MGWCC #582

crossword 3:45 
meta 2 days* 


hello and welcome to episode #582 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Punc(tuation) Rock”. the instructions this week are to name a well-known song of 1977. what are the theme answers?

okay, so here’s the thing. i participated in a group solve of this meta with a bunch of folks at dinner after boswords on sunday. i think it’s probably fair to say i would never have solved this solo in a million years, and there are a few reasons why. but we’ll get to those. first, i’m going to talk about the solution.

the two long answers in the grid, TEAR TO BITS and SCIENTISTS, are not theme answers. they have nothing to do with the meta, and in fact, most of the grid has nothing to do with the meta. the meta works like this: there are ten P’s in the grid, which occur in pairs: in five different rows, the first across answer ends with P and the third across answer starts with P. if you reimagine these P’s as ( and ), then the entries in between are:

  • {Dunkirk drink} THÉ, or really just THE for purposes of the meta.
  • {Cabrera who won the Masters in 2009} ÁNGEL, or really just ANGEL for purposes of the meta.
  • {Steelers Hall of Famer who ran for governor of Pennsylvania in 2006} SWANN. i don’t know why “lynn” was left out of this clue.
  • {Knock out} AWE.
  • {Powerful force} ARMY.

putting them all together and respacing gives THE ANGELS WANNA WEAR MY. does that mean anything to you? well, it probably does if you know the 1977 elvis costello song (the angels wanna wear my) red shoes. me, i’d never, ever heard of that song, and i’m sure i’m not the only one. the song did not chart in either the u.k. or the u.s. apparently it is a staple of costello’s live sets, for what that’s worth.

it’s hard for me to say this objectively, because 1970s rock is not a subject i know a great deal about. but subjectively, i’ll offer that it’s a stretch calling this a “well-known song of 1977”. on some level, being told that the meta answer is a “well-known” anything and then having it turn out to be 100% unfamiliar is a major, major bummer. it can’t not color my experience of this puzzle. it’s like listening to a long joke whose punchline is in swahili.

every now and then, somebody will ask me about pete muller’s monthly music meta, and i’ll have to explain to them why i actually don’t solve those. it’s not that i don’t enjoy pete’s work—quite on the contrary, he’s a terrific constructor, and when i’ve looked at reviews of his music metas, i’ve often been in awe of his ingenuity. but the fact remains that when the subject matter of a puzzle—and this is doubly true when applied to a meta answer—is well outside of my range of knowledge, it drastically reduces my enjoyment in the solving experience.

okay, that’s all i have to say about the meta answer. what about the mechanics of the meta?

the title provides a pretty solid hint to thinking about parentheses. if there were a list of 1977 rock song titles somewhere, i could imagine going through it and looking for parentheses, and i might have resorted to that if i hadn’t been at the group solve. (the thing is, i probably would have looked at a list of #1 songs, or top-10 songs, or songs that charted at all in 1977, and the answer wouldn’t have been on the list.) the other significant hints, in my view, were the non-article clue for THE and the proper name clue for ANGEL. those were little nudges in the direction of a song title containing “the angel”. again, wouldn’t have helped me, but maybe it would help you if you knew the song.

on the other hand, i think it’s a more interesting that the last few theme answers don’t bear any real relation to the words of the song title. SWANN AWE ARMY going to (S) WANNA WEAR MY is a much more dramatic shift in parsing than THÉ ÁNGEL going to THE ANGEL.

the biggest hint of all was, unfortunately, an anti-hint. what is going on in the top row of the grid?

  • {In a given year, one might be a D-back and the other a Yank} MLB MVP.
  • {“American Sniper” subj.} PTSD.

these two all-initialism answers bracket the first real theme answer THE. now, the meta constrains 1-across to end with P and 10-across to start with P, and to contain no other P’s. but why MLB MVP? this is a highly undesirable entry in my mind, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. NFL MVP is a thing. NBA MVP is a thing. NHL MVP is less of a thing, because they have a different name for it (the hart trophy), but at least the hart is awarded every season to the most valuable player in the NHL, so if you had NHL MVP in your grid and you clued it as {Hart Trophy recipient}, i don’t think people would accuse you of making stuff up. but MLB does not award an MVP. the american league and national league award separate trophies every year, honoring the most valuable players from those leagues. so the fact that 1-across in this puzzle was MLB MVP seemed to me (and others) to be screaming “this made-up entry is highly constrained by the theme!” and then it just … wasn’t. i don’t get it.

the rest of the grid is not bad. i didn’t immediately see why it was necessary to have an 82-word grid, but the inability to use the letter P except in particular spots is a sneakily restrictive stipulation. it’s also true that when your theme answers aren’t long, it can be hard to keep the grid’s total word count down.

that’s all i’ve got this week. i hope your experience of this puzzle was happier than mine!

