MGWCC #649

crossword 3:23 
meta 0:15 


hello and welcome to episode #649 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Look Both Ways”. i solved this week 1 puzzle without the instructions, as is my wont. what are the theme answers?

well, there are no long answers in the grid. that makes for a very high word count (84). is there anything else going on? i noticed right away that the clue for 1-across, {Cartoon character in the “wabbit season” arguments with Elmer and Bugs} DAFFY, seemed to be related to the answer for 1-down, {“Get your head down!”} DUCK. and indeed, that was the key—in ten different places in the grid, where an across and down clue share a number, the across clue can be answered with a two-word phrase that combines both answers:

  • 1: {Cartoon character in the “wabbit season” arguments with Elmer and Bugs} DAFFY / {“Get your head down!”} DUCK, as already mentioned.
  • 6: {It has no corners} OVAL, but also the OVAL / OFFICE, the latter clued as {Principal’s place}.
  • 10: {Pac-12 team} UTAH / UTES {Sport-___ (vehicles for active types)}.
  • 28: {Buttery bakery buy} BRIOCHE / BUN {Feature of some hairstyles}.
  • 34: {It restrains a dog (and the person walking it)} LEASH / LAW {Field of study for John Grisham and Erle Stanley Gardner}.
  • 37: {Otologist’s concern} EAR / EXAM {Student’s challenge}.
  • 45: {Evening plans at a restaurant} DINNER / DATE {Mediterranean fruit}.
  • 47: {End of lunch hour, often} ONE / O’CLOCK {Word whose apostrophe replaces the letters “F THE”}.
  • 57: {Start of a question that might be answered with “Later this afternoon” or “Next week”} WHEN / WILL {Shortz or Smith}. i found this to be the most awkward theme answer, since WHEN WILL is not really a standalone phrase, unlike all the others.
  • 58: {Brian Williams works for them} NBC / NEWS {The latest info}.

taking the letters in those squares gives DOUBLE DOWN, an apt phrase that obviously must be the meta answer. checking the instructions, they appear to ask for a 10-letter phrase, which fits the bill.

this is a very cool meta that i really enjoyed. but gosh, it seemed awfully subtle for a week 1, which typically has a theme so obvious you can’t miss it. there would have been ways to make this one really obvious, easy enough for a week 1, but they also would have made it a lot less enjoyable to notice. as a dumb example, *ing all the special clues would have enabled a solver to just read off the letters to get DOUBLE DOWN without even noticing how the theme actually works. a slightly more sophisticated presentation would have been to just omit the clues for those ten down answers (DUCK, OFFICE, etc.). that would have made the theme more obvious, but even somebody who didn’t notice it could still arrive at the answer. i very much prefer the actual meta, but perhaps it could have been saved for a week 2.

let’s talk about the construction for a moment. there are no fewer than twenty theme answers in the grid. they have to be in ten alliterative pairs, sharing a starting square, and arranged in order in the grid to spell out the meta answer. that is a tremendous constraint—which explains why the word count is so high. in the center of the grid, the themers LEASH / LAW and EAR / EXAM even overlap, necessitating the weird answer {Harvard lecturer ___ Corey (whose name includes a middle initial and who isn’t nearly famous enough to be in a crossword but I really needed this entry to make this grid happen so just work with me here)} ALEX W. there are two other, less restrictive intersections at the E’s of BRIOCHE & OFFICE and DATE & WHEN.

from a purely architectural standpoint, it would have been more elegant if the ten theme pairs had been the only places in the grid where across and down entries shared a clue number. as it is, in this grid we also have 25 MISC / MOANA, 26 PGA / PIER, and 51 GAMETES / GO HOME. while i’d love to see a double-duty clue for both GAMETES and GAMETES GO HOME—something like {Exasperated cry from one who’s fed up with spermatozoa and ova}—i can understand that the grid was already viciously constrained. i’d bet a pretty penny that matt started out the construction with the intent of having only those ten pairs, and just couldn’t make it work. overall, i’m very glad we got what we did get!

bits & pieces:

