MGWCC #629

crossword 4:13 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #629 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Good for You”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is something you might have done today in the kitchen. okay. what are the theme answers? ten answers in the 17×17 grid are foods, clued with a parenthetical health benefit:

  • {Food found in a bunch (helps with metabolism)} BANANA.
  • {Dietary supplement consumed by the ancient Vikings (improves your vision)} COD LIVER OIL.
  • {Appetizer you might wash down with a glass of Kirin Ichiban (slows arterial blockage)} EDAMAME.
  • {Nut used in Toblerone (slows the aging process in your cells)} ALMOND.
  • {Fish getting devoured by a bear on Alaska’s state quarter (gives you strong bones)} SALMON.
  • {Bugs Bunny’s favorite food (promotes muscle growth)} CARROT.
  • {Fruit that may be from Florida (may help prevent colds)} ORANGE.
  • {Fruit whose two leading producers are Turkey and Uzbekistan (strengthens your immune system)} APRICOT.
  • {Item in a salad (helps wounds heal more quickly)} SPINACH LEAF.
  • {Tapas restaurant supply (powerful antioxidant)} OLIVES.

(there’s also {Cruller cousins} DONUTS, but as that doesn’t have a parenthetical, and the health benefits of DONUTS are not exactly touted, i’m going to assume it’s not thematic.)

based on “improves your vision”, i thought we might be dealing with vitamins here, since vitamin A is well known for that; likewise vitamin C for “may help prevent colds”. one straightforward idea for this mechanism is to take one vitamin corresponding to each supposed health benefit, and use it to pick out a letter of the answer word. i was encouraged by the fact that SPINACH LEAF, which seemed to be unnecessarily long (why not just SPINACH?), is clued with a reference to wounds healing, and vitamin K is important for blood clotting. K is the 11th letter of the alphabet, and SPINACH LEAF is just long enough to have an 11th letter. so that seemed promising. also, although there are several different important B vitamins, all of them are related to metabolism, suggesting that the parenthetical clue on BANANA might refer to B vitamins in general, rather than specifically B1 or B6 or what have you. that seemed cleaner.

here’s where “straightforward” breaks down badly: it turns out to be impossible to clearly associate vitamins with health benefits one-to-one. for example, if you google “which vitamin is a powerful antioxidant”, you get various results for vitamins A, C, and E. so we could be looking at the O, I, or E of OLIVES.

here are my best guesses as to which vitamin is suggested by which clue based on web searching for the various health benefits:

  • helps with metabolism: B, picking out the first A in BANANA.
  • improves your vision: A, picking out the C of COD LIVER OIL.
  • slows arterial blockage: either C or E, both corresponding (thankfully) to the two A’s of EDAMAME.
  • slows the aging process in your cells: maybe B? there’s a newish study that purports to find some link between vitamin B3 and slowing of cell aging. that would give the L in ALMOND, although frankly, any of A/L/M/O/N seems plausible to me, and i’m only ruling out D because there’s no such thing as vitamin F.
  • gives you strong bones: i certainly wanted calcium here! but i don’t know how we would use minerals in the meta mechanism. the closest vitamin match is D (which helps your body absorb calcium), giving the M of SALMON.
  • promotes muscle growth: this would be A, giving the C in CARROT. for what it’s worth, carrots are actually well known for containing vitamin A, so that’s encouraging. on the other hand, COD LIVER OIL was most famously taken for vitamin D deficiency to prevent rickets in children.
  • may help prevent colds: things are looking worse—now we have weasel words in our already vague clues. but this is probably vitamin C (shout-out to linus pauling, even though he was probably wrong?), giving the A of ORANGE.
  • strengthens your immune system: this could be C, B, or E, giving the R, P, or C of APRICOT.
  • helps wounds heal more quickly: K or C or perhaps A, giving the F, I, or S of SPINACH LEAF.
  • powerful antioxidant: A, C, or E, giving O/I/E of OLIVES.

what does this spell out? um, great question. i’m looking at ACALMCA???, where the first ? is R/P/C, the second is F/I/S, and the third is O/I/E. i don’t mind A CALM, but there is no word or phrase that fits the pattern of the second half.

