MGWCC #687

crossword 3:13 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #687 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Fifth-fifth Friday”. the instructions for this (indeed) fifth friday of the month tell us that we are looking for a well-known fifth. what are the theme answers? i don’t know! but there are six long answers, so let’s start with the assumption that those are all thematic:

  • {Seductive look} BEDROOM EYES.
  • {Video game where you slice food with a sword} FRUIT NINJA.
  • {Sitcom sounds} LAUGH TRACK.
  • {Sassy} IMPERTINENT.
  • {Successor to David Dinkins} RUDOLPH GIULIANI.
  • {Oktoberfest fare} BEER AND PRETZELS.

all right. the two ten-letter across answers are interesting because they’re both made up of five-letter word pairs. so maybe each of those words (FRUIT, NINJA, LAUGH, TRACK) relates to one of the other long answers? that’s at least a plausible structure for this slightly weird grid layout with themers going 11-10-10-11 across and 15-15 down.

okay, so how would it work? NINJA puts me in mind of the ninja turtles, who are a famous foursome. that’s almost like a fivesome, right? of course, one problem here is that there’s no single canonical fifth turtle; another is that none of the other theme answers in the grid appear to have anything to do with any of the ninja turtles.

what else is there? brainstorming about fifths, i notice that the clue for CARNES is {Kim who hit #1 with “Bette Davis Eyes”}, which not only dupes EYES from BEDROOM EYES but also mentions bette davis, who was known as “the fifth warner brother”. is that anything? i’d love for it to be something. if stu sutcliffe (the most prominent among several people occasionally dubbed the “fifth beatle”) were in the clues, that’d be great. but he’s not.

among other ordered lists of at least five things, several more show up in the clues:

  • {June or Jimmy} CARTER. june is the sixth month; the fifth is may. also, jimmy CARTER was the 39th president; the fifth was james monroe.
  • {Truman and Myerson, for two} BESSES. harry truman was the 33rd president. (there’s no canonical ordering of first ladies, so we can’t really work with BESS herself here.) again, monroe would be the corresponding fifth.
  • {Element #55} CESIUM. the fifth element is boron, or ether, or milla jovovich.
  • {11th of 26} LETTER K, which is a weird fill entry. the 5th of 26 would be the LETTER E.
  • similarly, {Eighth letters} THETAS—also kind of an awkward answer—might suggest EPSILONS.

i rather suspect none of these are relevant, for various reasons. first, reusing the list of presidents would be inelegant; second, there does not seem to be any connection between any of these and the long answers; third, the grid itself is only a 74-word grid with six very long answers, suggesting to me that there isn’t a whole bunch of other hidden theme material in the grid. the clues are admittedly less constrained than the grid, but still, i think this meta might be just about the six long answers.

having said that, i am forced to confront the reality that i have no idea what to do with the six long answers. what else is there? RUDOLPH again suggests a canonical ordered set of, i guess, nine reindeer (the fifth would be comet, in either the original poem with only eight reindeer or the lyrics to the song with all nine), but there’s nothing to connect to reindeer anywhere else in the puzzle. and IMPERTINENT just cannot be used straight-up semantically like that; there has to be wordplay of some kind (taking the fifth letter of some hidden substring or something like that).

so, yeah, i am out of ideas and, i think, out of time. (i haven’t seen anything from matt about the deadline being extended even though the puzzle came out a few hours late on friday.) i’m going to try STU SUTCLIFFE as a hail mary just because he’s the most famous fifth i can think of. i guess i’ll find out from the comments section what was actually happening, because i got absolutely nowhere on this one.

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30 Responses to MGWCC #687

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 127 right answers this week, of which 57 were solo solves.

    Parsing the second “Fifth” in the title to mean “20%”, take the five entries in the grid that have a (non-fractional) 20% — the one five-letter entry and the two 10s and 15s. Their final 20%s spell out JA-CK-D-ANI-ELS, which many who got it mentioned needing a fifth of afterwards.

    • Richard K. says:

      Aah, that makes sense! I did look at the multiple-five entries, looking only at every fifth letter. As a retired math teacher, I’m a little embarrassed to have ignored fractions!

  2. RPardoe says:

    Surprised you didn’t comment or notice the asymmetry in the grid.

    The key here was the title: FIFTH FIFTH.

    There are 5 entries that are divisible into fifths (lengths of 5, 10, 15). Taking the fifth fifth of each one in grid order spells out JA – CK – D – ANI – ELS.

    JACK DANIELS is the desired answer.

    • The asymmetry is a tough thing to notice on first or second or several more glances. I didn’t notice it until I entered the grid into Crossword Compiler and saw that the black squares didn’t line up like I expected. But that, along with the resulting ON END being the only five-letter word in the puzzle, was really the only relevant thing I could see for days.

