MGWCC #632

crossword 3:39 
meta 3:30 


hello and welcome to episode #632 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Chain Letters”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is a two-word phrase made up of two grid entries. okay. what are the theme answers? there are a vast number of cross-reference clues, each cluing a two-word phrase split across two grid entries. and, in accordance with the title, many of them occur in linked chains:

  • 16a {With 31-Across, site of a famed WWII battle in the Pacific} WAKE.
  • 31a {With 72-Across, Caribbean vacationer’s pace} ISLAND.
  • 72a {With 58-Across, like longstanding traditions} TIME.
  • 58a {See 72-Across} HONORED. so that’s WAKE ISLAND, ISLAND TIME, and TIME-HONORED.
  • 19a {With 59-Down, pay reluctantly} FORK.
  • 59d {With 48-Across, kind of sports wager} OVER.
  • 48a {With 5-Down, being given a thorough look} UNDER.
  • 5d {See 48-Across} REVIEW. this chain has FORK OVER, OVER/UNDER, and UNDER REVIEW.
  • 49a {With 7-Down, what 150,000 barrels of recently spilled into the Arctic from a Russian nickel mine} DIESEL.
  • 7d {With 70-Across, structure seen in “There Will Be Blood”} OIL.
  • 70a {With 47-Down, fastener used to seal holes} WELL.
  • 47d {See 70-Across} NUT. so this one is DIESEL OIL, OIL WELL, and WELL NUT. that last one is less familiar to me than the other two-word phrases in this theme, but it appears to be a thing.
  • 68d {With 3-Down, shout to someone who’s knocking on your door} IT’S.
  • 3d {With 36-Across, sea far from shore} OPEN.
  • 36a {With 9-Down, class in a pool} WATER.
  • 9d {See 36-Across} AEROBICS. this chain has IT’S OPEN, OPEN WATER, and WATER AEROBICS.

whew. that is a lot of cross-referenced clues, making this a very choppy solve. it was only after i was done solving that i was able to really grasp the overarching structure of the theme; i hadn’t been able to appreciate mid-solve that half of the answers were both the second word of one theme phrase and the first word of another.

anyway, as you can see from the order laid out above, the theme comes in four chains of four words each. taking the first letters of each entry in chain order gives us the words WITH, FOUR, DOWN, and IOWA. reading those words consecutively in this particular order gives us a valid crossword clue—and what’s 4-down? {Declare} STATE. that certainly looks like it could be the second word of a two-word phrase that answers the clue “iowa”. what’s the first word? well, iowa is the hawkeye state, and 62a is {System that reviews line calls at tennis tournaments} HAWKEYE, so that is the answer.

although solving the crossword itself was a little irritating because of all the cross-referenced clues, i thought the meta was very elegant. putting four four-word chains into the grid to spell out a four-word cross-referenced clue is quite ingenious. just getting all sixteen of those words into the grid (plus HAWKEYE and STATE) is an impressive feat of construction—that’s a ton of theme. and i also suspect that matt went to considerable effort to put some extra red herrings into the grid to make it harder to guess HAWKEYE STATE from just the instructions. i can’t help but notice {Tree with an edible “heart”} PALMETTO, as it’s another state nickname (the PALMETTO STATE is south carolina), but maybe that’s the only one. there are a handful of other perhaps unintentional possibilities like OVER TIME, EATS AWAY, OPEN AREA, etc., but most of them reuse one or more of the theme entries.

with so much theme density, the fill in the grid is predictably strained in some places. i didn’t love seeing particles like {“Babe, ___ circles all around” (Bob Dylan lyric)} I’D RUN, a whole bunch of other partials (AT NO, A RAW, A MAP, A TRUE, I LET, SHA, TUTTI) and the proper possessive {___ “Little Red Book”} MAO’S, but overall it wasn’t too bad.

a couple other things that caught my eye:

  • {Range Rover SUV since 2017} VELAR. i didn’t know this vehicle. i wonder if it’s pronounced the same as the common adjective velar (as in velar consonant). i’m guessing not.
  • {Site where you might meet a mensch} J-DATE. this was one of two puzzles i did last week with this particular website in the grid. slightly surprising, since it’s far from a common entry, but i do so many crosswords that this kind of thing is bound to happen on occasion.
  • {“One L” author Scott} TUROW. i’m so used to seeing ONE L in the grid rather than in a clue. i had actually always assumed the real book title was “1L”, but no, apparently it’s spelled out.

that’s all from me. how’d you like this one?