(in case you’re wondering, searching for the particular foods in the theme answers along with the parenthetical health benefits made the search results worse, rather than better. most fruits and vegetables are a good source of most vitamins.)

i’m going to level with you: this is an immensely frustrating and unfun meta. i take my blogging responsibilities fairly seriously, so i did spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out which vitamins are suggested by each of the parenthetical clues, but it was a decidedly unpleasant experience, and the payoff… well, i haven’t reached the payoff yet. i can’t even come up with a guess for the meta answer based on what i’ve got. i would imagine it’s ten letters, and maybe it even begins with A CALM, but i can’t shoehorn another word or phrase into the rest of the sequence.

i hope (but i don’t really think) that i’m missing something, and there’s some kind of unambiguous solving path that i just haven’t thought of. but it seems like what i’m doing is logically suggested by the puzzle, and it’s just not working well enough for me to want to keep trying other vitamin combinations, so i’m going to give up.

in the abstract, a meta mechanism based on identifying vitamins makes some sense, as they are named for letters and there is a clear way to associate those names with letters in the theme answers. but there’s just no scientific consensus about most of these health benefits. and in the absence of consensus, you’d need a specific reliable source to base this meta on, and as far as i can tell, there isn’t one. that makes this into an exercise in frustration.

that’s all from me. hopefully the next one lands a little better.

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55 Responses to MGWCC #629

  1. Joshua Kosman says:

    No comments yet with the answer, so I’ll chime in and say that my experience basically matched Joon’s — vitamins are clearly involved somehow, they don’t match up cleanly with the health benefits, sigh and bah.

    Just one more thing to add into the mix, which is that I believe the theme clues have to figure in the meta somehow as well. Most notably, there’s no reason to mention Toblerone while clueing ALMOND, and the “Tapas” in the OLIVES clue also looks forced. No idea what to do with it though.

  2. spotter says:

    I share the sentiment and am anxious to see what the correct answer and path are…

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 304 correct answers this week. It was vitamins, the answer being BAKED A CAKE.

    I was not sure whether to go forward with this idea; I liked the idea of extracting a letter from the nutritional content of foods, but was concerned about just what happened to you happening to everyone, since there are lots of vitamins in almost every food and it was tough to find unambiguous ones.

    Eventually I talked myself into it being OK, since there are only six letters to choose from (A, B, C, D, E, and K) and you know it’s 10 letters and probably food-related so I figured solvers could piece it together easily enough once they got the idea. But reading your experience makes me think, hmm, maybe shouldn’t have let this one see the light of day.

    I was heartened by the 97% success rate of entries up until Hail Mary time (around 10 AM today) but that can just be ascribed to selection bias.

    • Joshua Kosman says:

      I want to be sure I understand this correctly. The path to the meta answer is driven solely by the parentheticals? And….the entire crossword — grid and clues aside from those parentheticals — is superfluous?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Well you need the foods, right? The parentheticals were a nudge to make the vitamin idea clearer.

        • Joshua Kosman says:

          Oh I see. I didn’t realize the health claims went with the right foods. Like David Glasser (below) I started with the fact that carrots and eyesight weren’t together, and decided all the claims were untethered.

    • David Plass says:

      How do you map the clue to the vitamin?

    • Asdanf says:

      I wish I’d constrained myself to those six letters. I understood I was looking for nutrients, but since many of the properties described seemed better ascribed to things like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and polyphenols, I didn’t restrict myself to vitamins. That got me to ROSED A CFAP, which was close enough to see the basic word structure of the answer, but not close enough to solve. And I didn’t want so spend any more time wading through nutrition research.

  4. jefe says:

    I’m in the same boat. I made the jump that the food entry is high in the parenthetical vitamin (BACEDACCCE in grid order) but I couldn’t get that to spell or index to anything.