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to MGWCC #582

  1. sharkicicles says:

    Conversely, I’m very familiar with the song, but had no chance at all of getting this one. I’m a little upset with myself that I didn’t notice the odd amount of Ps though.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Ditto. Know the song very well — it’s probably Elvis Costello’s best-known song, or maybe second-best-known after “Alison” — but I had zero time to work on the meta this weekend.

      • Andy says:

        I’d venture that “Alison” and another parenthetical “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” are probably 1 and 2 in some order.

        I’m not the biggest Costello fan but I’ve actually seen him in concert once (c. 2009) and have no recollection of hearing this song title before.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 73 correct answers this week.

    Believe it or not, my concern with this meta was that it would be too *easy* for a Week 4. None of my other Week 4-level ideas had panned out so I’d had to punt with what I thought was an easy Week 3. I thought solvers would say “OK, punctuation in a song, and there are parentheses in the title, so how could these be represented in the grid? Those P’s are all paired on rows,” and then done. But it turned out to be much more difficult to spot than that.

    Agreed on the song being not as widely known as I’d’ve liked, but a) you didn’t need to know it for the meta and b) it was by far the best parenthetical song title I could find to use (can’t be any stray P’s, words have to break into usable blocks).

    Anyway, one of the widest gaps ever between my perceived and then the actual difficulty level.

  3. KZ Condor says:

    Never heard of this song, but the questionable well-known-ness doesn’t bother me in the least.

    Got the answer; not a fan of the mechanism, but I am a fan of low solve counts, so overall it’s thumbs up from me.

  4. Justin says:

    Well, I followed “punctuation” several directions, scanning which entries came from clues with quotation marks, blanks, commas, dashes, ellipsis, etc. The closest I came to the answer was entering missing “single quote” accent marks in the grid, which worked on “the” and “angel” but also “dia” and “don’t go”. Never would have gotten this, and if it took a group solve by boswords attendees I’m not disappointed to have missed it. Is “P” a known indicator of a parenthesis?

    I will add, though, that I have no problem with the song.

    • joon says:

      Is “P” a known indicator of a parenthesis?

      not to my knowledge, no. the resemblance of C to open-paren is known, but going from P just required a bit of a mental leap, or noticing that all the P’s in the grid were placed just so. it’s difficult, but it’s not arbitrary.

    • Lance says:

      Also wondered if there should be dots or dashes in the grid (“non-ego”? “p.t.s.d.”?), or whether the odd amount of quotation marks in the clues was meaningful (why “acquisition” in quotes? Why clue “male” with a song title, or the Al Pacino quote, or…?). Due to the recent accusations of plagiarism that leveled at Google, I was sure that the quotes/apostrophes would spell out Morse code, somehow….

  5. pgw says:

    Wow, I never even had a good idea for this one. Which is a bummer, because I totally know that song, and did in fact run across it in my search of songs from 1977.

    I think the biggest hurdle for me was I would never think to have P stand for parenthesis – so even though the title should be a big hint that parens are involved, I never saw the Ps in the grid as standing for them.

    I noticed a lot of other stuff (d-backs = rattlesnakes but also terrapins! The 1977 AL MVP was not a Yank but an Angel! [The NL MVP that year was a Red, which now that I know the answer is itself kinda interesting …] Terrapins live in BRACK[ets]ish water …?) But none of my ideas ever got past the “well this is obviously wrong…” stage, because, of course, they were all quite wrong.

  6. MarkR says:

    Definitely a tricky puzzle here. Even though there’s really only one layer here, it disguises itself very effectively.

    I did manage to solve it solo. My entry point was THE on the top row. Although clued as French for tea, it kept bugging me. I finally decided it must be the beginning of the song title. Once I noticed the bookending Ps, and then more Ps below, it went down quickly. But it took a long time to get there.

    And yes, saying the song is “well known” is probably stretching it. I hadn’t heard it, or heard of it. But constructors don’t seem to like writing instructions such as, “We’re looking for an obscure book title,” or “The answer is a song you probably don’t know.”

    • pgw says:

      That THE – indeed, that whole area – bugged me too. Like, why not THIN/HOP/EPS or (even better) THY/THIN/HOE/YES? Should have thought about that more I guess …

  7. Hector says:

    This went super quickly once I spotted the bracketed-by-P pattern (which I somehow missed for ages). I think knowing the song did help speed things from there.

