both a DANCE and a DOT??

    POLKA is both a DOT and a DANCE. On top of that, a POLKA DOT pattern is repeated pattern of the same thing, and a POLKA DANCE is musically “in 2”. So they both suggest the repeated patterns (Pago Pago, beriberi) getting us to AMERICAN SAMOA and THIAMINE DEFICIENCY.

    So what to do with a six-letter word POLKA? Up until this point, the title had not played into things. So I literally applied the title: “Search Party” led me to trying “Search: PARTY + the final keyword POLKA.”

    If you Google search “PARTY POLKA,” that leads you to pages full of YANKOVIC. Weird Al Yankovic’s album POLKA PARTY, and also Frank Yankovic, who is the Polka king.

    I thought the puzzle was brilliant until I saw I was wrong.


    • LuckyGuest says:

      I like that!

    • Justin says:

      Wow do I like this. I know it’s not the right answer but I love your path here…

      • Ale M says:

        Thanks for the support! This is a case of me getting to a logical answer and then thinking the reasoning was secure enough not to look elsewhere. As a matter of fact, if I had seen the DATS/ASTD connection as well (after finding my answer), I would probably dismiss that as more of a coincidence, since 3/4 of those letters come from a repeated word in the grid. I’d be more inclined to investigate why the words were repeated than why the letters were.

        Aargh (seriously). If the title had been any different (even one word slightly differently) or if YANKOVIC had not been 8 letters, I would have gone back to the drawing board to look again for the “right” answer.

        I think the definition of a rabbit hole is when you start to make chaotic leaps of logic. In this case, I’d argue I was making organic, connected sequences of logic (overall) that led me to an alternative answer to LANCELOT.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          The way you got to POLKA looks pretty solid, but the way you connected your answer to “Search Party” was a little weak, IMHO.

  22. LuckyGuest says:

    This being a week 5, I went to the clues first and quickly found the rhyming pairs and the initializations (and learned, for me, a new word: reduplication). Found AMERICAN SAMOA and THIAMINE DEFICIENCY within a minute, and then… nothing. I was sure that we’d be looking for a concatenation of another pair of grid entries that would be the/a definition of an 8-letter reduplication. Nothing jumped out — although when I saw “LION + CUB” I was hoping that the cub in Lion King would be the answer; similarly, MATE’S + YES = AYE[AYE], etc. Changing tack and looking in the grid for “reduplication halves,” I found several — BONY = BON[BON] + Y, CRAM = CRA[CRA] + M, GAS = GA[GA] +S, etc. — so I thought the unused single letters would spell out something. It never occurred to me that I’d be expected to jump to another avenue of solving; i.e., the “ASTD” trick. That actually kinda surprises me, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Matt do that. Kudos to those who solved it, and to the honesty of the 50 people who admitted to a group solve.

  23. Garrett says:

    My rabbit hole was noticing short words in the grid that were part of longer words. For example, ERA is in AZERA and ERASER, ILL and LIN are in ILLIN. There are six solid examples like these that I found. I kept thinking I’d find two more but never did.

    However, while I was repeatedly scouring the grid, I kept stumbling across LASTDANCE/LASTDOT. I thought that curious the first time I noticed it, and thought it an inelegant coincidence. But every time I saw it again, it bothered me more and more. I finally decided it must have been intentional, so I wrote them down and noticed the ASTD in each, then saw Lancelot. That seemed an out-of-left-field answer for a week five meta in a 19×19 grid where you get the answer with two grid entries? So I moved on.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      Might as well submit it. Even if you’re sure you’re missing something it doesn’t mean the answer is wrong.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      My rabbit hole was noticing short words in the grid that were part of longer words. For example, ERA is in AZERA and ERASER, ILL and LIN are in ILLIN. There are six solid examples like these that I found. I kept thinking I’d find two more but never did.

      I explored that same hole for a while. I found 8 or 9 examples; to wit:
      MEL/CAMEL and
      along with the 3 or 4 (depending on how you count them) that you mentioned. However, it didn’t lead anywhere further, of course.

