MGWCC #681

crossword 4:01 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #681 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Crazy Eights”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tells us that This week’s contest answer is a four-letter word that’s encoded somewhere in the grid. okay. what are the theme answers? well, i’m once again blogging a meta i haven’t solved, so i’m guessing here, but my suspicion is that the eight 8-letter across entries are relevant, both because of the title and because they are actually the longest entries in the grid. those answers are:

  • {Tony of great prestige} BEST PLAY.
  • {Mark as holy} SANCTIFY.
  • {Gymnastics maneuver} BACKFLIP.
  • {Child, jocularly} PRE-ADULT.
  • {State capital where Warren Beatty was born} RICHMOND.
  • {In a lather} WORKED UP.
  • {Least angular} ROUNDEST.
  • {Adjective in tabloid headlines} SHOCKING.

in addition, there are four circled entries, all three letters long, across the central row:

  • {Admirably underhanded} SLY.
  • {Bag checkers, briefly} TSA.
  • {Undergraduate deg. for a painting instructor} BFA.
  • {“Here we ___!”} ARE.

the fact that there are four such entries certainly suggests that each one encodes one letter of our four-letter meta answer. but how? and how do they relate to the eight-letter answers? i’m still working that out.

“crazy” suggests anagramming, at least in a cryptic crossword sense, so perhaps that’s what we should be doing, but the only one of these with even one decent anagram is ROUNDEST, which anagrams to UNSORTED and TONSURED. so that’s probably not it.

BFA, the most arbitrary of the circled three-letter answers, are three of the eight letters in BACKFLIP. that was mildly interesting to me, and you can also find the letters of TSA in both BEST PLAY and SANCTIFY and the letters of ARE in PRE-ADULT, but there’s no such luck with SLY. so that’s not it.

what does “encoded” somewhere in the grid suggest? perhaps we need to use some kind of cipher, like morse or semaphore or something. or even binary—you can turn eight bits into a byte, and thence to a character in ASCII. okay, this is definitely interesting. for any given letter, you can check whether it appears in each of the eight theme entries in turn. (the fact that all eight of them are isograms—no repeated letters—is a mild confirmation that this line of thinking might be relevant.) you can assign a 1 for yes and a 0 for no to build a sequence of bits that can be interpreted as a byte.

for example, S appears in BEST PLAY, SANCTIFY, ROUNDEST, and SHOCKING, but not in BACKFLIP, PRE-ADULT, RICHMOND, or WORKED UP. so this would correspond to 11000011, which … okay, here’s where it breaks down, since all of the alphanumeric characters (and standard punctuation) in ASCII start with a 0, not a 1. so that might not be it.

in fact, almost all of the letters in SLY, TSA, BFA, and ARE are in BEST PLAY; only F and R are missing. that does suggest something, although what that something is, i don’t know. not ASCII, i guess.

what else is there? the fact that we have 8 theme entries of 8 letters each means we could lay them out in an 8×8 grid, which is the same size as a chessboard (and we know how much matt likes chess):


but of the many, many things you could do with a chessboard, none of them are suggested by anything in the puzzle. it doesn’t mean this 8×8 grid idea is wrong, but there’s no aha here yet.

the circled entries themselves are, i suspect, quite specifically constrained, based on how much crud surrounds them in the fill: awkward entries like IBI, KAS, BADR, AS I’M, and ALFS, all in that middle section nestled between the circled squares and the eight-letter theme answers. BFA in particular is in a very clunky patch of grid.

all right, as much as it pains me to miss two weeks in a row, i have to once again admit defeat, because i have nothing, and i can’t escape the nagging feeling that maybe i never even got close to the right idea. oh well. those of you who did get this one, my hat’s off to you and i hope to hear from you in the comments.

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28 Responses to MGWCC #681

  1. Al Sanders says:

    You were on track noticing the 3-letter keywords appeared in the first four 8 letter words, but you missed SLY in BEST PLAY. Circle each three letter keyword in its respective 8 letter word (of the first four). SLY in BEST PLAY, TSA in SANCTIFY, BFA in BACKFLIP, ARE in PREADULT. Take the corresponding letters in the next four eights and you get COD EWO RDO CHO, or CODEWORD OCHO.

    • Mutman says:

      That’s crazy, all right!

      Defeated :(

    • Al Sanders says:

      Full disclosure, I team solved this with a frequent Gaffney partner solver of mine, Rich Novo. I wasn’t able to crack the mapping mechanism on my own.

    • Daniel Barkalow says:

      So close! I got COD EWO RDO CHO and didn’t run the letters together. COD was promising, but EWO and RDO were not, and I was expecting to get one letter per set, rather than four at the end.

  2. sharkicicles says:

    I was messing around with Caesar ciphers because of the “encoded” part, but didn’t get anywhere.

  3. Streroto says:

    I can’t believe it. I got the entire meta except for putting together codeword ocho! It never dawned on me to string the 12 letters together. Major face slap. DOH!!!!!

    • Deepak B says:

      Same here!
      One of the last hard metas I missed was for the same reason.

      I need to add “string the things together” to my list of things to remember to try.

      EDIT: I typed this and then looked further in the comments. Seems I am not alone!