    • jefe says:

      Oh, hell. So I was really close. I had edamame as high in ABCK, but only found C and E to slow arterial blockage. I had apricot as ACE, with C as strengthening immune system. I had spinach as ABCK, with C and A as helping wounds heal.

      K is vital in blood clotting so I’m surprised that wasn’t part of a clue.

      • pamela feiring says:

        It was. In the spinach clue.

        • jefe says:

          No. The spinach clue referenced “wound healing”, which A and C also do, and show up more prominently in a Google search than K. “Helps blood clot” is unambiguously K.

  5. david glasser says:

    So I got as far as deciding that the health benefits don’t go with the given foods and you can form them into a cycle by linking from each food to the food that actually has that benefit… and then nothing.

    • david glasser says:

      Wait, seriously, that wasn’t it? I thought that having “improves your vision” not with “CARROT” was a giant flashing sign saying “fix these to go with the right ones”…

      • David says:

        I had the same instinct, but it turned out that the claims weren’t actually wrong (based on Googling), even though CARROT/vision is the pair we think of more naturally.

        • Garrett says:

          Yeah, and to add to that, apricots are better for your vision than carrots!

          I believe the clue helps you to decide which vitamin to pick if the item has more than one. For example, vitamin D for salmon (strong bones).

      • Chaddog says:

        I was stuck there for the entire weekend as well…carrots don’t stand out as a food which promotes muscle growth. But salmon does (and edamame, kind of, and…)

      • Jim S says:

        Ditto. But as joon mentions, googling around for health benefits of the foods reveals that most of those foods meet multiple parenthetical health benefits. Once I ran into that difficulty I recalled Matt’s comment from last week, where he stated he wouldn’t require sports knowledge to solve a meta. Surely he wouldn’t require vitamin knowledge just 1 week later? Couldn’t find anything else to gain a foothold so I threw in the towel.

  6. Al Sanders says:

    Answer is BAKED A CAKE which I got as a last minute solve by associating vitamins with the health benefits and seeing what spelled something. I’m sure there’s something I’m missing which involves the grid.

  7. Mutman says:

    Well I punted on this Sunday, as there were many choices for the vitamins.

    What I did notice was that when I wrote them down, most were, A, B, C, E, D, K. When I saw some in the spots for BAKED A CAKE, I went with it.

    Turns out it was correct! Not 100% sure why though.

    Adding to my doubt was that the grid was not needed for my answer — just the clues.

  8. David R says:

    BAKED A CAKE is the answer and it works off the vitamins as Joon noted. It is based on the vitamin that the item is most rich in from what I Googled. I had most of the letters without Google which made the process less painful.

  9. Mike says:

    My path (which led to the same nowheresville as yours) was rooted in BYPASS at 11-D and “slows arterial blockage” in one clue. But again, the whole one-to-one of matching the “inside” clue to an alternate word in the grid (ALOE fits a couple; since CARROT is already a theme answer, is it eligible for the “vision” clue? etc.) made it a mess that never cleared up. Oh well.

  10. Chaddog says:

    I got the vitamins part and figured 10 letters. And got as far as figuring the first letter was ‘B’ and the last letter ‘E’. Count me among the Hail Mary flingers. Somehow guessed it correctly.

  11. Susie says:

    I guess my source info for vitamins was off-base. The real slap in the face is that I really did bake a cake on Friday.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Oh, wow! What a shame that you missed it; you might have been the only one whose solution really fit the prompt!

  12. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I’m sympathetic to joon’s criticism. When I submitted the solution, I commented to Matt that the multiple vitamins associated with most of the theme entries rather weakened this puzzle. That said, I found that simply googling [Food name] vitamins narrowed the possibilities enough to solve this puzzle:

    banana vitamins: B/C
    cod liver oil vitamins: A/D
    edamame vitamins: K
    almond vitamins: E/D
    salmon vitamins: D
    carrot vitamins: A/K/B
    orange vitamins: C
    apricot vitamins: A/C/E
    spinach vitamins: K/B/E/C
    olive vitamins: E

    I don’t know whether Matt tested this puzzle with Google searches like the above, but he may have. At any rate, the results of those searches narrowed down the possibilities enough for me to figure out BAKED A CAKE, but I agree that this puzzle was not the cleanest.