  24. CFXK says:

    I am always intimidated by Week 5, so just submitted Eric Idle (Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot)

  25. jefe says:

    Plausibly, you could’ve just looked at the LASTDANCE/LASTDOT dupe as a major red flag and said hey, you can make LANCELOT from that, ignoring the actually interesting part of the meta.

  26. Craig says:

    I didn’t notice the rhyming clues, but immediately jumped to thiamine deficiency being BERI BERI and American Samoa’s capital being PAGO PAGO. Then I spent inordinately long time looking for other 4-4 repeaters.

    I even sent Matt a note pointing out the oddity of LAST DANCE and LAST DOT, but the idea that you’d have to remove the ASTD just was too out of left field for me to see or perform. Oh well.

  27. Tyrpmom says:

    I think highlighting the grid was a big help in finding Lancelot. I had a pretty big uncolored spot. Also, lastdot crossing lastdance had caught my attention earlier.

  28. Eduardo says:

    I wildly guessed Mata Hari, thinking the eight-letter name might be two four-letter words and after I found that there is a mata mata turtle in South America and a Hari Hari town on New Zealand’s South island. Brilliant, huh? No?

  29. Andrew Bradburn says:

    There is also a Matamata town on the North Island of New Zealand, where the Shire was filmed in the Lord of the Rings films. As for this puzzle, I was never close to getting an answer. It may be some time before I ever crack a week 5 puzzle.

  30. I’m new here. I drifted over from the WSJ Friday contest. In those puzzles, the title is always a hint, or more often, a confirmations once you solve the meta. But in all the comments and explanations here, I find only one idea that includes “Search Party” — Ale M’s comment that the phrase led him down the wrong polka path.

    Needless to say, I did not come close to solving this one. But just in case I try another late-in-the-month puzzle, am I well advised to ignore the title? Or did I miss some obvious link between Lancelot and “Search Party”?

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Lancelot belonged to the party that set out in search of the Holy Grail.

    • AMYF says:

      I would say that this puzzle would be an outlier. It was extremely rough in its execution. Titles should, and almost always do, matter.

    • Dave says:

      The first two or three weeks of the month, you can expect the title to be a hint. On week 4 or 5, it may not be a hint but it should help confirm the answer after you get it. The connection here is Lancelot’s “search” for the holy grail.

  31. Gwinns says:

    Just because no one else mentioned it, I saw “Search Party” and the fact that the 4 longest across answers started with D/U/L/R and spent the first two hours looking for directions that would send me moving down/up/left/right through the grid.
    At least I was right to take the first letters of words!

    • Lance says:

      Wow, if I had noticed that, it would have *really* confirmed my early theory that the upper left corner had, in a pathway, MAZE, and then the upper right corner had START and the lower left had this really blatant LAST, so we wanted some sort of maze path…. (Hail Mary: DAEDALUS.)

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I had the same thought about START/LAST, for a while, but my faith in that theory was diminished by the inconsistency of those terms (should be START/END or FIRST/LAST, if that were intended).

  32. Paul says:

    I’ve been solving puzzles for decades, and I always respect when a puzzle has beaten me fairly. The last step of this puzzle was a guess-what-I’m-thinking cheap shot.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I wouldn’t call it a cheap shot. Just not one of Matt’s better ideas. We’re so used to excellence here, anything less feels disappointing.

  33. MarkR says:

    It’s interesting that the extremely intricate “Shell Game” puzzle from last November (a real challenge to anyone who tried it) had 109 correct answers, while the seemingly more straightforward “Search Party” only had 78. Maybe shows what a doozy that final step was.