  8. Al says:

    I spent a lot of time looking at random punctuation marks in the clues. Finally noticed the odd pairings of “P”s in the grid and when the enclosed entries spelled a phrase, I figured that had to be it, although I obtusely failed to notice the “paren” connection :-/. Wasn’t familiar with the song, but a quick google of the phrase did the trick. Not sure I’ve ever been last recorded solver before!

  9. pannonica says:

    P = parenthesis seems dubious to me. The rest seems fine, elegant even.

  10. Craig says:

    I considered PRODS looking like PERIODS and the misleading stacking of POI/NT/S. I tried to turn AL PACINO’s Michael Corleone into “colon”. I even thought that TEAR TO BITS might be a hint for binary or Morse or something. But there wasn’t any shot of my turning P into a parenthesis.

    So while I found the meta meh, at least I got to learn about “Monster Went and Ate My Red 2”:

    • Justin says:

      ^^^ I’ve always loved that one :>

    • pgw says:

      One of my dumbest ideas was based on that PeRiODS thing plus learning the extremely arcane, stupid word EROTEMES (EO + METERS). But I knew all along that “anagram a grid entry + 2 letters to get a plural thing” is a completely insane, unworkable meta concept (even after noticing that COMMAS = CM + AMOS).

  11. lilroser says:

    So I’m confused by something…How is someone supposed to pick up on the fact that you’re supposed to use the P’s?

    Obviously I didn’t get this one, so perhaps this is just sour grapes…but it REALLY feels random…you’re just supposed to grok that the P’s are ‘parentheses’?

    Unless there is something else here, (or this is an earth-shattering coincidence) Matt also put in one of the *cruelest* red herrings I’ve ever seen in one of his puzzles…

    Starting with how odd the clue for 1A is – (in a *given* year)…so looking at the four Across clues with years in them and in EACH year that is given, one of the MLB MVPs was either ANGEL or a TWIN…

    20A – 1979 – Don Baylor – ANGEL
    25A – 2004 – Vlad Guerrero – ANGEL
    29A – 2009 – Joe Mauer – TWIN (also, he wore #7…7D’s answer is TWIN)
    49A – 2006 – Justin Morneau – TWIN

    So, turning to 1977 (the year we are looking for) – the AL MVP that year was *Rod Carew*..who won the MVP as a TWIN…and then proceeded to spend the last 6 years of his career as an ANGEL.
    And then the coup de grace…Rod Carew’s number was #29 – 29A’s answer is ANGEL!

    I submitted “Undercover Angel” – #9 on Billboard’s top 100 for 1977 (so a well-known song…arguably more well known than the actual answer), and describing Carew, who won the MVP as #29 for the Twins, but was in reality an “undercover” Angel (at least for this puzzle’s purposes).

    Did anyone else see this? Was it intentional?

    I guess while I’m here, I’ll also request for an alternate answer ruling!

    • pgw says:

      that’s pretty wild – I forgot Carew was a Twin back then (hence my wrong post above about the ’77 MVP being an Angel, which is how I remember him)

  12. john says:

    Yeah, the Ps didn’t seem abnormal in frequency to me at all and i was never going to see P and think “parentheses”. Like Justin, i thought of different types of punctuation and whether words in the grid required them, like IN-LAW, but that went nowhere. The title just made things more confusing IMO because it relayed very little but seemed full of possibilities, lots of dead ends.

    The meta idea itself and execution is a wonder. Getting all those letters to line up in order within a format of well-known words, centralized in the grid, was incredible and a wonderful example of Matt’s genius with word-play.

    Costello’s first 3 albums are all in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time so he’s very well known to people who know music. I am very familiar with the song and think it was a great choice.

  13. Jon says:

    Yeah, I don’t think I would have ever figured out that Ps were supposed to fill in for parentheses. Especially when the clues contain periods, exclamation points, quotation marks, commas, apostrophes, ellipses, and dashes.

    For me I was SURE that “rock” in the title was actually about geology because AGGRO is such a highly unusual fill. To me it was more unusual that MLBMVP. Being a kid during the run of the Nickelodeon show “GUTS”, I thought for sure that AGGRO referred to Aggro Crag on the show. And there was PROMO which is the start of Promontory. So I thought the title of “Punc(tuation)” was showing us the mechanic of FILL(end of the word). It was a rabbit hole I couldn’t get out of.

    Has the mechanic of turning a punctuation into a single letter been done before? Because I’m truly at a loss on how people were supposed to groc it.

