MGWCC #616

crossword 4:20 
meta 10-15 min 


hello and welcome to episode #616 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Quiet Place”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us merely that the answer is 14 letters long. what are the theme answers? well, the three-part description of “the quiet place” in the long across answers is A NOOK INTO / WHICH YOU AND YOUR / GANG CAN GO. that is a weird way to word anything!

i’m not going to lie: my very first, stupidest, thought was that A NOOK might be a reference to ANOUK AIMEE, the french actress of the 1960s best known to me as crosswordese. that, obviously, went nowhere.

my second thought was that “you and your gang” might refer to the letter U and … um … something else. anyway, the idea being that if you had some synonym of “nook”, you might be able to insert U and [something] into it. that also went nowhere.

at this point i had to take a metaphorical step back and look at the big picture, which is to say, the entire grid. for a 15×15 grid with only 9+15+9 letters worth of theme, there sure were a lot of black squares and strange entries: {Wall: Fr.} MUR, {“___ one notice that before?”} HOW’D NO, {Where Tinseltown gets many movie ideas} B’WAY crossing {Sinatra number} MY WAY, {“Ain’t there other choices?”} DO I GOTTA, {___ further (halt)} GO NO crossing GANG CAN GO, and {Patrick who was the U.S. Chess Champion in 1992 and 1995 (sounds like a real animal!)} WOLFF.

the next thing i specifically noticed was {Moroccan city known for its two medinas} FES, which is almost always spelled FEZ. in fact, this whole lower-right corner is made up only of the letters E, F, L, and S: it’s EFF, LEELEE, FESSES, and FLEES crossing ELSE, FEES, FES, EEL, and ESE, plus the aforementioned WOLFF, the only word connecting it to the rest of the grid. that’s unusual in and of itself, since normally you’d build a grid with more flow/connectivity than this when constructing.

but of course, that was the point: not only is this corner just those four letters, but those letters also don’t appear anywhere else in the grid. and in fact, the lack of E’s and S’s surely contributes to the weirdness of the fill in other places; to cite one simple fix, DOTE/ANGIE would be an improvement over DO TO / ANGIO. a slightly broader reworking of that corner could give you DIM/GONE/ANGST crossing INNS/METE instead of DAD/GO NO/ANGIE and ANNI/DO TO.

so what is the meta answer? it’s 14 letters, and definitely has to do with the letters EFLS. ELF ON THE SHELF occurred to me first, but it’s only 13 letters, and also it doesn’t make any sense in context as a “quiet place”. but the actual answer came to me only a short time later: SELF-QUARANTINE, a term that’s been in the news quite a bit these days, and is illustrated here in crossword format. the weird wording of the three-part description is, of course, due to the unusual constraint of not being able to use any of the letters of SELF in addition to the usual symmetry constraint. so anything involving “isolation” or “cut off” is not an option, for example.

so: i got it. i don’t know if i can say that i loved it. the answer itself, while certainly au courant, is a bit of a downer. and the strong constraints imposed on the grid (and the rest of the theme answers) made the solving experience a lot more awkward than usual. i admire matt’s creativity, as always, in his interpretation of this meta, but my own experience of it was not especially joyful. how about you? let’s hear from others in the comments.

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43 Responses to MGWCC #616

  1. Hector says:

    Had seen the SELF curiosity, but self-quarantine is “A NOOK INTO WHICH YOU AND YOUR GANG CAN GO?” And it’s “A Quiet Place?”
    Really? What am I missing.

    Sour grapes for sure, but I’d hoped for something more worth kicking myself about.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Hmmm. Did you consider SELF-QUARANTINE and reject it, or not see it at all?

      • Hector says:

        I think I didn’t consider it, at least seriously enough to count the letters. I was impressed at the use of just those letters in that corner, and SELF came to mind, but I could see nothing to do with a “gang” or quietness. Still don’t…?

