MGWCC #633

crossword 4:47 
meta DNF3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #633 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Harmonize!”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is a five-letter musical instrument. okay. what are the theme answers? i don’t know! there are some 9- and 10-letter entries in a pinwheel patten:

  • {“And ___ shall be found without the soul for getting down…” (Vincent Price line from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”)} WHOSOEVER. what a way to clue this. i guess it’s probably got to be a fill-in-the-blank, but sheesh.
  • {Extraordinarily difficult, as a decision} AGONIZING.
  • {Was unfairly maligned} GOT A BAD RAP.
  • {Give out} DISTRIBUTE.

okay, wait, maybe i have something. yes, this is definitely something. WHOSOEVER contains OSOE, which could become the musical instrument OBOE if you change one letter. not only that, the S crosses the first letter of {Sharks play there} SAN JOSE, so changing it to a B produces BANJO, another musical instrument. this has to be it.

all right, i found the rest of them. each of the four longest answers contains such a letter, as does the central 7-letter down answer. in grid order from top to bottom:

  • changing the crossing of WHOSOEVER and SAN JOSE from S to B produces OBOE and BANJO.
  • changing the crossing of {Crush the enthusiasm of} DEFLATE with GOT A BAD RAP from A to U gives FLUTE and TUBA.
  • changing the crossing of {___ Total Fitness (former gym chain)} BALLY with {Take to task} CALL OUT from A to E gives BELL and CELLO.
  • changing the crossing of {Color like cherry} RUBY RED with DISTRIBUTE from B to L gives the related instruments LYRE and LUTE.
  • changing the crossing of AGONIZING with {Soccer star Didier Drogba, e.g.} IVORIAN from I to G gives GONG and ORGAN.

taken in order from top to bottom, these letters give BUELG. that’s not a musical instrument, but it’s an anagram of BULGE, which is a world war ii battle. and if you read from left to right instead of top to bottom, you get LBEGU. maybe you need to add an A and scramble to get BELUGA?

i’m kidding, of course. the five-letter musical instrument is the BUGLE, which requires you to read off the letters in, i guess, clockwise order starting from the top and spiraling into the middle at the end. i don’t know. that’s a little arbitrary, and the only blemish on a pretty cool meta mechanism. but it wasn’t grossly inelegant, and with all five letters identified, getting a musical instrument out of them was not difficult at all. i imagine matt tried to put them into the grid in top-down order and it just wasn’t working out.

the fill in this puzzle was sufficiently strained that i thought there might be quite a lot more going on. the top-middle section with {“What about the boy, ___ it all!” (“Tommy” lyric)} HE SAW, {___ watch (promising newcomer)} ONE TO, and—speaking of arbitrary!—{Apartment two floors up from Kramer’s, on “Seinfeld” (well, if the apartment building actually had two more floors)} SEVEN B made me wince a couple of times. but the aha moment was a nice payoff.

that’s all for me. what’d you think about this one?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to MGWCC #633

  1. Jack says:

    I was convinced SEVEN B was the entry point. It could easily have been changed to SEVENS/SALLY, both of which seem like stronger entries. It also seemed to hint at FIVE B, and coincidentally: there are 5 B’s in the grid, B is a musical note, and we’re looking for 5 letters.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Same here. That entry/clue was so egregiously inane that I was sure it had to be a theme entry.

      Actually, Matt could have technically have gone to SEVENS/SALLY without damaging the theme, since se is apparently the name of a musical instrument, but that’s too short and obscure to be likely to click for many people. I think Matt correctly chose the lesser of two evils in going with SEVENB there…but seriously, that clue!

      Apparently, 7B is the name of a Russian rock band; surely that would have been a better thing to clue it with. Sure, it’s esoteric as all get-out, but at least it’s a thing, unlike the nonexistent apartment on a nonexistent floor of Kramer’s building! But I’ll admit that the effrontery of Matt’s clue made me smile.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 241 correct answers this week. Definitely a Week 4/5 instead of a 3/5, so I’ll regress with a 3/5 this Friday.

    You’re exactly right — there was no way to do this (that I could find) with all across theme entries, so I went with a pinwheel pattern of the BUGLE.

