MGWCC #664

crossword 3:06 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #664 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Leading by Example”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we are looking for a phrase comprised of two three-letter words. okay, what are the theme answers? there are six across answers with *ed clues:

  • {*Japan’s Amaterasu, e.g.} SUN GODDESS.
  • {*Not verboten} ALLOWED.
  • {*Reliable predictors} BELLWETHERS.
  • {*Indian Ocean crustaceans} BLACK PRAWNS.
  • {*Actor Pacino’s first name, in full} ALFREDO.
  • {*Elastic property among parallel planes, in material science} ORTHOTROPY. whoa, i was not expecting that word.

so what’s going on here? the title suggests looking at the starts of these answers, or maybe that they contain the starts of examples of … something. ORTHOTROPY certainly jumps out here, since it’s such an unusual word. even if matt needed, say, ORTHO- for the theme, he could have used a much more familiar word like ORTHOPEDIC. so maybe both halves of the word are important. other -TROPY words are ISOTROPY (kind of the opposite of orthotropy) and ENTROPY, which is intriguing because EN- sounds like a letter, and i expect we’re supposed to extract one letter from each theme answer to arrive at the six-letter meta answer. but i don’t see anything else like that going on with the other themers.

what else? i thought about the initial letters of the theme clues (or other clues), but that didn’t seem to go anywhere; the ALFREDO clue in particular was not helpful. i think the clues are basically natural-sounding enough that they probably do not contain hidden constraints.

BLACK PRAWNS minus one letter is BLACK PAWNS, a set of eight that (knowing matt’s proclivity to include chess content) might figure into a meta, but it’s not really possible to remove a letter from the other answers.

the clue for ALFREDO is a little curious, since it would be much more natural to clue it in relation to fettuccine alfredo (or alfredo sauce); pacino is never called anything but al. i thought that might mean we’re supposed to be thinking about pasta or sauce, but i don’t see what to do with that in relation to the other themers. thinking about the start (“leading”) of this answer gives me ALF, which is definitely something, but it does not appear to be something related to anything else in the puzzle.

is there other thematic content in the grid besides these six answers? hard to say. my eye was drawn to the entry {Montaigne classic} ESSAIS, which, while it is a classic of sorts in the field of philosophy, is a significantly less desirable crossword entry than ESSAYS, which it could have been with only a small tweak in the grid. so maybe something in that section is related to a theme answer.

if there are extra answers in the grid that are thematic, they are probably 3-letter answers, given the instructions. the grid contains 29 such answers, which is a lot. in fact, i’ve just now noticed that it’s an odd number, which ordinarily ought to mean that exactly one of the 3-letter answers is centered in the grid—but the central square in this grid is a black square, which means that the grid is asymmetric! the black square before 9a DJS is opposite the final E of 65a I SEE. that’s certainly curious. does it help at all? it does suggest that perhaps DJS is significant, or maybe just that something else in that corner was necessary to make the theme work, since the only part of that corner that is constrained by the overt theme entries is the end of ALLOWED, which is not much of a constraint on the corner. 10d JANEIRO is an unusual entry that suggests the three-letter word RIO (much more commonly seen than JANEIRO in crosswords).

well, i haven’t got anything and the deadline is upon us. looks like a pretty tough week 3, as i have no idea whether i was at any point even on the right track. what’d i miss?

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36 Responses to MGWCC #664

  1. Three-letter adjectives hidden in the starred answers (ODD, LOW, WET, RAW, RED, HOT) are crossed by words that consist of [starting letter plus an example of a thing that’s described by those three-letter adjectives]:

    ODD crosses (T)ONE
    LOW crosses (O)TOE
    WET crosses (P)EELS
    RAW crosses (H)ANGER
    RED crosses (A)ROSE (this was my inroad to the answer)
    HOT crosses (T)OIL

    Those first letters above the examples spell TOP HAT.

  2. I wrote out the long themers a few times. Finally three letter adjectives within them popped out – odd, low, wet, raw, red, hot. I looked at RED first in the grid, saw the word ROSE (in AROSE) and I had it. Taking the leading letter of each down entry that is an “example” of the adjective you get TOP HAT. It makes the title “Leading by Example” and the double meaning therein genius.

  3. Katie M. says:

    Wow. I got it, but the mechanism that led me there makes no sense to me. Thanks for the explanation!