  13. Gwinns says:

    This worked best as a back solve. Once you figured BAKED A CAKE was possible from the vitamin letters, you could google, like “almond vitamin aging process” and find a website that says yes, almonds have lots of Vitamin E.
    But I agree with Joon, I initially abandoned the vitamin angle when my initial research was met with so much ambiguity.

  14. Different experience for me, but I liked this one and I was able to avoid the ambiguity by Googling things like “vitamin in banana” or “vitamin in cod liver oil” to see if the food was particularly rich in one vitamin, and then next “vitamin that helps with metabolism” or “vitamin that improves vision.” Sometimes there were multiple vitamins that fit the bill for each one search (like I saw that vitamins A, C, and E can all help improve eyesight), but combining the two searches helped me narrow things down (the first couple of hits showed me that COD LIVER OIL is rich in vitamins A and D, but not C or E, so that gave me vitamin A). Sometimes even just Googling “vitamin in [insert food]” was enough because the first hit I got for EDAMAME was that it’s quite rich in vitamin K.

    Anyhow, the first three results yielded B, A, K, which was enough for me to see it was probably going to be BAKE ?????? with the six vitamin letters. It wasn’t a perfect process since I think CARROT still left me with A or C or E that fit the description, but process of elimination and inference helped finish it off.

    That said, I can completely understand how it’d be frustrating to run into numerous vitamins and nutrients for each food or each health benefit and not knowing which ones to pick.

    • Streroto says:

      I agree. Maybe being a doctor helped. After first step of getting vitamins in each food which as has been pointed out is multiple per entry, I then realized that only ONE of those vitamins matched the purported health benefit in the clue. If you put those together in order, you get baked a cake. I really loved this, again selection bias perhaps. I found it very clean, and was super excited to be in the top 12!

  15. Dave says:

    I followed the same path as other posters. I figured BAKED A CAKE was probably right since it had ten letters that were all vitamins, and some matched the order. But, despite lots of googling, I couldn’t make it match all the foods and their supposed benefits. When the googling got tedious, I lost interest.

  16. Dan Seidman says:

    I used Wikipedia to look up each food, and then followed the links for the vitamins those foods were richest in, to find the one with the matching benefits. That worked fine for me.

  17. Pj says:

    Didn’t get this so guessed something with 10 letters that was “good for you,” Ate An Apple. But, my first guess was Baked a Cake. So, I could have gotten this with a Hail Mary guess! No skill, just pure stab in the dark. I would not have had any satisfaction from that though.

  18. Golem says:

    After my first pass through, I had


    Which is missing one of the letters (I somehow didn’t include the SPINACH LEAF) and has three others wrong. But it still somehow was close enough for me to see “BAKED A CAKE” when I squinted at it looking for a kitchen activity, so this was a quick solve for me.

    Joon’s first pass had


    This sequence actually corrected all the stuff I had wrong, but had just as many others incorrect (one of which may have been due to the assumption that Vitamin K could only be for words length 11 or longer). And actually, I don’t think I would have been able to see the answer with the “squint” technique with this sequence instead of mine. Which strikes me as rotten luck.

  19. aoboboa says:

    Couldn’t get past trying to link the parentheticals to other answers:
    (slows arterial blockage) = BYPASS
    (helps wounds heal more quickly) = ALOE
    (may help prevent colds) = FUR
    (gives you strong bones) = PIN
    (helps with metabolism) = EROS
    (improves your vision) = ADVICE
    Couldn’t get all 10 to work, which killed my metabolism.

    • Mike says:

      THANK YOU!!! I’m not alone…

      I associated GUT with metabolism, ATLAS (as in back-of-comic-book ads) with muscle-building, SOW (“sew”) with healing wounds (yeah, I was getting desperate), WAY with vision (similar in theme to your ADVICE) and ALOE with the immune system.

