MGWCC #591

crossword 3:51 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #591 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. for week 4 of guest constructor month, we have rich o’malley‘s puzzle, “Back and Forth”. the instructions this week tell us that we’re looking for the constructor’s favorite number. intriguing. what are the theme clues? it’s unclear what the theme is, but the first three across clues have extra notations:

  • {Uno + siete [To find the meta (9,5)…]} OCHO.
  • {Back-of-the-house title […for this puzzle (9,5)…]} CHEF.
  • {CBS’s eye and NBC’s peacock, e.g. […unearth seven buried treasures (4,8,2)]} LOGOS.

in addition, there is one circled square in each of those answers, and another circled square in each of the corresponding across answers in the bottom row.

i still haven’t solved the meta, but i noticed two interesting things about the numbers in parentheses: first, there are seven of them, perhaps corresponding to the seven “buried treasures”; and second, each set of parenthetical numbers adds up to 14, which is also the height of this grid. (it’s a 16×14 puzzle.) combining this with the observation of the circles in the top and bottom rows, i’m led to the conclusion that we are supposed to trace out a path from each of the circles in the top row to one of the circles in the bottom row, spelling out some words with the enumerations shown. that seems like a very strong inference, right?

the problem is, i just haven’t been able to make it work. trying to spell things out boggle-style (while still moving down a row every time) isn’t yielding useful results. in particular, the 2-letter answer at the end of the third chain would seem to have to be DX, IX, or TX, and that doesn’t look promising.

what kind of “treasures” should i be trying to spell, anyway? well, there’s a hint in the clue for 27d: {Gifts for a certain wedding anniversary (if you look it up, bookmark the page — might come in handy soon)} EMERALDS. that’s the traditional gift for a 55th wedding anniversary (and yes, of course i had to look that up). combined with the instructions (which ask for a number), i’m now inclined to think that the seven treasures are all gifts made of the same material, which might correspond to a specific one of these anniversaries.

but there’s still the problem that you can’t really spell things out along the grid in the way the puzzle strongly suggests you should. maybe “buried” means that we somehow have to change some (or even all!) letters along the way, perhaps in such a way as to maintain a valid crossword grid? i can kind of see it in some places—in the bottom row, the circle where ESTAS meets ERA at the A would actually be better as an E, and the circle where SRAS meets UAR at the R would also be better as an E. but the X where SEXY crosses IMMIX couldn’t change to anything and still make valid entries. (SEC’Y is borderline but acceptable; IMMIC isn’t anything, though.)

what to make of the title, “back and forth”? i haven’t figured that out yet, either. if it’s trying to suggest an overall shape for the paths i’m supposed to be tracing in the grid, i am just not seeing it. perhaps it’s suggesting that i should work back and forth between numbered squares in the grid and the anniversary gift numbers? that would be interesting—it would mean that the paths are not contiguous segments (as i assumed from the 14s), but instead we would find a treasure corresponding to one of the traditional anniversaries, then jump to the number corresponding to that anniversary, and there find another word. that sort of thing. that would be intriguing, but i think the 14 thing is too compelling.

or maybe the paths are contiguous, but we don’t read the words off of just one path, instead working back and forth between the three paths? that would be kind of bonkers. i kind of like that, though—it would certainly make it hard enough for a week 4, but still fair and solvable with the nudge from the title. (brb, going to go try it real quick.)

okay, well, that didn’t work. too many degrees of freedom. if i can take any letter i want from each successive row, i can spell out things like CONTAINER (9) and HEADDRESS (9) but i don’t know if those suggest particular anniversaries. and i still don’t know what to do with the 2-letter treasure at the end. AX?

there’s quite a bit of crummy/forced fill, no doubt due to the constraints of hiding long chains of words in the grid. the weirdest ones that jumped out at me were totally unfamiliar abbr {Particle board alt. sold at Lowe’s} OSB (googling did not help me figure out what this stands for, although i’m guessing the B is board) and {Indonesian Sea} CERAM, which is close enough to CERAMIC to make me think long and hard about guessing 9 as my hail mary answer, since the traditional 9th anniversary gift is pottery.

and, since i’m now out of time, i guess that’s what i’ll do. i wish i’d figured this out, because it tantalized me all weekend. i guess i’ll find out from the comments what i missed.

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23 Responses to MGWCC #591

  1. pgw says:

    This one turned out to be less complicated than it seemed.  The keys for me were the title, and the insight that in all three cases, the numbers in the parentheticals in those three top-row clues add to 14, the number of rows in the grid.  Starting at each top-row circled letter, go “back and forth” between that letter’s column and the next column that ends with a circled letter, and you spell out words of lengths corresponding to the numbers in the parentheticals.  CLEVELAND, OMEGA, HENDERSON, BAUER, CHROMIUM, OPAL, and EX.  Each is associated with the number 24, which was the answer.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 94 right answers this week.

    The correct answer is 24. From the top circles to the bottom circles, go in a two-square zigzag path to get CLEVELAND, OMEGA; HENDERSON (Rickey), BAUER (Jack); and OPAL (24th wedding anniversary), CHROMIUM, and EX. Each of these suggests the number 24.

