MGWCC #600

crossword 4:52 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #600 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Umpire State of Mind”. matt’s instructions this week tell us to look for what happened (precisely) on the eighth pitch. okay, what are the theme answers? seven medium-length across entries detail the first seven pitches of a hypothetical at-bat:

  • {First pitch} TAKEN HIGH.
  • {Second pitch} STRIKE ONE.
  • {Third pitch} FOUL TIP.
  • {Fourth pitch} HITFOUL.
  • {Fifth pitch} OUTSIDE.
  • {Sixth pitch} BALL THREE.
  • {Seventh pitch} FOULED OFF.

okay, so what about that eighth pitch? i really have no idea. but let’s go through a couple of things i noticed.

the most unusual thing is that there’s an A that needs to go in a black square. you certainly don’t see that every day!

  • 19-across is {Get into, as a computer system} (A)CCESS.
  • 23-down is {“Great minds think ___”} (A)LIKE. these two answers don’t cross each other, but the black square before both of them needs to have an A to make the answers fit.

the second is that the seven theme answers fit into the 15×17 grid in a not-quite-symmetric fashion. in particular, the slot symmetric to the fourth pitch, HIT FOUL, is not part of the pitch sequence: {Period} BAR NONE. but it’s definitely interesting—it’s only a couple of letters off from BALL ONE, for example.

getting back to the extraneous A, there are a handful of A-starting entries, as would be expected for any crossword grid of moderate size. the most striking of them, just above (A)CCESS, is {Belittle} ABASE, which seems like it might be relevant to a baseball theme. not sure what it’s doing, though.

the symmetric partner to the black square with the A seems to be totally normal. there’s an unusual clue at 56, {Yale University Art Gallery architect} KAHN, in the sense that i have never heard of this architect and it’s customary to include the first name in the clue for a less-familiar last name (turns out it’s a guy named louis KAHN). david j kahn, another kahn, is famous for writing baseball crosswords, so i wonder if this has something to do with that (although it probably oughtn’t).

oh hey, the clue for 1-down is {In base eight} OCTAL. that seems like it might be related to both baseball and the eighth pitch, but again, i don’t really know what to do with this.

oh boy, how did i miss this on the first pass? {Like a literary pickpocket} ARTFUL. the clue is conspicuously missing the word dodger, which is a baseball team. seems relevant!

based on just this and the extraneous A, i’m going to guess kirk gibson’s home run off dennis eckersley in the 1988 world series, because i’m out of time. maybe it’s right? i dunno.

let me know in the comments what i should have seen…

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55 Responses to MGWCC #600

  1. Brian Kell says:

    The counts (balls and strikes) after the first seven pitches are 1–0, 1–1, 1–2, 1–2, 2–2, 3–2, 3–2. Using each of those numbers as an index into the other entry in the same row yields CALLED BALL FOUR. (The A in the black square is necessary so that you can use 0 as an index.)

  2. Deepak B says:

    The key was to keep track of the ball-strike count as the pitches progressed.
    So (1,0), (1,1), (1,2), (1,2), (2,2), (3,2), (3,2)

    These corresponded to indices in the non-theme word on the same line.
    So (1,0) in ACCESS gives CA (the A being in the 0 position)
    (1,1) in LOWES gives LL.

    Eventually gives CALLED BALL FOUR

  3. pgw says:

    This one features two seeming inelegancies, both of which turn out to be important and not at all inelegant: first, the pair of headless entries; second, the asymmetry of pitch four occupying the central row, opposite a non-theme entry.

    The key is the umpire’s count after each pitch, and the fact that each theme entry shares its grid row with exactly one other entry. After the first pitch, which is TAKEN HIGH, the count is 1-0. Take the letters occupying those positions in the other entry on that row (the A in ACCESS, hidden in the black square, sits in position zero in the entry), C and A. After pitch 2 the count is 1-1, so take the L from LOWE’S, twice. Continuing in this fashion yields CALLED BALL FOUR (so our plucky batter draws a walk on the eighth pitch.)

