MGWCC #673

crossword 3:14 (across lite) 
meta DNF3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #673 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Two Down”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions ask us: What 10-letter creature has visited this puzzle grid? okay. what are the theme answers? well, i don’t know, but i certainly have my suspicions. it’s a very unusual grid shape, 11×27. based on the title and instructions and one other hint in the clues, i think it must have to do with the fact that exactly ten of the down answers are two words long:

  • {Renaissance festival exclamation} YE GODS.
  • {Election season event} LIVE DEBATE.
  • {4×4 since 1969} RANGE ROVER.
  • {Container for sheets and such} LINEN CHEST.
  • {Cold parts of Earth} POLAR CAPS.
  • {Assign blame to, as for a crime} PIN ON.
  • {Country singer with the hits “With You” and “I Wanna Fall in Love”} LILA MCCANN.
  • {Some are Alice in Wonderland-themed} TEA PARTIES.
  • {Medical term for the sternum, rib cage, and nearby vertebrae} BONY THORAX.
  • {Two-word natural container} PEA POD. the fact that this clue goes out of its way to clarify that the answer is two words (and not PEAPOD, as it is sometimes written) is a strong hint that it is thematic.

but here’s where i’m stuck. what to do with these ten answers (or these twenty words)? it’s interesting that CHEST and THORAX are synonyms, but that’s not going anywhere, as there are no synonyms of MCCANN.

oh, hello, here’s a thematic clue i had not noticed until just now: {Take it from the ___ (what our creature did, you might say)} TOP. hmm. that’s certainly interesting. i like the idea of considering letters that might have been removed from the top of the theme answers. YE of YE GODS could be AYE, BYE, DYE, EYE, LYE, or RYE (or perhaps a few other somewhat less good options). there are things you could do with (A/O)LIVE, (O/G)RANGE, (G)ROVER, (many options)ON, and (E)BONY. but there aren’t ways to turn LINEN or CHEST into another word by adding a letter on top, to say nothing of LILA MCCANN.

what about CAPS? well, it may be relevant that {___-cone} SNO is in the grid at 27-down. or it may not. the big sticking point for me is that nothing, whether it be a single letter or a grid entry, can go on top of LILA or MCCANN to become … anything. the only wordplay of this sort i could see with her is LILA(C), but that’s taking from the bottom, not the top. although it’s interesting to me that LILAC is a color, and there are several other implied colors that are one letter away (OLIVE, ORANGE, EBONY).

what about changing the first letter? that gives plenty of options for all of the theme answers (their first words, anyway; again, there’s nothing doing with MCCANN). but i don’t see anything in the grid that would allow us to disambiguate some of these.

okay, let’s try this from the other direction: what are some ten-letter creatures whose names might lead to interesting wordplay? the one i can see is WOODPECKER, which … hey, all those colors i mentioned earlier are also trees. hmm, that’s interesting. in fact, this is definitely the answer—you can add one letter to the first words to get trees:

  • YE -> YEW
  • PIN -> PINE
  • TEA -> TEAK
  • PEA -> PEAR

those ten added letters, in order, spell out WOODPECKER, of course.

phew. that was difficult. taking from the TOP did not work how i thought it might—it really only hinted that the first word of the two-word answer was going to be used, rather than telling us where in the word the letter was taken from. on the other hand, now i’m starting to feel like i should’ve seen it earlier, because there really is nothing else you can do with LILA and LINEN.

i feel like i’ve been on quite a journey, though. even finding the ten theme answers felt like a not-inconsiderable accomplishment. (it helped that they included all six of the longest down answers and were almost, but not quite, symmetric.) it took me several days more to notice the clue for TOP, which i had totally missed on my initial solve. and that had me leaning in the right direction, although not quite enough to get there without going at it from the back end. ultimately, i admire how the WOODPECKER pecked its own name out of ten different trees.

after a weekend of not really looking at the puzzle because of ACPT, it’s a relief to get this one at the eleventh hour (literally, i figured it out at 11 am). feels like a worthy week 4 challenge. what will week 5 bring?

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34 Responses to MGWCC #673

  1. john says:

    The reach to trees was a long one, worthy of a spider monkey. My mental arms weren’t long enough.

  2. Charles Stevens says:

    In my year-plus of solving these, this is my favorite meta (maybe tied with last summer’s pirate-themed puzzle). The path to solving was difficult but inferable (with the clue on 77D providing a big assist), and led to a series of little aha moments before getting to the big reveal. And the way grid works with the theme and the ultimate solution is sublime: a woodpecker pecking out one letter from the ten “trees” in the grid tells a neat little story. One for the books.

  3. Margaret says:

    Haha I saw the Olive and Orange possibilities almost immediately but couldn’t do anything else with the puzzle for three days. Spent a whole lot of time on the three-letter words that were only one letter off from each other (ana/any, pen/ben, ewe/ere etc) even though I couldn’t tie that into anything else. Finally I googled 10-letter creatures late last night and randomly picked woodpecker based on the two Os I’d seen three days earlier. Hail Mary accomplished!

  4. Garrett says:

    Joon asks, “what will week 5 bring?”

    If it’s anything like the two Gaffney’s this weekend, my guess for me is — nothing but grief, after wasting hours upon hours to no avail.