    • Hector says:

      Right, this is one where the first step is the hardest. I went down many of the same blind alleys others have described. I didn’t really draw the connection to parentheses, but simply noticed the can’t-be-coincidental pattern of five central horizontal entries flanked on both sides by P. That took me three days to spot, and from there it was instantaneous. In hindsight, I spent much too much effort trying to wring insight from the title, and not enough just looking for curious patterns in the grid.

    • Al says:

      I never grokked that P was “paren”. For me it was just the odd repeating pattern of several rows with “last letter P”, some other word, “first letter P”. I took a stab at writing down the intermediary words and saw that they spelled a phrase. I felt very lucky to stumble upon this one with about 10 minutes to spare.

  14. Seth says:

    Wow. Not a chance for me.

    As Joon said, the MLBMVP and PTSD entries had me trapped for a long time. I thought the many single black squares in the puzzle might be periods, and they were supposed to be separating some acronyms in their across or down rows. Nope.

    Something I also noticed was that the central black squares all look like punctuation marks, when tilted 45 degrees: from top left to bottom right, you have a squished colon, an open-paren, a normal colon, a close-paren, and another squished colon. Obviously this didn’t go anywhere either.

  15. Norm H says:

    Can you imagine if REDS and HOES had somehow made it into the grid?

    Like some others, I spent lots of time focused on the punctuation marks used in the clues. I obsessed quite a bit about the 12 clues with quotation marks — six across, six down (cruel coincidence) — and anagramming the first letters of the corresponding entries. I knew it wouldn’t take me anywhere, but it was the only idea I could grasp onto.

    The “Ps = parentheses” thing feels random to me, but if 73 people figured it out, it obviously isn’t. Just Week 4 hard, I guess. But coming here and seeing the meta mechanism isn’t very satisfying.

    On the other hand, the meta answer is most satisfying. Declan MacManus may be my all-time favorite rock lyricist, and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” has its share of brilliant rhymes, including:
    Oh, I said, “I’m so happy I could die”
    She said, “Drop dead” then left with another guy
    That’s what you get if you go chasing after vengeance
    Ever since you got me punctured this has been my sentence

    PS — Amazing job, lilroser! If I made the rules, your entry would be accepted.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      As a rhyme snob, I contend that “vengeance/sentence” is not a rhyme at all, let alone a brilliant one. It’s a near-rhyme, and OK as far as those go.

    • lilroser says:

      Thanks Norm! I hope Matt is feeling as generous!

  16. David says:

    Anyone else get caught up in the pairs of VET/VERIFY and PRODS/EGGSON, or was that just me? I was hunting for other entries that could be synonyms or otherwise paired, with no idea what I’d do with them next—maybe treat VET and PRODS as shortened words, and find a way to pair a few others like AGGRO?

    Once a (non-solo-solve) hint got me looking for significant letters in the grid, I got fixated on the Os, as they could look like opening-and-closing parentheses, and there were a surprising number of terminal O entries. Also looked for C & K, based on the punc/punk aspect of the title, and H based on punc->punch. Thought there might be something to the Ts in TEARTOBITS, as they separated valid EAR and OBI entries. Focusing on parentheses at least got me looking for “what’s in between certain letters,” but it still took a while to find the P, as the title didn’t feel like it pushed me towards those in particular, even after getting that hint.

    • Jack Sullivan says:

      All the “O’s”, terminal or not, led me to submit Da Doo Ron Ron in desperation.

    • Craig Mazin says:

      Oh yeah… I was deep down that VET/VERIFY PRODS/EGGSON rabbit hole for a long time. Then there was D-Backs in the clues… and IAMB in the grid… dIAMondBacks… ack… nothing.

      I was honest with Matt… I cracked this one via backsolve. NO SHAME! :)

  17. Lance says:

    On the one hand, kudos to those who figured this out.

    On the other, what a terrible meta. It’s a huge noise-to-signal ratio, with any number of things you *could* be looking at, and instead what you have to notice are a few oddly-placed Ps. I feel like Matt has completely lost all sense of what a reasonable solver might “notice”: five long entries (which draw the eye) that all share ABE is a reasonable thing to notice. The fact that a 15×15 grid contains ten Ps is just not.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I get that you didn’t like it, but don’t intentionally mischaracterize it. There was a lot more going on than just “ten P’s in a 15×15 grid.” You had “Punctuation” in the title and then parentheses in the title, and then the P’s were all paired on lines.

      If you don’t think that was enough, fine. But if you’re going to be snarky then at least take the time to be accurate.

      • Lance says:

        OK, sure, what was going on was “ten P’s in a 15×15 grid that appeared in flanking positions”–but the flanking positions are what confirm that what you’ve noticed is *meaningful*, whereas the thing you had to *notice* was “there are all these P’s”.

