MGWCC #651

crossword 3:03 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #651 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Missing Piece”. for this is a week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is a noted work of art. what are the theme answers? i’m not sure, but let’s start with the four long entries in the grid:

  • {Point-conceding phrase} I HAVE TO ADMIT. i wanted I HAVE TO ADMIT IT, but this shorter form works too.
  • {It’s perfect for picky eaters} À LA CARTE MENU.
  • {One of fewer than a dozen left in the U.S. (there used to be over 800)} TOYS “R” US STORE. in the logo, the R is backwards; i don’t know if that’s relevant here.
  • {Fills out, as a ballot} MARKS WITH AN X. this looks like it’s a spelling instruction for MARX, doesn’t it?

what do these answers have in common? well, they each contain a one-letter word (I, À, R, X). that’s not much of a constraint, though. i’m willing to believe that we’re supposed to be looking at those letters elsewhere in the grid. i thought about whether the I’s might be arranged in the shape of an I or that kind of thing. the only problem is there aren’t any other X’s in the grid, so there goes that.

there is also a one-letter clue: {H} ETA at 11-down. i don’t think that’s necessarily relevant, but it caught my eye.

the A in À LA CARTE MENU is not just an A, because it has that accent grave. could that be important? the last across entry is {Umlaut components} DOTS, which seems to be related. and if we’re looking for diacritical marks, the fact that the last theme answer starts with MARKS could be important. but i didn’t see any other grid entries with diacritical marks.

the central across answer is the medium-length {Frequent flag features} STRIPES. is that a theme answer? i guess it could be. not sure what to do with it, though.

the title and instructions combine to suggest (to me, anyway) stolen works of art. the mona lisa was famously stolen (and then recovered); the fact that it’s two four-letter words might matter; and there are entries like {“___ Boat” (2009 “SNL” digital short)} I’M ON A and {Role for Ingrid} ILSA/{Much, casually} LOTSA that suggest it. as much as i am intrigued by I + MONA = I’M ON A, i still don’t have any real idea how the mechanism might work there. still, at least it’s a reasonable back-up guess in the (increasingly likely) event that the actual solution does not present itself to me in the next few minutes.

yeah, despite continuing to stare at it, i’ve still got no ideas. this is an awfully tough week 3, i think. either that or i’m losing it! somebody please let me know in the comments what i missed.

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61 Responses to MGWCC #651

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    115 correct answers this Week, so definitely a Week 5. Which surprised me, needless to say.

    Step 1: notice that all four theme entries have words of 1, 2, 4, and 5 letters
    Step 2: so the titular “Missing Piece” might be a 3-letter word
    Step 3: write out the eight three-letter entries in grid order: ETA ASS MAS SIN BMI NOR AGO ILL
    Step 4: see that the central four spell out Bach’s MASS IN B MINOR, which is the “Missing Piece” and another example of the 1, 2, 4, 5 pattern

    • Erich Peterson says:

      I saw the 1245 (missing 3 letter words) and took TREYS as a hint to look at the 3-letter answers in the grid and found that if you eliminated the 3rd letter (missing piece, perhaps?) from MAS, NOR, ASS, ILL – that the remaining letters anagram to MONA LISA. The fact that the 4 were *almost* symmetrical seemed to add merit to the case…it didn’t help that ILSA and IMONA were also in the grid – convinced me that I was missing some final elegant tie-in….alas……..

