MGWCC #586

crossword 6:31 
meta dnf 


hello and welcome to episode #586 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Periods of Reconciliation”. this week, matt challenges us to name a ’90s political rival of 55-Across. okay, well, 55a is {42nd President of the United States, one of whose rivals herein is the meta answer} bill CLINTON. who are the rivals?

  • {Political rival of 55-Across who twice ran against him for president} ross PEROT.
  • {Political rival of 55-Across who ran against him for president} bob DOLE.
  • {Political rival of 55-Across who won eight states against him in the Democratic primaries} paul TSONGAS.
  • {Political rival of 55-Across who lost the presidency to him} george (h.w.) BUSH.
  • {Political rival of 55-Across who battled him on the Contract with America} newt GINGRICH.
  • {Political rival of 55-Across who won six states against him in the Democratic primaries} is somebody named BROWN. is this jerry brown of california? apparently yes. i have very little memory of the 1992 primaries.
  • {Political rival of 55-Across whose report led to his impeachment proceedings} ken STARR.

okay, so the meta answer is one of these rivals. how are we to determine which one? i haven’t figured out the meta yet, so i don’t know, but there are four other rivalries in the grid:

  • {Athletic rival of 69-Across whom he beat in the Fight of the Century} FRAZIER, and {Athletic rival of 1-Across whom he beat in Super Fight II and the Thrilla in Manila} ALI.
  • {Space Race rival of 33-Down who launched the first solar-powered satellite (Vanguard 1)} USA, and {Space Race rival of 17-Across who sent the first dog into space} USSR.
  • {Corporate rival of 54-Down who featured Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson in their ads} PEPSI, and {Corporate rival of 26-Across whose “wars” with them included releasing a new version of their drink} COKE.
  • {Musical rivals of 47-Down who traded albums like “Sgt. Pepper’s” and “Magical Mystery Tour” with them (with “The”)} BEATLES, and {Musical rivals of 13-Down who traded albums like “Beggars Banquet” and “Let It Bleed” with them (casually, and with “The”)} STONES.

so i still don’t know how the meta works, but here are a few observations.

first, these are very wordy clues, including some apparently unnecessary details (like vanguard 1, what even is that?). without meta considerations, these could easily have just been clued as {Athletic rival of 69-Across}, {Athletic rival of 1-Across}, etc.

second, the puzzle title. i can’t make head or tail of “reconciliation”, but “periods” has me thinking about eras. the fact that the instructions explicitly include “’90s” is making me think decades are particularly relevant. for what it’s worth, the four extra rivalries, including all of the specifically pinning details in the clues, occurred in four different decades: the space race was the 1950s (vanguard 1 was 1958, laika 1957); beatles-stones was the 1960s (sgt pepper and magical mystery tour both 1967, beggar’s banquet 1968, let it bleed 1969); ali-frazier was 1970s (fight of the century 1971, super fight ii 1974, thrilla in manilla 1975); and the cola wars in the 1980s (jackson ad 1984, richie ad 1985, new coke 1985). and then of course the 1990s are the decade of clinton’s political rivalry with … whoever.

okay, so how does the rest of this work? it feels like reconciliation has to be a hint to something, but i don’t know what. i am willing to believe that the extra details in the clues are there solely to pin the rivalry to a specific decade, but then i think we’re supposed to do something that connects the decade to the names of the rivals. but i can’t see how to do it, and i’m out of time, so i’m just going to send in a guess. somebody let me know in the comments how it works.

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31 Responses to MGWCC #586

  1. Richard says:

    The clue numbers for each pair of non-90s rivals adds up to their decade. E.g., Coke and Pepsi clue numbers add up to 80. So with the Clinton clue 55A, we’re looking for clue numbered 35, which would give 55 + 35 = 90. Perot is 35A.

    • joon says:

      oof, this feels like something i should have gotten. it also feels like something i might have gotten if i weren’t so fixated on the word “reconciliation” in the title. is the idea that adding the clue numbers is some kind of reconciliation? because that doesn’t really click for me, and i can’t otherwise figure out what reconciliation is doing in the puzzle title.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Reconcile the rivals

      • Lance says:

        For what it’s worth, I originally tried to “reconcile” the pairs by taking the *average* of their clue numbers–wouldn’t they want to meet halfway? I got 25, 30, 35, and 40, so it was clear that PEROT (who gave an average of 45) would have to be right, but I sat on that for a day or two. I tried reading the letters in squares 25, 30, etc.; then I tried reading the letters in squares 50, 60, etc. (which *almost* spelled HEALED!), and it wasn’t until later that I realized the sums referred to decades.

        I kind of prefer the idea of “meeting halfway” (averaging) for a reconciliation, but it’s certainly the case that “coming together” (summing) is also a perfectly good interpretation.

  2. Mutman says:

    I recognized the events were in specific decades. 50s, 60s, 70, 80s. Clearly Clinton spent his prime in the 90s. So I looked at all the adversaries and saw that Tsongas was the only one with a clue in the 90s (93A). Not as elegant as Matt’s answer, clearly, but I don’t see how you can say the logic is faulty or the answer incorrect. I don’t know the answer ahead of time to know to ‘keep looking’.


    • David says:

      The problem with that logic is that it doesn’t work for the other four rival pairs—USA/USSR is about the 50s, but neither has a clue in the 90s, and so on for the others. As it turns out, the trick for this one actually requires each pair of rivals to have clues that are lower than their relevant decade.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Yeah, this was my Hail Mary guess by Mutman’s logic, but for the reason David cites, I strongly suspected it wasn’t right. Also, not nearly elegant enough for a Week 4/5. Tried all sorts of things to tie the rivals to their decade, but didn’t think of adding clue numbers. Matt’s impressive breadth of techniques strikes again!