  5. Louis D says:

    This grid was full of rabbit holes for me.

    There are ten 5-letter answers, ten “long” answers (at least 9 letters), ten and/or pairs in the clues (Estrada or Kratz, Minas Gerais or Minnesota, Magic and Wizards, etc.).
    I never noticed that ten of the down answers had two words though…

    My favorite rabbit hole was that I found that Lila McCann has a song called “Yippie Ky Yay” and 67 across is Die Hard 2…

  6. Mikie says:

    I’ll blame ACPT fatigue and let it go at that, never got a bit of traction on this one, started thinking it was a grid art meta and kept seeing the blocks along the edges as feet, or maybe footprints, but never found a way to spell “centipede” or “millipede” with 10 letters. My wife started thinking up 10-letter creatures, and one of the first she hit on was “woodpecker”, making me think maybe the blocks stood for pecked holes, but I confidently assured her that it couldn’t be that because woodpecker holes are never symmetric. The grid does resemble a tree, though, very nice puzzle. Rabbithole 1, Mikie 0.

  7. Paul Manaster says:

    I take Matt at his word that he doesn’t deliberately insert red herrings, but how did you successful solvers manage to see the actual 2-down, ARARAT, in a puzzle about twos and animals, and not go down the Noah’s Ark rabbit hole? Other distractions for me were the adjacent “HUE” and “CRY” and the appearance of “LAILA” and “ALI”–pairs of linked words that had nothing to do with the solution. Wish I had solved it, but on to Week 5!

    • Mike W says:

      Agree. I was distracted by both Ararat (looking for animals) and pairing words from the top and bottom diagram (Laila Ali). Great puzzle.

    • Garrett says:

      I definitely went down that rabbit hole, but the Biblical account does not really tell us definitively which animals.

      Another was the Alice in Wonderland reference via the TEAPARTIES clue. Some creatures there: Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Mock Turtle.

      And Macbeth mentions the rhinoceros…

    • TRidgway says:

      I got a hunch that ARARAT wasn’t important from the title being “Two Down” instead of “2 Down.” I know that’s kind of subtle, but nobody writes out clue numbers as words.

    • Justin says:

      Thank you. Me too. Also PEN and PENCIL.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Jo0n — 181 right answers this week.

  9. Wayne says:

    I don’t think I would have gotten this without the clue to 77D strongly hinting that two-worded-ness was important, and also helpfully reminding me that PEA POD is, in fact, two words. (The food delivery service by that name had all-but removed this knowledge from my mind.)

  10. Garrett says:

    I’ll add that I was sure of the ten two-word Down fills yesterday, but I just could not see what to do with them. I tried back-solving it from a list of animals I had made, but for some reason woodpecker didn’t make the list! Maybe if it had, I might have better understood the Take it from the TOP hint.

    • Mutman says:

      Agreed. I got as far as the 10 entries with 2 words. What to do? I couldn’t figure out if we were supposed to discard the top half or use it.

      A subtle hint at trees elsewhere would have helped me, because as Joon said, maybe you could see colors, or zodiac signs, or anywhere else your imagination takes you.

      Took a longshot at vampire bat (in the theme of 2-word answers) because my word list also omitted Woody Woodpecker.

  11. PJ says:

    Just a great puzzle! I didn’t get it but I should’ve.

  12. Garrett says:

    Ha ha — all weekend all I could see in BONYTHORAX was BORAX! :-)

  13. Seth Cohen says:

    I don’t really understand where the leap to trees was supposed to come from. Are you just supposed to stare at the first word of each of those two-word downs until you see that they’re all one letter off from trees? Is there anything else to suggest trees, or is it just a really hard “what do all these words have in common?” word puzzle?

    • Garrett says:

      It was the [Take it from the ___ (what our creature did, you might say)] clue.


      We are not being told to take something from the top, but rather that the creature did that. If you are at the point of sussing the ten downward, two-word fills as themers, then you were to infer that something has been removed from the top word of each.

      Successful solvers got that second insight (I did not, alas), and then you would have to look at the top words and see what could be added to them to make a new word.

      Like Joon said, some could become colors — but not all: but all could become trees.

    • David Plass says:

      I felt the same way as Seth.

    • pgw says:

      I feel like over the years I’ve been a broken record on these kinds of “how were we supposed to figure this out?” comments so I’ll be brief – in my view, where that leap takes place is inside the mind of the solver. As a week 4, this one was supposed to be, and was, difficult. Successful solvers got there by trying stuff and eventually noticing something.

  14. Steve Thurman says:

    As a math teacher, I should have known to check my work. I had LISA instead of LILA and bumped against it with every rabbit I chased. I saw OLIVE and ORANGE and EBONY, and I really think LILA would have led me to LILAC.


  15. Mutman says:

    Similarly, I had BONE crossing INCAPABLE, which rendered EBONY ungettable

  16. This is just a beautifully perfect meta! The long skinny columns even make you think of trees!

  17. Jeff M says:

    There’s a LILAC tree? Wow, not even close.

  18. jefe says:

    I’ll also blame ACPT fatigue on not getting this, haha.
    Pretty clever meta!
    It’s always really thrilling to read joon’s last-minute insights.

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