MGWCC #630

crossword 3:24 
meta 1:30 


hello and welcome to episode #630 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Number of Creatures”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is a creature you’ve never seen. okay. what are the theme answers? well, depending on how you look at it, there’s only one, or every single answer is a theme answer.

let’s look at the one first: the last across entry is {Number of clues (and creatures) in this puzzle} EIGHTY. it is, indeed, an 80-word grid. how on earth can there be 80 hidden creatures? no other clues or entries in the grid suggest any kind of thematic content.

this took me only a short while to spot, but spot it i did, with some help from the fact that the grid has some truly awkward fill: every single answer contains an I. not only that, every single answer contains exactly one I. that suggests (at least homophonically) that each answer is a cyclops, making that the meta answer. (fun fact: the plural of cyclops is cyclopes, so you could say there are eighty cyclopes in the grid.)

incidentally, there are other viable answers, although if you submitted one of them just to be perverse, well, i hope you enjoyed that. :p

i’m not going to make a list of all the awkward fill; there are plenty of little particles and partials and a handful of unfamiliar names. i did notice that, for example, the crossing of DEI and SAIN would be better in both directions as a W to make DEW / SAWN; that might have been the clearest nudge towards the meta mechanism for me. some other noteworthy fill:

  • {“The Joshua Tree” co-producer Daniel} LANOIS. this name! i knew him because i was a huge U2 fan in my youth, and although this album is recognized as one of the greatest of all time, i don’t exactly think the co-producer is a household name. the album’s other co-producer is in crosswords all the time, though, so LANOIS has a lot of catching up to do.
  • {With algebra on one’s schedule, say} TAKING MATH. this stood out among several roll-your-own phrases in the grid, along with DANCE IN and IT’S ALSO. the audacity of TAKING MATH actually made me laugh.
  • {Ability to guess future events} PRESCIENCE. this is a beautiful word that i’m sure i’ve never seen in an a crossword grid. it does share an etymology with {Zool., e.g.} SCI, but i’m happy to let that slide.

this isn’t my favorite kind of theme, mainly because it usually results in compromised fill, reducing the enjoyment of solving the crossword itself. this one had one nice aha moment, but then it was over. my favorite week 4 metas involve a succession of aha moments, so this was a little bit anticlimactic in that regard. still, it’s a big step up from last week.

that’s all i’ve got. how’d you like this one?

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54 Responses to MGWCC #630

  1. David Plass says:

    Never in a million years.

  2. David R says:

    Lanois also produced the song One with Eno from Achtung Baby now that would have been cute cluing.

  3. Scott says:

    I really think I should have gotten this one. I was sort of on the right track but I gave up far too quickly.

  4. Jonesy says:

    Agree on it being a huge step up from last week. I’m curious how many “non-cyclops” answers were submitted/accepted. I debated doing so but was nervous there might’ve been something I missed that specifically required the answer to be cyclops?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I decided beforehand to take any one-eyed creature, though Cyclops is by far the most obvious (so much so that I decided not to include any qualifiers like “a 7-letter creature starting with C” which I realized doesn’t exclude COPEPOD anyway). So we had 305 CYCLOPS, 2 ONE-EYED MONSTER, 2 COPEPOD, and 1 ONE-EYED CREATURE.

      • Margaret says:

        Huh, I absolutely thought of Cyclops almost immediately but with no click, I figured there had to be something more, otherwise why not One-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater? Or any other one-eyed fictional thing? Now I find that you would have accepted any of these even though it was a week 4, dang I wish I’d submitted after all.

      • David says:

        I kind of want to hear more from the people who have never seen a one-eyed monster…

  5. David Harris says:

    Am I the only one who had SKIMS for [Plays for a short period of time], and justified MAKINGMATH as a random, unsignaled pun on “making meth”? Because I legitimately did not realize that was wrong until reading Joon’s write-up…

    Definitely a puzzle where it helped to recreate the grid in Crossfire and check for funky letter distributions—I was thinking there might be 80 vowels, with each one a creature somehow, but there were actually just over 80 IIRC. Those 40 I’s, though, were very promising, and things fell into place fairly quickly from there. Agreed it was a short one-aha meta, but I appreciated having a solid click this week without too much struggling required.

