MGWCC #678

crossword 7:30 
meta 10ish 


hello and welcome to episode #678 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Ad Campaign”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we are looking for an eight-letter word whose last letter is A. okay. what are the theme answers? there are none expressly indicated as such in this overlarge (21×21) grid, but there are seven cross-referenced pairs of clues, which is an unexpectedly large number:

  • {With 110-A, Wicked Chief or Big Spotted Horse, notably} PAWNEE / INDIAN.
  • {With 121-A, move by on a crowded subway} ELBOW / PAST.
  • {With 54-A, place to schuss} SKI / PARK.
  • {With 2-D, creature seen in Alaska and Appalachia} BLACK / BEAR.
  • {With 46-D, environmentally friendly choice like the Tesla Model 3 or the Hyundai Ioniq} GREEN / CAR.
  • {With 8-D, London attraction} BIG / BEN.
  • {With 66-D, indoor activities for kids} RAINY / DAY FUN. this one is, i think, a little more obviously a theme answer, since it can’t really have ended up in the grid just by accident, or else it would have been split up as RAINY DAY / FUN; DAY FUN just isn’t a thing.

identifying these as the theme answers was clearly the first step. i was definitely looking for an eighth pair, based on the instructions, but there kept not being an eighth pair, so i shrugged and moved on.

what’s next? each of the pairs of linked answers are either both acrosses or both downs. and the wording of the cross-reference is curious—across and down are abbreviated as just “A” and “D” in these clues, whereas the second halves are clued as {See 80-Across} and the like, with the word “across” spelled out. so that’s a hint, and in fact, looking at that hint and the first pair (PAWNEE INDIAN) very quickly got me to PAWNEE INDIANA, the fictional town where parks and recreation was set. (indeed, i suspect for most people, this is the more familiar context in which they might associate the term PAWNEE.) likewise, ELBOW PASTA and SKI PARKA are real phrases.

not only that, those phrases can satisfy other clues in the puzzle:

  • {Town where a TV show is set} TWIN PEAKS, or PAWNEE INDIANA.
  • {Alternative to ziti or orecchiette} ROTINI, or ELBOW PASTA.
  • {Winter garment} COAT, or SKI PARKA.

so those are surely important. i kept trying to do the same thing with the downs, but BLACK BEARA isn’t a thing. however, it didn’t take me long to realize that with the downs, i needed to be adding a D rather than an A. these similarly produced real phrases: BLACK BEARD, GREEN CARD, BIG BEND, and RAINY DAY FUND. matching these up with other clues in the grid revealed:

  • {Part of a pirate costume, often} EARRING, or BLACK BEARD.
  • {Oscar-nominated Peter Weir movie} FEARLESS, or GREEN CARD. okay, i definitely had to google this one. the only oscar-nominated peter weir movie i could name off the top of my head is dead poets society.
  • {National Park named for a water feature} EVERGLADES, or BIG BEND (named for the big bend in the rio grande).
  • {Emergency cash source} PIGGY BANK, or RAINY DAY FUND.

all that’s left to do is identify these seven extra entries in the grid and circle their first letters (as in the screenshot above). from top to bottom in the grid, they spell out PERFECT. as there are, in fact, only seven of them, we must have to add one final A to get PERFECTA as the meta answer. i can’t decide if that last step is elegant (because it repeats the theme mechanism and balances out the three A’s and four D’s) or inelegant (because it’s more than a little arbitrary, and would not have been a natural thing to do without the instructions being worded exactly as they were). it did make the meta slightly longer, if not really any harder. i suppose it’s possible to arrive at PERFECT, not know that PERFECTA is a word, and thereby be stuck an inch from the finish line—but that would be quite a parlay. still, i think i would have very slightly preferred the same puzzle with instructions “the meta answer is a 7-letter word.” better yet, it would have been cool if the final step had turned ADDEND into ADDENDA, since “ADD END A” is exactly what that final step would be.

i found this meta to be extremely tractable for a week 4. every step seemed pretty straightforward, and the only time-consuming part was combing through the 21×21 grid for the entries whose clues would fit the modified theme answers. it’s definitely a cool mechanism, and there were some neat wordplay finds underpinning it, like BIG BEN(D) and ELBOW PAST(A).

the title is very clever in retrospect, with “ad” hinting at both A/D and homophonically at “add”, both of the relevant features of the mechanism. one thing i noticed during the solve was that the central across answer was {Unfavorable} ADVERSE, which made me almost wonder if it was intended as another nudge.

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d you like this one?

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23 Responses to MGWCC #678

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 343 right answers this week.

    I had intended PERFECT to be congratulatory (like “you did a perfect job”) and figured that that plus getting a seven-letter word that just happens to form an eight-letter word when you add an “A” would be a strong click, but I got a lot of solvers who didn’t find that click sufficient so I probably should have added another hint in the clues.

    • Garrett says:

      Or just left it as PERFECT.

    • MountainManZach says:

      I don’t think I’d have gotten the break-in without the instructions. In my opinion PERFECTA followed the theme “add a final A/D to get a new word that relates to the puzzle.” Because the themes were all 2 words, putting the first and second words in the correct order seemed to be the metaphorical version of the perfecta. (Making it unclear which was the first and second word might have tightened up the theme, but that would’ve been a massive giveaway). Finally, we’re in the middle of Triple Crown season, so to me it all worked.

