MGWCC #639

crossword 4:03 
meta 2 days 


hello and welcome to episode #639 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Can You Find a Better Example?”. for this week 4 puzzle, we’re told that this week’s contest answer sounds like something you’ll want to do after solving this meta. okay. what are the theme answers?

  • {Poorly chosen attempt at clarification when spelling something out over the phone (5 letters)} P AS IN PSALM.
  • {Poorly chosen attempt at clarification when spelling something out over the phone (5 letters)} G AS IN GNASH.
  • {Poorly chosen attempt at clarification when spelling something out over the phone (3 letters)} K AS IN KNOWLEDGE.
  • {Poorly chosen attempt at clarification when spelling something out over the phone (7 letters)} W AS IN WRYER.
  • {Poorly chosen attempt at clarification when spelling something out over the phone (4 letters)} H AS IN HONOR.

based on the title and the parenthetical notes, i thought the first step was pretty clear: think of a better example, i.e. a synonym starting with the same letter, where the first letter isn’t silent. i came up with these:

  • PAEAN instead of PSALM
  • GRIND instead of GNASH
  • KEN instead of KNOWLEDGE
  • WITTIER (i guess?) instead of WRYER. not a very precise synonym, but it’s the only 7-letter W synonym i could think of.
  • HAIL instead of HONOR. this one required a thesaurus, as i couldn’t come up with anything off the top of my head.

okay, now what? well, the fact that the clues mentioned spelling something out over the phone put me in the mind of phonespelling, the non-unique association of letters to numbers associated with a phone keypad. so 2 = A/B/C, 3 = D/E/F, etc. i thought it would be really clever if the grid contained a different 5-letter answer spelled out on a phone using the same digits as in PAEAN (72326), and so forth. (having five additional shortish theme answers in the grid seemed plausible, as there was likely some extra hidden material to warrant the somewhat oversized 14×17 grid.) i spent a while looking for these but didn’t find them. even the simple KEN (536) did not have an equivalent in the grid among the 3-letter answers.

what else is there? i thought about homophones too, since the instructions certainly suggested homophones, as did the idea of spelling something over the phone. WITTIER is a homophone of the poet john greenleaf WHITTIER, but he wasn’t in the grid or the clues. HAIL and HALE are homophones. PAEAN is close to PEON or maybe PEEIN’, but … yeah, no.

putting the puzzle aside for a couple of days helped. when i came back to it, i more or less immediately found the extra theme answers i was looking for. no phonespell, just a transaddition (i.e. anagram plus one extra letter):

  • KEN + W => 21a KNEW. this is, i have to say, distinctly inelegant, as KNEW is obviously related to KNOWLEDGE. (for that matter, so is KEN, although at least the etymological relationship there is somewhat more distant.)
  • PAEAN + R => 26a PANERA
  • GRIND + E => 46o DINGER
  • HAIL + T => 69a LAHTI

taking those five added letters in grid order (circled in the screenshot above) gives WREST, which indeed sounds like something you might do after solving this meta. (in fact, i did just that, as i cracked the meta last night just before bed.)

so, i liked this meta, but the KNEW/KNOWLEDGE thing does kind of bug me. i also feel like the final step (locate transadditions in the grid) has become a little bit predictable at this point; the solving numbers on the leaderboard are somewhat higher than last week’s “week 3” puzzle, which is modest further evidence on that front. i really was expecting something a little more apt to this mechanism, like phonespell or homophones. that would’ve been cool.

but i’m not going to fault the puzzle for what it wasn’t. for what it was, i liked it: it’s a good solid week 4 meta. what’d you think?

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36 Responses to MGWCC #639

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 266 correct answers this week.

    Since Week 3 played like a Week 4.5, I decided to make this one a little easier. If Week 3 had been Week 3 difficulty then I would’ve left the enumerations out of the clues here.

    Of course you are correct about the KNEW/KNOWLEDGE blot. The theme set was extremely restricted (e.g., having to go with WRYER/WITTIER instead of WRY/WITTY for symmetry’s sake) so I noticed it but couldn’t find a way around it.

    Transaddition moratorium? Maybe an idea whose time has come…

    • David Harris says:

      Who decided they should be called transadditions and not addagrams?!

      Sadly, never saw the first step that was clear to Joon, so I was #TeamNope this week. Looked at other grid entries that were better examples for the letters, considered the PAS/GAS/etc. strings as secretly words on their own, thought about the phonespelling idea, thought about PSALM -> PALM, GNASH -> GASH, and KNOWLEDGE -> COLLEGE, and checked the clues for some use of the silent letters. Oh well!

