MGWCC #601

crossword 2:30 
meta 0:20 


hello and welcome to episode #601 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Going Off-Site”. i solved this one without the instructions, as i often do on week 1 puzzles. the only theme answer in evidence in this 13×13 puzzle was the central across: {Website I’ll be using for MGWCC distribution and subscriptions as of January 2020 (page goes live later this month; full details next week)} PATREON.

interesting news, and that explains the title, as well as, perhaps, dave sullivan’s retirement as mgwcc webmaster (an occasion we observed with a guest puzzle a few weeks back). so what’s the meta answer? it turns out that almost all of the entries in the grid are made up of just the letters of PATREON. i’ve circled the exceptions in my screenshot; read in order from top to bottom, they spell out SKILLFULLY, which seems like it must be the meta answer. indeed, the instructions say that the answer is how MGWCC solvers handle metas.

i think SKILLFULLY is a pretty cool answer, and one of the longest apt words that doesn’t use any of the letters in PATREON, which includes six of the nine or so most frequently occurring letters in english among its seven letters. as is often the case with these reduced-alphabet themes, some of the fill matt had to resort to was not very good; examples include the unusual partial EAT AN, the unfamiliar brand-name fragment TATO, unusual -er formations TARRER and OPINER, and the duplicate pair of TEAR AT/RETORE. but that basically comes with the territory with this kind of theme, which is not easy to construct. i think it was a good decision by matt to scale down to 13×13, as seeing only the same few letters over and over grows tiresome quite quickly.

clues that caught my eye:

  • {Animal whose name comes from the Latin for “little thief”} FERRET. i did not know that! cool etymology fact.
  • {Reluctant} LEERY. i think this clue is incorrect or at least imprecise. to me, LEERY means cautious or suspicious, not reluctant, and it’s also used in slightly different constructions such that {Reluctant} really doesn’t pass the substitution test for me. you can be leery of something, or reluctant to do something, but not leery to do something or reluctant of something.

that’s all i’ve got this week. i’m certainly interested in hearing more about the move to patreon!

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26 Responses to MGWCC #601

  1. Amanda says:

    Ferrets were everywhere in my puzzles last week. I saw them three or four times.

    • Jon says:

      My working theory is that there’s a Slack thread of puzzle writers who challenge each other to fit into their puzzles certain words each week.

  2. Wayne says:

    The length of “skillfully” didn’t occur to me until joon mentioned it. But he wasn’t kidding.

    % awk ‘/^[^patreon]+$/{print length($0), $0}’ /usr/share/dict/words | sort -n | tail -20
    9 wildishly
    9 willfully
    9 wishfully
    10 Whiggishly
    10 Wycliffism
    10 Yiddishism
    10 bigwiggism
    10 blissfully
    10 blushfully
    10 childishly
    10 cliquishly
    10 diffusibly
    10 humbuggism
    10 idyllicism
    10 illiquidly
    10 immiscibly
    10 skillfully
    10 sluggishly
    10 smuggishly
    10 subsilicic

    There are a couple of other entries in that list that would have worked too :-)

    • john says:

      OK, Wayne. Thats enough geeking out with the awk.

      • Noam D. Elkies says:

        If you’re OK with eyeballing the wordlengths rather than having the script count them for you then a two-grep pipe suffices:

        grep -v ‘[patreon]’ wordlist | grep ………

        One wordlist (which includes phrases) returns the 14-letter outlier “hillbillymusic”!

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 455 right answers this week, so more of a Week 2. I think we’ll backtrack to a real Week on Friday.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      “Real” Week 1s are meant to be so easy that just about every single subscriber gets them every single week, right? Of course I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t find solving such simple puzzles very rewarding. For my part, I’d enjoy Week 1 puzzles a lot more if they were of similar difficulty to those of Week 2–or, say, to this week’s. I hope you don’t backtrack next week.

      • Mike says:

        Look at it this way. If you don’t enjoy week one puzzles because they are too easy, you still have 3 or 4 puzzles each month to enjoy. But what about Matt’s subscribers who can only solve a “real” week one? If there are no week one level puzzles, they can go a whole month without enjoying a single solve. Do you think they will renew their subscription at the end of the year? Looking at the numbers, that would be close to half of Matt’s subscriber base, no?

