MGWCC #638

crossword 3:31 
meta 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #638 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Treasure Hunt”. for this week 3 puzzle, we get these instructions: The Feared Pirate Captain Gridd has hidden a great piece of treasure. Are you clever enough to find it? This week’s contest answer is the missing piece of treasure.
okay, so what’s going on? i don’t really know. there aren’t obvious theme answers in the grid. the long answers include two 9s and two 10s:

  • {Draw for George Clooney} SEX APPEAL. this clue drew my eye because it’s right below {Julianna Margulies played one on a famous show} E.R. NURSE, and of course julianna margulies costarred with george clooney on that show.
  • {Prop masters’ workspaces} STAGE SETS.
  • {Pie maker’s scraps} APPLE PEELS. this one was interesting, too—it’s a near echo of SEX APPEAL in some ways.
  • {Seven-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder for the Royals, including in 2017, 2018, and 2019} ALEX GORDON. not exactly a household name, but he’s a good baseball player, for sure.

in any event, i don’t know what to make of these. what else can we look at? a pirate’s treasure hunt usually involves a treasure map, so my eye was certainly drawn to the clue for 1d: {You can see the Mississippi River on one} U.S. MAP. in fact, in one of the most memorable MGWCCs ever, matt did turn the grid into a U.S. MAP on which you could see the mississippi river! but he’d be unlikely to repeat such a unique mechanism, even going on ten years later.

what else? well, X marks the spot on a treasure map, but this grid has three X’s, all near the center of the grid, all on the two main diagonals, including one in the very center of the grid, where {Put a spell on} HEXED crosses {Short cut} PIXIE. i’m not sure what to do with this.

the upper section of the grid has the related terms {Currency from 1868 to 2002} PESETA, {Language spoken in Londres and Nueva Orleans} INGLES, and {Country with a tilde} ESPANA clumped together. this put me in mind of the spanish doubloon, a currency widely used by pirates, and also of pieces of eight, which were fractions thereof. “piece” in the instruction also had me thinking along these lines. it’s an intriguing idea for a meta mechanism. how would it work? the first idea to spring to mind was to look at numbered squares in the grid, either the numbers ending in 8 (APABSEN) or the numbers divisible by 8 (ASACHSAI). looks like nothing doing there.

ah, okay, here’s something: the three X’s in the central area of the grid. that central area is a 5×5 region of white squares. rather unusually for a grid pattern, there are five such areas, one in each corner in addition to the central block, forming their own X shape. the three X’s in the central area pick out three locations within that 5×5 block: row 1 column 1, row 3 column 3, and row 4 column 2. now we can take a look at what letters are in the corresponding squares of each of the other corner 5×5 blocks. (i’ve circled them in my grid screenshot above.) they spell out UND / ERT / HES / EAS, or UNDER THE SEAS. aha!

well, what next? my first thought was to look for names of seas in the grid (red, aegean, aral, etc.). no dice. my second thought was to look under the C’s in the grid, of which there are four. underneath them are the letters U, R, B, and Y. aha! i see what’s going on here. captain gridd has contrived to BURY a RUBY under the C’s, depending on whether you read the letters clockwise or counterclockwise. so RUBY is the meta answer.

i really enjoyed this meta! like any good treasure hunt, there was a sequence of steps to follow, and some of the steps were harder to figure out than the others, but it was very satisfying at every step, and the final meta answer was extremely slick. the last MGWCC treasure hunt i can remember was waaaaaay back at MGWCC #7, which was so long ago that i hadn’t yet started blogging the puzzle, even at the old crossword fiend blog. that one was also very cool, but this one was tougher.

what’d you think of this one?

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17 Responses to MGWCC #638

  1. Susie says:

    Very nice! Sadly, Captain Gridd forced me to walk the plank this week. Clever puzzle as always.

  2. jefe says:

    Week 195 was also a treasure hunt not long after I started solving.

  3. Charles Stevens says:

    Great puzzle! Loved all the steps you needed to take to get there – made for a satisfying solve. I didn’t even think about the fact that RUBY anagrams to BURY.