  4. JB says:

    Holy geez, I had written down
    days ago and still never saw it. This might be my most crushing defeat yet. KAS 17 at least

  5. C. Y. Hollander says:

    This strongly reminded me of MGWCC #651 (Mass in B minor), insofar as the last step was to reconstruct a phrase that had been broken into three-letter chunks none of which were morphemes of the original phrase. Just like that time, I got as far as looking at the chunks relatively early in the solving process, didn’t notice that, strung together, they would comprise a phrase that directly yielded the answer, and spent a long and frustrating time after that poking around in blind alleys.

    The lesson for me from these two puzzles is, when examining a number of strings that have some natural ordering and may be collectively thematic, to be sure to jot them down horizontally and not just vertically!

    • Adam Rosenfield says:

      That’s the one I was thinking of! Both that puzzle and this one I got to the point of having the final set of trigrams but failed to concatenate them together to get the final answer.

      Although in this case, I admit my group didn’t order the letters correctly: when read in left-to-right order, we got COD WOE ROD HOC, all of which are words (except for HOC, but that could arguably be part of AD-HOC).

      • bwouns says:

        This is what had me sidetracked for the longest time. They were all legit words of the form “_O_” AND there were exactly four other three word entries with that form: DOA, LOS, SOB, and DOS.

  6. stmv says:

    I am grimly happy to see that my experience was exactly the same as those of Streroto, JB, and C. Y. Hollander. I had the answer written down on my paper, I just didn’t “see” it!

  7. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Matt imposed a couple of additional constraints on this puzzle’s construction that have not yet been mentioned here (at time of this comment’s posting):

    1a. All eight 8-letter entries are made up of 8 different letters—no duplicates.
    1b. Moreover, none of the four pairs of corresponding 8-letter entries contains any duplicate letters—i.e., each contains 16 different letters. (This goes a long way toward confirming the correct correspondence, as without this, there would be other reasonable ways to pair them, such as rotationally symmetry vertical alignment.)
    1c. Probably as a grace note: the title, “Crazy Eights” is another longish phrase (11 letters) with no repeated letters.

    2. Not only is each of the four circled across entries made up entirely of letters contained in [at least] one of the 8-letter entries, but this is true of none of the other 26 across entries—quite the constraint!

    I don’t think these constraints were quite necessary for the puzzle to work, but they certainly made it more elegant. Kudos, Matt!

    • Joe says:

      Also, none of the 24 (!) 3-letter non-circled entries corresponded with the last four eight-letter entries in the way that the circled entries did with the first four. I spent a lot of time with those other 3-letter entries. Never got anywhere.

    • Jason T says:

      Re #2: But the letters in URL all appear in PREADULT! Maybe this wasn’t a constraint after all. Not to take anything away from the clever construction!

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        Ah, you’re right; I somehow overlooked that! Perhaps Matt did as well or perhaps he thought it wasn’t worth spending more time and/or compromising the fill to perfect a flourish, but even with the stray URL, it seems unlikely to me that the [quasi-]constraint was coincidental. I suppose if Matt sees this thread he can settle that point.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Yes, the solve I had in mind was:

          1) notice the eight 8-letter entries
          2) notice that they are all isograms
          3) notice that they become 16-letter isograms when top-half and bottom-half entries are paired
          4) realize that that quality means you could map a code from one to the other (that suggestive “encoded” in the prompt)
          5) map the circled words from the top entries to the bottom entries using those four unique codes

          I realized it could be short-circuited by noticing that the three-letter circled entries all used letters from a corresponding top entry, but I figured that was still not easy to notice.

          • Jed says:

            Count me as a short circuit. And I thought it was lovely before I even knew about the isograms! Nice one.

          • austin says:

            yeah i’m a short circuit, too. 16-letter isogram pairs? i don’t even know what that means lol

          • Jason T says:

            Me three on the short circuit! Never noticed the isograms, though that does make sense.

  8. mps says:

    I loved this one. It had a very Foggy Brume vibe for me.

  9. oldjudge says:

    I really liked this puzzle too. It reminded me of the treasure map puzzle from last year.

  10. Mikie says:

    For some reason I found this one “easier” than most Week 3’s, once I noticed the circled 3’s were embedded in the first four 8’s it seemed straightforward to circle the corresponding positions in the last four 8’s and write them down in the order “encoded” by the 3’s. A bit clunky on the fill, I thought (had to chuckle at NAYSIRE in particular), but obviously needed to make the meta work. Nice puzzle.

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 227 right answers this week, of which 141 were solo solves. So more like a Week 4 than a 3.

  12. Seth Cohen says:

    The entry SUDOKUS got me stuck in a rabbit hole. There are exactly 9 unique letters in the four circles entries, which is the number of numbers in a typical Sudoku. The fact that each 8-letter word was an isogram made me think that each of these words somehow encoded a row of a Sudoku, where the letters in the word that show up in the circled entries are the “givens” in the Sudoku.

  13. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    had the 8 8 letter words, had noticed that SLY was in BESTPLAY, etc, but couldn’t make the jump to the “corresponding” other 4 8 letter words and the positions of those 12 letters.

    very nicely done

    I’ll have a 65A now.

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