      The only thing that kept me from Hailmarying BOILED EGGS was the total lack of association for GORKY. Who doesn’t open the Gaffney at 12:01 pm? And who bakes a cake that early? C’mon!

    • David Harris says:

      This wasn’t on my radar at all, but I love the directions you took these in.

  20. jefe says:

    That “BAKED A CAKE” can be made from vitamin letters – interesting
    Clueing those letters via foods rich in those vitamins – interesting
    That those foods are also rich in other vitamins – problematic
    Adding parenthetical to specify which vitamin – works in theory
    Parentheticals mostly helpful, but some ambiguous or misleading – problematic
    Having to google 20 terms – not interesting.

    As others have noted, it’s backsolvable if you have most of the letters, but you really need a K to notice that you’re forming words (unless you start with the assumption that you *are* making words from the vitamin letters and therefore must have a K somewhere), and the K parentheticals are among the weakest.

    Side note: Spinach, while high in vitamin K like other green leafy vegetables, is famously high in vitamin A, which is why Popeye eats it.

  21. Joe says:

    Same frustrating experience as just about everyone. I recently posted to the WSJ muggles page about how these are word puzzles and not trivia contests. I tried not to get too mired down in the endless rabbit holes of “what vitamin is good for…” Googling. Came up with nothing.

  22. Jason T says:

    I’d just like to pipe in to assure Matt that at least for me, my experience of solving the puzzle was enjoyable and pretty much worked as intended: I came up with the idea of the vitamins, googled one by one and found that for most of them, when I googled the food and the health benefit and the word “vitamin”, one of the first few results was pretty unambiguous about which vitamin to pick. The few that remained ambiguous were easy to back-solve, as by this time it was pretty clear that the answer was “BAKED A CAKE.” Sorry for those who found this so frustrating, but for me, I thought this was particularly clever and unique – and I for one am glad you didn’t shelve it, Matt! (Though clearly others’ mileage varies…)

  23. Ben says:

    My experience was different from most: I got each letter quickly and unambiguously from the food and parenthetical and a little Googling. Too much Googling for my taste, but my main reaction was that it was way too straightforward for a week 3 and at first I assumed I must be missing another step — seemed more like a week 2 to me, except with a lot of internet research.

  24. "C" says:

    This may be the first time that I have gotten a week 3 all on my own, so I thought it was great!!!

  25. Brian Kell says:

    The first step I took that was roughly on the right path was noting that BRASS is copper and zinc, and I knew that zinc may help prevent colds. So I did a search for “zinc health benefits” and the Google “featured snippet” was a Mayo Clinic page that in the first two sentences connected zinc almost verbatim to three other parentheticals in the puzzle! It took me a long time to get away from zinc and start listing other possible nutrients and vitamins for the parentheticals. After I had vitamins for three or four of them I kinda squinted and saw that BAKED A CAKE was plausible, and then backsolved it from the clues with a bunch more Googling, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the answer. I didn’t notice the connection to the foods in the grid until later (I had also decided early on that the health benefits were not matched correctly to the foods). When I did finally see why the foods were relevant, it helped to convince me that the meta was clued fairly enough.

  26. Margaret says:

    I was overwhelmed by theme content to begin with, and I couldn’t believe Matt really meant us to google which vitamins went with which health benefit since so many of them fit multiple criteria. And I couldn’t believe he’d included all the extras like Toblerone and Kirin Ichiban and Turkey and Uzbekistan and Vikings if those weren’t part of the meta. I had an entire page of stuff written down! And of course I was also suckered in by the CARROT = Eye health thing, particularly since the clue included Bugs Bunny who I would swear talks about carrots being good for his vision. This one was not one my wavelength at all.

    • Susie says:

      Not JUST Vikings, but ancient Vikings. I guess so we wouldn’t confuse them with the Minnesota variety. That one threw me for a loop and I almost ignored the parentheticals. Either way I missed.