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    I also spotted the one I in each answer pattern fairly quickly. I answered I, since you can never truly see yourself in the entirety, only a reflection in the mirror. In the comments section, I noted the one I in each answer pattern, so that it was clear I saw it, not just a lot of I’s. Anyone else answer I or myself? They seem as valid to me as the homophonic inference Matt was going for.

    • Hector says:

      “I” or “myself” doesn’t make great sense of the answer being a “creature,” certainly not as much as “cyclops” does. Also it doesn’t make much sense of the grid entries being called “creatures,” where the commonality is that each “creature” has exactly one “I”. Still (unless there is additional confirmation that we’ve missed), I agree that the last step is not as definite as in typical MG metas, because the answer is inferred via a pun and background knowledge rather than assembled from pieces in the puzzle itself.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      For me, the conclusive hint that pointed me to interpreting the I’s as “eyes” was the specificity of referring to a creature that we’d never seen. I believe that the reference to vision was deliberately chosen for that reason.

      Your justification for calling yourself a “creature that you’ve never seen” also seems rather flimsy, IMO: even leaving mirrors aside, since when do you have to see a creature in the entirety to say that you’ve seen it? If you can say that you’ve seen a mouse upon seeing one run past, despite not having seen every square inch of its body, I think you can jolly well see yourself by the same token, simply by looking down.

      Lastly, if the creatures were simply represented by single I’s, it would be hard for me to see a strong connection between the solution and the fact that they happened to appear one to an entry. After all, if the creatures were “I”s, there would be the same number of them in the puzzle no matter how they were distributed. For that matter, if the creatures were “I”s, rather than entries containing single I’s, it seems to me that they would number not 80, but 40.

      For the above reasons, if I were judging your submission, I would not mark it as correct, notwithstanding your having gotten the major step correct. (No offense, I hope! Just giving my take.)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Paul —

      It can’t be just “I” since the clue for EIGHTY specifies that there are 80 of this creature in the grid, but there are only forty I’s in the grid. So the “creatures” have to be either the 80 clues or 80 entries.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        My thinking was that there were 80 entries with a single I. I was happy with my answer. It didn’t cross my mind you might want something else.
        I’m not arguing for alternate answer consideration. Perhaps cyclops should have occurred to me. Many years ago, I wrote a book in which the cyclops Polyphemus featured prominently. To Homer, he and his kind were demi-gods. Polyphemus was an intelligent being, the son of Poseidon.

      • ===Dan says:

        I submitted Cyclops, but I still thought the Thriller creature was valid because the answer called for a (single) creature we’ve never seen, and it (notably) didn’t specify that it was one of the eighty. It might be inelegant for the grid to have 80 Cyclopes but the answer being something else, but the grid did have 40 I’s = eyes and the answer called for a single creature.

  7. ajk says:

    Lol, saw that every entry had only one I and didn’t get it. Even thought that since every I is serving two words maybe the creatures all had two eyes and so the answer would be cyclops since it’s a mythical one eyed creature. Can’t believe I didn’t connect those. :)

    • Margaret says:

      Yep, it only took me about a minute to see that every answer had one and only one eye, and the Cyclops has only one eye, but I still had no click that Cyclops was the right answer, I didn’t even bother to submit it as a Hail Mary. It seemed way too easy to be a week 4 answer, it felt like a week 1 to me! And I figured Cyclops must be the starting place for a much more elaborate meta involving EIGHTY eyes. Or that you never see one because you can never see your own eyes directly, only in mirror. Or or or. Oh well. Next time I’ll throw up the Hail Mary guess.

      • TimF says:

        I’ve never gotten a week 4 that quick, so I was convinced it couldn’t have been Cyclops. Guess I mythed out…

      • Matthew G. says:

        I’ve been so busy lately that I usually take just one pass at Week 3 and Week 4 metas, and if I don’t get them on that one pass, I usually don’t look at them again. So it was with this one; I took a quick look, didn’t see it, and forgot about it till today.