      • Mikie says:

        Same here, figured no way Matt would have an asymmetry resulting in a single 5-letter entry and it not mean something, though seeing the solution now I guess it did. My hail mary was going to be Cinco de Mayo (fifth day of the fifth month) but I drank too much tequila last night and forgot to send it in.

    • pgw says:

      Shit! I noticed the key fact last night. I also noticed that the two 15s ended with ANI ELS and thought of Jack Daniels. Why didn’t I put those two things together?

      Gotta say my gut reaction is I don’t love this one. Lots of noise, very little signal; no apparent reason the lone 5 letter entry couldn’t be in the center instead of relying on asymmetry; but most problematically, JD is not “a fifth” – it is something that comes in a fifth.

      Still, I feel kinda dumb for not getting it after unwittingly getting so close …

  3. pgw says:

    I got nowhere in much the same way; hail maryed PETE BEST, so we can fight over whose guess, both of which are most likely wrong, is more “right.”

  4. Richard K. says:

    I didn’t get this one either, but I did notice one asymmetrical square that created a single five-letter entry, ONEND. That had to be significant, but nothing else seemed to connect. I submitted BORON at the last minute, as a five-letter fifth with an “ON end,” but I knew that was a thin thread.

  5. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    I noted the asymmetry and was reasonably certain it pertained the meta, but did not make it further than that.

    My “guess” just based on the title and the “ask” were (a) Amendment, (b) Dimension, (c) Estate, (d) Cinco de Mayo, and (e) yes, Jack Daniels.

    I went with (d) based solely on the title, as a Hail Mary guess.

    Next time, that little gnat in my ear … something is wrong with the grid – why did he do that … I need to listen to it more.

    • Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

      had the title been “five fifths”, it probably would have been a 3 star and more solvable.

  6. Mike W says:

    I saw the asymmetry, but chased the wrong reason. Because of the asymmetry, the grid has 5 Ds (and also 5 Ps). This went nowhere. I knew asymmetry was important (as 51-A could have easily been OVEN and maintained symmetry) and even noticed this was the only 5 letter answer (in addition to the two 10 letter answers and two 15 letter answers). Another elegant puzzle – clever yet simple. Kudos to Matt!

  7. Seth0326 says:

    Nice meta! Bummed I didn’t get it. I got stuck on a few things:
    – Cesium being the 55th element (five five!) is an evil rabbit hole
    – Using the word “letters” in the clue for THETAS when there’s LETTER K in the grid made me suspicious, especially because those clues involved counting things.
    – FRUIT NINJA and LAUGH TRACK are both 5-5. Guess I was right to look at those answers, but for the wrong reason.

  8. Jon Forsythe says:

    Oh darn, I didn’t realize the answer had been blogged out already. I just emailed Matt my answer because I assumed the closed submissions were a mistake since he emailed out the puzzle at 3pm EST on Friday. Shoot.

  9. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    Pretty tight meta in the end. I do agree with Peter that there was a lot of noise. But even when I submitted the answer and my name didn’t appear on the leaderboard despite the “Last updated” time being past my submission, I did not feel that I could have missed anything except perhaps one of the specific labels of Jack Daniel’s. I was surprised to see nothing relating to “Friday”, though perhaps there’s something about Jack Daniel’s I don’t know about.

    Anyone else get bogged down by numerology? I noticed that a year normally has four months with 5 Fridays, but on occasion there are five such months. 2021 has 5: 1/29, 4/30, 7/30, 10/29, 12/31. Years that have a fifth “fifth Friday” have 53 Fridays, the last being 12/30 or 12/31. Note that the letter in box 53 is the crucial asymmetric D, the 5th letter of ON END. To make matters worse, this was the 55th MGWCC coming out on the 5th Friday of a month (see 14-D). It didn’t help that St. Bede is known for calculations of the date of Easter and the use of BC/AD, Giuliani is remembered for his response to 9/11, and 10-D’s clue had “Oktoberfest”.

    Another thing I tried to string together was “Hanover”. It is the maiden name of Giuliani’s 2nd wife (together while he was in office, 3-D); it is part of a major pretzel brand and a city in Germany (10-D); and it was part of a proposed spelling alphabet that included “Nancy” for N (58-D), intending to be used with the 8th letter H (47-D). But while George I to III of the UK were Hanoverian, the line ended before reaching George V!

    I think it’s especially interesting to come out with this puzzle when Andy Keller (AK37) opened his remarks on solving a couple weeks ago by saying that he looks for asymmetry, and it being an important foothold in this puzzle.

  10. Chaddog says:

    I didn’t get past the fact that the fifth fifth Friday this year is New Year’s EVE.

  11. John says:

    Wow. I wasn’t a fan of the idea per se, but it was fine execution and definitely something new. I still have to give it 4 stars.