  • {Former NBA player / NCAA coach Haskins} CLEM. this particular haskins played a key role in integrating college basketball in the south, and it caught my eye because nearby in the grid is {King or Quixote} DON, and DON haskins is yet another college basketball coach who played a key role in integrating college basketball, as the coach of the texas western team that won the 1966 NCAA title with an all-black starting five.
  • {Winner of the 1968 Fidelity Bankers Invitational tennis tournament, which was held in Richmond, Virginia} ASHE. this clue seems surprisingly detailed, but while we’re on the subject of 1960s racial pioneers in sports, he’s a good one to remember.
  • {:} COLON. did you know that there is no etymological relationship between this word and {Future gen., maybe} COL(onel)? the latter is derived ultimately from the latin columna for a column of soldiers. (along the way, it passed through the french word coronel, which is why it is pronounced the way it is.) the former word is derived from the greek kōlon meaning limb or clause.
  • {Former Arizona senator Jon} KYL. i am idly curious how long this guy will continue to be deemed crossworthy. on the one hand, his level of fame never rose to that of somebody like ADLAI or ESTES, who are still grid mainstays 60+ years after their most notable days; on the other, at least this is his last name, which is a more appropriate grid entry than a first name.

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

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21 Responses to MGWCC #649

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 544 correct entries, which means it should’ve been an easyish Week 2 instead of a very tough Week 1. I deliberated for a while (and got a second opinion) on how tough this was, and we couldn’t really decide, so I thought, let’s just try it and if it’s a little tough then Week 2 can be a true Week 1. So that’s what we’ll do.

    I didn’t consider having the only squares that start both an across and down be all theme. I won’t say it’s impossible but I’d be impressed. You can see the concessions I had to make (84 words, ALEX W, WHEN/WILL) to even make it work as is.

  2. Rand says:

    Felt like a (tough) Week 2 puzzle… to me. (I’m sure most of the 500+ people who solved much sooner than I did would not agree!)

    • pgw says:

      Agreed – this played as a week 2 or 3 for me. “Easy but only once you see it” is still less easy than “can’t miss it.”

      (I also agree with C.Y.’s comment below that true week 1s are basically not even puzzles and I’d be fine if we never got another one of them. But I understand why Matt does them – neither of the observations in this comment is a complaint!)

  3. C. Y. Hollander says:

    this is a very cool meta that i really enjoyed. but gosh, it seemed awfully subtle for a week 1, which typically has a theme so obvious you can’t miss it.

    I agree with all this, but to me, it’s decidedly a good thing, as I see being “so obvious that you can’t miss it” as basically contrary to the essence of a “puzzle”, in my view; certainly to the essence of a satisfying solving experience, at any rate. I wish that more Week 1 puzzles were like this one.
    All of the theme entries arguably constituted in-the-language phrases except for WHEN WILL, which is no more than a partial. I thought this was a bit of a shame, but I realize that in a grid as constrained as this, the additional constraint of making all 10 thematic pairs standalone phrases might be too tall an order. Kudos to Matt for making this work as well and elegantly as he did manage to do. I’m endlessly impressed at how he pulls these things together on a weekly deadline.

  4. Mary Flaminio says:

    I vote that it was a great Week 1. Not hard at all and I thought pretty easy. I rarely get week 3, 4 or 5. So, because I am not that good, I still think it was a very fair Week 1.

    • cyco says:

      Agreed, the title was a big hint and many of the across clues, while not needing the corresponding down entry, c.ertainly made more sense as a pair.

  5. Bunella Zukowski says:

    If it wasn’t for the week 1’s, people like myself would never have learned how to solve metas and had the satisfaction on going on to solve more difficult ones.

    I caught this one very easily and I only do that for week 1.

    Thanks, Matt.

    • This. I’m disturbed by the comments above about how Week 1 metas are somehow undesirable or shouldn’t even be considered puzzles. There are a ton of solvers out there who have never encountered metas before and easy Week 1 puzzles are a great way to introduce them to the form. And as someone who often struggles for hours if not days on Week 4 and 5, I don’t mind having a stress-free meta to begin the month.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        Given that my comment disturbed you, I’d like to emphasize the wording I used: I see being “so obvious that you can’t miss it” as basically contrary to the essence of a “puzzle”, in my view; certainly to the essence of a satisfying solving experience, at any rate.

        Not only do I stand by that statement for my own part, I’d be surprised by anyone who disagreed—so long as it’s clear that the statement is about the experience of a given solver who finds a given puzzle “so obvious that [he] can’t miss it”. In other words, I’m suggesting that if you (for instance) can describe some particular puzzle‘s solution as unmissably obvious I would expect that you don’t find solving that particular puzzle especially satisfying.

        I do not mean to claim that the typical MGWCC Week 1 puzzle (or any other) meets this subjective metric for all solvers, even if it does for some of us. Quite possibly, this is a case where it’s impossible to please everyone.