  4. - kip - says:

    What is a low toe?

    • MountainManZach says:

      It makes more sense to me if the mechanism is described as “name something that is/could be described as…” a la Family Feud or Kindergarten

    • Austin says:

      Exactly. Which of these is the ODD ONE out?:
      HOT OIL, RED ROSE, WET EELS (ok, not much going for this one, but at least it’s certainly a thing), RAW ANGER, or LOW TOES?

      Besides that, LOW TOES was the only crossing whose noun’s first letter began *above* its adjective’s row. I kept coming back to LOW LESSOR . . . huh?

  5. Austin says:

    Wish Matt had titled this one ‘Leading Example.’ If he’d dropped the ‘by,’ that probably would’ve put me across the finish line. Ah, well . . . looking forward to yet another (likely) sympathy-easy Week 4.

  6. john says:

    I think I have seen so many (usually small) “words within themes” that end up being red herrings, I just dismissed the small words even though i saw them. I did see the extra black square and thought A belonged there to make ADJS for adjectives, but AOTOE isn’t a word so I dismissed it (I actually tried to look it up). Just too much to chew on in this one.

  7. MarkR says:

    I didn’t notice the crossings as such, so I messed up the associations. I figured OIL was WET, EELS were RAW, and ANGER was HOT. But arranging the down words in grid order gave me the answer anyway. I may have to lose a few style points, though.

    All in all, a great meta from Matt.

  8. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    Huh, funny. I wrote down the internal words (NGO, ODD, etc.) in hour 1 of solving, then abandoned them… and never came back to them. I eventually was just trying things around leading letters and realized that I could decapitate a decent number of grid entries. Six of them crossed the theme entries, and their first letters made a 3 3 pattern, and I didn’t look back!

    Of course, in the meantime, I went down a very large number of blind allies — one of the fun ones was trying to relate ISOTROPY to materials, ISOPODs to crustaceans, and IS OKAY to being not verboten. AMI TERESA sitting right above the answer for Amaterasu was odd to me too, as were some of the clues’ leading words (“Actor Pacino” and “Actress Palmer” vs just “Holbrook”).

  9. Seth Cohen says:

    Didn’t get this, but now that I see the solution, I don’t mind that I didn’t get it. Three-letter words can be found within answers all the time, so it would never occur to me to search for such small hidden words unless the title explicitly hinted to do so (which it didn’t). Even in these themer answers, there’s…SUN, GOD, ALL, OWE, WED, THE, and HER. And the hidden words aren’t in any particularly special place in the themers, like split between words or something.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 133 correct answers this week.

    Unfortunately my impression is that this one wasn’t particularly well-received. A number of excellent meta solvers got to TOP HAT and still weren’t 100% sure it was correct, which should not happen.

    My intended solving path was: 1) Notice the three-letter adjectives hidden in the six theme entries. Lots of three-letter adjectives are randomly located in a lot of words, but these were supposed to stand out because a) six of them as opposed to only 4 or 5, b) all adjectives, and c) all very common. Solver wouldn’t be 100% sure it was the right track there, but interested enough to keep walking down that trail.

    2) Notice one of the crossers, probably (A)RED ROSE, and then off to the races on the others. Turns out the crossers were more difficult to see than I’d anticipated since they’re not the entire word, but rather a word with their first letter lopped off.

    My idea was that the crossers were nouns that could be described by their crossing adjectives, but many solvers were seeing them as two-word phrases, like ODD ONE (not a great phrase but plausible enough to keep going), RED ROSE, HOT OIL, but then LOW TOE isn’t anything.

    3) See TOP HAT as those lopped off letters, 100% click, and done. But the idea of TOP HAT (that these extracted letters look like little hats atop the example words) didn’t click as strongly as I’d hoped with some solvers.

    So a good idea, but maybe I missed a better way to present it, or a helpful nudge somewhere that would have strengthened the click.

  11. Mutman says:

    I noticed the asymmetry and that was about it.

    This one was just beyond me. I found no help in the title either. I also look forward to a sympathetic week 4 toned down to a 3.

  12. lkeigwin says:

    I was stuck for a while matching up 3-letter words in theme answers with other 3-letter words for common phrases. ODD/man, LOW/man, WET/bar, RAW/bar, RED/dog, HOT/dog. Maybe RED/hand, HOT/hand?