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as you make it out to be. I expect that the decided majority, if not all, of Matt’s subscribers sometimes solve week-twos or difficult week-ones, and it’s the ability to solve a puzzle that makes working on it interesting, not necessarily the certainty of solving it. I can certainly imagine someone preferring a greater challenge each week, even if it meant sometimes going a month without succeeding.

          Then again, as I took care to say originally, I can’t speak for everyone, nor can I put myself in everyone’s shoes. The only perspective I’m able to share is my own, and I hope that anyone with a different perspective will share his the same. We can speculate all we like about other solvers’ experiences, but unless they say something about them, we won’t know, which is why I put mine on the record.

        • Evil Steve says:

          This assumes that you can’t enjoy a puzzle unless you solve it, which is nonsense. In fact, you’ve got it exactly backwards – people who struggle with week 2+ get to enjoy every puzzle of the month because they will find all of them challenging, and therefore interesting. There’s nothing at all enjoyable about finding a solution without struggling for it.

          I find it hard to imagine that anyone would rather succeed at solving an easy puzzle than fail to solve a challenging one.

          • Andrew says:

            Late to the party, but I’d prefer “week one” to invite SOME level of “solving.” It is a puzzle, after all. Something so obvious that there’s no effort at all is a week 0, in my mind.

  4. john says:

    It took me a good while to get this one and i was a little worried i might go out on week one. The December weekends are always filled with extra activity so i don’t have time to really sit down with the meta for extended periods. That, and i do not do letter distribution or occurrence themes well. I was more caught up in the repetition of, or reverses of letter sequences: LEER/REEL, NEE/EEN (from STEEN), even OTOE/OTOE (from TOTOE). Finally hit for me when i forced myself to consider the new website as a central hint. I liked that it was a little tougher for a week 1 in the final analysis.

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Yes, TATO is terrible fill, but it made me remember this Conan O’Brien remote segment in which he discovered the Irish potato chip brand TAYTO.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I should say that this grid took me 4.5 hours to fill! So I was definitely gonna use TATO Skins…nobody remembers those? They were huge back in the day.

      • Garrett says:

        Amazing to me is that you filled this grid using only 14 letters of the alphabet.

      • For what it’s worth, I not only remember them, but Tato Skins were my favorite potato chips growing up. No joke.

      • streroto says:

        Assume that’s a lot. I’m not with the haters here. The second I got it I showed to my wife in utter awe that you had been able to do that. I have no problem with TATO or any other word in the grid. bravo!

      • Gwinns says:

        Not only do I remember the snack, I remember the entire jingle from their ads. It ended with “Tato Skins from Keebler, baked potato a-peel”

      • jefe says:

        I didn’t know Tato Skins (but it’s inferable) and I misremembered the river as Parani, so it wasn’t until after I’d solved the meta that I realized my error.

    • john says:

      I remember Tato Skins. Keebler was the only company that did cookies and chips.

  6. Jim S says:

    I’ll reluctantly admit to missing this one and I’m kicking myself. I noticed the frequency of many letters was way off, but somehow only focused on the Ts. But I also noticed so many entries that were one letter apart – TORRENT/TO RENT, REPORT/RETORT/RETORE. Obvious why, in hindsight. Week 1 metas are usually so obvious that they don’t require anything fancy, but I resorted to printing this one out and connecting all of the Ts to no avail. Finally took the PATREON hint, went to the website, and found their homepage boldly states “Create on your own terms”. With the obvious clue from the puzzle, I submitted “ON OUR OWN TERMS” – I wasn’t happy with the (non)click but it seemed like it might be right based on the direction in 28A. Oh well, I’ve sunk to the point that week 1s aren’t even gimmes anymore :(

    • Garrett says:

      Yeah, and these words are one letter off. I was originally thinking that these types of words would lead to the meta answer, but of course they don’t.

  7. Andrew Bradburn says:

    Dr. Seuss did it with Green Eggs and Ham, and now Matt has done it with this puzzle – take an extremely limited set (of words or letters, excepting the meta letters), and create something memorable. I think this was brilliant!

  8. Jay Miller says:

    I had an alternate answer, which I think there is justification for. I too focused in on “Patreon” I also took the title literally and thought the answer was off the site name. If you look at the board construction you see that at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 there is a T. Looking at 30A, which is just off the site name, the clue is Perfectly, as something might suit you, and the answer is To a Tee. The site name starts and ends at a T. Thus, it is To a Tee and therefore the answer I submitted was “Perfectly”.

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