MGWCC #647

crossword 3:09 
meta 1:15 


hello and welcome to episode #647 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Time to Reorder”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we are looking for what it often takes for puzzlers to solve tough metas. what are the theme answers? well, there are two things going on here. first, each of the long across answers is a spelled-out numeral:

  • {Silver site} FIVE THIRTY-EIGHT. tricky clue, but that’s nate silver, founder of that website.
  • {When Kennedy defeated Nixon} NINETEEN SIXTY.
  • {Constantly} TWENTY-FOUR SEVEN.

second, and maybe first—since i, at least, noticed this before i even got to the theme answers—but there is an implied T before the start of 1-across, because the clue is {Overused, as a phrase} and the answer that appears to fit into the grid is RITE, when it should obviously be TRITE. what’s going on there?

well, the first thing i tried was looking at the letters in the squares numbered 5, 38, 19, 60, 24, and 7. that’s ENYOLS, which … is nothing. i suppose that’s not surprising, since this wouldn’t be much of a week 4 puzzle if that’s all there was to it. it also would not explain the mysterious outside-the-box T in the upper left.

the next thing i noticed was that the numerals 538, 1960, and 24/7 contain each of the digits 0 to 9 exactly once each. aha! based on the title, then, this is a reordering of those digits. so we probably want to just look at the letters in boxes 0–9. what’s in box #0? why, that extra T, of course, as it’s to the left of box #1. taking those letters and reading them off in the order 5381960247, we get ETERNITIES, which is indeed what it might take puzzlers to solve tough metas… although that was not the case with me this week, as it all fell rather quickly for me. (unlike last week’s, which i never got.)

i thought this puzzle was quite good, but really much easier than i was expecting for a week 4. i’m not complaining, mind you—still nursing a severely wounded pride after missing last week, and getting this one more or less right away didn’t hurt. although the mechanism is pretty easy to suss out, the grid constraints aren’t insignificant, since the reordering of whatever ten-letter final answer matt wanted has to form valid entries at the top of the grid. for example, he couldn’t use NINETEEN OH SIX for the middle themer, since then he’d have to switch the T and I at 0/6. ETS would work at 5-across, but IRITE isn’t anything at, um, “0-across”.

this is also a perfectly apt title, as it’s an in-the-language phrase that hints at both the mechanism (“reorder”) and the final answer (“time”). the second part is only clear in retrospect, of course, but it’s a nice little bonus aha.

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

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

33 Responses to MGWCC #647

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    For a second week, one of the theme’s elements seems extrinsic to the key mechanism. That all ten digits are used exactly once, while it catches the eye, turns out to be fundamentally unrelated to the method of extracting the solution, which could be applied just the same were some digits reused or unused.

    IMHO, this theme would have been strengthened had a) not all digits been featured and b) the solution been given by taking those featured in numerical order (thus reordering them from their order in the featured entries). That way, reordering of digits would be a critical step in solving the puzzle, rather than, at best, an incidental observation about it.

    (It should go without saying that a) this is merely my opinion, with which reasonable people may disagree and b) if it’s critical, that is only because Matt sets such a high standard for these puzzles, week in and week out.)

    • tabstop says:

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding your idea, but are you suggesting you should just read the “highlighted” letters (however you are considering them to be indicated) in top-to-bottom, left-to-right order in the grid? That’s already the default order to me.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        My default order when trying to go from clues to solution is that of the hints, rather than that of the hinted-at squares, but I concede that it sometimes goes the other way, so I take your point.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I read it twice but still don’t understand the suggestion. That each digit is used once nudges the solver toward looking at the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 you see on the top row of crosswords.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        It does nudge the solver towards looking at individual digits, but that’s all it does: once he thinks to do that, he would get the same answer even if the middle clue was, say, 1920, with 6 never used. The use of all 10 digits thus felt to me like sort of the opposite of a red herring—or, if you will, like a red herring dragged along the trail instead of across it, to help out the less keen-nosed dogs. To my mind, that’s not as elegant as a clue that arises naturally from the theme mechanism.

        That’s why I suggested going the opposite way (e.g. a single clue of FOURNINETY or something, to clue the letters in boxes 0,4,9 = TEN). The hint that something needs to be reordered could then lead the solver to reordering the digits of the theme entry by numerical order and using them as keys. Maybe it’s not a great idea.

        A smaller tweak that would have made the theme feel tighter to me would have been to make the solution a word that related more closely to the theme, such as DECIMALISM.