  3. David says:

    Just barely cracked it this morning—at least, I think I did, the leaderboard hasn’t updated yet. The clue numbers on each pair adds up (reconciles) to its relevant decade (period), so the complement for 55A CLINTON has to be 35A PEROT to add up to 90.

    • David says:

      To add a bit: Working with someone on this one, we tried a million crazy theories, including deriving meaning from the rivalry descriptors, indexing using the specific years of the listed events, shared letters between the rivals, and some sort of terms/phrases they could all humorously relate to (i.e. COLD war + COLA war). We even threw out the idea of clue numbers mattering, but nothing came to mind, so it just magically clicked this morning for reasons passing understanding. A good chunk less complicated than we’d been trying for, but the fact that we missed it means it can’t have been “too easy.”

  4. Todd Dashoff says:

    The decades are indeed the clue to the answer. Each pair is a set of numbered clues that add up to the decade described. So given that the Clinton rivalry was in the 90’s, you need to find the clue that adds to 55 to get 90; i.e., 35 across, (H. Ross) PEROT.

  5. Eric Klis says:

    One thing I found interesting about this meta was that (technically) you only had to solve one clue in the crossword, 35A. All of the “stuff” was in the clues.

  6. David Hanson says:

    I went down a massive rabbit hole with “Space”, “Corporate” Athletic” and “Musical” obviously leading to SCAM and 59D being SCAMmer had me looking for anything tying to “mer”. At one point I thought of mer being French for sea, and “Perot, Perot, Perot Your Boat”, but wound up throwing that in the trash. I guess I should have just picked one and taken a 1-in-7 shot.

    • Margaret says:

      Yes! I spent so long on SCAM. I considered MACS and CAMS as well but was so sure that SCAM was going to point the way.

      Now I wish I’d thrown up my Hail Mary which was H. Ross Perot having a period (not of reconciliation, but at least a period.) Oh well.

  7. sharkicicles says:

    I found this relatively easy, and I rarely get week 4 or 5s; however, I can see how this meta has a very small “attack surface” to crack open.

    For me, the 1+69=70 and knowing all the Ali-Frazier fights happened in the 70s led to adding up all the other rivals, and when I saw “50, 60, 70, 80” I knew I was on the right track- all those round numbers couldn’t be a coincidence.

    If I hadn’t noticed that, I don’t think there’s any way I would have solved this one.

  8. Jon says:

    “In accounting, reconciliation is the process of ensuring that two sets of records (usually the balances of two accounts) are in agreement.”

    So to reconcile the rivals, you add their clue numbers together. They add up to the decade’s identifying year (minus the 19). So 50, 60, 70, 80. If Clinton is the 90s, and CLINTON is at 55A, then 90-55 = 35. 35A is PEROT.

    I got this last night and only through good subtle hints from solving friends. But at least I got the aha moment myself. Very good & challenging meta.

  9. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I greatly respect that it was a clue meta (as Eric said) with the numbers in plain sight, yet the sheer amount of theme entries in the grid would make you think otherwise. The thought train that led me to the answer was trying to “reconcile” the pairs of rivals by taking the averages of their clue numbers, then realizing that (a) I could do this, and (b) this gave me numbers divisible by 5.

    Very smooth fill.

  10. pgw says:

    As someone for whom “do math with the clue numbers” is a go-to metapuzzle schtick, I got this one relatively quickly and thought it was an excellent example of the genre.

  11. Jim S says:

    Took the easy way out… saw British Invasion, Cold War, the various names for the Ali-Frazier fights, and Cola Wars. All referenced a conflict so I went with the punny “Starr” Wars. Alas, no good – I knew it was too easy for a week 4, but nothing else came to mind so it was my Hail Mary.

  12. jefe says:

    Tsongas only won seven states.

    • David says:

      This comment was confusing me, as Wikipedia does list Tsongas as winning 8 contests—but I noticed his list includes the abbreviation DA, which clearly isn’t a state. After a bit of searching, I take it the DA refers to Democrats Abroad, for expat voters, so, yup, seems like the reference to 8 states would be an error.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Shoot, you’re right. I looked at that same Wiki page but didn’t realize the number given was “contests” instead of “states.”

  13. Derek Allen says:

    Man, I spent a lot of time on this and STILL didn’t get it! I even wrote all of that out! I am horrible at meta crosswords.

    I am going to get a MGWCC month complete before I die!

  14. sharkicicles says:

    Also, I loved the construction- a huge amount of theme fill and some pretty hard constraints on where the content could go, and yet the grid was a very fun solve.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I tried a few 15×15 grids at first but the fill got tortured and I could only fit 4 or 5 Clinton rivals in. Of course I wanted it to be 7 or 8 since that would reduce guessability, so 17×17 it had to be.

      • Seth says:

        Matt, loved this one. Curiosity question: how far in advance do you complete each puzzle? How many ready-to-go puzzles do you have available at any given time?

  15. john says:

    Very tough meta for 4/5. Brilliant though. Yet another one of those i would really have loved to have sussed out. I need to find my smart pilz.

  16. BarbaraK says:

    One nit pick: Laika in 1957 was the first dog in orbit, but the clue just asked about space and the Soviets were sending dogs on suborbital flights above the 100km Kármán line starting in 1951.

    (I had both years in my notes, just in case, before I realized it didn’t really matter since both were the same decade.)

  17. Norm H says:

    I got the decades right away, but didn’t think to add the rivalry clue numbers together. Instead, among other ratholes, I interpreted “periods of reconciliation” as the years when the rivals were not engaging in the events mentioned in the clues. So, (19)59-66, 70, 72-73, 76-83. Checked the letters in each of those squares. Nope.

    In the end, the solution was far simpler than I was making it out to be. I need to remember that when I hear hoof beats, I should think horses, not zebras.

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