    • Dan Seidman says:

      I found the use of NOOK and GANG confusing too, but eventually realized there might not be any better way to clue it given the constraints. It might have been good to have some sort of additional hint in the grid, like FORTY or VENICE.

  2. Jeff M says:

    Too soon?

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 275 correct answers this week. Seven of which were SELF-DISTANCING, which I thought was close enough.

  4. cyco says:

    I saw the SELF corner, but didn’t make the jump to SELF-QUARANTINE, though in retrospect that seems obvious. The phrasing of the theme clues was odd enough that I was looking for an additional hint there — didn’t pick up on the lack of SELF in the rest of the grid necessitating the oddness.

    I think “you and your gang” threw me off more than it should have. I was thinking something along the lines of SELF-ISOLATION, but that involves staying away from other people, not bringing a whole gang along!

  5. Mike says:

    I missed it. I had the concept sort of, but I couldn’t figure how “nook”, “quiet place” and “your gang” fit in. Still don’t.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Well, I thought the oddness of the wording would be understood once the solver realized that I couldn’t use any of the letters in SELF to describe the answer. I saw the ambiguity in taking your “gang” along with you (originally had FAM but then realized that has an F in it) since many are self-quarantined alone, but again thought that once solvers saw the restraints of the SELF-lessness required it would be understood. Would not have been possible (in any way I saw) to describe self-quarantining both alone and with others in a few SELF-less lines in the grid.

  6. Seth says:

    I loved this one! I saw the letter-weirdness of that corner right away, and recognized that it was so cut off from the rest of the grid. Knowing how good Matt is at construction, there had to be a reason. The answer came pretty quickly, and it was a great aha moment.

  7. Silverskiesdean says:

    I was lucky. I was on a Skype meeting with the Emergency Room regarding the current situation and the meeting was from 10-12. I noticed the self part a luckily (truth stranger than fiction), someone at the meeting used the term self-quarantine. I was just about to doze off as I do at all medical lectures but I waited and at the end of the meeting added the term. I can honestly say, if it weren’t for the meeting, I wouldn’t have gotten the last “quarantine” part. I couldn’t put the self part together until then and worked for the longest time with “you and your gang” as an anagram using “u” for you, and “posse” for gang etc.

  8. Mutman says:

    I loved it, especially the timeliness of it (no Jeff M, not too soon!).

    Saw the SE corner right away. Selfless? Selfless what? Selfless Fessel? That’s not a thing.

    When I saw the letters were not elsewhere, and current events kept hounding away, it came to me.

    Nice work Matt!

    • R says:

      I was also searching for one of those long words/phrases that only uses the four letters (like SENSELESSNESS), but got distracted and never pieced it together.

  9. Neil B says:

    Very good meta. I thought that it would be an anagram of YOU AND YOUR GANG which is 14 letters. Obviously that went nowhere

  10. Scout says:

    I was hoping for something difficult and distracting that my group could connect and solve together. Instead I solved a week three on my own! I agree with Joon that this was a downer, but I appreciate that Matt is thinking about our community of solvers.

  11. BHamren says:

    With haiku in the first line I first tried to go that way, but nothing worked. I saw all the same letters in the SE corner (except I had Fez at first). I looked up nook and one synonym is corner so it had to be there. Once I noticed that there were no other SELF letters anywhere else but that corner it sealed it.
    I could only think of quarantine so I got the “right answer”, but glad to see that Matt accepted self-distancing also.

  12. Mary Ellen Price says:

    I tried to make something of that corner and even came up with the words “elf” and “self.” Then I tried to make something of the opposite self-contained corner (nook) and got nowhere. I was looking for symmetry. (sigh) Spent a lot of time trying to make something of the repetition of other letter combos in the puzzle, like “paint” / “aint” and “pana” / “pano” and “bawdy” / “bway” / “myway.” I often don’t solve the ones that aren’t spelled out for me. (double sigh)

  13. Reid says:

    I woke up too late to send in my guess, which would have been SELF-RESTRAINED. Would that have been accepted?

