MGWCC #671

crossword 6:21 
meta 5:00ish 


hello and welcome to episode #671 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “This Stays Between Us”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tells us that the answer is a kind of talk that’s best kept private. okay. what are the theme answers? this 21×21 grid includes seven wacky long across entries:

  • {Changing the amount of margarine your recipe calls for?} OLEO RECALIBRATION.
  • {Wine-based dish eaten by a lottery winner?} PARVENU’S MARSALA.
  • {Said bad things about infielder Manny?} MALIGNED MACHADO. people did that a lot after he signed that 10-year, $300 million free agent contract.
  • {Decide not to give away an 8-track cassette?} RETAIN AUDIOTAPE.
  • {Card game played on a carriage in India? (yeah, I know that’s his real name, just play along)} GHARRY BLACKJACK. i did not know the word GHARRY.
  • {Supreme Court justice whose opinions are full of clichés?} HACKNEYED BREYER.
  • {Ideas that Thomas Edison could never quite get to work?} STALLED INVENTIONS.

so what’s going on with the theme? each of these wacky answers is a two-word phrase in which each word contains a hidden word or name, and both hiddens are part of a canonical set, with (as the title hints) one thing between them:

  • OLEO RECALIBRATION has LEO and LIBRA, two astrological signs with VIRGO occurring between them.
  • PARVENU’S MARSALA contains VENUS and MARS, two planets with EARTH between them. (i didn’t have to look this one up!)
  • MALIGNED MACHADO has MALI and CHAD, two african nations on either side of NIGER.
  • RETAIN AUDIOTAPE contains ETA and IOTA, two greek letters with THETA between them.
  • GHARRY BLACKJACK contains HARRY and JACK. since matt did ask us to play along, let’s say that these are nicknames of presidents truman and kennedy, with IKE eisenhower between them.
  • HACKNEYED BREYER both contain EYE, which is a little funny. on a face, the (bridge of the) NOSE is located between the EYEs.
  • STALLED INVENTIONS contains TALL and VENTI, two starbucks sizes with GRANDE between them.

taking the first letters of the in-between term in each of these spells out VENTING, which is the meta answer. (it’s a little curious how similar it is to the unrelated word VENTI, part of the last themer.)

this is a very nice week 2 meta—one big aha followed by several little ahas, and i enjoyed the different senses of “between” used across the various theme answers: astrologically, astronomically, geographically, alphabetically, chronologically, ordered by size… and whatever is going on with EYE/NOSE/EYE. i’m a fan of the british game show only connect, so the fact that these all relied on some sort of sequential ordering definitely had my “round 2” antennae up.

i’m a little curious (not that i’m complaining, mind you) why this ended up being a 21×21 puzzle instead of a 15x or 17x with, say, 4 or 5 theme answers, because a 21x is a lot more work to construct. VENTING was a perfectly nice final answer, but the puzzle could certainly have been approximately as satisfying with any number of 4-letter answers.

that’s all i’ve got this week. what’d you think?

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10 Responses to MGWCC #671

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 569 right answers this week.

    Went with 21×21 since I liked VENTING as a meta answer, and it also allowed me to use most of the available letters (this was a pretty restricted set — I could only come up with about 11 good ones).

    Disappointed that I wasn’t able to use [Hitting the trails on Monday or Thursday evening?] for WEEKNIGHT HIKING yielding a B. I’m just B-VENTING here.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I’m surprised the set of possible theme entries proved so limited. Since you permitted yourself the use of more or less arbitrary phrases, the constraints are that the thematic words are items i and i 2 of some well-ordered set, each must constitute a substring [without being a root] of some legitimate crossword entry, as well as that the combination of these entries must fit in the grid. I’d have expected there to be a lot more of these.

      Putting my expectations to the proof by trying to come up with some alternative theme entries just now, I indeed found this more difficult than I’d imagined it would be. The longer the seed thematic words, the more difficult it is to find unrelated [single] words that contain them. Ideally, one would be able to draw on a number of ordered sets with a lot of three- or four-letter members, but I couldn’t think of too many of those. If you restrict yourself to one theme entry per list, the task becomes harder.

      Still, for what it’s worth, here are a few alternatives I came up with (with the aid of OneLook), all of length 15 or 17 so that they would fit into the existing grid.
      Were any of those on your own list?

      WEEKNIGHT HIKING is a very nice one! Too bad you couldn’t use it.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        GREENYHOMINY (albeit only 12 letters long, but I like it better than GREENYSEMINYMPH)

  2. Jim S says:

    Got the meta but had to fill in the “I” and “N” without knowing why. I saw “HARRY” and “JACK” and just assumed it was a list of men’s names in alphabetical order that I should have known – just a coincidence that these 3 presidents were HIJ, I guess… Didn’t see the NOSE thing until Joon’s write-up – with the bolded EYEs noted like that, it was much more obvious to me than my highlighted print out, but not sure why that is.

    Great puzzle – lots of fun piecing it together.

  3. Wayne says:

    VENUS/MARS was my ticket in.
    I never did get IKE. I’d even looked at the Kennedy family tree for a Harry at one point. (Sigh.) I like that the meta was forgiving enough to still let us get to the solution even if we skipped a step or two.

    Aesthetically, I would have been a little happier if the answer (VENTING) didn’t require us to spend time with a word that shared so many letters (VENTI). But other than that quibble, a pretty nice offering, and a perfect week 2.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      The G from tall-Grande-venti was so much better than the only other G that I could find (I can’t remember what it was right now, but it was mediocre) that I decided to go with the Starbucks sizes even thought VENTI is close to VENTING. If they’d shared a root then I probably wouldn’t have done it, but venti (“twenty” in Italian) isn’t related to VENTING, which is from the Latin for “wind.”

  4. Jeff G. says:

    Excellent meta Matt, and excellent review Joon! I agree the variety in theme answers provided multiple mini ahas. Lots of fun!

  5. Pancho says:

    I’m wondering how 600 solvers got this without circles in the grid. My .puz file didn’t have any circles, but Joon’s review showed them. If the circles were indeed not there, congrats to everyone who found the embedded words in the phrases!

    • joon says:

      nobody had circles. i added circles to my screenshot to make it clearer how the meta worked.

      i think the big giveaway was VENUS and MARS right next to each other in the second themer.

  6. ===Dan says:

    I submitted without an answer for Harry__Jack. But after the fact, I found Harry Isaac Jack in a few phonetic alphabets. The presidents’ names were much more satisfying.

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