    Re the difficulty, I thought the OBOE/BANJO crossing would stick out more than it did. Believe it or not, I was concerned that this would be too *easy* for a Week 3/5. More art than science, trying to predict # of correct entries.

    • BANJO was my starting point. When I started looking for 5-letter musical instruments, it stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn’t immediately see OBOE since it’s only 4 letters, but it didn’t take me too long to find that once I was on the right track.

      • Steve Thurman says:

        Same here with BANJO.

        Actually, after I finally got it, I wondered if many people wouldn’t think it was a Week 3 and I was just late to the party.

  3. Streroto says:

    I am a huge fan of Matt’s and I never complain about his puzzles, so I won’t. I enjoyed the aha moment very much.

  4. Charles Stevens says:

    This one was tough.

    I felt like I was staring at a themeless and trying to squeeze something extra out of it for an eternity. But I figured something had to be going on with the SEVENB/BALLY crossing, since SEVENS/SALLY would have been so much more elegant.

    The only reason I got there eventually was because I was getting ready to Hail Mary a five-letter instrument near the deadline, and crossed “cello” off my list, since CALLOUT was too close to “cello.” Hey, wait a minute…

    Satisfying solve as usual from Matt.

    • David R says:

      I solved in a similar manner however I decided early on to write down the five letter instruments with the hope that it would jog something as I figured there would be a manageable amount to review. I then saw BANJO and CELLO a minute later.

  5. Brian Kell says:

    My path: Somehow I saw OSOE → OBOE pretty quickly, but I looked in the other long entries and nothing popped out, so I figured it was a fluke. Then I came back a day later and saw TABADR in 11-Down and thought, “Isn’t a tabard a musical instrument?” But no, it’s a kind of coat. Later I came back to it and, again, thought there was some kind of instrument like that, so I Googled “musical instrument tabad” and Google said, “Did you mean ‘musical instrument tuba’?”

    Now I thought maybe the OBOE thing might be right after all, and when I went back I noticed BANJOSE and the BANJO part clicked, and that’s when I realized I must be on the right track.

    Nice meta!

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    I liked this one a lot. Curiously, halfway through the grid, I’d identified the S of San Jose/whosoever to oboe/banjo, the A of deflate/got a bad rap to flute/tuba, and the shared I of Ivorian/agonizing to organ/gong. In race mode, I almost extrapolated to SITAR. Glad I finished the grid, then found the other two. I had to switch gears to the new letters, not the original ones, of course, then submitted BUGLE. Surely a coincidence, not a devious trap, but with Matt, you can never be too sure.

  7. Abide says:

    After some frustrating hours (Gallop, Gallup anyone?), I went into backsolve mode and put together a list of possible five-letter instruments.

    I dug into this Christmas gift for the first time…
    and the list included BANJO, FLUTE, ORGAN, CELLO and BUGLE. That helped get me on the right track.

  8. Mutman says:

    I failed on this but thought it was a great meta. Not much help from the title, as far as I could tell. I thought ‘Harmonize’ might imply putting two entries together. Saw ‘DEFLATE GATE’ and maybe onto something.

    But no.

    OBOE/BANJO hard to see since SAN JOSE such a good entry.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I think the title refers to putting two instruments together, rather than two clues. By changing a letter, you can put two instruments in the same place, where they can harmonize with each other. I’d argue that there’s a legitimate hint there, though by no means an easy one to follow.

  9. Seth says:

    Never saw the crossings — only saw the hidden instruments in the long answers and in CALLOUT. OBOE I saw first, then CELLO and TUBA, but LUTE and GONG took longer to find.

  10. john says:

    Wild. I saw FLATE>FLUTE first and thought that was the key: Hidden 5-letter instruments as called for in the meta answer. So i got BANJO, CELLO, and ORGAN and spent a good while looking for a 5th 5-letter instrument, although by that point i knew the answer was BUGLE. I finally decided that the hidden instruments only gave you 4 letters, as in the grid, and you had to infer the 5th, so i was done. I never saw any of the crossings. Much more intricate than i thought.