    I also was overly curious about the grid symmetry failure. Turns out to sorta relevant but I couldn’t see how it mattered.

    • David Harris says:

      I tried this too—LOW bar also works, so even though I could tell it wasn’t going anywhere, having a word that matched with three of the adjectives was kind of interesting.

    • Richard K. says:

      This was my thinking too, except I never completely abandoned it. I looked at other entries to find “examples” for “bar”and “dog,” got excited to see GINMILL and LAB, but nothing else. I also looked for other entries that might be examples of the three-letter words, but never thought to try almost-entries. (For a moment, I thought I was on to something by noticing that a simple vowel change would turn BELLWETHERS into BILL WITHERS.) Definitely a fair meta; just didn’t find it this week.

    • Tony Zito says:

      I did pretty much exactly this too, though mine went:

      LOW/ODD + BALL

      WET/RAW + BAR

      RED/HOT + HEAD

      Then I tried the same exercise with BALL, BAR, and HEAD, hoping to end up with two 3-letter words as the answer.

      BALL/BAR both go with FLY, but that’s where things fizzled. Oh well, better luck next week.

  13. Cricket says:

    I noticed that the black squares were not symetrical. When I saw _DJS in the top right corner, I thought that could refer to ADJS (adjectives). That was the step that put me on the right path of finding three letter words in the theme answers. I noticed RED ROSE first and found the rest. The title was the instruction on taking the first letter of those cross words.

    Tough but good meta.

  14. Meg says:

    I wondered about the lack of symmetry…upper right and lower left corners. 9a could be ADJS with the addition of a letter. I first took the letter where both entries cross. Then correctly interpreted “leading”.

  15. NonnieL says:

    That little bit of asymmetry is what got me to the answer. I noticed the extra letter square in the SW corner and wondered why it needed to be there. That led me to notice the ROSE in AROSE and the RED crossing ROSE at the R. I had noticed the three-letter adjectives in the theme answers previously, but had not been able to make anything of it at the time.

  16. David Harris says:

    A friend and I went down a rabbit hole that we really thought had potential, but turned out to be almost the exact opposite of the key step. She noticed that Amaterasu could also be described as a KAMI, with AMI right above her in the grid. We thought maybe (D)RAG could also be described by the 57A clue? And (O)MENS would be a type of predictors. But then we had trouble with Pacino and his prawns.

    The final extraction helps explain several of the ???s I had, like why not tigerPRAWNS (for the L of EELS), why ESSAIS (for the I of OIL), so I’m at least glad that some of my instincts about grid constraints were right. I definitely shared Joon’s feeling that the ALFREDO clue seemed like it should be relevant, so I’m surprised that the clues were not part of the mechanism at all.

    I know that Matt has said he doesn’t intentionally put in red herrings, but that ironically leads me to obsessing over the wrong parts of the grid at times. By relying on there not being red herrings, I end up creating new ones or something.

  17. Wayne says:

    I saw the RED ROSE and was confident I was on the right track. But the noun starting at the beginning of PEELS seemed like a stronger exemplar of WET. But then I thought no way would Matt put that in a puzzle. (I double checked to make sure I wasn’t working on an AVCX :-)

    So scandalized was I that I nearly abandoned the whole path. Luckily, the EEL popped his head up, and order was restored.

  18. C. Y. Hollander says:

    This puzzle featured a couple of red herrings that were particularly pungent inasmuch as they involved unequivocal flouting of crossword conventions. A number of commenters above have already noted the asymmetry, which, given the extra day taken for polishing, I felt fairly confident must have been [strictly] necessitated somehow by the theme mechanism. That led me down a false trail, but it’s hard to blame Matt much for flouting an aesthetic convention when he had a great theme and that was the only compromise necessary to make it work.

    More wanton, to my mind, was the cluing for 60 down: “I. M. who had an M. Arch. from Harvard U.” In retrospect, I suppose the wording of that clue reflected sheer whimsy and nothing more, but given how flagrantly it violates the convention of using abbreviations in clues only when there is one in the answer, and that “I.”, “M.”, “M.” and “U.” are all the leading letters of the words they indicate, the aberrance of the initials seemed highly likely to be thematic, I thought.