    A tough couple of weeks for non-sports-fans! How at-bats are tracked with the umpire’s count seems, to a baseball knower, like a totally obvious thing that every American would know … but I don’t know what it’s like for someone who doesn’t care about baseball, and there would be basically no hope of getting this one if you didn’t have that knowledge.

    For me, though, I loved it. Very innovative mechanism, more subtly hidden than it seems in retrospect.

    • Eli says:

      Wow. I even have the ball-strike counts written out next to the theme entries and the second step just never clicked with me. Very solidly a week 5. It does always make me feel a little better when I don’t get one when Joon doesn’t either!

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 73 correct entries this week. I thought this would be a Week 3 or 4, and was surprised when the entries came in so slowly. I thought the first step of using the ball-and- strike count would be pretty intuitive, and then extracting the letters from the other word on the pitch’s row would be one of the first things solvers would try after seeing the count. The hidden A on the first pitch corresponding with the only zero in the count was supposed to be another hint, as was the fourth pitch not being symmetrically placed. These turned out to be Week 5-level hints, though.

  5. j says:

    Did not get it, but really like the mechanism….

  6. Garrett says:

    I now see the explanation about that A, but I could not figure it out. I spent a lot of time looking at Dodger/Diamondback games but could not find anything that matched the grid sequence.

    Seems like it would have been fun to see a walk off home run on the eighth pitch!

    • Jim Schooler says:

      “based on just this and the extraneous A, i’m going to guess kirk gibson’s home run off dennis eckersley in the 1988 world series,…”

      I went with joon’s reasoning, which was a walk off home run on the eighth pitch. This was the first Week 5 meta that I actually got excited about because I submitted what I thought was a correct answer.

      Brilliantly done, Matt!

  7. john says:

    Wow. Very busy weekend so i didn’t finish the unusually tough grid until last night. Even with more time, i doubt i’d have gotten this. I actually had all the counts written out and didn’t have a clue what they might suggest. The A’s and Dodgers thing was a red herring that made the missing A more confusing and made what was a tough reach tougher when it obviously needed something to make it clearer, based on the correct answer totals. Still brilliant mechanism.

    • pgw says:

      > it obviously needed something to make it clearer, based on the correct answer totals

      Not sure what you mean that it “needed” more – it was week 5, and while Matt reveals above that he intended this one to play easier than it did, the number of correct answers was spot on for week 5 …

      • john says:

        Leaving out the missing Dodger when there was already a missing A would have been enough. Perhaps not that simple to clue ARTFUL though.

        • pgw says:

          Sure, there are lots of ways this *could* have been more strongly hinted at; my point was, it was an appropriately difficult puzzle for week 5, so I don’t get the notion that it *needed* a stronger hint “based on the answer totals,” which were just right.

  8. Scout says:

    1974. A’s vs. Dodgers. Game 1 of the World Series. The only at-bat with 8 pitches ended with Ray Fosse getting a walk. Amazing what you can find in baseball trivia on the Internet (and in the clues and the grid). Still took me forever (and a hint and a nudge) to get the answer.

  9. PuzzleCraig says:

    Couldn’t get over the possibility of the A being “outside”. My baseball fanatic brother even mentioned the count when I told him about it, but it didn’t occur to me how to apply that.

    It’s a nice mechanic all the same.

  10. Seth says:

    Woooow. Didn’t get it, but very impressed.

    I was stuck on the following, which I was SURE was the right path:
    – The missing A from (A)CCESS is *above* the first C. In other words, it’s “TAKEN HIGH.”
    – The missing A from (A)LIKE is, well, missing. And since it’s the first letter, “STRIKE ONE” very aptly describes the situation.

    I spent a long time trying to find similar mechanisms for the other calls.

  11. pgw says:

    From the beginning I wanted this one to be a baseball/music matchup, playing on a double meaning of “pitch,” and the fact that in a music scale, the eighth pitch would be a return to the first. 1-down, 44-down, and the hidden A all had me convinced for most of Friday that this could be the right track … though of course it wasn’t.

  12. Bill Katz says:

    Given DBACKS in the grid I was hoping for the final at-bat of the 2001 world series, but that walk-off was on the third pitch. The data on every pitch thrown in MLB in the last 30-40 years being so easy to access is interesting.

