MGWCC #619

crossword 4:53 
meta 0:40 


hello and welcome to episode #619 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Big Game”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we are looking for a creature frequently found in crossword grids. what are the theme answers? well, the long across answer at the bottom of the grid is {Video game whose recently-released fifth title has become wildly popular — and which you must play five times to get the meta} ANIMAL CROSSING. with that hint in mind, we can see that the other five long acrosses contain hidden crosswordese-y animals. and indeed, each of those animals was part of a crossing with another animal, like so:

  • {Lifesaving item in a wallet} ORGAN DONOR CARD. nice clue—it won’t save your own life, but it could well save someone else’s. anyway, the ORCA is hiding in this answer, and it’s crossed by an OWL hiding in {Warning sound from a guard dog} GROWL.
  • {2020 Democratic National Convention city} MILWAUKEE contains an AUK. i saw yesterday that the city of milwaukee (pop. 600,000) had only five polling places open for their primary last week instead of their usual 180 due to a shortage of poll workers during the pandemic. yikes. the AUK crosses an ELK in {Sommer who was a regular panelist on “The Hollywood Squares”} ELKE.
  • {Carrier that serves Reyka Vodka on its flights} ICELAND AIR has an ELAND, crossing the ASS of {Service on toll roads} EZ-PASS.
  • {Entered enthusiastically, as a pool} LEAPED INTO has an APE, crossing the ASP of {Sound from the astounded} GASP.
  • {Sabotage} UNDERMINE has an ERMINE, crossing the IBIS in {They can eliminate suspects} ALIBIS. this is the most elegant one yet, with two longish animals each making up more than half of their totally unrelated container words.

the letters at each of these crossings, read in order from top to bottom, spell out OKAPI, yet another creature commonly found in crosswords grids. it’s worth noting that all eleven of these animals start with vowels, no doubt contributing to their frequent presence in the grid even above and beyond the fact that they have relatively short names. for example, the ultra-common animal DOG has 162 hits in the xwordinfo database, but APE has 754.

this is a really nice, if easy, meta. i love that the title is pulling double duty, referring both to a big (as in popular) video game, and also the animal-sighting sense of “big game”, like we’re going on a safari. that’s a pitch-perfect title. i was initially a bit surprised that matt had to go to a super-sized 14×23 grid to get all the theme material in, but in some cases he didn’t have much flexibility about the container word (MILWAUKEE or UNDERMINE, for instance, have very few alternatives).

that’s all i’ve got. hope you’re staying safe and healthy!

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11 Responses to MGWCC #619

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 567 correct entries this week.

    The delay on Friday was caused by my eleventh-hour (literally) realization that SCOWL, my original entry at 8-Down, contained not just my intended OWL, but also a pesky COW. Egad! I had gone over each entry in the grid three times, line-by-line, very slowly, to make sure there were no extraneous critters in there, but I guess my brain/eye could not see that both my OWL *and* a COW could share one 5-letter word.

    So I fixed that, but then had another realization: I’d been looking for 3- and 4-letter animals, but there is also a 2-letter animal: the OX! And as horrible luck would have it, I had SOX in the grid. So I changed LOL/LATEX/SOX to LOB/BATES/SOS and sent the puzzle out…only to have a solver point out that I now had a BAT in the grid over there!

    Weirdest game of whac-a-mole ever, I guess.

    • damefox says:

      Whac-a-mole indeed! A fellow solver also mentioned to me confusion at the ELAND/ASS crossing because there’s an L-shaped PANDA hiding in there as well. I confess I did not see the panda, but it did take me longer than I think it should have to see that ASS was the crossing animal (I had to backsolve from OK_PI).

    • Garrett says:

      Yeah, especially with that size of grid!

  2. David G says:

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned was that the OKAPI is often referred to as a “zebra giraffe” which is also a nice play on the ANIMAL CROSSING theme. Not sure if it’s an actual hybrid biologically, but it’s still fun.

    • pannonica says:

      It most assuredly is not a hybrid between a giraffid and an equid, members of two distinct families within different mammalian orders (Artiodactyla and Perissodactyla— even- and odd-toed ungulates).

  3. I somehow missed the 5 animals hidden in the across entries, which makes it even nicer than I thought at first. I only found the 5 down animals, I decided that the long across answers were the theme answers, and that the intersecting letters spelled OKAPI. That was a strong enough click already that I didn’t think to check if the across answers had animals as well.

    • Joshua Kosman says:

      I on the other hand found the Across animals within minutes, then took a day and a half to find the Down animals. Oy!

    • Flinty Steve says:

      And I, on yet another hand, only saw the animals that were “crossing” horizontally, saw the letters to make “okapi” in them but didn’t see the mechanism to select them – but felt such a strong click I submitted it anyway. I’m thankful for Joon’s write-up to fill in the gap in my method.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      Same here!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I also saw the Down animals crossing the long Acrosses, totally missed the Across animals!

  4. Tom Burnakis says:

    The clue about animal crossings really gave me the method to solve because I figured there would be some cross of the names but it took me way longer than I thought. I saw ELAND first and then the crossing ASS, the rest followed rather quickly. I had all the letters except the O which I KNEW had to be there (I’ve seen OKAPI more in crosswords than anywhere else in my life) but it took me a LONG time to find it for some reason. I’m just delighted I solved it and I am waiting for the week 3 puzzle as a cold sweat breaks out.

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