    • Slowpoke Rodriguez says:

      I got to that same set of 3s by that same method, and completely overlooked the MASS IN B MINOR in the middle. I did, however, noticed that 2/3rds o the set of letters there spell MONA LISA….twice! You have two Mona Lisas’s (that is 16 of your 24 letters) in that tiny set. I know that the 1,2,4,5 of Mass in B Minor is a way better click, but that double Mona Lisa pointing to either Warhol’s Double Mona Lisa or Da Vinci’s original isn’t bad either. And in fact, you can get a Mona Lisa by just taking one letter from each triplet. I recognize this involves far more anagramming then you normally allow, and further, the IMONA and ILSA are going to make people guess the most famous painting of all time even if they never saw the first few steps, so I understand if you veto this as an alternate answer. However, the two (TWO!) sets of Mona Lisa felt like an impossible coincidence.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I think one of the things that made this so difficult was the expectation that each of the four theme entries would directly hint at a piece of the solution, perhaps by being able to accommodate an optional three-letter word to complete the series (e.g.I HAVE GOT TO ADMIT) and/or by their particular permutation of the digits {1,2,[3?,]4,5. I noticed the {1,2,4,5} pattern relatively early on, but it took me a long time [and many, many searches of OneLook for candidate artworks that fit the pattern] to take the next step.

      At some point, I noticed that the wording of the prompt, “a noted work of art”, followed the same pattern as the four theme entries, with the addition of the missing “3”. I thought it very unlikely that this was coincidental. That, if the prompt were viewed as an additional theme entry that was missing from the grid, it would complete the set of theme entries to five seemed to strengthen the possibility that the permutations of {1,2,[3,]4,5} given by the word counts of each such entry might somehow key to the four/five theme entries. In retrospect, I suppose that if the wording of the prompt was intentional, it was simply a grace note.

    • John L. Wilson says:

      Surprised to be sure. The only connection I see to Week 3 is those 3-letter words. Wait, was filing it under Week 3 a subtle hint? :)

  2. Phoebe says:

    The theme answers were all words of 1, 2, 4 or 5 letters, so I looked for 3 letter words and found Mas, sin, bmi, nor, so Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

  3. Katie M. says:

    Square 1, 2, 4 & 5 spell BALH. It would’ve been cool if 4d started with a C.

  4. Joshua Kosman says:

    Hmmm. I got as far as halfway through Step 3, but ETA ASS MAS just looked like gibberish. “Consider some of the three-letter entries in the grid but ignore others” was never on my radar.

  5. Mutman says:

    I was soundly defeated here, that’s fine.

    Even though I really like classical music, I never refer to any pieces as ‘works of art’. But that’s just me.

  6. pgw says:

    Dammit, I have the list in step 3 written out, and this morning – having thought all along that the title could point to musical notes – I thought “maybe it’s something of the form ???? IN ? M??OR,” but I had that idea too late to put my front-solve and my back-solve together. Ironically I might have succeeded if I hadn’t decided to start over with a fresh grid last night – the old paper with the list of 3-letter words on it was not in front of me when I had the backsolving idea.

    Curious – did you try and fail to make a grid that *only* had the four thematic 3-letter entries, or did you feel it needed the others to avoid being too obvious?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      That’s right, I didn’t want to have only four three-letter entries in the grid since then you could stumble upon it just by reading those.

      I decided on eight and to have it be the central four since the missing 3 is also in the center of 1, 2, 4, 5. But really I expected solvers to just write out the eight trigrams and see MASS IN B MINOR across the middle, an embedded secret message right in the center. Any doubt would be removed by noting the 1,2,4,5 pattern of it.

      Seemed logical to look for four “missing pieces” since there is one missing from each of the four theme entries.

      • Alex B. says:

        When you ask Mechapuzzle to show you the three-letter entries it shows the Across ones first and then the Downs, so it looks like

        SIN: [ Envy, say ]
        BMI: [ Doc’s measurement ]
        ETA: [ H ]
        ASS: [ Foolish person ]
        MAS: [ Madrid “more” ]
        NOR: [ “… ___ a lender be” ]
        AGO: [ Before now ]
        ILL: [ Not feeling one’s best ]

        I’ll have to add the possibility to allow for different sorting options.

        • That’s exactly what happened to me. I wrote down SIN BMI ETA ASS MAS NOR AGO ILL but couldn’t figure out where to go from there. I tried reading the first letters, the second letters, the last letters, anagramming them all together (MONA LISA MONA LISA BIETSSRG), and some other ideas that didn’t pan out.