    Even after I was pretty sure pitch count was important, I spent a long time looking at various mechanisms: x,y from the start of the pitch, first and second word of the pitch description, and a few others.

    • Jon says:

      “The data on every pitch thrown in MLB in the last 30-40 years being so easy to access is interesting.”

      Where exactly is that data? I tried Googling around for that info but I couldn’t find it.

  13. damefox says:

    Wow, very impressive construction. Somehow I’m on the fence about whether I like it or not. Certainly had no chance of ever getting it, even with a couple hints after the deadline. Like a couple others, I did write the pitch count out next to the theme rows, so I don’t have the excuse that I don’t know anything about baseball. I think this could’ve played as a week 3 or 4 if the title somehow gave a nudge toward the pitch count or toward using the other answers in the theme row to extract the letters (I suspect that mechanism is truly intuitive only to seasoned meta constructors). Maybe a week 2 if those answers were starred, but as it stands definitely a week 5.

  14. Jon says:

    In my solving group, after we got a nice hint, I mentioned the pitch counts but it took me a full day (and several more hints by solving buddies who found the answer via the pitch counts faster than I did) to figure out how to apply them.

    So even with the ideas of “pitch counts” and “focus on the themer rows,” I still couldn’t see the simple mechanism used by Matt. I tried adding the pitch counts together (“maybe ‘counts’ means using math?”); tried using the themer letters too; thought that 3-2 could be 3rd word-2nd letter or 3rd letter-2nd word. After a day at it I finally saw the mechanism after being liberated in thinking that I could only take 1 letter from each word. So instead of 1-0 being TA (T for Taken; A for the missing a in access) or 3-2 being UO (U from CRUMB;O from FOULEDOFF) it took awhile to get that two letters could be taken from the same word. In retrospect it seems obvious, but the leader board proves otherwise.

    Before we got there, many of us were focusing on how the middle of the grid could be viewed as the strike zone. And given that the grid was a rectangle – like strike zones are usually depicted – it seemed like just as valid of a nudge as the missing-A & the non-themer of BARNONE.

    For me, I was stuck on 2 things before I was nudged in the right direction: 1) this being the 600th MGWCC & how rare the 600-home run club is & 2) how ARTFUL suggested Dodgers. I tried my damnedest to find pitch-sequence data on Babe Ruth’s and Barry Bonds’s 600th home runs or on walk-off singles/walks/home-runs/grand-slams to end World Series games. (“specific” in the directions made me think this was based on a famous/historic at-bat in MLB history)

    Perhaps Matt’s testers have all gotten so good over the years that their calibrations have become skewed? Might need to invite a meta dummy into the tester group to recalibrate it? Haha! (jokes)

    Anyway, my hats off to those who were able to solve it solo. Your brains are beautiful.

  15. joon says:

    damn, that’s good. wish i’d gotten it.

  16. Andrew Bradburn says:

    Seeing that the letter A for clues 19A and 23D had been ‘struck’ from the grid, and that box 3 of the grid housed the letter A, I went with STRIKE THREE. It seemed too simple for a week 5, but it made sense to me. I also wondered if a pun was involved, as in ‘DELE-A’ OF GAME, but that is a football foul or hockey penalty; the usual ‘delay’ in baseball is for rain (and checking replays). I had the counts written out, but did not think of indexing.
    The actual answer is a bit unusual, in that strikes are either swinging or called, but balls are always ‘called’; does anyone ever use the term ‘called ball four’?.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Consigliere and I discussed this. It needed to be a logical phrase with two double letters at letters 3,4 and 9,10 of a 14-letter phrase, so choices were limited. If you type “called ball four” into Google news a lot of examples come up in major publications, often in the context of the call being controversial. So it’s in-the-language but not ideal, but it’s still a lock once you get it because CALLED BALL FOUR emerging from that mechanism can’t be a coincidence.

      • PJ says:

        When I google “called ball four” I get pages of references to Jim Bouton.

        Called strike is, of course, a baseball term that is in the language. The ‘called’ portion indicates that the batter didn’t offer at the pitch. That distinction is not needed for a ball.