    If P.E.I. were construed as an initialism instead of a surname, it would stand for “Prince Edward Island”, which has the mildly interesting property of being composed entirely of six-letter words. That the answer we were looking for had six letters, that its components had three each, as does PEI, and even that Prince Edward and his ilk might easily be considered leaders (by example, if by nothing else) all lent support to the hunch that this particular clue and entry was thematically significant…

    To be clear, nits notwithstanding, I thought this was a great puzzle overall. Difficult but fair: the best kind. 4.5 stars from me.

    P.S. I’m surprised no one had mentioned yet [as of when I began writing this comment; edition: I see that by the time I posted it, this was no longer the case] that WET intersects more than one example of itself. To be sure, the overall pattern makes it clear that EELS is the example intended, but my first guess (before fully seeing that pattern) was different.

  19. J says:

    Our solving group couldn’t shake some of the oddly specific clueing, like 1D – there are a ton of ways to clue LAS, including just “___ Vegas” without the WNBA nod. We thought maybe Matt was pointing us to another WNBA team, like the The Connecticut SUN – which is the leading phrase of the first themer. Aha!

    And it turns out there are six total clues with parens, which could provide six “examples” that tied to the “leading” parts of the 6 themers. Bieber and Kingston also collaborated on a song called Won’t Stop, which is another way of saying ALLOW. Interesting…

    The concept petered out with poor examples of the others (best of the rest was ALF being an abbreviation for Alien Life Form), and we never landed a great letter extraction mechanism after making the connections, but was a fun path to go down for a while. Alas

  20. Gideon Fostick says:

    Matt, did you notice the asymmetrical grid? That was a very hard rabbit hole to pull out of.

  21. Jason T says:

    Funny thing: after noticing the surprisingly-hard-to-notice three-letter adjectives, and after another long ponder, my entry point to Part 2 was noticing that if you ignore the first letter of “PLEADS” and combine it with “HOT,” you get the phrase “HOT LEADS.” This led me to finding other examples, and eventually figuring out the full crossing mechanism. And then I looked back and realized that my entry point of “HOT LEADS” was just a coincidence! But one that I am grateful for, as it jumped out at me in a way that none of the legitimate answers did! (Not a complaint, just amusing. I agree that the puzzle was surprisingly tough but was thoroughly fair.)

  22. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    Title: Leading by Example
    27A: P Lead S

    that’s one rabbit.

    there were many others. I did see the three letter words (RED, HOT, etc) but never looked at the downs to see the intersections.

    And having AMI TERESA over the SUNGODDESS where the clue had AMATERASU was very, very, very distracting.

    I thought the solution would be things where the answers were examples, such as “a BELLWETHER” as a “LEADING INDICATOR”, but couldn’t find 6 of those, and couldn’t do much with things like INDICATOR.


    not one of my favorites, but they can’t all be favorites.

  23. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    Matt – one minor fix and this would have been a fantastic puzzle.

    Go back and look at the grid. Ignore all the crossing stuff, just make little TOP HATs in the grid. You almost have it, just one is off – the PETAL/RED, the A is just off by one space.

    The TOP HAT letters are (almost) all on top of the middle letter of the three letters of the 6 words.

    You don’t need to find WET EELS, just the P above the E of WET.

    T O P H AL T

    two things to fix to make it work – OTOE – the T is technically the first letter above the LOW, so you’d need a different Down answer there to make the O right above, and as noted, the A is one left of being right above the middle of RED.

  24. Tom says:

    Well I eventually got it with a lot of assistance, but I spent a considerable time with things that sounded like what the entries pointed to:

    the AMERTERASU with AMI TERESA right above it looked oh so promising, then Not Verboten (i.e. ALLOWED) in German is Erlaubt and there was ERR LAB, next I saw BELLWETHERS and found OOH MENS (not just MEN but MENS darn it), next I had ALFREDO and RAG AGO. I could not bring BLACKPRAWNS (wanted so much for there to be a FOUDRE to go with ISEE) or ORTHOTROPY home but assumed that was my inability to see. Finally a kindly soul told me I was chasing rainbows so I left it alone but boy it was tempting.

  25. jefe says:

    I noticed the 6 TLWs at the 11th hour, but couldn’t make anything of it. So I submitted my Hail Mary of TOP…DOG.


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