    The intended path for solvers was:

    1) Notice that all the three theme clues’ enumerations equaled 14
    2) Notice that the grid is 14 squares high, suggesting one letter from each row
    3) Three circles on top and three on bottom, so possibly/probably they connect; but how?
    4) Notice that all bottom circles are two rows to the right of the corresponding top circle
    5) What pattern would land you two squares to the right like that in each of the three instances? A two-square zigzag, which also fits with the title “Back and Forth.”

  3. Hector says:

    You’re right about the path from the top three circled letters to the bottom three. The path goes “back and forth” between the columns of the two letters that are two columns apart. These spell out CLEVELAND OMEGA, HENDERSON BAUER, and OPAL CHROMIUM EX. All six words have an association to the number 24. Grover Cleveland is 24th president, omega is the 24th Greek letter, Ricky Henderson wore number 24, Jack Bauer is the lead character on the show “24,” the 24th anniversary is the opal one, chromium has atomic number 24, and “X” is the 24th letter in our alphabet.

  4. Jon says:

    I was hinted by solving group buddies on trying to find a path from the top circles to the bottom circles, because even though I noticed the that all the numbers added up to the same number, I didn’t put two and two together to realize it was the puzzle’s height. But once I was keyed onto that, it took about an hour to get away from a zig-zag boggle style to a knight’s move.

    But then I rushed my answer. CLEVELAND, OMEGA, HENDERSON, BAUER, CHROMIUM, OPAL, and EX and “omega, chromium, and opal jumped out at me as watches. I googled “henderson watch” and “bauer watch” and found some results for watches. So I went to Hallmark to look up watches on the list – and there they were at the 42nd anniversary. Aha! The constructor must love Douglas Adams and how 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. And it must be the answer for this meta too! So I submitted it.

    Only for me to think, “hmm, what about Cleveland. I wonder which President he was?” And oh now he’s the 22nd and 24th. Bauer is Jack Bauer from 24.

    I do think Opal being for stone – the 24th anniversary gift – is a bit of a stretch. Gemstone, yes, but when I think stones I think granite or feldspar or limestone. And I had to be told by my solving buddy that Ex was for X, the 24th alphabet letter. So X and Omega both being used for two different alphabets is also a bit inelegant for me since it uses the same idea.

    I’d ask for 42 to be taken as an alt answer but I think “cleveland watch” might do me in.

    • Jon says:

      A solving partner ridiculed me for not Googling correctly on the Opal one. Just want to note that I had to visit 4 different sites on anniversary gift years before I found one that said opal is for the 24th year. Hallmark said “stone (theme)” and two others offered nothing for the 24th year.

  5. Silverskiesdean says:

    How is Cleveland related to 24?

  6. Bill Katz says:

    I had the answer 24, but almost went one step too far: I also considered 168 – since there were 7 24s, and “24/7” is a popular phrase related to the number of hours in a week.

  7. Silverskiesdean says:

    Thank you PGW. Had a TIA for a moment there.

  8. Giovanni P. says:

    The Knight steps bit needed more of a nudge IMO. Also EX = X is not my favorite connection.

    Otherwise, fine meta. Thanks Rich!

  9. Silverskiesdean says:

    When an answer comes back as just “wow”, as in Garrett’s response, does anyone know what that means. I’m trying to learn textspeak. Growing up, I learned “wow” meant something awesome, but I don’t think it means that anymore.

  10. LauraB says:

    Now that the deadline has passed, Rich has tweeted a pic of himself in a Rickey Henderson jersey, per my request.

  11. M says:

    Perhaps “Hop Back and Forth” would have been a better title?

  12. DratlyCat says:

    packed fuzzy austin gale palm figuring delightful weeping adjust collect mu

  13. slubduck says:

    OSB = Oriented Strand Board. Anyone who has done some home improvement projects will easily know OSB, if not what it stands for. And most will have seen it at some point in life, it is often called “wafer board”.

  14. Qatsi says:

    I’ve struggled with too many of the metas this year, but this one played more like a Week 2 for me. The enumerations, unusual grid shape, and circles at the top and bottom told me I was looking for paths from the top to the bottom. When the more obvious navigation methods didn’t pan out, I did something similar to the “Magic Eye” approach to see if I could spot a pattern. I figured the O was a good place to start, and it wasn’t long before I noticed OPAL, and that was all I needed.

    With respect to possible alternate titles, calling the puzzle “Knight Moves” would have made it TOO easy for a Week 4, whereas “Sounds Like Bob Seger” would have made it even harder.

  15. Lance says:

    I didn’t solve this, and I’m late replying because I’ve been away from the internet since Tuesday morning, but: now that I see the answer, I find it not terrible but rather disappointing. I did not notice that the grid was 14 rows tall, and absolutely should have. But: the thing in the clue about emeralds definitely made me think “Oh, I’ll need to find seven buried anniversary gifts here”. Perhaps in the black squares (could CHINA come after OKA, with its circled O, and spell KACHINA?), or perhaps altering words (there’s OPEL, looking promisingly like OPAL?)….

    I just never got close. I’m glad “back and forth” was enough to clue in some solvers, but for me, the really blatant hint that was used to make up for what’s honestly a pretty substandard “buried treasure” was just too much of a red herring.

    (Also, seven buried treasures? Opal, sure, but Grover Cleveland is a buried treasure?)

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