        I discussed this with a friend who has been deeply immersed in baseball for over forty years as a player, coach, and father of a prospect. He tried to make it work but ultimately couldn’t.

        But I do love the mechanism.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Google News search [“called ball four” -bouton]

          • PJ says:

            That’s a roundabout way to get to 6,550 results, isn’t it?

            • Matt Gaffney says:

              You get 6,550 if you Google — do Google News so you only get relevant hits from news sources

            • Lance says:

              “Roundabout”? Not really–it’s typing the phrase into Google News to see if people are using it. And, at your suggestion, factoring out people talking about a book called “Ball Four”. The fact that it gets a lot of hits in Google News suggests that it is a phrase people use. For instance, from the NYT:

              “On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Rhame threw another ball above Hoskins’s head. It was called ball four. ”

              Now, that said, you also can’t tell from looking at the search results that a lot of these aren’t duplicates, and you can’t tell whether any of them are talking about something else that’s “called ‘Ball Four'” (without mentioning Bouton). And there’s no question that “called strike” is much more of a genuine phrase–e.g., it’s included in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate (

              Of course, I don’t think anyone got to CALLED BALL FOUR and said, “That’s not a real baseball phrase; I should keep looking”, so it’s sort of beside the point to ask how real it is as a phrase.

            • PJ says:

              Yeah, I’d say roundabout. I get 297 hits in Google News.

              I agree that a solver that got to ‘called ball four’ wouldn’t research it for confirmation.

              But a correct answer can still leave an unsatisfying aftertaste.

    • MountainManZach says:

      For me CALLED BALL FOUR almost the same as HIT FOUL. I don’t know if I’ve heard it and am unlikely to use it, but I wouldn’t bat an eye if someone did. Also, many MLB umps don’t actually announce balls 1-3, but will call out on the fourth.

  17. Matthew G. says:

    Very cool meta! One I really wish I’d gotten.

    As a baseball fan, I immediately thought of using the pitch counts as a key, but never figured out the second step. I tried parsing them as grid numbers (e.g., 1-0 = grid square ten), but looking at the other word in the row did not occur to me. Of course, I was on the road with kids all holiday weekend, so had little time to come back to this after my initial pass through.

    The irony here is that I’ve missed several metas in the last couple of years in which my only mistake was not thinking of the simple mechanism of using a number to identify a square in the grid. I promised myself I wouldn’t miss that the next time it came around. So of course this time I swung early at the change-up.

  18. Jared Dashoff says:

    I spent days trying to work out the cryptic nature of the theme fill, even after, as many have pointed out, writing out the count next to the clues. I also fell into the Dodger trap, saw ROSE as a nudge toward Pete Rose, thought the A could be a hint for Athletics, looked for NY themed letter combos given the title, and only after being told to, essentially, take a step back and just go with that the title suggested did I get back to the pitch count. Then I tried across and down, word then letter, knowing that darn A had to be part of it because why else wasn’t it in a white square. Everything gave me the A for TAKEN HIGH but I kept trying to make the meta answer seven letters. Relieved of that sticking point, I got the answer pretty quickly.

  19. Lance says:

    I guess I don’t know enough about baseball for the title to have been a nudge for me; I’m familiar enough to know that this ended with “a 3-2 count” (and I spent some time trying to google for that, along with “umpire”, thinking maybe this described some actual particular game of baseball), but I didn’t associate that with it being the way umpires refer to the count, so nothing pointed me to using the (progressive) counts.

    It also perhaps didn’t help that, since I wasn’t at the office to print out the crossword, I solved it in AcrossLite, which meant that I wasn’t going to get the potential advantage of having written down the counts in the margins.

    I found this disappointing–with the solution being sensible in retrospect but without anything in particular pointing the way until you got there; and with any number of meaningful-looking red herrings–but if you’re a regular reader here, you already guessed that.

    (Among the red herrings: with a pair of entries with the “A” significantly missing, and ABASE in the grid, I really thought there was something about removing the A from words starting with A. ABASE, AAS, ABET–especially with that weird clue for ABET, three words all starting with A and referencing such an unusual crime.)

