MGWCC #680

crossword 3:45 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #680 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Split Decision”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tells us that This week”s contest answer, which is six letters long, is where you’ll find this puzzle’s missing clues. what are the theme answers? the six longest across answers all have the same clue, and a string of 2-3 greek letters for the answer:

  • {Fictional campus organization (created for this puzzle)} OMICRON ?HI. the ? could be either C or P to make CHI or PHI, and the crossing down clue is missing, so it doesn’t help, as the answer at 7-down could be ESC or ESP.
  • {Fictional campus organization (created for this puzzle)} ?PSILON SIGMA. EPSILON/UPSILON crossing the missing clue for ESO/USO.
  • {Fictional campus organization (created for this puzzle)} ?I IOTA OMEGA. PI/XI crossing OPEN/OXEN.
  • {Fictional campus organization (created for this puzzle)} TAU DELTA P?I. PHI/PSI crossing SOHO/SOSO.
  • {Fictional campus organization (created for this puzzle)} ?ETA ETA ALPHA. BETA/ZETA crossing BOWIE/ZOWIE.
  • {Fictional campus organization (created for this puzzle)} THETA ?U RHO. MU/NU crossing HOMES/HONES.

so presumably there is a logical way of disambiguating each of these pairs of letters to find the unique solution. my first thought was that taking one of the options for each pair might spell out a six-letter word. but looking at C/P, E/U, P/X, H/S, B/Z, M/N doesn’t look promising, since it would have to end with an outlandish four-consonant cluster. trying a similar approach by choosing one of the two greek letter options instead of roman letters has the same problem.

my second thought was that perhaps a clue elsewhere in the grid might be able to be reused for the missing down clue in each case. there are some things that look like they might almost work, like {Taste or touch, say} SENSE for ESP, or {“___ is the last straw!”} THIS for ESO, but those match the answer better than the clue.

another idea is that perhaps the first letters of the clues spell out the missing clues, acrostic-style. that would be neat… but that does not appear to be what is happening in this puzzle.

where else can the missing clues be hiding? i certainly considered both the email with the puzzle and the mgwcc website, but didn’t find anything unusual in either of those places. so it really must be somewhere in the puzzle itself—either in the grid or in the clues.

let’s go back to the grid idea, because ESO/THIS and ESP/SENSE were the most promising things i found. is there another possible one-word (or one-entry) clue for either OXEN or OPEN? i don’t think OXEN are particularly {Spielbergian creatures} ETS, and there’s also nothing i can find that might work for either HOMES/HONES or SOHO/SOSO.

what about the title? “split” makes me want to combine either two clues or two entries to make each missing clue. something + SENSE could be ESP, and something else (presumably something indicating spanish) + THIS could be ESO. but i’m really not seeing it. i would love “sixth” to go with SENSE because everything about this meta comes in sixes, but nothing else seems to work that way.

oh hey, OPEN is right here in the clue for OSUNA: {Rafael ___ (Mexican tennis player who won the U.S. Open in 1963)}. and the next clue, {Downloads for phones}, hides HONES. are all these hidden? … no, there’s definitely no BOWIE or ZOWIE hiding in the clues.

well, it’s pretty frustrating to be stumped on a week 2, but i am well and truly stumped. i’m going to submit SIXTHS as a wild guess, but i’d love to hear in the comments what i missed.

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34 Responses to MGWCC #680

  1. Seth Cohen says:

    Each pair of letters is two letters in another three-letter entry. Take the third letter in that entry (always the middle letter) to spell UTOPIA.

    At least that’s what I think. Did the puzzle too late to submit.

    • joon says:

      amazing—i was definitely at one point considering submitting UTOPIA based on the frustrated feeling that the missing clues were literally not anywhere.

    • TimF says:

      Arrrgh! Always so easy to see when it’s explained!!
      I don’t like to submit a guess if I’m not 100% sure, but do we get partial credit for getting the Patrick Berry meta answer?

  2. Jeff M says:

    Just needed to look for three-letter words that had the ‘split’ pairs of greek letters e.g. C/P = CUP then extract the U, repeat five more times = UTOPIA

  3. BHamren says:

    I think Joon and I found the same rabbit holes and the same conclusion. Reading the write up is like reading my thought process, except I didn’t submit a guess.

  4. Wayne says:

    I think it would have clicked if you wrote both possibilities in the ambiguous squares rather than leaving them blank. (“C/P”, “E/U”, “P/X”, …) At least it did for me. This was a week where solving on paper was a big leg up.

    • R says:

      Working from home means that I can almost never print puzzles, and my meta-solving rate has probably dropped by half as a result. I can’t wait to get back to the office!

  5. Mutman says:

    While I normally screw up a meta like this, I did get it the next day I looked at it.

    I then thought that I would look at last week’s puzzle and magically find clues that matched the double answers. Surely BOWIE or ZOWIE would be easy to find, or OPEN/OXEN. Upon looking at Patrick Berry’s puzzle, nothing clicked.

    I was pretty sure UTOPIA was correct, but there was no AHA moment to confirm.

    • pgw says:

      > I was pretty sure UTOPIA was correct, but there was no AHA moment to confirm.