      • pgw says:

        That’s reasonable. Certainly made for a hard puzzle – and you won’t see me complain about that!

        A few other rabbit holes I got stuck in:

        – the four theme entries are in different orders (1425, 1254, 4125, 5421), which seemed significant
        – there’s one pair of entries (ELLAS/SALE) that match one of the patterns (SALE is 5421 of ELLAS) – and another that fits a pattern not seen in the theme entries (ALSO is 5142 of LOTSA); of course, this went nowhere other than a spreadsheet full of nonsense
        – the last two themers are pretty green-painty in my book; maybe the grid wasn’t working out but it seems like there are better ITL phrases (ONCE IN A WHILE, A SHOW OF HANDS, …); so, I thought the particular theme entries used here might have some significance

        Anyway, a great puzzle. I got closer to solving it than I realized but didn’t get there.

      • Gwinns says:

        The reason that leap was so hard for me was the definition of “missing piece.” It was obvious that there were no 3-letter words in the theme phrases, but you can’t say that, e.g., MAS is “missing” from I HAVE TO ADMIT.
        If there were a stronger connection between the phrases and the “missing pieces,” that would have made the click clearer and removed my issue with using some 3-letter answers but not others. (I also wrote out the list, in the correct order, but vertically, and I didn’t see MASS IN B MINOR)

  7. Will Gunther says:

    I had recognized the 1245 pattern, and tried some things with the 3 letter words a few times. I never really thought of just ‘arbitrarily’ reading ‘some’ of them (not really arbitrary I guess, since it’s the middle 4). I figured if there was something to do with them it would involve tying them some of them back to theme entries somehow (each one being the ‘missing piece’ of the theme entry), but nothing really worked there.

  8. Chaddog says:

    My solving partner and I could not get past the diacritics and quotes around various letters in the grid (ecole, mas, a (from a la carte), “R”, “X”).

    As others have noted elsewhere, the largest obstacle to solving metas is getting past a wrong idea.

    Cool puzzle, Matt

  9. Joe says:

    Never in a million years with a gun to my head. Congrats, all.

  10. Travis H. says:

    Stared at the three letter entries for a long time and never saw it; I wrote them out vertically rather than horizontally. Instead of Bach I think I’ll put on Mozart’s Requiem, to mourn the end of my streak.

    • I also listed them vertically; stared and stared. I glanced away at something else on my desk and when I glanced back at my notes, B Minor popped out like a spotlight was shining on it. Earlier Sat morning I was driving home thinking of something else and I had a sudden, out of nowhere, brainstorm that the missing piece was 3. If only these serendipitous insights would always happen in tough MGWCC weeks!!

  11. Tom Moose says:

    My solving group found the 1, 2, 4, 5 (missing 3) component and it took us down a rabbit hole.
    There was NO 3, and a Latvian-born artist, Mark Rothko happens to also have a No, 3. Maybe if he was a REDHEAD this would be less of a stretch, but it was a worthwhile last ditch guess, especially since color field could almost be STRIPES.

  12. jefe says:

    What do I do with an A LA CARTE MENU or at a TOYS R US STORE?
    I BROWSE (eyebrows), which Mona Lisa is famously missing.

  13. Dan Seidman says:

    I kept looking for some significance to the fact that there were two double-As (ISAAC and PAAVO) and they were symmetrical. I also thought the central entry might be relevant and tried imagining the grid as a flag with the theme entries as stripes. I eventually noticed the 1/2/4/5 pattern but got no further.

  14. Bill Katz says:

    My big rabbit hole: I was pretty sure that I needed 4 of the 8 three letter words, so I wrote a program to produce all 1680 combinations, and using a cryptographic technique, score them based on English tetragram frequency. Alas, “INBMI” contains two otherwise nonexistent tetragrams, and the correct answer didn’t even make the top half of scoring.

  15. The Actuary says:

    I had the number pattern but couldn’t bring it home. My Hail Mary submission was “A study in Pink”.