  34. ===Dan says:

    I am almost exclusively an early-week solver, and this month was no exception. But I’m surprised at the strong negative reactions to this one. I do understand the reasoning behind the complaints, but the path Matt spelled out seems logical. The rhyming clues spell out recognizable words. These words point to the four grid entries. That’s the only purpose of the rhyming clues. The four entries pair up in a logical way. That accomplishes the only purpose of what the rhyming clues spell out. That gets you AS and TD, with no real way to choose which goes first. But the intersection of LASTDOT and LASTDANCE jumps out on its own merit, and ASTD confirms the significance of that intersection (and identifies the ordering ASTD). ASTD has done its job, so it’s perfectly reasonable to try removing it from those crossing entries, and the result is an 8-letter name.
    The rhyming clues are not a red herring, since they are needed to point to BERIBERI and PAGOPAGO (which I wouldn’t call “rhymes”). These two words are not red herrings, because they are needed to point to the four grid entries. They make two ordered pairs obviously. The only leap needed is to get ASTD specifically, and not TDAS, but the unusual crossing is a pretty strong confirmation.
    I’m not a great solver, but I get plenty of enjoyment from appreciating puzzles, and I can’t see how this is unfair or arbitrary. Any misdirection comes from having the wrong expectations from the signals given.

    • George says:

      I agree the language being used doesn’t fit. This was a hard puzzle. Some people solved it and a bunch didn’t, that’s the point. Matt isn’t mean for creating a hard puzzle, and the puzzle isn’t unfair. Intentionally designing the puzzle to deceive and trick you into submitting a wrong answer is mean and unfair. The cat/rat puzzle in King’s Quest V is mean and unfair.

      I do disagree that the repetition in beriberi and pagopago are not red herrings (red herrings do not have to be intentional, nor do they ruin a puzzle, Pete Muller builds one in by design in his annual mega meta), but intended or not, a red herring does not make a puzzle mean. It is a clue that is misleading or distracting, and it is clear that a ton of people were distracted by those words. But being distracted does not equal mean and unfair. Perhaps inelegant, but maybe not.

    • pgw says:

      The ordering of ASTD comes from the fact that the PAGO created by the rhyming clues comes before BERI in the grid.

  35. TMart says:

    A word search for a nonsense word is a bit of a curve ball. But I guess all’s fair in Week 5. If you go through and highlight the grid for the 16 rhyming-clued words and the 4 words they pointed to, the ASTDs stick out like sore thumbs in the only remaining grid area, if you happen to be looking for ASTDs. This one was just mean.

  36. Myelbow says:

    I hate to give one of Matt’s puzzles a negative review, but I’m afraid I agree with the other solvers who found this one unsatisfying. Like Joon, got as far as seeing that the grid entries THIAMINE DEFICIENCY and AMERICAN SAMOA led to BERI-BERI and PAGO PAGO, then stalled out upon getting distracted by UPSTARTS / HOTSHOTS. I didn’t notice the trick with the rhyming clues, and while I thought that the crossing of LAST DOT and LAST DANCE seemed weird, I didn’t make the leap to LANCELOT. And even after reading Matt’s explanation, I don’t think this solution lands with the neat, penny-dropping “click” that Matt’s best metas create. The title is a head-scratcher, too. Sorry! But I will always look forward to whatever challenges Matt conjures up next!

  37. little sister says:

    As with most others, I got to American Samoa and Thiamine Deficiency through the PogoBeri route. And I also focused on ASTD. But i was convinced that, because of all the rhymes, Matt was looking for a poet’s name with 8 letters, including ASTD. I came up with Teasdale. I was just missing two Es, an A and an L. I kept looking for where in the grid those letters would emerge in some clever device, which of course I never found. Clearly, a big rabbit hole, but I thought it made sense so I submitted TEASDALE anyway.

  38. joon says:

    i wouldn’t call it unfair, but i definitely agree with the people who called it unsatisfying. the step where i (and so many others) got stuck is much less of an “aha!” and more of an “… oh.” if the big hint to the mechanism is “hey, check out this terrible made-up entry that’s also an awkward dupe”, then that’s not a great sign to begin with. but the bigger problem is that the initials mechanism just doesn’t follow from the previous ones. why on earth pick PAGO PAGO and BERIBERI to build your puzzle around if the reduplication has no bearing on the meta? that’s the thing that really makes it a clunker, at least to me. if you set up the solvers’ expectations in a certain way and then foil them, the payoff better be good. this was … not good.