    Self-quarantine, if I would have thought of it, would have generated a click for me to feel confident sending it in, but I agree with some others that the words “nook” and “gang” were pretty unhelpful. I understand that the extreme limitations the puzzle required didn’t help, but when you have so little information available to solve something, that information is taken very seriously.

  14. Streroto says:

    I actually thought it was brilliant, and really enjoyed it. I figured the self part out early on, and had considered entering distancing, but it wasn’t until I woke up on Sunday morning that I realizeD that quarantine was for more elegant, and to me the QU in quiet place match those in quarantine nicely. Like it or not, we’re going be doing this for a long while, and for Matt to have such a topical puzzle is simply brilliance upon brilliance. Nobody has mentioned the very small entryway to the nook, which also helped at least for me fit everything together. One thing that I noticed very early but it doesn’t seem anybody else did, perhaps showing my age, was OUR GANG, and went down some little rascals rabbit holes for a brief while. Thanks Matt for the memories and a thoroughly engaging meta.

  15. TMart says:

    Very timely – I liked it a lot. When I found the “self”, I briefly considered “self-reflection”, which fit the title, but not necessarily the clues. And although the syllables are slightly off (4-7-4, rather than the usual 5-7-5), it does make a nice haiku, which also gave me some confidence in my answer, given 1 across:

    A nook into
    which you and your gang can go?

    • Rachel says:

      Love this “haiku” angle TMart.
      FWIW, I thought the word nook had to be directing us to one or more corner….

      I saw a commercial last night for a sequel to A Quiet Place (creatively titled A Quiet Place 2). The plot of the original is described as a “family struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by blind extraterrestrial creatures with an acute sense of hearing.” So… things could be worse.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Why do filmmakers have such uncreative titles for sequels? “A Quieter Place” of course. And “My Bigger, Fatter, Greeker Wedding” would have done much better than “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”

  16. ===Dan says:

    Clever puzzle. But so many red herrings. gANGcANGo near LEELEE made me sure there was an ANG LEE connection. Some other repeated letter combinations (in addition to the ones Mary Ellen mentioned) were tHICKpaint->cHICK , aCHINg ->CHINa , PANAM/PANorAMa, and IGOTit ->doIGOTta . I guess the repetitiveness is understandable, in retrospect.

  17. Jon Forsythe says:

    I first thought perhaps “nook” meant the tablet at Banes And Noble, which is 14 letters long. But I couldn’t find how Matt expected us to pick those letters.

    So then I thought “nook” meant Matt placed those 14 letters inside fill words that then created other fill words. Like FEES being an L away from FLEES; ESE also being an L away from ELSE; FES being an E away from FEES. When I couldn’t find more of that, I then noticed BWAY being a D away from BAWDY.

    So then I thought there were fill words that were 1 letter away from an anagram of another fill word. NGO is an O away from GONO; OCT is a Y away from TYCO; CHINA is a G away from ACHING. So I scoured the grid for more of those which I thought might add up to 14 letters that hopefully spelled out in grid order the meta answer.

    It wasn’t until I abandoned that route did I notice that SELF weren’t found in any other crossword nook except the SE corner.

  18. john says:

    Didn’t get it. Noticed the letter aggregation in the corner and tried to see if similar stuff was evident elsewhere. The “GANG” part made me think of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and ‘A Hole In The Wall’ is 14 letters. It stunk but at that point i was literally out of time. Ironically, i partly blame the fact i didn’t have time to really look this meta over as usual because of my campus’s efforts at self-quarantining and my part in providing VPN access to campus and my organization.

    • pannonica says:

      I did the same thing, but at the start of the contest window. Rarely do I submit based only on a hunch, but the “gang” plus “nook” plus 14-letter length proved irresistible.

