MGWCC #655

crossword 4:11 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #655 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Six Letter Entries”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is what you’ll be after solving this meta (I hope). what is the theme? from the lack of hyphenation in the title, we are meant to look at six entries relating to a letter, rather than at the six-letter entries in the grid (of which there are twenty). i confess i was distracted by the fact that the bottom-right corner of the grid includes both YOU and EWE, homophones of the letter U, as well as EYE (“I”). but that’s not especially relevant, as there are no other entries like that.

so what is the theme? six symmetrically placed medium-length across answers (not necessarily all the longest answers) include a hidden letter—a hidden greek letter:

  • {Time for Freudians} ORAL PHASE contains ALPHA, the 1st letter.
  • {Like some monks} TIBETAN contains BETA, the 2nd letter.
  • {Chain since 1964} DEL TACO contains DELTA, the 4th letter.
  • {Sheryl Underwood’s show} THE TALK contains THETA, the 8th letter.
  • {Stern verbal warning} RIOT ACT contains IOTA, the 9th letter.
  • {Economist’s concern} INCOME GAP contains OMEGA, the 24th (and last) letter.

a couple of quick notes here: BETA and THETA themselves also contain ETA, the 7th letter. BETA can be disambiguated by noticing that the theme entries appear in alphabetical order (in the greek alphabet), and BETA comes before DELTA but ETA does not. ETA and THETA are still technically ambiguous, although it seems clear to take the longer one. also, hats off to matt for not including any stray instances of other greek letters such as MU, NU, PI, XI, CHI, etc., which are short enough that they could easily sneak into a grid by accident. that’s clean meta constructing right there.

okay, so the bad news from here is that i don’t know what to do with these six greek letters. they don’t spell anything; ABΔΘIΩ (approximately, “abdthio”) isn’t a word and doesn’t even really anagram into something approaching a word. i thought we might use their ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 24th) in the grid somehow, but looking at the letters in the correspondingly numbered squares gives SARHEM, which isn’t anything either.

the grid is a bit oversized at 17×17, which is larger than matt would typically need to include six medium-length theme answers, so i would bet that there are six more theme answers somewhere, each corresponding to one of the letters. each of the six theme answers we already have does share a row with another medium-length across answer, but i can’t see any connection between them. i’ve tried looking for the usual suspects like anagrams, or anagrams with a letter added/deleted/changed, without success. i’ve looked for hidden greek letters in the clues… nope.

i’ve looked at the letters left over in the original theme answers after the greek letter is removed. it was never especially likely that these would be related to the meta, since matt would have very little freedom in choosing these because there aren’t all that many phrases containing hidden greek letters to begin with, but he could have chosen extra hidden theme answers to match the leftover letters. alas, he did not.

so i’m well and truly stumped. i am going to feel dumb if one of the ideas i had was the right idea and i didn’t see how to follow through on it, but i suspect it’s actually something i just didn’t think of. oh well. it hasn’t been my best year for solving metas, but you know what else it hasn’t been the best year for? the world. on the bright side, i usually take the last week of the year off due to holiday travel, and this year i won’t be traveling, so maybe i can redeem myself next week.

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30 Responses to MGWCC #655

  1. David Harris says:

    Turns out *two* of the main ideas you had were the key, in combination—if you take the ordinal of the Greek letter and apply it to the matching entry on the same row, and apply an extra trick of taking OMEGA to mean “final” instead of 24th, you get AMUSED.

    I loved this, but the second step definitely had two or three simultaneous tricks involved all at once, so it was a tough one to see, even if you had thought of each of those aspects individually.

    Also, kudos to Matt for making all the Greek-letter entries feel really natural. The letters did eventually pop out when looking for the meta trick, but they definitely weren’t strained to make them super-obvious when solving the initial puzzle.

    • Tom Burnakis says:

      Actually if you start at H in HITSEND and count 24, even though you go “around” once you get to the D in HITSEND, so it is really the same mechanism I believe, not OMEGA as the end.

      • Ha ha, wow. I just saw OMEGA as “last” and wondered why 76A didn’t hide ETA instead, but yeah, if you count the black square on the second trip around, the 24th one is D.

        • Adam Rosenfield says:

          That doesn’t really make a lot of sense to count the black square though. If you wrap around, then H would be the 1st, 8th, 15th, etc. index. The 24th index should be T on the 4th trip.