        • KZ Condor says:

          I agree that it was somewhat unfair to expect solvers to notice the Ps, and I agree that can be frustrating but after nearly 600 metas in this series, I feel like unfair is one of the few ways we’ll get new puzzles that are actually challenging. I would much rather be stumped by an unfair puzzle than solve a gimme in five minutes.

          I would like to encourage Matt to continue to seek fresh meta ideas rather than concern himself overly much if they are fair or even gettable. The solving journey is the reward; getting the solution is just a lagniappe.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          I don’t see why “the thing you notice” can’t be “there are all these Ps flanking middle entries”.

  18. James says:

    Yes, keep searching for fresh ideas.
    I did not care much for this one as it required that I lean on Bing too heavily in my flailing pursuit of many dead ends.
    Once I read the answer I wasn’t surprised I wouldn’t get it as I have never cared for that Elvis. Gimme the King or give me silence!
    However, I do applaud the concept.
    Thanks, Matt. I never look forward to a week one as much as after a week four or five like this one.

  19. Rachel says:

    There should be a sniglet for the exquisite torture of a tough meta.
    The pages of fruitless rabbit hole scribbling. The contorted logic one is willing to resort to in the hopes it leads somehow to an answer. The background noise of whirling letters in your brain as you try to get anything else done over the weekend. Leaderboard envy. The compulsion to keep coming back to the grid, desperate for that a-ha, even as time is running out….
    And then it is 12pm and the answer goes up and it is bittersweet. A failure, but at least your brain can finally stop working on it. (Overshare?).
    Thanks Matt! Keep them coming.

    • KZ Condor says:

      That – metamania? *delerium tremetans*? – is exactly my experience, and is the reason I subscribe to MGWCC. Failures sting a little, but not as much as an easy, early solve.

    • mkmf says:

      Wonderfully put, Rachel!
      And KZ Condor – loved your delirium tremetans

    • Matt Chadsey says:

      That’s awesome – I haven’t heard the term ‘sniglet’ in probably 30 years! At one point, I probably had them all memorized, but I can only think of one at the moment: bovilexia – the irresistible urge to stick your head out of the window of the car while driving past a cow in the field to yell at the top of your lungs: “MOOO!!”

      Back to the task at hand…
      Meta-insanity? I like metamania too. Or mental meta-stability…

  20. TMart says:

    I don’t think it was unfair, just a little random and maybe incomplete as it didn’t contain the full song title. As someone mentioned, if the bottom corner entries were REDS and HOES, this would have been beautifully elegant (but perhaps only a Week 3 difficultly). Didn’t get it, but stretched my brain very nicely.

  21. Myelbow says:

    I’m in the camp that believes this is a perfectly well-known song, and have no problem with it being the answer to a meta. I also didn’t spot it in the grid, but there’s no denying that it was right there in front of me. The “letter P = parentheses” thing was a bit more elusive, in my opinion, but I think it’s within the bounds of what’s acceptable in a final-week meta.

    What ultimately defeated me was that I got hung up on the top row reading “MLBMVP THE PTSD.” That pileup of consonants made me think that I was dealing with some kind of cryptogram–but obviously, I was barking up the wrong tree. Oh well, maybe I’ll redeem myself next month!

    • Myelbow says:

      I think another factor that tripped me up was that I don’t really think of parentheses as punctuation marks, but I guess they totally are. Going in, the title made me think this was going to be a variation on that musty old crossword theme where, say, COMMANDO gets entered into the grid as “,NDO” and COLONIAL as “:IAL”. Should have trusted Matt to come up with something more innovative than that!

  22. Matt Chadsey says:

    I’m not sure if it would have helped, but a slight nudge might have been to title it: “Punc(tuated) Rock”

  23. mkmf says:

    Or even P(unctuation) Rock. Yes, you lose the nice PUNC distinction, but the title still works. This would probably have made it a week 2 with many more solvers who were pleased as p(unch).

  24. Silverskiesdean says:

    I kept going back to the 1st and 2nd starts of rows 1 and 2:
    MLBMVP as was stated before, didn’t make any sense
    EELIER was next
    Put the two together using s steno-like approach, and I kept seeing:”I’m a believer” by the Monkees which did not help at all. Did anyone else see that song?

  25. ab says:

    I couldn’t get past the three words that could use acute accents (especially since THÉ is so prominent). That seemed like significant punctuation, but didn’t get me anywhere on it’s own. I figured maybe they were commas and went with “Handy Man”.

Comments are closed.