MGWCC #648

crossword 7:20 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #648 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Rise and Fall” by guest constructor chris king. for this week 5 puzzle, the instructions tell us an intriguing halloween story: A couple of trick-or-treaters are going around the neighborhood tonight, but they need a map to navigate the shortcuts and pitfalls of their quest. Who is this pair? well, what are the theme answers?

i actually have no idea. i haven’t had any thoughts about this meta that have gone anywhere. it’s a big grid, 21×21. there are two circled squares, one near the upper left and one near the lower left. (that one might be related to the longish answer at 63a, {Starting corner for some board games} BOTTOM LEFT, but it also might not.) it’s possible that the pair in the instructions start out at these squares somehow, but i wasn’t able to spell anything useful boggle-style starting there.

the title suggests looking up and down rather than side-to-side, and there are a bunch of medium-length down answers, but i don’t see anything interesting hidden in those down answers, reading either up or down.

here’s something that might be relevant: “going around” in the instructions had me looking at the squares surrounding each circle. the upper left one spells PARADOYS reading clockwise from the top left, and the lower left one spells RAAKETSE. this might be nothing, but i noticed that if you leave off the last letter, you can spell PARADOX and RACKETS by changing one letter in each string. that had me looking for other places where that can happen in a 3×3 region, but i didn’t find any.

what other hints are there in the instructions? there are some more suggestive words like map, shortcuts, and pitfalls. do i have any idea what to do with those hints? no, no i do not. shortcuts might be suggesting words reading straight through black squares in the grid, i guess? i don’t know about pitfalls.

i am just about out of time, and i still have no real leads. it’s a little frustrating, because i have good reason to believe this is a dynamite meta, and i just can’t even see the first step, but hunting through a 21×21 grid for anything out of the ordinary is not my idea of a good time. i know i’m supposed to be able to find something to go on near those two circles, but i just am not seeing it. there are, maybe, scrunched-up state names near there? (KANSAS in the lower corner, perhaps IDAHO in the upper) that’s map-related, but i can’t make the pattern continue.

at any rate, i’m giving up. i wish i had something more to say. as usual, let me know in the comments how you fared, and what i missed.

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36 Responses to MGWCC #648

  1. Brian Schoner says:

    I am about 99% sure that this is a Chutes and Ladders board (hence the clues at 1A and 121A) – using only the even rows and columns gives a 10×10 grid that starts at the circled L and ends at the circled N, matching the game board. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out a series of rolls/moves that would spell anything useful.

  2. Conrad says:

    You map the tops and bottoms of the Chutes and Ladders (following the game board order), using only the even rows/columns of the grid.

    They map to: LAKERSFAN (ladder bottoms) NICHOLSON (matching ladder tops) and DOCTORWIFE (chute tops) OFJOEBIDEN (matching chute bottoms).

    The answer is JACK and JILL.

    That is the most elegantly complex meta that I can remember.

  3. Joshua Kosman says:

    Brian’s got the right start: There’s a Chutes & Ladders board in the 10×10 grid made by the even rows and columns.

    If you map the locations of the ladders in a C&L board onto that 10×10 grid, the starts and then the ends of the ladders spell LAKERS FAN NICHOLSON.

    Do the same with the chutes and they spell DOCTOR WIFE OF JOE BIDEN.

    Meta answer: JACK & JILL

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    192 correct entries on Chris’s magnificent meta. I’m on my phone so can’t type the solution out in full now, but the answer was Jack & Jill and the grid represents a chutes & ladders board.

  5. Joshua Kosman says:

    Kudos to Chris, this is really a mind-bender!

    I’m curious about how constrained the construction was, relative to the complexity of the solve. By my reckoning, these are the requirements:

    • three theme entries, two of them extremely short
    • no black squares at the intersection of an even column and row
    • 38 specific letters in specific locations

    My inexperienced guess is that the second one is the bear and that the other two are relatively light constraints in the scheme of things, making this not all that hard to assemble. Is that correct?

    • Christopher King says:

      Also included in the theme is WHITESNAKE / YELLOWBILE, since I need to convey the board we are using is the classic white/yellow. There’s other editions of C&L which have slight variants from the classic Milton Bradley version, so this was added to the group of themers. WHITESNAKE has fun double duty, since it is the color white snake, the alternate name of chutes.

      I deeply care about clean fill, and I wanted my Week 5 meta to have clean fill despite the amount of constraint. And when you wrestle those 38 letters, it becomes actually pretty hard to fill the grid with clean fill. And of course, you try to place a cheater square somewhere or redo a section of a puzzle, and you put a black square on one of the 100, and you have to retrack. I don’t think the phrase “this grid fills itself” is right, but there was usually only one path most of this grid could go if the fill was expected to be good, and I was walking down that balance beam with an eye on the prize.