          • Jim S says:

            If you include “INCOMEGAP” and the black square in the wrap-around, the 24th letter is the “D”. Seems to be coincidence based on Matt’s comments here, but maybe the guys have stumbled upon a future mechanism ;)

      • David Harris says:

        I have no special insight into how Matt meant it, but I would bet money that the intended mechanic was OMEGA meaning “final letter,” and that the 24-count—while cool!—is a lucky accident.

    • Max Woghiren says:

      Also note the really nice touch that AMUSED contains MU. :chefkiss:

  2. stmv says:

    joon, you were so close: You listed the numbers of each Greek letter in the alphabet, and noted the paired long entry to each Greek-letter-containing theme entry. Take the letter in that position in the paired entry (taking OMEGA to mean “last”) and you get AMUSED. E.g., ALPHA = 1 gives us an A from ALL MINE, up to OMEGA = last gives us D from HIT SEND.

  3. sharkicicles says:

    This left me feeling that it’s all Greek to me!

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 183 right answers this week.

    This theme began as a self-challenge when I saw Jack Murtagh’s recent NYT crossword based on chemical symbols. I thought, if there’s a theme that’s this good that AFAIK no one has ever thought of in the very well-worn area of chemical symbols, does that mean there are others in other seemingly picked-over places?

    So I said, what’s about the most used and perhaps overused of them? Greek alphabet. Can I find something new? First thing I thought of was that sequencing of Greek letters hadn’t been done as far as I could tell, and Ω as “last” instead of “24th” seemed like a good little joke at the end.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      When I was thinking about indexing ideas, it did occur to me that Omega might be used to represent “last”, but I thought that would be inelegant, since rather than making use of a property unique to Omega, it’s simply a different indexing system (counting backwards) that could equally apply to the other letters (Alpha being 24th from last, for instance).

  5. C. Y. Hollander says:

    As usual, now that I’ve seen the solution, I’m kicking myself for missing it, but there were a number of red herrings along the way. One particularly distracting one was that a D (Delta) can be eliminated from SHED to yield a suitable answer for 88A (That lady), an O (Omega) from ALOE to yield a suitable answer for 1A (Flow from a tap), and a T (arguably the closest English equivalent to Theta, although the lack of a real equivalent for this letter did give pause) from STAY to yield a suitable answer for 36A (State). Also an A can be added to SAP (1A again) to yield a suitable answer for 80D (Right this instant).

    It doesn’t lead anywhere, of course, but you can see how it might be tempting.

  6. Michael P Manning says:

    Joon mentions the 17 x 17 grid as having plenty of space for additional themers. I listed 14 themers 7 letters or more in the across answers alone including the five containing the greek letters. One of the themers was ANAGRAMS which prompted me to wonder whether this might be the unique meta with this part of the solve. Joon also mentions looking at the letters left over after the greek letters are removed from the six entries and states “it was never especially likely that these would be related to the meta, since matt would have very little freedom in choosing these because there aren’t all that many phrases containing hidden greek letters to begin with.” Harris mentions a trick or sequential tricks. 15 of the 18 left over letters anagram to “trick inspector” !?! Coincidence or construction?

  7. David G says:

    I started by highlighting all of the 6-letter entries, lack of hyphen be damned, because I’m not as smart as most of you. This resulted in 4 sections in the NE, E, SW, and W highlighted and split in half by the 4 crossing 6-letter entries in the N and S. If you look at the remaining letters in the 4 long across entries, you get RALPH, NIA, APE, and OMEGA. This had me convinced that this would be a play on traditional clues for some very common crossword entries RALPH = DUNN(?) NIA = (actress) LONG, APE = ?, OMEGA = LAST. And how did I feel when I (incorrectly) solved this meta? DONE AT LONG LAST!

    I obviously couldn’t make this work, and I eventually came around to see the 6 Greek letters, but I got no further than Joon did.

    I toyed around with replacing the Greek letters in the themers with letters from the English alphabet. Replace the ALPHA in OR(ALPHA)SE with “EL” and you get “OR ELSE” which is arguably a better answer for 47-Down “And what if I refuse?” Replace the THETA in (THETA)LK with E and you get “ELK” which seemed like a plausible answer to 62-Down “Appalachian hunter.” Replace OMEGA in INC(OMEGA)P with A and you get INCAP, which is a terrible word but it could be a synonym for 13-Down ENSEAL. Still couldn’t get anywhere with this.