        With that said, you sound like you may disagree with what I said even with my qualification about its subjectivity—i.e. you enjoy beginning the month with a stress-free meta, even if its solution is so obvious to you that you can’t miss it. If that’s the case, I am duly surprised and stand corrected.

        • Then let me surprise you: I disagree with that entirely.

          I enjoy puzzles of all stripes: hard ones, medium ones, easy ones, and even easy ones with “so obvious you can’t miss it” solutions. The clues in Monday NYT puzzles are clued pretty easy as crosswords go. Week 1 metas are similar, just with one extra step at the end. Just because I can solve Monday NYT puzzles quickly and can usually crack Week 1 metas without any trouble doesn’t mean I don’t find them satisfying to solve.

          Besides, I’m not going to assume that what you or I think is an easy puzzle, or what’s so obvious that you can’t miss it, is everyone’s experience. You can solve Week 1 metas right after you’re done filling in the grid. Great. You’re able to do that because you’ve gotten enough experience with metas that Week 1 isn’t a big challenge for you. But there are a lot of solvers out there for whom that is not true. One time I introduced a meta to one of my relatives — one that literally spelled out what you were supposed to do to find it — and they still couldn’t get there without my feeding them extra hints. They were completely unused to the idea of figuring something else out after finishing the grid, so it was no surprise that they would get stuck on a Week 1-difficulty meta their first time trying it.

          Anyway, my issue isn’t that you don’t find easy Week 1 metas satisfying to solve. It’s the implication that no one could possibly find them satisfying that bothers me.

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            My issue isn’t that you don’t find easy Week 1 metas satisfying to solve. It’s the implication that no one could possibly find them satisfying that bothers me.

            To be fair, my original comment contained the qualifiers “to me”, “I see [these] as…”, and “in my view”, so I made some effort to avoid that implication, but in all events, let me explicitly disclaim it now. I don’t feel that no one could possibly find Week 1 metas satisfying; on the contrary, I expect that many do.

          • pgw says:

            Since you mentioned being disturbed by more than one comment I take it mine was the other…

            “Anyway, my issue isn’t that you don’t find easy Week 1 metas satisfying to solve. It’s the implication that no one could possibly find them satisfying that bothers me.”

            My comment was only meant to suggest the first thing; if I appeared to be implying the second thing, my bad.

  6. Wayne says:

    I liked it well enough. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the prompt had been “a two word phrase”. Calling for a “ten-letter phrase” kinda points a finger at the fact that the thematic phrases aren’tall ten letters.

    WHEN WILL also shattered the fourth wall for me. I really appreciate how Matt sticks to a 15×15 grid as much as possible. And this really is an impressive feat of construction, ALEXW and all. But if a larger grid would have allowed for WONDER WOMAN (or something), it would have been a worthwhile tradeoff.

  7. Abide says:

    Unsettled area: WILD/WEST

    Regardless, 46-D ( I’m in awe)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yes, but where do you put it?

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Heh, I e-mailed Matt with almost the exact same suggestion (my clue was “Untamed land”), to which he replied as he did here to you, and I responded to the same effect as you that I’d overlooked the constraint imposed by the E of DATE. I half-heartedly added that WILD WEST could be salvaged if DINNER DATE became DEADLY DULL, but I have no idea how feasible it would be to fill the grid around all that.

  8. oldjudge says:

    I really enjoyed the puzzle. Because of the way I solve-in boxes, across then down- the first thing I saw was Daffy Duck and at that point I knew what would happen. However, if I solved differently it might have been tougher.

  9. Jim S says:

    That long clue for ALEXW was nearly my downfall – being a Week 1 with normally very obvious theme answers, I figured that was the hint to the breakthrough. I tried many things – ALEXW is a proper name and there were lots of other proper names (LARS, UHURA, CLEM, …), many of which intersected but no rhyme or reason. Then I thought that maybe the “W” in ALEXW was required, and “Look Both Ways” could be a reference to East / West… those letters are both in ALEXW with an “X” in the middle. Not enough of those patterns in the grid, though. Put my paper down last night to give it one last go and quickly saw 1A/1D and thought “Wow, Daffy Duck… that’s a weird coincidence”. It fell immediately after. Nice puzzle – played harder than a week 2 for me only because of the long clue throwing me completely off the trail for so long.

  10. Streroto says:

    Fun grid and meta, nice LOL moment reading 42A clue (more than happy to work with you, Matt!), I’d say closer to week 2 than 1 and I 100% agree with Evan. Fun is fun.

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