  27. Garrett says:

    I started googling “food benefits in x”, with x for each of the ten. For some you get a list right at the top, for others an article. Some talked about vitamins, others about benefits. When I refocused on just the vitamins I used this search:

    nutrients bananas provide

    You get that at the top of the search for most. In many cases you can just pick the vitamin the item is highest in, but in some the clue is needed.

    BANANA is like that (helps with metabolism). Highest in C, we really need the B in B6:

    Vitamin B6 plays a role in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates and fats, the production of neurotransmitters and the formation of nicotinic acid. It is vital for maintaining a healthy nervous system, skin, muscles and blood.

  28. Mary Roque Flaminio says:

    Thought it related to Juneteenth, as it said today in the directions. Was thinking red. Never got anywhere.

  29. Steve Thurman says:

    I thought about vitamins, but couldn’t get off color…especially considering the “Less colorful” clue at 21A (paler).

    Bananas and Cod Liver Oil (Yellow)
    Oranges and Carrots (Orange, duh)
    Salmon and Apricot (Pink…ish)
    Spinach and Edamame…and olives…depending on which kind? (Green)
    Almonds and…Black (ish) olives???

    Yeah. This one got me wondering if I had just been in this freaking house for too long. Frustrated and clueless.

  30. Streroto says:

    Now the big question is when are advertisements for vitamins going to start showing up in our social media?

  31. Silverskiesdean says:

    Matt, you are very fair minded in running this site. I would go as far to say that if your name was Solomon Gaffney, you could saw this last meta in half, and everyone would agree with you. I know that was an arcane metaphor, but take it as a compliment.

  32. Rand says:

    It could be “successful solver’s bias” talking, but I enjoyed this one!

    Google results for “vitamins [FOOD]”– setting aside their benefits:


    (I initially paused here to note that C-A-K-E sure looked promising!)


    Already, if you squint, you might make out “B-A-K-E-D-A-C-A-K-E”.

    Additionally, the more you Google the health benefits of the vitamins related to each food that is high in multiple vitamins, the less squinting that is required ;)

    • Rand says:

      On the one hand, I’m a reference librarian by trade, so Googling is — by now — instinctual to me. On the other hand, it does seem curious that Matt himself was here — last week (!) — explaining that he intends any necessary Googling to be “limited and focused”: i.e., (in part,) “it shouldn’t take much time”.

      Well, it didn’t take *me* much time, but I do this sort of thing for a living. Others seem to have found the process grueling– or not found it at all!

      PS: Apologies to Matt if he reads this comment and feels as though I’m “throwing shade”. I feel badly that he wonders whether this one deserved to see the light of day, just as I regret that not all solvers shared my joy… :(

  33. Jon Forsythe says:

    It’s also possible to be thrown off the route by trying to include non-vitamin nutrients that are good for you. Helps bones? Calcium. Helps metabolism? Potassium (or K) w/ bananas. (Had KA_EC_C_K_ on my 1st pass) Most of the commenter have covered the major faults of this meta: too much Googling needed; ambiguity of the parentheses; etc. I’ll also add that I solved this without using any of the themers/fill so until this blog post thought the grid was unnecessary in the solving route.

  34. TMart says:

    I didn’t find this one that difficult once I realized we were looking for vitamins. With a limited letter set and Googling “vitamins in , I was able to suss out enough to backsolve once “cake” and “bake” became apparent possible answers.

  35. Naptown Kid says:

    I’m with Joon on this one. With the help of my daughter, I was a successful solver, but I didn’t find the Vitamins to be a perfect fit. In fact, I/we guessed more than solved. Too many Vitamin options and too much Google time. Matt, you are the man, but I would have liked a little more clarity here.

  36. Silverskiesdean says:

    I felt that the foods themselves did not quite match the explanation. That is to say, it is usually carrots that support good eyesight even thou I agree that apricots are probably better. However classically, the foods did not fit. I thought it may have been a push to NOT look at the foods but look just at the benefits in parentheses. Then, you wouldn’t need to do the puzzle. However I did it. But if you look just at the benefits as in “Good for You”, they match the Vitamins you would pick out although I admit, I also did some back-solving.

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