      The fact that this grid had 3-letter words with the ambiguous pairs sandwiched around a third letter, and that those middle letters in grid order spelled something, was not enough of an aha?

      • Alex B. says:

        I can’t speak for everyone else, but when I got to that point I thought there might be more, like looking in last week’s puzzle for the missing clues. What convinced me to submit was Matt’s tangent about UTOPIA being Greek for “nowhere” in the write-up.

      • Mutman says:

        I got the ‘aha’ from solving the meta, yes. But as I said, the fact that Matt used the same answer two weeks in a row (great idea) led me to believe there’d be a tie in between the two puzzles somehow. That’s all.

  6. Charles Stevens says:

    Loved the mechanism here. One of my favorite metas of the year.

  7. ===Dan says:

    Neat. I noticed Beta/Zeta could lead to BIZ but not noticing the grid entry is what keeps me an early early week solver.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 421 right answers this week, so a 2.50 or a 2.75 in difficulty.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Joon — 421 right answers this week, so a 2.50 or a 2.75 in difficulty.

      Didn’t plan the double-UTOPIAs at all, as hard to believe as that will sound. I’d had the idea for a while of a meta using those six one-letter-apart pairs of Greek letters. The find-another-grid-entry-one-letter-off technique is getting a bit overused by now, but I liked two unusual aspects of this one: 1) that you weren’t using one-or-the-other of an ambiguous pair, but rather both; and 2) that you never need to know and indeed are never told what the correct answer was in those six squares, and didn’t need it for the meta. Not everyone will know that UTOPIA means “nowhere” so I mentioned it in the writeup to Patrick’s puzzle, though I’m sure not 100% of solvers read those.

      Anyway, answer had to be a six-letter word (because six pairs of Greek letters) and I wanted a Greek word that tied in somehow. Pretty restricted set but I saw STASIS would be feasible but not really on point. Then UTOPIA emerged and I saw the “correct answers are nowhere to be found” angle and thought, OK this would be amusing.

  9. Dan Seidman says:

    A few years ago, there was a meta with the same second step — I forget the details, but we had a bunch of bigrams and the key was to find three-letter entries where the first and third letters matched the bigrams. I missed it that time but I learned from my mistake and got this one.

  10. Reid says:

    Did this at night and was stumped, staring at the bigrams that I’d put in each square as a rebus. Woke up the next morning and remembered the BIZ entry and had it. Wonder if it would’ve clicked if I’d put ZB in as the rebus instead of BZ.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I had a similar experience writing it. Was down to just needing to fit MAN in the grid but there was nowhere to go. Excruciating since I thought I’d need to start over from scratch. Put the puzzle down for a few, came back, and said: wait, that could just be NAM. Which fit easily. Phew.

      • Garrett says:

        I wrote down the pairs in columnar form, with each pair in order. Thus the CP pair allowed me to notice CUP right away, especially as it was in the top-right corner. For no particular reason, I started lookin for something to fit the MN pair next. I went through the whole grid and missed NAM!

        So then I was thinking about them — what were they? Oh yeah — Mu/Nu, and these made me remember UTE because of the U. I’m looking at my list and I see EU, made that connection, then went OHO — NAM!

  11. Amanda says:

    This one was so weird for me. I tried everything I could think of, forgot about it, and then right before the deadline I happened to glance at it and saw it right away. That never happens for me. It did help that I had both possibilities written in each square. I had been trying to find the down options in the grid instead of making a word out of the two letters in the square. I hope this mojo holds for week 3.

  12. Stribbs says:

    It seemed interesting to me that last week’s puzzle also had POX and 3 other 3-letter entries with the same sandwich letters (HMS, EMU, EDU) and it took a fair bit to convince myself that these were coincidental. The write-up explanation of UTOPIA as meaning “nowhere” was definitely helpful to let go of searching further… Still a quick scan of other puzzles makes me think that this incidence rate is at the very high end of a random distribution of puzzles, no?

  13. david glasser says:

    Gosh so many rabbit holes for me. The Open/phones thing, the clue containing “sixteenth” (Chi is the sixteenth letter!), the fact that “fictional campus organization” is 26 letters long… ah well.

  14. Margaret says:

    Count me in the loved it camp! It took a little while of trying to anagram, trying to make words using the English equivalents of the Greek letters, trying to find clues that would solve the ambiguities… but then I saw BIZ and POX. Took me a few seconds to find the correct HPS with the H and S on the outside, I’d seen ASH first which threw me off for a second. Once I had all the middle letters written down I saw UTOPIA and laughed out loud (I mean that literally) at the fact that the answer was UTOPIA two weeks in a row from completely different mechanisms. Greek letters, Greek word as an answer, it all clicked for me.

    • Garrett says:

      I loved it too. It’s the first meta in a while I’ve given a 5 to.

    • Susie says:

      I liked it also! I actually solved it pretty quickly (for me, and before I figured out the WSJ). I thought it was pretty clever, fun to solve, and made me laugh at the end.

  15. Mikie says:

    Had one step of the meta when I noticed BIZ, but just about gave up after searching the grid 3 or 4 times looking for EMU…D’oh!

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