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16 Responses to MGWCC #632

  1. Jim S says:

    I enjoyed the chase of this one a lot. I knew the general mechanism early on when I saw the chaining of the cross-referenced clues, and mapping those chains out when all was said and done was very satisfying. Kudos, Matt!

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 553 correct entries this week.

  3. Jim Schooler says:

    This one strained my brain.

  4. Amy L says:

    I was going to answer “HATE TIME” because I knew I wasn’t getting it. Somehow I missed the ITS OPEN pair so I had FOUR DOWN WITH WA. I was going too nutty to go over everything again so I convinced myself the answer was “ISLAND STATE” since Hawaii is a chain of islands. I thought that was a pretty clever answer considering the title.

  5. NonnieL says:

    Funny story: Somehow I missed the FOUR chain, so I had DOWN WITH IOWA!! I figured HAWKEYE STATE had to be the answer, and I submitted it, but I knew I was missing something. Matt doesn’t have any grudge against Iowa that I’m aware of.

  6. Jordanian Tomlinson says:

    Almost submitted Iowa State but made no sense as I wrote it out (and not a cyclone to be found in the grid). It clicked after I saw Hawkeye but it still took a minute to redirect myself from division I mascots.

  7. PAUL E MANASTER says:

    This definitely qualifies as nitpicking, but if a crossword clue was “With 4-down, Iowa” and 4-down was “State”, wouldn’t the answer be “Hawkeye”, and not the clue-referential “Hawkeye State”? Just wondering why it wasn’t a single-word answer to the meta. That said, I loved this puzzle!

    • Dan Seidman says:

      I was wondering that too — I was just hoping I wasn’t missing something.

    • Hector says:

      I had the same concern. I guess it does reduce odds of a correct Hail Mary guess by quite a lot.

      • joon says:

        well, maybe. if you pick one entry at random (here, 1 in 80) vs picking two entries at random (1 in 6320), yes, the odds are a lot longer if the answer is two entries. but if you say the answer is a two-word phrase made up of two grid entries, then you actually don’t have many choices at all, since most arbitrarily chosen pairs of grid entries don’t form a phrase.

        i thought the instructions were just right. if you saw {With 4-Down, Iowa} in a crossword clue, the entry you filled in for *that spot* would be just HAWKEYE, but the two-word phrase that answers the clue would be HAWKEYE STATE split across two entries.

        • Garrett says:

          Well, I thought that [With 4-Down, Iowa] was a perfect, in-keeping, alternate clue (meta clue, even) for 62 Across. It goes perfectly with all the other “With” clues. I thought the whole thing was very clever. But, I know of two other solvers who guessed the correct answer without grokking how the whole thing worked.

          Initially, I was looking for two words that could link two or three of the chains, or maybe be inserted into one or two of them. I lost a lot of time on that.

    • Pam says:

      My nitpick is a little different. I assumed I was supposed to look for two words in the grid other than those presented in “With four down Iowa.” In other words, I took Iowa State as a starting point, then looked for a two-word phrase that related to it. Hawkeye was a gimme, and I had a feeling about “swarm.” Google Hawkeye Swarm and you will see why I submitted that. At first Matt rejected it, then apparently changed his mind. As I said to my puzzle buddies, “You can count on me for answers that are better than the right answers.”

    • Daniel Barkalow says:

      In an ordinary puzzle, if 62A were clued “With 4-Down, Iowa”, you’d fill in HAWKEYE for 62A, but also STATE for 4D, which would probably just say “See 62-Across”. I think that makes both words answers to the one clue, in contrast to a clue like “Southernmost Mexican 4-Down” for CHIAPAS, where 4D would have its own clue.

  8. Susie says:

    I thought this was fun and very clever! I’m always amazed at Matt’s puzzle construction.

  9. Dave says:

    If there were only one chain in the puzzle – It’s Open Water Aerobics – and you needed to find an appropriate two-word phrase from two grid entries, you’d still end up with Hawkeye State. The three other chains are superfluous. This strikes me as a flaw in the concept.

    • jefe says:

      I wouldn’t call it a flaw, but it certainly makes it a lot easier.

      If you only had the one chain, the only way in would be through the 4 clues, which would be very easy to overlook.

      The puzzle as is makes it the mechanism obvious and spots you one of the two words. The only (minor) complaint I have is that the 16 clues/entries make for a lot of grunt work. Maybe fewer, longer chains would be more interesting? 4×4 is a good size though.

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