  12. David Benbow says:

    I was very excited that I got the answer at the 11th hour, but it turned out that I was still too late to submit it. I’ve never come down to the wire before and I assumed that since the puzzle was delayed, the deadline would also be delayed. My streak has evaporated, but in my heart, I know I got it.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Normally when the puzzle is only delayed a few hours I don’t extend the deadline, but from now on I’m going to explicitly state that in the puzzle e-mail so there’s no confusion.

  13. It took me a long time to get off the letter train – trying to force individual letters from the grid make something other than gibberish. Once I properly interpreted “fifths” and divided the words up I got it. Did anyone else think that THE Fifth Fifth Friday of this year is December 31 and EVE is sitting there in the grid? That rabbit hole had me going for a day at least.

  14. David G says:

    Man I got so hung up on the asymmetry that I went down a long rabbit hole and completely focused on the wrong section of the puzzle. I convinced myself that ITO was going to break this one wide open for me.

    I know ITO from the People vs OJ mini series. I figured that Justice SCALIA would also fit the clue for ITO as a judge in 90s news. And a brief visit to his wiki page seemed to indicate that his 90s newsworthiness was highlighted by dissenting in SCOTUS’s line-item veto decision. And vetos is an anagram of votes, which is in the clue for NOES. And if you take two letters from SCALIA’s name and add them to ITO you can get AL-ITO who is also a judge, but none of that solved the symmetry problem and is convoluted as hell for anything meta-related.

    It was a fun distraction, but of course it kept me from seeing the meta, which was very clever in retrospect.

    After giving up on ITO, it hit me that ON END was the only 5-letter entry in the grid. So that D was where I should be focusing. And that D is right smack in the middle of CINCO DE MAYO, which would fit beautifully with the title, but I could not make that work so I sadly DNF.

    Great puzzle though.

  15. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I knew the asymmetry had to be important, since it could easily be fixed by changing CARNES/ONEND/DICE to CARVES/OVEN/ICE; that does leave a bit of duplication between ICY and ICE, but that could also be fixed by changing ICE/BESSES to ICU/BUSSES.

    I thought maybe this was important for the placement of where the clue numbers were in the grid: changing the D in ONEND/DICE to a black square would change 54->53 etc. for all the numbers in the last 3 rows.

    One idea I had was to read the letters from all the squares that are multiples of 5, which gives the gibberish IBEBNAUAGBPN (IIRC a similar mechanism has been used in some past MGWCC puzzles), before I found the correct answer. Plus I fell into a number of rabbit holes other commenters have mentioned.

  16. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    It is interesting to see people’s hail mary guesses. I had been deciding between Beethoven’s 5th symphony and Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th). Notably you can say “Fifth-Fifth-Fri-Day” to the rhythm of the motif of the 5th symphony, and the second time it appears in the piece the notes are FFF-D.

  17. Small Wave Dave says:

    My first wrong idea was the five senses, and I was pretty excited for a minute:
    BEDROOMEYES: sight
    FRUITNINJA: taste
    LAUGHTRACK: hearing

    Felt fortunate to eventually interpret the title correctly.

  18. Thomas says:

    I noticed that the extra black square was touching (Lance) ITO and BASS, and Lance Bass was a member of a famous group of 5. This obviously went nowhere, but it was all I could see. Never occurred to me the important thing was on the other side of the asymmetry.

  19. Oneacross says:

    Well, I got a different answer on this one. Maybe my connections were a bit fast and loose.
    Thought process:
    * There is only one 5 letter answer: ONEND
    * Maybe I should look for answers with “ON” vertically (on its end).
    * There are 3: ONE DISHONEST LOONIE.
    * I also see Rudy Giuliani in this grid… (one dishonest loony?) So maybe a reference to him suggesting Trump plead the 5th (amendment). Too political? :)
    * Oh, the 5th amendment is a well-known fifth!

    Not sad that I missed this one, I typically don’t get week 4/5.
    Always looking forward to the next Gaffney meta release day!

  20. AK37 says:

    Many times, the puzzle title will reinforce what you already found in the grid. In this case, I don’t think there is any way you could get to the answer without understanding the title, either partially or fully. Enjoyed the struggle very much!

  21. Mutman says:

    Not that anyone really cares, but fifths of alcohol (fifth of a gallon is its origin) are not produced anymore. The 750ml bottle has replaced it.

    But people still (oddly) refer to it as a fifth for whatever reason — probably the same reason they think dentist’s use Novocain when Lidocaine replaced it decades ago.

    • Jonesy says:

      Yea but 750mL is almost exactly the same volume as 1/5 of a gallon. It’s within a few mL so they’re functionally interchangeable. To two decimal places it’s the same.

      750mL = 0.198 US gallons.

  22. Adam Thompson says:

    A small mistake. The clue for 38A should have been ___-wee Herman.

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