  19. Hesky says:

    I had the concept and came up with self-isolation but couldn’t think of an answer with 14 letters…

  20. Margaret says:

    Saw the SELF letters (in the title corner) and noticed that none of them were in the rest of the grid right away, but couldn’t get anywhere from that. I tried SELFLESS, all by mySELF, a bunch of variations but self quarantine or self distancing never occurred to me at all, regardless of the fact that I’m isolating myself! Even reading joon’s write-up, SELF QUARANTINE doesn’t give me the usual click I get from Matt’s metas. Oh well, there’s always next week!

  21. Jay Miller says:

    I was also drawn to the UL corner. I was looking for places for me and my gang to go and the UL corner has I GOt it, and HUGO (You go). Needless to say, a red herring.

  22. Dave says:

    Never got past the SELF corner. I was looking solely for a place of some kind. It seems to me that self-quarantine can be the act of isolating oneself or the state of having isolated oneself, but not the place where one isolates oneself.

    I can’t tell from the other comments whether my “error” was in looking for a place or in not treating self-quarantine as one.

    It did occur to me while pondering that corner that “actor Parker and others” would be fun clue for FESSES, and “lawyer Bailey and others” would be an even funner clue for FLEES.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I agree with you to a certain extent, but as quarantine has a number of definitions, including the places where one is isolated (senses 5 and 7 in the linked dictionary), it’s perhaps a reasonable stretch to apply such senses to “self-quarantine” as well.

  23. Jack Sullivan says:

    This was a special kind of meta puzzle, a meta-meta. Most of the answer (quarantine) is not derived from entries in the grid, but from the characteristics of the grid itself. It brought to mind a follow-the-dots puzzle for which the answer was “O Tannenbaum”.

    I never made the connection, but I loved the puzzle. It killed a lot of self isolation hours.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      I agree. I said to my solving friend that this is an almost purely visual meta, and that you wouldn’t technically even need the “theme” answers. Without them, though, I think it would have to be a week 5.

  24. David G says:

    One thing I couldn’t not see was that PANAM at 48-A combined with its symmetrical counterpart RICAN at 24-A would combine to make PANAMERICAN if you add an E. I focused on this for way too long, thinking it might be a hint, but alas…

    This one ended up being far simpler in retrospect and I felt so stupid once I finally figured it out. I even had SELF SECLUSION and SELF ISOLATION, each at 13 letters, before it finally dawned on me.

  25. Abide says:



    This is a neat time passer!

  26. Abide says:

    Oops. LAYLOW is a no go.

  27. aschubach says:

    I’ve never commented on this site before, although I enjoy it tremendously! I like the writeups of Matt’s puzzles, whether or not I get them.

    Seeing the answer this week makes me sad. I didn’t want to be reminded of the quarantine. I had solved the puzzle as a diversion, so my mind didn’t want to go back to the quarantine, as an answer.

    I have to admit, however, it is a clever trick!

  28. Jim S says:

    Didn’t help that I spelled PANORAMA wrong, so I ended up with “AN OAK INTO WHICH YOU AND YOUR GANG CAN GO” :) Wasted some time googling giant sequoias, redwoods, etc. looking for something that the lower right might have hinted at before giving up entirely. Oops!

    • Toast says:

      Ha! Early on I’d guessed “BOOK” instead of “NOOK” and spent some time chasing the artfully drab work of Japanese mystery writer Seichō Matsumoto in which the murder victim is known to rarely have her home other than for HAIKU meetings (ahahaaa!), “A Quiet Place”. Realizing that there is no Bational Baseball Association put the kibosh on that, eventually. Whew.

  29. jefe says:

    I think this would’ve worked better without the whole riddle part – just have EFLS quarantined in that corner.

    As it is, the fill isn’t so great and contains a bunch of partial dupes such as I GOT IT / DO I GOTTA crossing DO TO, …GANG CAN GO crossing GO NO, B’WAY crossing MYWAY crossing M’BOY, CMU crossing UNH.

  30. Silverskiesdean says:

    With regard to Matt’s comments on sequels, I wholeheartedly agree. The most accurate name for a sequel I’ve ever seen since most of them are just a rehash of the movie was “48 hours” and then “ANOTHER 48 hours”.

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