    I may have failed miserably, but I still had a fun time trying to figure this one out.

  8. Domini says:

    I ended up groking it in the end after a kind soul told me my rabbit hole was a dead end!

    I was CERTAIN the Greek letters were anagrammed with one letter changed because I found 4/6 of them in the grid! (PRAHA, BEAN, ECLAT, and TITO.) PRAHA (alpha, but with an R instead of an L) in particular seemed too weird for Matt to include otherwise. But alas, theta and omega eluded me. I spent so much time trying to figure out where in the grid I made a mistake. Maybe 32A (Times out) was supposed to be COMAe instead of COMAS, or maybe gOMAS???

    • Ale M says:

      That was exactly the first path I took, getting so excited when the first three worked out (I had ALTO instead of TITO for IOTA). This puzzle had more rabbit holes than a Beatrix Potter story.

    • J says:

      100% same. The replaced letters from the Greek entries in this approach yield LATD, so even though I couldn’t find a way for Theta and Omega to work I snagged the E’s from both to get ELATED, which is a pretty reasonable way to feel upon solving the meta. Once 4/6 worked I couldn’t see much else.

      I also couldn’t imagine anagrams being in the grid without being an instruction. Red herrings galore!

  9. jefe says:

    Ah, simpler than I made it out to be. First thing I did was notice the surfeit of 6-letter entries in the grid (there are 20). Eventually noticed the 6 Greek letters, but never got away from trying to index into the 6LAs. If I’d noticed that the entries across from THETALK and RIOTACT were 8 and 9 letters long I surely would’ve gotten there!

  10. WeThotUWasAToad says:

    I noticed the missing hyphen in the title (ie it’s not “Six-Letter Entries”) and began thinking about what that could mean. The thing that came to mind was entries using letters as initials rather than words. And sure enough, after filling in the puzzle, I discovered that there are exactly SIX of them (so maybe it meant “Six Letter-Entries”):

    4-A: [Nipper’s company] = RCA
    34-D: [Dreamer’s legislation] = DACA
    37-A: [Course where you may learn “Of course!”] = ESL
    38-A: [Site of many adoptions] = ASPCA
    52-A: [Org. concerned with water quality] = EPA
    67-D: [Bank beeper] = ATM

    Next, I noticed that the hint sentence could be read a couple of different ways:

    “This week’s contest answer is what you’ll be, after solving this meta (I hope).”
    “This week’s contest answer is what you’ll be after, solving this meta (I hope).”

    So after already being out in left field, I had now hopped the fence and was headed into the next neighborhood and beyond…

    Never even thought Greek even though it’s pretty obvious.

    • Richard K. says:

      I followed this reasoning too and thought it was really promising, but then I noticed there was a 7th “letter entry” in the grid: GOAT clued in reference to “greatest of all time.”

  11. HeadinHome (Wendy S) says:

    I circled YOU and EWE also, and then saw ONO and OHNO. THAT began a waste of 20 minutes.
    Never would have gotten this one. I wouldn’t have expected the lack of the hyphen to be significant because though I noticed it (i’m an ex-English teacher), I dismissed it, having given up long ago on people knowing and using language that precisely. I’m heartened that Matt did. Shame on me for low expectations!

  12. Steve Thurman says:

    I looked at every combination I could think of as 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 24 (which I just typed from memory because it’s been in my brain for four days) but never found anything.

    I looked at the actual mechanism for a second, but never pursued it as the word across from OMEGA obviously didn’t have 24 letters.

    I feel a tad bit cheated, but it’s nice to see I was on the right tack.

  13. Bobbie B says:

    I loved it. Great mechanism, and if you didn’t quite make it across the finish line (like me) but got close on your visit to various rabbit holes, burrows, warrens and harems, then you still had a great adventure. And once the answer was revealed? It was a “d’oh!” moment for sure.
    Thank you, Mr. Gaffney for a bit of exercise for the other side of my brain, for surely it must be the other side getting the workout. Otherwise we’d have found the solution, right?
    The kind of week 3 that is within reach and one felt a little disappointed not to get it but nodding at the cleverness of the method.

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