  2. Garrett says:

    I think it reminds me a lot of Friday’s WSJ Puzzle Contest meta.

  3. Wayne says:

    My usual reaction is “How the hell does Matt come up with new mechanisms week after week?!” So 639 weeks in, I was not that offended by yet another puzzle involving a locate-the- transadditions step. On the contrary, it’s vaguely comforting to have evidence that the universe is finite, and that Matt may be human after all.

    I lost time looking at other silent letters in the grid. la(H)ti, kno(W)ledge, (K)new. It looked so promising, since they matched the theme answers for H, W and K exactly. I wonder if that blind alley was a coincidence, or a constructed trap.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Actually, hold on. Joon’s comment about transaddition overload rang true when I read it, but maybe that’s because I had one in last week’s WSJ as well.

    But then I went back and counted, and the most recent WSJ one I can find with TAs is June 19th, and the last MGWCC I can find with them is #621, which was in April.

    So maybe not as overplayed as we thought? But now that we’re talking about it I’ll still avoid for a bit maybe…

    • Susie says:

      Moratorium on transadditions? Say it isn’t so, it’s one of my favorites!

    • cyco says:

      I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Matt! There are only so many ways to meta (I assume) so they’re bound to repeat.

      I’m not sure if you’re privy to the WSJ’s publication schedule of your puzzles, but this week both happened to be constructed by you and feature the transaddition mechanism, so that’s probably why it felt (over) familiar to some solvers.

  5. Will Nediger says:

    Wow, I was convinced I had the first step because I noticed that you can replace the first sound by C in every case to get a better example: C as in CALM, CASH, COLLEGE, CRIER, and CONNOR. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to go from there, and now I know why!

  6. Alex B. says:

    I’m so mad I didn’t get this one, not because I had any idea how to solve the meta (I didn’t) but because I knew the answer had to be a five-letter word with a silent first letter that’s a homophone of a verb.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Did you actually run this and then fail to pick out the right answer, or did you only think of doing it after the fact?

      • Alex B. says:

        I did it badly before (it gave way too many results), and thought of this way of doing it after the fact.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          I see. Well, it’s a clever approach, albeit not in the spirit of solving the meta. Now that you’ve brought it up and alluded to different ways of executing it, I’ve thought of another way of doing it that would be even simpler than your final version. That simplicity comes at the cost of an additional assumption that isn’t fully justified (viz., that the homophone would be spelled like the solution sans silent initial); still, it would have been good enough to yield the solution, in the event.

  7. Funny, I got this week’s WSJ pretty much immediately, but whiffed on this one. I generally don’t think to consider word meaning when solving these — my mind wants to look at the words as abstract assemblages rather than meaning-carriers. Wouldn’t have occurred to me in a thousand years to try PAEAN for PSALM or HAIL for HONOR. Oh well, back to week 1 this Friday!

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I found Paean by typing P_ _ _ _ on crossword with psalm in “The clue you’re working on” box. Similarly for Hail with “honor”

      • Garrett says:

        Crossword Tracker gives you PEACE and PAEAN while Crossword Nexus gives you PAEAN and PATHS

        • Alex B. says:

          If anyone is curious, Crossword Nexus sees the clue [Ways of righteousness, in Psalm 23] with answer PATHS from a 2004 CrosSynergy puzzle, which leads it to that answer.

    • jefe says:

      Same here (got WSJ, whiffed here). It never occurred to me to think of synonyms. Found other silent letters in the grid instead.

  8. Garrett says:

    I forgot to mention that an obvi thing as a better example is the NATO phonetic alphabet. As it turns out, the only one that works for the length indicator is Whiskey.

    Also, it seems clear that the better example has to be one which does not have a leading silent letter. So easy to change PSALM to PALM, and GNASH to GASH, but the the length indicator tells you that’s wrong, and the technique breaks down in the next three.

  9. I got this one in a bit of a roundabout way. It took me a while to figure out the first step, and before I got that, I was trying to do transdeletions of words in the grid. Of the four 7- and 8-letter words in the grid (ESOPHAGI, TWISTIER, RAMPAGE, ANOTHER), only TWISTIER has a W. Likewise the only 6-letter words with a P are are PANERA and POLISH, the only 6-letter words with a G are DINGER, FETING, and and IMAGES; then KNEW/DPRK/PEKE/KLAW/KEIR, and LAHTI/BOOTH.

    This formed a pretty limited search space for transdeletions, which eventually led me to realize that the words I was getting were synonyms of PSALM/GNASH/KNOWLEDGE/WRYER/HONOR.

  10. jefe says:

    I assume the clue for KLAW was a direct reference to your WSJ metapuzzle?