      I am beyond pleased with how nice this grid came out, and an entry like ASNEAT or MACER was the result of extreme compromise battling different entries. If I spent another month working on the fill, I’m not sure I could improve on it that much. More flow, less crunch.

      • Mike says:

        Amazing work; take a well-deserved round of applause!

        I did not catch the white/yellow bit, nor am I enough of a C&L completist to know the significance. Regardless, getting “DACTOR” WIFE off of my google image search did not hurt the solvability….

      • Joshua Kosman says:

        Bravo. What I meant to say in my original comment but forgot was that I marveled at how clean the fill was. Truly an exemplary job.

  6. Mutman says:

    I had the grid and the starting spot, but never made the C&L connection. Rats!

    Jack and Jill would have been my Hail Mary, but submitted Shrek and Donkey since they were on a ‘quest’. Plus I liked that movie.

    Finely done!

  7. lkeigwin says:

    Correct. Notice the across clues for the top left “chute” and the bottom left “ladder”.

    The trick is to layout the TEN even rows and columns into a 10×10 grid and number them beginning with one at the BOTTOMLEFT, in a serpentine fashion, finishing with 100 at the upper left.

    Then map out the beginning and end of each chute to the letters on the 10×10 grid, using the new numbering. Do the same with the ladders. That will give you a simple clue to the meta answer.

  8. Whether you are #TeamNope or #TeamYep, please vote in today’s election!

    A million thanks to Matt who let me publish my puzzle as part of MGWCC. Unbelievably, he even allowed me to make some quick edits to my fill to improve it, and we were double checking and finalizing all the way to Thursday night/Friday morning, and it means a lot how much rein Matt gave me when he clearly didn’t have to.

    I hope all of you enjoyed the puzzle! Looking forward to Matt’s writeup on Friday. And if you solved this one, PLEASE send me photos of your work, either at my twitter @ckingsc or my email cking.gow[at]

    Thanks everyone, take care, and Happy Halloween!

    • Bill Katz says:

      I have to ask – are familiar with the other famous Chris King, maker of bicycle parts? You are clearly too young to be him, as I bought one of his headsets 30 years ago. He makes some of the best bicycle bearings (headset, bottom brackets, hubs) around.

      • Christopher King says:

        I am not, sadly. I have discovered his name while Googling myself, but as far as I know I am not part of the cycling King dynasty.

  9. Brian Schoner says:

    Argh, so close! But a brilliant meta regardless.

  10. john says:

    I got the chutes and ladders idea, but when i looked up the board, it appeared there were many versions over the years, very different. So it never occurred to me to transpose the chutes and ladders from these games to the grid. I suppose now when i look again there is one that is more predominant of late, but seeing the variations, i wasn’t thinking of going that route.

    • Dave says:

      I was surprised at how uniform the positions of the chutes and ladders were in the different versions I saw, especially if you ignore some very old “Snakes and Ladders” boards. On the other hand, the board I found had the second chute starting at square 48 instead of 47, making it “D ACTOR WIFE OF JOE BIDEN.” Apparently she played herself in a couple of TV series. Was this intentional, Chris, or were you working only from the other board?

      Like others, I wasted a lot of time looking for two series of numbers to represent rolls/spins for two players. I still wish that had been the final step instead of just the chute/ladder locations. Still, great meta!

      • Christopher King says:

        I was working on the white/yellow board that was used for decades by Milton Bradley, and probably the most famous version of the game. The grid includes the entries WHITESNAKE/YELLOWBILE to reference this edition, since there are slight discrepancies in some of the new boards.

        Exactly right about dicerolls. There aren’t any, but I also didn’t want to add a bunch of numbers to the clues to simulate them. In this grid, you just needed to look at the chutes and the ladders. If I had a supercomputer running CrossFire, maybe I would have tried to make the 100 squares spell something, but the fact is given the 38 letters that are the constraints, I don’t think any grid with clean fill could have been produced. But the title “Rise and Fall” hopefully gave enough solvers the confidence to look at the ladders and the chutes, which when connected made the right cluephrases.

  11. pannonica says:

    So glad I didn’t pursue this one.

  12. MarkR says:

    I submitted the full names, since the meta called out a particular Jack and a particular Jill. I guess I’m a little surprised the more generic “Jack and Jill” was acceptable, since you could come up with that guess just from the title and instructions. But I got on the board, so I can’t complain.