  20. Jay Miller says:

    I think there were too many misleading items in the grid. Why have the broken “alike” and, more importantly, the “so be it” answer to 36D with the S lifted up and the I missing. I got the counts early on, but these errors in the grid made me think that they were key to the solution, and I could never get beyond that.

    • pgw says:

      I think Matt included the “broken ‘alike'” to keep consistency between across and down answers; doing it the other way (i.e. just letting 22d be clued to yield LIKE) would have been fine too, IMO, but I think the choice to make both the down and across clues indicate clearly that the A was meant to sit in that black square was a solid one.

      There’s nothing erroneous about 36d, though – the entry, I BET, fits the clue just fine if you read “whatever you say” as sarcastic rather than merely defeatist.

  21. Max Woghiren says:

    Among all the other baseball-related red herrings, I got a kick, quite some time into my solve attempt, out of 6D: ROILS. Along with DBACKS, (artful) DODGER, and (A)As, the MLB team presence was funny, distracting, and impressive to see squeezed into the grid.

    (And then the two central down entries: TYPE is *almost* an anagram of PETE, to go with the ROSE below it… more of a stretch, but the sort of straw you grasp at in a puzzle full of baseball references!)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Just for the record I almost never intentionally place red herrings in a meta and didn’t do so here. I won’t say never, but experience tells me that enough of them creep into a grid without my help.

      • Max Woghiren says:

        Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you that the puzzle (in retrospect, of course) felt mechanically like a week 3 or 4, and I definitely did assume that you included distractions to justify the week 5 designation.

        In particular, ROILS and the musical “pitch” concept (+ many A-G letters in theme rows + title referring to a popular song) felt that way, but I absolutely believe that these things just happen.

        All told, I thought the puzzle was stellar!

  22. Daniel Barkalow says:

    On Saturday, I noticed a problem with 41D (a THOU is .001 inch, not .001 mil; a mil is the same as a thou), but assumed that, since there hadn’t been a correction by then (and there were two answers that were definitely odd), it was meta-related and intentional. Did nobody else notice this? Of course, I had no luck finding 4 other problems to match with the pitches, despite fact-checking the unnecessary details of all of the clues.

    • PJ says:

      Mil in this case is short for a million. I had the same thought but did a little searching with google (not Google News) and got it straight.

    • Karen says:

      I think we were supposed to interpret “mil” as slang for million rather than a specific measurement, and “thou” as slang for thousand works under that interpretation.

  23. Abide says:

    5 stars from me, but I-10 is NOT “Rte. 10” (LSU clue)

  24. Richard K says:

    Wow, I was much closer on this one than I thought. I did try indexing the pitch counts, but applied them to the pitch entries themselves, with no helpful results. Never thought of doing the same on the other entries in those rows. I felt that the title narrowed down the results to a called strike three or ball four, since most other outcomes would not focus on the umpire. My two weak guesses were “ ‘A’ strike out” and “ABASE on balls.” I thought there was a lovely central 9 x 11 strike zone highlighted by mostly single black squares, with the missing “A” just above it (taken high). Just beneath that zone was a 2 x 2 box of letters I wanted to circle to illustrate “ball four.” If Matt had placed LOWES near the bottom of the grid, I might have gone with “taken low, ball four.” Lots of cool stuff happening in this grid!

  25. MountainManZach says:

    My only gripe is that ATL was clued as the airport and not the more thematically appropriate “The Braves, on scoreboards”

  26. Silverskiesdean says:

    I wonder if anyone did this. I noticed the Octal clue, and because it was the 8th pitch and had the word “base” in it, I got hung up on Base 8. I took the counts, i.e. 1-1, 1-2 etc. and they become 9, 10 in Base 10, and tried to use the numbers from the puzzle, but to no avail. I couldn’t seem to get it off of my mind though. Real good meta. How did we go from 5 people solving on Day 2 to all of the people that eventually solved it though?

    • pgw says:

      Super-hard puzzles often have a very low solver count at first and then a relative spike in solves late in the window. Sometimes you need the pressure of a deadline to get it! Also, it was a holiday/travel/family time weekend, so lots of folks probably didn’t have much time to spend on it until the cousins went home or whatever.

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