    Extremely impressive that e.a. (Erik Agard?) got this in 4 minutes. I guess he just speed-solved and immediately noticed RUBY under the only 4 C’s in the grid? Hard to comprehend a mind like that.

    • Jay Miller says:

      Very ingenious idea-great job Matt. I must admit that I liked the first part of the solution a lot more than the second part, but still lots of fun. Not sure how it is possible to solve the puzzle or even guess a solution by 12:04. My email didn’t show up in my inbox till 12:04.

  4. Scott says:

    Another one I did not get. But 5 stars from me anyway.

  5. hibob says:

    under the three ‘X’ squares are the letters E, I & G. these three letters are the first three pieces of the word eight. Hence “Pieces of eight”. Brilliant. Right?

  6. Steve Thurman says:


    I didn’t get it. But I still love it!

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    189 correct answers on this one. For a week 3? Is that more of a week 4 number, or even a week 5?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Week 4 or 5, yes. Believe it or not, my concern was that it was too *easy* for a Week 3…hard to tell sometimes with these…

  8. Mary Ellen Price says:

    A brilliant puzzle. Joon’s solve makes it all seem so clear and obvious. I tried to do something with those three x’s and the diagonals, but I was digging on the wrong beach. I thought the “key” to solving might be “islets” so tried to make islands within the grid by removing key squares, hoping the deleted letters would “spell” something. Yo Ho No. Another line of exploration was The Tempest theme … Prospero’s 676, hexed, exiles, islets, pixie (Ariel?), pagan, stage sets … but that was all just in my mind or atmosphere. Aaaarrrggh! Always learning.

  9. Kristin G says:

    With a title like “Treasure Hunt” and a goal to find the “hidden treasure,” I knew the X in the center square could not be an accident since “x marks the spot.” Just no way that was coincidental.

    Since there were only three Xs in the puzzle, I thought they might lead to the answer but my initial thought was “There is no way Matt could’ve orchestrated this so perfectly that they could indicate where to find the other letters in that manner.” To my astonishment, they did match up to describe even another clue! Very elegant. I found it pretty quickly because the center square really stood out as the way to find the answer. The BURY/RUBY was yet another layer I didn’t notice until I read this. Well done, as usual!

  10. Streroto says:

    Never in a million years. I had to read the explanation several times just to understand how it worked.

    Amazing construction Matt but too rich for my ruby red blood. Week 4-5 for sure.

  11. Garrett says:

    I was really thrown by the meta clue, which first talks of a hidden treasure, but then asks us to identify a missing treasure. Thus, I was sure the treasure could not lie within the grid.

    Did anyone else struggle with this?

  12. Jason T says:

    Sheer genius – beautifully elegant, creative, and fun too! Interestingly, my “in” to the meta was not the X’s, but noticing the unusual five 5×5 squares, and figuring that had to be relevant somehow. What took a while was figuring out the somehow… What a delightful Aha moment: X marks the spot!

  13. C. Y. Hollander says:

    A brilliant theme that I wish I’d gotten. I spent a lot of time thinking about the X’s and wondering what they might map to, but it never occurred to me to map them to the other sections of the grid. As the deadline approached, I saw HE LIED lying among the X’s so I sent that in, in the hopes that Captain Gridd might have lied about his buried treasure in the first place, but alas, it seems that Gridd was telling the truth.

  14. Mike says:

    This is one of the first puzzles I solved using my mantra, “Think like Joon”. (Or, “think like a constructor”.) ln this case the grid was relatively difficult to fill in, so Matt must have had a lot of constraints, so there were probably a lot of theme letters scattered about the grid. Then there was the unusual set of 5×5 sections Joon mentioned. Lastly, there were the four little sections with only one way in, where the treasure was ultimately found. My only reservation was that Matt’s instructions are usually very precise, and “RUBY” didn’t seem to fit “a great piece of treasure” so I was afraid I had missed something.

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