  2. C. Y. Hollander says:

    the title is very clever in retrospect, with “ad” hinting at both A/D and homophonically at “add”

    You say homophonically, but more relevant to the theme, I’d say, is that “add” = “ad” with a D appended.

    The germ of this theme (playing on the common abbreviations for entry numbers [#-A/#-D] was clever and its execution was very neat, but it seems to have played a bit easy for a Week 4, perhaps because there were so many ways into it (e.g. if one Googled to find the Oscar-nominated Peter Weir movie, GREEN CARD would leap out at him).

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m one of the one-inch-from-victory almost-solvers you described. 😩 I got to PERFECTA, assumed I was wrong and missing a step because I couldn’t figure out why PERFECTA not PERFECT, went down about 7 more rabbit holes and then submitted a wild hail mary that made sense on no levels. My own worst enemy this week!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah, that’s not good (for me, not you). My thought was that I gave the last letter in the instructions so it didn’t need any further indicator, but you’re not the only one who went looking for it.

      • Melissa says:

        (In all fairness to you, it didn’t help that “I’m probably wrong about this” is my default stance on most things!)

  4. BrainBoggler says:

    Joon, I love your “ADDENDA” idea — agree that would have been cool! Unfortunately for me, I caught on to what I needed to do with the grid entries too close to the deadline and was already past the add “a”/”d” as appropriate only to run out of time looking for the suitable clues with multiple answers. Nonetheless, this was a great puzzle, Matt. Perfecta!

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      it would have been cool if the final step had turned ADDEND into ADDENDA, since “ADD END A” is exactly what that final step would be.

      Also, addenda are exactly what the added letters would be, and A and D feature prominently in the spelling of that word. Yes, that was a very nice idea of Joon’s.

      Going further out on this limb, the letters derived from down clues could have spelled AD and those from across clues could have spelled END. I really think there might have been something there, though I like PERFECTA, too.

  5. Adam Rosenfield says:

    RAINY DAY FUND was our entry into the solution; after that, PAWNEE, INDIANA confirmed it and we were off to the races.

  6. Andrew Bradburn says:

    Wonder if the central entry ADVERSE was on purpose to mislead, or just the way things worked out? Also, how ironic that in a grid with NOARMS as the solution to a clue about the Venus de Milo, you also have ARMLESS hiding in 48-D.

    Constantly amazed at Matt’s ability to find these mechanisms and make them work!

  7. Garrett says:

    “Peter Weir movie” meant nothing to me. I try not to google when solving any grid, and I got FEARLESS through cross-clues. Never gave it another thought, and that crippled me solving where to go with GREEN CARD, initially.

  8. MountainManZach says:

    I really hope this goes into Friday’s post:

  9. Pancho says:

    I kept thinking that fourth missing A would figure in. With four missing the D and only three missing the A, I thought there had to be a fourth A word. Saw MANI and ASE in the grid, which would become MANIA and ASEA with an A added, but there was nothing to add to the front of either of them to fit the mechanism. (ASEA could also be clued with the clue for AFT: [Back on the water], which was another rabbit hole.) I also didn’t have the F from FEARLESS, since I somehow missed GREEN CARD as a Peter Weir movie. I thought maybe it was the “harmless” soccer penalty, even though HARMLESSLY is an adverb and GREEN CARD is a noun. So I kept looking, even after entering a wildcard for the F in an anagram finder spit out PERFECTA. That wasn’t familiar to me except as a Spanish word, and I couldn’t justify the A without an eighth phrase. So I was right there, but the arbitrary adding of the A to the other 7 just didn’t seem like the way it should work. Clever mechanism, but unsatisfying for me.

  10. Tom says:

    Well I solved, to my great surprise, and was unsure of PERFECTA but it was just too PERFECT. It met all the criteria, it was in GRID order, it had the final A (by the way I never saw the A for Across and D for Down thing until today)….so I sent it in timidly and was delighted when it was right.

    I then built an elaborate explanation on why it “tied it all up in a bow”. A “Campaign” is really a race, usually between two people. We were betting on how the first two would “finish”, so finishing with A and D respectively made sense. Yes I realize it is not ideal but it helped me keep from not submitting what was a correct answer.

    I really enjoyed the puzzle because I worked it out a little at a time (obviously not seeing some of the bigger things like the letter nudge) and used logic to determine “OK, where do I go from here?” It was funny because I was in the shower and yelled out “LESLIE KNOPES” when the thing that had been battering the back of my mind leapt to the front. My wife, though rather certain of it to begin with, now has no doubts of my insanity.

  11. Andy says:

    Small nitpick: the YUAN, currency in the mainland, is not used in Hong Kong (well, not yet anyway…). They use, unsurprisingly, the Hong Kong dollar.

  12. Shalaka says:

    I actually thought it was a bit easy for a week 4 (I missed weeks 2 & 3). When I saw the clue “eight letter word whose last letter is A” and only 7 theme answers it seemed obvious that 7 letters would come from the themes and then I would add an A. There is no reason to specify the last letter unless you can’t get it from the grid. Adding an A seemed like a good thing to try in general after that.

  13. PatXC says:

    I was able to get the added a’s and d’s and coat and piggy bank, and then I saw teach. Edward Teach was assumed to be Blackbeard, so I stopped at that. I never watched Twin Peaks, so I didn’t get that reference, but I did see that Cairo is a city in Indiana, Ribera is Spanish for River, so that worked for Big Bend … until it didn’t. It all went downhill from there. If only I had looked at the clues one more time …

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