MGWCC #677

crossword 5:52 
meta 10ish 


hello and welcome to episode #677 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Lofty Aspirations”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that This week’s 12-letter answer describes where some creatures can go and others cannot. okay. what are the theme answers? the most obvious one is the last across answer, {Where some creatures can go} SKY. not that you necessarily needed this hint, given the title, but it’s definitely a nudge (or perhaps a shove) in the direction of birds, and indeed, there are twelve across answers—not all the longest ones—that include a hidden bird:

  • {Greek group} FRATERNITY hides a TERN, or perhaps an ERN. (it turns out not to matter.)
  • {Very fast, in Hawaiian} WIKI WIKI hides a KIWI.
  • {That dam city} ASWAN hides a SWAN (indeed, it is just a charade of A SWAN).
  • {In need of shade and Gatorade} OVERHEATED hides a RHEA.
  • {Co-founder of Rome} REMUS hides an EMU.
  • {Examine, as a text} READ OVER hides a DOVE.
  • {“Not that, that”} OTHER ONE hides a HERON.
  • {Item on the table at a formal dinner} FINGER BOWL hides an OWL.
  • {Adventurer’s quarry, often} LOST RICHES hides an OSTRICH. this is a great find!
  • {Shaved-on-the-sides cut} FAUXHAWK hides a HAWK. although it just looks like faux + hawk, there’s actually no etymological connection between the haircut and the bird; fauxhawk is a portmanteau neologism based on mohawk, which is named for the native american tribe, not the bird.
  • {Tanzania’s capital} DODOMA hides the (extinct) DODO. speaking of things that are no longer, when i learned the african capitals in high school, tanzania’s was dar es salaam. it moved to DODOMA in 1996, although dar es salaam is still seen as the de facto capital as many governmental buildings are still there, and it’s also the cultural/financial/commercial center and by far the largest city in the country.
  • {About 100,000 New Zealanders speak it} SAMOAN hides the (equally extinct) MOA.

so, we have twelve birds, some of them much more obvious than others. luckily, the instructions strongly suggest that we’re looking for twelve of something, so once you have a few you can find the others with a bit of concerted effort. some long answers like CAMPAIGNED and ITALICIZES don’t have any avian content, but that’s okay. anyway, what do we do now?

well, it seems clear based on the instructions and the clue for SKY to distinguish between birds that can fly and birds that can’t. any experienced crossworder knows a lot more about flightless birds than the average person does, so now it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. of the twelve birds in our puzzle, the ones with the power of flight are (T)ERN, SWAN, DOVE, HERON, OWL, and HAWK; the flightless birds are KIWI, RHEA, EMU, OSTRICH, DODO, and MOA. separating our twelve theme answers into two lists based on flight ability gives us:


for flighted birds, and


for flightless birds. reading off the first letters of the theme answers in these two lists gives FAR-OFF WORLDS, which is the meta answer. (it’s not literally true that some creatures can go to far-off worlds, but i suppose it’s literarily true.)

i admire the scope of this meta. in order to make the key mechanism—separation into two lists—work, you need to have a pretty big set of theme answers; otherwise, it’s not that hard to just anagram the first letters to get the meta answer without really grokking the mechanism. twelve themers feels like about the right number, but that’s a ton of theme content, necessitating a 19×19 grid in this case. the flighted/flightless distinction is really neat—i love the idea of basing a meta mechanism on crossworders’ collectively having seen zillions of {Flightless bird} clues for EMU, RHEA, etc. it’s the really original part of an otherwise familiar theme type (hidden birds, which feels like well-trodden territory).

overall, this felt considerably easier to me than week 2, but it’s a very tidy construction. there isn’t a huge amount of freedom in choosing theme answers that hide any specific bird, so the fact that matt was able to turn them into an acrostic that spelled out a (somewhat) relevant phrase is really neat.

how’d you like this one?

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16 Responses to MGWCC #677

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 336 entries this Week, so a real-deal Week 3 even though many who got it found it to be, as you did, more Week 2ish.

    I wanted to guard against anagrammers who hadn’t used the flighted/flightless distinction, and luckily FAR-OFF WORLDS with the first letters well-mixed worked fairly well there (anecdotally). I think it’s because FWAORDOFLFDS doesn’t look too anagrammable so that might’ve put some solvers off.

    FAR-OFF WORLDS is indeed a bit poetic for a bird’s destination, but I think places like New Zealand and Antarctica sneak in under the wire. Anyway, the set was pretty limited — entries like LOST RICHES, WIKIWIKI and DODOMA were, I think, the only possible carriers for their birds.

    • Margaret says:

      There was so much space-related cluing in the downs (Opportunity, Hubble, Ronald McNair etc) coupled with the Lofty Aspirations title that I assumed your “creatures” were the Mars space rovers! Making far-off worlds even better as an answer.

    • pgw says:

      > entries like LOST RICHES, WIKIWIKI and DODOMA were,
      > I think, the only possible carriers for their birds

      I don’t have anything good for OSTRICH, but there’s {Famous tenor} (7 7) for DODO, and {“Imagine me doing that!”} (4 4 1 4) for KIWI

      • Alex B. says:

        The tenor is a good one. There’s also the mighty obscure [Alberta city whose name comes from the Cree for “the hills where peace was made”] for KIWI.

        This was a super impressive puzzle! Excellent job avoiding stray ERNs or HENs, etc. elsewhere in the grid as well.

      • Jay Livingston says:

        Does that tenor sing the Gershwin song “Do Do Do What You
        Done Done Done Before”?

  2. Margaret says:

    Indeed, I did just anagram the first letters without grokking the separation of flighted/flightless (I just noted hmm, some flightless, some extinct, some Aussie/NZ, etc.) The thing that stalled me the longest was my assumption that a 12-letter answer had to be a single word! It also bothered me that the D from DODO was also the first letter of the word, unlike all the others, but then I realized with the amount of theme it probably just couldn’t be helped.

  3. Reid says:

    Mileage wrong on your car? BADODOMETER
    Messed up your first canine performance? REDODOGTRICKS ​
    Place to learn a martial art? JUDODOJO (this one might actually have made a good entry)

  4. Susie says:

    Head slap! I separated the two groups and I looked at the clues but I didn’t look at the clues by group. Ugh.

    I was shopping at 12:15 eastern and the cashier was a teenaged boy named AVIAN, which reminded me I forgot to finish the puzzle today.

    Nice puzzle, Matt.

  5. Wayne says:

    I love this meta. Each time I got stuck it was for a very satisfying length of time. Not so long that I got frustrated, but long enough that I felt like I’d accomplished something when I got unstuck.

    If the flighted vs flightless birds hadn’t split 6 and 6, I might not have pursued that far enough to get to the answer.

  6. pannonica says:

    Once I’d identified and sorted the birds into volant and nonvolant species, I looked first at their initial letters, then moved on to the first letters of the clues, which yielded the incantatory-seeming g’tenis vicata. That they could be the first letters of the entries hadn’t entered my mind, as that seemed too difficult a task even for Matt. It was only after revisiting it a day later that I dared entertain that notion.

    I wonder: did anyone get clever and submit “far off-worlds”?

  7. Tony Zito says:

    Fun one. FWIW, I found it a good deal harder than last week’s, which I just saw immediately. This one I was overthinking a bit, looking for spaces above the flighted (volant!, thanks pannonica) birds, and below the flightless ones, or before and after, first and last, etc.

    Really should start from the beginning (as it were) next time. Thanks Matt!

  8. jefe says:

    I liked it a lot! minus all the time I spent looking for birds in CAMPAIGNED and ITALICIZES, haha.

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