  11. Wayne says:

    I spent a long time fixated on the five clues of the form “___ some proper noun (a description of the proper noun)”. That there were five of them, felt too strong to me to be a coincidence. I had no idea where to go next…with good reason, as it turns out.

  12. David Harris says:

    Ditto what John said—my group only found the instruments in the pinwheel’s crossings, not the pinwheel entries themselves. And those crossings were all 5-letter instruments, as the prompt had us listing those just in case. The whole entries all happened to be seven letters, so it seemed like a deliberate limitation for some reason, especially with CALLOUT. So we got there off of BANJO/FLUTE/ORGAN/?/CELLO, submitting BUGLE.

    Then we saw LYRE afterwards, which didn’t fit the pattern and seemed out of place, but we didn’t really know what else could be going on. Didn’t even notice the longest answers had hidden crosses until reading Joon’s write-up, since the 4-letters were harder to see. So while my friend initially joked that she had figured out 80%, 100%, or 0% of the meta, it turns out we somehow managed to solve it with 40%! (So, sorry for the nonsensical comment about 7-letter to 5-letter, Matt!)

    Anyone else surprised IVORIAN didn’t relate somehow to IVORIES and pianos?

  13. Pete Rimkus says:

    What’s up with all those O’s and L’s in the middle of the puzzle?
    Follow them up into the NE and there’s a CE that sort of curls into them…
    It’s even shaped (as least to my mind) like a cello when seen from the side.

    I was kinda hoping Matt was showing his artistic side with this one…

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I got nowhere on this. I blame my parents for making me take beluga lessons for two years even though I had zero aptitude for it.

    • damefox says:

      I assume you meant bugle lessons, but I’m laughing now trying to picture what a beluga lesson might be.

  15. Eli Selzer says:

    I had noticed TABA could be TUBA multiple times looking over this, but it never progressed to an actual CLICK. I’m going to blame myself for getting distracted by the fact that “DEFLATE” can be read as “D-E FLAT-E” and trying to find a way to turn that into something. This one was right on the tip of my brain, but I’ll have to chalk it up to an L. Quarantine has not been kind to my meta brain!

  16. Jay Livingston says:

    The first thing I noticed was the tone cluster D Eb E (aka DEFLATE), and I thought that there would be a way to harmonize these by turning them into triads. Dead end.

    My point of entry to the solution was, as it was for others, SAN JOSE, but by first thought was that it could easily become BON JOVI. That led me to BANJO and so on.

    I still don’t understand the title. How about “Instrumental Variables” or is that too social sciency?

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I wondered about that sequence of notes for a while, too, but since those three notes are about as far as you can get from harmonizing, I didn’t put too much stock in them as a cluster. It took longer for me to give up on E-FLAT, though.

      I interpreted the title to be about changing 5 letters in the puzzle in order to create a duo of instruments at each of those places (odd couples most of them, to be sure, but still).

  17. Tyler Hinman says:

    Wow, I missed fully half the theme; I spotted the letter changes only in the longer answer of the two pairs. I THOUGHT the theme material seemed a little thin. Oh well; a win’s a win.

  18. Steve Durfee says:

    There are a lot of ‘L’s and ‘O’s in the center and along the diagonal. Some of the ‘L’s loosely resemble a ‘C’. So My hail Mary would have been Cello. But I’m happy to have found BUGLE instead.

  19. Magoo says:

    Brilliant puzzle, and too good for me, even though I saw the ANJO in SANJOSE. I was so distracted by the first six letters in the grid being DASHES, coming from two clues with dashes in them, that I got overexcited that taking the first three letters of each answer with a dash in the clue spelled DASHES: ONE WHO DID BAL IDI INC, a message that starts well and ends badly … that I never focused enough on the music. All the L’s and O’s in the centre of the grid also made me wonder if the letters of CELLO would resemble a cellist – in short, I was nowehere near that bugle.

  20. Garrett says:

    I got hung up on the OSO and others like in the grid for a long time. Later, my mind went to EFLAT rather than flute, but that is where I started after getting a hint from a friend.

  21. slubduck says:

    Anyone else down the SEVENB must equal reference to “Seven Bridges Road” by The Eagles, one of the definitively great HARMONIZING pop songs of all time?

    I did.

Comments are closed.