  11. lkeigwin says:

    I too stalled on grid answers with silent letters, certain there was a connection.
    (K)NEW, (A)IOLI, BA(L)M, LA(H)TI, LI(S)LE, IAM(B). A(I)DE?

    Excitement amped when I spotted other silent letters in the themes answers.
    (P)SA(L)M, (K)NO(W)LE(D)GE. Pfft.

    KNEW & KNOWLEDGE and NOSE (KNOWS?) was a slight distraction. But eventually I went searching for same-first-letter synonyms and it all came together quickly.

  12. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I had a busy weekend and couldn’t devote as much time to this as normal, but count me in the crowd that hunted silent letters for far too long. I also kept trying to find better answers (particularly WINDING or WINDIER [with a long I!] for TWISTIER) or x-letter words in the clues and grid rather than synonyms.

    My foothold into the idea turned out to be WITTIER, followed by the obvious GRIND. I might have come up with these without length markings, but it was actually very helpful that there were very few common 3-letter words in English: key, kit, kid, kin, keg, and ken. Without the length markers I don’t think I would have solved it in the time I gave myself.

  13. Seth says:

    Uggghhh. I thought of this idea right away, but dismissed it without trying because I figured that coming up with synonyms of those words was just WAY too broad of a directive. Googling synonyms of those words now, GNASH has GRATE and GRIND, KEN doesn’t show up at all, and HONOR has HAIL and HEED. Even if I’d started looking for synonyms, I probably would still have dismissed it.

    I tried SO many other things:

    – Obviously the silent letters spell nothing
    – The sounded letters after the silent letters spell nothing
    – I thought maybe there would be other entries in the grid, of the designated length, that start with either the silent letters or the sounded letters. No dice.
    – Maybe there are clues that start with those letters, or something. That didn’t seem to go anywhere.
    – I even noticed that the last word of most of the themers sound like other words when you take out the sounded letter: PALM, GASH, COLLEGE, WIRE. But HONOR goes nowhere.
    – Maybe there are other words in the grid with the same silent letters. It starts to work, with KNEW and LAHTI, but then…nothing for W.

    This one was frustrating, because on its face it seemed like it was going to be fairly simple. Bummer.

  14. Buzz says:

    Coming up with the meta answer does not require understanding anything about the puzzle architecture. (I know, “Boo! Hiss!”)

    The shortcut? Simply key on “sounds like” in “This week’s contest answer sounds like something you’ll want to do after solving this meta.” and scan the list here:

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Sometimes I think that Matt should be a bit more cagey with his descriptions of the contest answer.

  15. Jeff D says:

    Not sure if Matt is still looking here, but I went with “ROOST” because the extra letters in theme-answer order give “REWST”, which sounds like “ROOST”, which can mean “to settle down or rest” (, and similarly fits the theme of paying attention to the sound of words much the same way that WREST/REST did. Since it was in a valid order, I never even thought of trying a different order.

    Definitely agree WREST is a bit tighter of an answer, but I felt like that was a pretty clear click. Maybe Pokemon is just getting in my head too much :)

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I’d give you credit on the strength of that explanation, but shouldn’t you have submitted REWST? Submitting ROOST instead is like submitting REST instead of WREST (which I imagine Matt accepted if anyone did submit it, but technically is not what the prompt asked for).

      • Jeff D says:

        Hmm, that’s a fair point. Though I think “sounds like something you’ll want to do” can be taken in a figurative sense, e.g. “some rest sounds great right now,” with the backing double-meaning of “sounds” fitting with how you derived the answer.

  16. Scott says:

    The puzzle reminds me of this recent conversation:

    So we went out to eat over the weekend and I could see there was going to be a wait. I asked the hostess to put our name on the list and told her it was “Clay.” She asked how it was spelled. I said “C as in Seashell, L as in Element, A as in Eta, and Y as in Wipeout.” … We never did get a table!

  17. Mary Ellen Price says:

    K AS IN KNOWLEDGE was my foothold into solving because there aren’t that many three-letter words starting with K, and KEN for KNOWLEDGE popped into my head right away. I found the others fairly quickly except I had to back solve for a “T” to find HAIL in LAHTI. I doubt that I would have solved without the enumerations. I rarely solve a week 4 meta so I’m over the moon even though it’s an easier one.

  18. Streroto says:

    Figured out the answer but never could backsolve. Like many others her WSJ came relatively easily but I just could not make connections like PAEAN to PSALM. Not ever. I am a week 1-3 guy and happy for it. my recurring 3 meta streaks are good enough for me.

    Stay well all

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