    i will note that this isn’t the first time i have been both foiled by, and unsatisfied with, a meta mechanism that relies on going from a phrase to using just its initials. the arabian peninsula meta was similarly predicated and almost as poorly received, and not just by me. even having been burned by it (at least) twice now, i still don’t really understand why i should be looking at this in future metas. what makes a solving process satisfying is that the steps should be suggested either by what’s in the puzzle or by what you’ve already done to make progress (with confirmation steps along the way). unless the title contains the word “initially” or something, or the phrases themselves are often used in initials-only form (e.g. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ or OH MY GOD), it just feels arbitrary. maybe this is because it’s insufficiently constrained; for any given pair of initials, there are dozens or hundreds of reasonably common phrases that have those initials. (much less when you are dealing with 3+ letters, of course.)

    the exception would be if there were an intermediate confirmation step, like if you had several phrases that all had the same initials, or if the initials taken in a logical order actually spelled out a word. that last one is common enough that i think every meta solver does look at the first letters, both of theme answers themselves and phrases derived from the meta mid-solve. but if those letters don’t actually spell anything? you just move on. there’s a ridiculous amount of information in a crossword puzzle (even more so in a 19×19), so solving a meta—or really any time you are trying to separate the signal from the noise—is about finding patterns. ASTD is not a pattern; it is an arbitrary 4-letter sequence. to be told after the fact that we were supposed to stop and work with ASTD is, i think, what prompted lance and tyler (and me) to just roll our eyes. contrast this to if the initials had been something like MAHI or COUS. that, combined with what we’d already done, would have been something to take notice of. i still don’t know for a fact that i would have noticed it (although i’d certainly like to think i would), but if i had gotten stuck on that step, i would’ve regarded that as a failing on my own end rather than with the puzzle.

    last thing: it’s hard for me to dispassionately separate my feelings for the out-of-left-field AS/TD initials mechanism from the actual (presumed) starting point of matt’s meta, which is LAST DANCE + LAST DOT -> LANCELOT… but i’ll try. that piece of wordplay on its own is actually kind of interesting, but it definitely suffers from both the fact that LAST DOT just isn’t much of a thing, and the fact that you have to dupe LAST. so, to me, this is a meta that was doomed from the start. sorry, matt.

  39. I really loved this meta. The one thing that really hung me up, though, was the title. Once I had ASTD (and I had that order based on the order of the Pago Pago coming before the Beri Beri) I kept seeing TSA and the leftover D and that seemed to fit with “Search Party”. I spent an exhausting amount of time trying to make that work.

  40. MarkR says:

    If it’s not too late to weigh in here: I think Matt assumed we would find the rhyming clues first, and that would lead us to the theme answers. I did it in reverse: the ASTD entries were the first thing I noticed, which immediately brought to mind PAGO PAGO and BERIBERI. Later I found the rhyming clues, and was surprised when they just circled back to what I had already figured out. At that point I was wondering why the ASTD entries were there at all.

    Having said that, with a day to think about it, I like the puzzle a little better. I can see the logic more clearly. It’s not a great solution, but it’s pretty decent. I just missed out on recognizing the occurrences of that text string, which is my fault.

    My only other comment is I wish the title had been more helpful; it only makes sense after the fact, which is kind of useless. I don’t know, maybe that is a Week 5 feature. Anyway, nice effort Matt, and I look forward to the August Week 5.

  41. Jonesy says:

    a) joon’s comment does a great job of summing up some of the shortfalls of the meta without being overly harsh. it wasn’t one of Gaffney’s best but it still gave me a lot of pleasure in searching for our search party.

    b) the original 16-8-4-2-1 idea feels like it would’ve been a classic ‘5-star’ Gaffney meta but didn’t quite come through in the execution (I only noticed that element once Gaffney commented here). maybe with that as the title, a lot more people would’ve been happy and the path would’ve been smoother – though probably not a ‘week 5’ level of difficulty i’d guess (and/or without the PAGOPAGO/BERIBERI symmetry that everyone justifiably focused on)

    c) feels to me like people expect too much of the MGWCC on a weekly basis – this meta felt to me like a game where Michael Jordan had 30 points but his game winning shot hit the rim and missed.

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