        But if this same puzzle had run as a week 2, I probably would have gone back to it and gotten it quickly!

  8. pgw says:

    Cool idea and impressive construction; I’m curious to hear what was tripping Matt up on Friday – there are clearly some complicated constraints on how the grid can be shaped, and it’s kind of hard to think through what those might look like beyond “there can’t be any non-square rectangles in the grid that are surrounded by three walls.” A bit of a bummer that it was essentially just a one-realization solve, but that step wasn’t easy for me!

  9. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Even though this week’s puzzle was actually solved by more people than last week’s, for me, it played much harder, taking hours and days. At first I imagined specific creatures populating the puzzle. Since it seemed almost impossible that every single entry or clue contained a hidden reference to a specific creature (although I did find 28 AIs, for what that’s worth), I thought that there might be some few references to sets of creatures, with numbers attached (e.g. 42 CLAMS), that summed to 80 in total.

    One particular red herring that attracted my attention for a while was 50 Across, which clued Jill STEIN by making reference to the precise number of votes tallied for her in 2016, which struck me as rather an offbeat way to clue her. There are a few ways to break 1,457,216 into sets of numbers that sum to 80; for one of those in particular [1, 4, 57, 2, 16] the entries for correspondingly numbered clues [ANTI, INBORN, MITRE, SAIS, IDO] could all be anagrammed to yield a particular creature with one leftover letter [ANT, ROBIN, MITE, ASS, IO (a species of moth). The leftover letters were I, N, R, I, and D … which is as far as I got with that one.

    Having had the persistent feeling that some letter combinations [AI, IS] were appearing weirdly often, I finally decided to count how many times every letter in the alphabet appeared in the puzzle. Once I did so, the 40 I’s immediately leaped out as anomalous, given that the next most common letters [A and S, unsurprisingly] numbered barely half that, at 21 each, while E, ordinarily the most common English letter by a substantial margin, mustered a mere 14.

    I still didn’t see the solution immediately (although the number 40 ought to have rung a bell, as I’d already noted that there were exactly 40 acrosses and 40 downs when I counted the clues at the prompting of 75A’s), but it was a short road from there.

    • David Harris says:

      I was also thinking about animals hidden/signalled in the answers or clues somehow—and terrified of how to get to 80—but am glad it didn’t end up being something crazily complicated like that in the end. I’ll just add ASP[ICS] as another I had on my list!

    • Mark Goodliffe says:

      “The leftover letters were I, N, R, I, and D … which is as far as I got with that one.” Wow – presumably you didn’t know the INDRI, a rarely-seen lemur from Madagascar? Tempting much? A great meta for me in terms of keeping me at bay – it took me two days to spot all the individual I’s and then an hour or two to convince myself that the homophone was justified and that I should go with Cyclops – I was quite worried there was some pop culture reference to another one-eyed creature (one of the Minions?) that I was missing. First one for a long time where I have been very nervous my (likely) answer might well turn out to be wrong, thus not much of a click here.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        Wow. Lucky indeed that I didn’t know the INDRI! Had I been familiar with that creature, it would have been very difficult to convince myself to keep looking for a better solution after days of drawing blanks.

  10. Heidi Birker says:

    Did anyone else spot “gnu” and “takin” and “asp” and “ant” in the grid? I also saw some creatures in the clues. This tripped me up until I gave up on it and saw all the single eyes. Head slap!

    • Jim S says:

      Yep, and spotted “tick”, which could have been “task” to better solve the across clue. That led me to rethink “laddie” as possibly “lassie”. Lassie is a creature, so then I started trying to change other letters – “Bessie” to “Nessie” – and eventually ran out of steam. I also considered types of creatures – reptiles, mammals, insects, perhaps Nessie is an amphibian? Nowhere. Very tough for me since it required that single “aha” rather than working through a series of steps. But who am I kidding – I was 1-for-4 this month so I apparently have a wheelhouse that’s barely large enough to fit that annoying tick… :)

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        Yes to “gnu”, “asp”, and “ant”, and of course “tick” and “ahi” (albeit the latter makes no attempt to hide, being explicitly clued as a creature), not to mention a man, an ani, and no shortage of ais, but I had not known that “takin” was the name of an animal until you enlightened me just now!