    • The fact that they were all different digits was the only way I got this. I tried a bunch of other ideas with numbers first before noticing that Matt used all ten digits, and that was a loud enough a-ha that I looked at the top row and got the answer shortly after that. So it seemed to me to be a rather critical step. Plus the letters in that top row have to be literally reordered to get the answer, so I don’t understand that objection.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        OK, I more or less see how you and others are looking at this: the solution is formed by reordering the first 10 letters per the order given by the theme entries. I had looked at it as the theme entries directing me to a sequence of letters. From that point of view, it’s all the same whether the sequence is drawn from consecutive boxes, or not, whether it contains duplicates, or not.

        Perhaps it would have been better had the “reordering” been applied to any line but the first. The line in question would have to be indicated somehow, but that way, the only viable way to interpret the theme would be as a way to permute of a given sequence of letters, as opposed to how I interpreted it, as a sequence of “addresses” that happened to come from a contiguous set, but could have come from anywhere.

        • David says:

          FWIW, you’re not alone in thinking the unique digits aspect was potentially unnecessary, and just treating the meta as a “go to the number and extract a letter” mechanism rather than an anagramming/reordering. It was very possible to solve without hitting that step or understanding the meaning of “reorder.” For me, realizing there was a zero led me to treating the themers as just digits now that 0 was valid, and so solving it without seeing those two things.

          Put another way, the intended mechanism was reordering, but I might disagree that they “have to be literally reordered.” I’m idly curious what % of solvers would be characterizing this as a reordering/anagramming if that word hadn’t been in the title—my instinct is the % would go down, but I’m biased by already not being in that %age.

  2. I somehow didn’t even notice the RITE -> TRITE at 1A. I just naturally assumed that the 0 in the answer would come from square 10, which is also a T and gave me the right answer. Lucky coincidence or intentional construction?

    • David Plass says:

      It bothered me so much! But I couldn’t do anything with it… that T…

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Coincidence — the T comes from the 0-square from TRITE, which is otherwise left unexplained

      • Paul Coulter says:

        I read the choice of T as significant, a reflection of the title. T is a common abbreviation for time, at least in the world of British cryptics. Not knowing yet that the final answer related to time, it confirmed my suspicion that we had to reorder from 0 to 9, starting from the T. Good puzzle. Enjoyed it, Matt.

  3. C. Y. Hollander says:

    My immediate guess after seeing T+ENYOLS was that the solution would be TYLENOLS, something that can be reordered (if prescribed) and that might be taken for a headache, perhaps the sort that puzzling over a tough meta might induce. I’m glad I didn’t submit that.

  4. Tonyrobots says:

    Alas, didn’t manage it this week, but I blame that on a lack of QT with my clipboard due to competing demands. One thing to note, even if you didn’t pick up the T=0 bit because of the implied T in (T)RITE, you could interpret 0 as 10, and there is a T there too. Nice construction!

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 282 right answers this week.

  6. Mutman says:

    Another fail for me. I saw the uniqueness of the 10 digits, but was looking for something other than the top to reorder.

    I liked the BUTTE/HELENA clues and was hung there a while. Would have been even cooler if they were in their relatives positions from one another (NE/SW), but they weren’t.

    • David says:

      This matches my quibble—the title points to reordering, but the mechanism for solving is actually to take the numbers of the themers in the precise order they’ve been given. Most of my dead-end time was spent thinking of ways to reorganize the themer numbers to make them generate something usable. Not unreasonable, I hope, as it’s applying the title’s hint to the three long acrosses that are the clear hook for the meta.

      I gather in reading the post and comments that the thinking behind the title was solvers must reorder the letters in that top row of the grid. But my brain processes this mechanism as “for each numeral in the themer, find/index the letter at the corresponding square” rather than “take these 10 letters and put them in a new order,” due to the top row’s role in the theme not being clear until you’ve already solved it. I see where that’s coming from, so this is just me personally/idiosyncratically feeling it a bit disconnected from how I conceptualize what’s happening.

      In retrospect, feels like this was not actually too tough, and I mostly missed it because I was trying to *make* it tougher by messing with the themer numerals, based on some combo of the week and the title. It’s actually a pretty straight-forward mechanism, so it’s a bit funny that I feel like I’d have had a better shot if I just wasn’t looking for a Week 4 trick or hadn’t looked at the title.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I don’t get the objection — you’re reordering the squares 0-9 TRITEEISEN using the code you’re given by the theme entries

        • David says:

          Like I said, with the benefit of hindsight and others’ explanations, I can see that that’s the intent of “reorder” in the title. It just sent me in exactly the wrong direction, as 1) I applied it in step 1 to the themers, changing number order when that was the exact opposite of the mechanic, and 2) even when solving it after a hint, I didn’t spot that the themers were a unique 0-9 set. So I thought of it as “hunt down letters in the grid by going to the matching square” rather than “take this defined set and reorder them.”