  16. David G says:

    I was all over the place trying to figure this one out. I was convinced the last theme entry was some kind of riddle. MARKS WITH AN X = MARX? Are there any famous artists named Marx? Could Communist Manifesto be considered a noted work of art? Obviously the other themers couldn’t support that.

    Next I tried to get “Toy Story” out of TOYS R US STORE. Maybe Y is the “missing piece” from this entry and the remaining letters could be used to spell out something. Idk. I remember reading some (probably untrue) excerpt about how the original cut of Toy Story was deleted or something, and some Pixar employee unwittingly saved the whole production by having downloaded the whole thing to his personal computer. So this added some plausibility to this being some missing piece of art, but it was still a huge reach.

    This meta kicked my ass.

  17. Magoo says:

    I saw the 1245 thing, and noticed you could leave one word (of each length) out of each long answer and still (sort of) answer the clue: HATE TO ADMIT, A LA CARTE, TOYS R US, MARKS WITH X – the dropped letters anagram to ENUMERATIONS, which is very appropriate but probably not a noted work of art. Never thought to look at all the three-letter entries and then ignore four of them.

  18. jay says:

    After getting to the 1,2,4,5 pattern, my Hail Mary was based on the third word of each theme answer: TO CARTE US AN. If you say it aloud it sounds like Two Courtesans, which is a famous work of art. Thankfully, I didn’t need it.

  19. DrTom says:

    Awesome puzzle that I was never going to get. I was desperately trying to use 4 letter words and save a letter for the answer. I had (like another message above) I HAVE GOT TO ADMIT and saved the A, then ? for TOYS R US STORE I thought that perhaps it was a reference to the fact that they are not really calling them the same thing now with their reappearance so it might be NEE TOYS R US STORE which allowed me to keep a D from NEED. When I had A _ D _ I was so SURE I’d find another A and an I I could use to make AIDA, but alas no I was singing the wrong tune. I feel badly I did not get it cause I was going for my 10 solves in a row, but I am totally amazed at (1) those who did (2) the thought and work it had to have taken to get all of this to gel. Once again I tip my hat to the Matt.

  20. Richard K says:

    I felt lucky to get this one — didn’t see the four-word pattern until Monday, but followed Matt’s reasoning without too much trouble after that. Up to that point “Missing Piece” kept suggesting Venus de Milo to me, particularly as the first three theme entries contained the words HEAD, ARM, TORSO interspersed from left to right. I wondered if the base of a statue might be called a MITANX or something. Was anyone else sidetracked by the appearance of both ISAAC and ISHMAEL?

  21. DT says:

    I thought this puzzle was a great challenge and impressively constructed. Perhaps the number of solvers would have been at a week-three level if the clue read, “This week’s contest answer is a noted work of art that could be a fifth theme entry.”

  22. Silverskiesdean says:

    Reading the initial portion of this allayed my feeling of ignorance because I went through all the same thoughts including diacritical marks, dots, etc. This one was interesting because by necessity, it had a red herring built right into it. That is, I couldn’t get my mind off of the fact that all four had “one letter” entries and that’s where I stayed. But by necessity, it had to have those to complete the meta. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees, that is I didn’t notice the 1,2,4,5 code. However, that makes me wonder about people like Jangler. If you are out there, since your average for solving these is 3 milliseconds, did you notice the one letter entries first, dismiss it, then look elsewhere, or did you jump right to the 1,2,4,5 idea. I’m trying to get a handle on this because it seems that one of my problems is, I get an idea, and can’t shake it. Sometimes it work. More times than not, it leads me astray like this time.