        @Jim S, I spent a while wondering about LASSIE too, especially as she fits the clue “Firth youth” every bit as well as LADDIE! The NESSIE, TESSIE, etc. alternatives to BESSIE grabbed some of my attention as well, but much less of it, since a) the clue for BESSIE already identified a specific creature, and b) unlike in the case of LASSIE, the alternative lake monsters would not have fit the clue, which specified Lake Erie.

  11. jefe says:

    SAD (simple and difficult)!

    looked for animals in the grid. ASP/ANT in the upper left. TICK. checked the clues. jellies like jellyfish? savory -> oryx by adding a letter? paw logo? [sheEp]layed Arwen? [e]Land created by Lewis? DUCKworth? agre[eaGle]? very much grasping at straws.

    Noticed a ridiculous amount of foreign words in the fill, but can’t believe I never noticed the excessive number of I’s. Embarrassing!

    At least the answer wasn’t unicorn, but I wish I’d spent longer thinking of “legendary creatures famously associated with numbers”.

  12. Jordanian Tomlinson says:

    Counted up the Is and found 40 of them – thought about submitting “The beast with the 40 eyes” mentioned in Thriller but thought that might be waaaay too specific

    • Bob Johnson says:

      This was also my first thought, but there wasn’t enough of a click to convince me it was right. Glad I took a step back and thought about it some more.

  13. Rand says:

    As tricky as this one was, its “a-ha” was ultimately so simple — every word has exactly one I — that Matt likely could’ve made this a Week 1 puzzle just by offering a more leading meta clue. (Perhaps that’s true of many metas?) Not intended as a complaint; merely an observation!

  14. Amy L says:

    I saw the 40 Is pretty quickly, but never noticed that there was one per answer. I was thinking of Argus, the giant with many eyes, but it just didn’t click. I also counted the number of times each letter appears. I just kept thinking of many eyes and not just one, so I didn’t get the meta.

  15. JPL says:

    I spotted the one-I-per-entry pattern and assumed that, in tandem with the title and 75A referencing “creatures,” that the meta was referring to the B-movie “The Eye Creatures” (also featured in an episode of MST3K). Granted, it’s a lot more obscure than the cyclops, but the last couple of metas required significant Googling, so I didn’t think that necessarily made this out of bounds…

    Even though I came to the wrong conclusion, I still enjoyed when I figured out the pattern.

  16. Kristin says:

    I feel like there is another “aha click” people are missing (or perhaps I’m the one missing something – entirely possible!). Upon a quick google search, there is only ONE living animal with one eye: the COPEPOD. It is the ONLY animal to have one eye, which seems more like the answer Matt could be looking for. I believe in mythology and lore, there are several creatures with one eye (CYCLOPS, ARIMASPI, DAJJAL, and so forth – an entire Wikipedia page with one-eyed fictional creatures). Food for thought since Matt is known for precision!

    • Kristin says:

      In Matt’s puzzles, there is usually one — and only one — possible answer. That’s why I went with COPEPOD. Here’s the Wikipedia list of fictional one-eyed creatures:

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah, see comment above about CYCLOPS/COPEPOD.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      On the other hand, as a living animal, the copepod is the only one-eyed creature for which Matt could not possibly justify the confident description, “a creature you’ve never seen”. By that token, I’d say that it could not be the one and only answer Matt accepted (although it’s certainly a valid one for any solver who hasn’t seen a copepod).

      • Kristin says:

        Very true. Can only be seen with a microscope, but still that does not preclude being seen with human eyes. Valid point! [I figured I was off on this in some way given everyone else got Cyclops.]