          #2 was probably informed by the dead end that Joon mentioned, going to the grid’s squares for 5, 38, 19, 60, 24, and 7. I also tried going to 5, 30, 8, 19, 60, 20, 4, and 7, so my brain was very much thinking about this as a hunt-and-index situation. Which is why, even when I realized that the themers were just digits, I was still thinking of it as “go to 5 and take the letter, go to 3 and take the letter,” etc., rather than “ah, treat the themers as an anagram ordering.”

          That’s fair, and I don’t mean to suggest it’s not—in retrospect, it’s similar to lots of metapuzzle final steps from all sorts of outlets. My thought process and dead ends just meant that even after a hint got me to the solution, both I and the person who gave me the hint were reflexively griping that the title didn’t make sense, and until I read Joon’s post, I thought the title was just outright misleading because I hadn’t seen how it related.

          Maybe that’s the better way to articulate what bugged me slightly—it was very possible to solve the puzzle and not understand what the title meant, or even think it was hinting *away* from the right mechanism rather than towards it, by just never seeing that the solve was about reordering a set of unique digits.

  7. Scott says:

    I was getting close but just couldn’t close the deal. I should have written the numbers down differently and maybe I would have seen the pattern.

  8. JPL says:

    I had the exact opposite experience as joon – I got last week’s right away but couldn’t get anywhere on this one! I saw the “missing” T but got hung up on trying to re-number that as square 1, square 1 as square 2, etc. Different strokes and all that…

    If I had noticed the ten unique digits, I think that would have helped push me in the right direction.

  9. Jason T says:

    I’d like to take a moment to appreciate how remarkable a feat of construction this was: Matt was able to find two extremely in-the-language phrases (FIVE THIRTY-EIGHT and TWENTY-FOUR SEVEN) that account for 6 digits… and both phrases happened to be exactly 15 letters long! The remaining digits were dealt with by a very cluable year that fit symmetrically in the middle of the grid. And on top of that, he found a ten-letter word that, pre-reordering, formed usable grid entries in the top row (or part of a usable entry in the case of ENter). This was either extremely skillful, extremely lucky, or a bit of both!

  10. Susie says:

    I also appreciate the slightly easier week 4 after ignoring last week’s very explicit clue and submitting BURPLES.

  11. Margaret says:

    Maybe my coffee hasn’t kicked in but I barely understand the explanation for “reordering.” I absolutely didn’t see the ten unique digits at all and didn’t reorder them as far as I could tell. I started by writing 5, 38, 19, 60 etc and seeing what letters corresponded in the grid. When that didn’t work, I tried 5, 3, 8, etc and when I realized my extraneous T was the zero I was done. The click was so strong I never even looked at the title honestly! Easiest week 4 ever for me. Which is good because I’ve hardly gotten past week one all of 2020.

    • jefe says:

      You reorder 0123456789=TRITEISEN into 5381960247=ETERNITIES.

      • Margaret says:

        Thanks. I didn’t need to reorder anything because I never saw the unique digits, I used the numbers in the order given, thus no “reordering.”

  12. Silverskiesdean says:

    Initially, I got ENYOLS and thought it might take a “SLY ONE” to solve the meta. The only reason I didn’t go with that, was it should read “A SLY ONE” and also, that wasn’t elegant enough for a Gaffney META.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I saw SLY ONE, too, on my first try, and also thought it wasn’t good enough. I wonder if anyone guessed this as a Hail Mary.

  13. Myelbow says:

    Genuinely do not understand people’s quibbles with this meta. Like Evan, the mechanism clicked for me once I wrote the theme entries out numerically and saw there were no duplicate digits. The suggestions people are giving for “improving” this puzzle seem like they would result either in a completely unsolvable puzzle, or an unconstructable one. (Or, in some cases, they just seem mad that the method they were determined to apply to solving this meta turned out not to be the correct one.) The worst I can say is that it might be a hair too easy for a Week 4 puzzle, but other solvers’ mileage may vary.

  14. Tom Bassett says:

    I was attempting a different “reorder”

    five thirty eight >>> 5/38, no, I reordered to 8, 35
    19/60 >>> nine-teen and six-ty >>> ninety and sixteen, 90,16 (could not find a “90” to save my lack of a soul)
    24/7 >>>

    but failed.

    Now that I’ve seen the unique 0-9, that “missing T” should have bothered me more and helped.

    But a nice and solid week 4, still a shelf higher than my arms can usually reach, but I’ve been taking stretching exercises lately, trying to get up to that shelf more often.

  15. Seth Cohen says:

    Wish I’d gotten this one! Great meta, and I’m really impressed that the top entries work out so well. That seems like a really amazing find.

    I knew something was wrong at 1A, but I thought the answer was supposed to be ROTE — repetitious means overused, in a sense.

  16. Charles Stevens says:

    Great puzzle. Couldn’t solve the meta. Matt has a uniquely clever mind.

Comments are closed.