    • Jeffrey Harris says:

      Since you asked, my solving path was roughly this (all times estimated)

      12:00 open puzzle
      12:06 finish grid
      12:07 notice the one-letter words in the theme entries, then notice the other words were 2,4,5 letters in some order
      Around 12:15, give up looking at the three letter entries, because nothing popped out. Like other commenters, I was looking for a way to either match one three letter entry to each theme answer specifically, or some other canonical way of picking four of the eight. (Only the ones with FITB clues?)
      12:15-12:30–search in vain for a famous piece of artwork, perhaps missing or stolen, that was somehow the third in a set of five. (Apparently Rembrandt did a set of paintings on the senses, of which “taste” is missing, but that’s not the third. Would’ve been my Hail Mary guess)
      12:30–return to the threes, hypothesize that SIN and BMI could slide into the black squares by the theme entries, stumble upon the answer. Then look for a bit to see if MAS matched with I HAVE TO ADMIT in some way (it doesn’t), submit my answer, showing my work and expressing mild confusion in the comment box.

      Sorry for the comment length.

  23. Jon says:

    Having the key insight to the last step requiring solvers put the 8 entries in the “right” order feels clumsy & inelegant. I put them in across & then down order. And even when a solving buddy put the list in the “right” order, I still spent hours doing the normal mechanisms: 1st letters only; last letters only; middle letters only. I thought maybe it was EAM(e)S chair but was so confused on how I was supposed to know it was those 4 of the 8 entries. “Surely a themer points to a specific 3-letter entry, tight?”

    Not sure how the testers thought this would be a week 3 meta.

    That said, once you finally get the answer, the click is super strong as Mass in B Minor is also in a 4215 permutation.

  24. Silverskiesdean says:

    I appreciate the response. Especially that you saw both the one letter answers AND the 1,2,4,5 simultaneously. I jumped too soon. I even had the first “I” matched with “ago” for Iago and the last “X” with 13 Down for “Xmas”. Great job in seeing all the options from the outset.

  25. Jay Miller says:

    Jeffrey-Thanks for posting that. You are a great solver and it is interesting to see your thought process (and pace).


  26. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I saw the 1-2-4-5 pattern quite late in the process; I had already tried to chase many things mentioned above: the diacritical marks, ISAAC + ISHMAEL, “HATE” to admit, MARX, etc. I thought I was really on to something when I found VOID and LACUNA among the letters of the first two long answers, as those were words that could mean a “missing piece”, and I was very frustrated when that led to nothing. I also tried to take the letters of crossing words out of the theme answers, e.g. taking TADA out of I HAVE TO ADMIT leaves letters that can spell HIT MOVIE. It was surprising; there were usually a couple 4 or 5 letters words that one could do this with and it left fairly good letters (MATRIX + SW was left after taking KHAN out of MARKS WITH AN X).

    Once I saw the 1-2-4-5, I OneLook’d all 24 permutations and didn’t find anything great except a bunch of X as/of a Y and “Oh What A Night”. I looked through lists of pieces of visual art for ones that had the pattern 1-2-4-5 or 3-3-3-3 (or even just 12 letters), then convinced myself that “noted” and “piece” were hints for music (and not chess, despite Matt’s love for it!). I saw MI, LA, and RE among the long answers, but nothing in the last one, much to my frustration. Finally I searched up famous pieces of classical music, and while “The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music” wasn’t helpful, but the second Google result was this one:, and it had the Mass as #1 and I was certain that was it. I scanned and saw the 3-letter answers (as well as UMASS and MINOT, confusingly enough) and submitted, but that was just a final check. Tough enough, but at least it was a bit back-solvable?

  27. Steve Thurman says:

    MONA got me.

    ISAAC/ISHMAEL got me.

    STEAM/ROLLS in opposite corners got me.

    I never had a chance.

  28. Mark OKain says:

    I rashly assumed it just had to be Venus de milo … missing a 1 letter piece

  29. David Glasser says:

    I think I would have got in this one if the title had been “Half the Missing Pieces” or really if there was anything at all to clue that you would only use some of the things you had to look for. That would feel like a good Week 3 to me.

    I do enjoy that I got a good aha feeling out of noticing the word lengths, at least.

  30. Adam Thompson says:

    I didn’t get it. With the last across entry being DOTS I guessed a Seurat painting.

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