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          While it’s probably true that you can’t make out the details of copepod (such as its single eye) without the aid of a microscope, some species are indeed large enough to be seen with the naked eye. I know this from a story that made the news about fifteen years ago, wherein this very question, curiously, of whether copepods can be seen with the naked eye, took on a certain importance to some New Yorkers.

  17. Todd Dashoff says:

    I saw the plethora of “I”‘s right away and confirmed that there were eighty if you counted both across and down. Then I stopped, because this was a Week 4, and Matt couldn’t have made it _that _ easy, could he? Or maybe he was compensating for last week’s harder than usual Week 3? And I’ve seen _pictures_ of Cyclopes (thank you, Joon), so did that invalidate that as the answer? Eventually, I decided to go with the correct answer, having seen so many people listed as correct that there couldn’t be that much i wasn’t seeing.

  18. Mary Ellen Price says:

    I saw the one-i-per-answer but Cyclops did not occur to me. I kept looking for the next step. Silly moi.

  19. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 310 correct answers this week.

  20. BK says:

    I couldn’t believe it was as simple as cyclops and waited a day to submit. During that time I learned that the famous cyclops from the Odyssey, Polyphemus, was also a son of Poseidon, like TRITON. That seemed like enough of a confirmatory nudge to submit the correct answer. Phew.

    • Peter F says:

      Same here – “son of Poseidon” finally convinced me cyclops had to be right, but I spent a couple days looking for a step 2. Not complaining though, I really liked the concept.

  21. Mutman says:

    I did notice a preponderance of ‘I’s and thought maybe the crosswordese ‘AIS’ might come into play, which it clearly didn’t.

    I eventually tossed up a Hail Mary of ‘YETI’, which clearly fits the theme answers and no one yet has proven to see him.

    Only a panel of non-constructionist judges would accept that!

    • Flinty Steve says:

      I was another “yeti” tosser yet I (ha!) knew that chimera had the same shot so neither could be right. Mostly I just didn’t want to think about it anymore . . .

  22. Seth says:

    Before I noticed the I’s, my only rabbit hole was looking at the clues to see if there were any creatures lurking. And within the first five across clues, I convinced myself I was getting somewhere:

    Savory jellies: jellyfish
    Brand with a paw logo: dog or cat
    She played Arwen: sheep (phonetically hidden in “she played”)
    Land created by Lewis: lion
    Senator Duckworth speaks it: duck

    But the next few didn’t give me anything, and I decided that these were way too random to actually mean anything.

  23. andreaborn says:

    I looked at the word EIGHTY and parsed it as Eight-E, then looked for eight names/words ending in an E sound: Laddie, Bessie, Ali, Rudi, Indy — these were good — then got to rough things like ahi, ami, semi. I was close enough to making BASILISK that I thought I might be onto something, but the clear presence of an R and absence of a K meant I didn’t spend tooooo much time on it. Never saw the I trick, sigh.

  24. Streroto says:

    This is a really great discussion, fascinating to see everybody’s thought process. As somebody who saw the week three very quickly, I struggled with this one until Monday, and for me the aha moment was that much sweeter. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. I’ll briefly add to the rabbit holes described above, and I went down every single one of them. One of the things I really struggled with was whether EIGHTY meant there were 80 of each, or possibly 80 clues but eight theme answers, especially because creatures was in parentheses. For example, I found that you could make siren from sarin by changing one letter, thought that was going to be it but no. Then I toyed with possibly the clue meaning eight Y creatures, especially since yeti could be found in EIGHTY. Nope. But once I noticed the 40 I’s the aha moment came pretty quickly. Can’t wait for Matt’s Friday post to see what the issue was.

    Stay well all

  25. MK says:

    Something that helped me was the crossing of BESSIE and NAIADS – both creatures – at the letter I. Then the DEI / SAIN thing made the rest of the puzzle’s I’s pop out.

  26. Jim Schooler says:

    I thought the grid fill was very challenging, and when I saw the I’s my first thought was “cyclops” and my second thought was “That’s way to simple for a Week 4.” Finally I just got tired of staring at it and sent in CYCLOPS. When I checked the leaderboard an hour later and saw my moniker, my jaw dropped.

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