    High rating for this puzzle. This was a really fun one to work through.

  13. Pomona47 says:

    With the trick or treating prompt, I tried SO HARD to fit it into a Candy Land board (which also has shortcuts and pitfalls). Great and complex meta!!

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    My first thought when I solved this was: how long did it take to write?

    Chris explained in an e-mail: “I started it in 2019…”

  15. Craig Mazin says:

    Sometimes I get snagged on Week 2’s and feel like an idiot…

    …and sometimes I fill in a Week 5, look at it for ten minutes, and say “Oh. Chutes and Ladders. Let’s do this!”

    The hints, IMO, were pitched perfectly for a Week 5. The title, the sneaky-if-you-don’t-look-back-at-them clues for PARA and STEP, and most importantly, the clue for TEN.

    There was no whiff of unfair play on this. Printing the C&L board out and writing the letters on the board spaces helped me go faster (although admittedly I didn’t catch the YELLOW/WHITE instruction, so I also had the DACTOR problem for a bit… but then made the correction).

    This is one of my favorite metas, Chris. I love a theme that lays one game on top of another. Bravo!

  16. tabstop says:

    Argh — I took the even rows/columns clue to refer to size rather than position, so was thinking I needed to add letters outside the grid to make ten of them 22 long. Unsurprisingly, this went nowhere.

  17. Hector says:

    Fantastic puzzle. The circled start and end squares, together with the hint about starting at the BOTTOMLEFT, made me fairly certain that we were supposed to somehow trace a path from the start to the finish squares. I wonder if others were also locked into that assumption for a while?

  18. Magoo says:

    Things I did know: a 10×10 board for (what I call) Snakes & Ladders is represented in white cells. Things I didn’t know: (a) in the USA this is apparently called Chutes & Ladders, and (b) apparently there is a standard board in white & yellow. Ouch!

  19. Tom Burnakis says:

    SUPER satisfying puzzle and masterful work. Every time I look at it, or someone comments on it, I see something else that makes you go “DANG that is good!” I have to admit it was not a 100% start to finish for me because someone had to slap me to make me see the answer that I had written down the side of the board, but it is so close, and this is my very first 5 I believe, that I don’t care that I only got an A not an A + !

  20. paolo p. says:

    absolutely genius

  21. Jay Miller says:

    Hi Chris! Great puzzle. What slowed me down a little was that there are actually two different Chutes and Ladders game boards (and, not knowing, the one I chose was the “wrong” one). The difference is minor, but on the “wrong” board one chute starts at square 48 and the “correct” board at square 47. This changes “Doctor wife” to “D actor wife” (O becomes an A). In the beginning I was only looking at the entry points on the chutes and ladders so it was a meaningful difference. After I added the other ends it was no big deal.

  22. Thomas says:

    Oh wow. I got credit for JACK NICHOLSON, JILL BIDEN and never understood until these comments why it was them. It makes so much more sense now.

  23. Jay Miller says:

    Now that’s an odd pair.

  24. Daniel Tomkoski says:

    I’m just annoyed that I had probably 1.5 months headstart on this, knew it was the the milton bradley chutes and ladders board, and still never solved the meta. Another great puzzle from Chris though, always a pleasure.

  25. Tom Bassett says:

    I got the Chutes & Ladders reference and have a 10×10 grid with only those 100 letters with straight lines for the ladders and squiggles for the chutes.

    and struggled to start with the “L” and end with the “N” to find anything from this.

    I should have remembered – two names, so you need two different systems – one per name.

    This construction – yes, one of the more complex I’ve seen – I am in awe of this.

  26. Myelbow says:

    Dagnabbit. I got so close on this one! I saw the “Chutes and Ladders” theme and figured out the 10 x 10 board layout, but didn’t know that this game has a standard layout of chutes and ladders. Spent all my time fruitlessly looking for words in the grid and the clues that could be preceded by “PARA” and “STEP.” Clever meta, though–still gotta tip my hat to it.

  27. Craig says:

    I saw the Chutes and Ladders theme relatively quickly, but then tried unduly long to figure out how to proceed, thinking that we would have some chaining mechanism using strings of the same letters to form the chutes and ladders.

    Finally on Tuesday morning, I pulled up board images and found the ends of the various chutes and ladders. I was confused at first by the 21 to 42 ladder, which on the board I was looking at begins at 40, but the child using the ladder is one level lower. I found that a bit tricky and it messed up a few of my letters. (I never played the game as a child it turns out.)

    Anyway, this was a tour de force construction and should be up for an Orca Award this year.

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